Homiletics 2 File 9 Professor Carl Fickenscher II Question by: Paul >> PAUL: What about Thesis 20? That sounds as if it speaks directly to some of our difficulties in the church these days. >> PROF. FICKENSCHER: It definitely does, and in a very gospel, evangelical way. Thesis 20 talks about our relationship with other Christians, Christians who are not Lutheran or not members of our church body, and it gives a wonderful expression of how there can be saving faith outside of our church, but also Walther, in developing the thesis, gives us an important caution. Thesis 20 is this: "In the 16th Place, the word of God is not rightly divided when a person's salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith." What Walther is saying here, of course, is that we Lutherans would never say never have said, never should say that we are the only saving church. He says that someone's membership may not be visible in a visible orthodox church that is, in a church that teaches all things rightly and that also salvation does not depend on his being correct in every article of faith. It is possible for a person to err in certain aspects of his faith and yet be a believer in Christ Jesus. Lutherans are sometimes accused of not understanding this thesis correctly, and I'm sure there have been plenty of examples of Lutherans who did make this confusion, but Walther says it is a very real confusion of law and gospel to suggest that a person has to be correct in every teaching and a member of a church that is correct in every teaching to be saved. You see how that really turns gospel into law. It would suggest that there is more necessary for our salvation than faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. It would take a certain what would amount to work on our part, joining the right visible church in order to have eternal life. Walther makes the very important distinction here that I think is essential for us to understand our relationship with other Christians and other church bodies. He makes the distinction between discussing doctrines and discussing the faith of particular individual people. He says this, for example: "That we do not suggest that a person cannot be saved if they err from a certain simplicity of mind." Let's say, for example, a person is a member of the Baptist Church. And as I mentioned earlier, my doctoral work was with a Baptist institution, and I certainly have many wonderful friends there who I have no doubt are sincere, believing Christians, those who believe in Christ Jesus and will be with us in heaven. Now, through what Walther refers to as a "certain simplicity of the mind," they might not be aware, for example, that the Bible very specifically teaches that we should baptize infants because it is the washing of regeneration, as St. Paul says in Titus 3. They may not understand those teachings of scripture, and yet by misunderstanding this particular teaching of scripture, not be disavowing the salvation that they believe Christ has, indeed, earned for them. So, on the one hand, we want to talk very carefully about particular individuals' faith, when we know an individual who we recognize is erring on a particular doctrine and yet still believes in Christ as his savior, as compared to the false doctrines themselves. We discuss individual people in one way, and the doctrines in another way. Now, let's take the example of infant baptism. We, as Lutherans, would never concede for a moment that it is a small matter to withhold baptism from our babies. To teach that baptism does not work salvation is clearly contrary to scripture, and undoubtedly it really does result in some cases of children being kept from the washing of regeneration that would have saved them. And so the doctrine itself is false and a very, very serious error. I caution my students, however, that in their preaching, they have to go the extra mile to distinguish for their hearers, when they are discussing doctrines, false doctrines as opposed to discussing individuals who by this certain simplicity of mind fall into those false teachings. As pastors, we are trained to think in terms of teachings, of doctrine, and we are able to discuss those doctrines as doctrines, to look at holy scripture and even debate with our fellow believers and with unbelievers alike what the scriptures teach. Now, our laypeople, for the most part, are not trained to think in those doctrinal terms, but very, very quickly make the jump from any teaching to individuals that they know who hold those teachings. So if in a sermon I talk about how crucial it is to baptize infants and how what a serious false teaching it is to keep baptism away from babies as and I might say in a sermon, "as the Baptist Church does," then there's a very high probability that my dear members listening to the sermon will immediately think of grandma or sister or brother in law who are Baptist, and not realize that I don't intend to be condemning grandma or sister or brother in law personally but, rather, the doctrine. You see, we would never say, on the one hand, that it's not a small matter for our beloved grandmothers, sisters, brothers in law to hold a false teaching because we really do want them to understand the full teachings of scripture and come to that greater assurance of salvation that comes when all of scripture is properly understood, but we're not saying that until they come to that full correct understanding and cease from any errors of doctrine, that they're not believers in Christ, that they don't have eternal life, that they won't be with us in heaven. It's a great risk as I speak in a sermon, for example, about false doctrine, that my members will misunderstand and think that I'm personally condemning dear individuals that they know. That doesn't mean that in preaching, we ought not speak up very clearly and powerfully for all of the truths of scripture. In fact, we must do so. But we must be very, very careful that we make that distinction. That as we speak, in this particular case, of a particular doctrine like baptism, we're speaking of the teaching itself, not the individuals who might, in simplicity of mind, hold to that false teaching. Walther does warn, in developing this thesis, that if a person knows that his church is teaching falsely, and yet remains in that church body, then he does run the risk of being found in impenitent sin. He says this is on Page 339 of "Law and Gospel" "If I perceive the error of my heretical community and do not forsake it, I shall be lost, because, though seeing the error, I would not abandon it." Now, again Walther is not saying that everyone who holds who remains in membership of a church body that teaches some heretical things, some false teachings, like the Baptists, for example, would be lost. But he says he himself, if he came to the realization that his church was teaching falsely and remained in it, impenitently then holding to this false doctrine, by his membership endorsing that false doctrine, then he would himself be guilty of impenitent sin. So Walther gives us a very helpful kind of distinction there, doesn't he. One other thought that I want to underscore that I think is rather remarkable as Walther develops this thesis is the way he describes our church body. He says this: "The Lutheran Church" and, by the way, when he speaks of "the Lutheran Church," he's not uniquely speaking of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but he's speaking of any visible church on earth that holds to the Lutheran confessions without compromise and thus would be a truly a Lutheran church in the sense of the reformation. "The Lutheran Church," he says, "is indeed the true visible church. However, only in this sense, that it has the pure unadulterated truth." Isn't that interesting. The basic thrust of the thesis is to say that we would never think to deny that those in other church bodies are saved, believe in Christ, have eternal salvation. And, in fact, it's entirely possible that someone may hold to certain false teachings and still be saved. And yet Walther does not shy away from saying, "Yes, but in the Lutheran Church we do have the pure doctrine and" of course this is a big conditional "as long as the Lutheran Church continues to be true to all of the teachings of scripture, then it continues to be the true visible church on earth." I think very helpful and, again, very practical set of guidelines that Walther gives us.