Walther’s Woodshed

I was going to take other’s to C.F.W. Walther’s woodshed, but I found myself being hauled in there too.  Well if we’re going to get disciplined by the first president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod let’s remember the first rule of getting paddled: don’t try to put your hand back there for protection.  The paddle will not break your posterior but it will you hand.

At an earlier post, I wrote in response to those “going soft” on the Pope being the Antichrist.  So naturally when reading Walther’s Law and Gospel for the fifth time, I was pleased to see he agreed with my line of thinking.  By the way, the new translation of Law & Gospel is much to be preferred to the Dau translation.  The editors make it clear where Luther is being quoted and Walther breaks in.

However, this being said, I still find that Walther is a Pietist burdening consciences unnecessarily.  I know; I know; what a bizarre thing to say about a book devoted to distinguishing Law and Gospel correctly.  In a future post, I may share with you the evidence I allege and let you decide.  Another Walther work, Church and Ministry, is being retranslated.  I find it funny that where St. Marquart always told me that “correctly translated” Walther was right those issuing the new translation say that “a careful reading” of Walther will show his brilliance.  Hey, maybe the guy didn’t have it all worked out.  Maybe that guy was right who said we are not going to move forward in our understanding of Church and Ministry if we just keep repeating the arguments of the 19th century.

I digress.  I want to talk about those reluctant to confess with our Lutheran Confessions that the Pope is the very Antichrist.  Walther addresses those who point to the Pope taking stands on behalf of religious truth and good things.  He says people fail to see why he does this.  “[P]eople fail to consider that the pope claims to be vicegerent of Christ on earth and the visible head of the entire Christian Church.  In order to be this, he must, of course, profess many Christian doctrines…[the pope] has to  appear to declare war on the enemies of all religions and on the enemies of the Christian religion, because he knows that, if Christ were to fall, the Antichrist would fall too” (Law & Gospel, 77). That’s a good point. One who claims to be the visible head of the Church can’t very well be tearing down his own body.

I have said before that any one who regards justification as the chief article, the article by which the Church stands or falls, will not have a problem confessing the Pope is the Antichrist.  Neither he nor the Roman Catholic confessions want anything to do with being justified by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith.  I listened to virtually 18 months of Catholic homilies on Relevant Radio. I heard the Gospel preached twice. The rest of the time I heard a doable law and a moralistic gospel.

The usual defense of the Pope, one I’m sure I have made in my benighted past, is that he stands strong on life issues. Read the Roman Catholic work Sex and the Marriage Covenant which is considered to be a layman’s edition of Pope John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them.  There you will see how the issue of contraception is used as a club and as a means of establishing authority over people’s conscience in a very elaborate, intricate way.

Enough with others in the woodshed my turn now.  I have always said, and I still think I say, we have little fear of our kids becoming Catholics.  We have more to fear of our kids becoming Reformed.  I’ve emphasized things like making the sign of the cross, crucifixes, bowing in doxologies and at the name of Jesus hoping that when they went into Reformed churches the glaring lack of these would signal them: Not My Church.  As for finding these things in the Catholic church, well after all they are catholic, and I thought the Roman Catholic heavy handed trampling of justification, praying to Mary, and the sacrifice of the mass would be enough to signal, Not My Church.

Walther may be smacking me or he may be vindicating me.  Perhaps it takes a close reading.  He says there’s more to be feared from the Roman Catholic church than from the Reformed – what he calls sects.  Let’s read him and weep if we are hit and rejoice if we’re not. “Without a doubt, the worst sects within the Christian Church do less damage than the pope.  For without exception, every sect admits: ‘If a person wants to be saved, that only happens by believing the grace of God in Christ Jesus.’ And while all sects, by their teaching, hide the Gospel, they do not anathematize and curse it – as the pope does” (Law & Gospel, 84).  This in a sense vindicates me. Cursing the Gospel is a red flag to any confessional Lutheran.

But in another quote I am hit with a glancing blow or two.  “These sects are corrupted churches, but the papacy is a false church.  Just as counterfeit money is not money at all, so the Papist ‘church’ – as a false church – is no Church at all.  Compared with the corrupted sectarian churches, the papacy is a nonchurch, a denial of Christ’s Church.  Let me make it clear that I am not speaking of the Roman Catholic but of the Papist ‘church,’ the ‘church’ that submits to the pope, accepts his decrees, and repeats his anathemas” (Law & Gospel, 85).

Walther’s paddle got me.  I emerge from his woodshed admitting that I don’t make enough of a distinction between the Papist church and the Roman Catholic.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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