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C.F.W. Walther on Epiphany 5 – Matthew 13:24-30

by pastorjuhl ~ February 2nd, 2011

Only one thing can keep a Christian from not being drawn into the swift current of sectarianism and be irresistibly swept away. He must find out where God’s Word is preached in its purity and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. Whoever does not consider that and that alone is lost; he must be misled. The Holy Writings themselves tell us that false churches often have a greater air of pious zeal than the true Church. We read that the Israelites were more zealous for the worship of idols than for the true worship. When, e.g., Aaron made the golden calf everyone was ready to sacrifice his gold. Afterwards they joyfully adored this image. But when Moses urged the worship of the only true God all were sluggish and listless. And thus it has happened at all times. By nature every person prefers a false devotion. But he is incapable of true worship. Yes, he is so opposed to and loathes it so much that grace alone can take it away and turn it into joy and love.

If a person therefore is seeking the true Church, the only thing he must take into consideration is whether they use only Christ’s words. Are they built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets? Is Jesus Christ the Cornerstone? And do they add nothing to and subtract nothing from God’s Word? He dare not let himself be blinded by the piety of the sects nor be offended by the failings of the true Church. Our today’s Gospel warns us especially against this last point. Let us therefore apply this warning to ourselves.

As long as the Church will exist there will be people who look more to its life than its doctrine. They maintain that if a church wants to be God’s Church it must be absolutely pure. There must be no sin, no godlessness, no offense. Every member must be truly devout, born again, pious, and holy. Perfect harmony and peace must rule among them.

…there are always enough who call that Church the true Church which leads an unspotted life. Not only do many remain in sectarian churches because they see that many sins and offenses appear even in the true Church, but even the members of the true Church are often so greatly offended that they reject it, leave it, and would rather stay with the sects who appear to be pious.

Consequently, if the Church has the pure doctrine, it does not become a false church when sins and offenses are committed. If a church is really Christ’s Church, nothing else is possible but that many sins and offenses appear. The purer the doctrine in a church, the more hostile Satan is toward it and the more he strives to shame it. Wherever souls are truly rescued from sin and brought to peace with God by the pure preaching of Christ, Satan angrily attacks and seeks to make the Church appear to be haven for every type of sin. Wherever there is true unity of faith, Satan creates an illusion of discord and strife. It is quiet and peaceful wherever the devil rules. But wherever his power is taken from him by Word and Sacraments, he rages with all his might as the prince of darkness. In short, wherever Christ sows His good seed, we can be certain Satan will scatter his weeds also.

A congregation should not receive nor put up with people who want to cling to error, or live in sin, people who do not wish to walk as true Christians, submit to God’s Word, take leave of sin and the world, and live piously. If a member gives offense by sin he should be reprimanded. If the offense was secret the reprimand should be secret; if it was public the reprimand should be public. If a congregation does not do this it shares in the sin of its members and cultivates the tares. Yes, should there be members of a Christian congregation who not only sin publicly but also don’t confess their sins and stubbornly persist in them, the congregation must exclude them, cut off these rotten dead members, retain their sins, announce God’s wrath and eternal damnation, consider and declare them as heathen and publicans, and avoid their company, in short, excommunicate them.

Christ not only says that until the end of time His Church will never be a glorious kingdom, completely free from sin, defects, and offenses, that Christ will nevertheless sustain His Church until Judgment Day; He also says first of all that the Church should not exercise capital punishment on even the most manifest sinner; secondly, that the Church should not forever deny the sinner her friendship, but if he repents should comfort him with the forgiveness of sins and receive him as a lost child who has been found again. Certainly an excellent direction! Would it not have been frightful if the Church would have killed Paul or Augustine while they were still heretics? Both could not have been converted and would not have become such great, wonderful tools instrumental in delivering so many thousands of souls.

By teaching and education she sees to it that the tares do not take control and choke the wheat. She does not hoe them out with temporal power or premature judgment but lets them grow until the harvest in the certainty that Christ will sustain His Church. In eternity He will present it as the holy Church, although now it is disfigured and dishonored by sinners.

Christ did not give His parable to console those who are the tares or the wicked. No, Christ consoles only those who mourn over the sins and offenses in the congregation, pray to God because of them, and on their part do what they can that all sins be reprimanded and checked. This parable serves to comfort only pious Christians, for the sins of their false brethren shall not be imputed to them, even if they like Lot live in Sodom, and like Simeon in Jerusalem. Here they have to endure much disgrace because of hypocrites; even if a false Christian should fall into sin and vice, and  he would have to hear from the world, “This is also one of them!” they shall some day “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

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