Category Archives: C.F.W. Walther

Theology as Habitus Practicus Theosdotos

Recent theology distinguishes between theology and the Church’s proclamation of salvation. The latter is supposed to present the Christian doctrines in so far as they are to be received by the Christian congregation through faith; theology on the other hand is said to have the function of “scientifically mediating” the congregation’s faith to the thinking intellect. For this reason also recent theology abandons its “direct relation to salvation”. The old Lutheran definition which consistently held to this relation is said to rest upon a confusion of “theology” with “the Church’s proclamation of salvation.”

Over against this Walther held with the old Lutheran theologians that theology is a habitus practicus theosdotos. In Lehre und Wehre Vol.14, p.4ff., he published a lengthy article entitled: “What is Theology? A contribution to the Prolegomena of Dogmatics”, in which he begins with the following thesis: “Theology is the practical habitude, wrought by the Holy Ghost and drawn from the Word of God by means of prayer, study, and trial, vitally to know and to impart the truth revealed in the written Word of God unto salvation, to establish it therefrom, to expound, apply and defend it, in order to lead sinful man through faith in Christ unto eternal salvation.”

Of this definition, Walther then proves that it is both Scriptural and also that given by most Lutheran teachers.

On the objective and subjective concepts of theology, or of theology conceived as teaching and as habitus of the theologian, Walther prefaces the following:

“Christian theology can be regarded in several ways, either subjectively, as something inhering in the soul of a man or objectively, as teaching which is presented orally or in writing. In the first case it is regarded absolutely, as it is in itself, apart from what may be done with it; in the other case it is regarded relatively, as it is in a certain respect, in accordance with a certain accidental characteristic with respect to a use which may be made of it. In the first case Christian theology is taken in its primary and proper, in the second case in its secondary and improper significance. Since theology must first be in the soul of a man before it can be taught by him or presented either orally or in writing, and since everything connected with theology must be judged in accordance with what it is in itself and in its essence, therefore in the thesis, according to the example of most dogmaticians in our church, the definition of theology regarded subjectively or concretely, i.e. as it inheres in a concretum or in a person, is given precedence.” (Lehre und Wehre, 14, 8 f.)

Theology, subjectively regarded, is to Walther “not the sum total of certain intellectual acquisitions”, but a habitude, a sufficiency or skill to perform certain functions. “The Holy Scripture”, says he (l.c., p.10), “although the word theology does not occur in it, itself specifies this as the category to which theology belongs. For since theology, subjectively considered, is what should be in those who are to administer the office of teachers in the church, we may therefore seek and recognize in the Biblical description of a teacher also a description of a true theologian.”

Walther refers to Hebr.5:12-14; II Cor. 3:5; II Tim 3:17. With regard to II Cor.3:5 he remarks: “In this passage the Apostle, after he has exclaimed in 2:16 with regard to his teaching office: ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ writes as follows: ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.’ So that which in Heb. 5:14 is called a skill, (habitus, A.V.: ‘use’) is here called sufficiency. Now sufficiency implies not only a certain competence and skill by the observance of certain rules to produce a certain effect, but also at the same time a disposition of the soul, thus a habitude.”

Walther lays special emphasis on the fact that theology is altogether practical, that it is not concerned with satisfying the thirst for knowledge but with leading sinners to salvation. Theology is for him not a “theoretical habitude”, ” which has knowledge itself for its goal and therewith rests content (l.c., p. 73) but a “practical habitude.”

“It is the latter,” he writes (l.c., p. 72) “for the reason that its purpose is a practical one. St. Paul indicates wherein the purpose of theology consists when he writes, Titus 1:1,2: ‘Paul, a servant of God., and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness in hope of eternal life.’ Herewith the apostle obviously indicates the purpose of his offices namely that he has received it in view of the faith of the elect and the acknowledging of the truth unto Godliness and all of this in hope of eternal life. But the purpose of the office is also the purpose of theology. This purpose therefore is the true faith, the knowledge of the truth unto godliness and finally eternal life. See Rom.1:3 in connection with I Tim. 4: 3-6.”

Franz Pieper, “C.F. W. Walther as Theologian”.

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Betray Your Love, But Not Your Faith

A rough translation of the final paragraph of “Ein Abfall” (A Defection), C.F.W. Walther’s commentary in “Der Lutheraner” concerning the taking leave of Eduard Preuß from the Evangelical Lutheran Church to the Roman Catholic Church in 1871. Translation by DMJ.

You ask, dear reader, whether we regret to have accepted the unfortunate Preuß and trusted him as long as we could? We answer: No, we do not regret it. The Christian way is that they let their love be easily betrayed, but never their faith. It is true: mistrustful, suspicious dispositions in experience usually win their case because men are so evil; but that is why the mistrustful are not on solid ground. Love, as long as it can, believes the best of the neighbor. We therefore have only one desire: that God, Whose door of grace always remains open in this life, have mercy on the one deeply fallen and remove him, if not sooner, even in the hour of death, from the idol that he now worships and calls Mary, and be brought around again, and may be delivered as a brand from the fire, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator, to Whom be all praise and glory in time and eternity. Amen.

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Walther on How to Receive the Benefits of Christ’s Temptation

Now, my friends, if you want to be eternally blessed by the battle of your Savior, your heavenly General, nothing more is demanded of you and all men than that you play the part of a believing spectator. The important thing is not that you learn how to fight against sin and Satan from Christ’s example, but the first, the most important, the main thing is that you learn to believe that Christ battled for you, in your place, for your freedom and salvation. Whoever knows and feels his sins, whoever knows that hitherto he has served the devil, that he was full of unbelief, contempt of Gods’ Word, pride, vanity, lust, and love of the world, or that he at least has not really battled against the world, flesh, and Satan, let him merely look to his Savior. This Champion from the stem of David has held the field for us. This Lion from the tribe of Judah has conquered for us. Though you may have fallen ever so deeply, though you may have even begged the devil’s pardon, free yourself from this disgraceful tyranny. Side with Christ; then you are victor over sin and hell. Then Christ also divides the spoils of war with you – forgiveness of sins, righteousness, life, and salvation.

– C.F.W. Walther, “Gospel Sermons” Volume One, page 162

C.F.W. Walther: Lutheran Is As Lutheran Does

Note: This short commentary appears in the 1862 edition of “Lehre und Wehre”, the Missouri Synod’s German language theological journal. Dr. Walther writes about what some in the General Synod (now part of the ELCA) call “Symbolism”. Symbolism means adherence to Symbols such as the Augsburg Confession, the Creeds, the Smalcald Articles, etc. In other words, Symbolism is clinging to “old” Lutheranism rather than the “New Measures” of Samuel Simon Schmucker, Benjamin Kurtz, and others in the General Synod. Dr. Walther’s comments here are still relevant today as they were over 150 years ago. His words should give us pause to consider our practices in the light of sola Scriptura, sola fide, and the doctrine of justification. All errors of translation are mine. Enjoy! DMJ+

Symbolism” – In the Lutheran Observer of March 21 a writer under the pseudonym “Spener” seeks to prove the barrenness of the so-called Symbolism in the small influence that the same and others has expressed to the German population of St. Louis, Missouri. He writes: “The case in St. Louis is an eye-catching one, because there the old Symbolic system of Europe has been in effect without hindrance and disruption for more than twenty years; and in twenty years it has brought 5,000 into the church from about 60,000 Lutherans from Europe! A sad testimony for Symbolism! – We do not wish to be understood as if we wanted to blame our brethren of the old symbolic party, and especially not of Saint Louis, because after all, what we know of them, they are good, learned and pious men. The system is wrong, and it is the system against which we fight. It is the system that one calls sacramental, specifically in a nutshell: the child is born again through baptism and therefore a member of the body of Christ; and falling from grace, what happens with all, the child is confirmed at the age of 12 or 14, generally without moral qualification, takes part in the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and is thus fed by mouth with spiritual food. In this country, where people read and think they’ll soon see that this is certainly something other than the religion which Christ and his apostles taught, and as soon as they are enlightened by the Spirit of God, turn themselves away from it with disgust and go to other churches where Biblical Christianity prevails. Hence the success of Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and even Congregationalists among Germans. If you want to convert Germans, then you must preach conversion to God and faith in Jesus Christ and not confessional religion, through whose preaching they have been hardened in sin. They have already heard enough of that in Germany. Now this is the system that supports ‘Lutheran and Missionary’. It is true, this symbolic journal is too perceptive to go out boldly and defend such a system that is contradictory to the Bible; it gilds the pill; it has mixed some of the spiritual life and the energy of the other churches in the country with its sacramental religion. But the thing will not take effect; the two cannot go together. Sacramental religion is all or nothing; as a system it will not allow mixing with other systems; like Rome it must stand or fall by its own merits. If it is true that baptism regenerates the child, and the worship of the Church (the Lord’s Supper with included) has the duty to lead the regenerate child to heaven without repentance or faith, then they, who work for the conversion of souls to the biblical way, are great fools. The Lutheran Church has never been with this system and will never be able to provide their children with spiritual food [with this system]. The food that the immortal soul requires is not in this system. The crucified Christ, in all His offices, is what poor sinners need. The Lutheran Church in Germany and in this country needs religious revivals. Nothing else will save them. With the editor of the ‘Lutheran’ I am an admirer of the Augsburg Confession, he must only let me interpret it according to my sense, as I permit him [to interpret it according to his sense]. It is a noble deed, and receives all its moral strength from the Bible and is valuable only because of its conformity with the Bible.” So far the writer in the Observer.

We share this drivel as a means of demonstrating namely what Lutherans born of the General Synod have as ideas about the so-called system of the old Lutheran Church. Because the old Lutheran Church (according to clear word of God) believes and teaches that Holy Baptism is the washing of regeneration, the Lord’s Supper is the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, the absolution of servants of the Church is God’s forgiveness, then those people mean that the old Lutheran Church consequently teaches a salvation “without repentance and faith” through the opus operatum of the use of the Sacraments, through a mechanical efficacy of the Sacraments, as the Papists teach! This is a rather gross misunderstanding. The old Lutheran Church indeed teaches, and we with her, that the Holy Sacraments, along with absolution and the Word, chiefly have not only a significative, but also an equally collative (communicative), as well as effective (bringing forth inner spiritual effects) power. In other words, both are God’s hands that present to us the gifts of grace purchased by Christ alone, as well as to work, awaken, maintain, and strengthen the necessary faith for the apprehension of these gifts of grace as man’s hand. But she also teaches that man can resist the effects of these means of grace, and to the person who does not produce these effects in himself, the sacrament, absolution, Word does not help, yes, it serves to him as an odor of death to death, as a more heavier judgment. She teaches with all earnestness that whoever is not born again through the means of grace can and will not see the kingdom of God, that without a repentance wrought by the Holy Spirit, that without faith in the heart there is no salvation, that Word, Sacrament, and Absolution are not rebirth, are not justification, but they should effect, not grace, but are the means of grace.

The reason why Old Lutherans hold so firmly to the means of grace is not that they would save men without repentance and faith, as one is healed by medicine which only needs to be taken and works even while he is sleeping, but because they firmly hold that a poor sinner is justified before God and saved solely by faith, without works, without his merit, by grace, that is, that his salvation is due not to what he does, works, merits, but to God alone, who offers him full salvation in the means of grace. In that sense we are pleased that our religion is called “sacramental”. Yes, to teach salvation by faith and yet to deny the character to the Word and the Sacraments that they contain and present to us the gifts, that we have to take and appropriate to ourselves through faith, is a contradiction. To teach salvation by grace and yet want to know of no real means of grace is a self-deception. If there are no collative organs of grace, then the entire doctrine of justification of a poor sinner hovers in the air; for faith, which is something relative, lacks its correlative, or the entire doctrine of faith is pure enthusiasm.

Incidentally, from the small number of Germans who have been won here by us to the fellowship of the church, to conclude on the inaccuracy of the system is very premature. This would outright condemn the “system” of the Savior Himself, Who also won only a few by His personal administration of the public teaching office in Judea and Galilee. In addition to this there are several German churches here that follow the system of salvation of the General Synod. From where does it come, then, that these churches neither have been able to bring the remaining 55,000 (not initially Lutherans, but Germans of all types) to the Church? Would this therefore also not be directed to the doctrinal system of the General Synod?

Luther’s Writings: Why and What Should I Read

Christians should be familiar with the writings of Martin Luther, whether you consider him a hero or a heretic. Lutheran pastors like me have read a lot of Luther (hopefully we’ve read Holy Scripture…that should be a given). There’s always more Luther to read. But why should I read Luther? Where should I start? What should I read first?

C.F.W. Walther (1811-1887) has you covered in this set of theses. As far as I know, these have not been translated into English. I stumbled across them a while back and decided it would be good to have this available in English.

Happy reading…both Walther and Luther.

Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr, vergehet nun und nimmermehr!

Walther: A Church That Does Not Study Luther’s Writings Does Not Have the Spirit of Luther in Her

Thesis I.

            In order to obtain pleasure and love for reading and studying the writings of Luther, it is first of all necessary that one remembers vividly that Luther is not to be expected among the common pure theologians, but was elected by God Himself as the reformer of the Church and revealer and destroyer of the Antichrist. (2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 14:6-7)

            Luther is the only theologian who is prophesied in Scripture. He is beyond all doubt the angel of which Revelation 14:6 says. He is no doubt the one who according to 2 Thessalonians 2 should reveal and kill the Antichrist. Everyone who still believes that the Pope is the Antichrist admits that Luther has revealed the Antichrist. Many do not admit that he has killed him though, but there is no doubt he has done it. Although he has not made ​​an end to the papacy, whoever now can still be seduced by the Pope must first reject Luther; because Luther has so clearly shown him as Antichrist that a man must turn a blind eye if he does not want to believe that the Pope was the Antichrist. Whoever does not want to be deceived by the Pope cannot be deceived. Through Luther God has opened thousands and millions of eyes that previously in blindness honored the Pope as Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ.

Luther has no equal in the church after the apostles and prophets. One should only mention a single doctrine which Luther would not have quite clearly and most gloriously set forth. Would it be not unspeakable ingratitude to God, Who sent us this man, if we did not hear his voice? Then we would have not known the time of our visitation. But we are currently seeing what wrath of God follows in the new German theologians who ask nothing of Luther, who basically even despise him because he did not expound scientific truth. When modern theologians once cite him, it always has a certain tendency; but it does not happen with the intention to portray him as a witness of truth. In contrast, an old theologian called Luther’s writings “the mantle of Elijah that he has dropped at his ascension,” while Bugenhagen sees Revelation 14:6-7 expressly fulfilled in Luther.

Therefore this first thesis is of great importance. God holds Christianity responsible if they do not recognize this man as the reformer of the Church. We must not think of Luther this way: “We also can do this; Luther has recovered the truth so well, so also we will find the truth so well by diligent study.” No, if God inspires His prophets with spirit and light, then He does this for the common good of the Church; and woe to the Church if they do not use God’s instrument, but will let it pass by her. A church in which Luther’s writings are not first studied by the pastors and then at their incitement also by common Christians, certainly does not have Luther’s spirit, and Luther’s spirit is the pure evangelical spirit of faith, humility, and simplicity.

The other dogmatic theologians of our church are not to be put on the same level as Luther. Luther had nothing but hellish mistakes behind him. He alone had to go into Scripture and bring out the truth. No one can understand how it was possible. It may look easy, but it could not possibly happen without very special illumination of the Holy Spirit.

“The Fruitful Reading of Luther’s Writings”
Lehre und Wehre, Volume 33, Number 11 (November, 1887)
Translation by DMJ

Bear One Another’s Burdens

There are more Christians, also Lutherans, than you might think who are obsessed with the idea that the true church must consist of nothing but perfect Christians, that no Christian can have a shortcoming which is offensive to others, that there cannot be anything sinful in him. And that is simply impossible. So long as the church lives in the flesh, so long sin will manifest itself in its members. That is why God’s Word says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

There is no escaping the fact that, if you want to be a Christian, you must bear the burden which your brother imposes on you whenever you have contact with him. There will be many things about him that you do not like. Sometimes he will do something that hurts and offends you. You must always remember, however, that you do the same to him. He, too, must bear your burden. And therefore it is a true characteristic of any group of Christians that each one bears the other’s burden. It is not that the others bear only his rudeness and that they, the others themselves, must be angels.

You see, the devil’s great craftiness is that if he cannot plunge a church group into false doctrine, nor destroy their unity in confession, he then tries [to destroy it] through their lives. He creates divisions among the members. One person offends another, perhaps without wishing to do so. The second person then becomes angry and imputes malice to him. And if the offense was great enough, perhaps even intentional. then true brotherly fellowship has been destroyed, and the result is that there is no longer any real joy of standing in confessional fellowship with the offender. And that is precisely what the devil wants!

Especially when those at the top do something that makes another person feel hurt and angry, then it is easy for Satan to suggest the thought to a member of Synod: “Who know whether he is even doctrinally sound? If you could uncover a bit of false doctrine, then you would be thoroughly avenged!” That is why our Confessions state beautifully that in the church we should by all means have patience with one another.

– C.F.W. Walther, “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod”