Category Archives: Wilhelm Sihler

Wilhelm Sihler on the Importance of Seminaries and Teacher Training Schools

Thesis 16

It stands in precise connection with the confession that every Lutheran synod in its part uses all diligence to call and to help obtain orthodox schools for development of faithful and capable preachers and school teachers for the preservation of the church in life.

When it says in the thesis: “that every Lutheran synod in its part uses all diligence” etc, then it does not mean that every Lutheran synod must have its own seminary and teacher training school; no, they should take part wherever possible in the work of educating orthodox preachers and teachers. It is contradictory to the confession and is a gross piece of Unionism if Lutheran synods call their preachers and teachers from United seminaries rather than from Lutheran institutions. It is positively frivolous to allow vagabonding teachers in Lutheran schools, and to entrust the souls of the poor children to vagabonding subjects while we, as we should, warn about visits to the local state schools on the part of Lutheran children.

The importance of the thesis in question was brought to light beside the history of the Lutheran Church in this country. The decline of the Lutheran Church in America at the beginning of this century can be attributed in large part to the lack of training of her preachers. Once the Lutheran Church had a good beginning under blessed Pastor [Heinrich] Mühlenberg servants of God, America was supplied with Lutheran pastors from Halle. However, the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars has interrupted the further sending of pastors. Hartwick Seminary, the oldest Lutheran seminary in America, was founded in 1815 and the Gettysburg Seminary was founded in 1826. Apart from the false doctrine that was presented in them, these seminaries could only provide a poor education and could not send into the field the required number of preachers. Due to the latter reason, some older preachers then took young people to themselves, instructed them and sent them, provided with a license from the synod, into office, in order to let them be further trained practically and, after they had proven themselves, engage them as a proper pastor. Therefore, there was then capable, faithful Lutheran preachers, and as now all now completely comprehended Methodism and Rationalism, then the Lutheran church declined in very many places. The best Lutheran synod in previous times in this country still has been the Tennessee Synod. She has followed the strange principle to have no seminary, but has let the individual preachers train young men for service in the vineyard of the Lord. The result has been that even this Synod has passed away. Only in recent times she seems to show some life in her again, in that members of her remembered to undertake the training of pastors in their own seminary.

Luther thus testifies about the thesis in question: “So I can by no means commend the Waldensian Brethren for their neglect of the languages. For even though they may teach the truth, they inevitably often miss the true meaning of the text, and thus are neither equipped nor fit for defending the faith against error…. [T]hey may lead saintly lives and teach sacred things among themselves, but so long as they remain without the languages they cannot but lack what all the rest lack, namely, the ability to treat Scripture with certainty and thoroughness and to be useful to other nations. Because they could do this, but will not, they have to figure out for themselves how they will answer for it to God.”[1]

Without academically educated preachers, a larger church fellowship cannot exist in the long run. We need colleges or Latin schools. The three ancient languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, in which was written on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, are necessary; namely Latin, because the greatest treasures of knowledge of the Church are set forth in it; Greek, because the New Testament was originally written in it; Hebrew, because Moses and the prophets have composed the Old Testament in it. While not every preacher must be proficient in these languages; yes, one who has not learned them is often a better preacher than another who has studied them; but the church, as such, cannot do without classically educated preachers, and if a church fellowship will do nothing in this respect, then she digs her own grave.

With the expression: “It stands in precise connection with the confession…to help” it should be cautioned that one should not hope in an enthusiastic manner God will keep His Church without means, without colleges! No! The Methodists should be also therein a cautionary tale to us, who always wanted nothing to do with the education and scholarliness of preachers and thought “The Spirit! The Spirit!” must form preachers and Latin schools were despicable. But they have to learn to sing another song and now also have colleges.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 45: Luther’s works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (366). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.


Make Them Kick You Out

Even errorists from weakness are scattered in the orthodox church; but that does not take away the character of orthodoxy from a church fellowship, so long as the attitude prevails to dismiss the error, once one is convinced of his Scriptural adversity. An example from the Fathers is Augustine in his famous remark: Errare potero, haereticus esse non potero (I am able to err, but I am not a heretic). Augustine gave credit to his weakness that he could be wrong; however, he gave confidence to his unfeigned faith that he would therefore not be wrong, that he would apostatize, in that he would be persistently holding fast to an error despite remitting, and that makes someone a heretic. If one appears in a church fellowship who preaches false doctrine and seeks to introduce [it] into the Church, then love for the Lord, love for the Church, love for false teachers themselves must impel the remaining members to witness and, if witness and exhortation are fruitless, for exclusion of the false teacher according to the remark of St. Paul: “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13). But if it is the case that an entire church fellowship should take up a false position in doctrine and tolerate error in doctrines of faith and wanted to hold fast, then the individual member that has the better knowledge in this fellowship must correct not only false teachers, but also the entire fellowship, even if they should purge him over it, as the Roman Church did to Dr. Luther and the Jewish Synagogue to the apostle Paul. If such an erring fellowship or synod perhaps puts up with hearing testimony about their false position, but does not improve and does not dismiss the false position, then the concerned person must leave, first of all for the sake of the evil appearance that he would otherwise give; because everyone would think he must not sincerely still mean it, otherwise he could not remain in such a fellowship, yet it does not improve. Secondly, for the sake of the risk in which such a witness hangs in the balance. Every error is something very dangerous, and the continuing life in an ecclesiastical atmosphere pregnant with error dulls the conscience again little by little and will be thereby corrected by God that one finally again falls prey to error and hostility to the orthodox Church that one escaped.

It is evident enough from the aforementioned [remarks] that doctrines of faith could never be “open questions”. And if we are asked, we ought to recognize the theory of “open questions”, then one does not demand of us the principle of the Lutheran Church, i.e. “Only Truth and no error!” But one demands the principle of the Union, which says: “Tolerate error next to the truth!”

Wilhelm Sihler, “Theses on Church Fellowship”, trans. DMJ

We Should Give Preachers Their Bread

The preaching office constitutes a call of life for certain people who exercise it as long as they do what God tells them. One can never know in advance how long one should stay in a congregation, so one has to leave it up to God, Who makes it manifest through subsequent relevant circumstances how long it should be. It is merely a formal distinction when those who are temporarily called remains pastor even longer after the expiration of his time and wants to take over another congregation, or later breaks stones. But that an entire synod has the power to call a preacher reveals the fact that an individual congregation has the right to take on a catechist, an afternoon preacher, or a so-called graveyard preacher; then, if all congregations assemble into one corporate body, the whole has the same power to call a person as the individual part, therefore they can also take on one man for some work. Such a person then works as one called by the entire synod. So it is right when one takes on vicars for sick pastors in the Bavarian church. If such person has no authority because no event of illness has occurred, then he will still be supported because stands at the service of the entire Church, and this involves the obligation to give to him his bread. No preacher should pursue something else in order to obtain his bread. If a congregation does not give their preacher his livelihood, if they still could do it, then they commit an ungodly act, for which God will severely punish them. Christ wants that His preachers have their bread in Office, in order that they do not fall into temptation through cares of this life, to neglect their Office and perhaps to become a doctor or horse-dealer. This is an abomination. The good Lord indeed could also directly give His preachers their bread, as the ravens once had to bring bread to Elijah; but He will not do it, but we should give preachers their bread. For whoever preaches the gospel should also nourish themselves by the Gospel.

– Wilhelm Sihler, “Theses on Church Fellowship”, translated by DMJ

Nothing Good Comes from Licensing Pastors

Licensing, according to which one confers the right to preach and to baptize to a man for a while, is a great wickedness which is forced in America. Upright Lutherans have cried murder about it and brought in that one has lost more and more of it. If someone came from Germany who volunteered for the preaching office, then he was examined by the American church councils. If it turned out in such exams that he did not know whether or not John was a prophet, whether the Revelation of St. John was at the end of the Bible or before Deuteronomy, whether David had lived before or after the Judges, then one said: The man must surely still come to deeper insights, but he can also do good. And so they gave him a piece of paper, according to which he had the power to lead people to hell. What is a Synod that tolerates such abominations among themselves, other than a vagabond society that is no better than such whom she has made into a preacher? If they may imagine among themselves they are liberal and not as harsh as the Old Lutherans: God will show them once, what it is not to be gruff in this matter. On that great day He will say to them: “Bring me again the blood of souls that you have shed partly yourselves and partly by others.” What kind of perverseness this is! One gives such people the right to preach, baptize, to solemnize marriages; only they were not allowed to administer the Holy Supper; and do not consider that even preaching is the hardest thing in the whole office, even that it is the most beneficial thing that a preacher can do, but that it also can be the most dangerous thing for him and others. And these men give it to the first, best price! Only when Holy Communion should be administered should one of them that is in office consecrate. But these people are now dying out. Whoever still has a drop of Christian blood in his veins goes into the Office with fear and trembling. For the Lord says to a preacher: “Son of man, I have made ​​you a watchman that you should warn the wicked on My behalf. If you now do not preach that he who belongs in hell hears it from you, and the one who belongs in heaven does not hear it from you, then you yourself are a child of hell and I will require the blood of the neglected souls from your hand.” It requires many years of study in order to be able to divide the Word of Truth properly and to administer the Office according to God’s will. But for now there comes such a blockhead who knows nothing and has the audacity to be a doctor of souls who wants to dissuade people from the path to hell, and he himself is going to hell. Is this not awful?

– Wilhelm Sihler, “Theses on Church Fellowship”, Commentary on Thesis 11