The Third Synodal Letter - Pages 51 - 55



Supplement 1
The Visible and Invisible Church

In the Lutheran Concordia (Book of Concord) one may consult the following:
a) The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds.
b) The 5th, 7th, 8th, 14th and 28th Articles of the Augsburg Confession.
c) The 4th and 14th Article of the Apology
d) From the Smalkaldic Articles, Part 2, Article 4 and from Part 3, Articles 4, 7, 8, 9, and 12, along with the appendices concerning the bishop's power and the authority of the pope.
e) The third article of faith in the small and large catechisms by Luther.

The first portion of this tract includes the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. "I believe in one holy church," or "I believe in one, holy, catholic (Luther calls it Christian) church *, the communion of saints." In the Nicene Creed it states, "I believe (only) in one holy, catholic (that is, Christian) and apostolic church." The issue here is that man believes there us only one singular (una) proper church of God, differentiated from all sects and gangs. Similarly, faith is acknowledged and deemed 1) holy, 2) Catholic or Christian, 3) apostolic, that is, coming from the apostles. The Augsburg Confession is in agreement on this point, in that it recognizes "that for all time there must be one (una), holy, Christian church" - Article 7. Many false prophets have entered the world and many sects and gangs have arisen because of them. Therefore it is an article of faith that for all time there is only "one holy church," and this must be distinguished and considered separately from all sects and gangs. — The faith distinguishes itself accordingly as one church of God above all else defining what this same church is not.

If we sufficiently examine the confession of the Lutheran church, our faith recognizes the church of Jesus on earth as the One because only One was created for all Christians; likewise there is only One Shepherd and One Flock. Similarly in John 10: 1, 16 we find there is only One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father for us all, — "One Body and One Spirit." Ephesisans 4, 4 - 6. — This One Church of the Lord Jesus is recognized in faith as "holy," for the Holy Spirit called it into being through the gospel, enlightened it with his spirit, sanctifies and maintains it in true faith and continues to do so. Therefore it is a holy


* In Athanasian symbology the term christiana veritas, Christian truth, is used synonomously with catholica religio, catholic religion. Catholic and Christian are the same thing. Return to text

work of God on earth. — Since that time faith has deemed this One Church as catholic or Christian (una sancta catholica ecclesia) because the Holy Spirit maintains this thoroughly Christian and true church above all else, in all lands and for all time in the one true faith ("per veram ac unicam fidem"), through which it follows its One Lord and Savior. — Thus it becomes clear in the faith, which we profess, that this One Church is also apostolic; that is, it is established on the teachings of the apostles, as they were commanded by Christ to teach and baptise all peoples. Thus St. Paul also writes to the Ephesians, "You are (now) neighbors to the saints and those others, who reside in the house of God. This was established on the ground of the apostles and prophets and Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. On this grounding the entire structure (the church) is joined together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord. On this ground you too are joined together (as a congregation) into a dwelling of God in the spirit." And the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 16, "On this rock (the ministry of Peter and all the apostles, the profession and teaching) I will build my church." This makes it apostolic. Now if the One Church is apostolic and built on such divine ground, then it follows "that for all time there must be One, holy Christian church," because he himself states, "and the gates of hell will not overpower you;" and "for the word of the Lord persists throughout eternity," (1 Peter 1, 25). Thus the church must and will prevail, for it is built on this ground. Augsburg Confession, Article 7. Finally, when faith uses the word "church" it also means "the congregation or church of the holy on earth" (as preceived in the term one holy church) in order to proclaim and profess that its faithful members are bound together in communion as a congregation, united in their communal spiritual birth as brothers and sisters in Christ, as a divine family under Christ, and bound together by this communion in the spiritual and heavenly legacy of the word, the sacrament and the ministry. Without this they would not form a community of God on earth and the entire structure would not be bound together and growing into a holy temple in the Lord - Ephesians 4.

If they are a congregation of the holy under Christ, so they must distinguish themselves as a collective congregation in the area in which they live. For this purpose God gives the ministerial office, the gospel and the sacraments so they may form an assembly on earth and come together as spiritual beings. The focal point of the assembly of Christ's congregations is therefore the ministerial office, the gospel and the sacraments. The Augsburg Confession acknowledges that the church is the joining together of all the faithful (wherever they might assemble), at which place the gospel is clearly and purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered as instituted by Christ. *

From this, what the Apology states in the 4th Article, is correct,


*Compare with the words of E. Neumeister concerning faith and good teaching, page 1188. Return to text

"that the church relies upon those in whom there is a proper understanding of Christ, a proper confession and profession of faith and the truth." And the Smalkaldic Articles, Part 3, Article 12 states, "To the glory of God, a child of the age of seven knows what the church is, namely the saints, the faithful and the lambs, who hear the voice of their shepherd." "And this sanctity exists in the word of God and proper faith." In other words, in proper understanding and acknowledgement of Christ and his truth.

Within these symbolic characteristics, which form a brief description of the true and righteous faith church of God, there is no distinction between a visible and an invisible church. In the profession of our faith one will not find such a distinction, and it is even less likely that he will find one similar to that which the Missouri Synod makes in its 9 theses. Our symbols perpetually and truely distinguish something else - the church and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in its members. This last item is, in and of itself, invisible whereas the medium through which the Holy Spirit works, the ministry, the gospels and the sacraments, are audible and visible just as the faithful congregation of Christ lives visibly in this world because it is the assembly of the faithful, in whom the work of God is clearly and purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered as established by Jesus Christ. The faith of each member originates from the internal and invisible workings of the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the ministry. The spiritual investiture, whereby the individual members are infused with the holiest righteousness of Christ and its bounty, that is, the inward splendor of the Christian, is also, in and of itself, invisible. "For in its essence faith is a spiritual entity, through which we become devout, and a light in the heart, through which we are renewed, thus gaining an altered sense of courage and purpose." The Apology states this in Article 4. "The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Romans 14, 17. And this regiment and kingdom of God resides within us. Luke 17: 21; 18: 16. Matthew 6: 10, 33. It isn't that the church of the Lord should be considered invisible or that its members (as in Psalm 84, 5), in extolling and faithfully acknowledging Christianity, would be invisible; instead it is that its internal splendor is invisible to the human eye, as written in the 45th Psalm, verse 14: "The King's daughter is arrayed in splendor." This internal splendor is not invisible in the sense that it cannot be recognized by us, for it shines through the faith, profession and life of the believers, as the Lord also says, "Let your light shine before the people so that they see your good works." Also in Matthew 5, 16. This is also described and made known in the words of God Himself. Those, whom He has called, have been made righteous;

those, whom He has made righteous, have also been made resplendent. Romans 8, 30. He has shown them the truth through the word, that they are first (the foremost) among His creatures, Jacob 1, 18. Nothing condemns them, for they exist in Jesus Christ and not of the flesh, but rather living in the spirit," etc. Romans 8, 1 et. al.

Thus our faith professes what the church of the Lord is. He knows of no other faithful and splendid church as that, which professes Christianity within itself and outwardly acknowledges it by not shunning the gospel of Christ. Romans 1, 16. But only God sees how strong and great the workings of the Holy Spirit are in individual members. Correspondingly, our faith concerns the church itself and not the circumstances of its individual members; faith concerns itself with the proper acknowledgement and profession of Christianity. All the holy ones reside within the hands of faith and they will sit at its feet and learn from its words - Deuteronomy 33, 3; Psalms 84, 5. The specific circumstances of individual members are no longer related to the concept of church, only the church's healthy or ill status. This is first related in the 8th Article of the Augsburg Confession, where it states, "In as much as the Christian church (when people speak of its existence) is nothing other than the assembly of all the faithful and the saints (to whom, as Article 7 states, the word of God is clearly and purely preached) * — indeed, within this life there are many false Christians, hypocrites and even blatant sinners among the pious." Thus we know that the believing church of God remains a church, which is both visible and invisisble. We also know that within its life span there have been many individual members in the church, who have remained vexations as well as false Christians and hypocrites, who currently pass themselves off as church members even as their sins still persist on this earth. Such things, however, do not alter the concept of church and they do not make it invisible; even the hypocrites certainly help to make the church visible through their attentions. **

Truth remains truth even in the mouths of a professing hypocrite. In His own time God raises up the evil matter, dispersed by hypocrisy, and separates the wheat from the chaff. He may do so in our lifetime or that of another age. During this lifetime holy church discipline has been ordained by the son of God; in the next life those guilty will come before the divine justice. Both before and after the separation the righteous faith church remains the proper congregation of the Lord and it is both visible and invisible in its words and actions. "Thus it is that I believe and I speak." Psalms 116, 10.


* The Article also sufficiently addresses the ancillary matter in that it professes that among the members of the church there may also be hypocritical preachers who may preach God's word and administer the sacraments, which nonetheless retain their efficacy. Return to text

** The Missourians have twisted the 8th Article of the Augsburg Confession so that it merely teaches about a second, secret, invisible church within a large group of people; however the Article still speaks of the invisible, unknown hypocrites and godless within the church- that is, it merely deals with an abusive factor in the church on earth: "However some people do not believe that this casts shame on baptism or the gospel, or even the church but merely themselves. Consequently faith and baptism and teaching become faulty and the church dies." Luther's Epistolary Sermon 18, p. Trin. Return to text

Our symbols are hereby true and derived from God's word, however there are unfortunately many teachers, who have taken them too lightly and continue to do so in their private writings. They do not hold fast to the tenets of faith of the one true church of Jesus, which is both the visible and the invisible church of God. There are corrupt members and hypocrites within its midsts and the church must endure them until the time of righteous separation. These people posit the common, rational concept of a large conglomerate (composed of all parties, gangs and sects), which are supposed to be invisibly diffused and interspersed within the church of God. Obviously that would change the notion of faith in the church into an arbitrary rational concept whereby groups of people of indeterminate confession find not only God's word but also false teaching. Within such a group one might consider himself part of an invisible and secret congregation of Christ. Wherever such a concept of faith exists, the church would suffer under such confusion and chaos that one would have to travel farther and still farther abroad, seeking out his brothers in faith among the sects because in this concept of the conglomeration, the grounding and boundries of the church have been ripped away. These conditions would be welcome by all who want to find their invisible church of the mind and their invisible brothers and sisters in faith in the conglomeration of gangs. These conditions were especially common back when we were in Germany amid all those desiring the United Agenda, supposing that the union spirit would unite everything and enjoin everyone into a spiritual friendship. The Lutheran Church in Prussia rose up against this in united earnestness (from 1830 to 1836). Along with disputes concerning baptism, eucharist and agenda there was also a dispute concerning ministerial office and the church. The King of Prussia set down his pronouncement that the true church, the Lutheran church could secret itself within the boundries of the united conglomeration and that the true church of God could be cultivated in all sects, thus forming an external union. It was stressed with God's word that the true church of God was virtually and literally the visible and invisible congregation of the Lord, which would scarcely have hypocrites within it; however there was no way where they could hide themselves in all the sects. 1 Corinthians 6, 14 - 18: Do not assume the foreign yoke, etc.

Everyone will soon see that it was necessary for us to divest ourselves from all reformed sects of the church union so that the cleansing of the tenets of faith could occur, based on the ecclesiastic belief that the Lutheran church was the true and actual, visible and invisible congregation of God. This certainty of faith, that the righteous faith congregation of the Lord was visible and invisible, united and apostolic (or Lutheran), could not be handled by anyone without his becoming marked a fanatic. Whoever was willing to leave the false union and all reform


From the earliest times the word "symbol" has been used synonomously with the profession of the true church. It indicates that the faithful congregation of the Lord has always recognized it and therefore it has become a visible entity. Return to text

Go on to pages 56 - 60

Copy of text provided by the A. R. Wentz Library, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, PA

Imaging and Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks