The Third Synodal Letter - Pages 56 - 60

sects also joined us in putting aside the false concept of the church, such as the one unfortunately taken up again by the Missouri Synod this year in Milwaukee. Under their supposition the one church of God is not a physical entity but rather an obscure and invisible one, coming into existence out of smoke and thin air, comprised of invisible members or unknown people as part of the great conglomerate, outwardly holding to the word of God in this world, yet also existing as sects and heretical congregations. And this invisible, platonic church, which because it is invisible it is nowhere to be found, is recognizable in its secret existence only in the word and the sacrament. * — And thus this unknowable weaving of air is supposed to be the owner and bearer of all spiritual wealth and ecclesiastic authority! Is such a product of thought or "idea" (as Prof. Walther expresses it in his Synodal Address in 1850) really supposed to be pre-existent? Then why doesn't it show itself? Does this product of though have a heart, which is filled with faith through the sermon (Romans 10, 17)? Why doesn't the mouth speak so that one can hear and see it? Of course, not! Missouri's concept of the one invisible idea-church hasn't advanced that far yet. It is stuck and it remains stuck in its so-called non-material churches, gangs and sects; hidden, unspoken and invisible! It's where little gangs find a place to cluck about and insert more teaching about the invisible church. Thus the Missouri Synod also finds itself duty bound by love to send all schismatic, rebel gangs preachers to be invested and ordained, to trample upon all church discipline administered by the holy, visible congregation of God; indeed it condemns itself as a papist and priestly entity. Oh, that these spiritualistic destroyers of church teachings and existence might finally seek repentance, after our having warned them for seven years and having exposed the devastating consequences of their teachings to them.

We would not be wrong in identifying their fictional idea or church of thought with the Platonic city (civitas Platonica). Plato's philosophic fantasy originated with his desire to build and arrange an essentially ideal and invisible city with all different kinds of people. In accordance with his ideal plan the city also came into being with all the obscurely good and best citizens, whom he then addresses: "the holy path, which leads to the heavens, we will forever follow; justice unites with wisdom, which is then ardently practiced; and souls remain spotless so that we may be friends to ourselves and to the gods." (At the close of his book, De Republica). Just as Plato composes an ideal city, so too the Missourians construct a church of thought, which is nowhere to be seen. And just as Plato, the philsopher, singles out for himself such an idea and a fictional city filled with a large conglomeration of human beings, so too these Missourians construct a hidden and invisible church in a large and visible group of all kinds of people and sects.


* And thus the word and the sacrament are no longer markers of the church but merely secret, invisible and pre-existing items. Return to text

When we take a look at the church of God in relation to the world, we freely admit that it currently exists within an evil world and that it is set apart by faith and confession from the general world population and from the population of sects and gangs. We also admit that the church is certainly the ediface of God's people, however within it there are false professors of the faith interspersed among them, just as in a field full of wheat there are also some wheatlike weeds, however it still remains a true wheatfield. On the other hand, the Missourians say that the wheatfield is not the place to look if you want to see the wheat. They say you have to consider all the fields in the world to be full of secret, invisible wheat. This is the one and invisible church!

One will perhaps counter that our Apology states in Article 4 (Bmg p. 299), "just as in a school of fish the good and the bad live together, so too the church is hidden among the godless, desiring that the pious not be vexed." However here we must heed what the Apology is discussing in this section. The situation is similar to that discussed on page 295, where it states, "for the population of godless (the world, as opposed to the church) is much larger, indeed it is practically uncountable. These people scorn the word, bitterly hate and persecute to the fullest. These people include the Turks, the Mohammedans, other tyrants, heretics, etc. The true teachings and the church are suppressed and dismissed, as happened under the popes. For them there is no church and they regard it as though it were already dead. On the other hand, we may be certain and have no doubt, holding on firmly to faith, that there will be one Christian church until the end of the world; it will persist and live on even though the godless masses grow ever larger." — Furthermore, "It remains certain and true that the masses and humanity, who truly believe in Christ, make up the true church; they have one gospel, one Christ, one baptism and sacrament, which is governed by the Holy Spirit." Also see page 301. "Thus the church exists where there is a proper acknowledgement of Christ, one true confession and realization of the faith and the truth," etc. John 3,33. Whoever accepts the testimony of God, affixes his seal (acknowledges and testifies) that God is real. 1 Peter 3, 15: 2, 9. Here one sees what the Apology means when it states that the church is hidden among the masses and the sect of the godless (tectam esse multitidine malorum). It does not mean that the church is invisible but rather that often it is concealed, suppressed, seemingly lost as though dead, hidden beneath the cross (oppressa or sub cruce tecta, etc) and scorned by all the godless. Christ Himself was hidden under the cross; in the guise of the servant he was the most scorned of all however, he was visible. "Thus the true multitude of Christ exists and remains for all time the group which is enlightened by God's Spirit

and which prevails even though this kingdom of Christ is not yet revealed to the world but rather is hidden under the cross and scorned. As the Latin text excellently states it, "Semper enim hoc est regnum Christi, quod Christus spiritu huo vivificat, sive sit revelatum, sive sit tectum cruce." It is different matter when the church of the Lord is hidden from the world under the cross as in the stall in Bethlehem and on the flight to Egypt; it's quite another thing when its own internal spiritual splendor is invisible to its own eyes and those of humanity. The sun is not invisible when it is covered by clouds for a few hours. And even supposing that the masses of hypocrites and godless became so numerous within the church of the Lord by divine decree that there were hypocritical teachers and listeners within the crowd, the true church of God still would not be invisible anymore than if all professed true teachings and the sacraments. In making their profession of faith, even hypocrites and the godless help to make the church visible. The church would still be both the visible and invisible congregation of Christ albeit in great confusion and misery, covered with the cross, oppressed and deceived by the hypocritical and godless majority. A sorrowful bride of Christ, but still not invisible. However in His own time, God can and will help the church through true, valient teaching as He has always done in the Old and New Testaments. Therefore the pious, who are the church with their faith and their profession, should not be vexed under such circumstances. Of course it would be a different matter if the masses of hypocrites and godless wanted to alter and destroy the word of God, the pure profession of faith and the sacrament with its power in the church. In that case the church has the command from God, "Separate yourselves from them." 2 Corinthians 6. Even in separating the church remains visible.

If there's one thing we need to add, it is this. It is an error to assume that the true church is invisibly present among the sects and the gangs. No man is enlightened by sect and gang teaching, rather the individual is perverted, the word of God is robbed and the soul is corrupted. Only the devil can operate with such teachings, not the Holy Spirit. There is a great difference between having a true and faithful Christian residing among sects and having him live within the sect; that is, his taking the sect into his heart. In the first case the individual belongs to the true church of God (the Lutheran church) through his faith and profession, even though for a lifetime he may not receive the eucharist and have a church. In the later case, however, he goes about forever lost as a sectarian, so he never has the opportunity to learn better and leave the sect. Isaiah 9: 16, 2; Corinthians 6, 14 - 18. Thus it remains true, as the scriptures state, that sects and gangs must be rooted out by true Christianity and the church of Jesus. "Since they were not of us, so they are separated from us." (1 John 2, 19.) It is an error to believe that those sects and gangs should be separated out of the church of Jesus in an invisible manner, for whoever leaves is a mutineer.

With regard to small, properly baptised children, it follows that they must live with their fallen and heretical parents out of obedience to the 4th Commandment, however it does not follow that they themselves must be heretics. Through their baptism they belong to the visible and invisible true church of Jesus and are not cast out of the church of God, however they are in more imminent and greater danger of corruption. After all, what frail being could reside in Satan's land and remain untouched and uncorrupted by him. Indeed all too often we see through our tears that when the parents fall, the young children learn to slander the church through their example. Oh, that God may grant His grace for their return.

We wish to summarize everything, which has been stated here, with a few rhyming lines:

The church of the Lord remains one for eternity
It is the ediface of the righteous faith community.
Both visible and unseen, it serves the Lord,
Flourishing in Christ's sacrament and word;
The hypocrite cannot make it invisible,
In facing the dragon it's light is formidible.
The weight of the cross will never drag the church under.
The devil will never tear its flag asunder.
For Christ resides with it in sacrament and word
Those, not within it, are a misguided herd.



From Melanchthon's response to the Pope's Bavarian Article of 1559 (translation).

Second Question - What are the signs which the church of God shows to us?
Answer - There are three signs, which the church indicates are necessary and universal: 1) Pure profession of gospel teaching, 2) celebration of the sacraments in accordance with divine investiture and 3) obedience, which people are duty bound to render to the holy ministry.

Concerning the first and second item it is stated in scripture, "My flock knows my voice." Item: No one can lay down any grounding other than that laid down by Jesus Christ. Item: One faith, one baptism. — and of all these matters it is stated in 1 Corinthians 1, "Be led by one voice and let there not be schism among you, rather hold fast to eachother in One Mind and in One Intention." Item: "Obey your teachers," Hebrews 13, 17. These are the three necessary signs, which the church openly shows us.

Third Question - Whether the church is visible?
I answer, that the true church is also visible in this life;

it is a visible assembly but not in the sense of the papal empire. It was a visible assembly in Judea, which there attended the priests Zacharia and the old man Simeon. "Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Hanna and many others (who awaited the deliverance in Jerusalem) were not united with the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were regarded the ordained authority there. — From the way the godless papists rage against the saints to this day, it is apparent that the true church is indeed a visible assembly. (Because one can not rage against something invisible.) "Thus God wills that His beloved son be acknowledged among humanity and He says, 'Listen to him.' He wills that the preaching of the gospel be public and visible, when He said, 'Let it resound in all lands.' And concerning the visible church, the Lord speaks in Matthew 18, 'Tell it to the church.' Let us never establish a church based on the Platonic ideal, for we have stated what the church is and that the people are the church." (The visible people and the professors of Christ.) "In no way does God will that His teaching is an Eleusian mystery. And we declare and assert that our visible assemblies are the church of God and we know that a) there are many true holy people in these assemblies, who bear witness of the Holy Spirit in true profession and endure the persecution of the cross even though there are b) many foul members among them. Thus the holy ones themselves suffer from many weaknesses. c) "Papist blasphemers and defenders of idolotry can be in the church and among the church membership." (No less than other sectarians and gangs.)

We also believe that even before these times (during stringent papacy) there were many saints and righteous faith Christians, although at some times the church had many more members and at other times fewer, as the Prophet Isaiah states in 1,9, "If the Lord had not left a few of us, then we would have become like Sodom." Item: "Although there will be (nonbelieving and fallen) people as numerous as grains of sand in the sea, some people will remain blessed," Romans 9, 27. Thus God speaks, "If each day were not measured, then there would be no blessed people." (In order to demonstrate how in the last days the church will sit amid the multitude of unfaithful and seducing men of the world and under the cross.) "There are the writings of many men at hand, from which it is apparent that they had the proper reasoning of Christian teaching, such as Ambrose, Augustine, Prosper, Hugo, Taulerus, Weselus Gruningens, Wesaliensis of the Mainz preachers, Hiltenius of Eisenach and many others, who had visible assemblies of Christians and who were plagued with persecution, such as Johannes Huss and Hieronymus of Prague, etc. Even though they did not have visible assemblies akin to papist pomp and circumstance, they were distinguished by what is called ordained church authority. Such a visible assembly is the true church, as the prophet describes it,

Go on to pages 61 - 67

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

Imaging and Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks