Blue Ribbon Task Force Gets Walther all Wrong in their Report, They Misunderstand His Teaching on Salvation, by Pr. Rossow

I shall continue working my way consecutively through the Blue Ribbon proposals but want to take a break and jump to the conclusion of the final report where the Task Force quotes Walther. They totally misread the section of Walther that they quote which I believe is more proof that they have an agenda and that they have done the LCMS a disservice with this report.

Here is the conclusion of the report.

A Final Word from C.F.W. Walther

In his sermon/address at the first meeting of the Synodical Conference in 1872, Dr.

C.F.W. Walther asked, “For what would happen if we really would make the saving of souls the ultimate purpose, the end and aim of our joint work?” One part of his three-part answer to this question was: “What an influence it will be on our dear congregations and their pastors and on their relationship toward one another if all acknowledge the saving of souls as the end and aim of our joint work! They will all pull, as peacefully as they do zealously, on the same yoke. Even though all kinds of strife-causing questions might arise—yet, the question:  “Which course is best for the salvation of souls?’ will quickly give the right solution … Whatever will win the most souls for Christ, that would decide between us …”

The conclusion to his sermon/address also reflects the encouragement of the task force at such a time as this: “Therefore, my brethren, from today on, let us banish from our hearts every thought of self-seeking in connection with our organization. We want to seek souls and bring them to Christ, keep them with Christ, and save them. Let that be the spirit which animates the general body of our Synodical Conference. Let that fill each of our synods and each of our congregations and pastors with fervent zeal. Let that give our meetings their spirit and their subject matter and give our fellowship its heavenly unbreakable bond.” (p. 50)

This makes it look like Walther puts evangelism above all activities of the church. That would mean that Dr. Barry was out of step with Walther when he created his slogan “Get it right Missouri and get it out.” Barry’s point was that we are to first of all get our doctrine right and then proclaim it to the world. Despite all appearances, Walther is not making evangelism the be all and end all of the Christian faith. Follow me carefully on this and I promise you that you will see that what appears to be the case in the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG) conclusion is actually not the case.

Before I pull the theological rabbit out of this Walther hat let’s be clear on what is at stake here. The Blue Ribbon Task Force has made it clear that the synod needs to be reorganized so that we can be more “missional” and here they believe they have found our founder, C. F. W. Walther, supporting them. If they can get Walther on their side, a darling of the conservatives, then it seems like we should just all go along with their proposals. As a matter of fact there is no lack of dumping of guilt on all who would disagree with the proposals. The “self seekers” in Walther’s second paragraph are clearly intended by the BRTFSG to be those of us who protest the proposals.

So hear is the correct understanding of what Walther is saying. He is not saying that evangelism is the goal of the church. The proper understanding of what Walther is saying in the quote above hinges on the equivocation of the term “evangelism” and the phrase “the saving of souls.”

When we hear Walther say “the saving of souls is the ultimate aim of or joint work as a synod” we think he is referring to evangelism. The “missional-minded” BRTFSG certainly thinks so because they think evangelism is the goal of the church. It is not, and this is not what Walther is saying. (I will issue again my challenge as I have elsewhere – I challenge you to read the entire New Testament and show me a single passage that mandates personal evangelism.) Because we have been brain-washed in the last 30 years by “missional-minded” folks in our own synod and Billy Graham and friends from outside of our synod, when we hear “saving of souls” we think of evangelism. We see them as equal but actually this is an equivocation. Walther did not make “evangelism” equal to “the saving of souls” and I can prove it from the very quotes the BRTSFG have provided us.

In the second paragraph of the quote above Walther says this:

We want to seek souls and bring them to Christ, keep them with Christ, and save them.

Notice the four activities Walther lists: 1) seek souls, 2) bring them to Christ, 3) keep them with Christ, and 4) save them. Taken altogether this is what Walther is referring to when he speaks of making the “saving of souls” the aim of the synod. Saving souls is not evangelism as we define it today. Walther defines salvation just as the Bible does. “Salvation” primarily refers to our final passing into eternal life. So for Walther the chief aim of the synod is to do all it can to bring people to their final transfer to heaven safe in the faith. A small part of this, and only a small part of this, is what we think of today as evangelism. Walther uses the term “salvation” in this way in the fourth part of his string of things that saves people. This is also how it is used in the Bible. Check out Romans 13:11, the letters of Peter and the book of Revelation for examples of this. Every time I study the work of Walther and Luther I am impressed with how well they know the scriptures and how technically accurate they are with the terms. This is just another case of it. We have gotten sloppy with our use of theological terms these days and the BRTSFG is playing loose with their quotations of Walther.

So for Walther the primary aim of the synod is to get people to heaven. The first part of Walther’s list is to “seek souls” and that is similar to what we call evangelism today, but only similar because it would not involve wholesale changes to our grandfathers’ church as evangelism gurus recommend today. The second part in Walther’s list, “bring them to Christ” is not what we mean today by evangelism but would mean bringing people to where Christ is. And where is that for Lutherans? It is where he shows up in His Gospel purely taught and in the sacraments rightly administered – at the Divine Service. So Walther agrees with the traditionalists that a large “portion” of evangelism happens at church. But then there are two more parts in Walther’s list: keeping them with Christ and saving them. These two, plus his second part are more about “getting it straight” Missouri than they are about “getting it out Missouri.” So, on a whole, if the BRTSFG wants to be true to Walther they should be gearing the LCMS structure towards getting the teaching straight.

Dr. Walther would agree with Dr. Barry – “get it straight Missouri and get it out Missouri.” Our problems are not organizational. Our problems are theological and the proposals do nothing to address that other than centralize the power so that no matter who is in control, conservatives or “The Church of What’s Happening Now” crowd, can force the other side to agree or be forced out. I will get back to highlighting this proposed centralizing of power in my next few posts.

All posts in this series are listed here.


About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Blue Ribbon Task Force Gets Walther all Wrong in their Report, They Misunderstand His Teaching on Salvation, by Pr. Rossow — 10 Comments

  1. Wasn’t it Walther who spent all those evenings with his students clarifying and solidifying the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Walther spoke eloquently about studying to show yourself approved. God’s Word is holistic in its approach as we should be to all fellow sinners, believers or not. Placing emphaisis on Evangelism before one has prepared his witnesses is folly and a diservice to The Word. We will always need the milk of the Gospel but we need meat too and all those who over emphaise The Gospel run the risk of raising malnurished spirtual children ( ask WIllowcreek) and those who return to thier own vomit. This would not be the first time I have heard that Walther’s view of the church was up for “debate”, somewhere down at our sems. these new grads. are filled with ideas of CG gone mad, Walther was not necessarily correct and PLI polution.

    I have seen these evasive, word playing, cryptic liars in the secular world all my life. I am saddened to see how pervasive they are in the LCMS. I have learned not to trust any LCMS Pastor until I have had time to witness thier theology for myself. How sad when it used to be like going home when attending any parish I might visit and uniformity of mission and doctrine was the norm.

    Shame on these “learned” men. God is not mocked no matter what thier “holy” motivation.

  2. What is scary is that even at confessional churches I have gone to in the long-distant past did not teach any of this. Maybe it is because doctrine was left up to pastors and the congregation was given rudimentary basics (why is that? It comes across as arrogance from pastors…like laypeople are too dumb to learn, but I am sure that must be wrong). I have never heard any teaching like this until recently, through reading this website and speaking with some confessional pastors. The time is gone when we lay-people can sit back and not know theology, at least for this lay-woman. Off to iTunes U at the Sem, taking classes on doctrine and theology.

  3. Excellent Christian Classical…

    The synod as designed by Walther and the folks depends on laymen knowing theology. That is why the synod convention is equal votes lay and clergy.


  4. Here is a quote from CFW Walther in Thesis VI of his “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” at the Iowa District Convention in 1879:

    “Our primary goal should be to spread God’s glory, to rescue souls and bring them salvation. This means that we should avoid anything by which we could indeed make our District/Synod big but which would not benefit our Lord Christ in His Kingdom, which would not promote the glory of God and the salvation of immortal souls.” [Source is “A Home in the House of My Fathers,” Rev. M. Harrison, p.324]

    I agree the BRTFSSG is misinterpreting Walther! It would be great if they WOULD take Walther’s advice on what a Synod should be!!!

  5. Pastor Rossow,

    President Kieschnick’s Task Force understands Walther perfectly. No one can read Walther honestly and conclude that he would sacrifice pure doctrine and practice for the sake of evangelism.

    President Kieschnick’s Task Force knows Walther never pitted pure doctrine and practice against the mission of the Church. So, why is the Task Force is cherry-picking Walther quotes to give the impression that he would?

    This is a case of dishonesty, not misunderstanding.


  6. Pastor Rossow, another excellent post! Thank you!

    Although the Blue Ribbon Task Force Final Report does not explicitly equate the “saving of souls” in Walther’s essay with modern ideas of “evangelism”, you are correct that this is how most of the audience will read it. So your concerns and warnings are well-stated.

    It is not evident that the committee was trying to argue the case that “saving of souls” in Walther is limited to modern notions of evangelism. It looks to me like the committee, in its rush to finish the report with something sanctified, looked around for a Walther quote on evangelism and found this quote.

    You are absolutely correct that the quote was taken by the Task Force out of context. The original was part of Walther’s address to the first meeting of the Synodical Conference. His purpose in putting “saving of souls” first was to keep the allied synods from fighting “turf wars,” to keep them focused on preserving ALL of the Word of God which saves souls, and to give them motivation to continue to “fight the good fight of faith.” Only the work of “saving souls,” properly defined as you do, keeps us working against the devil, the world, and our flesh, as they would tear apart our Evangelical Lutheran Church and feed Christ’s “little ones” to the wolves. That is what Walther said in his essay.

    That essay is, by the way, translated and printed in Matt Harrison’s new book “At Home in the House of My Fathers.” Go to:

    The cost is $19.95, plus shipping and handling.

  7. Martin,

    Thanks for the scholarly commentary on the post. You are a great Lutheran (in Christ of course) and your historical knowledge is a wonderful gift to the LCMS.

    I realize that they do not explicitly make the point of connecting evangelism and Walther in the conclusion but the other ad nauseum references to “missional action” in this document and the Bible study that underlies the proposals mkaes it clear that this is what they are going after.


  8. Todd W,
    Yep, it is pure plain deceit!!! Mislead to follow agenda & cause. What cause & who does it serve? If we laity & Pastors, continue to glaze over, and give benefit of doubt in this, it is wrong, we, not just they, are in error. If we do not, in love & honesty, confront & rebuke this, it will solidfy like stone. My great fear, is this:

    If enough congregations, sign the alligence oath to TCN & change their bylaws & Constitution, then the District will have to follow suit, and change it’s description, bylaws, & practice. If enough Districts, follow suit, in the TCN “stepford bride mold”, by natural progression, Synod must then change the Doctrines, Articles, and it’s foundational Truths. Synod must mirror it’s District’s & Member Congregations. Synod cannot do this, unless it’s “grandfatherly church” doctrine is out of sync w/ it’s Districts & Congregations. All are not needed to make this happen, just a majority.
    It is so hurtful & painful to read this article. So many, like me, have had to leave the LCMS, the church of my youth & elders, for health, welfare & Scriptural Doctrinal Truth to be preserved. Did I leave it, or…did it leave me?

  9. The mission of the church is taught well in our catechism: “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” (Creed, III) He calls (mission), gathers (divine service), enlightens (catechesis), sanctifies (vocation), and keeps (pastoral care).

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