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.


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