The First German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, U.A.C.
St. Louis, Missouri
A STENOGRAPHIC REPORT OF FOUR LECTURES
DELIVERED, AND BY RESOLUTION OF THE CONGREGATION,
FIRST PUBLISHED BY
PROFESSOR C.F.W. WALTHER, D. D.
Translated from the German by Rev. D. Simon and published in
1879 by Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis Missouri.
(from the 1947 reprint by The Lutheran Research Society)
“Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Thus Thy disciples once answered Thy question: “Will Ye also go away?” Thus, all, whoever became Thy true disciples, had to exclaim, and thus we too must exclaim. For to whom else in all the world could we go for the truth which we have found with Thee? To whom in all the world could we go for that grace which cancels our debt of sin and which we have found with Thee? And to whom in all the world could we go for that blessed peace which we have found with Thee?—
0 grant then, that no mock wisdom or mock comfort or feigned joy of this world may occasion as ever to become unfaithful to Thee.
Open Thou also the spiritual eyes of those who have as yet no knowledge of the salvation to be found with Thee, that they may know, that with Thee all things are to be found for which the soul of man longs, that they too may come unto Thee and remain with Thee unto death.
We will then praise and bless Thee for, this before Thy throne forevermore. Amen.
We are opposed to the efforts of the socialists:
III. Because the charges of communism against the Church and the Christian religion,
that these rather hinder than promote the material welfare of man, are unfounded and unjust.
There is one point yet which we must consider in our discussion of socialism and communism, if we would proceed with fairness, justice, uprightness and honesty. This is the accusation which socialism and communism make against the Christian religion and the Christian Church.
The first of these accusations is this: “The Church and the Christian religion are in league with capital,” or to say the same thing in other words, “with the rich, the powerful, and consequently also with the oppressors, the tyrants.”
“What else compares with the history of the Church,” ask the communists, “than the history of the most atrocious wickedness, of the plundering of the poor, and of bloody persecutions upon those who differed from them?”
And, my brethren, we cannot deny, that in the name and under the covering of the Church and the Christian religion some of the most heinous crimes have been committed, helpless people enslaved, impoverished and plundered, and streams of innocent blood shed. Calling themselves the Christian Church, men have affirmed that, if necessary for the propagation of the Church, fire and the sword should be used. Calling themselves the Christian Church, they claimed that in defense of the Church they had to burn the heretics. Calling themselves the Christian Church, they claimed a full right to demand of the lay members their bodily and earthly treasures brought to them by the Church. Calling themselves the Christian Church, they pretended, that, for the salvation of the world, they had to gain the favor of the wealthy, had to gain riches, honor, respect and power.
That all these abominations were committed by these who call themselves heads of the Christian Church, and that these abominations were committed in league with princes, the great, the powerful, kings and emperors, is a fact which no one can deny. All these things are written on the pages of history in characters of blood, and no one can erase them.
It is not to be denied in this connection either, that even in the so-called Protestant State Church many theologians united with the rich, the honored, the eminent, particularly with the princes, for the purpose of enslaving the common people to rob them as pertains to the body and soul, and to deprive them of all their rights.
But, brethren, what has this to do with the Christian religion and the Christian Church? The dark history of these abominations is not the history of the Christian Church, but rather the history of those TRAITORS AND ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH FOUND IN HER VERY BOSOM.
Or I ask you, when did Christ, or where do the Scriptures command such crimes?
Our Lord Jesus Christ was far from commanding His servants to propagate his kingdom by force with fire and sword as did the lying-prophet Mohammed; on the other hand Christ strictly commanded His disciples: “Go and teach all nations and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned” [Mk. 16:15-16]. Observe then, that Christ did not give the secular sword into His disciples’ hands; His Word is the weapon they were to use, and the means of propagating His kingdom was instruction and conviction; therefore the Lord also told Peter, when he, in his carnal zeal, had drawn his sword in defense of his Lord; “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword” [Mt. 26:47-56].
Our Lord Jesus was also far from requiring of his followers that they should persecute and kill the schismatic and the heretic, but to the contrary He declares that the wheat and the tares shall remain together in the field until the time of harvest [Mt. 13:24-30]. And when those disciples desired that fire should fall from heaven, because the Samaritans would not receive the Lord, the Lord declares unto them: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” He accordingly testifies: “It is not the spirit of the gospel, to let fire fall from heaven upon the enemies of the Church” [Lu. 9:51-56].
Christ was also far from commanding His servants to conquer the kingdoms of this world for Him, and to seek after riches, honor and power, but on the contrary he publicly and solemnly declared in the presence of Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” [Jn. 18:36]. Christ did not, as did the religious leaders of India and Egypt, intend to establish certain castes, as for example the caste of the priesthood and the caste of the laymen: no, the New Testament knows of no privileged priesthood. Christ would have no difference made among the members of His Church. He plainly declares: "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren” [Mt. 20:20-28].
Christ did not by any means, either, advise his followers to slight and despise the poor as members of less importance than the rich; but to the contrary, Christ associated mostly with the poor and labored mostly among them. He also says: “The poor have the gospel preached to them” [Mt. 11:2-6], and from among the poor He mostly gathered His Church. Therefore, the holy apostle Paul also says: “Brethren, God hath chosen not many noble after the flesh, but the weak things of the world” [1 Co. 1:18-31].
Christ was also far from requiring His followers to associate particularly with the rich commanding that they should do so because these had the greatest influence; that they should flatter them as those who had been especially preferred of God. There is, to the contrary, no book in all the world that speaks so contemptuously of the rich as the Book of Christ, i.e. the Holy Bible. In our last lecture we already considered the significant words of the Lord: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” [Mt. 19:16-26]. An another place he says: "Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of God” [Mt. 5:3]. Again: “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation” [Lu. 6:24]. And by St. Paul the Holy Spirit warns all Christians: “They that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition; for the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” [1 Ti. 6:6-11]. James also says in the 5th chapter of his epistle: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall cat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter” [Ja. 5:1-5]. And what is the apostles’ admonition to the master as to his relation to the servant? He says: “Ye masters do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening, knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him” [Ep. 6:9]. Is this flattering the rich? Is this requiring the Christians to associate with the rich, and that because they are rich?
And finally, my brethren, Christ or the Scriptures are far from warning the Christians against losing their respect for tyrants, lest they might fail to have the support of their strong arm; they, to the contrary, inform us that there has been no tyrant who did not come to a dreadful death through the terrible judgments of God. I need only refer you to Pharaoh, to Nebuchadnezzar, to Saul, to Manassa, to Herod. Yes, even more. When Solomon had been led away from the living God by his wives, his fall was also manifest in this, that he fearfully oppressed his people. He repented and died. The people then came to Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam, and demanded of him that he should make the grievous burdens which were oppressing them, lighter. Rehoboam turned a deaf ear, and in his arrogance sent the people away, —and what were the consequences according to the Scriptures? God in his wrath permitted it that ten tribes revolted and thus five-sixths of the kingdom fell away from him.
You see from this, my brethren, that even if men, who are in league with the rich who oppress the poor, who are in league with the tyrants, call themselves Christians and are even found among their number, they are not Christians.
The first accusation of the socialists and communists against the Church and the Christian religion accordingly falls to the ground. For the Christian Church proper is not in league with oppression and tyranny, but is their enemy, and a faithful friend of the poor and oppressed.
A second charge which the communists and socialists make against the Church and the Christian religion is this: The Christian Church has proved herself incapable of improving the miserable condition of the poor, incapable of removing the wrong relation which exists between the employer and the employed, and of bringing about such a state of affairs that all men might enjoy themselves in this world.
Brethren, it is even true, that Christianity has in reality not destroyed the old system of oppression. Christianity has not only not destroyed the natural evil of the world, but the world has even continued in her wickedness since Christ came. But could such an effect be expected or required of any religion? Is it not the very object of religion to point out and to bring about the right relation between man and God and to reveal man’s relation to a future life? The Church, by her religion, is to direct our attention to the proper relation which man is to sustain to man, and also to bring about such a relation. But the Church can do this only within her own bounds. Is not the use of physical power in direct conflict with the nature of the Church and the Christian religion? It is therefore a crying injustice to make religion responsible for failing to accomplish what she has no right and power to do.
To this must be added, that where the true Christian religion takes possession of the human heart, there it changes the relation between man and man and actually improves it. It is then that the relation between the rich and poor, between rulers and subjects, between employers and employees, and between the lofty and the low, is really improved. That true faith produces these fruits when it takes possession of the heart, we learned in the last lecture. For when great necessity came upon the Christian congregation at Jerusalem, when the sword hung, as it were, by a hair over the Christian’s head, the Christians had all things common, neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, and all only provided that none might be in want. And such will be men’s relation to each other, where persons have become true Christians, who do not carry their faith at their tongue’s end, but in whose hearts faith dwells.
Furthermore, everyone will admit, that a final judgment of a matter can be given only after a trial. So then, let the socialists and communists give true Christianity a trial, i.e., let them become true Christians: what will be the consequence? They will acknowledge that Christianity is truly a divine, heavenly power for the conversion of man and for the changing of all the relations of men to each other; then they would see, that if Christianity became universal, the sicknesses and weaknesses of this life, failures of crops, accidents, death and other natural evils, would indeed not be put away; and they would see that it would put an end to the tyranny of tyrants and make of them Just rulers, would take away the covetousness of the rich and make them liberal, would take away the selfishness of the employers, so that they would look more to the common interests, and care more for the welfare of the laborer than for their own, would put an end to the envy of the poor and make them contented.
The socialists and communists will no doubt ridicule this; very few will believe it, and will consequently remain in their misanthropy, i.e. enmity to mankind, and will therefore also continue to consider themselves in an unhappy condition. But, my brethren, we believe it. Why! we have experienced it and experience it daily, that Christianity has such power. It does not only make us blessed for the life to come, but it makes us blessed in this world, as it is written in the 128th Psalm: “Blessed is everyone that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands; happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.” This we do not only read in the Scriptures, but we have also experienced it. Yes, we have also experienced what Asaph says in the 73rd Psalm: “Lord whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.”
Let then every Christian take warning against the agitations of the socialists and communists. Their aim is a Fata Morgana, i.e. a brilliant airy appearance, like a fairy castle. The pilgrim makes one more effort to reach this castle. He finally reaches the place where the bewitching atmospheric appearance was seen. And behold, it is gone, and the deceived wanderer is now surrounded with a darkness and trouble all the more dreary.
Oh then, my brethren, let us aim for some other object – that object which presents to us our heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. This is no Fata Morgana, this is reality, this is truth! There are indeed many who say: “No one has yet come from the other world to us to let us know that there is another life.” But One has come from the other world to us, namely, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has sundered the bands of death and proclaimed to all of us: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live! and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die” [Jn. 11:25-27]. Jesus be our guide then, and we will follow Him over mountains and through valleys, through prosperity and misfortune, through darkness and light! Finally, the eternal and blessed light will make its appearance, then all our tears shall be wiped away, our sighings cease, and eternal unchangeable joy shall take possession of our hearts. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has obtained this for us, help that we may secure it. Amen.