A Word to Our Readers

by Anonymous
translated by Nathaniel Biebert

The following article was translated from the Gemeinde-Blatt, Vol. 4, No. 1. Neither initials nor any other indication of authorship were printed with it. However, due to the position (first article in the issue) and nature of the article, very likely the author was one of the two editors, either John Bading or Adolf Hoenecke.

John Bading was president of the Wisconsin Synod from 1860 to 1889. He was instrumental not only in solidifying the doctrinal and confessional stance of the synod, but also in establishing fellowship with the Missouri Synod. Although the Missouri Synod had had reservations about the Wisconsin Synod, surely articles appearing in the Gemeinde-Blatt, such as this one, helped reassure them of the Wisconsin Synod’s intention to be faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran confessions. (This article first appeared on September 1, 1868. Discussion between the two synods took place in October and fellowship was publicly established the following year.)

Adolf Hoenecke was a long time editor of the Gemeinde-Blatt. He also was a prominent professor of our synod’s seminary (1866-69, 1878-1907). During his professorship, he wrote his own systematic theology notes, which are currently in the process of being translated and published in English under the title Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics. (Vols. 3 and 4 have already been published by NPH.) The people who knew him easily recognized his love for Scripture, and his unwillingness to depart from any truth therein.

Both of these men, therefore, fit the description of the author of this article. He sternly, yet lovingly addresses the readers of the Gemeinde-Blatt. Essentially, the article is a defense of the periodical’s purpose, viz., “to build up our dear congregations in the saving faith.” It also defends all the implications of the purpose.

Apart from these brief notes, the article is very self-explanatory. May our gracious God preserve the same attitude in those who write articles for our synod’s publications today and in the future!

With God’s help we have completed the third volume of our church periodical, and with faith and hope in him we go into the new volume. May it please him to grant us success in helping to build up our dear congregations in the saving faith, which has always been the purpose in publishing our paper. The fathers of our church have again made this faith known from God’s Word and have handed it down to us as a treasured, priceless inheritance. Having said that, we willingly confess how far we have still fallen short of our goal. We have not always been completely focused on our purpose of arousing in our readers real love for the precious and cherished teachings of our Lutheran Church. So we pray to him, from whom every good gift comes, all the more earnestly. We ask him to equip us and all who work for our paper, so that through our work this church paper becomes a truly edifying paper in doctrine and teaching.

To be sure, this can come about in various ways: in articles about pure doctrine, in edifying meditations, in history, stories, and any other ways that steer souls to him who is our righteousness and eternal life. Thus understood, we want to keep the main purpose in view, and at the same time try to accomplish the task of satisfying all our readers. It is a difficult task. Everyone who has assisted in the publication of a newspaper knows that. “Too much history!” cries one person, while another finds history too sparse in the paper. One person soon tires of meditations, and wants them to diminish; another easily tires of articles that purely instruct, and requests that we cut back on them. Comparatively speaking, the weakest request may come from those who imitate the latter. That is not a legitimate request at all! Doctrinal articles should be the main concern in our paper. They should be the most wished-for and desired articles in it for all readers. Without clear, solid doctrine, there is no edification – at lest no real edification. Merely alluding to speculation, moving the heart, or shaking and arousing the spirit does not edify. So-called “edifying” articles, which have this in view and nothing more, do not build up and strengthen in the faith. Doctrine alone edifies, so doctrinal articles are necessary. Surely no one will want to say, “We are already too rich in doctrinal knowledge; we do not need doctrine any more.”

One thing we do know. If we faithfully keep in view the main purpose of our periodical defined above, then we cannot satisfy two kinds of people for sure. First, we cannot satisfy those who forget that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Secondly, we cannot satisfy those who do not take to heart that Christ, while he is the Prince of Peace, has also come to bring the sword. “Well,” says the first kind, “if only our get along church periodical would also do some reporting on how matters are getting along here and there, on this side and that, in the kingdom of this world, in politics!” This we neither want nor can do. We know well that we could perhaps enlarge our readership quite considerably if we also occupied ourselves with politics. Many people would value the paper, not because of the purpose for which it is published, but perhaps because of the political information. But we have a commission to help usher souls into the kingdom of God, and to do that also with our church paper. We should not occupy ourselves with politics. Our dear Lord forbids us. He bids us to promote just one political principle: Submit yourselves to the ruling authority – even to an eccentric one (however so it may be) – not for personal benefit, regard for a certain party, or whatever else it may be, but for its own sake.

Now, dear reader, and you who are not yet our reader but are still dear to us, perhaps you are thinking, “I would subscribe to or continue using the paper if only I could also learn from it something about politics.” If so, then consider this: The world is passing away along with its pleasures, riches, and all its politics; the kingdom of God endures forever with its peace, joy, salvation, and glory. This church periodical wants to help you get correct information on the question: What must I do to be saved? Shouldn’t the paper be useful to you in this regard – even if it means forgoing politics? We do not want to conceal it: You would be wrong to value politics more than instruction about the kingdom of God. If you do deem it necessary to stay up-to-date in politics through information, then hopefully you will not consider it unnecessary to also be informed about the kingdom of God through a church paper. Those who look upon political newspapers as superfluous simply have no interest in politics whatsoever. Those who show much indifference toward papers that instruct about spiritual matters do not, at the least, give a great and favorable impression of their love for their church and its doctrine.

“You quarrel too much,” says the second kind of people. “We want a paper that preaches peace, not one that rejects and condemns other Christians. We want to live with everyone in peace!” Dear people, you who talk this way, let it be said to you that there is one true peace and one false, worthless peace. The true peace is from Christ, whom we want to preach to you; the false, worthless peace is from the evil one, with whom we want to do battle.

There are people who say, “We want to stand by our doctrine, in which we have been instructed from childhood, and everyone else should stand by the beliefs that they have been taught. We want to keep our good neighbor status with everyone; we don’t want to have hostility just because of doctrine. Live and let live; give to each his due – that’s the main thing.” For this kind of people the papists, the Catholics, are also such people with whom they do not want to have any trouble for the sake of faith. For that reason they also do not want to hear about any disclosure of false Catholic doctrine, which corrupts souls. They call that “quarreling” and “disturbing the peace.” This kind of people does not know, then, that

  • The Catholic church has expressly and most definitively condemned the precious evangelical article of faith: “We become righteous through faith alone.”
  • Catholics regard all Lutherans as heretics who are going to hell one and all.
  • Catholics teach righteousness through one’s own works as the correct way to salvation, the way that Holy Scripture condemns with the words: Those who cherish works of the law are under the curse (Gal. 3:10). So the curse applies to those who do works of the law with intention and purpose, and want to become righteous and be saved through them and not solely and only through Christ’s merit.

But those who say, “The church periodical quarrels too much,” perhaps do not belong to this sort of peace-loving people, i.e. those who love the worthless peace. However, what else could your opinion be, except that you want a worthless peace. For it is said, “If only we agree in the chief doctrine concerning Christ and his righteousness, the remaining doctrines are merely secondary, over which one ought not to accuse other churches of heresy. Therefore a paper that quarrels and passionately declaims against union and against reformed doctrine does not suit us.” Dear reader, you who talk this way, you have a very unfortunate point-of-view. You could care less whether or not you confess, know, and believe the right thing in any so-called “secondary” doctrines (which are actually important chief doctrines beneath the surface). You certainly consider it necessary and useful to understand everything correctly in secular books. But whether you correctly understand everything in the Book of Books, whether you believe the Word of the Savior rightly and understand in faith how he would have it understood, known, and believed – you lay no stress upon that! Moreover, when our church periodical does lay stress upon that, when it lays in front of you what you should embrace as pure doctrine and avoid and reject as impure, false doctrine, when our church periodical, in so doing, considers every word of the Savior in humble faith as very important and rejects with loathing all warping, perverting, and masking of his Word as arrogant and sinful censuring, then you call that “quarreling.”

Now then, consider well which is right:

  1. To regard God’s Word highly and let it – just as it has been written – stand above every other word, to look upon every word as true, and to seek nothing more willingly than to correctly understand it and truly believe it?

    Or

  2. To esteem God’s Word lightly here and there, even important expressions, such as the great expression: “This is my body; this is my blood,” to say, “It does not matter how I understand and believe,” and to do all this only for the sake of the worthless, unionistic peace?

Where has the Lord Jesus commanded us that we should keep peace, even when it would require ignoring the proper understanding of his Word now and then? Much is sung and said about love that surpasses all. We do not want to know anything about such love, which pronounces fundamentally true and false interpretation of many words of the Savior to be equal. We do not want to know anything about such love, which for the sake of its own grandeur1 makes holding firm to the truth out to be mere quarreling.

Suffice it to say that we cannot satisfy those who love the worthless peace. We cannot preach, cherish, and love such peace. We do not even want it, because we should not.

Now then, may God bless our periodical in its course throughout the new year, and may he bless our beloved readers as well.

  • 1. Lit.: for the sake of its self-made width and breadth.