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Cf. Certainly the sacraments of the body and blood of Christ are a divine thing, through which we are made partakers of the divine nature; and yet the substance or nature of bread and wine does not cease to be. – Pope St. Gelasius, De duabis nature. In Chr. Adv. Eutych. Et Nestor. Patrology IV, 1:422
Spring Pastor’s Conference Meditation: Sola Scriptura
May 2nd, 2022
St. Matthew 4:1-4
In Nomine Jesu
“It is written.” Sola Scriptura. Without fail the church is convulsed with various crisis that shape their whole subsequent existence. I think here of the Ecumenical Councils which hammered out sound credal confession. I think of the Christological controversies that carefully navigated the proper understanding and relationship of the two natures in Christ. I think of Seminex and those who fought tirelessly for the sole authority of the Scriptures over against any human authority. I think of the educational and confessional crises that we face in our higher institutions of learning. And as of late, I think back mostly to the Predestinarian controversy in the 1880’s over the doctrine of election, and I ponder the words that were exchanged between C.F.W Walther and one of his former students.
Walther: “I ask you upon your conscience, in the presence of God, do you not believe that this controversy on Election will shiver our dear Missouri Synod into fragments? Alas! What will become of us? How many will remain? The pastor replied: “Dear Doctor, I do not believe any will leave us, excepting perhaps seven or eight who are not and have not been Missourians at heart, such as heed the Word only, though it be contrary to all reason…But in every controversy only this, what has God said?” Or as Jesus said to the tempter, “It is written.” Or as the Reformers confessed, Sola Scriptura.
Right after His baptism, our Lord endure a most grievous crisis. Sent out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. Then proceeded all sorts of grandiose plans for a successful career. The decisions He faced were fundamental to His person and work as the Messiah. I suppose, some might flippantly say that it wasn’t that bad for Jesus. Yet at its core, they were as simple as they were crucial: faith or unbelief, obedience or disobedience, cross or no cross, “It is written” or, “Did God really say,” Sola Scriptura or Sola Ratio.
As pastors, you are on the frontlines and in the trenches of a cosmic war. You know intimately that Christ’s Church is assailed by Satan, by those who don’t want to live beneath Word of God but above it, by those whose confessional subscription would reflect more a quatenus (in so far as) than a quia (because), and by those who want to fashion the Church according to the alluring promises of Satan. You are aware of the theological hesitation and indecision over the years in our Missouri Synod that has simply accumulated to a point where we now have produced crises in our life as church that can no longer be evaded or ignored.
To break the hypnotic spell of the ecumenical mushiness and pagan progressive ideals that buffet the Church we must return to the “It is written,” to the Sola Scriptura. We must have a clear grasp of the true Biblical doctrine of what the Church really is, as it is so beautifully confess in AC 7 and 8, in the Smalcald Articles, and in the Large Catechism. A pile of stones is not yet the Church, thus a pile of churches is not the Church. Only that is the Church which is built on the foundation of the prophetic and apostolic Word, Jesus Christ Himself being its cornerstone. “It is written.” Sola Scriptura. In every controversy only this: “What has God said?”
St. Athanasius wrote after outlining the Old and New Testaments, “These are the fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me” (Festal Letter, 39:6-7). Jesus is clear, anything but Him as the key that unlocks the fountains of truth and grace from the well spring of Scripture is a demonic imitation. Sadly, many pastors and laity are tragically trapped within their own hubris, the false piety of the devil, or their conscience is ever vacillating between “Did God really say,” or the Sola Scriptura of “It is written.”
It is quite evident that the real Church, the mystical body of Christ, is and remains hidden to mortal eyes. It lives under the cross and suffers many weaknesses, sins, and offenses, within and without. We may see the Devil’s enticing promises of grandeur and magnificence, of “all the kingdoms of the world,” but we must believe and confess the Church—she is an article of faith. We find her not by sight but only by faith in her pure marks, in the purely preached Gospel, and the purely administered Sacraments. For as a creature of the Word of God, the Church always remains under the Word. She lives, not by the bread of men, but by the bread of God that comes down from heaven and gives life and salvation to the tempted, the fallen, and the broken. The Sola Scriptura of Christ’s Word comes first, and it alone determines what the Church is and what it is not.
The promise, “It is written,” alone keeps you, even as it keeps the One who spoke it into existence. This is the great confession of Jesus in desert amid the devil’s wiles: “It is God’s promise alone which keeps me. By it I live by faith, and not by gazing at bread. No, I see no bread and am starving; I see no water and I am dying of thirst; I see no men who believe in me, yet I am to bring them the kingdom.” Jesus does not believe in bread but in the promises; He believes in “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Sola Scriptura. And if the Word now gives Him bread in His great hunger, He will thank God. The connection to sola fide and sola gratia should be obvious to you here. And if that same Word refuses Him the loaf, he will go on hungering and believing in God’s promise that He is destined to a great work and will not die of hunger. The very Word of God is the Lord in this hour, and Jesus lives by it. And so do you as His undershepherds, men who feed and tend the lambs of the Good Shepherd’s flock even as you are tended and fed by same living voice, the same living waters of Baptism, and the same Table prepared in the midst of fierce and demonic enemies.
This is always the real crisis: that we are always in temptation, even as we pray not to be led into it. The tempter is always within our hearts. He comes not as foe, but as friend. He courteously said what we had always thought: “Did God really say this? Did He not mean it this way? Would it not suit Him if you now did this or that, instead of taking His Word, all too literally, of believing Sola Scriptura?
Even as the devil is deep within our hearts. Though our hearts condemn us, Christ Jesus justifies us in His blood-sealed promise, “It is written,” your sins are forgiven. Your death is destroyed. Your life is always with me, for I am in you and you are in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches.” Abiding in your Savior, you will join your voices to the confession of St. Gregory of Nyssa, “Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine Words” (on the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327). “It is written.” Sola Scriptura.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son [+] and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Helmut Thielicke, Between God & Satan: The Temptation of Jesus (Michigan, Oil Lamp Press, 2010), 65-66.
“The Election-by-Grace Doctrinal Controversy and Doctrine of Justification” in Propter Christum: Christ & the Center: Essays in Honor of Daniel Preus (Luther Academy, 2013), 400-401.
Truth, Salvatory and Churchly. Works of Kurt E. Marquart. Vol III Essays Historical and Historic (Luther Academy, 2018), 17, 22.