Walther’s Warnings About Shepherds in Christ’s Church

CFW WaltherA pitiful object is the young minister who enters upon his office with the thought that his days of hard labor and toil are over, that he has now entered a haven of rest and peace, which he decides to enjoy since now he is his own boss and need not take orders from any person in the world. Equally as pitiable as the attitude to the sacred office which I have just sketched is that of the minister who looks upon his office as his craft, or trade, and resolves to prepare for himself a nice, comfortable parish by being careful not to make enemies and doing everything to make all his people his friends. These unhappy individuals plan to employ spiritual assets for temporal profit. They are not true ministers of Christ, and on the Last Day He will say to them: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:23.

But blessed is the minister who starts his official work on the very first day with the determination to do everything that the grace of God will enable him to do in order that not a soul in his congregation shall be lost by his fault. Such a one resolves that by the grace of God he will do all he can, so that, when the day comes for him to put down his shepherd’s staff, he may be able to say, as Christ said to His Father: Here I am and those that Thou gavest me, and none of them is lost. Even the blood of those who shall stand on the left side of the judgment-seat, he resolves, shall not be on his hands.

But now the question arises: What is the matter of chief concern to a minister who wants to attain this glorious object? He must approach the Lord with heartfelt prayer and earnest entreaties in behalf of his congregation and, when preaching the Word of God with great zeal publicly and privately, jointly or severally, rightly divide the Word of Truth. For that is what  Paul demands 2 Tim. 2:15, saying: “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

During your present year at the Seminary this very thing, you know, is the subject of our study — the proper division of the Word of God, of Law and Gospel. These two are the cardinal doctrines of all the Holy Scriptures, which are made up of these two. Any passage of Scripture, yea, any historical fact recorded in Scripture can be classified as belonging either to the Law or to the Gsopel. No one should be permitted to graduate from a school of theology who is unable to determine whether in any compound clause of Scripture the protasis is Law and the apodosis Gospel,or vice versa. It is your duty to become perfectly clear on this subject.

Twentieth Evening Lecture, pp. 209-210

Without question, the words which, in Rev. 3:15-16, Christ addressed to the bishop of the church at Laodicea are of a memorable and awful import. He said: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So, then, because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.’ We see from these words that in the infallible judgment of God it is worse to be a lukewarm than a cold minister; it is worse to be a lazy and indifferent minister, who serves in his office because it is the profession in which he is making his living, than to be manifestly ungodly. For when a minister, though not teaching or living in a plainly unchristian manner, is so sleepy, so void of all earnestness and zeal for the kingdom of God and the salvation of souls, the inevitable effect is that the poor souls of his parishioners become infected by him, and finally the entire congregation is lulled into spiritual sleep. On the other hand, when a minister leads a manifestly ungodly life and teaches ungodly doctrine, the good souls in his congregation do not follow, but turn away from him  with loathing. Now, although greater damage is inflicted on the Church by the lukewarmness of a minister than by his manifest ungodliness, still both kinds of ministers will at the end of the world receive the same sentence. Both the lukewarm and the cold minister will be addressed in those awful words: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:23.

A faithful servant of Jesus Christ, however, will one day hear himself addressed in these words of inexpressibly glad import: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matt. 25:21. A faithful minister must not only avoid being lukewarm or cold, he must be warm. His heart must glow with love of his Savior, Jesus, and of the congregation which his Savior has entrusted to his care, so that he may be able to say with Paul and all the apostles: “Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God.” 2 Cor. 5:13. This is a strange dictum. Paul says that a minister must manifest greater earnestness and zeal than the majority of the members of  his congregation may like or approve. The apostle does not mean to say that in his ministry at Corinth he displayed zeal without knowledge, Rom. 10:2, but that he was more zealous than the Corinthians desired. Every sincere preacher and minister of Jesus Christ shows himself full of zeal and earnest determination, though he may not reap any better reward from his congregation   than unpopularity, hatred, and enmity. A sincere minister will go through such experiences   rather than gain any one for himself by hushing the truth, veiling it, or grinding down its sharp points.

It is an undeniable fact, then, my friends, that a minister, in particular, a really zealous minister, has to take his ministry seriously, or he commits a grievous sin. However, he can commit a grievous sin also when his presentation of Christianity and the demands which he makes upon Christians are in excess of what the Word of God declares.

Twenty-ninth Evening Lecture, pp. 307-308

Jesus says regarding Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” John 14:6 Peter confirms this statement by his declaration before  the Jewish Sanhedrin, saying: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other  name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 Paul adds his testimony by telling his Corinthians: “ I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I Cor 2:2. Verily, then, it is a great and awful sin not to draw any soul that has been entrusted to us for instruction to Jesus and not to tell that soul again and again  what a treasure it has in the Lord Jesus, its Savior. To keep some one from believing in Christ is such an awful sin that words cannot express it. A preacher who restrains a soul from confidently laying hold of Christ — no matter whether he does it consciously or unconsciously, purposely or from blindness, through malice or as the result of a perverted zeal for the salvation of souls — deprives that soul, as far as he is concerned, of everlasting life. Instead of being a shepherd to that soul, he becomes a ravening wolf to it; instead of being its physician, he becomes its murderer; yea, instead of being an angel of God, he becomes a devil to that person. Alas, ever so many preachers have not realized until their dying day how many souls they have kept away from  Christ by their unevangelical preaching and by their own fault have cause the souls entrusted to them to die of spiritual starvation. The result was that these unhappy preachers shortly before their death have had a severe soul-battle to fight with self-accusations and despair, and not a few of them have departed this life without consolation, in anguish, misery, and despair.

The worst offenders in this respect are the so-called rationalistic preachers, who with diabolical audacity mount Christian pulpits and instead of preaching Christ, the Savior, to all sinners, recite their miserable moral precepts for a virtuous life and fill the ears of the people with their empty bombast. To these rationalistic mercenaries, “whose God is their belly,” Phil 3:19 the terrible woe is addressed, even in our day, which the Lord denounced, saying: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” Matt 23:13. What terror shall seize these preachers who used to call themselves friends and adorers of Jesus Christ when they must appear before His judgement-seat and hear Him address them in words of flaming anger: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt 7:23.

Thirty-Fifth Evening Lecture, pp. 361-362

All excerpts are from The Proper Distinction Between Lawn and Gospel by Dr. C.F.W. Walther