Last time, we sped through an entire lecture in just one post! As we start the fourth lecture, we slow down again to consider Walther’s introductory comments (next time, finally, we will reach Thesis II!):
When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church, but refuses to do so even in a single point of doctrine, such an action looks to human reason like intolerable stubbornness, yea, like downright malice. That is the reason why such theologians are loved and praised by few men during their lifetime. Most men rather revile them as disturbers of the peace, yea, as destroyers of the kingdom of God . They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But in the end it becomes manifest that this very determined, inexorable tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church; on the contrary, it is just this which, in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace. Therefore, woe to the Church which has no men of this stripe, men who stand as watchmen on the walls of Zion, sound the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, and rally to the banner of Jesus Christ for a holy war!
Try and picture to yourselves what would have happened if Athanasius had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the deity of Christ. He could have made a compromise with the Arians and put his conscience at ease; for the Arians declared that they, too, believed Christ to be God, only not from eternity. They said: ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν (there was a time when He did not exist), meaning, He had become God. But they added: “Nevertheless He is to be worshiped, for He is God.” Even at that remote time, had Athanasius yielded, the Church would have been hurled from the one Rock on which it is founded, which is none other than Jesus Christ.
Again, imagine what would have happened if Augustine had made a slight concession in the doctrine of man’s free will, or rather of the utter incapacity of man for matters spiritual. He, too, could have made a compromise with the Pelagians and put his conscience at ease because the Pelagians declared: “Yes, indeed; without the aid of God’s grace no man can be saved.” But by the grace of God they meant the divine gift which is imparted to every man. Even at that time, had Augustine yielded, the Church would have lost the core of the Gospel. There would have been nothing left of it but the empty, hollow shell. Aye, the Church would have retained nothing but the name of the Gospel. For the doctrine of the Gospel that man is made righteous in the sight of God and saved by nothing but the pure grace of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, is, as everybody knows, the most important doctrine, the marrow and substance of Christian teaching. Wherever this doctrine is not proclaimed, there is no Christ, no Gospel, no salvation; there men perish, and for such people it has been in vain that the Son of God has come into the world.
Lastly, picture to yourselves what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession in the doctrine of…
OK, so you see the pattern building here, right? Lutheran to the core, and preeminently concerned with Law and Gospel, Walther is laser-locked onto the doctrine of Justification, the article on which the church stands or falls, right? Keep reading…
Lastly, picture to yourselves what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the Holy Supper. At the time of the Margburg Colloquy he could have made a compromise with Zwingli and put his conscience at ease, because the Zwinglians said: “We, too, believe in a certain presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but not in the presence of Christ’s corporeal substance, because God does not set up such sublime, incomprehensible things for us to believe.” By this claim Zwingli made Christianity in its entirety a questionable matter, and even Melanchthon, who was usually greatly inclined to make concessions, declared that Zwingli had relapsed into paganism. Had Luther yielded, the Church would have become a prey to rationalism, which places man’s reason above the plain Word of God.