Last time we looked at the beginning of Lecture 8, leading up to Thesis IV. The rest of Lecture 8 contains material very similar to what we saw in the first post, about how apparent contradictions in the Bible are easily untangled by a proper understanding of Law of Gospel. So I pass on to Lecture 9, as Walther gets warmed up to talk about Thesis V.
People often say “It’s a small world,” but hey, it’s not as small as it used to be…
The latest statistics of ethnologists figure the present population of the earth at 1,400 millions of human beings. Not quite 400 million of these, that is, not quite one-third of the race, profess faith in Christ as the only Savior. Verily, this is an appalling state of affairs, pitiful enough to draw tears from us. However, still more appalling and lamentable is the fact that of these 400 million nominal Christians nearly one-half are still followers of the Pope, the Antichrist. The mystery surrounding these shocking and depressing conditions is such that even sincere Christians dread looking with open eyes into this abyss of indescribable misery and wretchedness.
True, quite a number, in fact, the majority, of those who claim to be Lutherans refuse to believe that the Pope is the Antichrist and the Papacy the antichristian power. With the entire Church of the Reformation and in accord with the confessions of this Church the orthodox American Lutheran Church of our time still in full earnest maintains the position that the Pope is the Antichrist. But that is, at best, regarded as an odd fancy of narrow-minded men, who refuse to keep step with the times. If you ask why this is so, I answer that it is chiefly because people no longer know what constitutes the Antichrist and the antichristian dominion. People say: “We admit that, especially in the Middle Ages, there were many Popes who were veritable abominations and, even in the view of Romish writers, were swallowed up by hell.” It is admitted that many shocking abominations are still practiced by the Papacy, but this is offset by the reminder that there is not a Church free from errors and even from Judases. It is furthermore admitted that the Papacy is propagating the most horrible heresies, but over against this the fact is stressed that even the Papacy holds strictly to the three Ecumenical Creeds. For at the opening session and solemn organization of the Council of Trent, in 1545, those three creeds were recited. Our attention is also called to the fact that the Popes believe the Bible of the Old and the New Testament to be the revealed Word of God, God to be triune, and Christ to be God and man in one person and the Savior of the world. We are told: “The papists confess, just as we do, their faith in a future resurrection of the dead, a last Judgment, before which all men will be cited, and a heaven and a hell. Far, then, from being the dominion of Antichrist,” these people say, “the Papacy is rather a powerful dam shutting out the fearful deluge of unbelief that has come down on the Christian Church.” People see the rule of Antichrist in pantheism, materialism, atheism, socialism, nihilism, anarchism, and other horrible isms to which the modern age has fallen heir. But why is it that from the aforementioned premises men will draw the conclusion that the Papacy is not the rule of Antichrist and the Pope not the veritable Antichrist? The chief reason is that people fail to consider what it means when the Pope claims to be the viceregent of Christ on earth and the visible head of the entire Christian Church. In order to be this, he must, of course, profess many Christian doctrines. He has to put on a mask, otherwise Antichrist could not possibly exist in the midst of the Christian Church. Moreover, he has to declare war against the enemies of all religions and against the enemies of the Christian religion to support his claim of being the viceregent of Christ. He knows that, when Christ falls, Antichrist, too, must fall. For when He falls whose viceregent the Pope claims to be, there is an end of the viceregency. When the Pope apparently fights for Christ and the Christian Church, he fights for himself and his dominion.
But the point of supreme importance is this: Passing by those societies which deny the Triune God and which are outside of the pale of the Christian Church, I find that the Pope is the only one in the entire Christian Church who is an outspoken enemy of the free grace of God in Christ, an enemy of the Gospel under the guise of the Christian religion and aping its institutions. We are led to a consideration of this fact by
The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.
For the next few weeks we’ll look more in detail at what Walther has to say about Thesis V.