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Looking Back in the Lutheran Spokesman

From August 1965

(a portion of) REMEMBER THE DAYS OF OLD — II. . . . We are all descendants of one man, C. F. W. Walther. . . .Everything you and I have learned to treasure all that was good in the Synodical Conference — its faithfulness to the Gospel, its emphasis on sound doctrine, its hatred for all error, its determination to establish Christian day schools, its thorough indoctrination of pastors, teachers, members, — all this must be credited (humanly speaking) to that one man, Walther. Our confessional Lutheran church in America was born at Altenburg Missouri in 1841, when Walther contended for the true teaching of the church and ministry.

His greatness is that he did not build a sect on that point of doctrine. Though forced by controversy to contend for the scriptural teaching on church and ministry, yet the salvation of the sinner by the justification of God in Christ remained central in Walthers teaching, preaching, and writing. He preached the full forgiveness of sins as no one had since the monk from Wittenberg. In his controversies with the Buffalo Prussians, and later with the Ohioans in the election controversy, he was able to see the heart of the errors and their relationship to the good news, the peace of the sinner.

Walther was a courageous battler for the truth. He was also honest. Though he anxiously yearned to establish one Lutheran church across the land, his awe for God’s Word was so great that compromise was out of the question for him. Quickly a seminary was established and a large clergy developed all stamped with Walthers love for the Gospel and fervent zeal for Gods Word. This is not meant to belittle the other influential men in Missouri, nor the many gifted lay workers in Missouri and Michigan. Wyneken, Hattstaedt, and Sievers brought a strong mission zeal to the group and turned the synod outward and outreaching. But Walther was the giant, a tremendous worker in every phase of the work. He combined an amazing practical ability with his theological gifts. The constitution he wrote for the synod is still used to a great extent today. His constitution for a congregation is reflected in every congregation in our midst.

Walther fitted himself into his times. He understood America and recognized its greatness and its peculiar dangers. He quickly established that lodge membership was incompatible with a Christian confession. He knew that the union spirit of the European churches found even great reception in this country where people of all faiths mingled freely in the market place.

Walther’s greatness overshadowed all else, including the other faculty members, who were almost insignificant by comparison in the eyes of the students. The graduates of the first 30 years or so were Waltherian through and through. This created the unity in Missouri the strong esprit de corps. There was consistency in doctrine and in every realm of practice. This strong unified clergy, imbued with Walther’s massive spirit, stood ready to receive and shepherd the mass of immigrants that flooded the country from 1850 to 1900.

This Walther army was not only a well drilled army, but had great substance because Walther gave these men more than himself. He stressed above all objective justification that God had proclaimed an Easter pardon for every sinner in the world. Therein lay Walther’s greatness, his meaning, his success. From St Lous went forth a host of faithful Gospel preachers establishing congregations from shore to shore. As other groups were assimilated by Missouri, they did not bring adverse influences. The solid corps was too strong. When one joined Missouri one became Missourian.

Yes we have inherited much from Walther and the Missouri Synod. The entire concept of a confessional Lutheran church in a free society, uncompromising loyalty to Christ, an appreciation of the central truth of objective justification, the importance of Christian schools, sound congregational life adapted to a democratic society, excellent organization, and a burning zeal for mission work.

To complete our work we must also see in our inheritance the shortcomings in Missouri and even in Walther. But we leave that for another issue.

— W. Schaller, Jr.