Vol. VIII — No. 42 October 22, 1967


The Reformation Restored the Authority of the Word in the Church

Isaiah 8:20; 1 Peter 4:11

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is not light in them.” Isaiah 8:20.

“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” 1 Peter 4:11.

In Christ Jesus, who wants us to be guided in all things that pertain to faith and life by His Word, Fellow Redeemed:

Have you parents ever had the experience of having your word ignored or by-passed, or disobeyed by your children? Have you called, but there was no answer? Have you exhorted, but received no response? Have you forbidden only to find that what you forbade was done? What parent is there that has not had this experience?

Have you ever realized that this experience of having the authority of one’s word challenged in one way or another has been the constant experience of our Father in heaven ever since He spoke the first word to man. The majority of the people God created have always and consistently challenged and rejected His Word. Only an extremely small minority have listened to and heeded His Word.

The very first word that God spoke to man was in the form of a command—the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. No sooner had God issued the command than Satan began planning how he could undermine that authority of God’s Word. He succeeded in inserting a question mark behind that word in the mind of Eve. The result was that Eve disobeyed, and Adam weakly followed his wife’s lead in rejecting the authority of God as revealed in His Word.

When God spoke unto His people through Moses, even the sister and brother of Moses, Miriam and Aaron, challenged the authority of the Word of the Lord spoken through their brother, Moses. God punished that rebellion by afflicting Miriam with leprosy. Later the princes, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, led a revolt against the Word of the Lord that came by the mouth of Moses. This time God caused the bowels of the earth to open and to swallow the rebels alive. God speaks, and man rejects! That has been, for the most part, the history of man’s relations to his God.

In the fullness of time God sent His own Son to speak to His own people and to all mankind. with what result? The very religious leaders, who had been entrusted with the Word of the Lord, rejected the Word of the Lord God at the mouth of His Son. They branded Him a blasphemer and handed Him over to the Gentiles, who crucified Him.

Always it is only the few that hear and heed the Word of the Lord—the Samuels who cry, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth,” and the Marys, who sit at Jesus’ feet and drink in the words of life. The world rejects the Word of the Lord and the people, who call themselves “church members” or “Christians,” for the most part also are in constant rebellion A against the Word of the Lord. The Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of the Apostles reveal their constant effort to uphold the authority of the Word of the Lord against the constantly re-occurring rebellions of men. The apostles were granted success, but in the centuries that followed the Word of the Lord was more and more smoothered within the organized church by the very man who claimed to be the vicar of Christ, the pope.

The ancient watchword of the prophets sounded no more in the church: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah, as every true prophet of the Lord in every age, had to wrestle with this problem of the people turning their backs upon the Word of the Lord. Back “to the law and to the testimony,” was his cry. And he added words that remain forever true, “If they speak not according to this word, it is because their is no light in them.” Whenever man—brilliant, educated, civilized, advanced as he may be—speaks contrary to or out of line with the Word of the Lord, he is stumbling about in darkness.

The church before the Reformation rejected the very exhortation of the man they falsely claim to have been the first pope. Peter exhorts any and everyone who calls himself a child of God, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” when man speaks concerning faith and morals, he is to speak according to the standard set forth in the Hard of God. The church before the Reformation almost smoothered the Word of God with the ignorance and darkness of man’s word. when that darkness had created a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord, the Lord of the Church raised up his man and put him to work. What was the result of Luther’s efforts, blessed by the Lord? This—


The work of Luther and his co-laborers brought back again that which had been loss for centuries, namely that—

  1. Not the church and
  2. Not the “ego” of the individual Christian, but
  3. The naked Word is the final authority in matters of faith and life.

The voice of the church had replaced the voice of the Lord in the church. The individual conscience was crushed beneath this man-made tyranny. Efforts had been made before Luther to reform the church, but those efforts were crushed with brute force. Jerome Savonarola was condemned to be hanged and burned at the stake. John Huss likewise was burned at the stake. Martin Luther was summoned to the Diet at Worms—not to defend his teachings, but to retract them. When he refused to recent, he was declared a public enemy to be hunted down and brought in dead or alive.

Today we are protected by the laws of the land from harm to our property or injury to our lives, but otherwise the situation remains the same as it was before the Reformation, for the churches today also, to the most extent, have replaced the Word of the Lord with their own words. what is it that decides the public doctrine of the modern church? It is the majority vote at the church conventions—preceded by the propagandizing and politicing to get the right men elected to key positions and so on. You people have had firsthand experience with the church or synod trying to smoother the Word of the Lord. Why is it that you wrote some eighty letters to pastors of the LCA, trying to get one man to come to you and preach to you the Word of the Lord, but received no favorable answers? Why was it that these eighty men, to a man, did not have the courage to stand up and be counted, to take a stand against open and recognized violations of the Word in their own midst? It was the power of the synod—not the threat to execute as in days of old, but the threat to unfrock and so take away from the pastor his means of livelihood and his security in the form of his pension. So what do we have today? We find that the major Lutheran synods to a greater or lesser degree smoother the Word of the Lord in their midst and teach in a greater or lesser degree the doctrines of men instead of the Word of the Lord. What the Lutheran Church needs today is a reformation that will once again restore the Word of God as the final authority in the church?

The church is not the final authority. Neither is the “ego” of the individual Christian. I want to be sure that all of you understand the implications of this statement. About l5O years or more ago a theologian by the name of Schleiermacher introduced what is called subjectivism in modern theology. For this man the “religious consciousness” of the individual Christian was the final authority. So whatever the individual feels in his heart is right, that is right—even though it conflicts and contradicts what God has said. This we call the “ego” theology. It means finally that there can be as many opinions on any doctrine of God’s Word as there are Christians and that none of them can be called wrong.

Luther is accused of having favoured this view because he said in his famous words at worms that he could do nothing against conscience. But the context of Luther’s words reveals clearly that Luther was speaking of his conscience as bound by the Word of God. (“Unless I am convince by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason—for I believe neither in the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am bound by the Scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.”) Sin has affected the conscience of man. A person’s conscience may tell him that he is right, but he may still be wrong because his conscience is out of line with God’s Word. We are to follow not our conscience, but the Word of the Lord. The conscience of a child of God must be tuned to the Word of the Lord.

Today modern theology is completely saturated with “ego” theology—the opinions of various men. we have atheists who still want to be called Christian— the “God is dead” false prophets. We have such public heretics as Bishop Pike, who reject the Holy Trinity and any conception of God as a personal being, but who still want to be called Christian. We have Father Groppi, who specializes in civic disobedience and who has defined the Gospel of Jesus Christ as “nothing more than a fight for the dignity of the human individual,” but also wants to be very Christian. Every man is his own “god.” Every man decides what is true and to be accepted. Every man’s mirror is his altar, for when he looks into that mirror and sees himself, he takes for granted that he sees the highest authority on earth—himself and his own opinions.

You need but think back to the congregations from whence you came and you will recognize all the symptoms of this “ego” theology. Why was it that the communion table was thrown open to all, as though Christ wanted to offer His body and blood to those who reject Him in His Word? Why was it that people moved from denomination to denomination without any instruction? Why was it that people were accepted into membership without instruction and told that they would pick things up as they went along? Why these conditions? Because the Lutheran Church also has rejected the final authority of the Word of God and is quite content to let each member believe as he wills— just so long as he doesn’t rock the boat and harm the organization which needs the blind support of its members. What the Lutheran Church needs today is a Reformation that will throw out of the church the individual opinions of men and restore once again the authority of the Word of God.

Not the church and not the “ego” of the individual Christian, but the naked Word is to be the final authority in matters of faith and life. That is what God wants in His Church. And that should be the aim and purpose of our strivings together as a congregation. Let no one think it is easy to be guided in all things by the Word of God. It’s hard because the flesh of all of us unceasingly fights against the Word. But it’s worth while because our God wants us to be guided by His Word alone in all matters of faith and life.

He are making progress. Your bulletin this morning brings to you an amendment to the constitution that will correct the unscriptural practice in the matter of voting rights, that you inherited from erring former leaders. Let no one try to evade the issue by saying that this may be just the opinion of the pastor or some private doctrine of the church body from which he comes. Just open your Bibles to the pertinent passages. Read the naked word with no explanations or interpretations, and then apply them to the situation. God has settled the issue two thousand years ago. We are thankful that the church council unanimously recognized the authority of the Word of God in this matter and is recommending obedience to the Word of the Lord to the congregation.

We are making progress. The Spirit of God has opened the eyes of most, I would hope all, to the fact that Holy Communion is an expression of intimate fellowship on the basis of a common confession. If anyone rejects that, it is not because God has not spoken on the issue or because God has spoken unclearly, but because the individual refuses to bow to the authority of the Word, choosing to make himself His own “god” in this matter.

As matters of doctrine and practice arise, as they shall continue to arise as long as we are on this earth, we are to learn what the Word of God has to say, and then let God rule in our lives. It’s important, for any disobedience to the Word of the Lord is a threat to saving faith in Christ Jesus. How can a person say, “I believe in Jesus as my Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil, but I refuse to obey His Word.” Those that kneel before the cross in the certain hope of salvation should also kneel in obedience before every Word of the Lord.

Lord, Thou hast saved us through Thy death and resurrection. Lord, save us from ourselves by continuing to send unto us Thy Spirit to teach us obedience in all things. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - October 3, l967
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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