…is the avoidance of all those who teach differently not an unattainable, ideal situation? Man judges this way, unlike the apostle. The apostle is not talking about an unattainable, floating in the air, and enduring in the air ideal, but of a feasible and enforceable practice, when he exhorts Christians: “mark those who cause schism and nuisance alongside the doctrine that you have learned and depart from them!” – But one exclaims: How can Christians – simple-minded Christians – recognize those who teach differently and distinguish between truth and error? Even simple Christians can do this. Their Savior, who says remain in His Word, has given them in the hand the means to do it. The Holy Scriptures, the Word of the Prophets and Apostles, is for Christians not a collection of riddles, but a lamp to their feet and a light to their path.
Christians can only be wrong in their thoughts, words, and opinion, if they place the light of the Word of God under a bushel. When they use their light and right, when they hear and believe their Lord’s Words, then they know the Truth and the Truth makes them free from all bondage of human doctrine. The Lord expressly says that His sheep know their Shepherd’s voice. But the stranger’s voice they do not know, but flee before him (John 10:3-5). Let us remind one another that when we allow the Word of Christ to dwell richly among us, then it makes wise the simple. One raises finally another [objection]: But success! Success, to set aside the separation in this way, is indeed very uncertain. One must despair of success if one looks at the past and keeps in the present survey. Success, dear fathers and brothers, is not ours, but God’s business, Who has prescribed for us this way to achieve unity and to eliminate separation. Incidentally, we must not complain about success.
The Synodical Conference has worked not separately but together. It has steadily grown in spite of decline around it and it is still the most numerous Lutheran Church Fellowship in the United States. Our demise has been predicted from the start. In recent months some have repeated this prediction. It will not come true. We want to ask God primarily for two things. First, for humility. It is not our merit, but God’s grace alone, that we do not teach otherwise, but confess God’s Word. This humility is also to be felt in everything we speak and write. If we certainly are in the flesh, then we will not argue not according to the flesh. We also do not want anyone who occasionally goes astray treated immediately as a false teacher. It is no wonder, explains Luther, that someone in these high things, that we are by nature so alien, sometimes has his own thoughts and lacks some in words. Luther admits that of himself, and we will not hold back with the same confession. But we should not give in to our own thoughts, but once again take hold of God’s Word and thereby resist all our thoughts and all wrong speech. For this we should help each other in humility.
Secondly, we want to ask God for mercy that we, as in sincere humility, also testify with clarity and decisiveness the doctrine of the apostles and prophets and expose and reject foreign doctrine. So we strive in the right way toward the unity of the Christian Church and toward the elimination of harmful separation. May God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, blessed forever, grant it! Amen.
– excerpt from Franz Pieper, ‘Sermon on Romans 16:17-18’