The Judgment of the Sheep Over Their Shepherds
Eighth Sunday after Trinity
C. F. W. Walther
(Translated by Rev. Donald E. Heck)
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus.
God's Church on earth has always been a militant Church. She has always been oppressed and persecuted by the world and its mighty; even within the Church herself men have continually arisen, who have spread false doctrine, obtained a following, and thus harassed the Church, causing division and offense. In the Church of Adam was self-righteous Cain; in the Church of Noah, Ham who despised his father; in the Church of Abraham, the mocker Ishmael; in the Church of the prophets many false prophets who preached and the Lord had not sent them, who falsely comforted the people and misled them into idolatry. Almost everywhere even in the apostolic Church where the Gospel was preached arose heretics who caused splits, yes, often destroyed whole flourishing congregations. St. Paul classes among those especially Alexander the silversmith, Hymenaeus, and Philetus. St. John names the entire sect of the Nicolaitans. Thus it has continued until this very day.
Wherever the pure Gospel has sounded gainsayers have been found. Satan could never allow the Church to possess its heavenly treasures in peace. The Church has therefore continually used the Word of God not only as its soul's pasture but also as a weapon with which to battle unceasingly against false teachers. If the Church ceases struggling, it can no longer remain a Church, for as the spring sun awakens the noxious insects at the same time as the sprouting seed, so is Satan ever awakened at the blessed preaching of the Word of God. He tries to sow his tares among the wheat to smother the wheat.
Do we ask: Why does God permit his flock not only to be pastured by his shepherds but also attacked by wolves, who disguise themselves as shepherds in order to seize the sheep on the sly and tear them? God could prevent this; why doesn't he do it? God's Word mentions two reasons particularly. God permits it partly to test his children, partly to punish unthankful hearers. St. Paul says to the Corinthians: "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." (I Cor. 11:19). If the treasure of the pure doctrine would not be attacked, it never would become really clear to what one should hold fast. But if false preachers appear, it will become clear who is faithful to the pure Word; the faith of the upright is then tested and proven. If the pure doctrine would never be attacked, Christians would soon become lazy, lax, and indifferent; but the more apparent the deviations of others from God's Word are, the more Christians are driven to search it earnestly and note every word attentively. The more false teachers attack an honest teacher, the more exactly he must search everything; the more he grows in divine knowledge and certainty. Heretics are nothing else than the whetstone of the Church, whereby she learns to use the Sword of the Spirit with increasing expertness. God's hand knows how to turn the evil into good.