17 August 2009
Loehe on Numbers, Majorities, and Mission Clarity
The Truth is not always surrounded by an equal number of confessors; the number is an adiaphoron, an accident, a matter of no importance, -- it is not to be asked how many confess, but what they confess; Word, Confession, doctrine, -- that is all, everything else is subject to change. If the Church is only Apostolic, then it is great enough whatever its numbers; the word "Catholic" is not to be defined by a normal number, but finds its explanation in the doctrine of the universal grace of God, which seeks to spread the true doctrine and Church as far as possible, and would spread it if the wickedness of men did not withstand it; for, according to the unalterable determination of the Lord, His grace can be turned back by no opposition except that of the sinful heart of man.
Quite otherwise, much truer and much loftier does it sound to say: Twelve men, unlearned, of lowly condition, in a few centuries spread among all peoples a teaching which contradicts human reason and self-love, with no other means than their faithful and united confession, and thus gathered one Catholic community out of all people and races and tongues. This is indeed a testimony to the Church, so small in its beginnings that it could be compared with a mustard-seed; this is indeed an answer based upon numbers; for it proves that to overcome the world not many men are needed, but only the almighty co-operation of the Truth; it proves, as we have said, that all depends not upon the numbers, but upon the weight, of the voices. -- It is quite different now, since the Church of God has been acknowledged in the world by the testimonies of centuries; it is no longer a disgrace to bend the knee before Christ; the history of eighteen hundred years has proclaimed that the Church is the highest and most beautiful of conceptions; now the world itself wishes to be inscribed among confessors and even does confess in certain particulars; many from the highways and hedges sit down at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Now the majority is no longer a proof of the presence of the Lord; on the contrary, it might be the case that not only on the side of Rome but also on the Lutheran side there are too many, and that the Lord before setting forth to His last great victory through the Church will have to sift and reduce His little flock as He did in the day of Midian by means of the Shibboleth of a true Confession. So little have we to fear a truth based on a majority that on the contrary we may ask who is injurious to the community, who hinders its work by his presence, who ought to leave us, who ought to be driven away. So little should we be concerned about numbers, that we ought to be happy if they go away from us who do not belong to us. It is indeed sad that some are lost through schism, but notwithstanding it is true that thousands of true confessors fulfill their calling as a pure Particular Church more easily on account of the witness borne by their spirit and life, than millions would among whom the thousands could have neither power nor voice; because sin and wickedness always are louder and more easily come to the front. If the majority counts, how should it be at the end with the Church of which it is written, Luke 18:8, When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith upon the earth?
Wilhelm Loehe. Three Books Concerning the Church: Offered to friends of the Lutheran Church, for Consideration and Discussion. Translated from the German by Edward T. Horn. [Reading, PA: Pilger Publishing House, 1908] pages 117-119