In December 1869, Johann Fackler, a student of theology at Erlangen, wrote to C.F.W. Walther and told him that things were going to hell in a handbasket in the Bavarian territorial church. Walther, however, encouraged Fackler to stay so long as the church maintained a public orthodox confession. Despite Walther’s encouragement, Fackler made his way to St. Louis and ended up living with Walther.
A few years ago, I received an invitation to preach at the 150th anniversary of a congregation in Corcoran, Minn. Reading the history of the congregation, I discovered that Fackler had been pastor there, and when I visited, I saw his cane, a gift given to him by his confirmation students for the 50th anniversary of his ordination.
After I preached, an elderly woman, just about 100 years old at the time, walked up to me. She said, “Pastor Fackler baptized me. I knew him. He would come to my family’s home. We loved him.” I was stunned: That’s one degree of separation between me and a guy who lived in Walther’s home.
This woman would have gladly and ably corrected anyone who spoke incorrectly about Pastor Fackler. She could have, conceivably, recalled stories told about Walther from as early as 1869.
Now, consider the first century Christians. In A.D. 100, there were people alive who had seen Jesus, people who had known Jesus! I spoke with William Weinrich from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, about this. It is significant that no one from within the Christian community who had seen Jesus — and there were many as St. Paul mentioned over 500 in 1 Corinthians — disputed the content of the Gospels, or Jesus’ teachings, miracles, death or resurrection.
The Gospels were written from A.D. 50 to 90. And no one, not even St. Paul’s opponents in the church in Galatia or otherwise, contested the Gospel. Not a single record from that time exists to contradict the Gospel accounts.
Knowing this does not persuade anyone to become a Christian. But it should give us a bit of courage to believe the seemingly outlandish claims of the Bible: that a man who died as a criminal was in fact God and that He rose from the dead. And it should give us confidence to make a defense of these things to those around us.
That defense — an apologetic — is the subject of this issue.
Paul Maier, who has written a large collection of essays and books about Christianity and apologetics, encourages us in this issue to do a better job of being ready to make a defense for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).
But we are not just trying to win a debate or turn the tide of the culture in our favor. We are saying to the world, “We have something good and true and beautiful.” The beauty of the Gospel is just as compelling as its truth. We have recently witnessed the particular intensity with which our culture rejects God the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. The culture pours out vitriol on those who confess Christ as God and Lord. And into this morass of wickedness and ugliness, the church has an opportunity to speak of eternal truth and beauty.
Some years ago, I visited the Vatican Museum and thought about the Christians who lived in Nero’s house. St. Paul writes about them in Philippians 4:22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” I saw a magnificent porphyry (it means “purple” in Greek) stone bath. It was probably some 15 feet across, and Nero had commissioned its creation for his over-the-top “Golden House.” You can explore the ruins in Rome to this day.
What evil and debauchery must those Christians have had to witness and suffer. They couldn’t just quit. They were slaves. And yet they had to serve an emperor known not only for his cruelty, but also for murdering his mother, wife and other family members. His reign is widely recognized as one of the most corrupt in Roman history. It is said he burned down a portion of Rome to make room for his Golden House, and then blamed the fire on Christians, burning them at the stake in punishment.
And yet, the Christians in Nero’s household joyously desired that St. Paul greet the Christians in Philippi for them. It is as though they were saying, “You have friends in high places! Be encouraged. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of all sins in the blood of Jesus Christ and His blessed resurrection is incredible. Not even Caesar can stop it in his own household!”
Lutherans in America — you readers of this very magazine — face similar scenes of wickedness in your workplaces, media and more. Your consciences face an onslaught. Many of you face hostility at work or school for holding to the sacred Word of God. You wonder whether you should stay in a certain position or job, or whether you are compromising your biblical convictions by staying. You wonder how to address the issues that divide you from your family and friends. And so much more.
Should the church compromise on sexuality issues to reach out to more people? Can I invest my money in compromised institutions? Are there any that are not? Can I support my sports team even though they celebrate and promote actions diametrically opposed to natural law, the Ten Commandments and the Word of God?
Some of the answers to your questions are clear; others less so. But what does remain clear is the church’s opportunity to speak the truth of God’s Word, to have “here I stand” moments before the world.
This also is a type of apologetics, a defense of the hope that we have, that we as the church need to be ready to give an answer. Let us ever keep this hope before our eyes: the hope of Christ and Him crucified. This summer’s convention focused us as a church on this message. It focused us on the bloody, pierced and crucified Christ, for there we see the hope of all the world. Pierced for our transgressions. And raised for our justification.
by Matthew C. Harrison