A united church

Daily Reading for January 3 • William Passavant, Prophetic Witness, 1894

Brought together by a power higher than our own, we find ourselves on the virgin soil of this new continent, the representatives of numerous nationalities of the old world. Our childhood, boyhood, manhood, early training, and later education have been widely different, and the associations, modes of thought and local surroundings of each individual have not been without their influence in the formation of our character as a Church. That under these circumstances there should be some diversity of thought, and difference of administration, together with not a few local and national peculiarities, customs and even prejudices, is only what might be expected, is only what could not be otherwise.

But while, in the Lutheran Church in this country this diversity confessedly exists, there exists, at the same time, a unity in diversity which justifies the fraternal declaration, “We be brethren.” We are so in more than one important respect. Brethren in Christ, we stand nearly related to all who in every place call upon Jesus Christ, both their Master and ours. But we are family relations to each other, and a common faith with common usages, associations, labors, aims and hopes, makes us one in a peculiar sense. We belong, not merely to the same army, but to the same regiment; and side by side and shoulder to shoulder we have resisted the same mighty force, stood up against the same deadly charge, endured the same agonizing suffering, and, after the smoke and dust of the battlefield has cleared away, we have together wept over our fallen brethren, or made the sky echo with the exulting shout of victory. Three centuries with their history of trials and triumphs look down upon us this day, a diversified, but yet a united Church.

With this great fact of our common brotherhood before us, our duty as a Church is clearly apparent. It is, to live and love and labor as brethren. If we cannot see eye to eye in everything let us walk by the same rule, so far as we are agreed. Palsied be the arm that would turn the tide of battle from the common foe against our brethren. At a time like this, when Socialism with its unclean spawn, and Rationalism with its icy touch, and Romanism with its corrupt faith and its relaxed morality, must not only be met and discomfited by the truth as it is in Jesus, but when the overshadowing power of material interest threatens to dry up the very heart of Christianity itself, and, in our land turn all into the idolatry of gold, divided interests and efforts can oppose no barrier to the overflowing surf. It is a struggle not only for the triumph but for the life of Christianity. It affects the whole brotherhood. It is a strife pro arts et focis, for our altars and firesides, and the weakest as well as the mightiest must stand by his arms in this coming struggle which shall shake not the earth only but also the heavens.

It is not too much to say, therefore, that our common duty in this crisis of our history is to seek the things that make for peace and things whereby we may edify one another. That partisans of different kinds will misconstrue this advice, we know beforehand; but what we have written is not ours, but the word of the Lord. Under circumstances very similar, the holy apostle “besought the brethren, by the Lord Jesus Christ, that they should all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among them, but that they should be perfectly joined together in the same judgment.” Christian brethren cannot hope to come to the unity of the faith until this law of charity is observed; for where divisions are there is contention and every evil work.

From “We Be Brethren” by William A. Passavant, in The Missionary (1856), quoted in The Life and Letters of W. A. Passavant, D.D. by George Henry Gerberding and William Alfred Passavant (Greenville, Pa.: The Young Lutheran Co., 1906).

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