Walther’s Kirche und Amt


In 1852, Dr. C.F.W. Walther published Kirche und Amt, known in English as Church and Ministry. In this book Dr. Walther defends 9 theses concerning the Church, and 10 theses concerning the ministry.[1] This book was occasioned by a number of different events. Perhaps the most significant was the excommunication of Stephan, the bishop who had led the Saxons to the new world, and to whom these Saxon immigrants had pledged themselves to, granting him the sole power of interpretation over religious and spiritual matters. When Stephan was judged to have engaged in repeated immorality, was deposed and excommunicated, the Saxon immigrants were distraught, questioning whether their churches were valid churches and their pastors valid ministers of the Gospel. [2]


It was in this context that the Dr. Walther began writing his theses on church and ministry. In 1841 he published and defended 8 theses on the church, which laid the foundation for what other Lutherans argued was the extreme congregationalism of the Missouri Synod.[3] (It should be noted that the congregationalism espoused by Walther and the Missouri Synod specifically makes room for the functions of the larger church body, a distinction the Congregationalist Churches do not make.) Having defended these theses against Marbach, a layman, these theses later formed the basis for his theses on Church and Ministry, which were adopted by the Missouri Synod.[4]


Despite the impact and continued import of Walther’s Kirche und Amt, it must be said that these are not consistently well argued theses. Right at the start, Walther makes some serious exegetical errors, then compounds them with errors of argument. It may be possible to construct an exegetically and rhetorically correct argument in support of these theses, but first we must describe the problem.


Walther’s Thesis I, concerning the church, states the following: “The church in the proper sense of the term is the congregation [Gemeinde] of saints, that is, the aggregate of all those who, called out of the lost and condemned human race by the Holy Spirit through the Word, truly believe in Christ and by faith are sanctified and incorporated in Christ.”  


“[God] put all things under His fee, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23).


Walther first quotes scripture, then from scripture constructs the following syllogism to support his thesis.


Major Premise: Christ is the head of the church.

Minor Premise: Christ is savior of the body.

Conclusion: Therefore, the true church is the sum total of all those who are joined to Christ.


Not only is this a poorly constructed and logically false argument (in that the minor premise does not follow from the major premise, the minor term is not included in the conclusion, and no middle term links the two premises,) but the conclusion cannot be supported by the evidence provided. Nowhere in the text, nor in the major and minor premises, are individuals mentioned. From the evidence provided, it is impossible to support the conclusion that the church consists of all those individuals who are joined to Christ. Please note that the conclusion may be true, but is not supported by either the argument or the evidence.


Here is a more properly constructed argument. Please note that only the first Major Premise is supported by the evidence presented (Eph 1:22-23).


Major Premise: The church is the body of Christ. (Eph 1:22-23)

Minor Premise: The congregation of saints constitutes the church.

Conclusion: The body of Christ is made up of congregation of saints.


Major Premise: The congregation of saints is made up of those who are joined to Christ

Minor Premise: The true church is comprised of the congregation of saints.

Conclusion: Therefore, the true church is comprised of those who are joined to Christ


As Walther was a classically trained scholar, educated in European schools, we may assume Walther knew how to construct a proper syllogism. Yet he did not. A number of reasons may be suggested. The first possibility is that Walther was not thinking clearly. It is known that Walther spent the previous year recovering from an illness.[5] Yet the overall clarity of thought suggests that Walther’s mind was clear. Furthermore, these are not Walther’s original theses as presented in 1841, but were rewritten as an apologetic basis for doctrinal discussions between other Lutheran bodies.[6] Therefore we may assume that Walther knew what he was doing, and that any seeming deficiencies of argument are by intent rather than by accident.


We cannot understand Walther’s writing without understanding his audience. He was not writing a set of philosophical theses, but rather an apologetic on a particular issue before the church. As such, Walther would have presumed a certain level of familiarity with the texts of scripture, with the Lutheran dogmaticians, and with the fathers. We should therefore take some of Walther’s statements as a synecdoche, where certain statements were meant to suggest the entirety of the argument, as making the argument in its entirety could have actually been insulting to his audience, as it would have been reiterating the basics.


Today, Walther’s Kirche und Amt is insufficient for teaching on Church and Ministry. The average seminary student is unskilled in rhetoric and unfamiliar with Lutheran dogmaticians. Walther’s argument, which would have been followed by his intended audience, is not followed as readily by the inheritors of his religious heritage. Careful instruction on Walther’s arguments regarding Church and Ministry must therefore reconstruct the evidence and construct a properly detailed argument. If this is not done, Walther’s understanding of Church and Ministry fails to convince, and the doctrinal position of Walther will be abrogated by his spiritual heirs.

[1] Walther, C.F.W. Church and Ministry (Kirche und Amt). Mueller, J.T. (tr.) p. 7, 19-23. 1987. St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House.

[2] Wollenburg, G.F. Church and Ministry. 2002, Walther Free Conference. Retrieved from http://pages.prodigy.net/cnehrenz/textwollburg.html on Dec 26, 2006.

[3] Reckzin, D.M. Three Doctors of the American Lutheran Church: Charles Porterfield Krauth (1823-1883); Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-1887); Gustay Adolph Theodor Felix Hoenecke (1835-1908).  1994. Southern Conference North Atlantic District.

[4] Wollenburg, G.F. Church and Ministry. 2002, Walther Free Conference. Retrieved from http://pages.prodigy.net/cnehrenz/textwollburg.html on Dec 26, 2006.

[5] Wollenburg, G.F. Church and Ministry. 2002, Walther Free Conference. Retrieved from http://pages.prodigy.net/cnehrenz/textwollburg.html on Dec 26, 2006.

[6] Peperkorn, T.A. C. F. W. Walther's Kirche und Amt and the Church and Office Debate Between the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods in the Early Twentieth Century. Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol 65:4. October 2001.