Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can Calvinists really be concidered Augustinian?

Calvinists often claim that their theology is not something which arose through the writings of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. To support this thesis, they usually cite St. Augustine, the doctor of grace. Here are five reasons why I do not believe Calvinists are truly Augustinian in their soteriology. Though they can certainly cite him as an influence, the theology of Concord is much closer to that of Augustine and his early predecessors.

1. Augustine saw baptismal regeneration as essential for his soteriology. In some ways, baptism is the foundation of Augustine's theology. Read for example, his treatise On the Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism. His entire defense of original sin was through its remedy in baptism. Within his anti-Pelagian writings, Augustine constantly refers back to baptism as a primary means God uses to give his free grace, and free man's will. There is no immediate operation of the Spirit in Augustine. The Spirit works through word and Sacrament. The Lutheran church from the beginning held to baptism as the means which God uses to give grace and overcome our Adamic state.

2. Augustine denied the "P" of Tulip. In his treatise On the Perseverance of the Saints, Augustine defends the perseverance of the elect, but defends at length that those who are truly regenerated and saved can fall away from the faith. This both Luther and the Lutheran Confessions confessed.

3. Augustine did not believe in limited atonement- at least not in the Calvinistic sense of the term. Yes, there are times when he talks about the particularity of the death of Christ. However, it would not do justice to Augustine to say that he only talked of particular grace. He believed that God gave true grace to non-elect men. His discussions of baptism and the means of grace make it clear that there is universal grace. This is more than mere common grace which only restricts the wicked actions of men and gives some outward blessings men do not deserve. None elect men are truly forgiven through baptism, though they will eventually reject it.

4. The Augustinian definition of double predestination, at least as explained by later writers, is not Calvinistic. Augustine himself did not focus much on the double aspect of predestination and explain what the predestination of the reprobate means. However, the later Augustinian tradition as developed by Prosper of Aquitaine, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and ultimately the Council of Orange, when defining double predestination always made the point that when men are predestined unto death, they are only predestined based upon foreseen future demerits. This goes against not only a supralapsarian view, but also an infralapsarian view which would argue that the reprobate were predestined in view of Adam's sin but not necessarily their own. The Augustinian tradition would thus argue that is man is saved it is unconditional, though if he is damned it is conditional.

5. Augustine started his discussions of predestination from Biblical anthropology and the greatness of God's grace to fallen sinners. Calvinism has often, though not always, discussed predestination under the realm of God's sovereignty. This is secondary for Augustine, and for the Lutheran Confessions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rereading Pieper Volume I. Part 2

It is interesting that Lutheran dogmaticians use different categories for classifying the attributes of God than do the reformed. The reformed typically discuss the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God. Pieper however classifies them as positive and negative attributes. Those attributes which are positive things which we have in part such as love, holiness, justice etc. Negative attributes are those attributes of God which are known negatively, or as opposed to our own attributes. These would include omnipresence, omniscience, etc. Pieper is correct in saying that how one classifies these attributes is not particularly important. Theologians are free to use different categories to discuss biblical truths.
Pieper then discusses the doctrine of creation. He opposes the doctrine of Augustine and other fathers who claim that the six days are a mere literary device to describe God's creation. He argues that those Christians who subscribe to evolutionary theories are putting the truths of science over God's word. Here is where I think Pieper goes too far. Science can find legitimate truths. When science finds something which disagrees with scripture, either the result of science is wrong, or one's interpretation of scripture is wrong. Pieper does not seem to be able to admit that perhaps his interpretation of scripture is wrong. He goes so far as to argue for geocentrism in a footnote. (pg. 473) I do not buy into evolutionary theory, however, I do not have a problem seeing the days as a literary device. The problem is never with scripture but with our interpretation of it. We must admit our interpretation as fallible.
Pieper's section on divine providence admits that God's providence extends over all things that happen. He deals with the problem of God's sovereignty over sin in a particularly good way. He states that God is sovereign over man's sinful actions so far as they are actions, but not so far as they are sin. This protects God from causing sin, but preserves his sovereignty. Pieper at this point leaves it to mystery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rereading Pieper Volume I.

When I first read through F. Piper's Christian Dogmatics, I was a Calvinist. By the time I had finished volume III, I was convinced that there was simply no exegetical foundation for many core Presbyterian beliefs, primarily in reference to the two natures of Christ and the sacraments. These volumes were one of the most important factors in my decision to join Lutheranism. I decided to reread them now as a convinced Lutheran. I am going to put up reviews of each of the three volumes, as I have no noticed several things I both agree and disagree with as a Confessional Lutheran within his Dogmatics.

Pieper spends a considerably large portion of the first volume on Prolegomena. The main point he gets across is that scripture itself is the sole authority of all theology. He argues against 19th century liberalism, which was prominent during his writing. Neither reason nor experience is above scripture. He sees both the reformed and Roman churches as flawed in similar ways. The Roman church places it's own tradition and magisterium above scripture. The reformed church, though they profess sola scriptura, too often make doctrinal formulations based upon logical deduction. For example; some men are saved and not others. Those that are saved are only converted by God's own choosing, therefore, those who are damned are only damned due to God's own choosing. When first reading this, it made me think about two books in particular which have been staples of Reformed theology for years: John Owen's the Death of Death, and Jonathan Edwards' the Freedom of the Will. Ultimately, much of Reformed theology, specifically the doctrine of limited atonement is not based upon clear exegesis but logical argumentation. When I was reading through Hodge's systematics (at the same time I read Pieper) I noticed that his whole argument against the Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes of Christ's divine to his human nature, was based on the fact that he had decided that to be human means to be present in one place at one time.
The next section in the book is on Holy Scripture. Here he defends the older orthodox theologians who had been attacked so often by 19th century liberalism. He spends much of his time defending the fact that Luther also taught Biblical inerrancy. Pieper discusses the Homoleugomena, Antileugomena distinction taught by the Lutheran fathers. This distinction comes Eusebius. The books of the New Testament are categorized by acceptance in the early church. Some books have been universally recognized: the 13 epistles of Paul, the four gospels, Acts, 1 John and 1 Peter. There was doubt in some areas about: 2, 3 John, Jude, James, Hebrews and Revelation. The first books listed are primary. All doctrine should be decided chiefly by books about which there is no doubt. The Antileugomena have been accepted as inspired by most in the Lutheran church (though there have been times when one has doubted one of these books), however they take a secondary place in establishing doctrine. I think that this distinction is valid, however, it seems that because God has led his church with these specific books for most of the 2000 years of church history, it would be acceptable to get rid of this distinction. It can be confusing and unhelpful.
The next section of volume I is on the doctrine of God. He begins this section by discussing the natural knowledge of God. He believes that man knows the existence of God a priori, through the conscience, and a posteriori, through creation. This knowledge however is never a saving knowledge which comes only through the gospel. Pieper then moves on to discuss the trinity. He defends the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. All who deny this are heretics. It is refreshing to read Pieper's blatant refusal to claim those who deny the trinity as Christians. In our day of relativism, barely anyone is willing to affirm that knowing even an essential truth like the Trinity is necessary for salvation. This is one of the highlights of the Dogmatics. Peiper's theology is thoroughly trinitarian. He defines concisely and clearly the false explanations of, and denials of the trinity which have arisen through out history and refutes them with scripture.
One thing which I found particularly interesting is the Pieper denies Augustine's explanation of the trinity. Augustine explains the trinity by describing the Father as love. The Father, as love, must have an object of love, thus the Son is eternally begotten as that object. The love itself between the two persons is the Holy Spirit. This always seemed too speculative to me, though I love Augustine. I agree with Pieper that this is not clearly taught in scripture. He also denies Melancthon's idea that God the father, when reflecting upon Himself creates in reality what he is reflecting upon. This is how the son is eternally begotten.
Pieper also has a very good section on the trinity in the Old Testament. He says, contrary to modern theology, that one can produce the doctrine of the trinity from the Old Testament, particularly in reference to the angel of the Lord and the Spirit at creation.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Luther on the atonement

I have heard it argued by some reformed Christians, including Timothy George, that Luther taught limited atonement. Clearly, in his later writings he teaches a universal atonement. However, in his lectures on Romans in 1515 he seems to teach that the atonement was only for the elect. While I had previously thought this was the only time Luther made such a statement, I have found something in an early sermon which teaches something similar. In an exposition of Hebrews chapter 1 Luther states that Christ "has poured out his love for us and made purification for our sins. The apostle says "our," "our sins;" not his own sin, not the sins of unbelievers. Purification is not for, and cannot profit, him who does not believe." (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther volume 3.1 pg. 180) Unfortunately, this sermon does not have a date in the volume, though it his clear in his discussion of the two natures of Christ that he has not yet engaged the issue of the communication of attributes of the divine to the human nature. Thus, it is one of his earlier sermons. It seems that Luther did hold to a limited atonement at the beginning of his reformational career. He did eventually abandon this and clearly teach a universal atonement while still retaining the doctrine of predestination.

With this in mind, I am curious as to the reasons Luther abandoned this older teaching. I wonder if the writing of St. Prosper "The Call of All Nations" had an influence in changing his view, since it is a work he refers to several times in his writings and letters. Prosper himself taught limited atonement and abandoned it for the paradox that God predestines specific men unto salvation yet also gives universal grace to all mankind. Luther would not have known this as he thought the work to have been written by Ambrose, however.

Has anybody else run across these kinds of quotes in Luther's older works, or know when this sermon was written?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Patristic Soteriology: Mathetes

The other apostolic father, probably much later than the others, who is perhaps even more clear then Clement is the author of The Epistle to Diognetus. Sadly, the author of this epistle is unknown. He simply refers to himself as “Mathetes” meaning “a disciple.” The author was said to have known the apostle Paul. Like the other writings of the apostolic fathers, Mathetes does not write this letter as a doctrinal treatise. It is rather, an apologetic tract defending Christianity against it’s pagan attackers. When answering the question of why Jesus came so late in history, Mathetes gives the following answer:
"This was not that he at all delighted in our sins, but that he simply endured them; nor that he approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that he sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached it’s height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting his own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great longsuffering and bore with us, he himself took on him the burden of our iniquities, he gave his son as a ransom for us, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible one for the corruptible, the immortal one for the mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than his righteousness? By what other thing was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hidden in a single righteous One, that the righteousness of one should justify the many transgressors."

When one first reads this, he may think it came directly from the pen of Martin Luther or John Calvin. The imputational language in this epistle is obvious. Let us examine the flow of the author’s thought. First of all he makes it clear that all mankind was unable by their own works to be justified. By his wickedness, mankind has merited punishment and death. What makes us able to now enter the kingdom of God is His kindness and power. This kindness and power was revealed at one specific point in history. This point in history was when the Son of God “took upon Himself the burden of our iniquities.” Taking upon the burden of our iniquities refers to the non imputation of sin. This is why earlier in the paragraph he refers to God’s not “remember[ing] our iniquities against us.” Not remembering is clearly not transformational. The author is not here saying that through the death of the Son of God we now are no longer transgressors in an actualized sense. It is not that we no longer sin. Rather, he must be referring to a judicial act of pardon. In the author’s mind, what is the ground of our being pardoned? The answer is clear, “His righteousness.” His righteousness covers our sins. This language refers to imputation, not infusion. He then uses justification as a synonymous term for His righteousness covering our sins. Let us observe the parallel.
Problem Solution
Our sins Covered by His righteousness
Wicked and ungodly Justified by the only Son of God
Being justified is being covered by righteousness, not having righteousness infused. The line “Oh sweet exchange!” implies that the covering of righteousness includes not only the forgiving of sin but also the giving of righteousness. When something is exchanged, something is received on both sides. He shows this by two following statements. “the wickedness of many should be hidden in a single righteous One, that the righteousness of one should justify the many transgressors.” Wickedness is forgiven by it’s being “hidden in the righteous one.” However, for the author that is not the complete solution. Justification is linked with “the righteousness of one.” One may object that his righteousness justifies us in a transformative rather than forensic sense. This however, breaks down the parallel. If one were to admit that his righteousness given to us actually makes us righteous rather than declaring us righteous, in the same way our wickedness, if the author’s analogy is consistent, must also make Christ a sinner . This would put one in a theological mess. The obvious parallel in this text is as follows:
Christ Us
Righteousness of one Justify the many transgressors
Hidden in the righteous One The wickedness of many

Whoever this man known as “Mathetes” is, his description of Christ’s redemption would have been enough to make the Lutheran fathers proud.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

the Council of Orange

In light of the decrees from the Pope I just posted, view some of the Canons of the Council of Orange held in 529 against Semi-Pelagianism:

CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism-if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

CANON 20. That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.

CANON 22. Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.

CANON 23. Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.

CANON 24. Concerning the branches of the vine. The branches on the vine do not give life to the vine, but receive life from it; thus the vine is related to its branches in such a way that it supplies them with what they need to live, and does not take this from them. Thus it is to the advantage of the disciples, not Christ, both to have Christ abiding in them and to abide in Christ. For if the vine is cut down another can shoot up from the live root; but one who is cut off from the vine cannot live without the root (John 15:5ff).

CANON 25. Concerning the love with which we love God. It is wholly a gift of God to love God. He who loves, even though he is not loved, allowed himself to be loved. We are loved, even when we displease him, so that we might have means to please him. For the Spirit, whom we love with the Father and the Son, has poured into our hearts the love of the Father and the Son (Rom. 5:5).

Rome's Condemnation of Augustine

The Roman Church has claimed Augustine as one of the primary teachers of the faith. Protestants, both Reformed and Lutheran, have claimed that their teachings on grace are essentially the same as those of Augustine. How can these two opposing churches both claim Augustine as a primary source of theology?
It seems that Rome, though giving lip service to Augustine, has essentially condemned him through the condemnation of Hus and the excommunication of the Jansenists. Jansenism was a movement within French Roman Catholicism in the 17th century which sought to bring Augustine's teachings of grace back to the church. Several Papal bulls condemned the movement. The most famous of these bulls is titled Unigenitus. The following are statements condemned by the Pope:

1. What else remains for the soul that has lost God and His grace except sin and the consequences of sin, a proud poverty and a slothful indigence, that is, a general impotence for labor, for prayer, and for every good work?

2. The grace of Jesus Christ, which is the efficacious principle of every kind of good, is necessary for every good work; without it, not only is nothing done, but nothing can be done.

3. In vain, O Lord, do You command, if You do not give what you command.

4. Thus, O Lord, all things are possible to him for whom You make all things possible by effecting those same things in him.

5. When God does not soften a heart by the interior unction of His grace, exterior exhortations and graces are of no service except to harden it the more.

6. The difference between the Judaic dispensation and the Christian is this, that in the former God demanded flight from sin and a fulfillment of the Law by the sinner, leaving him in his own weakness; but in the latter. God gives the sinner what He commands, by purifying him with His grace.

26. No graces are granted except through faith.

27. Faith is the first grace and the source of all others.

30. All whom God wishes to save through Christ. are infallibly saved.

38. Without the grace of the Liberator, the sinner is not free except to do evil.

39. The will, which grace does not anticipate, has no light except for straying, no eagerness except to put itself in danger, no strength except to wound itself, and is capable of all evil and incapable of all good.

40. Without grace we can love nothing except to our own condemnation.

41. All knowledge of God, even natural knowledge, even in the pagan
philosophers, cannot come except from God; and without grace knowledge produces nothing but presumption, vanity, and opposition to God Himself, instead of the affections of adoration, gratitude, and love.

42. The grace of Christ alone renders a man fit for the sacrifice of faith; without this there is nothing but impurity, nothing but unworthiness.

48. What else can we be except darkness, except aberration, and except sin, without the light of faith, without Christ, and without charity?

49. As there is no sin without love of ourselves, so there is no good work without love of God.

59. The prayer of the impious is a new sin; and what God grants to them is a new judgment against them.

76. There is nothing more spacious than the Church of God; because all the elect and the just of all ages comprise it.

79. It is useful and necessary at all times, in all places, and for every kind of person, to study and to know the spirit, the piety, and the mysteries of Sacred Scripture.

80. The reading of Sacred Scripture is for all.

84. To snatch away from the hands of Christians the New Testament, or to hold it closed against them by taking away from them the means of understanding it, is to close for them the mouth of Christ.

97. Too often it happens that those members, who are united to the Church more holily and more strictly, are looked down upon, and treated as if they were unworthy of being in the Church, or as if they were separated from Her; but, "the just man liveth by faith" [Rom. 1:17], and not by the opinion of men.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Falling away from grace Part 2

Another text which is helpful in this discussion is 2 Peter 2:18-22. "For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: 'The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.'" I suppose one could argue that this is about people who are never truly regenerate but merely being part of the Christian community and giving a false profession. This is, however, not the obvious intent of the passage. They have escaped the defilements of the world and have known Jesus Christ. There is no where in the New Testament where these things would be claimed about an unbeliever. Knowledge of Christ implies saving knowledge. Some other passages which may be cited are, "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." (Matthew 10:22), "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9), "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20), "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), and finally, "Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved" (Matthew 24:12-13)

So how does one deal with these and other passages that teach that a true Christian can lose faith and be lost eternally? Does this fit with a monergistic view of salvation or must we adopt a Wesleyan doctrine wherein man is responsible for his own perseverance? Observe what Pieper states about the Scriptural doctrine of perseverance. "What Scripture teaches on final perseverance may be summarized in these two statements: 1. He that perseveres in faith does so only through God's gracious preservation; the believer's perseverance is a work of divine grace and omnipotence. 2. He that falls away from faith does so through his own fault; the cause of apostasy in every case is rejection of God's Word and resistance to the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Word. This doctrine the Christian Church must maintain and defend on two fronts: against Calvinism and against synergism." (Dogmatics Volume III pg. 89)
Scripture does clearly teach that it is God who preserves man in faith. Observe a few statements which make this point clear, "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 24-25)
"He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." (1 Corinthians 15:10)
It is clear that scripture teaches two things: 1. Man can fall away from the faith, and when he falls away it is blamed upon his own unbelief, not on God's decree. 2. God preserves man monergistically in faith. Sanctification is wholly His work. We must necessarily hold to both since the scripture teaches both. There is one more set of texts left to look at, those used to defend perseverance which reference election.
Romans 8 is a classic defense of the doctrine of perseverance. "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." This is often called the "golden chain of salvation." This is an unbroken chain. All whom God foreknew end up finally glorified. There is no possibility here of a foreknown, elect, justified man falling away and failing to be glorified. This does not, however, support the doctrine that man cannot fall away from faith. It shows that those whom God elects will not fail to be glorified. The Lutheran confessions are clear on this point. This does not imply however, anything about other men being regenerate and falling away. 1 John 2:19 can be explained in the same way.

Thus we now see three things clearly taught in scripture.
1. God sanctifies man monergistically, through the means of word and sacrament.
2. Some men can and will fall away from the faith through neglecting word and sacrament, and willingly disregarding repentance and faith.
3. All of God's elect will be infallibly saved.

Thus if man perseveres it is entirely God's work. However, if a man falls away, it is entirely his own fault.
If perseverance is merely an outcome of election, as many Calvinists including James White have explained it, then we agree. However, that does not mean that no others can be truly regenerate and then fall away

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Falling away from grace Part 1

The biggest stumbling block for many Reformed Christians in Lutheran theology is the idea that a believer can fall away from faith and lose salvation. It seems, by the account of some, to deny that salvation is all God's work and not ours.
First let me outline the Lutheran view of perseverance. God and God alone initiates regeneration and gives man faith. Man is completely passive in conversion. He merely receives what God gives. God sanctifies man, continually causing him to grow in his hatred for sin and love of righteousness. God does this through means. These means are word and sacrament. These elements must be present or faith will not be sustained. Man does not "cooperate with God" in sanctification. It is wholly the Spirits work. He can however, reject the gift of faith, especially if he avoids the God-given means of sanctification; namely, word and sacrament. This is not the Wesleyan idea, wherein one must continually be afraid of doing enough good works, or doing a bad deed which will cause him to lose his salvation. We are not in the constant process of going in-and-out of grace. However, man can fall away from grace if he has embraced the way of the flesh as opposed to that of the Spirit and lost faith.
This idea is shown by the falling away passages shown through out the New Testament. Even in the great chapter of assurance, Romans 8, there is a hint of this. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with Him in order that we also may be glorified with him." (Romans 8:16-17) There is a conditionality in this text. Our faith must be sustained through suffering or we will not be glorified. Our glorification is conditional upon our suffering.
In the book of Colossians, Paul gives great assurance to his readers through the work of Christ. However, at the end of this discussion he makes an interesting statement. "And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." (Colossians 1:21-23)
We shall only be presented before him as holy and blameless if we stay in the faith. The clear implication of this passage is that some may indeed shift from the hope of the gospel. It does not do justice to the text to make this simply hypothetical.
Hymenaeus and Alexander seem to be another example of those who have fallen away from faith. "By rejecting this, they have made a shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." (1 Timothy 1:19-20) Paul later describes others who will fall away from the faith, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith..." (1 Timothy 4:1)
Hymenaeus and Alexander are clearly away from the faith as Paul accuses them of blasphemy. He does however hold out hope that God may bring them back.
Jesus in his parable of the sower seems to assume that man can fall away from grace. "And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience." (Luke 8:13-15) The problem is not that those on the rock or among the thorns do not have faith, it is that their faith is not enduring as are those in good soil. Jesus admits that they believe, though this faith will not last until the end.
Hebrews has been the book that presents the most problems for the Calvinistic position on perseverance. The purpose of the book is that the author is encouraging Jews who have been converted not to fall back into Judaism. The assumption is that falling away is possible. I will just quote a few passages to make my point.
"Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." (Hebrews 3:13-14) To fall away from the living God is to assume that one was once in a relationship with the living God. He encourages those in the church to encourage one another so that they may not fall away. Notice that there is conditionality in final salvation similar to that found in Colossians. The condition is that one's faith and trust remain. This theme continues, "For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." (Hebrews 6:4-6) These people described can fall away to such a point where they will not ever be brought back to repentance. They clearly are christian individuals because they have "shared in the Holy Spirit." There is no Biblical precedence for seeing unbelievers having shared in the Holy Spirit. Finally, Hebrews 10 repeats the same point, "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries." (Hebrews 10:26) These are believers who have "received the knowledge of the truth." Later, the author states that they have been sanctified by the blood of the covenant.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Patristic Soteriology: Clement of Rome

One apostolic father who I believe does give us a clear understanding of his soteriology is Clement of Rome. Being written probably around 98 AD, his letter to the Corinthians gives us one of the earliest interpretations of New Testament theology. As Polycarp does, Clement often uses the term “elect” for believers. “…that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience.” His theology is greatly focused on the work of Christ, “Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance toward the whole world.” While a complete theology of the atonement is not found here, certainly it’s importance for our salvation is. In a discussion of the story of Rahab, Clement states that, “on account of her faith and hospitality, Rahab was saved.” This may seem that faith and works are both necessary for salvation, however, it is not clear that Clement here is talking about eternal salvation, rather that Rahab was saved from the slaughter at Jericho. The only time Clement in his letter speaks directly about justification is just about as clear as Paul himself that it is received by faith alone.
"All these, therefore were highly honored and made great, not for their own sake, or for their works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of his will. And we too, being called by his will in Jesus Christ, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men."
Notice that in Clement’s treatment of works he does not refer to those which are only outwardly good, as he includes holiness of heart as well. Any interpretation of Paul which would limit “works” to either only the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish law or of Jewish boundary markers is excluded. The next statement Clement makes after his treatment of justification is crucial to a correct interpretation of his words as well. Whenever the doctrine of justification by faith alone is taught, the question comes up, “why should we do good works?” As Paul answers this question in Romans 6 , so also does Clement. “What shall we do brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us!” If Clement did not mean by his above statement that justification was indeed by faith alone but faith and works, he most likely would not answer this objection. No one would have raised it. And if he did answer this objection he would have answered it very differently. Would he not have said, “You misunderstand me! We are justified by faith but works also justify!” His reply is very different. Why should we not cease from the practice of love? “For the Creator and Lord of all Himself rejoices in His works.”
There is one final evidence from Clements epistle that he anticipates the future reformation teaching of grace. “For it is written ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile.’ This blessedness cometh upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” For Clement, all blessings of God are because of His will, His choosing, and His grace alone.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Prelapsarian State and Grace

Many faithful Lutherans have argued that Adam was saved by grace through faith just as we are before the fall. While I commend this attempt to exalt the grace of God through out all of redemptive history; I think this notion of grace before the fall is mistaken.

If one admits that Adam was in need of grace before the fall, it admits the Roman Catholic doctrine that original righteousness was a super added gift. The fall then becomes merely the loss of a gift rather than a positive fall into sin. Man was righteous because he was a created being by a good God. To say that his righteousness needs to be added is to say that God's creation within itself is imperfect thus is in need of something else. This is to adopt a Manichean view of creation. Thus is is wrong to say that grace was given to Adam for righteousness.

This also obscures the legal definition of grace which is necessary for the gospel. Grace is the unmerited favor of God on behalf of the sinner. It is not something which is infused into the soul. Thus grace is God's disposition of love toward the unworthy sinner. This makes grace into either the mere kindness of God or something which changes a man inwardly (which it does but only as an effect of legal justification).

If grace is necessary for unfallen man then there is inherently something wrong with the creation. Salvation then becomes ontological. There is something wrong with man as creation and thus he needs to be fixed. This is the root of all mystical theology as well as the existential theology of Tillich and Bultmann. Traces of this idea are also found in Barth. However, creation as creation is good! It does not need to be subsumed into God, become one with God or become it's own God. It is good because it bears the marks of a Holy God. It is good as distinct from the creator because it recognizes the Creators superiority and otherness and submits itself to him.

Finally, to deny that Adam could merit anything in the garden is to deny that the second Adam could merit anything in his place. We can never speak of merit in the postlapsarian state; however, this does not negate merit in the garden. Adam could do good works and obtain blessing. His breaking of God's commandments would cause death and exile from the garden. This is essential to hold to because it means Christ as the second Adam could obtain an even greater blessing for us through obedience.

The objections I have heard from this are threefold; first, it is claimed that this makes God unloving and just like the Gods of any other pagan creation story. Secondly, it is said that this idea is wrong because it is found in the Reformed Confessions. Thirdly, I have heard that there is no basis in historical Lutheran writing for saying that Adam could gain merit in the garden.

Objection 1: God is certainly not unloving toward Adam and Eve in the garden. He is loving and kind toward them. He does not put them directly into a situation of chaos and warfare as do other gods. He has created them in righteousness that they are able to perfectly obey and love their creator. The differences between this and the God of the Enuma Elish should be obvious. We can certainly speak of Yahweh being good to Adam, and loving. We can even say that Yahweh gave man blessings he was by no means obligated to. This however, cannot be called grace because grace always refers to the kind disposition of God toward sinful man.

Objection 2: Yes, this does parallel the reformed idea of the Covenant of works in the garden. However, just because it is reformed does not mean that it is wrong. Lutherans for example have often used Calvin's three-fold distinction of the offices of Christ. Secondly, we do not need to call it a covenant of works as do the reformed and adopt their entire system. It may be proper to call it a covenant as in Hosea 6:7, though it is not necessary to do so. Covenant in Biblical terms usually refers to the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenant. In many ways, the reformed definition of the covenant of works was to defend the Lutheran idea of the active obedience of Christ. It is worthy to note that the Calvinists with greater respect for Lutheranism and the law-gospel distinction have fought for this doctrine, while those who mix law and gospel have argued against it.

Objection 3: Lutheran theology does not speak as explicitly in these terms; however, I believe the doctrine of Christ's active obedience as the second Adam necessitates it. Adam must have been able to gain merit so that Christ as the second Adam could gain what Adam did not. Also, Luther himself believed that it was possible to speak of merit in the prelapsarian state, "Yes, if we were devoid of sin, as was Adam before the fall, we would have no need of Christ; we might come before God in our own merits." (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Volume III.2 page 285).
For Luther, the reason we cannot merit salvation is not because there is something wrong with our being creaturely, but because in Adam all have died. Thus, the law is impossible to fulfill.
Reach to Christ, the only perfect law-keeper who obeyed the law Adam disobeyed on our behalf.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another thought on the atonement

Every student of scripture knows that Hebrews 6 is one of those few very difficult passages of the New Testament to interpret. The author, whoever it may be, of this book writes "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance" (Hebrews 6:1-6)
Affirming the Calvinistic doctrine of Perseverance, the reformed interpreter often views this passage as referring to unbelievers. These are Jews who entered into the Christian community, yet have not truly been regenerated, who are leaving the church to go back to Judaism under persecution. Thus, they are non-elect people. They were never truly saved in the first place.
My question is not about the issue of apostasy in this passage, which certainly is hard to deal with, but with what the author says at the end of this discussion, "they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." If this passage is dealing with unbelievers, it is implying that Christ has already died once for them. How does one who takes this interpretation deal with that?
This is by no means a definitive argument against limited atonement; I am simply pointing out that certain interpretations of the apostasy idea of the passage necessitate a universal atonement. Many do of course take the hypothetical view of the passage which avoids the problem altogether.

Some thoughts on Limited Atonement

I have come up with a few thoughts on the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement. I think about this topic often as I used to be a Calvinist, and most of my closest Christian brothers are Calvinists. I gave up the doctrine primarily because I could not defend it exegetically but only by way of inference. A doctrine should not be arrived at however simply because it seems to be the most logical way to formulate a system. I have recently discovered, however, that even this rational argument does not support the typical Calvinist doctrine. Let me explain.
A typical conversation of mine with a Calvinist goes like this:

Calvinist: So you believe in the doctrine of election?
Myself: Yes. It is clearly taught in Ephesians 1, John 6:44, etc.
Calvinist: Do you believe election is based upon foreseen faith?
Myself: No it is a wholly monergistic act.
Calvinist: Well then we agree! You must believe in limited atonement!
Myself: No. I said I believe in election. One does not necessitate the other.
Calvinist: Do you believe that Christ died for every persons sins?
Myself: Yes, as scripture teaches.
Calvinist: Do you believe that he paid for all of their sins?
Myself: Yes.
Calvinist: Do you believe that unbelief is a sin?
Myself: It is the chief sin.
Calvinist: Then Christ surely died for it.
Myself: I would heartily affirm that.
Calvinist: So you believe that Christ died for all sins, including the sin of unbelief, yet man can still be under God's wrath?
Myself: Such is the teaching of Scripture.
Calvinist: If God truly paid for all man's sins and has fulfilled the law in there place you believe God can still hold them guilty? You are then denying the sufficiency of the atonement!
Myself: God does not make this work effectual in the individual unless he has faith.
Calvinist: But unbelief is a sin for which Christ died so it cannot be refused by unbelief.
(At this point, the Calvinist appears to have won the argument)
Myself: Now let me ask you a question.
Calvinist: Go ahead.
Myself: Before an elect man has repented and believed, is he justified?
Calvinist: No, he is justified through faith.
Myself: But Christ died for every sin of this man including unbelief. Am I correct?
Calvinist: As one of God's elect, yes.
Myself: So are you saying that the elect man for whom Christ died for every sin including unbelief is at some point under the wrath and condemnation of God?
Calvinist: Yes, until the Spirit works faith in that man.
Myself: Then you have conceited my point. A man can be under the wrath and condemnation of God though Christ has died for all sins of that man including unbelief.

The problem is not that the Calvinist's argument is logically flawed. The problem is that it necessarily leads to a doctrine of eternal justification which is far beyond where most Calvinists wish to go.
Even though we may not be sure how these ideas go together, let us accept the clear teaching of scripture on these points.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Patristic Soteriology: Ignatius

Ignatius of Antioch similar to Polycarp, does not write enough to show a definitive soteriology. The only extant works from this father are six epistles to different churches, and one to Polycarp. By piecing together certain of his statements, however, it may be possible to construct a (though somewhat deficient) theology of grace in his thought. In his address to his epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius states the following:
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and predestined before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the passion by the will of God the Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour"

Ignatius here speaks in a way that most later fathers do not. His wording is Pauline. The similarities in Ephesians chapter one are obvious. One is elected and predestined before the beginning of time. I admit, it is not possible from this statement to know whether or not Ignatius believed in a monergistic predestination (I.e. the Reformed and Lutheran Confessions) or a predestination based upon God’s foreseeing of one’s faith (I.e. Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy). One thing to notice in Ignatius, here, as well as in other parts of his letters is that God is always pre-eminent in discussions of salvation. One is predestined by God the Father. One is united to God and elected by both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Another statement in this epistle has the propensity to be misused if understood to be about justification. “For though I am bound for his name, I am not yet perfect in Jesus.” This of course does not have to be referring to justification and is most likely not. Not being “perfect” probably either refers to complete sanctification, or glorification.
In his epistle to the Magnesians, Ignatius states, “For were he to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be.” While this statement does not directly speak of justification, it does show that Ignatius saw our works as unable to gain reward on their own. A statement in Ignatius’ letter to the Trallians may point to fuller Pauline understanding of justification. “By believing in his death, ye may escape from death.” This shows the pre-eminence of faith in his thought, however in and of itself does not prove that faith alone in Christ’s death saves a man. This emphasis on faith is shown later in the same letter. “His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess true life” A similar statement occurs in his epistle to the Philadelphians,
"Let us also love the prophets, because they too have proclaimed the Gospel, and placed their hope in Him, and waited for Him; in whom also believing, they were saved, through union to Jesus Christ, being holy men, worthy of love and admiration, having had witness borne to them by Jesus Christ, and being reckoned along with [us] in the gospel of our common hope."
In his discussion of the use of the prophets, the reason he gives for their being saved is their faith. Their faith was effective “through union to Jesus Christ.” This echoes Paul’s constant theme of union with Christ. One may argue that their “being holy men” was also part of their salvation. This is a possible reading of Ignatius but not the only one. He may be using the idea of being “holy men” as a demonstration of one’s faith. He may also be using salvation as a far broader term than justification. Either the way, the pre-eminent instrument of salvation is one’s faith and union with Christ. We are left unsure exactly what Ignatius means.
The only explicit statement about justification in Ignatius’ writings is in his epistle to the Philadelphians. “His cross, His death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire through your prayers to be justified.” The cause of justification is not one’s works or even one’s faith. Rather, it is the death and resurrection of Christ. Here, Ignatius is thoroughly Pauline. Ignatius has one final statement in his writings which may help explain his doctrine of salvation. “As persons who are perfect, ye should also aim at those things which are perfect.” In the context, Ignatius is trying to motivate the Smyrneans to perform good works. The motivation for doing these works is that these Christians are perfect. This is a use of the indicative and imperative. What does it mean that these people “are perfect?” It could mean that they are already counted worthy of eternal life, already justified.
There is one statement in Ignatius’ epistle to Polycarp which may point to works-based salvation. “Let your works be the charge assigned to you that you may receive a worthy recompense.” What is this worthy recompense? It may not be an issue of justification. It may be an issue of eternal rewards that God graciously gives to those who perform good works. These rewards would not be rewards that determine one’s ultimate salvation.
Similar to Polycarp, Ignatius is at times obviously Pauline, yet he does not give enough information for us to completely understand his thought. The purpose of his letters are to fight (non soteriological) heresies, and to exhort believers. Thus he did not go into detail about justification, election and the atonement.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Patristic Soteriology: Polycarp

The charge is a common one toward Protestants: “No one taught justification by faith alone before Martin Luther!” Often protestants concede to this as historical fact and have no way to rebut it. I will be arguing that the Protestant understanding of justification was not a theological novum, but was the logical outcome, and further definition of what earlier writers had taught. These ideas are seen, at least in seed form in the writings of the Apostolic fathers.
First, it must be remarked that the patristics did not have a consistent and thorough understanding of the doctrine of justification. As with other doctrines, the fathers differed from one another in their understanding of justification. They also, sometimes, are inconsistent within their own writings in their use of the term. This is due to the fact that the battles fought before the time of Augustine were not primarily soteriological. The big issues were first, apologetic, and secondly, Christological. Unfortunately this pushed the soteriology of the New Testament in the background. This does not mean, however, that the fathers had no thoughts on soteriology. One thing to remember is that if one looks at the patristics, thinking that they will find definitions of justification in the church fathers identical with those of the Formula of Concord and The Westminster Confession of Faith, he will be very disappointed. People often go either one of two very wrong directions. Some ignore the fathers altogether as if no one understood the work of Christ until the protestant reformation, while others try and twist the fathers so that they all believed in later Protestant theology. The patristics were not protestants, nor were they tridentine Catholics. They fought very different battles than those of the 16th century.
Let us begin examining the writings of the apostolic fathers. It is difficult to obtain concrete statements about doctrine from these fathers because that was not their primary goal in their writings. Therefore, we must examine statements made mostly in passing about their doctrine. T. F. Torrence, in his book The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers comes to the conclusion that by this time, Pauline thought had been replaced in large by a theology of “works.” I would like to argue against that point as I do not think the Pauline emphasis on grace has ever been completely ignored in the church.
Polycarp says virtually nothing concrete soteriologicaly in his one extant letter to the Philippians. Therefore we must examine a few ambiguous statements if we wish to construct a possible soteriology of Polycarp. The first thing to notice is his use of the term “elect” when referring to the church. While we can not determine exactly what he means by this term, it is an essentially Pauline term, not used much by the later apologists of the 2nd century. He writes at the beginning of his letter, “By grace ye are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.” This is of course an illusion to Ephesians chapter 2. After this positive assessment of God’s grace which saves us not by our works, he seems to say something quite contrary to this in a few different places. “But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise us up also, if we do his will, and walk in his commandments, and love what he loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness, etc.” It seems here that our being raised is conditioned upon our obedience. A similar statement comes later, “If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future word, according as he has promised to us that he will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of him, we shall also reign with him, provided only we believe.” Again, our being raised seems conditioned upon our living worthily. However, here an emphasis on faith is also present. A curious statement comes later which may point toward a more Pauline understanding of righteousness. “Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” Polycarp here connects righteousness, not to ourselves but to Christ Himself and His salvific work on the cross. Of course the question that comes to mind now is, what does Polycarp mean that Christ is the earnest of our righteousness? Is it that he is our righteousness in an imputational sense? Or is he our righteousness in that he set a good example for us to follow? Immediately after this statement, he urges us to imitate the life of Christ in his patience. It seems that Jesus Christ being the earnest of our righteousness is the motive for our obedience in Polycarp’s mind. After describing his work on the cross for us he goes on to say “Let us then be imitators of him…” (p.35) It may be a case of a use of the indicative and imperative. In other words, Polycarp may be saying, “because Christ has become our righteousness and has paid for our sins upon the cross, go and imitate him.” This would be a consistently Pauline way of speaking. It may possibly also be saying that our imitation defines what the righteousness of Christ is. This would mean that Polycarp sees righteousness either as something infused or something to be imitated. The idea of Christ being our righteousness in an imputational sense, and of imitation flowing from that state of “being in the right” seems more likely, however, not conclusively. I say this because righteousness is immediately connected with Christ’s person and work, not primarily with our work.
All in all, Polycarp does not help us much in understanding early Christian teaching concerning justification and righteousness. His statements about good works may be saying that they earn our righteousness, or they may simply be saying that without good works no one will be vindicated on the last day (not that our works earn anything, rather that they are fruits of our faith.) The purpose of this letter we must remember is the exhortation of believers. They may already understand the doctrine of justification by faith, which is why Polycarp only includes two brief allusions to it. That is also why Polycarp may not be that careful in his wording about good works and the resurrection. Perhaps he did not need to be. I am not here saying that Polycarp did have a complete understanding of Pauline soteriology, however, I am saying that it is one possible reading of the text. The evidence is not great enough for us to concede exactly what he did believe.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Luther on the third use of the law

For those who deny that Luther had any "third use of the law" look at this text from his sermon on Matthew 22:34-46 from 1533:

"We dare not neglect the catechism's teaching of the God-given Ten Commandments as an insignificant doctrine, but must diligently use it in teaching people how they must live this earthly life. Of course, showing them how to be saved takes an entire different doctrine than the Ten Commandments, namely the doctrine of Christ, which our Lord presents a little later. But you must use the Ten Commandments to teach people how they must live in this life."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More nonsense from Timothy George

As many of you know I am sure, Timothy George recently had a "dialog" with Frank Beckwith over the differences among Roman Catholics and Evangelicals at Wheaton College. In this discussion, George basically said that these old debates over imputation and infusion are not really very important. The gospel was defined as the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Evangelicals and Papists teach the same gospel. While this certainly is a valid description of the gospel, certain understandings of these ideas can render it false. For example a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness would agree that Jesus lived, died, and rose again from the dead. However, the polytheism of Mormonism, and the subordinationism of the Watchtower society destroy the message. In the same way, a denial of Sola Fide makes the death and resurrection of Jesus of no effect. Once something is added to this for justification, it becomes a false gospel. I am sure the Judaisers would have agreed with George on this point, yet Paul still calls them anathema. Well George came out with a statement recently in Christianity Today that James White put on his blog that reinforces these ideas.
"The gaping divide between evangelicals and Catholics is ecclesiology and authority, not justification and salvation, as important as that debate remains," George said. "There is enough commonality that evangelicals and Catholics with a living faith can recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ with a common Lord and common grace that brought them together. The hard issues are questions related to the church, such as the Petrine office [the papacy] and the Eucharist. Those discussions will occupy us for the next 100 years."
So the gospel is not the dividing line between Romanism and Evangelicalism? What did this Luther guy waste his time for! It's a good thing that George has seen past the wisdom of all reformers both Lutheran and Calvinist and found the truth!
Timothy George... do not call yourself an evangelical. You have abandoned what we have fought for the past 500 years. In fact, you gave up any right to be called an evangelical or "Reformed" the moment you signed ECT.
Paul stated that those who preached another gospel are anathema. Paul then defends the gospel by defending the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works. Thus, if one wants to take Paul's words seriously, Sola Fide is the center of the gospel itself. Any attempt to drift from it puts one under not Luther or Calvin's but Paul's anathema.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I do not agree with this position...

But I was required to write a defense of Arminianism from the perspective of one of the Remonstrants from the time of Dort. I was surprised at how well my defense came out (not that any defense of synergism can truly be exegetically valid). I thought some might find it interesting to read a monergist attempt to defend Arminian theology.

"The men who call themselves “Calvinists” have introduced five points in response to our proposals of a more Biblical reformed theology. They claim that they have both St. Augustine and the father of our own church John Calvin on their side. This may be, however, Calvin is not an infallible interpreter of scripture. Calvin was great because he pointed us back to scripture, not because he formulated the perfect system of interpreting it. Therefore I claim that we are the true heirs of Calvin, not because we agree with all of his decisions, but because we test all things by scripture.
The first point that the so-called Calvinists have put up against up is total depravity. They claim that man has been so corrupted by the fall that he has the utter inability to obey God. Man cannot even come to faith and repentance in this state. We agree that in Adam all men have been corrupted in both will and intellect. We reject all Pelagian error which says that man can achieve salvation by his own power. However, God has not left our will in a state of total despair. Our will has been healed to such an extent that we have the ability to respond or reject the free gift of salvation. This is implied through out scripture in passages which command us to believe. As Joshua said to the Israelites before his death, “choose this day who you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Would God offer salvation merely to tease us? It is as if he is holding a gift above our heads. He asks us to receive it but it is held to high that we cannot even reach it. Thus God is saying, “Choose salvation! It is free! Yet you cannot because I have not given you freedom of choice.” Man cannot be held accountable for a decision he cannot help but make. If we ought to do something, then we can do that thing.
The second point they put against us is unconditional election. This doctrine says that God elects man apart from any choice he makes. He also predestines man apart from evil. This makes God to be a tyrant who simply waves his hand declaring arbitrarily that one man is saved and another one damned. This is not the picture of the merciful loving God of scripture. How is election viewed in the New Testament? “For those he foreknew he also predestined.”(Romans 8:29) A similar statement comes from the apostle Peter, “To those who are elect exiles…according to the foreknowledge of God the father”(1 Peter 1:1). Notice that in these passages, predestination is not founded within God’s eternal decree but within his foreknowledge. God has knowledge of future events. Thus He sees who will accept his free offer and who will not. Thus, on this basis he chooses one man over another. Why one is elect and another reprobate is not to be found in God, but in man.
The third point is to us the most offensive to all true religion. This is the doctrine of limited atonement. According to these men, Christ came into the world not to die for all men alike, but for a select few. This doctrine is so absurd, so utterly foreign to all forms of Christianity whether Reformed, Romanist, or Lutheran that it hardly needs to be refuted. A few selections from Holy Scripture will suffice to refute this doctrine of demons. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”(2 Peter 3:9) “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) These passages among others teach the exact opposite of the articles of the so-called Calvinists! There is not one sentence in scripture that defends this doctrine. There is not even a sentence in Augustine of Calvin which teaches what the perverters of their doctrine have proposed. This takes away all comfort in the Christian life. How can I have assurance if I never know if Christ indeed truly died for me! This then drives me back to the despair that we once had under the yolk of Rome.
The next point has been labeled “irresistible grace”. This horrible doctrine teaches that man does not freely come to Christ in faith in order to be regenerated and saved. Rather, God forces whom he will to come to faith and does not allow the repentance of others. God offers this grace, rather forces this grace, only upon a select few and gives no grace to the majority of mankind. Thus God creates men only to damn them! That men cannot resist the Holy Spirit is refuted by the words of the first martyr of the Christian church, “You stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51) Thus grace is by no means irresistible. That all men have the freedom to accept or reject grace is proven through the words of Peter, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out”. (Acts 3:19) Would the apostle ask men to make the choice to repent if they had no choice in the matter? God does not act in such an illogical way.
Now we come to the final point which is argued against us. This is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Arminius himself, whose theology is nearly impeccable, was unsure of this doctrine. He allowed for the possibility of a Christian falling away but admitted that his opponents defended themselves well on this particular point. After much more thorough study of scripture, it has become clear that this doctrine is not in accordance with the teaching of the apostles. Several places in the New Testament state that a man may fall from grace. When Paul proclaims salvation through Christ to the Colossians, he puts a condition upon it, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard”. (Colossians 2:23) Though God’s grace preserves us, it requires our cooperation. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of those who have “tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 6:4) being able to fall away from grace. Nowhere in scripture is an unbeliever said to share in the Spirit. These and several other verses are sufficient to prove our point.
Thus, tested by both the words of scripture and human reason, our position is superior. We are simply trying to continue the Reformation in constantly looking to the word of God for all truth. The reformation is not about treating its founders as infallible, but taking their exegesis and theology as a guide to future theological study whose only authority is the word of God. Even Martin Luther’s successor Melancthon came to disagree with his teacher on some of these points. Thus, rather than reverting back to Rome as some claim, we are going further into the word of God and away from our traditions."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some thoughts on Bernard

It has often been stated by theologians as well as historians that Bernard of Clairvaux was the last “father of the church.” This may seem inappropriate since the Patristic age is usually seen to end around the time of Gregory (600 A.D.). However, the description does offer an accurate depiction of Bernard’s place among later medieval theology. In many ways, Bernard was among the last theologians of the period to deal primarily with Biblical exegesis, though most often in an allegorical manner. He did not give in to all of the subtleties of scholastic theology which was dominated by the thoughts of Aristotle. His writings show a man with simple faith in Christ, trying to encourage others in the love of God and neighbor.

Bernard not only was referred to as a church father, but has been seen by some as a forefather of the reformation. Luther himself quotes Bernard more than any other writer, save Augustine. Bernard perhaps understood the writings of St. Paul better than any other medieval theologian. He shares many affinities with Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Rather than the focus on good works and piety found in many theologians of the day, Bernard focused on the person and work of Christ himself. He was nicknamed doctor passionis. For Bernard, Christ was not seen primarily as judge, but as advocate. Bernard’s sermons contain several statements with this emphasis. “[Christ] gave himself to merit for us, He retains Himself to be our reward, He offers Himself as the food of saintly souls, He gives Himself as the price of redemption of those in captivity.”

Another reason why Luther admired Bernard so highly was that he did not give in to the scholasticism which had just begun to emerge in France. Scholastic theology was to dominate the middle ages until the humanists began looking at Biblical texts in their original language and context. Scholasticism dealt with all possible theological issues, whether important to the Christian faith or not. The old tale says that there was a debate among these theologians about how many angels could dance upon the head of a pin. Bernard was an opponent of scholasticism, specifically the thought of the controversial Peter Abelard. Rather than using Greek secular philosophy, Bernard states, “While I am in this life this more sublime philosophy will be mine-to know… Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Bernard anticipated the doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide as would be explained by the Reformers. Bernard, following his great teacher Augustine, taught that grace comes prior to conversion. Man, apart from grace does not, and will not decide to follow Christ. “The cause of loving God is God…It is He who gives the occasion, it is He who creates the affection, He who consummates the desire.” The historical theologian Adolf Von Harnack called Bernard Augustine Redivivus, meaning the second Augustine. His view of the provenience of God’s grace is in line with Augustine’s view in his anti-Pelagian writings. Though Bernard does not go the extreme as does Augustine by discussing double predestination, he does attribute all of salvation to God’s eternal election.

"His seed is the eternal predestination by which God has loved his elect… These I have regarded as those who have never sinned, as it were, because although they are seen to have sinned in some things in time, they do not appear to have done so in eternity, because the charity of their father covers a multitude of sins. And He calls them blessed whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered."

Notice that their not having sinned is not attributed to an inward change which God but to God’s forgiveness. Bernard outlines this position in his book On Grace and Free Choice. Though Luther read and quoted this book in his early debates with Eck, Calvin disagrees with many of his conclusions in the Institutes.

Perhaps most importantly for Luther and the reformers, Bernard of Clairvaux anticipated the doctrine of justification by faith alone in several of his sermons. While the majority of scholastic teachers in his day saw the saving righteousness of God as something infused into the believer making him inwardly righteous, Bernard sees it as a gift of forgiveness and mercy. “It suffices me for attaining to all righteousness, to have Him alone propitious toward me against Whom alone I have sinned… Not to sin is the righteousness of God: man’s righteousness is God’s forgiveness.” When Bernard speaks of merit it is most often connected to God’s gift and not to man’s good works. “He gave Himself to merit for us.” Perhaps the most clear statement of this doctrine comes from his sermon SC22, “Therefore the person who through sorrow for sin hungers and thirsts for righteousness, let him trust in the One who changes the sinner into a just person (Rom 4:5), and judged righteous in terms of faith alone (et solam iustificatus per fidem), that person will have peace with God.”

Bernard speaks frequently about the insufficiency of our own merits. “In order to merit, it is enough to know that our merits do not suffice for us.” He makes it clear that he does not hold to a doctrine of penance which puts man’s righteousness in his own hands. “Your sins are very great and beyond number. Never will you be able to make satisfaction for them, so many and so great are they, not even if you strip the very skin from your body.” Being a preacher, he uses his pastoral spirit to comfort his hearers with these doctrines.

"Why are you fearful, ye of little faith? Because He is unwilling to forgive sins? He nailed them to the cross together with his own hands. Because you are delicate and accustomed to a life of ease? But He knoweth our frame. [He remembereth that we are dust.] Because you have grown accustomed to evil and are bound by the fetters of habitual sin? But the Lord looseth them that are fettered. Are you, perhaps, fearful lest, angered by the greatness and number of your sins He will be slow to extend a helping hand? But where sin abounded, grace did more abound."

In at least two more ways Bernard shared theology with the Reformers. Bernard held that baptism was necessary to salvation; however, it was not absolutely necessary. He held, like Luther that though baptism regenerates, it was possible for God to save without it. Though we should not presume that unbaptized infants are with Christ, it is a possibility. More significantly, he seems to hold to something similar to the law/gospel distinction, though he may not speak in those terms. This passage shows a personal experience which demonstrates this principle. “How often has prayer taken me on the brink of despair, and restored me to the state of soul of one exulting in joy and confident forgiveness.” God causes his people to be struck by the law, put into despair, so that he may restore them again through the gospel, offering them forgiveness.

Bernard’s legacy does not end here. Most often he is not remembered as the last church father, the first medieval mystic, or the great theologian of the cross, but as the preacher of the Crusades. The success of the first Crusade had given Christians power over the holy land. Western presence dominated three primary cities: Jerusalem, Edessa, and Antioch. However, after a few decades of attacks, the kingdom of Edessa fell to Muslim forces in 1144. The western world now had a dilemma. Should the church support another crusade to retake Edessa?

The Pope at this time was one of Bernard’s own students, Bernard of Pisa, renamed Pope Eugenius III. Though Bernard did not at first support his friend’s accession to the papal throne, he supported and guided him when he was placed into the Holy See. He wrote a guidebook for the papacy titled “Book of Considerations.” Bernard believed that if the corruptions in the church were to be fixed, they would come from within the Papacy.

Eugenius III called for a second crusade in 1146 to regain Edessa and protect the Holy Land. Enthusiasm was greatly diminished from the first crusade. Thus Eugenius needed a way of exciting the masses to join the crusade. He called upon Bernard who then became the preacher of the second crusade. The question that one must ask at this point is, how does Bernard’s focus on love and grace coincide with his support of a crusade? Can one preach both the love of God and the death of pagans? Perhaps Bernard contradicts himself, or perhaps these two ideas are compatible. The best way to gain an answer to this question is to look at Bernard’s writings themselves.

In a letter written by Bernard to support the crusade, he blames the Muslims victory on the sins of the church. “For our sins, the enemies of Cross have raised blaspheming heads, ravaging with the edge of the sword the land of promise.” Bernard believes that there is some special significance to the church in the nation of Israel. Just as it was in the time of the prophets, the ownership of Israel was directly related to the obedience of God’s people.
Since the Muslims are attacking, this must in Bernard’s mind be a test sent by God. He could of course regain the land by the mere word of his mouth but he wants to make his people choose to serve him by volunteering for the crusade. He first shows the people their sinfulness, then offers them forgiveness. However, unlike many of his sermons, he does not present forgiveness as a free gift in Christ. He sees forgiveness as obtained through the act of crusading. “He wills to be held a debtor, that he may give pay to those that fight for him, pardon of sins, and everlasting glory.” This may seem to have affinities with the doctrine of forgiveness of sins through indulgences as was taught by John Tetsel. However, Bernard does clearly teach that to receive the forgiveness offered through service to God in military orders, one must be truly sorry for his sin. It is not a mere ex opera operato formula.
Much of Bernard’s motivation in preaching in favor of the crusades was his peculiar eschatology. Bernard believed that he was living near the end times. Due to his exegesis of Romans 11, he believed that there was a soon to come conversion of the majority of living Israelites. Bernard believed in a view which might today be classified as postmillennial. Before Christ was to return on earth, the majority of humanity would be converted to Christianity. Paganism would be nearly destroyed. This would explain why Bernard supported the killing of Pagans, and their expulsion from the holy land. It was not due primarily to his view of warfare in general, but of eschatology. Bernard’s eschatology seems to have been largely influenced by the Sibylline Oracles. These were prophecies of a Christian origin written between the 2nd and 5th century AD. In these prophecies, there was to be a leader, claiming to be Roman, who would eliminate paganism from the earth. This leader’s name was to begin with a “C”. He saw the fulfillment of this prophecy in Conrad III of Germany. These ideas caused Bernard, while supporting the violence of crusading, to defend the life of Jews. He vehemently protested the violence which had occurred against Jews by earlier crusaders. This is because Bernard believed the time of their conversion to be soon. “If the Jews be utterly trampled down, how shall the promised salvation or conversion profit them in the end?”

Another motivation behind Bernard’s support, perhaps the most important, was his ecclesiology. Bernard saw the state as having two main purposes. The state was to execute justice in civil matters, and also to protect the true faith of the church. Thus doctrinal purity, though primarily defended by the church, was to be promoted by the state. Bernard was also living in a time when the Papacy was gaining both ecclesiastical and political power. During the first crusade, there was not special appeal made to the churches coercive power as justification for war. However, in Bernard, as well as other writers of this period, this is used as an acceptable argument. The church has the power to command and control warfare. This is why Bernard could focus much of his preaching on individual salvation rather than on the capture of Jerusalem which was the primary motivation for the earlier crusade.

Bernard had an extremely high view of clergy and what they were able to do and command of laity. He held to the traditional medieval notion that Christians who had taken monastic vows were of a higher order than the ordinary Christian. This is why Bernard supported the Knights Templar but did not give as much respect to lay Christians who volunteered. He referred to them as malitia (meaning malice) as opposed to militia. This is relevant to the current discussion because his high view of Church authority led to a high view of the Papacy. As was the case with many other church men, Bernard believed that reformation must begin with the office of the bishop of Rome. Thus, the Pope was to be obeyed at all costs. The cloistered monk who spent most of his life in silent seclusion, writing, meditating and preparing sermons most likely would not tour Europe preaching Crusade without a direct call from the church. It is my contention that because Bernard saw the Papacy as Christ’s human instrument to the church on earth, he saw obedience to the Pope as obedience to Christ himself. Bernard preached for the crusades to because he was commanded to by the successor of Peter. This is not to say that Bernard held to a fully developed doctrine of Papal infallibility as has been taught by Rome since the first Vatican council of 1870. However, Papal authority had grown in the minds of Christians since the reign of Gregory.

Does Bernard contradict himself? Yes and no. It was stated by B.B. Warfield that the reformation was the victory of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church. In the same way one could say the reformation saw the victory of Bernard’s doctrine of grace over his doctrine of the church. Bernard was neither a Protestant, nor a Tridentine Catholic. It is anachronistic to suppose that Bernard must be one or the other. The driving motivation behind most of his life was love for Christ and a desire to please him. Thus, loving the scriptures, Bernard focused on the same message as did God’s inspired writers, the cross. However, loving the church, Bernard felt the need to obey her head by taking up the role of Crusade preaching. In this way Bernard was not contradicting himself; he saw all of his actions as ultimately aimed at the glory of his savior.

However, there is a contradiction in Bernard’s statements of justification. In most of his sermons, Bernard speaks of God’s forgiveness being bestowed on all who are truly sorry for their sin. One realizes his lost state and humbles himself so that God may restore him through grace. He does not speak of satisfaction for sin other than the cross. However, in his crusading sermons and letters, he speaks of forgiveness given through the act of crusading. He seems to give crusading an almost sacramental character. As God gives grace through baptism and the Eucharist, so he gives it through volunteering and fighting. However, Bernard need not be consistent. He did not live in the era that Luther, Chemnits, and Calvin lived in when discussions of justification were central. Bernard was simply a man who loved Christ, tried to glorify him and made several mistakes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lutheranism and Covenant Theology

Lutherans have often criticized the Reformed covenantal hermeneutical principle. Lutheranism sees the law/gospel distinction as the fundamental principle of Biblical hermeneutics. This seems to exclude the theme of covenant as being basic to the understanding of the Old and New Testaments. The Lutheran theologian has often seen two covenants; one being that of the Old Testament, and the other being that of the New. However, this seems to promote too dramatic a split between God’s revelation in the Old Testament and that of the New. Rather than denying that covenantal principle, the Lutheran can more accurately divide law and gospel by seeing a greater continuity between both testaments through the distinction between what the Reformed have called the “covenant of works” and the “covenant of grace.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is in the prelapsarian covenant of works. This idea states that before the fall, God placed Adam as the federal representative of mankind able to eat of the tree of life by his obedience or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil by his disobedience. To many, this seems to promote a salvation apart from grace, thus overthrows the central principle of sola fide. However, grace is a term used for unmerited favor in the postlapsarian state. Though one may be motivated by trying to see a fuller use of the grace of God it ultimately removes it from its soteriological context. Adam did not sin, thus did not need to be justified by faith. He was created in righteousness, and need not earn it but maintain it. Adam is not in the same state as fallen mankind, and one not treat him as such unless one wants to fall into a Pelagian error. This does not mean that God need reward man for his obedience to his creational function. However, in the arrangement God graciously chose to do so. However, this needs to be distinguished from the grace given to ungodly sinful humanity.

Was this arrangement made in the garden a covenant? There has been much debate in Reformed circles of the nature of covenant and how this relates to the Adamic state. In Lutheran Dogmatics, using the law/gospel distinction rather than a strict covenantal distinction, this need not be important. What we do see, however, is that Adam could have earned life by his obedience. Essentially, Adam was living under law. This protects against any kind of Pelagian or semi-Pelagian system which tries to equate the state of man now with that of man in the garden. It is worthy to note that in Roman Catholic theology Adam was in a state of grace before the fall. Rather than being essentially righteous and falling into a state of total depravity, Adam was given, sanctifying grace which was lost in the fall. Thus the fall was simply a negation of a gift, not a true fall into a depraved state.
After the fall, any kind of law could not bring man unto salvation. He had lost his essential righteousness and could not earn life through his obedience whether this would be through congruous or condign merit. Only Adam could earn life by obedience even if graciously rewarded.

This idea of Adam under law, rather than grace, is helpful not only because it guards against Pelagianism, but because it helps explain Paul’s Adam Christology. Christ was created as the second representative of mankind. He was in the state of Adam. Christ was offered life through his obedience as was Adam. This is a pure state of law, not grace. Christ was not righteous by his faith alone or by grace, but by works. Thus Christ fulfilled the law that Adam failed to keep and therefore earned the righteousness that Adam failed to. This righteousness is then imputed to his sheep.

The reformed distinction between a “covenant of works” and a “covenant of grace” is used to describe the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations. The covenant of grace was that given to mankind after the fall of Adam. He would redeem men unconditionally by the future obedience of Christ. This was expressed through the Abrahamic covenant. God granted Abraham, unconditionally, the promise of a future land, and seed. This was pure gospel, with no hint of law. God would bring Christ through the seed of Abraham, and bring the true sons of Abraham by faith into the New Jerusalem. Thus it is right to call the Abrahamic administration one of grace or of gospel rather than a covenant which contains both principles within it.
The Mosaic covenant on the other hand was a covenant of works. Through Moses, God gave the law. This law was not given primarily to show the Israelites how to live in the Promised Land, but to show them that they could not earn the Promised Land through their obedience to the Torah. Recently, a group of Lutheran scholars composed a book of essays, taken from the Concordia Symposium, on the Law of God in Holy Scripture. Several of the essays in this book argue that the law was given in view of God’s already gracious redemption of his people. Though the dogmatic third use of the law is present within the Mosaic legislation, it is not primary. The view promoted is fundamentally an abandonment of Luther’s insistence of the primacy of the pedagogical use of the law. To support the idea that the law’s purpose is primarily to condemn one must see the Mosaic administration as a covenant of works. It is, in contrast to the Abrahamic promise, primarily law and not gospel.

Aspects of the gospel given to Abraham do appear in the Mosaic Law, such as the priesthood and sacrificial system. These were types of Christ who would come as the fulfillment of both covenants. These, however should be seen as gradual fulfillment of the unconditional promise given to Abraham. That the Mosaic administration is primarily of law or works rather than gospel or grace, is evident by the mere fact that through disobedience of it’s stipulations Israel was removed from their land. This shows the conditional nature of God’s promise to Moses. Israel would gain the land if they obeyed Torah. This is directly opposed to the promise of Abraham which is given with no conditions.

The covenant of works, or administration of law, given to Moses is essentially a republication of what happened in the garden. People in the land are offered life through obedience as was Adam. However, in contrast to Adam, the Israelites were not able to keep the law unto life because they have been born in original sin. Thus the law given to Israel was not meant to bring life but to show them that they could not gain it through their obedience. Its goal was condemnation.

This seems to be the way Paul himself understands the law gospel contrast. He contrasts the covenant of Moses with that of Abraham. “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”(Galatians 3:17-18 ESV) Thus the distinction in Reformed theology between the covenant of grace and the covenant of works is parallel to Paul’s distinction between the law and the promise. The law gospel contrast should be understood, not only in dogmatic categories, but also in redemptive historical categories.

Though many in the Reformed tradition have rejected this covenant of grace and covenant of works distinction because, they claim it is too Lutheran, many in the reformed church use these categories to uphold Luther’s distinction between law and gospel. Though the Lutheran church need not speak in the same covenantal categories as the reformed, we can gain a better redemptive historical understanding of our basic hermeneutical principle through the bicovenantal reformed community. Men like Meredith Kline, Michael Horton, and Jeong Koo Jeon, have done much to defend the distinction without which scripture is a closed book.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Lutheran Response part 2

The reformed argue that when scripture declares that Christ is seated at the right hand of the father he must be present nowhere else according to his human nature. It was argued by Chemnits, Luther, Melancthon and others that this statement was one of status rather than locality. Christ’s being seated at God’s right hand is a statement of his authority. Does God have a literal body on a throne he sits on with Christ sitting beside Him? This is an absurd thought.

Now that it is has been shown that scripture allows for and in fact teaches the omnipresence of the whole Christ, the question to be asked is if he is specially present within the supper. The words of institution are some of the most debated words of the New Testament. When Jesus says “this is my body”, what does he mean? Luther’s one time pupil, Andreas Carlstadt argued that when Jesus said these words he was pointing to his literal body, not to the bread. This interpretation was foolish and abandoned quickly. The reformed and Anabaptists tried to argue that these words of Jesus were merely symbolic. Which word in the phrase “this is my body” is a symbol? It was argued by some that the word body was symbolic. However, this would deny that the following phrase “broken for you” referred to his actual bodily crucifixion. This interpretation had also been largely abandoned.

The majority Reformed position on Jesus words were that Jesus was using the word “is” to mean “represent.” Jesus was saying to the disciples, “this represents my body.” Lutheran theologians argued that there was no reason to take these words in a non-literal fashion. Did Jesus ever use this type of language symbolically in other circumstances? It was argued that when Jesus says things such as “I am the vine” he is using a similar figure of speech. Is Jesus literally a vine? No, of course he is not. However, that does not mean that these two statements are parallel. Note than in the second saying, it is not the word “is” that is symbolic. Rather it is the word “vine.” Jesus really is the vine. The question is, what does vine mean? No statement of Jesus in the gospels necessitates a symbolic understanding of the word is. Even if it could be argued that it is a possibility that the word could be used in such a way as to mean represents, the burden of proof would lay on the Reformed side. It needs to be shown that the word need not be used in its usual sense.

It is also argued against the Lutheran doctrine that if Jesus means that the bread literally is his body, then it would support a doctrine of transubstantiation rather than sacramental union. For the Lutheran doctrine to be true, Jesus must have meant “my body is in, with and under this bread.” However, it is not the case that for Jesus to admit that his body is present, it would deny that the bread is also present. It is a common figure of speech to, for example, hold a glass filled with water and say “this is water.” It would not be in any way denying the fact that the glass was present as well. No one would argue that it must mean that I was stating my entire glass was transubstantiated into water. The argument simply does not account for the way speech works.

There is one other passage which is widely debated between both theological positions. This is 1 Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” It is clear in this verse that through the wine, we are participating in his actual blood, and through the bread, his body. It has been urged by some, including Zwingli, that the body refers not to God’s actual body but to the church. This interpretation makes some sense, however what about the previous statement about participating in the blood of Christ? Zwingli argued that this also was a reference to the church since the church was identified by and covered by the blood of Christ. However, there is no reference in the New Testament or early church writings which calls the church “the blood of Christ.”
Calvin saw that Zwingli was flawed. This is why he believed in an actual participation of his body and blood. However, Calvin was already committed to the idea that Christ’s human nature could not be omnipresent. Thus, he developed a new formula which involved the Spirit causing the soul to ascend to heaven. Lutheran theologians argued against this proposition in three ways. First of all, the Bible simply does not mention any such action. The Spirit is not ever spoken of as being an instrument in bringing us Christ through the supper. If it is not exegetically supportable, it should not be accepted. Secondly, the idea of us ascending to God is contrary to the message of the New Testament. The gospel is about Christ descending to save us. Thus, the supper as a visible form of the gospel, unless otherwise stated in Scripture, should be seen to work the same way. Thirdly, this idea is based upon the assumption that Christ cannot be present in his human nature in more than one place. This has already been shown to be unproven.

The final attack of the Lutheran dogmatists against the Calvinistic theory of the Eucharist is that the Calvinists believe that Christ is present only by faith. There is no presence of Christ for the unbeliever. Much of the argument came from John 6:63 which says, “the Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing.” How can Jesus’ life giving bread be given to those who are in the flesh? For this verse to have any bearing upon the discussion, it must be shown that this chapter is about the Eucharist. If this chapter is shown to be about the Eucharist, it contains several statements which prove the Lutheran doctrine of the presence of Christ’s human nature. “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians point to the fact that unbelievers do partake of Christ’s body and blood, but rather than unto life, unto judgement. “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” Paul sees those who partake unworthily of sinning against the actual body and blood of the Lord, not of a symbol. This offense was so serious that God killed members of the congregation for doing so.

Calvin’s position, as a compromise corrected several of the errors in Zwingli’s exegesis. However, he still held to assumptions that controlled his reading of the crucial passages of the text, not allowing them to speak for themselves. Luther was justified in not accepting Zwingli’s hand of fellowship. Perhaps if the meeting had been with Calvin the results would have been different.