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."