Wednesday, December 14, 2011

David Scaer on Sanctification

I happened to run across this article recently, which I think lays out the differences between the Calvinistic and Lutheran approaches to sanctification rather well. For any interested in the topic: click here

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Introduction to Patristic theology

I have been asked quite a few times recently what to read to begin studying the Church fathers. These are a few of the resources that helped me begin to study Patristic theology.

First, I must recommend two essential volumes. One is J.N.D. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, and the other is Jeraslov Pelikan's The Christian Tradition vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition. These are really the two standard scholarly introductions to Patristic theology. While I don't always agree, the extensive one volume treatment of such a broad topic remains unsurpassed.

I do not recommend reading the Ancient Christian Commentaries series, nor do I recommend Jurgen's three volume introduction to the fathers. These are commonly recommended resources that I have found less than helpful. Regarding the Ancient Christian Commentary series, I have found that the quotes are selective, and contain no context. A list of Patristic citations often betrays the author's beliefs rather than the father who is being quoted. I also find it somewhat strange that these volumes contain quotes from known heretics such as Pelagius. Jurgen's volumes betray a heavy Roman Catholic bias. The quotes he selects show continuity with later defined Roman Dogmas which are often far from the majority views in the early Christian period.

Rather than reading compilations of Patristic quotes, I would recommend going to the sources themselves. But where should one begin? There are so many volumes out there, it is just about impossible to read them all. I will give you some of my personal favorites, though there is far more out there, and I'm sure others would list different books than I will recommend.

First, I recommend Augustine's Confessions. This is an easy to read (provided you get a modern translation) autobiography that contains numerous great spiritual insights. Most people I have met who have an interest in Patristics began with this book, including myself. Second I recommend reading the apostolic fathers. I would recommend Michael Holmes translation, as a modern English version. This contains the earliest Christian writings. While you may be flat out confused by the Shephard of Hermas, the epistle of I Clement, the Ignatian writings, and the epistle to Diognetus are spiritual gems.

And on to my personal favorites:
Irenaues's On the Apostolic Preaching This is a great introduction to the Christian faith from one of the greatest early Christian writers.

Augustine's On the Spirit and the Letter This was one of Luther's favorite writings, as it introduced him to what would be known as the distinction between law and gospel. This can be found in a modern translation in

Prosper of Aquitaine's The Call of All Nations. This book is quoted in the Augsburg Confession (though attributed to Ambrose) and was often recommended by Luther. It is by far the best book written on the subject of grace and predestination in the first 1500 years of the church. Prosper defends a moderate Augustinianism which defends both the election of grace, and God's universal saving will.

Ambrose's Patriarchal Treatises, specificall On Jacob and the Happy Life. Ambrose is a brilliant rhetorician, and while often his exegesis is strained, his Christ centered pastoral approach brings out some of the best preaching the church has ever seen.

Finally, so as not to be too overwhelming in my recommendations, I recommend John Chrysostom's Commentary on Galatians. Chrysostom's commentaries follow a grammatical historical approach, much like a modern commentary would. This is a work I have continually come back to for edification and encouragement in my Christian life. This can be found with some of his other excellent commentaries.

Let me know if this is helpful, or recommend other introductory resources that I may not have come across that you have found useful in Patristic study.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lutherans and the use of images Part 2

Having explained what the Lutheran view of images is, I will now attempt to give a brief defense that this is a Biblical understanding.

The main Reformed objection is of course from the second commandment (first for Lutherans). The commandment states:
"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:4)

The main thrust of the command is against worship of images. In the ancient middle east, it was common for religions to venerate statues of false gods. As many other laws given to Israel, this law served to protect the people from Israel from the corruption of the false religions of surrounding nations. It is not opposing using images for any purpose whatsoever.

This is clear from the fact that Israel was actually commanded to make images.

"You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel." (Exodus 25:17-22)

If it was acceptable to use images in the worship setting in the Old Testament (the ark was of course the most holy place for Jewish worship), why is it assumed to be wrong in the new?

One may object that images of saints and angels are permissible, but images of God are not. But must this be the case for the incarnate God, who willfully took an image upon himself? Sure, images of God in his glory cannot begin to approach his majesty in the heavens, but how can one argue against an image of a real historical event on this earth? Crucifixes are not meant to give an exact image of what Jesus' face looks like, but to be a visual reminder that God became an actual man, in real history, and truly died a bloody death for the sins of the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lutherans and the use of images Part 1

One of the things that initially scared me away from Lutheran churches was the crucifix placed in the front of the sanctuary behind the preacher. Doesn't that violate the second commandment? Do Lutherans venerate icons?

This is a common apprehension Reformed Christians have about Lutheran worship. I would look to clear up a few misconceptions.

Lutherans do not venerate icons. At the second council of Nicea in 787, the issue of images was at hand. One side, called iconoclasts, were against the use of images altogether. Churches should not be adorned at all with pictures of Jesus, or the saints. The other position, represented most adequately by John of Damascus, argued that icons of Jesus, Mary, the Angels, and the Saints, should be displayed and churches and homes. One could venerate (in distinction from worship) the icons. When one venerates the icon, he is not venerating the picture, but what it represents.

While the Reformed have traditionally accepted the "iconoclast" position, Lutherans have not whole-heartily adopted the Damascene position on the issue either. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, we do not venerate the saints. The saints should be commended and remembered for their great faith and example in this life (Hebrews 11 displays this rather well). However, we do not pray, or perform any act we conceive as worship to the saints.

Second, scripture does not imply that icons are a window into the heavenly realms. Believing in sola scriptura, we simply can't hold to this view.

So what do we use images for?

We use them as tools to instruct and remind us of our faith. The crucifix is a constant reminder of the gospel. It is often placed in the sanctuary to remind both the pastor and the congregation that Christ, and his cross are the center of the church's worship life. We use images of saints to remind us of the great faith of those who have come before us, and remind us of the unity of the church in heaven and on earth.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lutherans have a weak view of sin?

On a recent episode of the Reformed radio show "Christ the Center", Professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Lane Tipton, discussed the differences between Lutheran and Reformed views of union with Christ and sanctification. According to Tipton, giving justification primacy in the ordo salutis,(as in Lutheranism) necessitates a view of semi-Pelagianism. Only Calvinists can lay claim to Augustine's anthropology. If justification precedes other soteriological benefits, regeneration must occur as a result of justification. If this is true, faith becomes a possibility of the natural man apart from the Spirit's work. Tipton even went on to compare the Lutheran view of sin with that of the New Perspective. Is this really true? Do Lutherans hold a low view of sin, and approach semi-Pelagianism? What do the Lutheran Confessions say on the topic?

Augsburg Confession Article V: "For through the Word and Sacraments, as though through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God in them that hear the gospel."

This is exactly the opposite of what Tipton suggests Lutherans teach. The Holy Spirit is given to create faith, not because of faith.

Augsburg Confession Article XVIII: "Of free will they teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, an to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the word."

Again, the Holy Spirit must precede any good in man. This would include faith.

Small Catechism II:3 "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth"

Epitome II:19"Therefore, before the conversion of man there are only two efficient causes, namely the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, as the instrument of the Holy Ghost, by which He works conversion. This Word man is to hear; however, it is not of his own powers, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Ghost that he can yield faith to it and accept it."

These quotes could be greatly multiplied. The entire Article II of the formula of Concord is on the subject of free will. The assertions of Dr. Tipton are unfounded. The Reformed do not lay sole claim to Augustinian anthropology. If one is in fact to read Augustine's anti-Pelagian treatises, they are far from "Calvinistic." For Augustine, all grace is routed in baptism.

Friday, October 21, 2011

1 John and assurance of faith

The question I get asked perhaps more than any other is regarding the first epistle of John. 1 John has often been used by Calvinistic preachers as a test of the genuineness of one's faith. The mode of thought is this,
"am I really a Christian? I am baptized, go to church, partake of the Supper, pray, etc. but none of this matters if I don't have faith. Well how do I know if I have true faith? True faith produces works, therefore I must look at my works. However, I see non-Christians who do seemingly nice things, so I must see if my works are better than theirs by looking at my affections and motivations."
1 John is then the proof that this is a Biblical method of attaining assurance. So how do I as a Lutheran, who is always telling people to look to their baptism, and the work of Christ for assurance interpret this book? Doesn't it point people to their works to gain assurance of true saving faith?

In short-no I don't think so.
First, remember that John begins his epistle by stating that "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1:7-10) Before allowing his readers to assume that Christians are expected to live a sinless life, John reminds his readers that they are simul iustus et peccator. This serves as a corrective for how his later words could be misconstrued.

John does then begin to write about the necessity of works in the Christian life. (yes, works are a necessary result of saving faith) He states, "whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him." (2:4) I propose that John does not do so to tell Christians to judge their works to gain assurance of saving faith, but to continue in repentance after one is in the faith. It was characteristic of many early gnostic groups to promote licentiousness living. Salvation is attained through knowledge, and through escaping the physical world. Therefore whatever one does with the body is irrelevant. Perpetual unrepentant sin was not a barrier to the soul's salvation. John's emphasis on the physical nature of Christ (his language of seeing and touching Christ, or his insistence on Jesus coming in flesh for example) along with the antinomianism he is fighting is evidence that he is battling early proto-gnostic groups. Thus John is not writing to doubting believers that they might have a "test" for the genuineness of faith, but warning Christians against the early gnostic heresy.

Look for example at the second chapter. In verses 7-11 John tells his readers of the necessity of love in the Christian life. After he does this, he does not then tell his readers "see if you measure up" but something very different. He writes, "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake." He does not say "so that you may know if your sins are forgiven", but "because your sins are forgiven." He then mentions that he is writing to those who "know him", and "have overcome the evil one." This is a use of the indicative and imperative.

John, like the rest of the New Testament authors, assures his readers that through confession of sin and repentance they are forgiven and loved by God. However, he is warning that those who live unrepentant lives, deny the flesh of Christ, and hate their brothers are not of the fold. As Luther's first of the 95 theses stated "the entire life of the Christian is one of repentance." John is warning his readers against falling away from the true faith into this gnostic heresy, adopting licentious living and denying the humanity of Christ which he refers to as the "sin that leads to death." (5:16)

Cling to the promise that those who confess are forgiven, and don't fall fall away from repentance, the church, and the doctrine of the gospel. That in short is the message of 1 John.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Self Evidencing Power of Truth

This fragment from Justin's lost work "On the Resurrection" is one of the best statements on Christian apologetics that I have ever come across.

"The word of truth is free, and carries its own authority, disdaining to fall under any skilful argument, or to endure the logical scrutiny of its hearers. But it would be believed for its own nobility, and for the confidence due to Him who sends it. Now the word of truth is sent from God; wherefore follow the freedom claimed by the truth is not arrogant. For being sent with authority, it were not fit that it should be required to produce proof of what is said; since neither is there any proof beyond itself, which is God. For every proof is more powerful and trustworthy than that which it proves; since what is disbelieved, until proof is produced, gets credit when such proof is produced, and is recognised as being what it was stated to be. But nothing is either more powerful or more trustworthy than the truth; so that he who requires proof of this is like one who wishes it demonstrated why the things that appear to the senses do appear. For the test of those things which are received through the reason, is sense; but of sense itself there is no test beyond itself. As then we bring those things which reason hunts after, to sense, and by it judge what kind of things they are, whether the things spoken be true or false, and then sit in judgment no longer, giving full credit to its decision; so also we refer all that is said regarding men and the world to the truth, and by it judge whether it be worthless or no. But the utterances of truth we judge by no separate test, giving full credit to itself. And God, the Father of the universe, who is the perfect intelligence, is the truth. And the Word, being His Son, came to us, having put on flesh, revealing both Himself and the Father, giving to us in Himself resurrection from the dead, and eternal life afterwards. And this is Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. He, therefore, is Himself both the faith and the proof of Himself and of all things. Wherefore those who follow Him, and know Him, having faith in Him as their proof, shall rest in Him. But since the adversary does not cease to resist many, and uses many and divers arts to ensnare them, that he may seduce the faithful from their faith, and that he may prevent the faithless from believing, it seems to me necessary that we also, being armed with the invulnerable doctrines of the faith, do battle against him in behalf of the weak."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Irenaeus on Christ as the second Adam

"After the flesh [Christ] might be the son of David, who was the son of Abraham by a long succession; but according to the spirit Son of God, pre-existing with the Father, begotten before all the creation of the world, and at the end of the times appearing to all the world as man, the Word of God gathering up in Himself all things that are in heaven and that are on earth.So then He united man with God, and established a community of union between God and man; since we could not in any other way participate in incorruption, save by His coming among us. For so long as incorruption was invisible and unrevealed, it helped us not at all: therefore it became visible,that in all respects we might participate in the reception of incorruption. And, because in the original formation of Adam all of us were tied and bound up with death through his disobedience, it was right that through the obedience of Him who was made man for us we should be released from death: and because death reigned over the flesh, it was right that through the flesh it should lose its force and let man go free from its oppression. So the Word was made flesh,that, through that very flesh which sin had ruled and dominated, it should lose its force and be no longer in us. And therefore our Lord took that same original formation as (His) entry into flesh, so that He might draw near and contend on behalf of the fathers, and conquer by Adam that which by Adam had stricken us down."

Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching Ch. 30

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reformed Theology and False Faith

I have been meaning to address the issue of "false faith" in Reformed theology for some time, but the subject is so immense that I fear that a blog post will not do it justice. This subject seems to come up more than any other (besides baptism) when talking with Reformed Christians. So here is my attempt to at least begin the dialogue.

In Reformed theology, one cannot be truly regenerate and fall away from the faith. However, most of us have known seemingly devoted Christians who have at some point in their life walked away from Christ. So how does our experience make sense of the teaching of perseverance? One must conclude either one of two things.
1. That these people truly were saved and did fall away, hence the Reformed teaching is wrong.
2. These people were never saved in the first place. Some have "false faith", think that they are believers but fall away from the faith. Others have true faith and persevere to the end. This is the conclusion of Reformed theology.

So how does one know if they are truly regenerate or not? For a Lutheran, one can look to his or her baptism, the sacraments, and the proclamation of forgiveness in absolution. These are objective means by which God continually creates new life and brings forgiveness. They are not mere "signs" of God's favor toward us (as has been taught by Reformed theologians because of Augustine's unfortunate use of the term) but are themselves acts of grace confronting our sin.

For the Reformed theologian, one assesses his regeneration by the nature of his changed dispositions. This is not the case with all Reformed theology (look for example at the Lutheran-influenced theologians at Westminster West) but is predominant in revivalist American Reformed Christianity. In this system, one must continually test his election by looking for signs of the Spirit's work in one's heart.

The defense for this idea usually comes from the book of 1 John. John lays out a series of tests which one must compare himself/herself to. If one passes these tests, assurance of salvation is granted. One must have a love of God, a love of one's neighbor, and a love of God's commandments. Even so, aren't there some who have fallen away who seem to have a love for God, neighbor, and the commandments? Surely, these people believed themselves to be saved and had some signs of new life. This is the problem Jonathan Edwards faced in the great awakening. So many conversions were happening. How was one to determine the true from the false? In his book the Religions Affections, Edwards goes beyond these outward signs and asks the reader to examine his/her heart. Are your affections changed? Do you really hate sin? Do you love God for God's sake?

If you have read my recent article in the Issues etc. Journal, then you are aware that these questions plagued me for some time. The constant question on my mind was "how do I know if I am elect?" Rather than pointing to the objective work of Christ, God's presence in the sacraments, or the proclaimed word, I was often pointed inward. After reading Edwards and listening to preachers like Paul Washer, there was one conclusion I could come to: If these men are right, there is no way I am saved. In fact, if these men are right, I don't think anyone is saved. The fact is, the standards are so high that no one who has not yet been glorified can meet them.

The problem stems from the Reformed view of election. When election becomes the primary soteriological motif, the question of salvation becomes "how do I know if I am elect?" One cannot point to the objective work of Christ, because it was only done for the elect. Thus, before I can have assurance that Christ died for me, I must look to my works as evidence of the Spirit. Once I have this assurance, I can look to the cross. Whether or not it is intended, I am ultimately pointed to my works. One is then trapped in the Augustinian plague which denies assurance to anyone. Though I know this is not the intent of most Calvinists, when election becomes so central, and the cross is put in a secondary position, this is inevitable.

How do you know if you are elect? Look to God's electing act now. God is creating new life in you through the word and sacraments. He claimed you at your baptism. He continues to claim you through the Eucharist. When Paul speaks to the Ephesians of their election in Christ, he does not stop to make sure that everyone in his audience has tested their faith for genuineness. He does not say "God chose some of us in him" or "God chose us in him if you have enough fruit". Paul proclaims indiscriminately that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world! This is because Paul understood that God's electing act was worked out through baptism, and the gathering of the church.

But what about 1 John, Matthew 7, and the other passages which speak of the necessity of works? Here there is a legitimate place for distinguishing between "true faith" and "false faith". The distinction is simple, and much less complicated that it is made out to be. False faith is simply faith without repentance. It is proclaiming the gospel without the law. Some proto-gnostics at the end of the first century began teaching that the body was useless, thus whatever one did with the flesh (sexual immorality, etc.) was of no concern. This is what John seems to be battling in his epistles. True faith in Christ is accompanied by sorrow over sin.

If you look inside yourself for assurance, you are going to be continually disappointed. Even the regenerate heart is not completely cleansed from sin. Instead, look to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Look at his completed salvation, and participate in Him through the Eucharist and his proclaimed word.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

John Chrysostom's Comments on Psalm 45

"While the first Adam was filled with countless curses, this person by contrast with him is filled with every blessing. The former heard the words, "You are cursed in your works," and the one after him again, "Cursed is the one who does not adhere to what is written in this book," and "Cursed is the one hanged on a tree." Do you see the number of curses? Christ in becoming a curse freed you from these. As he humbled himself to exalt you, and died to render you immortal, so too he became a curse to fill you with blessing. What could match this blessing, when through a curse you regaled with blessing? Not that he himself stood in need of blessing, of course, but rather that he gives it to you. You see, just as when I say that he was humbled I imply not change but that considerateness of the Incarnation, so to when I say he was blessed I do not imply that he needed blessing but again I demonstrate the considerateness of the Incarnation. It was human nature, therefore, that was blessed. Christ, in fact, raised from the dead dies no more, and is not subject to a curse; rather, even before this he was not subject, but took on the curse so as to free you from it."

Hill, Robert Charles. John Chrysostom's Commentary on the Psalms Volume 1. Brookline: Holy Orthodox Press, 1998. Page 265

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Clarifying the issue of equal ultimacy

I was asked by a reader to discuss the issue of equal ultimacy.

Equal ultimacy is the idea that God predestines men to wrath in the same way that he predestines men to life. There is an exact parallel between election to salvation and reprobation. This position in Calvinist theology is labelled "supralapsarianism." God decrees both salvation and reprobation, and then decrees the fall as the means of bringing this about.

This is distinguished from the "infralapsarianism" in which election and reprobation are described as two separate acts. Election is God's active choice of certain fallen men unto salvation; reprobation is God's passive allowance of the non-elect to remain in their fallen state. In other words, God chooses some for salvation out of the sinful lump of humanity while leaving the rest in their sin.

These two positions are sometimes placed under a logical order (as opposed to a temporal order, since God transcends time) of God's decrees.

The supralapsarian "order of decrees" are as follows:

1. God decrees to glorify Himself in election and reprobation
2. God decrees the fall as a means of bringing about election and reprobation
3. God decrees the death of Christ for the elect

And the infralapsarian view:

1. God decrees the fall
2. In view of the fall, God decrees the salvation of some, while allowing the rest to remain in their sin.
3. God decrees the death of Christ for the elect

This is an important distinction to make, because Lutherans too often characterize all Calvinists as being guilty of equal ultimacy, while infralapsarianism is the predominant view. Infralapsarianism is less problematic as it avoids making God the author of sin. However, both positions are inadequate for a couple of reasons.

First, both positions are based on a theology of glory wherein one is concerned with the eternal decrees of God, rather than God's revelation in Christ--God hidden rather than God revealed--God in Himself rather than God preached. While this may be an interesting intellectual exercise, it leads one far beyond the Biblical material on the issue. I highly doubt that Paul was contemplating the order of God's decrees as he penned the epistle to the Ephesians.

Second, both of these positions place election as the central soteriological motif rather than the cross. The cross becomes merely the means of bringing about predestination--hence limited atonement. In Lutheran (and Pauline) theology, election is God's choice to bring us to the cross. This is why election is always "in Christ." The cross is at the center, and whatever other soteriological benefits are given are in view of this.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lex Semper Accusat: A Response to TurretinFan

I was recently pointed to the blog of TurretinFan, the anonymous blogger of Aomin fame, for his recent attacks on proponents of two kingdom theology. There was a bit of a back and forth between himself and R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California. In a recent post, he even claimed that "Escondido Theology" (the theology of Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark, David VanDrunen, Darryl Hart, and others) was a cause for conversions to Roman Catholicism.

What is the problem with these theologians? Well, apparently they are too Lutheran. Regardless of whether or not TurretinFan's interpretation of historic Reformed orthodoxy is correct on the issue of two kingdoms (which for some reason always has the word "radical" attached to it), TurretinFan has been attacking at least the historic Lutheran doctrine which he apparently does not understand. I know that TurretinFan is capable of reading, understanding, and refuting arguments well. I have seen him do so on several occasions. However, when it comes to Lutheranism, TurretinFan has not done his homework. A recent post has made this apparent.

In this post titled "Lex Semper Accusat? Does the Law Always Accuse?", TurretinFan claims that the statement that "the Law always accuses" is "theologically inaccurate." The first argument made by TurretinFan is that Christ was not accused by the law, but fulfilled the law. Disregarding the fact that Christ certainly did fall under the accusation of the law (isn't this the purpose of the cross?), one must ask: did the Lutheran fathers use this statement in such a way as to ignore the fact that Christ did not break the law?
Of course not! The statement Lex Semper Accusat is used in a very specific context. This statement appears in the Lutheran Confessional documents in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession several times. Here is one such example of its use:

"The Law worketh wrath. He does not say that by the Law men merit the remission of sins. For the Law always accuses and terrifies consciences. Therefore it does not justify, because conscience terrified by the Law of God flees from the judgement of God. Therefore they err who trust that by the Law, by their own works, they merit the remission of sins."- Apology IX.38.

Clearly, Melancthon is speaking in the context of fallen man and his justification before God. His statement has no reference to Christ, prelapsarian Adam, a Christian in the glorified state, or any such exception. Using TurretinFan's logic, one would have to call Paul's statement theologically incorrect that "all have sinned" because of the sinlessness of Christ. This however, is beyond the scope of the authors intended meaning.

The second point that TurretinFan makes is that the Law cannot always accuse because it has other functions.
But is this really the point that this statement is making? Do we Lutherans believe in one use of the Law--an accusatory one? Again, I say: of course not! Our Confessions are as explicit as can be on this issue.

"Since the law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men...secondly, that men may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerate...they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life"-Epitome of the Formula of Concord VI:1

So then what does the statement mean? It means that even when the Law is functioning in its other two manners, it is still accusing. When the Christian is looking to the Law as a moral guide for his good works, he still sees the inadequacy of his good deeds and is reminded of the all-sufficiency of his savior. This does not neglect the fact that the Christian does fulfill the Law to an extent, and truly does begin to love the Law as his guide. It is simply saying that he is still simul iustus et peccator.

TurretinFan's "refutation" of the slogan lex semper accusat is based on a misunderstanding of the statement, as well as ignorance of Confessional Lutheran theology. I certainly welcome challenges to Lutheran doctrine, but challenges which are well informed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To be steeped in history is to cease being Reformed

Yes-the title of this post was taken from the oft repeated statement of Cardinal Newman after his conversion to Romanism "To be steeped in history is to cease being Protestant." Though I am theologically far removed from the Roman Catholic church, I cannot help but be sympathetic to this sentiment. Though it is not a primary area I have discussed on my blog, a study of historical theology was as influential to my conversion as was my exegetical work.

The question I pose is this: Could the Church have been wrong about so many central elements of Christian theology and practice for 1500 years?

As a Reformed Christian, I would have to answer yes--though I was not willing to admit that the gates of hell had prevailed against the church.
As I began to read through the church fathers and medieval theologians, there were several things I quickly noticed.

First, baptism is always seen as a means of regeneration. From Justin Martyr, to the apocryphal gospels and acts, to Tertullian, to Irenaeus, to Augustine, through the middle ages, there has never been a major theologian who has regarded baptism as a symbol (nor as entrance into an external covenant with no real soteriological benefits). I still have been unable to find a single writer who understood baptism in any other way than regeneration prior to the reformation.

Second, it is always an assumption that a Christian can fall away from grace. It is a consistent theme in the apostolic fathers that the Christian must not quit running the race, or else his salvation will be lost. This again is echoed through out the centuries. Augustine himself, while acknowledging the perseverance of the elect, believed that many who were baptized and regenerate would fall away. Again, I have not found a single writer who taught otherwise.

Third, no one limited saving grace to the elect. Yes, there are elements of what would later be labeled "limited atonement" in the early Prosper of Aquitaine, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and Gottschalk, but none of these theologians denied that non-elect believers had true regeneration, thus saving grace, for a time. Baptismal grace is seen as a universal gift, given to all who are baptized, regardless of their election.

Finally, there is no "regulative principle of worship" in the early or medieval church. From the first century, the church functioned by means of liturgy. The church calender played a pivotal role in spiritual formation through out the second and third centuries. The church functioned under an episcopal system, without any outcry to the contrary. At least in the conservative RPCNA circles I have been a part of, it is seen as sinful to worship in any manner other than that which is directly commanded by scripture-which in this view is a Presbyterian form of government, exclusive Psalmody in worship, and no spoken or chanted liturgy. If this is the case, one must admit that there was no real worship service from 100 AD until Calvin's Geneva.

These are only a few of the issues which I was unable to find in earlier church history; there are several more. If these, and other Reformed beliefs are true- how were they missed for 1500 years? Did everyone get it wrong? Did the Holy Spirit allow his church to fall into such error?

The history of the church is of course not an infallible authority as is the scripture. However, it should, if Christ's promise is true, at least be taken as a reliable guide for Biblical interpretation. If one is to disagree with the tradition of the church, there had better be rock solid exegetical reasons for doing so. In this case-it does not seem that there are.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Justification as a hermeneutical principle

I was asked to address the issue of justification and hermeneutics. In addition to the differences outlined in the previous post, is there a difference between the Reformed and Lutheran churches on hermeneutics? Does Lutheranism teach that the doctrine of justification itself is a hermeneutical principle, through which all scripture must be viewed?

First I must recommend Robert Preus' article: How is the Lutheran Church to Interpret and use the Old and New Testaments? in his volume "Essays on Scripture" Preus gives an excellent overview of how the Confessions themselves deal with this issue.

When it is said that Justification is a hermeneutical principle, this does not mean that every verse in scripture is directly referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ. Justification is used here in a broad sense, to mean more fully the work of Christ for us. The chief article as Luther defines it in the Smalcald Articles includes Christ's life, death, and resurrection as well as its personal application to his people in justification. To say that justification is a hermeneutical principle is simply to say that Christ himself is a hermeneutical principle. Jesus explains this to the disciples in Luke 24 "And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."

This does not mean that every verse must be forced to have direct reference to Christ. Nor does it mean, as some have claimed, that every verse is either law or gospel. What it does mean is that Christ's death and resurrection for sinners is at the center of the Biblical narrative as a whole, and no part of this grand story of redemption is isolated from this center.

I will give some examples as to how this principle works itself out. First, it is seen in all of God's promises of blessing. In Genesis, we read of the Patriarchs whom God promises a great seed. We then read of the severe failings of these Patriarchs, though this never hinders God's goodness toward them. Though there is no direct statement in the book of Genesis that the Messiah will come in the flesh, die a bloody death, and rise again, we through a Christological lens understand that this is ultimately the message that God is giving to the Patriarchs. The great seed which is promised to them is Christ himself. These promises are made continually to Noah, Moses, David, etc.

Second, this is seen through certain figures who are "Types" of Christ. Joseph for example is a type of Christ, as he is betrayed by his brothers and is good to them despite their betrayal. David is a type of Christ as the great godly king of Israel. Look at the famous story of David and Goliath. David, the humble shepherd, confronts the giant Goliath representing the enemies and oppressors of God's people: the Philistines. David, on behalf of the nation of Israel as a whole, slays the giant, defeating the enemies of Israel. This is a picture of Christ, the son of David, crushing the head of Satan, the ultimate enemy of God's people. These types permeate the Old Testament.

Third, all of the ceremonial laws of Israel are a picture of the spotless lamb who would lay down his life on behalf of his people. The sacrifices, and scapegoat are a picture of what Christ would accomplish on the cross. The purity laws are a picture of the sinless Son of God. The established offices in Israel: prophet, priest, and king all find their fulfillment in the Messiah. The nation of Israel itself is fulfilled in Jesus who is the true Israel.

Each Biblical book and story points in its own unique way to the culmination of redemptive history when the sinless Son of God laid down his life for the world, conquering sin, death, and the devil, as well as his victorious resurrection from the dead. This is what it means that justification is a hermeneutical principle.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Are there differences between Lutherans and Calvinists on Justification?

I was asked by a reader of this blog to address the issue of justification. More specifically, I was asked to address the relation between Lutheran and Reformed views of the doctrine. Are they agreed upon this issue?
There certainly are great similarities between the two confessions on the topic. Both understand justification as a forensic term referring to the imputation of righteousness to the believer, and a non-imputation of sin due to one's connection with the death of Christ. It is received by faith alone apart from good works.
This is not the end of the discussion-there are some serious differences.

For one, the Lutheran Confessions do not limit justification to its forensic aspects. Luther states, for example, in the Smalcald Articles Part III, Article XIII.1 "What I have hitherto and constantly taught concerning this I know not how to change in the least, namely, that by faith, as St Peter says, we acquire a new and clean heart, and God will and does account us entirely righteous and holy for the sake of Christ." Here, as well as in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (I can provide several citations if necessary), justification can be used in a forensic manner, or to refer to the initial change of heart in the Christian which is also wrought by faith. Later Lutheran tradition tended to equate justification more-so with the forensic element so as to not confuse justification and sanctification. The Formula of Concord makes a more clear distinction between justification and regeneration.

Lutherans have seen justification as the center of the ordo salutis. It is not merely one aspect of the reception of salvation for the Christian- it is the heart of all of the gifts given by Christ. There has been much debate in the Reformed world, especially in recent years, over this issue. Some have claimed that union with Christ, in contradistinction to Lutheranism, is the central soteriological motif for historic Calvinism. Justification is merely one blessing of many which flows from this union. Lutheranism, in general, has seen union with Christ as a consequent gift to justification. (Solid Declaration Article III:54)From my reading of Luther's 1535 Galatians commentary however, it seems that Luther sees justification as subsequent to union. Even so however, justification is still the central aspect of salvation, not union.

Perhaps more important than these other two distinctives is the sacramental context in which justification is placed in Lutheranism. The faith which justifies is not an immediate direct gift of the Spirit as in Calvinism; it is mediated through word and sacrament. For Lutherans, the statement "baptism justifies" is synonymous with "faith justifies." The reality of one's justification is then played out through partaking weekly of the Eucharist, and receiving Christ's forgiveness through the words of absolution. The Reformed would shy away from these statements, and see sacraments as covenant badges, not means of justification.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

More Free Kindle Books

V.W. Richter- Why Should a Lutheran Not Join a Sectarian Church?

David Henkel- Answer to Mr. Joseph Moore, the Methodist

David Henkel- Against the Unitarians

Theodore Emanuel Schmauk- How to Teach in Sunday School

Lectures on the Augsburg Confession

W.H. Dau- Reviews of the Work of the Missouri Synod During Three Quarters of a Century

Diedrich Henry Steffens- Dr. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther

Johann Michael Rue- Homiletics

Martin Chemnitz- Enchiridion (in German)

Thomas Martin Lindsay- A History of the Reformation

Henry Clay Vedder- The Reformation in Germany

George Wilson- Philip Melancthon

Martin Luther- A Commentary on Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

Martin Luther- Table Talk

Martin Luther- On the Bondage of the Will

Martin Luther- Letters

Martin Luther- Two Catechisms Explained by Himself

Martin Luther- House Postil

Martin Luther- Christmas Sermons

Harold Ulrik Svendrup- Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism

Jan Hus- Letters Written During His Exile and Imprisonment

Bernard of Clairvaux- On the Love of God

Henry Eyster Jacobs- a Study in Comparative Symbolics

Lutheran Commentary Series

The Lutheran Commentary: Matthew 1-15

The Lutheran Commentary: Matthew 16-28

The Lutheran Commentary: Mark

The Lutheran Commentary: Acts

The Lutheran Commentary: Romans- 1 Corinthians 6

The Lutheran Commentary- 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians

The Lutheran Commentary- Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians

The Lutheran Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Philemon, and Hebrews

The Lutheran Commentary- James, I, II Peter, Jude, I, II, III John

The Lutheran Commentary: Revelation of St. John

Monday, January 31, 2011

Free Lutheran Kindle Books

I recently purchased a Kindle. My first thought of course was to see if there was any way to find Confessional Lutheran works for free in kindle format. I found this website: which allows you to convert books in epub format to kindle, and it sends them directly to your kindle. I spent a few hours searching google books and found some great resources. So this is to save you the time in looking for and converting books from googlebooks.

Charles Krauth- The Conservative Reformation and its Theology

Charles Krauth- Commentary on the Gospel of John

Charles Krauth- Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic System

Charles Krauth- Chronicle of the Augsburg Confession

Charles Krauth- Poverty

Charles Krauth- Baptism

Adolph Spaeth- Charles Porterfield Krauth (Biography)

Ambrose Henkel- Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church

Theodore Schmauk- The Confessional Principle and the Principles of the Lutheran Church

Johann Gerhard- Sacred Meditations

Martin Luther- Works Volume 1

Marie Richard- Philip Jacob Spener and his Work

John Kohler-Shall we have a bishop? Or, The episcopate for the Lutheran church in America?

G.H. Gerberding- The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church

G.H. Gerberding- The Lutheran Church in the Country

G.H. Gerberding- The Lutheran Pastor

G.H. Gerberding- The Lutheran Catechist

G.H. Gerberding- What's Wrong with the World?

G.H. Gerberding- New Testament Conversions

G.H. Gerberding- the Priesthood of Believers

Heinrich Friedrich Ferdinand Shmid- The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church

A.G. Voigt- Biblical Dogmatics

Jeurgen Ludwig Neve- A Brief History of the Lutheran Church in America

Henry Immanuel Smith- Scriptural Character of the Lutheran Doctrine of the Lord's Supper

Theodor Haring- The Christian Faith

Henry Eyster Jacobs- A Summary of the Christian Faith

James William Richard- The Confessional History of the Lutheran Church

Wilhelm Lohe- Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith

Memoirs of the Lutheran Liturgical Association

Martin Luther- Large Catechism

Martin Luther- the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude

Henry Eyster Jacobs- Martin Luther, the Hero of the Reformation

Charles Beard- Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany until the Close of the Diet of Worms