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.