Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Characteristics of Lutheran Antinomianism

The subject of sanctification, good works, and antinomianism has once again come to prominence in the blogosphere, and Gottesdienst has had a number of recent posts on this subject, utilizing quotes from the Lutheran fathers over against what are perceived antinomian tendencies in certain realms of Lutheranism. One of the things I have noticed in these debates is that one side defends the necessity of preaching good works, while others deny that antinomianism even exists within Lutheranism. Part of the problem is that antinomianism is a notoriously hard beast to define, especially since the manner in which the term is used today is not exactly as it had been used in Luther's time. But, for the sake of clarity on these issues, I think it would be beneficial to try and specifically identify what some of these antinomian tendencies are. These are all statements I have heard from Lutheran pastors, and so I guarantee they are not made up, as some seem to assume:

Sanctification is not a process, but is purely positional as is justification.

The believer is not the new man-Christ is.

The Christian does not cooperate in sanctification.

God's work of sanctification can never be evidenced by a changed life.

Pastors should not encourage people unto good works in sermons.

If you preach on sanctification, you are trying to go "beyond Jesus."

The Christian is utterly sinful, and his good deeds are as filthy rags, so that nothing other than his faith differentiates him from the unbeliever.

There are no rewards for the Christian's good works in heaven.

Lutherans should not worry about what is or is not sin, because Christian liberty negates it.

It is "unlutheran" to ask if a certain behavior is or is not sinful.

That the Christian does not in any sense cease from committing certain sins, because this is a denial of the simul.

Christians always do good works, but they are purely spontaneous, so we should never encourage people to do them, and they are not visible to us. In other words, good works exist, but we should never talk about them and we can't see them.

The doctrine of vocation is the only thing we can say about Christian living; there is no sense in which the Christian's faith grows, and holiness grows.

Because Paul's epistles were not sermon, we should never follow the gospel with imperatives as he does in our sermons.

These are, what I perceive as antinomian tendencies within Lutheranism. If you haven't heard these types of statements made: great! I hope you don't. But unfortunately, these ideas are out there, and are harmful to the church as they are completely inconsistent with our Confessions and Scripture.


Pete Jurchen said...

Thank you.

Pete Jurchen said...


junker bob said...

other christians just totaly enjoy pointing out lutherans as the worst of sinners so they feel better about them selves . our best work can be seen when we let them instead of firing back. some times we do though and it gives them even more amunition against us..
but its well worth it to see the joy in their faces

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Jordan. Those statements and teachings are what Confessional Lutherans will need to be on guard against. I detect influence from Forde and other pre-ELCA teachers there.

I'm almost afraid to ask this, but how many of those statements were made by pastors from the LCMS, AALC, or other conservative Lutheran bodies?

Jordan Cooper said...

It certainly is largely due to Forde's influence, though I think that people even go beyond Forde on many of these points. These pastors I cited are all LCMS.

the Old Adam said...

Does this sermon (from a Lutheran pastor) sound antinomian to you?


I have a feeling that you might think so.

I don't think it's antinomian in the least. To the contrary.

mahlon said...

Dear Bro. Jordon for today's post. It is amazing to me in my journey with Christ these past 29 years how much Antinomianism exists in every major Christian body. When I was converted to Christ I was then involved in a Charismatic and then later on Pentecostal church. The tag-line then was "let go and let God."

Then when I got more involved in dispensationalist circles in my Bible College days, the whole "anti-Lordship" controversy was erupting. The "anti-Lordship movement of the early 90's taught the preposterous notion that one could accept Jesus as Savior and then later on accept Him as Lord.

After marrying my wife and going to a Reformed minded seminary I fellow shipped in the Reformed and Reformed Baptist community for a bit. I didn't see it as bad in those churches in the form of a noticeable slogan but it was still there.

Since having been ordained SBC some ten years ago, I now am pastoring and the Anti-nomianism that I see in the SBC churches are the people who believe they are saved because they prayed a prayer, even though its been years since they've been in scripture or been to church.

Thank you for your post and for your blogsite. I've been learning a lot and deepened in my love for Jesus and the scriptures.

Christopher Esget said...

I have heard most of these statements made by LCMS pastors, including fairly notable "confessional" pastors serving as plenary speakers at large conferences.

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks mahlon. I'm glad you have enjoyed the site.

Christopher, I have too. Unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

You've been challenged to define the term "antinomian" before you can legitimately provide examples of it. There are those willing to dismiss all of your concerns unless you can do this. Care to take a stab?

Jordan Cooper said...

It is a hard concept to define, as it has been used to refer to a number of different things. In history, the two most prominent systems of thought which were considered antinomian were that of John Agricola, and some early American Puritan theologies. Agricola denied that the law could be used in any sense in preaching, either second or third use. The Puritans who were labeled antinomian used many of the same phrases cited in this post, such as identifying the new man with Christ, and denying that the pastor should ever preach on sanctification.

Antinomianism has always been moe of a trajectory than anything, because hardly anyone will admit to being "against the law," since Scripture clearly doesn't allow that. But I would define antinomianism loosely as a denial that pastors need to urge their people unto good works, that the believer progresses in holiness (grows in grace, or whatever term you want to use), and a general downplaying of the importance and reality of good works and a positive use of the law in the Christian life. I realize that this is somewhat of an elastic definition, but it has to be due to the nature of the beast.

the Old Adam said...

I like what Dr. Steven Paulson says about the controversy:


Good reading, no matter what side you are on (a different perspective)

mahlon said...

I cannot recall who said this, but the idea is that we are saved by grace apart from the law and yet in our sanctification we are being transformed by grace that is not lawless. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22ff - which are outworkings of grace, do not conflict with the law.

Bro. Jordon, I'd be curious to see your take on the third use of the law. From what I understand, anytime there is debate over the issue of law vs grace, the third use of the law, and the affirmation or denial thereof comes up in discussion.

God commands us things beyond our capability in the flesh because of the need of His grace to accomplish them. Conversely, if I fail as a Pastor to enjoin His flock to heed the commands of scripture, am I not short-circuiting the dependency upon grace which the law of God points us to avail ourselves?

Ironically it seems anti-nomianism ends up denying the grace it claims to grasp, and makes a law unto itself, the very thing it claims to deny.