Forgiveness free and true: the crux of the Reformation, the essence of the Christian life


Cardinal Cajetan confronts Luther in the 2003 Luther movie

Cardinal Cajetan confronts Luther in the 2003 Luther movie

So what, really, was Luther’s issue?  That is the subject of today’s re-published post:

Follow-up to this post.

A few years after Luther’s death the Council of Trent said: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake… let him be anathema.”

The condemning of this view had been happening for a while. In fact, all of this is related to the beginnings of the Reformation (as I’m guessing Benedict has discerned as well). As a pastor, Luther was being told that he could not do confession and absolution the way he was doing it (which was the biblical way).

Here is something I wrote a while back that explains this:

“I heard this objection with grief, because I had misdoubted nothing less than that this matter would be called into question”. These were Martin Luther’s words following Cardinal Cajetan’s pronouncement towards Luther’s view of confession and absolution. Luther also said that he would not become a heretic by recanting the opinion that had made him a Christian, but that he would rather die and be burned, exiled, or cursed. Exsurge Domine, the bull written against Luther shortly after this, condemned this statement of Martin Luther: “By no means can you have reassurance of being absolved because of your contrition, but because of the word of Christ: ‘Whatsoever you shall loose, etc.’ Hence, I say, trust confidently, if you have obtained the absolution of the priest, and firmly believe yourself to have been absolved, and you will truly be absolved, whatever there may be of contrition.” One may make a strong case that, for Luther, the Reformation was primarily about this very matter. According to historian Scott Hendrix, after hearing Cajetan’s pronouncement on his view, Luther had determined that the question at stake was not merely the formal issue of authority in the church, but the essence of the Christian life and the heart of his own religious experience. Christians, of course, had always assumed that the ultimate reality of the universe is a rational Person who became in-fleshed among us and who communicates with people in the world using meaningful words. And for Luther, this communication in particular – the living voice of God which proclaimed, “I forgive you – be at peace my child” – was not to be silenced.

To receive these words like a child…

My footnotes to this remark:

“Although the controversy over Unigenitus clarified the already existing disagreement between Cajetan and Luther over papal authority and credibility, Cajetan’s second objection revealed a substantial difference which had serious consequences for Luther’s ensuing attitude towards the papacy. Luther had asserted that Christians approaching the sacrament of penance should not trust in their own contrition but in the words of Christ spoken by the priest in the absolution. If they believed in these words, then they could be certain of forgiveness, because these words were absolutely reliable, whereas the sufficiency of their contrition was never certain. In reply, Cajetan upheld the prevailing theological opinion: although it was true that contrition was never perfect, its presence still made one worthy to receive the grace conferred by the sacrament. Still, one could never be certain that one’s contrition was sufficient to effect the forgiveness one hoped to receive. To hold the contrary, said Cajetan, was to teach a new and erroneous doctrine and to “build a new church.”… “Part of the reason for Cajetan’s sharp reaction lay in the different concepts of faith which he and Luther espoused. For Cajetan, faith was one of the virtues infused with grace, and it entailed belief that the doctrine of penance itself was correct. For Luther, faith was not this general confidence in the correctness and power of the sacrament but “special faith” in the certain effect of the sacrament on the penitent Christian who trusted the word of Christ. Cajetan quickly perceived the difference but failed to appreciate Luther’s underlying concern. To him Luther’s “special faith” appeared to be a subjective human assessment which undermined the objective power of the keys at work through the pronouncement of absolution. It imposed a new condition on the efficacy of the sacrament beyond that most recently defined at the Council of Florence; therefore, Luther was again challenging an explicit decree of the church. Luther, however, was striving for just the opposite: to put the sacrament on a more objective basis. He was trying to remove the uncertain, subjective element of human contrition as a basis for the efficacy of the sacrament and to replace it with the objective, certain words of Christ pronounced in the absolution” (Hendrix, Scott, Luther and the Papacy, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981, p. 62, italics mine).”


“What kind of church is the pope’s church? It is an uncertain, vacillating, and tottering church. Indeed, it is a deceitful, lying church, doubting and unbelieving, without God’s Word. For the pope with his keys teaches his church to doubt and to be uncertain… It is difficult enough for wretched consciences to believe. How can one believe at all if, to begin with, doubt is cast upon the object of one’s belief? Thereby doubt and despair are only strengthened and confirmed.” (Luther, 1530, quoted at the beginning of one of the chapters in Hendrix, Scott, Luther and the Papacy, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981). This quote also from Luther: “There hasn’t been a more destructive teaching against repentance in the Church (with the exception of the Sadducees and the Epicureans) as that of Roman Catholicism. In that it never permitted the forgiveness of sins to be certain, it took away complete and true repentance. It taught that a person must be uncertain as to whether or not he stood before God in grace with his sins forgiven. Such certainty was instead to be found in the value of a person’s repentance, confession, satisfaction, and service in purgatory.” Luther, Martin. Antinomian Theses, Disputation #4, 1938 (translated by Pastor Paul Strawn) Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, Inc., 2005 (The whole book is available for free at:

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Posted by on October 25, 2014 in Uncategorized


The questions that some Eastern Orthodox Christians can not abide

Confessional Lutheran Pastor Weedon on the Eastern Orthodox: more into venerating the icons of the fathers than actually reading what they wrote...

Confessional Lutheran Pastor Weedon on the Eastern Orthodox: more into venerating the icons of the fathers than actually reading what they wrote…

I regret to say that it seems I have worn out my welcome at Father Freeman’s blog “Glory to God for All Things”.  I will admit I was a bit feisty over there, but I felt that as long as he was willing to have me as a guest, I should show up and let him know that some of his recent posts had been been quite unfair and uncharitable towards confessional Lutherans.  I did make the mistake of coming right in, briefly explaining myself, and linking to a comprehensive post that made my case.  Father Freeman said that I was “trolling” which has to do with “fishing in someone else’s waters”.  I understood his point and admitted that I should have raised my concerns in a different way.

From that point on, there was some good back-and-forth between myself, Father Freeman, and other thoughtful contributors.

That said, let me share a couple of the comments that I just put up there this morning but were deleted shortly thereafter (on this thread).  I think they are very important.

When it became clear to one commentator that I was retaining my firm Lutheran (and Scriptural) convictions throughout the conversation, he asked:

“forgive me saying this, but I cannot help thinking : what are you really doing in this Orthodox blog then?”

Here is how I responded:

I am here spending time with persons whom, it seems to me, are my fellow believers in Christ. I have always been interested in EO ever since I learned about it, and my efforts here are to find out, through conversation, more about what they believe. I do not just want to believe what others say the EO believe or to think that I have firmly and fully understood the articles and books of EO authors. It is much better to talk with individual EO Chrisitians, in the flesh if at all possible, who can answer specific questions I have and who might be willing to explore their faith – what they believe – in conversation with what another person says (for perhaps we might find surprising points of agreement?). Of course, inevitably, I find out more what I believe in the process.

I continue to do this and will do this wherever persons welcome me. As a result of these kinds of inquiries, I wrote my series I did trying to get EO and Confessional Lutherans to take a new look at their similarities and what we have hitherto seen as differences. The series of posts, “If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide?” [that is here] was even promoted by Father Kimel on his blog, who I can only assume found it fair and useful.

Further, I commend to you the story in Galatians 1, where Paul talks about his joy in receiving the right hand of fellowship from those who seemed to be pillars….*

…I will end my comments here at this point. I did one more post on this blog over at the “Authority: Answers Without Questions” thread this morning as well. If any of you are willing to address my post there, I would be interested to hear what you have to say.


That comment above was the first one that was deleted.  And what were those comments on that other post (here it is)?

To set the context, I had made this comment:

I was seeking to better understand why you have labeled all Protestants Rationalists… and think that I find the beginnings of an answer in this post.

You say:

“Orthodoxy is truth-embodied. And though this can be described, no description is the same thing as the truth-embodied. An argument never approaches the true question of authority – it ultimately only distracts the soul and disguises the true and appropriate questions. The dogged resistance of Orthodoxy to various ecumenical overtures are found precisely in this organic instinct for the truth. For there are no propositions that can be accepted that would, in fact, make one Orthodox. And even accepting all so-called Orthodox propositions still fall short. For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing. Its proof is found in a deified life.”

[I replied:]

I really do think I get the idea of Orthodoxy being truth-embodied and how no description can capture this. I believe I am someone who thinks more or less in the same way about my Confessional Lutheranism (who as you know, also have a reputation for dogged resistance to various ecumenical overtures, stubborn lot we are). The issue that perplexes me is this : are you not an authority making *an argument* about why we, for example, lack true authority? And if I listened to what you said and, by the power of the Holy Spirit turned from my Lutheran errors, how would I not become [Eastern] Orthodox?

I am guessing that I am not the only person thinking about questions like this. Or perhaps this is one of the first keys in helping me and others to understand our own captivity to the Rationalism you speak of? I am guessing that the word “understand” is not part of what you would say the problem is.


Father Freeman did not answer that specific question saying, in part: 

I’m not interested in answering questions viz. your continued monologue about Confessional Lutheranism. It belongs on your blog, not mine. If I’m interested in the topic I’ll visit it there. But it has become lengthy, repetitive and a distraction here. I “get it” that the self-understanding of Confessional Lutheranism is that it’s not Protestant, that it is somehow a continuation of the early Church, etc. Orthodoxy rejects that as spiritual delusion. But since it is a self-understanding I do not expect to disabuse you of the notion. But I’m not particularly interested in it nor in spending the time and space of the blog on it.

Maybe I should have taken the hint.  That said, I tend to be hopelessly optimistic, thinking that the Spirit of God will use us to break down barriers between us – helping us (not just him) to realize where we have perhaps been a bit blind.  I responded to him and another man in the following way:

Mule Chewing Briars, Father Freeman,

Thank you for answering the question about bowing in Revelation. My initial impression is that I would have no trouble bowing, kneeling, kissing the feet, kissing the ring, etc. of any great saint or Apostle. That I do not make this a part of my regular worship does not indicate that I would be unwilling to do so.

That said, I am re-reading Chemnitz now on the invocation of the saints, and if his survey of the early church is correct – and I have no reason that is was not, as I believe for good reasons that Chemnitz did in fact reverently read the entire corpus of the early church (more than most any of us) – there are very good reasons for not embracing such a practice even aside from the fact that there is absolutely nothing in the Scripture[s] about it (and Father – you never did tell me a resource that makes the case that a common use of the word “Scripture” goes beyond the canonical books). And yet, I have gotten the distinct impression here that not invoking Mary would be enough for the Eastern Church to not recognize us as brothers in fellowship – even if we believed you about most everything else.

Think about that for a minute: is this not absolutely scandalous? You would put the certainty of salvation and peace with God good Christian people have (I John 5, Romans 5:1) into doubt over this. I have held my tongue long enough but I believe I would be guilty and derelict at this point for not saying this: I do not think I can avoid concluding that that is absolutely un-Christian.

Finally – Father Freeman, I appreciate all the hospitality I have been shown up to this point. I really do. Thank you. I hope and pray that you will continue to think about the two questions I asked above (October 23, 2014 at 5:39 am) – and consider answering them in a future post. I think that everyone here knows that one need not be a confessional Lutheran to ask such questions, for they are eminently reasonable (rationalistic?) for a human being to ask another human being when they speak the way you do.


I’ll admit that comment about Mary was quite strong, and perhaps I should have not been surprised that my comment was deleted.  That said, it did seem right to me to make that point, since invocation to Mary was being pressed so strongly during the course of the conversation I had been privileged to have in Father Freeman’s home.  I don’t think I am wrong in concluding that, In effect, we are being told that because we do not pray to Mary we could not be considered to be “truly Church”.  Therefore, from the E.O. point of view, we have no reliable guarantee of our connection to Christ.

I recognize that I was a guest in Father Freeman’s house.  I know in some person’s homes they really do appreciate intense discussion, debate, questioning, etc.  I do not think that it needs to be that way everywhere even as that is what I prefer.  I do not begrudge Father Freeman for not allowing these comments to remain posted in his house.  He believes that I am a wolf and that he must guard the flock entrusted to his care there.  Or perhaps he simply could not make the time to continue to carefully answer me.  I do not think I am being un-humble, however, in suggesting that it would do well for Father Freeman and serious Eastern Orthodox Christians to reflect on the words that I said.


*the rest of the comment:

As for the saints question, of course we have many wonderful laypersons who are not professional theologians who I could mention and commend to you. Of course all of us are theologians though and I think most any saint would readily embrace the opportunity to know more about the Fathers of the Church, Church history, etc – if they were given the opportunity. Of course we do not all need to be intellectuals, but we do, as given the opportunity, strive to love God with all are mind as best we can – for the sake of our neighbor

xxxx, (response to a different person)

I went into some detail above explaining why your gloss on our view of salvation of “monergism” is incorrect and why Lutherans themselves have not traditionally talked this way. I maintain that whatever truth might be found in such a phrase (again see my comments above), it should strictly be avoided [as it is not a Scriptural word nor one that appears in our Confessions]


Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


Where there’s a will there’s a way: the backstory behind the Joint Declaration on Justification (and much, much more)

One of the many ways unity in the church is envisioned.  See here for a Lutheran perspective.

One of the many ways unity in the church is envisioned. See here for a Lutheran perspective.

Yesterday’s republished post leading up to Reformation day talked about how the early Lutherans willing to make were to make rather startling concessions to Rome in the 1530s (when there was not the threat of political and military pressure as there would be just years later).  Today’s post deals with the problems that lie behind the efforts that have been made to repair the divorce of the Church in the West, particularly, the much celebrated Joint Declaration on Justification, or JDDJ.

Here it is, originally published on May 9 of this year:


About one week ago, there was an interesting discussion promoted by the journal First Things at Biola University (watch it here) where theologians Peter Leithart, Fred Sanders, and Carl Trueman discussed “The Future of Protestantism”.  Among the many interesting topics discussed were efforts towards unity among Protestants as well as how Protestants should relate to Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.  After the event Trueman, shared a reflection on the discussion and brought up the practical concerns he had.

In any case, this talk about efforts towards unity and practical matters (Trueman mentioned some of these in the discussion as well) put me in mind of the things that my pastor, Paul Strawn, had recently said at a conference of Confessional Lutherans in a very well-received paper.  It’s title is “The Elephant in the Confessional Lutheran Room: When Considerations Other Than Theology Hamper Theological Concord”, and you can read the whole thing here

He begins his paper with a fascinating but little known [back]story about the much trumpeted Joint Declaration on Justification.  According to the Wikipedia article (which I know provides a good summary [note from Nathan as librarian: citing from Wikipedia is usually not advisable]):

“The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) is a document created, and agreed to, by the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, as a result of extensive ecumenical dialogue. It states that the churches now share “a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.”[1] To the parties involved, this essentially resolves the conflict over the nature of justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation.”

Here is the insightful beginning to Strawn’s paper:

jpIIChurch history is full of instances of theological agreements being reached as a result of non-theological factors being brought to bear upon a given situation. One recent example was brought to light in a scarcely noticed article appearing in English translation first in 1994[1], by Wolfgang Bienert, professor of patristic studies at Marburg University and participant in the ecumenical dialog between representatives of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) of the Roman Catholic church. There Bienert sketched the enigmatic methodologies, the ecclesiastical politics, deployed to achieve some sort of ecumenical agreement in the afterglow of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1980.[2] At that time, a commission was established, comprised of representatives of the Roman Catholic conference of German bishops, the Vatican Secretariat for the Unity of Christendom, and the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and, in the giddiness of the moment, given this curious mandate:

“…to express in a binding fashion, that the condemnations of the sixteenth century do not confront the contemporary partner, since its doctrine is not determined by the same error that the condemnation was meant to renounce.”[3]

According to Bienert, the idea that the reciprocal condemnations of the sixteenth century[4] no longer were applicable to the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches respectively, was simply assumed to be true by those issuing the mandate. All that was needed was some sort official declaration of that predetermined reality.[5] To its credit, the Ecumenical Study Group assigned this task, a group founded in 1946 by then Cardinal Lorenz Jäger (1892-1975) and Lutheran Bishop D. Wilhelm Stählin (1883-1975), returned a report entitled: “The Condemnations of the Reformation Confessional Documents and in the Doctrinal Decisions of the Council of Trent: Do They Still [emphasis mine] Confront the Contemporary Partner?”[6] There they noted that simply declaring that the condemnations of the sixteenth century void was problematic, not the least because at a minimum, the condemnations could not all be weighted equally:

“About some of the condemnations of the sixteenth century, we must say today, that they are based on a misunderstanding of the opposite position. Others no longer address the contemporary partner. Concerning still others, new insights have led to a wide degree of understanding. About some statements of condemnations, however, even today no adequate consensus can be discovered.”

It was the condemnations, over which “no adequate consensus [could] be discovered” which proved to be most problematic. Why? The Study Group realized that such reciprocal doctrinal condemnations could not be lifted, because “that would mean that at the same time the existing confessions would have to be annulled.”[7] In other words, since the condemnation statements of the Book of Concord and the Council of Trent flowed from and were a part of the theologies contained in both confessions respectively, declaring the former null and void negated the latter. That could not be done.

So how then was the enigmatic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) signed by the parties involved in 1999? By declaring that the reciprocal condemnations of each other’s doctrine of justification, did not apply to the doctrine as it was expressed in the JDDJ:

“41.Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they

relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of

the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration [emphasis added] does not fall under the

condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran

Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented

in this Declaration [Emphasis added]”[8]

Where there is a will, there is a way. The reciprocal condemnations of the doctrines of Justification of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran confessions are considered no longer to apply to today’s ecumenical partner, even though priests in the Roman Catholic church at their ordination are still obligated to the doctrine as found in Trent, and Lutheran pastors in their ordination to the doctrine as it is found in the Lutheran Confessions. So in fact, the reciprocal condemnations are still very much in effect.

So why all of the effort? The desired outcome of the Joint Ecumenical Commission years before that the respective churches “express in a binding fashion, that the condemnations of the sixteenth century do not confront the contemporary partner” demanded it. The pope’s visit, the 50th anniversary in 1996 of the “Jäger-Stählin-Circle”, and the advent of the new millennium undoubtedly also played a role. And how exactly such a command was eventually obeyed provides a salutary warning, a modern example, of how so often within the history of the church, factors beyond theology drive discussions toward theological agreements, church unions and communions.

Here clever ecclesiastical politics are not the only methods to bring to light. Factors beyond theology, beyond the church, have often caused the church to act, to move toward theological union, sometimes in a salutary fashion, and other times not….

(end quote from Strawn’s paper, bold mine)

The paper goes on to talk about the practical issues that kept confessional Lutherans of the 19th century apart, and the practical issues that might hinder the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LC-MS) in its efforts to promote concord and harmony in its own house (it efforts like the Koinonia Project), much less among other Lutheran groups like the WELS and ELS.

Again, the full paper is here, for those who are interested in exploring these matters further.


[1] Wolfgang A. Bienert. “Do the Condemnations of the Reformation Era Still Confront the Contemporary Ecumenical Partner?” Lutheran Quarterly VIII (1994), pp. 53-70.

[2] Ibid., p. 55.

[3] Ibid., p. 53.

[4] For a general description of the use of such condemnations in 16th century by Luther and others see: Hans-Werner Gensichen, Damnamus (Berlin-Grunewald: Herbert Renner, 1955), English edition: We Condemn. How Luther and 16th-Century Lutheranism Condemned False Doctrine, Trans. By Herbert J. A. Bouman (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967).

[5] Bienert, p. 54f.; cf. p. 66.

[6] Ibid., p. 55. F. Karl Lehmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg, eds. The Condemnations of the Reformation Era. Do They Still Divide? Trans. By Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990).

[7] Ibid.

[8] _cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html.

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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


Thoughts for FiveTwo folks to consider: creating a new Synod?

A new Synod?

A new Synod?

Yes, another post for the FiveTwo crowd.  For more context (I know many of those who read this blog are not Lutheran), just search for FiveTwo in the search box.

You might be interested in listening to the Issues ETC show where Chris Rosebrough, of the Fighting for the Faith podcast (and not in the LC-MS, but the AALC), critiques your movement.  You may not agree with much of what he says, but I think he certainly makes some arguments worthy of consideration.

Most interesting to me is when he contends that FiveTwo is basically creating a new Synod.  Now – I don’t doubt that many of the FiveTwo folks would object to that, but here, I think, is the crucial question: even if you are not trying to create a new Synod – because you really would like to continue in fellowship with your more traditional brethren – do you think that that could indeed be the practical effect of your actions?

And one more thing: what do you think of Eastern Orthodoxy?  I know that might seem a rather random question to ask, but there are a good number of young people who find Eastern Orthodoxy fascinating, intriguing… even compelling.

I was one of these (I’ll admit that I was also attracted to the Evangelical Free Church, Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism for a while to – and dove in rather deep each time – so discontent was I in the Lutheranism I knew). Anyway, I read the blog of probably the biggest Eastern Orthodox evangelist in America, Father Stephen Freeman.  I think he is sometimes very insightful and right, and other times very wrong.  When he’s right he’s really right and when wrong, he is really wrong (here is a recent post where I challenged him about some of the incorrect things he said, by implication, about Lutherans ; I’ve also currently got a tough question I’ve posted here that I hope he will make the time to answer*).

One of the things that he points out well is how everything we do and choose to do says something… communicates something… embodies something… things we have learned and come to know.

For example, in a recent post titled “The Grammar of Faith” he first grabs your attention with this (all the bold are mine):

“Recent studies have documented the fact that we begin to acquire language from our earliest moments. Even the babbling of infants plays a role. Sounds, words, facial expressions – all have a part in perhaps the most complex of all human activities. As we learn to speak, we not only learn words and sounds, but we simultaneously learn the unspoken rules that govern every language – the rules of grammar.

I recall long, tedious lessons in elementary school surrounding the rules of grammar. We diagrammed sentences, made distinctions between direct objects and indirect objects. We learned to name everything and to describe the rules by which we spoke. We labored long to learn something that we already knew. My sense of grammar increased greatly when I studied my first foreign language – Latin. There the rules were magnified with declensions, conjugations and pages of memorized and recited inflections. In all of these academic exercises, I was learning to talk about things that any five-year old knows intuitively. Grammar is how we speak – and if we have to think too much about grammar – then our speech is halting and tortured. Fortunately, human beings are wired for grammar.

This insight has also been applied to theology. For though the faith can be articulated, it has an underlying grammar that allows it to be spoken – and to be spoken correctly. And like the underlying rules of language, the grammar of theology is often unspoken. It is acquired rather than taught” (the non-italicized words here are the italicized words in his original post)

Pretty good huh?  I think he’s right on.  It’s not just the Suzuki violin method that is like this.  : )

He then talks about the early church and how its “grammar” was different than that of the gnostics:

In the Apostolic Teaching,  St. Irenaeus… lays out in great detail and commentary pretty much the content of what today we would call the Apostles’ Creed – the Symbol of Faith used in the Church at Holy Baptism. This is elsewhere described by other writers as the regula fidei (the rule of faith).

This hypothesis is the grammar of the faith. In refuting the Gnostics, for example, the grammar would insist upon the Crucified Christ and the pattern of salvation as taught in the Scriptures. This was often completely discarded by the Gnostics. At the time of Irenaeus, the heresies refuted by the Church’s grammar were large, even easily discerned.

But as time went on, the need repeatedly arose for the grammar of the faith to be stated explicitly rather than simply inculcated within the Church’s life. The statements, affirmations and anathemas of the various Councils represent not new doctrines, but explicit statements of the implicit grammar (hypothesis) of the faith.

Again – very good stuff.  He then makes his move to argue for Orthodoxy as the True Church, the embodiment of the Christian faith:

The Orthodox Church, however, speaks the language of Christ in all its life. The grammar of the faith is by no means confined to Conciliar proclamations. That would be the way of death and forgetfulness. In Orthodoxy, the whole of the Christian life gives expression to this eternal grammar. It is why Orthodoxy is described as a way of life and not a set of ideas.

Nothing embodies this more fully than the liturgical cycles and practices of the faith. For we pray what we believe and believe what we pray. Icons, for example, are not just theoretical portrayals of dogmatic content – believers kiss them, burn incense and bow before them, giving “honor to whom honor is due.” Believers live the 7th Council. This is true for the whole of the Orthodox faith – for nowhere is Orthodoxy an isolated idea or notion – it is always an embodied, integrated whole that is lived by the believer. And this itself is part of the grammar of the faith.

The loss of such a grammar in most forms of Christianity is more than a diminishment of the Church’s teaching life. For human existence always has a grammar.  The loss of a specifically Christian grammar represents the greatest tragedy of Reform in all its guises. The grammar of believing is generally so embedded in the faith that its presence is unnoticed. Reforms uproot and destroy the fundamental grammar of the faith in massive exercises of unintended consequences. It is for this reason that Christians today live in a Two-Storey universe – with the teachings of their faith divorced from the grammar of their lives. They live like secular atheists and wonder why believing is so difficult. Foreign languages are always like that – we struggle to remember the words and constantly say things in a broken and mistaken manner. We imagine that reciting the Creed makes us fluent in Christianity while we have no feeling for what it truly means or why it should matter.

Here is what I think about this: he is right about the importance of embodiment of truth, even if he is wrong that this means that all of the 16th c. Reformation is invalid (as he goes on to assert…)

He goes on to state the following, and here we get into where his critique of all post-Reformation spirituality (again, I strongly disagree – the previous FiveTwo post where I urged listening to Pastor Stuckwisch should put this claim to rest) dovetails perfectly with one of Chris Rosebrough’s main points about the FiveTwo approach: 

Contemporary Christianity speaks the language of its consumerist culture and has reframed the gospel itself into a marketed concept. It does not and cannot sustain the fundamental life of the Christian faith. Its continuation represents the progressive destruction of the grammar of the gospel.

Orthodoxy in the modern world is indeed a foreign language (sometimes quite literally). I watch the faithful struggle week in and out to live and speak a grammar contrary to the majority consumerism of the surrounding world. There are subtle pressures to adapt. Those who have united themselves to holy Orthodoxy often feel like they have made themselves strangers in their own land, unable to speak easily with family and friends. The same experience was probably common in the First Century as well.

The experience of the faith as an embodied whole is almost impossible to describe to those outside. For the experience of non-Orthodox Christianity has become so accustomed to the grammar of secularism that their perceptions are deaf and blind to the Orthodox witness. “We believe the Scriptures!” is doubtlessly true. But you believe them in a manner that is contrary to the faith. Your Christ looks like a fox and not a king. Where are your saints and images? Why do you smell like that? Where is the altar? Why do you not face East when you pray? Why don’t you cross yourself when you pray? Why do you say such terrible things about the Mother of God? What did you do with Holy Week? Where are the holy monks and the nuns? Who will teach you how to pray?

For those who think such things are “adiafora,” I say: “Apparently so.”

Father Freeman assumes that E.O. is the True Church and is not inclined to question the necessity of any of these practices: believing in them and doing them is something necessary for the True Church.  We Lutherans do not insist that things in the church can’t change, but there are core, constituitive things we assert must not change and are traditionally cautious when it comes to even questioning non-constituitive things…  Luther’s reformation, of course, was not a radical one – but an attempt to go back to the truth that the truth would continue to go forward.

I hope all of this gets you thinking – particularly about the importance of embodiment in the Christian life… how doctrine and practice seem to go hand in hand…


 *He says

“Orthodoxy is truth-embodied. And though this can be described, no description is the same thing as the truth-embodied. An argument never approaches the true question of authority – it ultimately only distracts the soul and disguises the true and appropriate questions. The dogged resistance of Orthodoxy to various ecumenical overtures are found precisely in this organic instinct for the truth. For there are no propositions that can be accepted that would, in fact, make one Orthodox. And even accepting all so-called Orthodox propositions still fall short. For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing. Its proof is found in a deified life.”

And so I say/ask:
I really do think I get the idea of Orthodoxy being truth-embodied and how no description can capture this. I believe I am someone who thinks more or less in the same way about my Confessional Lutheranism (who as you know, also have a reputation for dogged resistance to various ecumenical overtures, stubborn lot we are). The issue that perplexes me is this : are you not an authority making *an argument* about why we, for example, lack true authority? And if I listened to what you said and, by the power of the Holy Spirit turned from my Lutheran errors, how would I not become [Eastern] Orthodox?

I am guessing that I am not the only person thinking about questions like this. Or perhaps this is one of the first keys in helping me and others to understand our own captivity to the Rationalism you speak of? I am guessing that the word “understand” is not part of what you would say the problem is.

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


A church within a church?

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 1964. Obedient rebels: Catholic substance and Protestant principle in Luther’s Reformation. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Yesterday’s republished post leading up to Reformation day asked “What would you have done” had you been Martin Luther?  Today’s recycled post simply emphasizes the hesitancy of the Lutherans to be divorced from Rome (you might also find this one, Judge your mother o child, which talks more about the theological thinking behind the divorce, to be interesting).

From 17th century Lutheran John Gerhard (On the Church, p. 139):

“If the confession of true doctrine and the legitimate use of the Sacraments had been left free for us, perhaps we would not have departed from the external fellowship of the Roman church.”

Was it really honest for him to say that?  Indeed.  James Swan has a recent post entitled “The Revolutionary Reformers?”  Let’s take a look:

“Have you ever read the Roman mantra that Luther and his colleagues were radicals that split the church? You know… that they were hard-headed radicals that wouldn’t play nice with Roman authority? Well, here’s a different spin on things compliments of a footnote in the recent edition of Luther’s Works-

“In the interest of peace in the empire, moreover, Luther and his Wittenberg colleagues were prepared to make major concessions to the jurisdictional authority of the Catholic bishops. Accordingly, at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Melanchthon, acting with the full knowledge and support of Luther and the Saxon government, offered restitution of the jurisdiction of the Catholic bishops over the Evangelical congregations on the condition that the bishops ordain Evangelical priests and recognize the legitimacy of Communion in both kinds, clerical marriage, and the Mass in German. This offer remained on the table through all the failed attempts of the 1530’s and 1540’s to find a peaceful solution to the religious divisions in the empire” (LW 59:276).”

Very interesting, to say the least.  Even more interesting, when one considers the following statement from Edward T. Oakes on First Thing’s blog:

“When the Western Church fissiparated in the sixteen century, the Reformers took a portion of the essential patrimony of the Church with them, and they thereby left both the Roman Church and themselves the poorer for it.”

All of the essential doctrines the Lutherans lay claim to in the Augsburg Confession had been believed, taught, and confessed in various times and places in the Church. Up to that point  And the Lutherans were not just claiming to be a kind of “cafeteria church” picking and choosing what they liked.  The claim of these first “evangelicals” was that these teachings truly were “holy, catholic and apostolic”.  What required the condemnation of the alternative doctrines (not persons) on their part was that those holding to these could not abide the evangelical’s teaching – which again, up to that point, had in fact inhered in the Roman Catholic Church.

Update: Good post to go with this one:

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


Reformation history: what would you have done?

Luther and the Papacy, by Scott Hendrix, 1981

Yesterday’s re-published post talked about how kid’s don’t celebrate divorce.  Does that mean the Reformation could have been avoided?  Well… here is the re-published post for today….

Kids call things like they see them.

What would you have done during times like those in the Reformation when even the top authorities (the Roman Curia) were condemning teachings they ought not to have been condemning?  Or teaching what they ought not to have been teaching?  For example, regarding the beginnings of the Reformation, the Papacy had expanded indulgences to include the claim of granting forgiveness itself (note: full forgiveness from temporal penalties [including purgatory], not eternal ones [hell]).  Not only this, but “the extreme papal position on the authority of the unwritten tradition (controlled by the papacy) and also the extreme claims to power over Scripture and gospel [were the views held by most of Luther's opponents].”  The highest curial theologian, a Dominican by the name of Prieras, said the following: “In its irrefragable and divine judgment the church’s authority is greater than the authority of Scripture…the authority of the Roman Pontiff…is greater than the authority of the Gospel, since because of it we believe in the Gospels.”)” (see Tavard’s Holy Writ on Holy Church)…  He was really not opposed by any prominent voices within the Church (Erasmus may have written somewhat more sensibly, but he quickly fell out of favor with Rome).  By the study of church history and historical study of Scripture, Luther called into question this whole view of tradition and authority (see Headley’s Luther’s View of Church History).” Also, in defense of Luther, one has said, “Luther’s concerns were always ecclesiological. His was not an affair of the private conscience or judgment against the social, institutional church. His was not a subjective, individualistic experience opposed to objective authority.” (Robert Goeser, from his review of “Luther and the Papacy” here: )

But there is more!  A few years ago I was thrilled to find out that one of my R. Catholic heroes Sir Thomas More (A man for all seasons, the movie, rocks! – he was certainly on the side of the angels!) had written a work in the mid-1520s versus the Lutherans (though he wrote it under a pseudonym at the time – he wrote as some Spanish monk, I believe).  I checked out the first of the big two volume books from our local library system, and had a look. More’s main argument?: Basically (crassly), since the Church owns the Bible it can interpret and do with it as it pleases (not much room for exegesis of the actual text in his view – nor the Fathers for that matter). If a great Christian man like More could be so careless in taking the extreme position that he did, its little wonder that things progressed in the Reformation as they did.

Therefore, I think intellectual honesty requires us to admit that some Popes of the 15th and early 16th century who put forth authoritative documents would surely take exception to the idea that their pronouncements were not solemn, ex cathedra exercises. When this doctrine was formally defined in the late 19th century, it was not a new doctrine, but was one (namely, the Pope’s voice is more or less God’s when he says it is) that had had some currency for a while.

So what should Luther have done when Rome rejected his efforts to turn around the Mothership?  Being the lowly friar that he was, could he have submitted without giving the impression that he could accept this kind of rhetoric?

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Posted by on October 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


Re: Reformation Day: kids don’t celebrate divorce

Leading up to Reformation Day this year, I’ve decided to put up again some of my most important posts on the topic.

This one seems a good one to start with:

vsdivorceGood point (an appropriate follow-up to this):

“…Tomorrow will be celebrated by many Protestants as “Reformation Sunday.” To be sure, part of what Protestants celebrate on Reformation Day are what they believe to be the truths upheld and preserved within Protestantism. But without careful qualification, celebrating “Reformation Day” while remaining separated from the Catholic Church is a kind of performative contradiction, because it implies that separation, not reform, is the ultimate goal of the protest. Celebrating Reformation Day can be for that reason like celebrating a divorce, or more accurately, celebrating estrangement from our mother and from all our brothers and sisters who remain in her bosom, when in truth Christ calls us all to full communion and prays that we would be one. Moreover celebrating what is a division can blind the celebrants to the evil of that continuing division, just as celebrating divorce could blind children to its evil, or celebrating abortion could blind the celebrants to its evil.”

(there is a lot in this post that I don’t agree with to, by the way)

That said, we do celebrate the pure preaching and teaching of the pure Gospel of God and the administration of His Sacraments!


Note: Around the same time when I posted this about three years ago, the Lutheran blogger Paul McCain put a post up titled: Was the Lutheran Reformation a Tragedy.  He said “no”, and I left some comments there, which you can now read under the comments section from the original posting.

photo credit:

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Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


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