I am a member of the LC-MS, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Like many confessional church bodies, we seem to divide long certain lines. Many in the LC-MS have taken to calling themselves “missional” while others have labeled themselves “confessional”. In practice, this seems to usually come down to churches that use contemporary Christian music and some “church growth” techniques and those that use the Church’s historic liturgy and generally are wary of church growth strategies.
I know that many “missionals” resonate with Pastor Platt (who, in his defense, is probably averse to many church growth practices – and I believe I heard somewhere that his “lifestyle” is quite humble, like the new pope’s). And many “confessionals” resonate with Pastor Fisk. So when Pastor Fisk sees not the Reformation but Rome in Pastor Platt’s trailer for his recent book (here is an interview where he urges “unconverted believers” to “slay themselves”), that is something interesting to ponder. You can see the short trailers for Pastor Fisk’s and Pastor Platt’s recent books here and here respectively, but perhaps you might want to take the time to watch Pastor Fisk’s “take down” of Pastor Platt’s trailer. It does seem to set up a rather stark debate:
The first thing that comes to my mind after seeing this, is a comment I recently came across from an Eastern Orthodox Saint, Mark the Ascetic. From the Philokalia:
“Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commandments and then expect the Kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.”
Serious Lutherans (like Pastor Fisk) can say “Amen!” to this. As a matter of fact, I recently came across a quote from Martin Luther in one of his last sermons where he preached in exactly this way here. It is clear that Luther to was concerned about “unconverted believers”. Check it out:
“Not all are Christians who boast of faith. Christ has shed His blood. We are justified by faith alone without works. You say, “I believe this.” The devil, you say! You have learned the words you have heard the same way mockingbirds learn to repeat things. Where are the fruits demonstrating that you truly believe? You remain in sins; you are a usurer and more. Surely Christ did not die and shed His blood for the sins that you are intent on committing continually, but so that He might destroy the works of the devil [1 John 3:8]. If you were formerly a usurer, say, like Zacchaeus: “I will give half of my goods, and if I have defrauded anyone, I will restore it fourfold.” [Luke 19:8]. The blood of Christ kills sin; it does not make it alive, which is the work of the devil, who inflames the desire that makes human beings murderers and adulterers. Christ did not die so that you might remain that kind of sinner, but so that sin, having been slain, might be blotted out, and you might henceforth love God and your neighbor. Faith takes away sins and puts them to death, so that you might not live in them but in righteousness. Therefore, show by your works and your fruits that there is faith in you. If not, the blood of Christ does not help. If you are a usurer, disobedient, neglectful of your station, then look to see whether you believe. For faith is victorious, triumphant, a conqueror of the world [1 John 5:4]. If you truly believe, you would not commit usury or adultery; you would not be disobedient. Let each one think: I have been made a believer; I have been washed in Baptism with the blood of the Son of God, so that my sins might be dead. [I will] not be disobedient and will declare this with my deeds.” Otherwise, give up the boast of being a believer. You know that you are a disobedient son, an adulterer; do not boast of faith and the blood of Christ. You belong to the devil, the way you are going, etc. You are bringing the name of the Lord into shame and yourself to eternal damnation.”– — Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity on 1 John 4:16-21, preached in St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg, Germany June 7, 1545, Translated by Christopher Boyd Brown. Pr 2002; WA 49:80-87. Copyright Concordia Publishing House, 2011.
Here one can see that Luther is showing those who have true faith are concerned that they demonstrate their faith by works – they realize faith and works go hand and hand and make their confession believable. Those who don’t have true faith don’t have this concern, even if they were at one point baptized. If my bringing baptism into this confuses you, listen to this excellent 1.5 minute clip from a powerful Lutheran preacher.
On the other hand, a few years ago, a great Eastern Orthodox friend of mine, sent me a quote from 5th-century saint John Chrysostom that he thought challenged the Reformation idea of faith alone. Since I know of several quotations from the “Golden Mouth” where he seems to uphold “faith alone” as being sufficient for salvation, I read it with interest. He said:
Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” ( John 17.3 ), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that doth but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing (fn. “i.e. believing”) doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. –Chrysostom, Homily XXXI on John (3: 35, 36). NPNF 1 vol..14. Page 106 (see full sermon here)
Do they disagree? And is Pastor Fisk Luther here while Pastor Platt is John Chrysostom? Or are they saying the same thing? (whether we speak of Luther/Chrysostom and Fisk/Platt)
Sadly, Luther and the Golden Mouth, being separated by chronology (and geography) were never able to get together for a beer and discuss these issues in their broader context. But thankfully the same limitations to not apply to Pastor Fisk and Pastor Platt. I think the idea of preaching the Law radically, and pointing out how our love for the world falls so short of Jesus Christ (see the trailer from Platt’s first book at the end of this post, which at the very least raises some very challenging points), is a superb idea that ought to be put into practice more (see John 16:8-11 here) At the same time though, I think that the more we do this the more we need to also give out God’s grace just as radically. Can we do both at the same time? I think seeing a conversation between these two men would be a great blessing for all Christians.
As to my own “harmony” of faith and works, I offer it here:
“Regarding the final judgment, Christians will judge the world as Jesus says and Paul echoes. That said, prior to the final judgment, Christians of course were to judge as God judges: showing mercy – both pity in the form of physical assistance and the forgiveness of God Himself through Christ – to all, first to the believer and then to the terrified unbeliever. Come the separating of the sheep and the goats, Christ and His Church will show mercy to those who have been merciful. In other words, to those who have shown themselves to be His children (after all, sons of God act like sons of God and it is right that they should be found with their father and brother). This means those who have forgiven much – echoing the forgiveness, or reconciliation of God Himself – will be forgiven. This means that those who opened up the Kingdom of Heaven to others will have the Kingdom of Heaven opened up to them. Like Christ, they eagerly gave the promise of paradise to those enemies of God dying to the left of them (and to the right, if they would only have it) who had nothing to give, and could pay nothing back. God’s people, like God Himself, are profligate with pity, mercy, and grace.”