What does this mean?
If you pay attention to the ministries like Christ Hold Fast, Chad Bird’s website, and the 1517 Legacy Project (these are all affiliated with one another), please pay attention to the article-length post below from Cody Edds.
When I read Cody’s article, here is the question that crossed my mind: “Is it really Jesus Christ who is holding fast in Christ Hold Fast?”
I am not going to insist that He isn’t or won’t, but the core question here is this: who among us is not tempted to massage our picture of Jesus? Because of the temptations of any age, the Lord gave us, through His Apostle, words like those in II Corinthians 11:4 to warn and guide us.
I contend that anyone who is immersed in the Scriptures — knowing passages like this one above — cannot help but begin to doubt that Jesus Christ is at the center of these ministries as claimed. And while doubt is undeniably a part of our Christian lives until the very end, when it comes to the salvation that Christ has won for us, doubt is always something from which we flee.
Cody’s words must be taken seriously, for Jesus Christ came not only for those who call themselves “sinners” but for those who recognize their need for the third use of the law and for striving in their sanctification — even as they simultaneously see their failures here!
I can also say this: if observed and experienced patterns are any reliable indicator, I can already tell you how many of the most devoted adherents of these ministries will respond. They will not respond with words from the Bible or theology, but simply say something along these lines:
Cody is not a Lutheran but is mostly affected by Calvinist influences. Therefore, of course he is not going to like what true adherents of Luther have to say! (maybe the fact that Cody finds some common ground with you should have you worried about your own Lutheranism!)
Cody, however, has done his homework, having sat at Dr. Luther’s feet and other Lutheran greats a fair deal. I urge you to give him a hearing, and to maybe even read his article more than once.
His experience of falling into antinomianism through ministries like these is not unique, but I think the article that he writes is unique in its thoroughness, theological acumen, and, importantly, its accessibility.
I’m very, very pleased to be able to publish this piece on my blog.
Guest post by Cody Edds
“Christ Hold Fast has a much larger reach than you know… [T]hey are… fooling evangelicals into believing that Luther was something he is not.”
My name is Cody Edds. I was born into a Southern Baptist culture of legalism and man-based religion. Christ was barely mentioned but if only to draw one’s attention to the altar call. It wasn’t until I found Luther’s commentary on Galatians that my world, and my understanding of Christianity, was completely changed. Soon after falling in love with Martin Luther, I found myself in an antinomian church that based its entire theology off of the likes of Gerhard Forde and Robert Capon. Within a year I was an antinomian myself, leading a website ministry of antinomian articles and a podcast just the same. My last year of that environment was spent as a youth minister teaching others the heresy of antinomianism. Below is not only my story of how I went from evangelical antinomianism to radical Lutheranism to confessional reformed theology, but what follows is also my critique of those who fostered my faulty view of Luther. Namely, the leaders and ministry of Christ Hold Fast (christholdfast.org).
Since leaving radical Lutheranism and the antinomianism that undergirds it, I have joined a Reformed Baptist congregation and have embraced the theology of confessional Reformed Baptists in the school of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. I am not a paid theologian or pastor; I am not a well-known voice within either Lutheran or Reformed circles. Although I’m currently getting my Bachelors in Theology, I am merely a layman of the global church who walked through the mud of radical Lutheranism. I have seen and experienced firsthand what ministries like Christ Hold Fast really bring about within evangelical and Lutheran circles. Though there are many differences between Lutheran and Reformed (or particular) Baptists, this article is simply to highlight the erroneous theology of a website ministry/organization that is leading many astray within evangelicalism and Lutheranism just the same. Though some may doubt my knowledge and credibility to be critiquing a Lutheran organization, I hope that what follows will prove those people mislead.
To my Lutheran brothers and sisters: Christ Hold Fast has a much larger reach than you know. They are not ‘winning’ people over from evangelicalism to Lutheranism; they are instead fooling evangelicals into believing that Luther was something he is not. For the sake of Luther’s name, Confessional Lutheranism, and the love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, it is time to speak out against such harmful organizations. To my Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ: Christ Hold Fast is not just some fringe Lutheran website that has no influence within your world of the church. The ideas propagated by them are ideas that have ravaged the evangelical church for centuries. Christ Hold Fast is a small step away from the liberalism that has characterized much of the downfall within our own denominations. It is this reason we should speak openly about their influence. The work of Christ Hold Fast to bring evangelicals into their liberal-slanted Lutheranism is a work that must be opposed by both Confessional Lutherans and evangelicals.
“Tullian himself was fond of my website on which I published many antinomian articles, since I was an antinomian myself.”
My History with Radical Lutheranism
As someone who was once a youth minister in a church built upon the theology of Forde, I am well-equipped to speak to Christ Hold Fast’s theology. I was made to study Forde and his works in my antinomian church. I’ve read more than a few of his works including On Being a Theologian of the Cross, The Law-Gospel Debate, and his essays on Sanctification and Christian Spirituality and Radical Lutheranism. I’ve also studied extensively his work on Luther “Where God Meets Man” in which Forde rejects the orthodox view of the atonement and challenges the inerrancy of Scripture. I’ve also read most of Luther’s published sermons, Bondage of the Will, Freedom of a Christian, Against the Antinomians, his commentaries on Galatians and Romans as well as his Small and Large Catechism, Two Kinds of Righteousness, The Smalcald Articles, Table Talk, To the Christian Nobility, On the Babylonian Captivity, A Treatise on Good Works, and obviously The Heidelberg Disputation. I’ve also read a lot of Melanchthon, Chemnitz, the Book of Concord, and Pieper. As well as Walther’s Law and Gospel and his sermons. I not only have done extensive studies on Forde (whom Christ Hold Fast bases a lot of their theology on), but I have lead ministries (within the local church and online) that were a huge part in the grace movement. Tullian Tchividjian’s son went to my church, and Tullian himself was fond of my website on which I published many antinomian articles, since I was an antinomian myself. While publishing these antinomian articles I had many of the current writers for Christ Hold Fast write articles for my ministry. Though they did so out of love and support for my antinomian ministry, a lot of their posts were antinomian as well. During this antinomian phase of mine, the leaders of Christ Hold Fast kept quiet (for the most part; more on this later) UNTIL I came out of it. They refused to rebuke me, and they allowed me to continue using Luther to support my antinomianism. Though I was very close with Dan Price and others at CHF none of them said a word of rebuke until after I came out of antinomianism. Though they tried to persuade me into radical Lutheranism, I heard no words of antinomianism thrown at me. I say all of this to say: I have spent years in the same circles that the writers of CHF run in, and I have lead ministries as an antinomian formulating much, if not all, of my theology off of what I was reading on their website, and Forde in particular. With that said, Christ Hold Fast’s antinomian leanings are very worrisome as is their support of Forde.
“You can’t say the gospel is of first importance (as those at CHF say) while celebrating someone who rejected the very heart of the gospel (vicarious penal substitutionary atonement).”
Their Support of Forde
First off, given that Forde denies Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) and strongly challenges the inerrancy of Scripture, I am lead to believe that nothing of Forde should be supported. There is a very big difference between blatant denial of PSA and supporting another theory of the atonement (Like Christus Victor, for instance). I would suggest the reader to Forde’s works “Where God Meets Man” and “Caught in the Act.” There Forde blatantly rejects penal substitutionary atonement, mockingly asking questions like: “Could God be so childish as to be appeased by the death of one man?” (Paraphrase); and openly stating that God could not possible be “bought off” as PSA theories (in Forde’s mind) state. Forde goes on to say, “Christ was not doing anything else in his death but dying” (direct quote). It is common knowledge within Lutheranism that Forde not only rejected penal substitutionary atonement but most other Anselmian and patristic theories (Christus Victor for one). For Forde, God is not a God “constrained” by some demand of justice, but a hidden God revealed in Christ. Therefore the cross is not a means by which His justice is satisfied but simply a means by which God reveals Himself as a God of love rather than a God of Wrath. Compare what you read of Forde’s works on the atonement to Chemnitz and especially Pieper.
My main issue here is simply this: a blatant rejection of Anselmian/Patristic/Lutheran vicarious penal substitutionary atonement will affect your theology. Especially your theology of sanctification and the law. You can’t possible reject the confessional view of the cross and that not have negative implications for your view of sanctification and the law. You can’t say the gospel is of first importance (as those at CHF say) while celebrating someone who rejected the very heart of the gospel (vicarious penal substitutionary atonement). Anyone who rejects substitutionary atonement can’t be trusted with other doctrines especially those so closely related to the cross and justification (i.e. the Christian’s resurrected life, sanctification, good works, and the law). Are there things to be gleaned from other atonement theories? Yeah! Should we be gleaning anything from a man who blatantly rejects penal substitutionary atonement? No. It’s not like Forde is the only Lutheran theologian who wrote about sanctification. Glean your doctrine of sanctification from others who actually strongly hold to PSA and inerrancy.
Where Christ Hold Fast comes in with all of this is simply this: anyone who celebrates the theology of a man who rejected the heart of the gospel should not be held very high in theological circles. Period. CHF has formulated their view of sanctification and the law off of Forde’s theology AS IF Forde’s denial of PSA wouldn’t affect his theology of sanctification and the law. But it does. It affects everything. Christ Hold Fast shouldn’t be a ministry not simply because of Chad Bird and Dan Price’s affairs, not simply because they like some theologian that I don’t like, but because they propagate and spread the false and harmful doctrines of Forde regarding sanctification and the law. Doctrines that are directly tied to Forde’s denial of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.
“…most heresies are not taught by what is said, but by what is left unsaid.”
The Law’s Third Use Is Necessary
Secondly, and this follows my first point, CHF’s own writings are worrisome. It has been said, and I believe it to be true, that most heresies are not taught by what is said, but by what is left unsaid. Their emphasis on grace, God’s love, and Christ are to be commended as we should be emphasizing those things! But to emphasize them at the expense of other doctrines such as sanctification, man’s work in sanctification, and the law’s necessary use of guiding the Christian in obedience, is a problem. This leads to antinomianism. If this doesn’t make CHF antinomian then it sure does produces antinomians. I was one of them, so I should know. I’ve spoken with MANY antinomians who blatantly reject third use, regeneration, and man’s work in sanctification, and they all say the same thing: “Well, Christ Hold Fast…” Now you might say, well it’s not the writers at CHF’s responsibility how people receive his message. Yes it is. If you’re teaching with an emphasis on works but you never or very little speak of the gospel that will inevitably lead to legalism. The same is true with antinomianism. As Chad Bird and others have taken it upon themselves to place themselves in public ministry with a website and books, it is their job to ensure that they are not causing their brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble.
An example of their emphasis on the gospel to the exclusion of the law and good works can be seen in Chad Bird’s post “How to Make Grace Unamazing.” In this post Chad says, “Jesus didn’t say, “Screw up again, boy, and I’ll have your brothers dig up your old stinking sin and slap you in the face with it.” He said, “I have removed your sins as far as the east is from the west. I will remember them no more.”” Yes and amen! But in a post regarding so strongly the topic of grace in relation to works, for him, a trained theologian, to leave out that Christ also said “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11) is a purposed fault that leads others down the road of antinomianism. He should know better. Any theologian who writes extensively on the gospel’s relation to works and ONLY tackles the law’s second use while comparing that to its relation with the gospel is doing a great disservice to his readers. And I have to assume with Bird’s education, he knows exactly what he’s doing. If he doesn’t realize that writing and teaching on the gospel’s relation to good works in this way, with this emphasis on gospel to the exclusion of the law’s third use–if he doesn’t realize that this leads to antinomianism then he has no business writing and teaching in the first place regardless of his harmful theology.
As a quick note: contrary to what Christ Hold Fast would have you believe, you actually can use the law. 1 Timothy 1:8 for example tells us that “the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” A quick look at 6.1 in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord leads us to clearly see that after men are regenerate, the law is a guide and a “fixed rule according to which they [that is regenerate men, not God] are to regulate and direct their whole life.” In Luther’s Lectures on First Timothy he states that we must “use the law as you wish. Read it. Only keep this use away from it, that you credit it with the remission of sins and righteousness.” Finally, in Luther’s commentary on Galatians—a work that modern antinomians praise—Luther clearly states, “see to it that you know how to use the law correctly.” Christ Hold Fast constantly make the argument that you can’t use the law. But Scripture, Luther, the Book of Concord, and general experience tells us otherwise. This is merely an excuse to curtail their refusal to preach third use. If you write 1000 articles on how Christians can’t measure up to the law’s demands then you have used the law 1000 times to show that the Christian can’t measure up to its demands (accusative use).
Another supportive work of Chad’s is his post “Grace is Not Dead.” Nowhere in this post does he define what a Christian is, what repentance is, that grace should lead to good works, that if good works are absent then so is Christ, etc. Yet he ends it with, “Grace reigns triumphant in the scarred but resurrected body of Jesus Christ. That grace is yours. And you are Christ’s. And he, the love of God incarnate, will hold you fast.” Who is the person he is referring to here? Blanket statements of God’s love spoken to someone who may or may not be a Christian is the bedrock of my former antinomian church and ways. This is what it looks like to preach gospel without law. You give ANYONE the assurance that they are in Christ even if they aren’t. And they therefore remain in their sin. The gospel should never be qualified or conditioned, but it shouldn’t be preached carrying blanket statements that don’t qualify the fruit and type of person the gospel produces.
“You give ANYONE the assurance that they are in Christ even if they aren’t. And they therefore remain in their sin.”
Good Works Evidence Faith
Elsewhere Chad writes, “Thus, to answer, “Are you a Christian?” by looking inside ourselves, or by looking to our deeds or love of the neighbor, is to drink the poison of doubt. In fact, the more Christians look at themselves to see whether they are Christians, the more they will become convinced that they are not Christians” (How Do I Know I’m a Christian, CHF). This statement is harmful and is based upon the theology of Forde. But this sounds nothing like Luther who said, “Works assure us and bear witness before men and the brethren and even before our own selves that we truly believe and that we are sons of God in hope and heirs of eternal life,” and who also said, “Works are a certain sign, like a seal on a letter, which makes me certain that my faith is genuine.” Chad Bird and others at CHF continuously teaches that good works do not evidence faith (see Zack James Cole’s post The Gift of Righteousness). This doctrine is not found in Luther or Scripture. We know that James tells us, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The answer to that question is: no. And to say that good works don’t evidence faith is to answer that question differently. If James is right that faith without works is dead, then along with Luther, we must agree that works show forth your faith. In fact Peter calls us to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” by our works (2 Peter 1:10). Luther himself comments on this verse, “We are commanded to make our calling certain by good works.” This doctrine of CHF’s leads directly to antinomianism. As a former antinomian, I would say then, “Since good works don’t evidence your faith, you can do whatever you want and God will still love you in Christ. Your faith is not tied at all to your works and therefore if you are a Christian you can and should do whatever you like!” This I said because men like Dan Price and Chad Bird taught me that good works and faith are separate things, only related in a causal effect: one leads to the other. Rather than a causal and evidencing effect: one evidences the existence of the other.
“…the law has some place in making us equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).”
The Law Doesn’t Only Accuse
The idea that the law only accuses sounds Lutheran but it’s not. Take Ryan Couch’s post “Sanctified by Faith” for instance. Here he states, “Sanctification is not a work of the law it is the result of God’s promise to us in Christ, the gospel.” But if “all Scripture [that includes the law] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” then the law has some place in making us equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I believe the author would agree with my statement but that he would clarify by saying “the law that is used in sanctification is a crushing law that drives us to the gospel.” For this author, and for CHF as a whole, any talk of our duty in sanctification, “relegates law to a manageable list of “to dos” instead of what it is, God’s word of condemnation that puts us to death.” But God’s word of law isn’t just a word of condemnation. In fact, it is a list of “to dos” is it not? More so, God’s law is an entire worldview and system. It’s more than anything this author has suggested. The law of God is primarily covenant words to God’s covenant people. These words do many things, and condemning us to death is only one. He goes on to further say, “The law, which serves to magnify our sin (Rom. 3:20) does not aid us in our sanctification, it simply reveals our need for it.” Is that all the law does? In a post that states such dramatic statements about the law, but never clarifies that the law has a separate use, it is easy to assume the author doesn’t believe the law is anything besides accusative. Does the law always accuse? Yes. Does it only accuse? No. Not only do we never see Christ himself say that his followers shouldn’t read the law as a guide, but we see him countless times exhorting his followers with the law. Some might say he only exhorted to show them their need for him, which is sometimes true (Matthew 5:48). But to say that every time Jesus exhorted his followers to good works he was doing so to crush them with the law not only makes Christ very cruel, but also reads a lot into the Scriptures that isn’t there.
The author’s notion that the law only leads to more sin is also false. As a former antinomian I would often use Romans 7:5 to highlight that the law leads to sin: “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” But this is not the norm for the Christian since “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (v. 6). The old way mentioned here is obviously not that we don’t serve God according to the law, but we don’t serve God by using the law to merit our salvation. To say otherwise is to make the entire law obsolete.
We should also note that if the law is only supposed to be used for crushing the sinner or condemning the old man, as a mirror to show the sinner’s wretchedness, then we must ignore Romans 12:1, or else our theology fails us. In my antinomian days, I did all I could to ignore such passages as Romans 12:1. Romans 12:1 begins with, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” Here Paul is appealing to the regenerate Christian “by the mercies of God,” and in doing so, is recalling the very gospel to the Christian’s mind. In essence, Paul is saying, “What I am about to say is in light of the gospel I have preached in the previous chapters.” After recalling the gospel and mercy of God to the Christian’s mind, Paul goes on, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” My question for those who claim the law shouldn’t be used to guide, but only used for the purpose of showing the sinner his sinfulness, is this: Why would Paul, after presenting the gospel of God’s grace, crush the sinner with God’s law? In short, why follow the gospel of freedom in Christ with “look how sinful you are?” Has he not set them free in Christ? Christ Hold Fast holds to the law/gospel distinction of Lutheran theology. Holding to this, they would agree that it is improper to crush the sinner with God’s law after you have already set them free in the gospel. To make the sinner realize his sinfulness after preaching to him of the gospel that forgives all of his sins is not only improper, but harmful. So, what is Paul doing here if not exhorting—using the law as a guide? These are the kinds of questions that haunted me as an antinomian.
“Take it from someone who has been there. Antinomians exist; I was one of them. The theology of CHF and Forde leads to antinomianism….”
Regeneration is Real
Another post that shows the harmful theology of Christ Hold Fast is “Yes, But…” by Kelsi Klembara. In that post she states, “If you never did anything good again, but you believe Christ died for you, would the Gospel still be true? It would.” To which Luther simply replies no, “For Christian holiness, or the holiness common to Christendom, is found where the Holy Spirit gives people faith in Christ and thus sanctifies them.” She asks rhetorically elsewhere, “What would actually happen if we simply stopped after hearing the Yes of the Gospel?” Sin. Sin is what happens according to Luther: “It will not do to think and say: Well, it is sufficient to have the doctrine, and if we have the Spirit and faith, then fruits and good works will follow of their own accord.” The underlying notion here must be that regeneration is not believed by the author. If that’s not what she means to communicate it sure is what she’s communicating to the antinomians I speak with. But Romans 6 tells us otherwise. In fact, Romans 6 tell us that just as Christ died to the curse of sin, so too has the Christian died to the power of sin. This obviously doesn’t mean we can be perfect, but it does mean that if a Christian isn’t growing in obedience to God then they probably aren’t a Christian.
Romans 6:9-11 tells us that we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The word consider here is the same word for “counted” in Romans 4:5—that God has counted us righteous in Christ. So God is telling us that the same certainty we have that God has counted us righteous in Christ is the same means by which we should consider ourselves dead to sin in Christ. But as a radical Lutheran, and antinomian, I didn’t agree with this at all. In fact, my way of twisting Scripture—as is the prevalent way with antinomians and other radical Lutherans—was to assume that every instance regarding “dead to sin” in Romans 6 was speaking of my death to its condemnation rather than its power. Regeneration is best defined as “that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology). But I didn’t believe that, and neither do antinomians. I used to say things like, “The Christian is incapable of good; that’s why Christ is our only goodness before God.” But this isn’t true.
Radical Lutherans teach that we aren’t even capable of keeping the commands of God in part or even a little. They don’t believe we are united to Christ’s death to sin’s power unless it’s sin’s condemnation. What I mean here is that when we died to sin through the death/resurrection of Christ we died to the condemnation of sin not its reign. In short, they believe we are still totally depraved—unable to do any good. Though they won’t say this out-right, they teach it often and with vigor. Dan Price’s post “I Am Not Ashamed of the Law” comes to mind. Here Dan says the easiest way to de-shame the gospel is to tame the law, to make it achievable.” What does he mean by achievable? Can we do enough of the law to merit salvation? No. Can we actually do the law? Yes. Though our works can never be perfect or without sin, they can still be good, and we are capable of this good. Acts 9:36 states that Dorcas was “full of good works,” Ephesians 2:10 states that we are created “in Christ Jesus for good works,” 2 Timothy 3:17 teaches that the man of God can be “complete, equipped for every good work,” and Titus 2:14 says that Christians are to be “zealous for good works.” So just because we can’t be perfect doesn’t mean we can’t do good. Price goes on to say I love the law. Not because I can do it. Not because it can save me. I love it because the law shows me my need for a Savior.” Notice that in this context there is no notion of a third use, guiding principle. This leads others to believe there is no third use. Regardless, the idea that Dan can’t do the law is unfounded once again. Galatians 5:14 doesn’t only tell us we can do God’s law but that in some sense we can fulfill it: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And again, Romans 13:8-13 tells us that the one who loves another has “fulfilled the law.” My former antinomian self would say, “But who has truly loved another? Christ! He has fulfilled it on our behalf.” The problem with that interpretation is that it’s actually not an interpretation of the text. Nothing in the immediate context of Romans 13 allows us to read imputed righteousness into “fulfilled the law.” To someone who would say that I would simply ask, “Where, in that text, do you see imputed righteousness?”
To say the “disposition of the soul is made holy” is to say the very opposite of everything Christ Hold Fast believes. Radical Lutherans would have you believe that to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” means to consider yourself dead to the penalty of sin. But Paul in Romans 6 isn’t addressing justification or forgiveness—he’s addressed that already in Romans 5. Here, Paul is addressing the justified sinner who asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Neither the question nor Paul’s answer addresses the penalty of sin. Paul addresses the power of sin in the Christian’s life: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing [Katargeō – to render powerless], so that we would no longer be enslaved [douleuō – to be enslaved to] to sin” (Romans 6:6). As an antinomian, I used to say that sin’s enslaving power was its power to condemn and therefore we are simply released from sin’s power to change our standing before God. Though I agree that we are saved from sin’s penalty, neither the question nor Paul’s answer addresses our standing before God. Romans 6 is in regards to our regeneration and sanctification. I would also read Romans 6:17 that “you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart,” but would dismiss this as something else. We can’t possibly be obedient from the heart! Our heart is wretched! I would dismiss this as a passage regarding justification rather than regeneration and sanctification. This is a twisting of Scripture. And if it’s not the twisting that underlies the theology of Christ Hold Fast in posts like above then it is what is communicated. Again, I should know. It’s posts like this that lead me to antinomian radical Lutheranism.
In summary I don’t think Christ Hold Fast is defined at all by Pieper’s words here: “In urging members of their churches to become ‘rich in good works,’ pastors should not be deterred from doing this boldly and resolutely, without any fear or faltering, by the thought that this insistence on good works might crowd out its central position on the doctrine of justification without works. Only if one does not know the Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith will he be timid in asking for a multitude of good works.” If you do not see this quote and the Lutheran confessions as well as Luther himself as being in great opposition to the general tone and content of CHF then you are poorly mistaken. Take it from someone who has been there. Antinomians exist; I was one of them. The theology of CHF and Forde leads to antinomianism; I was one of them.
“I might have believed [the third use] existed, but I never used it and thought those that did were legalists.”
What Their Theology Leads To
Let me state here that I am completely and fully responsible for my own sin of antinomianism. In fact, I was antinomian before Christ Hold Fast came on the scene. That cannot be stated weakly and must be made abundantly clear. I have confessed that sin and have repented of it, sought pardon and have received it in full from Christ. With that said, that does not negate the responsibility and guilt of those who caused me to stumble into that sin. Chad Bird, Dan Price, and some others at CHF saw and knew that I had fallen into antinomianism. Not only are they guilty of leading me into that trap but they are guilty for quietly allowing me to remain there while I taught others such nonsense.
I once had a discussion with Dan Price via webcam regarding the third use of the law. During this discussion he attempted to persuade me from being an evangelical antinomian openly denying third use of the law to a Radical Lutheran antinomian who believes there is a third use but who never uses it. He persuaded me to stop reading Tullian and other antinomians and just start reading him and Forde who SOUND like antinomians but “I assure you, we aren’t.”
After conversing with Dan and others at CHF I wasn’t convinced. While telling me there was a third use of the law, I watched Dan and others refuse to use it, emphasizing the gospel over the law to its exclusion, and writing entire blog posts with statements about the law’s accusative use without qualifying that there are other uses (as seen above). A late night webcam discussion wherein Dan tried to convince me that he believed in third use of the law only leads to a functional antinomianism. I might have believed it existed, but I never used it and thought those that did were legalists. It’s not enough to have webcam chats while blogging on a daily basis a system of theology that is full of accusative-only-law. That evening I thanked Dan for all the clarification he offered me, but it wasn’t long until I realized, “This guy might think there’s a third use, but he hardly ever uses it.” Just because someone says they believe in a third use doesn’t mean they aren’t antinomian nor does it mean that they don’t teach in a way that leads to antinomianism. Believing there’s a third use and actually teaching WITH the third use are two different things. And a ministry aimed at evangelicals leaving legalism which focuses on grace to the exclusion or downplaying of the third use of the law leads only to one thing: Antinomian evangelicalism (what I was before speaking to Dan), or antinomian Lutheranism (Radical Lutheranism; what I was after speaking to Dan). Again, did CHF and Dan Price try to persuade me out of antinomianism? No. They persuaded me into their version of it.
They lead me into that sin by teaching an emphasis on grace with the exclusion of a proper emphasis on good works. I believe that I, along with most others who are deceived by CHF, was very vulnerable to the heresy of antinomianism since, like most others, I was coming out of man-centered legalistic evangelicalism. Chad and Dan should know better, given their theological education and knowledge. They should know that those of us coming out of legalism are susceptible to the heresy of antinomianism, and therefore, instead of pandering to our weakness (a weakness seeking to hear only the gospel and nothing of good works), they should rather submit their teachings and writings to God and seek to bring weaker brothers and sisters in Christ to a better understanding of all of God’s word (law and gospel). The weakness and sin of wanting to ignore God’s word (His law) for the sake of only hearing God’s gospel should not be pandered to.
I will state this as simple as I can: to fight a wrong view of God’s law (legalism) one should not emphasize the gospel to the exclusion of the law. Rather, one should rightly emphasize the gospel while preaching a proper view of the law in all its uses. To combat legalism with merely preaching a heavy handed gospel shows ignorance and theological flippancy. And yet, most of those at CHF do just that. This leads many, including my former self, into antinomianism. Where else would it lead but there? As theologians we should be trained to care for those under our teaching, whether online or in the local church. When writing primarily for an audience coming out of legalism we should teach them not just the radical implications of the gospel, but also the loving kindness of God in giving us a necessary law to guide us into obedience. When writing primarily to an audience coming out of legalism, we should understand that they are susceptible to antinomianism and therefore should counter that weakness with a strong stance on the law’s third use. Anything less only serves to do harm. In short, as theologians we should know better. Chad Bird and Dan Price should know better. The mere fact that CHF is writing to such an audience with such a harmful exclusion of the law’s third use proves that Christ Hold Fast as a website ministry shouldn’t be teaching anything. It shows that, though they may have theological knowledge of doctrines, they are ignorant of the implications of their emphasis towards their audience. And that’s the best case scenario! If they do understand what they are doing, and yet they remain, then they aren’t as ignorant as we thought. Rather, they are divisive and purposefully harmful for the sake of pride and self-praise. I don’t know which is the case with CHF and its leaders. In fact, I suspect the former. But given my overall lack of knowledge regarding their intent, I cannot make any statements regarding which one they are: whether ignorant or purposefully harmful. In either case, they are harmful, guilty of leading others into antinomianism, and should quietly recede from the internet and the minds of all those who read to their harmful theology.
“Reading the Book of Concord and Luther’s sermons brought about a realization that my view of the law and good works was not the view of Luther.”
The Book of Concord, My Help
Reading the Book of Concord and Luther’s sermons brought about a realization that my view of the law and good works was not the view of Luther. And conversely, the confessional Lutheran view of the law and good works is not the view taught by those at Christ Hold Fast. When Article 6.2 of the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord stated, “The one side taught and maintained that the regenerate do not learn the new obedience, or in what good works they ought to walk, from the Law, and that this teaching [concerning good works] is not to be urged thence [from the law], because they have been made free by the Son of God, have become the temples of His Spirit, and therefore do freely of themselves what God requires of them, by the prompting and impulse of the Holy Ghost, just as the sun of itself, without any [foreign] impulse, completes its ordinary course,” I thought “Not only does that describe me, but that describes what I’m interpreting from Christ Hold Fast!” Yet I did my best to hold true to what I believed. As a youth minister and a leader of a website ‘ministry’ there was too much to lose if I were to give up on my lack of third use preaching. Sure, I could believe that it existed, but to preach it as often as Luther says we should, that’s another thing! But again, 6.6-9 spoke a whole different world to me: “And, indeed, if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit, so that in their nature and all its powers they were entirely free from sin, they would need no law, and hence no one to drive them either, but they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction, admonition, urging or driving of the Law, what they are in duty bound to do according to God’s will…However, believers are not renewed in this life perfectly or completely…Therefore, because of these lusts of the flesh the truly believing, elect, and regenerate children of God need in this life not only the daily instruction and admonition, warning, and threatening of the Law, but also frequently punishments, that they may be roused.”
So there is a guide? So what of those who deny a third use? In fact, what of those who say they believe it but refuse to urge this use of the law upon Christians? Article 6.20 answered, “Accordingly, we reject and condemn as an error pernicious and detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness, the teaching that the Law, in the above-mentioned way and degree, should not be urged upon Christians and the true believers, but only upon the unbelieving, unchristians, and impenitent.” As Article 6.3 of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord told me that the law should be urged upon believers “with diligence” I saw nobody, including myself, doing such things. In fact, the strongest of statements is found in the above quote of 6.20. The truth is that a lack of diligent third use preaching is harmful and “detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness.” Some might say, “Of course we urge the law with diligence, just the law in its accusative use!” To that, the Formula of Concord would state that the law in need of being diligently urged upon the believer is the law in all of its uses and functions. Included, but not limited to, the use of that law as exhortation and guide: “We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing [in Christ] and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night, that they should meditate upon God’s Law day and night, and constantly exercise themselves in its observance” (The Epitome of the FOC 6.2).
Luther himself stated that antinomians not only refused to exhort but they simply refused to do so diligently and often: “Many now talk only about the forgiveness of sins and say little or nothing about repentance. There neither is forgiveness of sins without repentance nor can forgiveness of sins be understood without repentance. It follows that if we preach the forgiveness of sins without repentance that the people imagine that they have already obtained the forgiveness of sins, becoming thereby secure and without compunction of conscience” (Martin Luther, Visitation Articles, found in LW 40:274).
“…faithful preachers must exert themselves as much in urging a love that is unfeigned or in urging truly good works as in teaching true faith…” — Martin Luther
Luther’s Sermons, My Help
Finally, it was Luther’s sermons that brought me out of Radical Lutheranism, along with the Book of Concord. I can’t express how thankful I am for Luther’s sermons. The whole notion that radical Lutherans rail against “law-gospel-law” preaching was crushed by Luther’s sermons. He’s all over the place. Law here, gospel there, law again, law again, gospel, some commentary on the church, law, gospel. I will here simply show two sermons as examples of Luther’s commentary on radical Lutheranism and antinomianism in today’s church. In The Church Postil on the epistle for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, Luther states:
“Here again is an admonition for Christians to follow up their faith by good works and a new life, for though they have forgiveness of sins through baptism, the old Adam still adheres to their flesh and makes himself felt in tendencies and desires to vices physical and mental. The result is that unless Christians offer resistance, they will lose their faith and the remission of sins and will in the end be worse than they were at first; for they will begin to despise and persecute the Word of God when corrected by it. Yea, even those who gladly hear the Word of God, who highly prize it and aim to follow it, have daily need of admonition and encouragement, so strong and tough is that old hide of our sinful flesh. And so powerful and wily is our old evil foe that wherever he can gain enough of an opening to insert one of his claws, he thrusts in his whole self and will not desist until he has again sunk man into his former condemnable unbelief and his old way of despising and disobeying God.
Therefore, the Gospel ministry is necessary in the Church, not only for instruction of the ignorant – such as the simple, unlettered people and the children – but also for the purpose of awakening those who know very well what they are to believe and how they are to live, and admonishing them to be on their guard daily and not to become indolent, disheartened or tired in the war they must wage on this earth with the devil, with their own flesh and with all manner of evil.
For this reason Paul is so persistent in his admonitions that he actually seems to be overdoing it. He proceeds as if the Christians were either too dull to comprehend or so inattentive and forgetful that they must be reminded and driven. The apostle well knows that though they have made a beginning in faith and are in that state which should show the fruits of faith, such result is not so easily forthcoming. It will not do to think and say: Well, it is sufficient to have the doctrine, and if we have the Spirit and faith, then fruits and good works will follow of their own accord. For although the Spirit truly is present and, as Christ says, willing and effective in those that believe, on the other hand the flesh is weak and sluggish. Besides, the devil is not idle, but seeks to seduce our weak nature by temptations and allurements.
So we must not permit the people to go on in their way, neglecting to urge and admonish them, through God’s Word, to lead a godly life. Indeed, you dare not be negligent and backward in this duty; for, as it is, our flesh is all too sluggish to heed the Spirit and all too able to resist it. Paul says (Galatians 5:17): “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh … that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Therefore, God is constrained to do as a good and diligent householder or ruler, who, having a slothful man-servant or maid-servant, or careless officers, who otherwise are neither wicked nor faithless, will not consider it sufficient once or twice to direct, but will constantly be supervising and directing.”
Secondly in Luther’s sermon on John 15:10-12:
“Wherever faith is not preached and is not given primary importance, wherever we do not begin by learning how we are united with Christ and become branches in Him, all the world concentrates only on its works. On the other hand, wherever faith alone is taught, this leads to false Christians, who boast of their faith, are baptized, and are counted among the Christians but give no evidence of fruit and strength. This makes it difficult to preach to people. No matter how one preaches, things go wrong; the people always hedge. If one does not preach on faith, nothing but hypocritical works result. But if one confines one’s preaching to faith, no works ensue. In brief, the outcome is either works without faith or faith without works. Therefore the sermon must address itself to those who accept and apprehend both faith and works; the others, who do not want to follow, remain behind.”
Here Luther showed me that not only was the third use of the law, the law as a guide, necessary, but he showed me that without the law’s guiding principle sanctification will not take place. It was here in studying the Book of Concord and Luther’s sermons that I found my escape from radical Lutheranism and its partner of evangelical antinomianism. The strong stance that Lutheran’s took in the past along with their confession and Luther himself were a world of difference for me. In fact, C.F.W. Walther’s Law and Gospel Lecture Thirty tells us that preachers must tell their congregants that “as God lives, they will be damned if they live in this or that sin. If you only tell them that Christians remain sinners until they die, you will frequently be misunderstood. Some will lull themselves to sleep with the reflection that they are poor and frail human beings, but that they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – however, a lip faith.” To which Luther would add, “This is why faithful preachers must exert themselves as much in urging a love that is unfeigned or in urging truly good works as in teaching true faith,” (Luther, Galatians).
“I see that Scripture shows me I’m preaching wrong… but I won’t preach like that.”
Two Examples to Show Their Theology and Its Result
Aside from my own experience with Christ Hold Fast, I hope the following will serve to show forth their damaging theology.
I spoke to a man who used to write for my ministry, who was a very close friend of mine, and who is currently a writer for CHF. This was over a year ago, and though I hope he has changed his stance I don’t believe he has. But due to my lack of knowledge here regarding his current position I will leave his identity anonymous. Though upon reading his recent material it doesn’t seem he has changed, at least not as strongly as he needs to. During my discussion with him over a year ago I proved to him from Scripture that not only was the third use Biblical, but to not preach the law as a guide OFTEN is not only harmful but sinful and unbiblical. I proved that Scripture opposes those who preach an emphasis on the gospel to the exclusion and lessening of the preaching of the law as guide. At the end of our discussion this man said to me, “I see that Scripture makes clear that I am preaching wrongly. But if I do start preaching third use like that then people and myself will become prideful in their works. Therefore I can’t preach like that.” For those reading, this man currently writes for CHF. Again, to repeat his words, “I see that Scripture shows me I’m preaching wrong…but I won’t preach like that.”
Secondly, I spoke only months ago with a self-professing antinomian who blatantly denies that the law is to be used as a guide for the Christian life. During our discussion he constantly sourced Christ Hold Fast, Chad Bird, and others. He constantly spoke of the law as “a lion that can’t be tamed” and therefore a “word of God that can ONLY accuse but never guide.” After 3 nights of discussions and over 13 hours of walking him through Luther sermons, Walther, Pieper, the BOC, Scripture, and the like, he recanted. But though he would agree that the law is to be used as a guide, he remained in his support of CHF for the sake of not allowing a preaching of the law to usurp the gospel. Coming out of legalism this man is very vulnerable and susceptible to antinomianism. Though God convinced him of his theological antinomianism, he remained a functional antinomian simply because “Chad Bird can’t possibly be wrong.”
These two examples serve not only to show that there is truly an antinomian presence within CHF (or rather, there was if that man has repented), and that their teachings are leading vulnerable Christian brothers and sisters into sin and misguided heresies.
It is my hope that this will be read and shared, and that what has been stated above will be taken to heart. Please understand, though Christ Hold Fast might or might not be antinomian, their teachings lead to it. I’m an example, and I know many others who are currently deceived and openly antinomian due to what they read at Christ Hold Fast. Please be advised and avoid this website at all costs.
Thanks for writing this Cody.
My last comment, which Cody appreciated the other day:
Update: For those who want to go deeper.