Monthly Archives: October 2014

Church history like a child: Lutherans don’t leave

Today’s re-published Reformation post is perhaps a bit unusual – especially since today is the big day.  But I think it is a good one to post to emphasize the true Lutheran perspective of what transpired almost 500 years ago.  Here it is:


“Why is everybody leaving us?”  

By asking this question, I am not saying that everyone is leaving the Lutheran Church for other denominations because Lutheranism is insufficient in some way.  Rather, by asking this question I am simply assuming that “the Lutheran Church” never left the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  It is others who have left.

Such a statement may strike some as naive, but as faith in God grows, one may become more firmly convinced.  One growing up in the Lutheran cradle would not be wrong for thinking such a thought.

Going along with this, I submit that the following “family tree” below does indeed give us a good picture of what is going on with Christ’s church.  Note that the line between the united church and the united confessional Lutheran church is a straight one.


To read a nice essay that goes with the above picture see Pastor Martin Noland’s short summary of church history

There are a few things about the picture I would tweak (especially if I could make it 3-D!).  If you don’t think this picture accurately represents reality, go here to see other perspectives represented.

Also, I know that many Roman Catholic apologists make a lot of hay about the current divisions in Christ’s Church and how they are the answer to this.  Here, I find the following two charts very interesting, in that they show that historically, it is actually the impulse of Lutherans to unite (even doing so promiscuously and to their detriment, without discernment, when they lose touch with their confessional writings) whereas it seems it is the impulse of Baptists, for example, to fracture.





church history tree from here:

Lutheran family tree:

Baptist family tree:


Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Uncategorized


Joan of Arc faith vs. infant faith

joanofarcToday’s re-cycled Reformation post deals again with the issue of certainty in the Christian life (see Romans 5:1 and I John 5:12-13).  If you have been paying attention to previous posts, these first two quotes will look quite familiar to you:

In the heat the Reformation, Luther said some very damning things about Rome:

 “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, italics mine).

Or try this one:

“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:

Was Luther right for being so harsh in his assessment?  What does Rome say about this issue today?

Officially speaking, Rome offers up Joan of Arc for our consideration in its most recent catechism:

 “…according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits” – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'”58  (see here)

I’d say that is a very clever answer!  Presumably – this is the model we are to remember and live by.  Historically speaking, one of the ways the powers-that-were thought they could prove Joan was a heretic (evidently) was by finding out whether she thought that she really had forgiveness, life and salvation, or as the Roman Catholics would say, that she was in a “state of grace”.

Up until the recent past, this kind of attitude would have been labeled the “sin of presumption” – Roman Catholics knew that to be a strong Christian actually meant that you doubted whether you yourself were saved.   For example, right around the same time that Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Church doors in Wittenberg, the theologian Johann Altenstaig (in his Vocabularius theologiae, Hagenau 1517) was saying that the devil led people astray by making them think there was good evidence for being saved.  “No one, no matter how righteous he may be”, Altenstaig said, “can know with certainty that he is in the state of grace, except by a revelation”. Likewise, Cardinal Cajetan, a few weeks before confronting Luther at Augsburg, wrote that “Clearly almost all come to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist in reverent fear of the Lord and uncertain of being in grace.  In fact theologians praise their continuing uncertainty and ordinarily attribute its opposite to presumption or ignorance” (both quotes from Cajetan Responds, a footnote from p. 269 and p. 66)

However, nowadays, among some Roman Catholic apologists the definition of this “sin of presumption” seems to have narrowed quite a bit!   I think that we can readily understand why this is the case.  If you are trying to appeal to evangelical Christians, for example, telling them they can’t be certain that they are in a stable and secure relationship with God is not a winning argument.  As such, several RC apologists now, distinguishing between different kinds of “certainties” (see here to see how they approach this) will say that the certainty of one’s current status before God need not always be in doubt (see here, for an example of this)

I can understand this impulse, because it clearly is a biblical one.  One needs only to look at undeniable passages like Romans 5:1 and I John 5:12.  The only problem is, as best I can tell, is that they are rewriting their history.  Early on, the great Scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas had said that certainty of one’s “state of grace” was at best “conjecture” (i.e. only “guesswork” due to inconclusive or incomplete evidence – hence the reason this was a good way to nail Joan).  When Cardinal Cajetan, in his meeting with Luther in 1518 essentially told him that one could never be sure “one’s contrition was sufficient to effect the forgiveness one hoped to receive” (Hendrix, Scott, Luther and the Papacy, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981, p. 62), Luther – amazed at this position – never looked back.  When the Pope backed up Cajetan’s views when he condemned Luther in Exsurge Domine, nothing more was needed to convince the Reformer that he was dealing with the Antichrist.

After Cardinal Cajetan confronted Luther over his “presumption” (i.e. his confidence that he really was in a state of grace) at Augsburg in 1518, his tracts over the next 14 years show that there was no moving on this teaching that the faithful could not be certain.  One gets the definitive sense that through conjecture the pious and devout were to conclude, from the evidence, not that they were in a state of grace, but the opposite!  And Cajetan, I have recently learned, was more or less Luther’s most thoughtful, irenic, and dare I say, “liberal” opponent (and the top expert on Thomas Aquinas of that day)!  In spite of the consensus that no one could be certain about this issue (admittedly due to William of Ockham’s overwhelming influence), there were some Franciscans who followed Duns Scotus, arguing that a person did not need to “doubt whether his disposition was sufficient for justification through the sacrament [of penance]”, but could rather be confident of meriting God’s grace by sorrow over their sin.  But even their view did not hold sway at Trent (Antonio Delphinus, O.F.M., Pro cetitudine gratiae praesentis (Concilium Tridentinum, XII, 651-658), which came down on a formulation that seems to have left Duns in the dust, and Thomas reigning supreme.  (see Cajetan Responds, footnote 14 on p. 267).

cajetan respondsNot long ago, I heard an interesting story from the Lutheran pastor Rolf Preus.  He talked about being at a conference where a highly informed and capable ecumenical Catholic scholar was convincing many Lutheran pastors that Rome and Wittenberg were not far about on the matter of justification by faith.  He seemed to be saying all the right things – that is, until one pastor asked him the first Kennedy Evangelism Explosion question: “If you died today, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven?”  This question threw him off, and at this point he evidently sputtered and flailed and didn’t know what to say.  This convinced the pastors that for all the other words they had heard that sounded so good to their ears, there were still significant differences that remained.

Again, many modern RC apologists would not be so tongue-tied over a question like this… in fact, they have ready answers.  I contend that they are new and innovative answers though – deviating from Rome historically – even if they don’t want to believe that it is true.

It truly is amazing to be reminded that Martin Luther, from Vatican II onwards, seems increasingly to be vindicated by modern Roman Catholic theologians….

“[Catholic theology] has to ask in a more unbiased manner about the contemporary consensus with the Luther of that time who has already formulated, sometimes in an uncanny way, so much of what is also today self-evident to the Catholic sense of faith” (Otto Pesch, quoted in Sobolewski, Gregory, Martin Luther: Roman Catholic Prophet, p. 50)

True, I would say.

So how can we sum all of this up?  Well, some modern RC apologists, rather than embracing the Joan of Arc model, are at once doing a right thing and a wrong thing.  The right thing they are doing is insisting that when a Christian who sees his sin says the words “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” they really should believe the words they speak, and receive the real peace with God that Christ delivers.  In other words, they should be as infants, who in simple, unassuming, unpretencious, and unreflective faith receive the wonderful words of absolution freely, and resist alternative voices that tell them not to be formed, shaped, and driven by these words.  The wrong thing they are doing is insisting that this is what St. Thomas taught – or what Trent taught – or even what Rome currently teaches.

Ecumenically speaking, all of this means that Rome would have to admit that they were on the wrong side of history on this most important of issues, and that Luther was fundamentally right.   If this were to happen, it would truly be a wonderful miracle!  Alternatively though, they could double down on the issue, which would continue to alienate those it calls “separated brethren”.  Either way, all the word games in the world will not hide the fact that ultimately, a choice will need to be made.

Semper reformanda!

P.S. – Any RC apologists reading this – If I’m wrong, please show me why.  I certainly am open to hearing where I may have gone off the rails here – historically, or otherwise.

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Posted by on October 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


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“So…which Christians are really Christians?” by Trent Demarest

A bonus Reformation week post!  This is NOT ONE OF MINE (though I’d like to claim it).  It is from Trent Dermarest, who also blogs over at Just and Sinner with Pastor Jordan Cooper.  It originally appeared on that blog on Oct. 4 of this year.  Re-posted with his permission.  I hope to post some of his other stuff in the future as well: 

A friend on Facebook asked one of those questions that many Christians of goodwill wrestle with. Though the church body in question for him is the Roman Catholic Church, one might easily wonder the same thing about any heterodox group. Here’s his question:

[A]re Roman Catholics Christians? If Justification is the chief doctrine, and they flat out deny it, are they not unbelievers? Just because they mention the name Jesus, along with Mary and the Saints, does that make them Christians? I’m uncertain on this point, for if the Pope be antichrist, what are those who follow him?

What follows here is an assortment of quotations from people whose opinions on this question I have ample cause to respect.

Starting off, here’s Dr. Luther:

luther-redThe church is universal throughout the world, wherever the Gospel of God and the sacraments are present. Although the city of Rome is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, nevertheless there remain in it Baptism, the Sacrament, the voice and text of the Gospel, the Sacred Scriptures, the ministries, the name of Christ, and the name of God. Whoever has these, has them; whoever does not have them, has no excuse, for the treasure is still there. Therefore the Church of Rome is holy, because it has the holy name of God, the Gospel, Baptism, etc. If these are present among a people, that people is called holy. Thus this Wittenberg of ours is a holy village, and we are truly holy, because we have been baptized, communed, taught, and called by God; we have the works of God among us, that is, the Word and the sacraments, and these make us holy. … [E]ven though the Galatians had been led astray, Baptism, the Word, and the name of Christ still continued among them. Besides, there were still some good men who had not defected from Paul’s doctrine and who had a proper understanding of the Word and the sacraments, which could not be defiled by those who did rebel. For Baptism, the Gospel, etc., do not become unholy because I am defiled and unholy and have a false understanding of them. On the contrary, they remain holy and exactly what they were, regardless of whether they are among the godly or the ungodly; men can neither defile them nor hallow them. By our good or evil behavior, by our good or evil life and morals, they are defiled or hallowed in the sight of the Gentiles (Rom. 2:24) but not in the sight of God. Therefore the church is holy even where the fanatics are dominant, so long as they do not deny the Word and the sacraments; if they deny these, they are no longer the church. Wherever the substance of the Word and the sacraments abides, therefore, there the holy church is present, even though Antichrist may reign there; for he takes his seat not in a stable of fiends or in a pigpen or in a congregation of unbelievers but in the highest and holiest place possible, namely, in the temple of God (2 Thess. 2:4). Thus our brief answer to this question is this: The church is universal throughout the world, wherever the Gospel of God and the sacraments are present. The Jews, the Turks, and the fanatics are not the church, because they oppose and deny these things.” (Blessed Martin Luther; Luther’s Works, AE; Vol. 26:24-26) (Emphases mine. —TDD)

When I asked my spiritual director, Fr. Charles L. McClean, about this portion of Luther’s Works, he had this to say:

pastor-mcclean_tnIn his Lectures on Galatians (AE 26:25f) Luther seems to say that, unlike the Roman Church where Antichrist has his seat, the “fanatics” have so rejected the Gospel and Sacraments that they are simply outside the Church of God. I cannot recall any passage in the Lutheran Confessions which explicitly teaches this.

On the one hand, we know with certainty where the Church is: wherever through (as much of) the Gospel and Sacraments (as somehow survive) God creates faith in human hearts when and where it pleases Him. On the other hand, we cannot know with certainty where the Church is not. And I would raise the question: Is it necessary for us to know where the Church is not? Is it not a kind of causa irrealis? And do we not in charity presume that where human beings are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, there the Church is being gathered?

I also cannot help but wonder if ‘unchurching’ professing Christian bodies is not in fact a kind of spiritual illness. (It reminds me very much of that other in my judgment spiritual illness when people are so eager—and even delighted!—to declare who is in fact in hell!) We obviously cannot have communicatio in sacris with heterodox churches but that is an entirely different question. It seems to me that where the Church is is God’s business not ours.

I think this question belongs to those questions which can never be answered definitely in this present world. Or so it seems to me. (Emphasis mine. —TDD)

And in another email:

There is of course the question of how confessional Lutherans should regard and relate to the Church of Rome. The attached Reformation Day sermon pretty well expresses my own heart-felt convictions. I think Dr. Sasse provides an example for us. In later life he met and carried on a correspondence with the great Jesuit biblical scholar, Augustin Cardinal Bea, who among other things was father confessor to Pope Pius XII. Of this I am convinced: we dare not look on the troubles of the Roman Church with a kind of Schadenfreude but rather with deep sympathy and compassion for fellow Christians in their difficulties and sorrows—as we would hope that our fellow Christians would look on our own! After his first meeting with Cardinal Bea, Sasse said that he and the Cardinal were of one mind in this: that we are all like the disciples in the boat on the storm-tossed sea praying “Lord, save us!” Sasse always speaks of the “tragedy” of the Roman Church. There can only be tragedy where there is in fact goodness and greatness! There can obviously be no communicatio in sacris with the Roman Church, but we can and should certainly ‘speak the truth in love’ (Eph.4:15) That means (among other things) the avoidance of language that unnecessarily wounds them, an effort to truly to understand them, and an effort to present the truth we confess in all humility and charity. And as Franz Pieper and Kurt Marquart among others have pointed out: despite any confusions in our carnal minds about matters of doctrine “all Christians believe in justification by faith.” In his volume Eschatology Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “What actually saves is the full assent of faith” (p.231).

And then there’s this, from the sainted Rev. Dr. Kurt Marquart:

KurtMoreover, the One Lord is indivisible; if we have Him at all, we have Him wholly and altogether. And since faith is no mere human conviction, but is in every case the work and gift of the Spirit of Truth (St. John 16:13), this same Spirit-wrought faith is exactly the same in every believer’s heart—whatever the contradictions in his fleshly mind or in the doctrine of his heterodox church! This means that every Trinitarian Font, whatever its other entanglements, offers and bestows in the One Baptism the One Lord and His One Faith – no more and no less by divine institution—if it offers the Lord’s Baptism at all. (“The Shape and Foundation of Faith”; a lecture given at Concordia Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, on Jauary 20, 1999) (Emphasis mine. —TDD)

​My friend George writes quite stirringly about why we can confess this to be the case in his piece, “A Lutheran View of Mystical Ecclesiology” (his piece; my title). This isn’t his main point, but I think you’ll see how it follows from what he says.

Is a man justified by his fiducia and assensus to the doctrine of justification by faith? No, he is saved by grace through faith in Christ. Who among us has a perfect faith? No one. Who among us has a perfect Christ? All who trust in His mercy. For faith simply receives the promised mercy. He who has faith at all has all the benefits of Christ whole and entire​.



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Posted by on October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


Semper Reformanda Ross Douthat! …and the Real Problems with Pope Francis?

O ye of little faith!?

O ye of little faith!?

Today, I have opted to not to a Reformation Day post from the past – it seems to me that there are more timely things to talk about. Ross Douthat’s recent N.Y. Times op-ed piece on Pope Francis was rather significant, I would say. Here is how Mr. Douthat ends that column:

“….if [Pope Francis] seems to be choosing the more dangerous path — if he moves to reassign potential critics in the hierarchy, if he seems to be stacking the next synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change — then conservative Catholics will need a cleareyed understanding of the situation.

They can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.”

As a Lutheran, these kinds of words sound vaguely familiar.  And what if those who are very cynical about Pope Francis’ intentions are correct – that he intends, gradually, to change the church’s moral teachings?  Of course, if this were the case, there would undoubtedly be theological reasoning behind that…

Perhaps God evolves?

Eyes wide open?

Eyes wide open?

Now today, on the podcast of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, we hear more about some disconcerting things Francis said at “the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which gathered at the Vatican to discuss ‘Evolving Concepts of Nature.’” (from the Religion News Service article Mohler quotes from).

Pope Francis evidently said – and Mohler personally checked with the reporter on this – that God is “not a Divine Being” and also that “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so….”

As Mohler points out in a more careful analysis than the one I am providing (listen to his podcast), that does not sound like the God the Scriptures reveal to us. God, it seems, is subject to other things outside of God.

Needless to say, Mohler is surprised that there seems to be little controversy here – little concern for what the Pope actually said and meant. Seems like a big deal to me as well.

Another thing that was brought to my attention recently as well from one of this blog’s readers. In one of his General Addresses, from April of 2013, Francis said the following regarding the final judgment:

Finally, a word on the passage of the final judgement, that describes the second coming of the Lord, when He will judge all humans, living and dead (cf. Mt 25:31-46). The image used by the Evangelist is that of the Shepherd separating sheep from goats. On the right are those who acted according to the will of God, helping their neighbor who was hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, thus following the Lord himself; while on the left are those who haven’t come to the aid of their neighbour. This tells us that we will be judged by God on charity, on how we loved him in our brothers, especially the weakest and neediest. Of course, we must always keep in mind that we are justified, we are saved by grace, by an act of God’s gratuitous love which always precedes us; we alone can do nothing. Faith is first of all a gift that we have received. But to bear fruit, God’s grace always requires our openness, our free and concrete response. Christ comes to bring us the mercy of God who saves. We are asked to trust him, to match the gift of his love with a good life, with actions animated by faith and love.

Dear brothers and sisters, may we never be afraid to look to the final judgment; may it push us rather to live better lives. God gives us with mercy and patience this time so that we may learn every day to recognize him in the poor and in the little ones, may we strive for good and we are vigilant in prayer and love. May the Lord, at the end of our existence and history, may recognize us as good and faithful servants. Thank you!

Losing faith?

Losing faith?

This might sound good on the face of it.  No doubt many devout Christians will detect nothing wrong with such a statement. But note what I have bolded above – I submit that  Francis’ words necessarily throw us back on ourselves.  We play a role not just in our salvation, understood widely, but in our final justification before God.  Here, there is no way left open for a person to understand good works as being the evidence of one’s salvation.  Words such as these will necessarily cause some of the most pious men who do not know better to doubt that their faith is enough and that they should have confidence that they are in a state of grace.  Therefore, in the end, the Pope’s statement must be said to be false.

So, one might ask – how would you faith alone folks talk about something like Matthew 25 and the final judgment then?  How do you read it?  Here is my harmony of how faith and works go together, which I have shared here before. I believe if you think about it carefully, you will note there is indeed a large difference between what Francis says and my words 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.”

….and when we talk about the individual standing naked before God (Romans 3), we must always strictly distinguish between justification and sanctification.


Mohler pic: Wikipedia ; Douthat pic: NY Times

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Posted by on October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


The Coming Vindication of Martin Luther – Summary and Conclusion

Saint Martin Luther?

So maybe Luther had some good points (careful Mr. Douthat….).  But will God (and perhaps the Church at large?) vindicate Him for His actions (as we hear endlessly: unleashing thousands of denominations, each man his own Pope…)? Here is today’s re-cycled Reformation post, a summary of my 2012 series The Coming Vindication of Martin Luther (this was “Part V”)…

(I invite challenges to the account and argument that I provide here):

Preface Part V, Part IV, Part III, Part II, Part I

Note: As noted in the preface to this series, I will be doing these posts every other day in opposite order, starting with part V, and working back to part I (please note that the links in this post to parts I-IV will only work when all parts have been posted).

Ideally, the Church should not only be a vehicle for faith but an object of faith, as Richard John Neuhaus once put it (from here).   This is easy for children of course (see 1 below).  In other words, we should be able to have confidence in the Church and what it teaches at all times.  History, however, has shown us that what ought to be is not always what is (see 2 and 3 below)  The Lutheran Reformation is all at once an event to be celebrated and a tragic necessity (see 4 below)

Again, we begin at the end.

In part IV we saw how three persons – or perhaps just one – with the truth can and must stand up against all others.  Putting aside the matter of whether or not Martin Luther was correct in his teaching of confession and absolution (see 5 below, as well as 6 and 7 below), the Eastern Orthodox historian and theologian Olivier Clement does seem to be surprisingly close to Luther regarding the matter of how authority should work in the church (i.e. the “consensus principle of church authority” noted in part III).   While Luther’s colleague Melanchton wrote in the Tractate (a part of the Lutheran confessional documents) that even if the pope was pope by divine rite (vs. Romans 13-style human rite) he would still need to be opposed if he contradicted the doctrine of justification (see 8 and 9 below), Luther always seemed far less likely to use these kinds of “even-if-we-concede” kinds of arguments.  That said, had Luther had a chance to be exposed to reasoning like Olivier Clement’s in his book “You are Peter”, I think he may have recognized a reasonable churchman that he could potentially do some business with (assuming Clement, evaluating Luther’s view of confession and absolution, was of the same mind towards Luther)!

In Part III, we learned how early on, Luther acknowledged as authoritative the decisions clearly established by both pope and council in the canons of the church – while also countering those who in their ignorance of canon law would uphold the pope even when he contradicted Scripture.  He used the argument of the canon lawyer Panormitanu (Nikolaus de Tudeschis, d. 1445), stating that the judgment of an individual Christian in matters of faith, when based on Scripture, takes precedence over all other church authorities (again, see 8 and 9 below, and also 4 below)

Luther statue at Concordia Saint Paul (MN), where I work

In Part II, we saw that Luther’s internal struggle with confession was very much related to papal authority.  In the 15th century “Gerson had argued that it was not a mortal sin to disobey the laws of the church unless the disobedience was deliberate.  When Luther applied this argument to the practice of confession, it meant that he and other Christians were not under pressure to confess every sin” (Hendrix).   Luther contended that the priests were badly mistaken if they thought they absolved only those Christians whose genuine contrition could be proved.  On the contrary, faith in Christ through the word of the priest brings forgiveness to whoever trusts in that word (again see 5 below, as well as 6 and 7 below).

In part I we learned that “few have questioned… that Luther recognized the necessity of a visible human hierarchy, established by divine right, to guarantee the stability and permanence of the church.” (Hendrix, p. 13)  Also, Luther “said that he came to his struggle with the pope quite innocently”, noting that twenty years before he realized that the papacy was the Antichrist he never would have entertained such a notion (p. 6)  As he said: “Although much of what they said seemed absurd to me and completely alien to Christ, yet for more than a decade I curbed my thoughts with the advice of Solomon: ‘Do not rely on your own insight’ [Prov. 3:5].” (p. 3)

Although I cannot locate a specific quotation, at one point I had heard that Pope Benedict encouraged his fellow Roman Catholics to read the early Luther, when Luther was still genuinely catholic (update: Thanks James Swan!) The problem with this, of course, is that the core theological convictions of the “early Luther” were part and parcel of his later protest.  One cannot readily separate Luther the responsible RC theologian from Luther the Church reformer, for the theology drove the reform.

Now of course, I do not want to discourage such developments, but speaking honestly, it is very difficult for me to understand how Roman Catholic theologians who are familiar with Luther think that his early pre-Reformation works will end up helping their cause!  It seems to me that the crises of indulgences became particularly clear for Luther precisely because of the theologian he had become, and he was absolutely determined to “refute the opinions of the ‘new’ scholastic doctors concerning the efficacy of indulgences” (Hendrix, p. 35)  And from this starting point, it was only a matter of time before Luther was able to identify and articulate ever more clearly how the related issues of sacramental penance  and absolution (see 10, 11 and 12 below) had been wrongly taught by the Roman hierarchy (as he found that the problem went deep, i.e. Aristotle vs. Bible – see 13 and 14 below [also see this post dispelling myths about the Lutheran view of “Sola Scriptura”]).  One link in the chain led to another which led to another – until Luther was able to see clearly the very heart of the matter: that is, the essence of the Gospel itself.   The controversy regarding indulgences had brought him there.

It may seem as if I am eager to focus on the negative – the things that we do not hold in common (by the way, Lutherans are very different from the Reformed to! – see 15).  May it never be!  Rather, I contend that, in general, our orientation should be to furiously emphasize our commonalities and to furiously emphasize our honest differences, because the truth not spoken – or rarely spoken – in love is not the fullness of love at all.  Even some in the unbelieving world know as much!  Do you, like me, think of the pagans’ words recorded by Tertullian: “See how they love one another!”?  I say yes!   Let us aim to love one another in truth as we patiently work through the tragic reality that there must be differences among us – to reveal who has God’s approval!

I close with words from Pope Benedict, speaking of Luther’s “Christ-centered spirituality”:  “’This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man,’ explains Pope Benedict. According to Luther, Christ is the interpretative center of the Bible, notes Benedict, which presupposes ‘that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.’” (from here ; note also the high praise Luther has received from other Roman Catholics – see 16 below)

Amen to that.  I hope you will join me for parts I-IV.


Previous posts dealing with the topic of the Lutheran Reformation vis-a-vis Rome:

  1. Re: Reformation Day: kids don’t celebrate divorce
  2. Unchildlike Reformation Eve
  3. A child of the Reformation
  4. Reformation history: what would you have done?
  5. Forgiveness free and true: the crux of the Reformation, the essence of the Christian life
  6. Joan of Arc faith vs. infant faith (part 1 of 2)
  7. Joan of Arc faith vs. infant faith (part 2 of 2)
  8. Babies in Church (part VIII): judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation)
  9. Round 3 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: A few good Pharisees
  10. The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine (part I of II)
  11. The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine (part II of I
  12. The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine – extra 1
  13. Knowledge first and foremost: baby King David vs. adult St. Thomas
  14. Update on my humble contributions to honest ecumenical dialogue
  15. RC convert Jason Stellman’s perception of Lutheranism
  16. Martin Luther, Roman Catholic prophet

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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Uncategorized


Children of the Reformation: the Importance of Certainty in the Christian Life

Yesterday, in the post Unchildlike Reformation Eve, we saw the great need for the Lutheran articulation of the doctrine of justification that had arisen in the church.  For today’s re-cycled Reformation-focused post – taking a look at the importance of certainty regarding one’s “state of grace” in the Christian life – I am actually combining a couple of posts.

First, there is this very short post, A Child of the Reformation.  It was my first ever Reformation Day post, which the Lutheran Pastor Will Weedon was kind enough to link to some 5 years ago: 

In my admittedly small mind there is really only one question about the validity of the Reformation of the Western Church:

Are God’s commands, threats, and punishments – His Hammer which shatters – to be proclaimed so that persons may see themselves as sinners – sinners who should then be given the confidence of faith – i.e. be actively persuaded via the Promise (Christ) that they have God’s forgiveness for all their sins (and hence, life and salvation) – even as they tremble?

Is this to continually occur in the life of the Christian, until death comes, or not? Is this pattern of “Law and Gospel” to be that which the heralds of God’s Word bring – or not? This, in my mind, is *the* question for the Church posed by the Reformation – and everything else flows from this.

[end first re-cycled post]

These days, I would rephrase that to say that this is *the main* question for the Church posed by the Reformation.  To this I add this post, Luther on Certainty of Salvation, first published in January of 2013:

Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, published in 1965, when Ecumenical hopes were high.

Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, published in 1965, when Ecumenical hopes were high.

In his book Luther and Aquinas on Salvation (1965), the Roman Catholic theologian Stephen Pfurgner nails Luther’s views  about what creates certainty in the Christian:

“To this notion of “grace” there corresponds also the manner in which I become certain of it.  For certainty does not come to me from any kind of reflection on myself or on my state.  On the contrary, it comes solely through hearing the Word, solely and because and in so far as I cling to the Word of God and its promise.  Certainty of grace for the believer therefore does not arise from a feeling of confidence; it is not psychological, as Catholic critics have often represented it.  Faith only as acceptance of the Word, effective of salvation, is for Luther the decisive source of certainty.  Not indeed that subjective experience is to be excluded: the experience of comfort can be incorporated in the certainty of salvation.  But God can withdraw feeling, at any rate for a time, without the confidence of faith being thereby dissolved.  A sense of comfort therefore is in no way the real basis for the certainty of salvation: this is the Word of God and the promise it includes.” (pp. 125 and 126)

To demonstrate this, he quotes Luther saying:

If you have received forgiveness of sins, do not on that account be secure (secures). You are just, holy, from outside yourself (extrinsece).  It is through mercy and compassion that you are just.  It is not my disposition or a quality of my heart, but something outside myself – the divine mercy – which assures us that our sins are forgiven” (WE 40 I, pp. 588f, in Pfurgner, 124, 125)

He also quotes Luther on how he teaches the certainty of grace or salvation:

[“We must daily more and more strive to get out of uncertainty into certainty and occupy ourselves with destroying at its root that utterly pernicious error”] (that man cannot know whether or not he is in a state of grace), by which the whole world is seduced.  If we doubt God’s grace and do not believe that God is well-pleased in us for Christ’s sake, then we are denying that Christ has redeemed us – indeed, we question outright all his benefits. (WE 40 I, p. 579, 17f, in Pfurgner, 37, and 120)

I would add here: holding to good and salutary thoughts like Luther’s here are not necessary for one’s personal salvation – but they are necessary!

Pfurgner also provides several other fine quotes on the topic from Luther’s Galatians commentary:

“Our ground is the following: The Gospel teaches us not to look to our good deeds and perfections, but to the God of promise, to Christ the Mediator himself.  The Pope on the other hand orders us not to look to the God of the promise, not to Christ the high-priest, but to our works and merits.  On that side there follow necessarily doubt and despair, but on this certainty and joy of spirit since I cling to God who cannot lie….” (WE 40 I, pp. 588f, in Pfurgner, 37)

Also this one where Luther emphasizes the “to me”:

“But do not pass over contemptuously the pronoun “nostris”, for it will avail thee nothing to believe that Christ offered himself for the sins of the other saints and to doubt in regard to thy own.  For the godless and the devils also believe that.  Much rather must thou accept with constant trust the fact that it holds also for thine and that thou art one of those for whose sins he was offered.  This faith justifies thee and makes Christ dwell, live and rule in thee.” (WE 40 I, p. 458, 20f, in Pfurgner, 37 and 38).

Pfurgner sums things up this way:

“Luther’s interpretation of Catholic teaching maintains therefore: the Roman Church (‘the Pope’) does not recognize the certainty of salvation.  It abandons the individual to doubt and despair.  For it bases justification on the works of men, on self-sanctification.  But by his own merits no man can become completely just before God.  It follows that he must remain in distress and turmoil of conscience.” (38)

[end second re-cycled post]

For more on the importance of this issue for Luther – and some more quotes from him on this very issue – be sure to see the re-cycled Reformation post from the other day, Forgiveness free and true: the crux of the Reformation, the essence of the Christian life.  For more on Pfurgner’s description of St. Thomas’ view on these matters – and a short critique of Thomas by me – see the post The felicitous* inconsistencies of St. Thomas.  For an exploration of the epistemological issues that seem to be at play here, see Knowledge first and foremost: baby King David vs. adult St. Thomas.


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Posted by on October 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Unchildlike Reformation Eve


Why did the doctrine of justification, articulated just as it was by Martin Luther, become absolutely essential in the Christian church?  Behold unchildlike Reformation Eve…  (first posted in Oct. of 2012)

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget, yet I [God] will not forget you.— Isaiah 49:15

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.– Psalm 131:2

…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.– Mark 10

“…in Mirror of a Christian Man[, on the ‘eve of the Reformation’,] a German priest named Dietrich Kolde lamented: ‘There are three things I know to be true that frequently make my heart heavy.  The first troubles my spirit, because I have to die.  The second troubles my heart more, because I do not know when.  The third troubles me above all.  I do not know where I will go.’”*

It would appear that Kolde would identify strongly with the first three stanzas of Thomas of Ce­la­no’s haunting 13th Cen­tu­ry hymn “Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning” (bold are mine for emphasis)

Day of wrath, O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophet’s warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning.
Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth
When from Heav’n the Judge descendeth
On Whose sentence all dependeth!

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck and nature quaking;
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.

Lo, the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded;
Thence shall judgment be awarded.
When the Judge His seat attaineth
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Law.  Judgment.  What we must do but have not.

Lutherans would contend that Martin Luther’s teachings simply emphasized the second half of this hymn, and cut through the popular theology of the day that was actually contradicting it.  In short, Luther made it possible for many in the church to have confidence once again in God’s mercy – and not their own deeds, empowered by the substance of “infused grace”:

What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding
When the just are mercy needing?
King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us.

Think, good Jesus, my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation!
Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
On the cross of suffering bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution
Ere that day of retribution!
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning:
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!

From that sinful woman shriven,
From the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing;
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

With Thy favored sheep, oh, place me!
Nor among the goats abase me,
But to Thy right hand upraise me.
While the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me, with Thy saints surrounded.

Low I kneel with heart submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition;
Help me in my last condition!
Day of sorrow, day of weeping,
When, in dust no longer sleeping,
Man awakes in Thy dread keeping!

Gospel.  Absolution.  What God does for real sinners who know their sin.

The response to Luther?

Dominican inquisitor of Cologne, Jacob Hochstraten speaking in 1526, sums up the “traditional Catholic teaching” on salvation, taking aim at Luther’s concept of “the joyous exchange, in which the holy Christ unites himself to the sinful creature and thus eradicates our sin by making it his own and replacing it in us with his own righteousness”:

“What else do those who boast of such a base spectacle do than make the soul… a prostitute and an adulteress, who knowingly and wittingly connives to deceive her husband [Christ] and, daily committing fornication upon fornication and adultery upon adultery, makes the most chaste of men a pimp?  As if Christ does not take the trouble… to choose…. a pure and honorable lover!  As if Christ requires from her only belief and trust and has no interest in her righteousness and her other virtues!  As if a certain mingling of righteousness with iniquity and of Christ with Belial were possible!”**

Meanwhile, Luther (laying aside Mr. Aristotle): “sinners are ‘attractive’ because they are loved; they are not loved because they are ‘attractive'” (Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 [post 95 theses])

So this is not a righteousness that we achieve, but that we receive, for it is a reprieve.

Therefore, its not even that God makes us worthy of His love.  Loving unworthy sinners by declaring us righteous upfront, He begins to make us worthy with His love.

Which means:

Christians are saved for good works, not saved by good works.

The Christian makes the works – the works don’t make the Christian.

The Christian reflects, not effects, their salvation.

The Christian inherits, not merits, eternal life.

The good tree produces good fruit, not vice-versa. (Luke 6:43)

The Christians is good because He belongs to God, not in order to belong to God.

We indeed may indeed be, as the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards said, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”.  But the greater word for those who fear God is this: We are sinners in the hands of a nursing God.***

And all the children say: “Amen!”


*Denis Janz, Three Reformation Catechisms: Catholic, Anabaptist, Lutheran (New York: Mellen, 1982), 127, quoted in Kolb and Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, p. 35

**Kolb and Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, p. 47


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Posted by on October 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


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:


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


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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