The great anniversary year will soon be history. Observance of the four hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Augustana and the four hundredth of the Book of Concord has taken a variety of forms, including a significant celebration in Augsburg itself, theological conferences in Germany, Australia, and elsewhere, and mass rallies in many of the more than six hundred circuits of our Synod. Whether these observances will prove to be more than "heiliges bimbam" remains to be seen. The past months definitely have called forth a reappraisal of the hopes of many that the Roman Catholic Church would officially recognize the Augsburg Confession. Interchange, the newsletter of the Lutheran Council in the USA, reports on a mid-May debate between Avery Dulles and George Lindbeck of Yale under the headline, "Debate Splashes Cold Water on Augustana Euphoria." The article quotes Dulles, a professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., as saying that Vatican acceptance of the Augustana "could be extremely confusing to both Catholics and Lutherans" because many of its tenets "contradict what the Catholic Church has been saying and doing for many centuries."
As Lutherans, we pray that the anniversary year will warm our hearts to the grandeur of our heritage and stimulate us to immersion in these great sixteenth century documents. In terms of our seminaries, we echo the pious wish of our fathers in the preface to the Book of Concord:
We desire particularly that the young men who are being trained for service in the church and for the holy ministry be faithfully and diligently instructed therein [namely, in Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and the Augsburg Confession], so that the pure teaching and confession of the faith may be preserved and perpetuated among our posterity through the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit until the glorious advent of our only Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ (Pref. to Book of Concord, par. 23).
And it is our prayer that the study that follows will contribute to a new appreciation of the relevance of our Lutheran Confessions for contemporary theology. We shall look at some aspects of "Evangelical theology" in the light of the cardinal principles of Lutheranism. The study, as we shall point out again a little later, will not be exhaustive. Yet it is a necessary task. Calvinistic and Arminian literature has flooded our church body, in part at least because of the vacuum of positive theological thought in our own church body during the days of our controversy. This Reformed literature is read. It is quoted. Unfortunately, it is frequently used without discriminating analysis by pastors, teachers, and lay people alike.
However, let us not get ahead of the story. An introductory word is necessary regarding the sola Scriptura principle of Lutheranism. It is cardinal, and in recent decades we have been driven by controversy to articulate very clearly what we mean by the authority of the Holy Scriptures. With our fathers "we are not minded to manufacture anything new . . . or to depart in any way, at all, either in content or in formulation, from the divine truth that our pious forebears and we have acknowledged and confessed in the past, for our agreement is based on the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures" (Pref. to Book of Concord, par. 25).
Of course, the battle about the Bible has not been limited to the antagonists of the Lutheran persuasion. The tempest swirling around Fuller Theological Seminary, the recent election in the Southern Baptist church body, and even the Hans Kung case are all related to the question of Scriptures, their origin, their authority, their role in the life of the church.
The perspective of even a few years enables us to see what the question is not. The question is not, as had been maintained by some during our own controversy, the questions of exegetical details in the first few chapters of Genesis. Indeed it goes far beyond the trite phrases used in describing the issue by religion reporters about a literal view of Scripture, six-day creation, Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, whether the children of Israel really walked between a wall of water, or whether Jonah was swallowed by a big fish.
Perhaps now where is the question at issue regarding Scripture more clearly delineated than in the volume published under the auspices of the Lutheran Council in the USA, titled Studies In Lutheran Hermeneutics. The volume contains essays delivered by theologians of the ALC, LCA, and LCMS in a series of conferences on "The Function of Doctrine and Theology, in Light of the Unity of the Church," convened by the Division of Theological Studies of the council between 1972 and 1977. The whole study is extremely helpful in understanding the real and serious doctrinal disagreements among Lutherans in this country.
In his essay, "Scripture and Word of God," Samuel H. Nafzger maintains:
The problem dividing North American Lutherans is far more serious than merely hermenutical discussion about how this or that text is to be interpreted. Rather, the important questions become: What is this book that is to be interpreted; Is it the very Word of God in the words of men, or is it only the fallible witness of human beings to God's revelation of himself in history, through which he somehow continues to speak? Is Scripture itself revelation, or is it only the occasion for revelation to take place once again? Is the root of the evil in theology the interchangeable use of the terms Scripture and Word of God (Semler), or is the root of the problem the wedge that has been drawn between them? (Studies in Lutheran Hermeneutics, p. 122).
Quoting freely from essays by ALC and LCA theologians, Nafzger states: "One searches through these essays in vain for any direct identification of Scripture and Word of God" (p. 119). While the status controversiae may be couched in different terms, Nafzger has identified the problem. How one answers the question of whether Scripture is Word of God must also determine whether one considers valid the use of historical criticism, which by definition is "inappropriate for application to the Word of God" (p. 123), a fact acknowledged by virtually all theological scholars.
The difference between the respective approaches of Reformed and Lutheran theology to Scripture will at least parenthetically be noted toward the close of this paper. For now we proceed to look at the two other cardinal principles of Lutheran Christianity: sola gratia and sola fide. No one denies that Lutheranism bares its soul in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession,
It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5 (AC, IV, 1-3).
Here is the article on which the church stands or falls, and all the Confessional Writings revolve around the theme of salvation by grace through faith, whether the articles in question deal with the church, the Sacraments, the ministry, original sin, or whatever.
Lutherans emphasize divine monergism. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth." "He hath made Him to be sin for us." Our Savior "is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost." God planned our salvation. God effected our salvation. God enables us to appropriate this salvation. He does it all!
For our purposes later, then, it is important to note the proper relation between justification and sanctification. On the one hand they must be distinguished, the one from the other. "For a terrified conscience cannot pit our works or our love against the wrath of God, but it finds peace only when it takes hold of Christ, the mediator, and believes the promises given for his sake" (Ap, XII, 64). So Melanchthon speaks time and time again in the Apology. Fifty years later those who followed him said the same thing: "Since the word 'regeneration' is sometimes used in place of 'justification,' it is necessary to explain the term strictly so that the renewal which follows justification by faith will not be confused with justification and so that in their strict senses the two will be differentiated from one another" (SD, III, 18).
This theme is emphasized again and again in this third article of the Formula. A few paragraphs later we read:
It is indeed correct to say that believers who through faith in Christ have been justified possess in this life, first, the reckoned righteousness of faith and, second, also the inchoate righteousness of the new obedience or of good works. But these two dare not be confused with one another or introduced simultaneously into the article of justification by faith before God. For because this inchoate righteousness or renewal in us is imperfect and impure in this life on account of the flesh, no one can therewith and thereby stand before the tribunal of God (SD, III, 32).
When we say, however, that justification and sanctification must be distinguished, it is equally true that they dare not be separated.
When a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably disposed to him because of Christ, this personal faith obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us. In penitence and the terrors of conscience it consoles and encourages our hearts. Thus it regenerates us and brings us the Holy Spirit, so that we can finally obey God's law, love him, truly fear him, be sure that he hears us, and obey him in all afflictions. It mortifies our lust (Ap, IV, 45).
The apostle says it so simply in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." He does not say that he is capable of becoming a new creature or that he will become a new creature or might become a new creature, but he states definitely that he is a new creature. "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
As an "aside" we mention that the ability to distinguish without thereby separating is basic throughout theology to a proper distinction between Law and Gospel. For example, the accusatory function of the Law must be distinguished from its didactic function. Yet the two cannot be separated. Even as the Law instructs us in the holy will and Law of God, it continually reminds us that we have failed to live up to its demands. It "always accuses." Yet Article VI of the Formula of Concord clearly distinguishes between the two, A failure to distinguish involves a denial of the third use of the Law. A separation of the two easily leads to a "code book" approach to the exhortations of the Law that may keep us from "daily contrition and repentance" and from a continual return to the vivifying and motivating power of the Gospel.
We proceed now to look at the Evangelicals in the light of these cardinal principles of Lutheranism. Who .are these Evangelicals? Many definitions have been given. In his book What We Evangelicals Believe, David Allen Hubbard, professor of Old Testament and president at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, lists ten points in the "Statement of Faith" of Fuller. We shall look specifically at one of these points a little later. David F. Wells and John D. Woodbridge, in their book The Evangelicals-What They Believe, Who They Are, Where They Are Changing, point to Sidney Alstrom's definition of the Evangelicals, who in his six points includes the Evangelicals' emphasis on the experiential dimension of being or becoming a Christian. The August 1980 Gallup Poll narrowed the definition of an Evangelical to three exclusive criteria: "They claim to have had a 'born again' experience. They have presented their faith to others in order to win them to believe in Jesus Christ. They take a literal interpretation of the Bible which they accept as the authoritative Word of God."
Regardless of how Evangelical theology is defined, at least two points are always mentioned, as cited in The Gospel in America by Woodbridge, Noll, and Hatch:
1. The conviction that people need to have a proper relationship with God, a relationship that can be brought about only when God forgives their offenses against himself and transforms us into people who can love Him and do the things that please Him, and 2. The conviction that the Bible has the last word on what man's responsibilities to God are and how God has provided a way for mankind to meet His demands and enjoy His friendship. In theological jargon, evangelicals believe in justification by faith alone and in a uniquely infallible Bible.
Particularly the last sentence sounds excellent. But how does it work out in practice? Is "Evangelical theology" truly "Lutheran"? Is it synonymous with Lutheran theology? Is it at the least compatible with Lutheran theology? Mind you, we will not deal with questions about millennialism, nor will we talk about the sorry denigration of the Sacraments (a subject that deserves special treatment among us, for whom the Sacraments are true means of grace). We shall focus specifically on some of the "catch" phrases used in Evangelical appeals, phrases that impinge upon "grace alone" and "faith alone." In short, does Evangelical theology truly uphold, as Woodbridge, Noll, and Hatch affirm, a belief in "justification by faith alone"? Does it emphasize salvation "by grace alone"?
Some of the expressions that are found frequently in Evangelical theology, particularly in confrontation evangelism, tend to separate justification and sanctification. One of them goes something like this: "You have called Jesus Christ Savior; now call Him Lord." The theological mind-set that this expression represents is one that assumes there can be a true faith without a corresponding change in life. It assumes that man will at one time accept the free and unmerited favor of God, and then, perhaps after days or months or years of internal struggle and as a result of fervent study, pious prayers, and anxious hand wringing say, "Jesus Christ is Lord."
Granted, we need to see the lordship of Christ in every part of our lives more evident than it is. We never reach perfection and never make Him Lord of our lives to the extent that we would like. Yet we confess Him as our Lord not only because we confessed Him as our Savior, but when we confessed Him as our Savior. Saving faith regenerates. Faith and works dare not be separated. To say less is to build a "class Christianity" that in separating justification from sanctification confounds Law and Gospel.
The Formula of Concord, in connection with the controversy about the place of good works in the life of a Christian, quotes Luther in his "Preface to the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans." The great Reformer says:
Faith is a divine work in us that transforms us and begets us anew from God, kills the Old Adam, makes us entirely different people in heart, spirit, mind, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. Oh, faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good. Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active. . . . It is therefore as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate heat and light from fire (SD, IV, 10, 11).
Luther's words are simply an amplification of 2 Corinthians 5:17, mentioned above.
Again, people today like to speak about the "carnal Christian" and the "Spirit-filled Christian." Others, including some of the leaders of the Church Growth movement, affirm that there are "believers" and there are "disciples." This kind of terminology seeks to deal with the problem of the Christian as old man and new man, with the fact that we still have clinging to us that old beast inherited from father Adam. We know that the Christian life involves seeking, in the power of God and by the motivation of the Gospel, to drown the old man and by daily contrition and repentance to walk in newness of life.
As we think of this struggle and tension, it is true that one Christian is stronger than another in his faith and life. One has reached a higher level of sanctification than has the other. One is far more eager to witness, is more diligent in prayer, is more liberal in his offerings to the Lord, is far more helpful to his neighbor. Further more, it is true that at one time a Christian feels much stronger in faith than at another. Today he feels so much more plagued by the pressures and inclinations of his sinful flesh whereas yesterday he felt so close to God and so empowered by the Spirit, so conscious of His indwelling.
Once again, our Confessions acknowledge this freely and clearly in the Second Article of the Formula of Concord. As the fathers discuss the question of free will they say:
There is not only a great difference between Christians, one being weak and the other strong in the Spirit, but even the individual Christian in his own life discovers that at one moment he is joyful in the Spirit and at another moment fearful and terrified, at one time ardent in love, strong in faith and in hope, and at another time cold and weak (SD, II, 68).
However, we must affirm in the strongest possible terms that there are not three kinds of people in the world. It is not that there are heathen people, carnal Christians, and Spirit-filled Christians; or, heathen people, believers, and disciples. There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are Christian and those who are not, those who have the Spirit of God and those who do not. The Scriptures themselves remind us, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9). No Christian is without the Spirit, and no Christian is completely filled with the Spirit. Only of Jesus Christ can it be said that He had the Spirit without measure.
The reference of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 3 ("Ye are yet carnal") refers to the factions in the church and to their attitude in this area of life. In this instance they are acting carnally. The apostle, however, has no intention of making the difference between Christian people one of kind rather than of degree. How careful we must be not to cloud the clear and beautiful message that we are saved alone by the grace of God for the sake of the merits of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior, and that this Gospel message is power for new life. Lutheran Christianity is Biblical when it stresses the vis vere divina of the Word.
Dallas Willard, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, has a very timely article in the October 10, 1980 issue of Christianity Today with the arresting title, "Discipleship: For Super-Christians Only?" His main thesis, printed just below the title, is that "the anemic influence of Christians reflects their contemporary notion of conversion apart from obedience."
Obviously Willard's concern is different from the one expressed here. However, he does see the problem in separating faith from life and illustrates it by reference to a widely-used book, The Lost Art of Disciple Making, which presents the Christian life on three levels: the convert, the disciple, and the worker. Lo and behold, now there are four kinds of people in the world. Evangelism produces converts, follow-up turns people into disciples, and equipping produces workers. Disciples and workers evangelize the converts, but only workers can make disciples. This kind of computerizing of the faith is more than artificial. It makes one downright dizzy.
We must agree with Willard's conclusion: "The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian-especially padded, textured, or streamlined and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. He stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the kingdom of God."
This whole business is not going on in some corner of Christendom. It has invaded the LCMS, and I must confess more than a little nervousness when I read an eight-page piece written in preparation for our Great Commission Convocation that talks about the discipling of the Great Commission almost exclusively in terms of sanctification. For example, this paper states:
Discipling means searching out people who appear ready to disciple. It means having a simple process, perhaps no more than a Disciple's Card which passes from one person to another as a means of showing that they have passed from Membership to Discipleship. It may state a number of commitments which are the criteria for such passage.
Notice what is going on here. We pass from membership to discipleship. And how do we know that we are disciples and no longer simply members? We make a number of commitments." Perhaps the writer simply expressed himself poorly, but the danger inherent to sola gratia in that language is evident.
Other expressions in Evangelical theological literature frequently fail to distinguish between justification and sanctification. This is no less serious than a separation of the two. What does it mean, for example, when people couch the evangelistic call in terms such as, "If you will surrender your life to Christ, God will forgive your sins"? What is this if it is not making God's forgiveness dependent on our commitment, our works?
Paul and Silas did not tell the jailer at Philippi that he should commit his life to God if he wanted to be saved, though the jailer's action in taking the two of them to his home and washing their wounds indicates that saving faith did have its fruit. They told him, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:3 1). The father of the prodigal did not grill his son as to whether or not he had finally taken God into his heart and life, but simply received the obviously repentant sinner to his bosom.
The antitheses of Article III of the Formula are very strong. The confessors reject what they call "the contrary doctrine," namely, "that faith indeed has the most prominent role in justification, but that also renewal and love belong to our righteousness before God, not indeed as if it were the primary cause of our righteousness, but that nevertheless our righteousness before God is incomplete and imperfect without such love and renewal" (Ep, III, 20). Again, they reject any notion "that believers are justified before God and saved both by the righteousness of' Christ reckoned to them and by the incipient new obedience, or in part by the reckoning to them of Christ's righteousness and in part by our incipient new obedience" (Ep, 111, 21). Among errors "which cannot be tolerated in the Church" the confessors mentioned the following: "That our righteousness before God does not consist wholly in the unique merit of Christ, but in renewal and in our own pious behavior" (Ep, XII, 5).
In this connection the wording of Hubbard's sixth article in the "Statement of Faith" is significant. It states:
The Holy Spirit, through the proclamation of the gospel, renews our hearts, persuading us to repent of our sins and confess Jesus as Lord. By the same Spirit we are led to trust in divine mercy, whereby we are forgiven all our sins, justified by faith alone through the merit of Christ our Savior, and granted the free gift of eternal life (p. 98).
On the one hand Hubbard wishes to affirm sola gratia ("the free gift of eternal life") and sola fide ("justified by faith alone"). Yet he places the confession of Jesus as Lord and the turning away from sin prior to the trust which accepts divine mercy. The latter he refers to as "the Spirit's further work" (emphasis mine). Pages 99-114 deserve a careful reading.
Again, Evangelical theology frequently urges "putting Jesus on the throne of your life." No doubt about it, this exhortation is in place in the area of sanctification. This is in fact our daily resolve, to put Jesus on the throne of our life, that He might be that One whose love for us affects the way we spend our money, the way we live in the family circle, the way we choose our friends, the way, in which we conduct our business, the very way in which life itself is lived. Yet how carefully we must be that we do not use this exhortation as some kind of prerequisite for finding the favor of God or as something that precedes saving faith or as that which constitutes conversion.
I have observed this approach again and again in "Evangelical" materials. Some months ago my wife came home with some Bible class materials from church, written by an "Evangelical." At the close of one chapter of Philippians the students were asked what they should do on the basis of Paul's words. The answer suggested was: 1) Repent of your sins; 2) Put Jesus on the throne of your life; 3) Accept His pardon and forgiveness. Notice the order: first put Jesus on the throne of your life, then accept God's pardon. It doesn't happen that way, not if we are saved by grace through faith, not unless it is possible for those not yet regenerated to do good works.
The fathers speak so plainly to this matter in the Formula of Concord as they talk about the righteousness, which avails before God: "On what did the righteousness of Abraham before God, whereby he had a gracious God and was pleasing and acceptable to him to eternal life, rest? To this he answers: 'To one who does not work, but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Rom. 4:5, 6)'" (SD, III, 33-34). The fathers go on to say:
From this it follows that although converted persons and believers possess the beginning of renewal, sanctification, love, virtues, and good works, these should and must not be drawn or mingled into the article of justification before God, in order to preserve the glory due to Christ, the redeemer, and, because our new obedience is imperfect and impure, in order to supply tempted consciences with abiding comfort" (SD, 111, 35).
Dr. Walther also speaks to this matter in that thesis of Law and Gospel in which he repudiates the disposition "to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God." He says:
Here is the Biblical doctrine: The sinner is to come to Jesus just as he is, even when he has to acknowledge that there is nothing but hatred of God in his heart, and he knows of no refuge to which he may flee for salvation. A genuine preacher of the Gospel will show such a person how easy his salvation is: Knowing himself a lost and condemned sinner and unable to find the help that he is seeking, he must come to Jesus with his evil heart and his hatred of God and God's Law; and Jesus will receive him as he is. It is His glory that men say of Him: Jesus receives sinners. He is not to become a different being, he is not to become purified, he is not to amend his conduct, before coming to Jesus. He who alone is able to make him a better man is Jesus; and Jesus will do it for him if he will only believe (pp. 236f.).
Again, how often the appeal is made to "make a decision for Christ." Yes, there are many calls to decision in the Scriptures. Joshua, shortly before his death, called the people of God to decision when he said in that oft quoted passage, "Choose ye this day whom you will serve. . . . As for me and my house, we will serve the lord" (Joshua 24:15). Jesus called the people to decision when He said, "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). Paul and Silas called the jailer at Philippi to decision.
These calls to decision, however, do not imply that man by his own powers can "choose" or "believe." If sola gratia is to be maintained, then we must firmly assert that there is nothing in man that enables him by his own powers to accept God's gracious offer. Luther nailed that down pretty well in the Explanation of the Third Article of the creed. These calls to decision are God's way of creating within the heart the very response which the call to decision desires. There are not three cooperating forces working for the salvation of men: the Spirit, the Word, and man's consenting will. There are only two cooperating forces, and these are the Spirit and the Word.
As you know, that was the very issue in the so-called synergistic controversy following the death of Luther. One of the strongest and clearest passages in all of the Confessions is found in the Second Article of the Formula of Concord, a passage that completely eliminates any thought of spiritual free will for unconverted man:
We believe that in spiritual and divine things the intellect, heart, and will of unregenerated man cannot by any native or natural powers in any way understand, believe, accept, imagine, will, begin, accomplish, do, effect, or cooperate, but that man is entirely and completely dead and corrupted as far as anything good is concerned. Accordingly, we believe that after the Fall and prior to his conversion not a spark of spiritual powers has remained or exists in man by which he could make himself ready for the grace of God or to accept the proffered grace, nor that he has any capacity for grace by and for himself or can apply himself to it or prepare himself for it, or help, do, effect, or cooperate toward his conversion by his own powers, either altogether or half-way or in the tiniest or smallest degree (SD, II, 7).
Indeed, faith saves not because it is any kind of good work at all, but solely because it holds to the proffered mercy of a good and gracious God in Christ. Listen once again to the fathers as they save, "Faith does not justify because it is so good a work and so God pleasing a virtue, but because it lays hold oil and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel" (SD, III, 13). Almost the identical words are used in the fourth article of the Apology.
These words of our fathers are simply an explication of Romans 4:16: "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace." Faith and grace are correlative. Faith holds to a promise. A promise implies grace, as Melanchthon expounds seemingly without end in the Apology.
Geoffrey Paxton, in an article titled "The Evangelical's Substitute" (Present Truth, vol. 3, no. 5, 1974), says, "What Satan has done is to bring about a change of emphasis in our thinking and preaching which shifts the focus from the unique saving history of Jesus (the experiences of Jesus) to the history (the experiences) of the believer."
John H. Gerstner, quoted in the Wells and Woodbridge book mentioned earlier, states that well into the nineteenth century "evangelicalism was God's way of salvation, not only in the offering of it to men but in the applying of it to their hearts as well. Last century, however, the evangelicals began to be seen more as the divine offer of grace and not so much as the divine application of grace" (p. 35). He is correct in saying that the enlarged and changed notion of human responsibility in the methodology of Moody, Sunday, and Graham has had its effect. "The price which has had to be paid is a diminished doctrine of grace" (p. 28).
The above critique has been somewhat polemical. It was intended to be. We should not move on, however, without a positive note. The positive note is to thank God that in spite of the inconsistencies to be found among those who want to preserve "justification by faith" while confounding Law and Gospel, many souls have been brought to Christ through their ministry. Many, having heard of their great need for Christ and having been pointed to the cross, have in fact been truly converted. The Spirit has wiped from their soul any thought of their own merit, their commitment, their "discipleship" as a cause of their salvation.
Before a concluding word to us Lutherans, permit five observations on the above material:
1. Expressions which link the renewal of life to our justification, even when made by those who want to uphold sola gratia and sola fide, should not surprise us. The idea that man can contribute something, either by his free will in accepting or by his renewal of life, is extremely attractive to all of us. It is part of the opinio legis that will cling to us as long as we live. We, too, want to ascribe everything to God's free grace and favor, but our sinful flesh is not hesitant to whisper, "Of course it won't hurt that you are at the seminary, studying to be one of God's ministers." If we are not to be ignorant of Satan's devices, let us also not be ignorant of the devices of the flesh.
2. Any separation of justification and sanctification or failure to distinguish between the two leads either to pharisaism or despair. Pharisaism tells us that we indeed "have it made" because we have committed our life to Christ, or because we have put Jesus on the throne of our life, or because we are "Spirit-filled." Despair is the result when one examines the heart and must confess that he hasn't fully committed his life to Christ ¾ why he just said a curse word yesterday ¾ and so therefore the proffered grace of God must not be his.
3. The aberrations of much confrontation evangelism may pose a greater threat to true evangelical Christianity than the relativizing of Scriptures and the Confessions by proponents of the historical-critical method of Bible study, and that for two reasons. For one thing, the false doctrine inherent in so many of the phrases of Evangelical theology is harder to detect. If someone denies that Jesus walked on water or turned water into wine, or states that we can know very little about what actually happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, this kind of theological mischief is immediately obvious, even to the most uninformed in the pew. However, when people come with a very high view of Scripture and speak much of the blood of Christ and even affirm "justification by faith alone" and then mingle elements of sanctification into the area of justification, the unwary reader or listener may well be led astray into the old paths of work righteousness.
Furthermore, this mingling of or separation of justification and sanctification strikes at the very heart of the Gospel. No, we do not underestimate the danger to the soul when the complete authority of the Scriptures as Word of God is questioned. The fact that some persons do not carry historical-critical methodology to its logical conclusions, but instead at some point "remember their confirmation vow" (as one radical proponent described the inconsistency of believing practitioners), does not minimize the danger. However, in what greater jeopardy can the sinner be placed than to have "grace" and "faith" extolled in principle but in effect denied in the evangelistic appeal?
4. There is only one step ¾ and that a short step ¾ between some of the aberrations noted above and the pitfalls of the charismatic movement. When once the experiential dimension of being or becoming a Christian is overemphasized and the objective character of Biblical theology is minimized, it then is a very easy thing to look for "signs" that will confirm our "commitment," or our "putting Jesus on the throne of our life" and our being "Spirit-filled." Moreover, most frequently these signs are "found" in the gifts of the Spirit within us, rather than in the promises of God extra nos. We believe, however, that the promises of God are "Yea and Amen," and that they are there for us, regardless of whether we are on a spiritual "high" or whether we seem to be hanging "between heaven and hell," as Luther described it.
5. This writer hopes that what has been said here will be reviewed in the light of the different approaches to Scripture by Lutherans and by the Reformed. The approach differs, even though both may affirm inerrancy and understand inerrancy in the same way.
The difference stems from a different starting point. At the heart of Reformed theology is the sovereignty of God. At the heart of Lutheran theology is the grace of God. The latter evokes, first of all, faith and trust, the former obedience.
It is not surprising then that many Evangelicals, with Reformed background, begin the theological task with the sovereign God who reveals Himself. He reveals Himself, so they go on, in the Scriptures. These Scriptures are inerrant. We accept them as inerrant, and so we also accept their central message of redemption. In addition, because the Bible is the Word of God, we agree to follow and obey its laws.
While we as Lutherans do not deny that God reveals Himself in the Scripture, our grace-oriented theology emphasizes God's self-revelation in His Son and the precious Gospel message. Therefore, we do not proceed from the Scriptures to the Gospel, even though the former is norm for the latter. We begin with the Gospel, and the same God who has led us to the conviction of our sins and of our Savior Jesus Christ has also led us to the conviction that the Scriptures, which bring us Christ, are completely reliable. Therefore, having made the full circle, we can indeed say, "Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so." There is a different chemistry at work, however¾ a process that under God maintains both in principle and in practice sola gratia and sola fide, as well as sola Scriptura. How much these divergent approaches to Scripture account for the tension between "Evangelical" theology in our day and Lutheranism would make an interesting study of itself.
In conclusion, while our treatment of the cardinal principles of Lutheranism and Evangelical theology has been somewhat polemical, pray God we will not permit the devil to sow the seeds of' unwarranted pride. Satan has his shaft and arrows for each and everyone. If we are not tempted to the "Yea, hath God said?" of liberalism, we are not tempted to dead orthodoxy. And if we have not "left our first love," he tempts us to mingle justification and sanctification. If that is not the case, he would lead us, as he did our first parents, to "enthusiasm" or to the extremes of the charismatic movement. Even our rejection of any mingling of justification and sanctification may be an occasion for the temptation to retreat not only from pietism but from piety. Indeed, having sought diligently to rid the article of salvation of any reliance on our works, we dare not retreat from piety when repudiating pietism.
The anniversary year will soon be history. Let us hope that having been brought a renewed appreciation of our heritage and a renewed sense of the relevance of our Lutheran Confessional Writings, we shall truly be students of those Confessions, rejoicing in the cardinal principles of Lutheranism as they are drawn from the Scriptures and striving under God to be more effective instruments of God's Holy Spirit, "rightly dividing the word of truth."
Dr. Barth, President of the South Wisconsin District, delivered this address October 22, 1980 on our campus as a Riess Lecture, which each year is devoted to "the cardinal truths of Lutheranism" and is funded by the Reverend and Mrs. Oswald G. L. Riess of Hamburg, Michigan.
Permission is granted for reproduction by the publisher of Concordia Journal (March, 1981) a magazine of Concordia Seminary-St. Louis.
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