Thursday, May 25, 2006

Guest Blogger: Frank Marron (Lutheran)

From time to time I’d like to have some other voices take the helm. If you'd like to be involved- feel free to send me a testimony or a short essay at

I have greatly appreciated the writing and comments of Frank Marron. Frank has been stopping by this blog from the beginning, and I also dialoged with him on a Lutheran discussion board last year. His comments are always insightful and provocative. He has sent me a few articles that I plan on posting in the next few days.

Below is a short biography he gave on this blog earlier this week:

I was born and raised in a loving and devout Roman Catholic family. Today I am a communicant member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. As I reflect back on my life I recall many obstacles I encountered in leaving Roman Catholicism. In general these impediments were unfounded fear of the unknown: I knew that Protestants believed in Christ but somehow lacked the “fullness” or more complete revelations of Christian faith. I looked upon the many and various facets of Roman Catholicism, such as the heavy emphasis upon the long traditions of the church, reverence for past saints, the beautiful liturgical services, etc….

The break with Roman Catholicism started when my young wife and I requested our youngest child be baptized. The young priest insulted us unknowingly by saying that members of his congregation would have to testify that we were not degenerates! To a young couple this was a total insult. Eventually we attended a Lutheran Church and began reading the bible. Over time the Word of God began to change our perspectives and thoughts – from looking outward at the church to looking inward at our sin and need for a Savior. Through the Word of God we became Christocentric rather than church-centered.

It took time for my personal viewpoints on the virgin Mary to change. For the longest time I simply could not come to believe that Mary, although special in view of her child-the Christ, was similar to all human beings-a sinner in need of the Savior. Eventually my views on Mary changed and were also conformed by the Word of God to that of Christ-centered theological beliefs. But it took time.

Looking back over the years, I liken this change to a person who has been deprogrammed from a cult. My initial reactions were those of tremendous animosity at having been deceived for so many years. Eventually my attitude mellowed and now I look at my Roman Catholic family and friends as fellow Christians, but carrying heavy baggage with them in the form of false teachings and myths and legends.

As a Lutheran, I consider myself catholic, in the historic sense of that word. All the beautiful liturgy and history of the church is part of my inheritance. As my Lutheran Confessions state, I am a member of the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints. Although the similarities with Roman Catholicism exist, such as vestments, liturgies, infant baptism, the True Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, confession and absolution, the differences are striking. I am not a Protestant in the normal sense of the word. I am a Lutheran, an Evangelical Catholic. As Martin Luther and his fellow Reformers of the 16th century believed, we have retained the beautiful traditions and practices of the historic Christian Church and have eliminated only those contrary to Holy Scripture. We did not “throw out the baby with the bath water”.

Although the Roman Catholic Church has the Gospel and sacraments, the incorporation of many unscriptural practices and beliefs has often clouded the Word ofGod, resulting in a confusion between Law and Gospel. From my Lutheran perspective, the failure to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel is the primary reason for disagreements between Christians in general, resulting in a weakening of assurance.

-Frank Marron


James Swan said...

"Although the Roman Catholic Church has the Gospel and sacraments..."

I would argue that Rome, as it expresses herself in the decrees of Trent, does not teach the Gospel. This does not mean individual Roman Catholics are not Christians- I assume many are, this despite the official teachings of Rome.

I do not know how Lutherans in general side on this-

As to the sacraments- I would argue like Luther, that most of what they call "sacraments" are not Biblical sacraments. I believe that the sacrmaents they do hold, are not held in the same way as Lutherans- and definately not in the same way my Reformed church does.


Cajun Huguenot said...

Very interesting testimony.

I too have Roman Catholic roots and love the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. But I am now Reformed/Presbyterian (I got here after first going through a period as a Southern Baptist).

I did attend a LCMS church for a while and felt quite at home there.

Thanks for the testimony.

In Christ,

James Swan said...

Hi Kenith-

Thanks for stopping by- I've greatly enjoyed your blog, particularly some of your entries on Calvin, and also your work on perseverance. Ken's blog can be found here:


FM483 said...

James – I was wondering if someone would challenge me to clarify my statement regarding the Gospel and sacraments! As a youngster growing up in a Roman Catholic household, there was never a doubt that Jesus Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for my sins. The purity and simplicity of the Gospel was always there. Had I remained a Roman Catholic and received formal instruction in the teachings of that church, there is a good chance that I would have become confused and unsure of the Gospel since that church body(along with many others) confuse the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Nevertheless, the true Gospel is still resident within the Roman Catholic Church, although often obscure due to extraneous and unbiblical doctrines that have been absorbed over the centuries. This is why Martin Luther and the other 16th century Reformers complained: they simply wanted the historic church to purge itself of unbiblical beliefs and practices that had become institutionalized over the centuries. Sadly, a review of the 1994 edition of the Roman Catholic Catechism shows that not much has really changed over the past 500 years. The basic heresy of Arminianism still permeates Roman Catholic teachings and doctrines. This is the theological belief that man is not born totally spiritually depraved and can still do good works acceptable and recognized by God pertaining to salvation. The same debate between Martin Luther and Erasmus rages to this very day. This is due to a confusion between Law and Gospel and an inability to properly distinguish between the two. Nevertheless, I consider Roman Catholics as fellow heirs of the Kingdom if they believe in the simple and pure Gospel hidden in that church body. I cannot count them out of the Kingdom merely because they might hold extraneous beliefs in addition to the one true faith in Christ as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. For example, the Mormon Church obviously holds and teaches false doctrines concerning salvation. However, an individual Mormon may still actually believe the true Gospel, despite his church’s teachings. This is referred to as a “Felicitous Inconsistency”. The late pope could still be a fellow heir of the Kingdom of Heaven if he appealed to the atoning work of Christ alone on his deathbed. This is true, despite his church’s false teachings on Mariolatry, purgatory, and other matters. This is my hope and prayer: that men everywhere will come to the true knowledge of Christ alone as their Savior, despite what their particular denomination may teach.

Regarding the sacraments, I understand your objection to the seven-fold teachings within Catholicism. However, I was baptized within the Roman Catholic Church as an infant and that one baptism is valid. This is because it was done in accordance with the instructions of God: water in conjuction with the Word – the name of the true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is perhaps the one sacrament that has not been confused. The Lord’s Supper is still in the RCC, although confused with the introduction of Aristotelian philosophy(Transubstantiation).

Hence, I still maintain that the Roman Catholic Church has the Gospel and sacraments. There is an obscurity of the Gospel based upon the teachings and additional doctrines of the RCC, but the Gospel remains there, although hidden from the scholarly. Likewise, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still present, despite the introduction of human philosophy which confuses what Lutherans refer to as the True Presence of Christ, in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine. Obviously I do not consider the other 5 RC sacraments as true sacraments. This is due largely to their Arminian theology and emphasis upon works righteousness as opposed to the Grace of God alone. The great Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz, in his critique of the RC Council of Trent, spelled out the confusion the RCC has regarding Grace. The RCC considers Grace as a kind of power source that believers receive in order to please God and keep his commandments. The Scriptures clearly define Grace as the ATTITUDE of God towards sinners on account of His Beloved Son’s sacrifice on Calvary. Quite a difference this viewpoint makes in your belief system!

Sincerely – Frank Marron

James Swan said...

I consider Roman Catholics as fellow heirs of the Kingdom if they believe in the simple and pure Gospel hidden in that church body.

There is an obscurity of the Gospel based upon the teachings and additional doctrines of the RCC, but the Gospel remains there, although hidden from the scholarly.

Hi Frank,

My perspective is that Rome no longer affirms the gospel in its official teachings. In a book I’ve been reading by Jaraslov Pelikan, he said:

“Yet by his teaching of justification by faith, Luther stood in the continuity of the faithful in all generations. He was proclaiming the gospel by which and for which the church lives. The pope excommunicated him and condemned justification by faith alone. As far as Luther was concerned, the pope had thereby also condemned the gospel. And so, in Luther's eyes, it was Rome that had left Luther, and not Luther that had left Rome. As long as the Roman Church would tolerate the gospel it remained the church for Luther, despite its error. But when it condemned the gospel and forced Luther out, it became sectarian. If, as Luther maintained, the church is where the gospel is, then it followed that by condemning the gospel Rome was condemning the church. It was in this spirit, and not primarily in a spirit of boasting, that Luther said of Worms: 'Then I was the church!' Because he was contending for the gospel and the gospel made the church and Rome condemned the gospel, Rome had condemned the church as represented in this case by the church's loyal servant, Martin Luther. Luther believed he was standing for the same gospel for which the church had stood before it became corrupt and condemned him. When it condemned him, so he believed, it was forsaking the gospel to which it had previously been loyal, while he continued in his loyalty. Thus Rome turned its back on the church, while Luther remained with the church. Such was Luther's interpretation of what happened when he severed his relations with Rome.”

Source: Jaraslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964), 18.

Pelikan also notes:

“Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession made the most of this situation. One of the most penetrating discussions in the Apology is its analysis of the several doctrines of justification characteristic of its opponents. Among the various theories present in Western Catholic thought, the Reformers also claimed to find the ancestry of their own view. But instead of selecting this view or at least leaving it open as a possibility, the Council of Trent seemed to Chemnitz to select the extreme opposite, the Pelagian or at least semi-Pelagian doctrine. At the same time, Chemnitz repudiated any doctrine of 'nude imputation' and sought to root justification in the life,
death, and resurrection of Christ rather than in the absolute will of God. This stress upon the 'ordered' rather than the 'absolute' will of God set Chemnitz apart from many earlier opponents of moralistic teachings about justification.

By adopting this teaching and by anathematizing Luther's doctrine, Trent seemed to Chemnitz to be condemning not only the Protestant principle of Luther's Reformation, but considerable portions of the Catholic substance it purported to defend. For the weight of the Catholic tradition supported justification by grace alone without human merit, particularly if 'Catholic tradition' included, as it did for Chemnitz, not merely learned theology, but also 'all the prayers of the saints in which they ask to be instructed, illumined, and sanctified by God. By these prayers they acknowledge that they cannot have what they are asking for by their own natural powers.' With the weight of such tradition on his side, Chemnitz could accuse Trent of setting the unwritten tradition which it itself had invented against the 'true and certain traditions of the apostles'. Thus he demonstrated the truly traditional and Catholic character of the Reformation doctrine, implying that by closing the door to this doctrine Trent was making Rome a sect. Pointing to the antithesis between the Thomistic and the Scotistic views of justification, many Protestant scholars have come to conclusions that support Chemnitz, while recent Roman Catholic scholars tend to see the Tridentine decree on justification as a conciliatory statement.”

Source: Jaraslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964), 51-53.

I could launch into a bunch of quotes from Trent itself, but a reading of its decrees puts the Reformers and the RCC on different pages concerning the Gospel. While I grant that there are those within the RCC that are saved by faith in Christ alone- they are so despite the official teachings of Trent, which anathematized the gospel and teaches a different gospel. I think the early Reformers saw this clearly. I can appreciate ecumenical concerns, but the bottom line for me is that Rome officially teaches a different Gospel, as do the Mormons.

FM483 said...

James- Of course the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have increasingly confused and are often contrary to the Grace of God as shown in the pure Gospel. That was the point of my last comments: even though the RCC officially may be incorrect, the Gospel is still there underneath the surface, often hidden - except to children with simple minds. I was such a child. I experiencing true saving faith growing up in a Roman Catholic household - despite many of the obvious false teachings contained in that church body. But the Gospel still was there, because of the Grace of God, despite human failures. I heard the message that Jesus Christ died for my sins and believed this - not with my head so much as my heart. This is exactly what the Word of God says - that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of it's sin and creates saving faith through hearing the message(Romans 10:17).You see, from my theological perspective, much of Protestant Evangelicalism today adheres to the same incorrect theology of the medieval church at the time of Martin Luthr: they are largely Arminian in their theology, insisting that man has a part, albeit small, in his salvation. Just read the bestseller "The Purpose Driver Life" by author Rick Warren to see that this claim is true. He maintains that although God may have started us on the road to paradise, the real work is up to each individual, and our positions in the next life in heaven are based upon what we do while on earth- works righteousness. The emphasis is almost exclusively upon what man does. Apparently the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not the primary cause of our election and adoption as children of the Kingdom! How foolish! What parent loves their child in this manner - based upon their obedience? We are adopted into the family of God through no merit of our own, but purely because of the Grace of God. Infant baptism is a perfect illustration of this adoption: the child is incapable of earning any salvation or merit based upon his own works. Everything is due to the Grace of God and His works on our behalf. This entire treatise shows a confusion over Law and Gospel, no different than ancient medieval Roman Catholicism at the time of Luther. American Evangelicals have gone full circle in their theology - back to Rome - without even being aware of this fact. They may not have the robes, priesthood, candles, etc... - but their theology is distintively similar.

Yet, despite their theology, am I to claim that American Evangelicals are not fellow heirs of the Kingdom? It all depends upon whether they have the faith of a little child - that Jesus Christ died for their sins - despite the confusion of their theology! Another case of "Felicitous Inconsistencies".

James Swan said...

I appreciate the clarification- I don't have anything to add- as we're probably closer in agreement than I had originally thought.

Peter said...

I have came to this bloq after monitoring Patrick Madrid's Planet Envoy where James recently posted.

Why did Martin Luther remove seven books from the Bible? I was told that he also tried to remove the Book of James from the Bible referring to it as the "Epistle of straw." Is this true?


James Swan said...

Hi Peter-

I have written on the subject of Luther nad the canon many times- These links will provide you with detailed responses to your questions-

Thanks for stopping by-

Peter said...

Thanks James.