Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Look at Justification By Faith Alone and Good Works in Luther’s Theology

An excerpt from: *Did Luther Say: Be A Sinner And Sin Boldly?*

More than a few Catholic authors have accused Luther of teaching a wanton lawlessness of sinning boldly. It is a common charge against him. Some argue, if justification is by faith alone, aren’t Christians free to sin as much they want? People need not concern themselves with how they live their lives; God has forgiven all their sins. It is probably the case that Luther simply invented the doctrine of justification by faith alone in order to justify his immoral life.

Does justification by faith alone provide a license for sin? Luther was acutely aware of this allegation. In a sermon, he summarized the charge leveled against him: “Where the Gospel begins to loose the conscience of its own works, it seems to forbid good works and the keeping of the law. It is the common speech of all the teachers of the law, and of the scribes and doctors, to say: If all our works amount to nothing and if the works done under the law are evil, we will never do good. You forbid good works and throw away God's law; you heretic, you…wish to make bad people free.”

Luther understood that even our best efforts were tainted with sin. If God demands perfection in order for one to be justified before Him, no one would ever be justified. For Luther, justification was actually totally of works, but those works were perfect and performed by the perfect savior, Jesus Christ. These works are acquired by faith, imputed to the sinner. Luther says, “[I]f you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ's own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf.”

For Luther grace, faith, and the work of Christ are essential ingredients that justify, and that justification is a gift as well as the very faith involved. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.” But isn’t the Roman Catholic charge against Luther valid? If God judges a man by Christ’s perfect works, why should any Christian ever care about leading a righteous life? If grace, faith, and justification are God’s gifts, what is left for us to do? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Paul answers for Luther in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” Faith performs good works, not to keep one justified, but out of heartfelt gratitude to God graciousness. Salvation is unto good works. Note what this means: good works are not unto eventual salvation. We are saved in order to perform good works, not by performing them.

"Faith,” wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” Luther scholar Paul Althaus notes: “[Luther] also agrees with James that if no works follow it is certain that true faith in Christ does not live in the heart but a dead, imagined, and self-fabricated faith." The book of James describes a real true faith in Christ: a real saving faith is a living faith. If no works are found in a person, that faith is a dead faith (c.f. James 2:17). James then describes a dead faith: the faith of a demon. A demon has faith that God exists, that Christ rose from the dead- I would dare say a demon knows theology better than you or I. But is the faith of this demon a saving faith? Absolutely not. Luther says, “Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith…”

But what are good works then? Luther abhorred the pseudo-works perpetuated by “devout” Roman Catholics. Pilgrimages, idolatry, monkery, self-denials, etc., which were considered “good works” one does for oneself on the road to eventual salvation. These works take one down a completely opposite road. Luther said of these alleged works:

How they mislead people with their good works! They call good works what God has not commanded, as pilgrimages, fasting, building and decorating their churches in honor of the saints, saying mass, paying for vigils, praying with rosaries, much prattling and bawling in churches, turning nun, monk, priest, using special food, raiment or dwelling,-who can enumerate all the horrible abominations and deceptions? This is the pope's government and holiness.”

Luther defines good works as those “works that flow from faith and from the joy of heart that has come to us because we have forgiveness of sins through Christ.” Only what God commands is a good work: “Everybody should consider precious and glorious whatever God commands, even though it were no more than picking a wisp of straw from the ground.” Works aren’t done because we want salvation and fear damnation. Luther says, “…[W]e are not to do them merely because we fear death or hell, or because we love heaven, but because our spirit goes out freely in love of, and delight in, righteousness.” Luther plainly teaches that saving faith is a living faith.

Luther taught a life under the cross, which is a life of discipleship of following after Christ. Our crosses though, do not save. They serve the neighbor. We are called to be neighbor to those around us. Luther says,

We receive Christ not only as a gift by faith, but also as an example of love toward our neighbor, whom we are to serve as Christ serves us. Faith brings and gives Christ to you with all his possessions. Love gives you to your neighbor with all your possessions. These two things constitute a true and complete Christian life; then follow suffering and persecution for such faith and love, and out of these grows hope and patience.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On The Sacraments and "Reason": Differences Between Lutherans and the Reformed

I was sent an e-mail last week asking me about Luther's view of baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Lutheran distinctive of the paradox of faith. I thought i'd share part of my response:

I realize there is chasm between Lutherans and the Reformed on Baptism and the Lord's Supper. I have had Lutherans in the past really tear me to shreds for not agreeing with their view, even telling me it wasn't too late for me to repent and be saved. My church does baptize infants, but we do not understand the meaning of that sacrament in the same way as Lutherans (I realize that the Lutheran view is not the Roman Catholic view-I wish Roman Catholics would grip this fact as well).

The Lord's Supper
In regard to the Lord's Supper, my view would be that of Calvin's. Some are probably familiar with Calvin's view, and know that it isn't a "memorial" like Zwingli's position. I did try to cover this on the blog a few months ago, albeit, with some over-simplicity:

Understanding Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin on the Lord’s Supper (Part One)

Understand Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin on the Lord's Supper (Part Two)

Understanding Luther, Zwingli and Calvin on the Lord’s Supper (Part 3)

John Calvin's View of the Lord's Supper


Paradox vs. Reason
One thing I both admire and scratch my head over is the notion of paradox vs. reason in Lutheran theology. I admire Luther and his disdain for Aristotelian logic being applied to the Scriptures- and I have reached a similar disdain as well when I see writers or ministers attempting to make God "make sense" rather than simply "letting God be God." In my own Bible, I have little notes pointing out "Glory vs. Cross" or paradox when I find them in Scripture. Often I find something that seems "rational" in the Bible, is only so because i've read it so often that it has lost its depth of profoundness. One needs to step back at times and attempt to read the Biblical text with freshness. A good understanding of Luther's disdain for "reason" and his theological paradoxes can be a big aid for reading the Bible with freshness.

I also realize that the Bible teaches things like the Trinity, which no matter how human reason tries to figure it out, it never will. Same thing with the Deity and humanity of Christ. A great Lutheran book on this that I have is by Seigbert Becker, The foolishness of God: The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther. If you don't have this book, it is one of the best treatments of the subject I've ever read.

On the other hand, I use the notion of paradox, or "beyond reason" only when Scripture demands it. Saying something is "beyond reason" or saying a biblical concept "does not fit into a logical system of theology" sometimes overlooks the fact that one must use reason to arrive at this point, and one also has to actually have an underlying logical system of theology by which to classify a particular biblical concept in such a way. I don't mean to caricature Luther or Lutheran theology- I realize that neither Luther or Lutheranism denies the correct use of reason or systematic theology. I often have to point this out to Roman Catholics when they attack Luther's comments on the "whore of reason".

Probably whatever differences I would have with the Lutherans would be on “what” characterizes a particular doctrine being “beyond reason”. Further, the differences would probably be on the interpretation of particular doctrines we would both find to be "beyond reason". for instance, I find certain aspects of the atonement "beyond reason", and most Lutherans do as well. But, given my discussions with Lutherans in the past, we would not agree as to what nuances of the atonement are "beyond reason". In many instances, simply by comparing Scripture with Scripture, and using the paradigm that the clearer texts interpret the "less-clear", one can come to an understanding of a Biblical concept, without stripping a doctrine of its mystery and paradox.

BaptismIn regard to Luther's view of baptism, I haven't done a lot of work in this area, but I have a cursory familiarity with his view, and the following comes from my seminary notes. Lutherans are welcome to correct me if I have not stated Luther's view correctly.

Luther held the sacraments are a form of the Word. Luther believed that the Word of God was oral, written, and sacramental. The Word comes to change our hearts, minds, reason, and will.

Luther said:

We shall now return to the Gospel, which offers council and help against sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich in his grace: First, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin (the peculiar function of the Gospel) is preached to the whole world; second, through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren expression of God’s love.”

Luther said,

He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” he was calling forth the faith of those who were to be baptized, so that by this word of promise a man might be certain of his salvation if he was baptized in faith.”

What this means is that if one is baptized in faith, they have received one of the promises that God will be their savior. It is His promise to us that he will save those with faith. Luther is showing that Word of promise is the power of God unto salvation, not works of penance. Baptism establishes that we are children of God.

Luther argued that the validity of the promise does not rest on faith. Faith is simply the response. It grasps and makes use of the benefits, but the promise of God is there. Christ saves, not faith. Faith only receives the salvation Christ gives. Luther believed that God, through the power of His Word, establishes the relationship with His people.

Luther also believed in infant faith. It is a mystery. The Word of God changes the hearts of adults who are ungodly, resisting His grace. If that Word can change the heart of conscious rejecting adults, then surely in can change the heart of an infant.

Luther believed there were historical arguments in favor of infant baptism. First, He cited examples from the early church. God therefore had used infant baptism in every age to sanctify his people. If God had done this in every age, he was certain He would continue.

Secondly, Luther admitted to no specific biblical command to baptize children, but he noted there was no specific prohibition to baptize infants (the biblical command to baptize “all nations, and “all households” factored into his thinking).

Thirdly, he also took the passage that said “we must be like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God” very seriously. This is the model of entrance into the kingdom of God that Christ chose. To enter the kingdom of God like a little child is to receive the kingdom of God simply as a gift.

As an aside, I recently read Luther's comments on baptism and his use of Mark 16 as a strong prooftext. I would argue that the last verses of Mark 16 are probably not Scripture, hence I would not base any theological opinion on them.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Did Augustine Really Affirm Purgatory in “The City Of God” Book 21?

I’ve been reading a book from the 17th Century by John Daill’e, A Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers in the Decision of Controversies Existing at This Day in Religion [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856].

In Chapter IV, Daill’e posits that many of the writings of the Early Church Fathers have been corrupted: “The writings of the Fathers, which are considered legitimate, have been in many places corrupted by time, ignorance, and fraud, pious and malicious, both in the early and later ages” (p.61).

One example Daill’e gives is from St. Augustine’s City Of God:

“…[T]hat which is observed by Vives upon the twenty-first Book of Augustine de Civitate Dei; namely, that ten or twelve lines, which we find at this day in the twenty-fourth chapter of that Book, containing a positive assertion of purgatory, were not to be found in the ancient manuscripts of Bruges, and of Cologne; no, nor yet in that of Paris, as noted by those that printed Augustine, anno 1531” (p.69-70).

I haven’t had time to investigate Daille’s claim, and I only mention it in the hope that someone else is familiar with this issue. It is certain that Catholic apologists cite Augustine on Purgatory from book 21. For instance, these quotes seem to be popular on Catholic websites:

"Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment [-ante iudicium illud severissimum novissimumque-]. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment." (The City of God 21:13 c. 413-426 A.D.)

"The prayer either of the Church herself or of pious individuals is heard on behalf of certain of the dead; but it is heard for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not for the rest of their life in the body do such wickedness that they might be judged unworthy of such mercy, nor who yet lived so well that it might be supposed they have no need of such mercy." (The City of God 21:24:2)

Catholic Apologist Patrick Madrid states:

"In Matthew 12:32, the Lord mentions a sin that cannot be forgiven even “in the world to come,” implying that there are some sins that will be forgiven after death (St. Augustine interpreted this passage this way, with regard to purgatory, in City of God 21:24:2). [Source]

Can anyone either verify or refute Daille’s claim? Keep in mind, I’m not arguing at this point that Augustine either affirmed or denied purgatory. I’m simply curious if anyone can verify that the early copies of The City Of God are missing inferences or references to Purgatory.

On a secondary issue, Daill'e really does raise a good point on the unreliability of the transmission of the Early Church Fathers' writings. That there have been corruptions of the texts is really beyond dispute. Daill'e spends a lot of time documenting this, and I must say that his work will have a profound influence on the weight I give the Early Church Fathers. By comparison with the text of the New Testament, the New Testament wins hands down in reliability, as one would expect it to, it being the very words of God.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blogback discussion

For Frank, Kevin, (and Apolonio),

Your discussion can be found here for quick reference:

Blogback Discussion

Thanks for your comments.

Guest Blog: Properly Dividing Law And gospel

by Frank Marron (Lutheran)

While many sermons on Sunday may teach the orthodox Christian faith, most are not proper because they do apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lives of believers. Sure, you may leave church after hearing the truth concerning both the Divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ – that He is both man and God, but most likely you will not have heard the Gospel applied to your everyday life. Here is a case study illustrating this fact, based on a recent broadcast of Law & Gospel by Pastor Tom Baker. All names are fictitious.

Ann is a middle-aged woman who recently lost her husband in an automobile accident, where a drunk driver was responsible. She is a member of a mainstream Christian church denomination where her fellow members and pastor all encourage her to forget and forgive because the bible tells her she must do so. After all, we read such commands in the bible. Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St Paul writes:

Ephes. 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Jesus Himself states:
Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, [15] but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Grieving over the loss of her life’s companion, Ann is naturally confused. When asked, she forcefully testifies she is not angry with God, but instead angry with the drunk driver who caused her pain and suffering. Her pastor and church friends are uncomfortable being around Ann and continue to encourage her to forgive the drunk driver and get on with her life. But Ann cannot simply do this. She thinks she is in a good church home and has heard the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But has she really?

Most Christian denominations believe that “if the bible says it, then that settles it - I believe it”. Sadly, such a viewpoint is prominent throughout Christianity and demonstrates a profound ignorance of the Word of God. There are two methods God speaks in His Word: Law and Gospel. “Law” is shorthand for the will of God, usually understood in the context of the ten commandments. In the above Scripture quotations, these verses are definitely Law. It is the will of God that we forgive one another, just as stated in the Lord’s Prayer(e.g. Matthew 6:12). All religions of the world are Law based, believing that the way a person gets right with God is by doing the will of God. Such people are referred to as those who live under the Law. Although Ann’s denomination professes belief in Jesus Christ, this church is not really different from all other religions of the world because it encourages it’s members to live under the Law. Ann is terribly burdened by her loss and under condemnation for failing to forgive the drunk driver who killed her husband. Instead of comforting Ann, her church burdens her with the full weight of the Law: Ann must forgive. This is a classic example of the failure to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel.

The bible is riddled with passages of Scripture that are either Law or Gospel. In fact, many verses can be understood as either one, depending upon whether one lives under Law or under the Gospel. Most denominations fail to understand that the primary purpose of the Law is to reveal and magnify sin, not to present a challenge for a man to keep the will of God(Romans 3:20;5:20). The Law of God is good in that it reveals the will of God, but it only condemns a person and does not enable him to keep it. The Law is a mirror showing us how imperfect and sinful we really are and is a tutor pointing to Christ(Galatians 3:24). Most denominations know the Law well and rather than emphasize the scriptural purpose for it, they encourage members to try to keep it, often believing that the Holy Spirit will empower people to do this, thus pleasing God. Such encouragement is a confusion of Law and Gospel and even attempts to use the cross of Christ as Law rather than Gospel! Such denominations believe that the purpose of the bible is to present “right rules for living”. Unfortunately, this is not Christianity, but rather exactly what all other man made religions of the world teach, such as Buddhism, Mormonism, or Islam.

Romans chapters 7 and 8 illustrate the apostle Paul’s understanding of Law and Gospel, sin and Grace. Romans 7:9 shows how the Law created awareness of sin for Paul and the inner turmoil over failure to keep it. Paul says that even though the Law is good, it caused death for him. In verse 15 Paul states that he does the exact opposite of the will of God, despite his desire to do otherwise! Verse 24 shows Paul exclaiming what a wretched man he is, finally realizing that the only solution to his dilemma is Jesus Christ. Paul is no different than any other man: All have sinned and fallen short of the will of God(Romans 3:23). The good news is that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus(Romans 8:1). Most denominations don’t seem to understand why there is no condemnation of believers such as Ann, who professes belief in Jesus Christ. Instead, such churches place Ann on another guilt trip for failure to keep the Law completely. Such denominations read Romans 8:1-6 as those who live under the Law, believing that walking according to the flesh refers to continuing to sin and walking according to the Spirit as ceasing from sinning. But this is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Such churches should be embarrassed and ashamed at failing their members. Ann’s denomination does not heed the Scriptures, which plainly state that the Law reveals sin to those secure in their sins, as shown above, but that the Gospel is to be given to those terrified of their trespasses. Jesus came to fulfill the Law perfectly for all men, including Ann(Matthew 5:17). Jesus did what no other man was capable of – He was the Representative Man. Jesus came not for the righteous, but sinners(Matthew 9:13), including Ann. As a believer, Ann is concerned over her failure to forgive, which is a sin of omission, not commission(e.g. James 4:17). The Gospel is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the entire world, which includes Ann(John 3:16). Jesus did not die for y those who kept the will of God perfectly throughout their entire lives, but for sinners. Only Christ lived the perfect, sinless life. This is the GOOD NEWS, the Gospel, which is rarely preached from the pulpits of most denominations. The Gospel is not that God forgives your sins and sends the Holy Spirit to enable you to keep the Law of God. The Gospel is 100 percent gift: God forgives your sins because the Son of God took the punishment for your sins. God gives you the gift of Faith in which to receive this blessing and also the seal of the Holy Sirit(Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus Christ exchanges His Righteousness for your sins so that we become adopted children of God through absolutely no merit of our own. Being aware of her sins and failure to forgive the person who killed her husband, instead of being burdened with more Law, Ann should have been comforted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ann should be encouraged to continue to walk by the Spirit, confessing her sins and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the peace of God through Jesus Christ her Savior, which is living under the Gospel. Jesus Christ lived the perfect life of obedience under the Law for Ann. Jesus Christ received the full wrath of God for Ann’s sins. In the eyes of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, Ann is considered perfect, sinless, and righteous(2Cor 5:21). This is the Gospel. This is the comfort and peace which is sorely lacking in Christian preaching today.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Church As An Infallible Norm

How quickly did error seek to enter the Church? In his History of the Christian Church, Eusebius refers to a now non-existent writing of Hegesippus. Hegesippus seems to have described what happened when the Apostles died:

In describing the situation at that time Hegesippus goes on to say that until then the Church has remained a virgin, pure and uncorrupted since those who were trying to corrupt the wholesome standard of the saving message, if such there were, lurked somewhere under cover of darkness. But when the sacred band of the apostles had in various way reached the end of their life, and the generation of those privileged to listen with their own ears to the divine wisdom had passed on, then godless error began to take shape, though the deceit of false teachers, who now that none of the apostles was left threw off the mask and attempted to counter the preaching of the truth by preaching the knowledge falsely so called.” [Source: Eusebius, The History of the Christian Church From Christ To Constantine (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1975), 143 (online link to this section)].

But from the beginning, it appears error was always at the doorstep of the Church, waiting to come in:

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (False apostles claiming apostolic ties)
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

Acts 20: 28-31 (Paul warns of those false teachers immediately coming into the church after his departure)
“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."

Galatians 1:8-9 (Even genuine apostles may be prone to error)
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

The apostle Peter himself falls into error concerning the gospel:

But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? (Galatians 2:14)

The Churches Mentioned in Revelation:

The Church of Pergamos: there were those who had absorbed the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14, 15).

The Church of Thyatira: Allowed the prophetess Jezebel 'to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols' (Rev. 2:20).

The Church of Sardis: Christ declares them “dead.” Only a few people “remembered what they received and heard and obeyed it.”

The point:
The history of the Church subsequent to the apostolic age demonstrates that succession is no guarantee against heresy. Bishops from all the major sees of Christendom, including that of Rome and those of innumerable lesser sees, have, at one time or another, been infected with heresy. The Church fathers cautioned believers repeatedly that bishops were to be followed only if their teachings conformed to Scripture and rejected if they did not. No Church father believed the Church as a whole to be infallible. The opinion was that individual bishops, as well as bishops in Council, could err. It is our contention that the early Church fathers, with unanimous voice, point us back to holy Scripture as the only infallible norm. The Church is not infallible. The Scriptures alone, being God—breathed and therefore inspired, are the only infallible norm for the Church.” [Source: David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground And Pillar of Our Faith, Volume 1 (WA: Christian Resources Inc., 2001), 138-139].

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Luther Spoke In tongues?

“You know Martin Luther spoke in tongues? Yes, sir, sure did. And he had great signs and wonders. But when Luther died, what taken place? The church organized and there she went.” Source

"Martin Luther (1483-1546) is reported to have spoke in tongues. “Souer’s work in German, A History of the Christian Church, on page 406 of volume 3, describes Luther as a prophet, evangelist, speaker in tongues and interpreter, in one person, endowed with all the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Source

"Read your Bible! You have been deceived! Also, I know of a web page that shows many cases through church history in which people spoke in tongues. D.L. Moody spoke in tongues. The Quakers spoke in tongues. Martin Luther spoke in tongues. Tongues never did stop.]" Source

A few months back I looked at Pentecostals trying to claim Luther spoke in tongues. Recently I came across an excellent overview of Luther’s interpretation of “speaking in tongues” in the book The Charismatic Movement (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1975).

Luther did not have direct contact with the more unusual gifts of the Spirit catalogued by Paul in I Corinthians 12, notably glossolalia, interpretation thereof, and healing. However, as an exegete and preacher using the lectionary, he occasionally had to advert to our charismatic passages. He was also familiar with the Zwickau Prophets, who derived something of their charism from the Hussite tradition.

Luther believed that in apostolic times, people had spoken "new tongues" as a sign and "witness to the Jews." In his own day, however, Christianity no longer required the confirmation of such signs. Although they had ceased, each justified believer might expect to receive one or several other gifts of the Holy Spirit. There would always be a diversity of gifts in the true church, and these would operate in harmony, whereas among "fanatical spirits and sectarians," everyone "want[ed] to be everything."

Luther's clearest exposition of the meaning of the Corinthian texts for his day was in a treatise he published in 1525 against Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt. Drawing on Paul's first letter of advice to the troubled Corinthian church, Luther accused Carlstadt of misunderstanding the expression "speaking with tongues. Paul, he declared, had been concerned primarily with the office of preaching and the listening and learning of the congregation. With this as his premise, he used the passage on tongues to develop his case for preaching in the vernacular:

Whoever comes forward, and wants to read, teach, or preach, and yet speaks with tongues, that is, speaks Latin instead of German, or some unknown language, he is to be silent and preach to himself alone. For no one can hear it or understand it, and no one can get any benefit from it. Or if he should speak with tongues, he ought, in addition, to put what he says into German, or interpret it in one way or another, so that the congregation may understand it.’

Carlstadt had used Paul's directives to the Corinthians to prove that all speaking in tongues (i.e., preaching in Latin) was wrong. Luther, on the other hand, demanded only that the "tongues" be interpreted into the appropriate vernacular, and used Paul's writings to defend his position: "St. Paul is not as stubborn in forbidding speaking with tongues as this 'sin-spirit' [Carlstadt] is, but says it is not to be forbidden when along with it interpretation takes place."

Carlstadt also rejected Luther's contention that physicians were "our Lord God's menders of the body," with a mission analogous to that of theologians—the restoration of "what the devil has damaged." To Carlstadt's opposition to the use of medicine, Luther responded: "Do you eat when you're hungry?"
Luther believed that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost had wrought a fundamental change in the meaning of prayer. A "Spirit of supplication" had been "outpoured," and it was possible, in a new and more significant way, "to call upon God from the heart in My [Christ's] name." The Spirit was not restricted in his activity, but had been promised to "all flesh" accompanied by prophecy, visions, and dreams. In a sermon in 1531 on the Pentecostal text of Acts 2:4, Luther expressly affirms the ministry of "ordinary" people, called to preach by the Spirit, over against the official preachers of the Apostles' days, like those of the Sadducean or Pharisaic classes and the comparably highborn and highly educated Catholic preachers of his own day. Yet haughtily he even used the word fanatic (Schwarmer), his special term for Anabaptists and other simple evangelists: it never occurred to him to carry the logic of his thought further. In any case, such New Testament phenomena anticipated by Joel, such as prophecy (or inspiration), typified for Luther his new doctrine; the "sacraments as external ceremonies" (including Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution) he equated with visions. Dreams were used of God in the new dispensation as well as in the old: given by the Father, they were interpreted by the Son and carried out by the Holy Spirit
."

Source: George H. Williams and Edith Waldvogel, “A History of speaking in Tongues and Related Gifts” found in Michael P. Hamilton (editor), The Charismatic Movement (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1975) 71-73.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Augustine On The Canon

I’ve encountered the claim that the Church of Rome acted infallibly, determining the contents of the canon of Scripture at the North African Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD). These councils were presided over by Augustine.

I came across an interesting Augustine quote from a website run by Saint Magdalene Catholic Church. They quote Augustine as follows in their article, “Who decided what books are in the Bible?:

"Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority..(DE Doctrina Christiana II, 8, 120)"

Now, the article points out that “Saint Augustine is the one who first established the criteria for what is in the canon.” They also provide some interesting criteria used in determining authentic canonical books. They conclude though with the following statement: “Tertullian said that other people who don’t use the canonical list of our Church don’t belong to our Church.”

The added quote from Tertullian closes the deal: if you’re not using the canon as declared by the Roman Catholic Church, you don’t belong to the “Church”. What St. Magdalene Catholic Church should’ve done though, is quote what Augustine went on to say in the very next sentence:

If, however, he should find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is be looked upon as equal” [Source: NPNF1, Vol. 2, Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 8].

This unquoted section sheds a whole new light on the modern concept of the Roman Church infallibly determining the canon at these early councils. Augustine doesn’t appear to have any notion of an “infallible list” from this quote, nor an infallible ability of either himself or a church council. It also puts Tertullian at odds with Augustine, and refutes the entire webpage put up by St. Magdalene Catholic Church. Here's a good overview of the Augustine quote:

Here we see an implicit but nonetheless clear denial that the church acted infallibly with respect to the canon of Scripture. Augustine wrote that if various churches differed as to which books were to be included and which were to be rejected, their authority was to be regarded as ‘equal.’ The implication was that though respect was to be given to the greater number of churches, especially those believed to have been the seat of an apostle, if they disagreed over which books were canonical, their authority was to be regarded as equal. His view is incompatible with belief in an infallible determination of the canon” [Source: David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground And Pillar of Our Faith, Volume 1 (WA: Christian Resources Inc., 2001), 133].

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Art Sippo on Luther Biographies Revisited: Marius on Denifle

A few months back I got into a heated exchange with Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on Luther biographies. I spent a considerable amount of time with Sippo, because he claims to be knowledgeable on Luther, spending many years studying him.

Dr. Sippo strongly defended the Luther biography put out by Catholic historian Heinrich Denifle: "…Denifle… revealed what prots had been deing for centuries. Luther was mentally unstable and those stupid enough to follow him were dsiciples of a lunatic and a dishonest immoralist."

I pointed out to Dr. Sippo that Denifle’s work on Luther is generally not taken seriously by either Roman Catholic or protestant scholars. Denifle belongs to an outdated style of Luther scholarship that presented excessive vilification, rather than scholarly history. Denifle held Luther was a fallen-away monk with unbridled lust, a theological ignoramus, an evil man, and used immorality to begin the Reformation. Denifle accuses Luther of buffoonery, hypocrisy, pride, ignorance, forgery, slander, pornography, vice, debauchery, drunkenness, seduction, corruption, and more: he is a lecher, knave, liar, blackguard, sot, and worse: he was infected with the venereal disease syphilis.

Sippo never retreated from his recommendation of Denifle. In fact, he saw Denifle as inspiring modern Luther biographies:

“[Denifle] found evidence of Luther's intemperate personality, his intolerance, and his gross logical inconsistency in what he wrote. He also resurrected the complaints of many of Luther's contemporaries about the man's erratic behavior and his excesses. It is Fr. Denifle who brought these things to light and spurred on the more critical portrait of Luther that would emerge in the 20th Century from Fr. Grisar, Preserved Smith, Paul Reiter, Erik Ericsson, Marius, and Rix.”

Note above, Sippo mentions “Marius” as a direct literary descendant of Denifle. Sippo repeatedly recommended Richard Marius’s Luther: A Biography (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company), 1974. I didn’t comment on this book for one reason, I didn’t have it ( I did comment on the more recent book on Luther from Marius, Luther: The Christian Between God and Death) . Well, I finally came across a copy of Luther: A Biography while on vacation (found it for a dollar at a used bookstore). Interestingly, Marius comments on Denifle’s work on Luther:

“…[F]ew people today are likely to be upset because Luther married a nun. We are more likely to become annoyed with such people as Thomas More, who seized upon Luther's marriage with shouts of grim pleasure as if this conjugal act finally showed the world just how evil Luther was. The very learned German Catholic historian Heinrich Denifle, in his Luther und Luthertum, written near the turn of this century, was bitterly hostile to Luther. And he summarized the traditional Catholic view that Luther was a lusty monk who could not keep his vows. But Catholic scholars are now embarrassed by Denifle in spite of his monumental learning, and in a day when the Catholic priesthood is experiencing a trauma of its own over the issue of celibacy, Luther's marriage does not seem to be such a stigma.” [Source: Richard Marius Luther: A Biography (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1974), 206].

As a consequence of the great Weimar Edition, the twentieth century has been flooded with Luther studies. Heinrich Denifle produced the first modern consideration of Luther's works done with meticulous concern for Luther's own writing. But Denifle was only Cochlaeus with footnotes. He sought to prove that Luther was dominated by lust, that the Reformation came solely from his hankering for sexual intercourse, that the theological reasons Luther gave were mere lies to cover his guilt, that the lies were easily refuted, and that Catholics had been perfectly right in condemning him as a heretic.

Denifle wrote at a time when the Catholic Church was under furious attack throughout Europe and the world. Socialism, nationalism, secularism, and the philosophical spirit that had become jaded with nostalgia and romanticism wanted to sweep the Church under the rug of history. Within the Church itself some American Catholics were coming dangerously close to teaching that activity was the way to salvation. And some French scholars were undermining the very foundations of the Church by a radical historical study directed at the origins of Christianity. In that troubled context, Denifle's attack on Luther became a defense of the Church that stood in the world as a champion of decency and right reason against perversion and madness. By studying the righteous judgment of the Church against Luther in the greatest peril the Church had faced in its history, a troubled Catholic might infer the righteous judgment of the Church amid the dangers of the new twentieth century and so be moved with courage and hope to do his religious duty. Protestants naturally enough responded with books that vigorously defended their hero. Denifle forced them not so much into biography as into minute textual analyses to prove that Luther's statements about himself reflected a genuine personal struggle with sin, but not sin conceived as sexual lust. No, the concupiscence Luther talked about meant a selfish desire of the heart to make the self the center of the universe. Denifle did have an incalculable general effect. He made students of Luther pay close attention to the details of Luther's life in their relation to his theology, and he also turned scholarship to a consideration of the flood of works from Luther's pen that had been neglected. Everyone had looked at the ninety-five theses. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, the Freedom of a Christian, the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, and some of the devotional works. But now scholars were forced to look at other works that were less inspiring.” [Source: Richard Marius, Luther: A Biography (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1974), 246-247].

Far from recommending Denifle’s work, Marius points out its flaws. He notes exactly what I did to Sippo, and also points out that even Catholic scholars are “embarrassed” by Denifle’s work. Marius is indeed correct on the effect that Denifle’s work had on Protestant Luther biographers. It’s the same effect that the modern day anti-Luther Roman Catholic webpages have on me. They provoke me to research. While Catholic scholars were embarrassed by Denifle’s work, my hope in exposing Sippo’s inherent bias against Luther will likewise embarrass the current Catholic apologetic community

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Response On McGrath's Book Iustitia Dei

Recently I looked at Alister McGrath’s book Iustitia Dei, and Roman Catholic usage of this text:

Alister McGrath on Augustine and Justification

The Alleged Roman Catholic Tradition on Justification

In their usage of this book, they attempt to show that that the protestant understanding of justification was unknown in church history previous to the Reformation. Further, this “fact” is supposed to “prove” that the Reformers deviated from the historical Catholic understanding of justification. Implied in this argument is the proposition that the Roman Catholic Church received their understanding of Justification from the Apostles, and subsequent Church history records the passing on of its understanding to the Church Fathers, and then ultimately to its dogmatic proclamation at the Council of Trent.

There is a major problem of Catholic apologetic double standards in this type of argument. When the same historical standard is applied to certain Roman Catholic dogmas, like Mary’s Bodily Assumption, Purgatory, Indulgences, etc., this same historical standard is swept under the rug and hidden. One has to seriously question why a standard that Catholic apologists hold Protestants to is not likewise applied to their own beliefs. Wade through the corridors of church history and search for the threads of all Roman Catholic dogma. One falls flat of linking many of them back to the early church, or in some instances, even the Bible.

Even more troubling is the double standard of the Roman Catholic usage of McGrath’s book Iustitia Dei. McGrath begins his book by studying the Pre-Augustinian “tradition”. He states of this period that "For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined" [Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 23]. And also, “Furthermore, the few occasions upon which a specific discussion of justification can be found generally involve no interpretation of the matter other than a mere paraphrase of a Pauline statement. Justification was simply not a theological issue in the pre-Augustinian tradition” [19].

Apolonio Latar, a Roman Catholic whom I mentioned in this series, provided some blog-back counter-responses to the points I made in the above two links. I would like to take a closer look at his points, and provide some brief counter-responses.

Apolonio Latar stated:
The passage you quoted says that there is discontinuity between the reformer's understanding of justification with that of the western tradition (the west followed Augustine). That's why he calls it a theological novum and "new understanding."

McGrath shows that the Reformers demonstrated both continuity and discontinuity with the period which immediately preceded it, and he notes this is true of “all periods in the history of doctrine”[187]. .McGrath notes “The protestant understanding of the nature of justification represents a theological novum, whereas its understanding of its mode does not” (184). Note there are two aspects to McGrath’s point: nature and mode. One aspect was a discontinuity, the other continuity. If one is to use McGrath’s insight, at least use it correctly. Be willing to put forth the actual position he presents.

Apolonio Latar stated:
Infused righteousness and imputed righteousness are contradictory aren't they? So if they are, then that shows that the reformers contradicted the Fathers.”

Be sure to understand the Reformation position as put forth by McGrath when he explains the distinction between justification and regeneration: “Although it must be emphasized that this distinction is purely notional, in that it is impossible to separate the two within the context of the ordo salutis, the essential point is that a notional distinction is made where none had been acknowledged before in the history of Christian doctrine” (186). Keep in mind, the “history of Christian doctrine” is that period begun by Augustine. Note especially the first part of McGrath’s statement above. Protestant theology does not deny sanctification. It is impossible to separate it from justification. The two are linked together in such a way that it is impossible to have one without the other. For a helpful look at the Reformers view on the relationship between justification and sanctification see the article by William Webster:

The Reformers on the Necessity for Repentance and Sanctification
A Refutation of the Misrepresentations of the Teaching of the Reformation by Roman Catholic Apologists


Apolonio Latar stated:
“…you made the argument about justification prior or Augustine. I have two responses. First, my argument was not from silence or "absence" of the teaching. My argument was that the tradition clearly ***contradicts*** the reformers' understanding of justification.”

If you would concede your “tradition” begins with Augustine, then I would agree (as McGrath says) the Reformation period has both continuity and discontinuity with the period which immediately preceded it. But, this doesn’t in any way historically validate the Roman Catholic position on justifiaction. Your position has not escaped your own charge of theological “novum”.

Apolonio Latar stated:
Two, there *is* development in Augustine just like there was development with the doctrine on hypostatic union, using Greek terminology. In the East, we have the doctrine of deification: "And we have learned that those only are deified who have lived near to God in holiness and virtue; and we believe that those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire" (Justin Martyr, Apology 1 ch. 21). Deification in Eastern theology is a process (see also Gregory of Nyssa's epektasis doctrine).”

Indeed, there is development in Augustine, even within his own lifetime. McGrath states: “It is important to appreciate that Augustine’s doctrine of justification underwent significant development” (p.24). McGrath doesn’t mean “development of Western Tradition”, McGrath means development of Augustine himself! McGrath notes that Augustine’s earlier position on the freedom of the will later met his condemnation. This subsequently changed the way he understood justification. In other words, if a “tradition” on the interpretation of justification existed previous to Augustine, why did his position on it need to develop? How could the church not have an understanding of justification?

In regard to deification, McGrath states "[For Augustine]...[t]he righteousness which man thus receives, although originating from God, is nevertheless located within man, and can be said to be his, part of his being and intrinsic to his person. An element which underlies this understanding of the nature of justifying righteousness is the Greek concept of deification, which makes its appearance in the later Augustinian soteriology" [Ibid, 31-32].

Next Apolonio Latar quoted a few Church fathers. Recall, I mentioned that McGrath notes "The pre-Augustinian theological tradition, however, may be regarded as having taken a highly questionable path in its articulation of the doctrine of justification in the face of pagan opposition" [ibid. 18-19]. McGrath mentions that "For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined"[ Ibid. 23]. Despite this, Apolonio quotes Fathers. One has to question Apolonio’s reasoning here. Is he saying McGrath is mistaken? Is Latar able to navigate a path from Augustine back to the 1st Century? Do the citations he uses prove that dikaioo ("to justify") means "to make one righteous" ? No the citations do not.

His first citations are from Clement’s Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians (chapter 48 and 30). In the passages Apolonio uses, Clement exhorts the Corinthians to root out sin in their lives and church. Missing is any discussion of Paul’s understanding of Justification.

That being said, In chapter 32, Clement excludes works from the gospel, including: “…works done through ourselves, or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we have done in holiness of heart”. Clement notes we have been called through God’s will in Christ Jesus “through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all who have existed from the beginning…” Then, Clement continues in chapter 33 to encourage his readers to do the works he had just excluded from the gospel: “What shall we do, brothers? Shall we idly abstain from doing good, and forsake love? May the Master never allow this to happen…. Let us hasten with earnestness and zeal to accomplish every good work.”

Jason Engwer provides an excellent synopsis of Clement point on faith and works:

Clement, a first century Roman bishop, wrote that we're saved through faith, apart from works. He excludes all works, even "works that we have done in holiness of heart" (First Clement, 32). Just after excluding works from the gospel, he goes on to encourage Christians to do those works he had just excluded. Thus, it can't be argued that he was only excluding bad works, graceless works, faithless works, etc. He was excluding all works, including good works…”

For a Roman bishop to advocate salvation through faith alone has devastating implications for Roman Catholicism. Thus, Roman Catholics have put forward various arguments in an attempt to prove that Clement didn't advocate the doctrine.

For example, it's sometimes argued that Clement was only excluding works we do in our own strength, not works God empowers us to do… Clement encourages people to do works "with all our strength". In the previous chapter, he had excluded from the gospel works "done in holiness of heart", which can only be good works. Therefore, this popular argument used to reconcile Clement with Roman Catholicism fails.”

Next Apolonio Latar quotes Cyprian: “The remedies for propitiating God are given in the words of God Himself; the divine instructions have taught what sinners ought to do, that by works of righteousness God is satisfied, that with the deserts of mercy sins are cleansed. (Treatise 8)”

Is Cyprian discussing what Paul means by “righteousness”? No. Neither do we find any discussion of what Paul meant by the term “justification.” Cyprian doesn’t even discuss “infused righteousness.” Treatise VIII simply points out that if you commit sin, you’d better be doing “good works” to restore yourself. Cyprian repeatedly says sins after baptism are purged by almsgiving and works of mercy. These are the “works of righteousness.” Note, the “righteousness” being discussed here is not the “righteousness” that concerned Augustine and Luther.

Interestingly, Cyprian’s view on baptism was in flux throughout his career. He held that mortal sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven. Later, he said that deathbed repentance could be sufficient in such a case. So much for Cyprian knowing what the “clear” relationship on baptism and forgiveness was. Add to this Cyprian’s other opinions on the “Traditions” of the church, like his interpretation of Matthew 16 and his understanding of transubstantiation. I would be hesitant if I were Roman Catholic to cite him on just what an actual infallible Tradition is. Further, Cyprian argued that certain baptisms by the lapsed were invalid. Augustine disagreed.

Next Apolonio Latar quotes Ambrose:
Duties of the Clergy, Book 1, 11.39 - "Further, he bestows more on thee than thou on him, since he is thy debtor in regard to thy salvation. If thou clothe the naked, thou clothest thyself with righteousness; if thou bring the stranger under thy roof, if thou support the needy, he procures for thee the friendship of the saints and eternal habitations. That is no small recompense. Thou sowest earthly things and receivest heavenly... Not again is nay one more blessed than he who is sensible to the needs of the poor, and the hardships of the weak and helpless. In the day of judgment he will receive salvation from the Lord. Whom he will have as his debtor for the mercy he has shown (NPNP2, vol. 10, p. 7).

I’m guessing the key phrase Latar wants me to see is “If thou clothe the naked, thou clothest thyself with righteousness”. Well, Is Ambrose discussing what Paul means by “righteousness”? No. Neither do we find any discussion of what Paul meant by the term “justification.” Note that for Ambrose, the “righteousness” given is received in Heaven:

(58)….“Paul writes well; He says: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." "In that day," he says, He will give it-not here. Here he fought, in labours, in dangers, in shipwrecks, like a good wrestler; for he knew how that "through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God." Therefore no one can receive a reward, unless he has striven lawfully; nor is the victory a glorious one, unless the contest also has been toilsome.”

Ambrose later says, “In our works, then, if they are evil, there appears unrighteousness; if they are good, justice.”

In his concluding comment, Apolonio Latar stated of these quotes from Clement, Cyprian, and Ambrose:

Now, did they use the same terminology? No, but it can be seen that they *do* speak of becoming holy and that's the only way to be saved. They ddi not make a radical distinction between justification and sanctification. Now, Augustine simply said things more precisely just as Athanasius said things more precisely and better than others.”

Is this Latar’s private opinion, or an official statement from the Roman Catholic Church? Have they stated that Clement, Cyprian, and Ambrose were saying the same thing as Augustine, but Augustine was saying it “more precisely”? Or, are the Church Fathers quoted by Latar saying different things? Indeed, Clement is saying something much different than both Cyprian and Ambrose.

Is Latar saying that McGrath is wrong in his opinion on the theological understanding of justification previous to Augustine? Or, is it the fact that the fathers were not discussing what the terms justification and righteousness meant in the Pauline corpus? Why does Latar see Cyprian and Ambrose as not saying something similar to that espoused in more detail later by Pelagius?

Conclusion
Of course, Latar is welcome to respond. I would prefer he stick with McGrath’s book, or simply concede he used it inapropriately, or at least admit a double standard as I’ve outlined does indeed exist. We could probably quibble over church fathers indefinately. As i've mentioned previously, it really ultimately doesn't matter if I were to conclude that sola fide finds no support in any of the Early Church Fathers. Sola Fide is based on grammatical and exegetical work on the Biblical text, not on the testimony of history. In speaking of the word iustificari, McGrath notes: "...[I]t would appear that the Greek verb has the primary sense of being considered or estimated as righteous, whereas the Latin verb denotes being righteous, the reason why one is considered righteous by others. Although the two are clearly related, they have quite distinct points of reference" [15].

Friday, September 08, 2006

Guest Blog: Properly Dividing Law & Gospel

by Frank Marron (Lutheran)

While many sermons on Sunday may teach the orthodox Christian faith, most are not proper because they do apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lives of believers. Sure, you may leave church after hearing the truth concerning both the Divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ – that He is both man and God, but most likely you will not have heard the Gospel applied to your everyday life. Here is a case study illustrating this fact, based on a recent broadcast of Law & Gospel by Pastor Tom Baker. All names are fictitious.

Ann is a middle-aged woman who recently lost her husband in an automobile accident, where a drunk driver was responsible. She is a member of a mainstream Christian church denomination where her fellow members and pastor all encourage her to forget and forgive because the bible tells her she must do so. After all, we read such commands in the bible. Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St Paul writes:

Ephes. 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Jesus Himself states:

Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, [15] but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Grieving over the loss of her life’s companion, Ann is naturally confused. When asked, she forcefully testifies she is not angry with God, but instead angry with the drunk driver who caused her pain and suffering. Her pastor and church friends are uncomfortable being around Ann and continue to encourage her to forgive the drunk driver and get on with her life. But Ann cannot simply do this. She thinks she is in a good church home and has heard the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But has she really?

Most Christian denominations believe that “if the bible says it, then that settles it - I believe it”. Sadly, such a viewpoint is prominent throughout Christianity and demonstrates a profound ignorance of the Word of God. There are two methods God speaks in His Word: Law and Gospel. “Law” is shorthand for the will of God, usually understood in the context of the ten commandments. In the above Scripture quotations, these verses are definitely Law. It is the will of God that we forgive one another, just as stated in the Lord’s Prayer(e.g. Matthew 6:12). All religions of the world are Law based, believing that the way a person gets right with God is by doing the will of God. Such people are referred to as those who live under the Law. Although Ann’s denomination professes belief in Jesus Christ, this church is not really different from all other religions of the world because it encourages it’s members to live under the Law. Ann is terribly burdened by her loss and under condemnation for failing to forgive the drunk driver who killed her husband. Instead of comforting Ann, her church burdens her with the full weight of the Law: Ann must forgive. This is a classic example of the failure to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel.

The bible is riddled with passages of Scripture that are either Law or Gospel. In fact, many verses can be understood as either one, depending upon whether one lives under Law or under the Gospel. Most denominations fail to understand that the primary purpose of the Law is to reveal and magnify sin, not to present a challenge for a man to keep the will of God(Romans 3:20;5:20). The Law of God is good in that it reveals the will of God, but it only condemns a person and does not enable him to keep it. The Law is a mirror showing us how imperfect and sinful we really are and is a tutor pointing to Christ(Galatians 3:24). Most denominations know the Law well and rather than emphasize the scriptural purpose for it, they encourage members to try to keep it, often believing that the Holy Spirit will empower people to do this, thus pleasing God. Such encouragement is a confusion of Law and Gospel and even attempts to use the cross of Christ as Law rather than Gospel! Such denominations believe that the purpose of the bible is to present “right rules for living”. Unfortunately, this is not Christianity, but rather exactly what all other man made religions of the world teach, such as Buddhism, Mormonism, or Islam.

Romans chapters 7 and 8 illustrate the apostle Paul’s understanding of Law and Gospel, sin and Grace. Romans 7:9 shows how the Law created awareness of sin for Paul and the inner turmoil over failure to keep it. Paul says that even though the Law is good, it caused death for him. In verse 15 Paul states that he does the exact opposite of the will of God, despite his desire to do otherwise! Verse 24 shows Paul exclaiming what a wretched man he is, finally realizing that the only solution to his dilemma is Jesus Christ. Paul is no different than any other man: All have sinned and fallen short of the will of God(Romans 3:23). The good news is that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus(Romans 8:1). Most denominations don’t seem to understand why there is no condemnation of believers such as Ann, who professes belief in Jesus Christ. Instead, such churches place Ann on another guilt trip for failure to keep the Law completely. Such denominations read Romans 8:1-6 as those who live under the Law, believing that walking according to the flesh refers to continuing to sin and walking according to the Spirit as ceasing from sinning. But this is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Such churches should be embarrassed and ashamed at failing their members. Ann’s denomination does not heed the Scriptures, which plainly state that the Law reveals sin to those secure in their sins, as shown above, but that the Gospel is to be given to those terrified of their trespasses. Jesus came to fulfill the Law perfectly for all men, including Ann(Matthew 5:17). Jesus did what no other man was capable of – He was the Representative Man. Jesus came not for the righteous, but sinners(Matthew 9:13), including Ann. As a believer, Ann is concerned over her failure to forgive, which is a sin of omission, not commission(e.g. James 4:17). The Gospel is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the entire world, which includes Ann(John 3:16). Jesus did not die for y those who kept the will of God perfectly throughout their entire lives, but for sinners. Only Christ lived the perfect, sinless life. This is the GOOD NEWS, the Gospel, which is rarely preached from the pulpits of most denominations. The Gospel is not that God forgives your sins and sends the Holy Spirit to enable you to keep the Law of God. The Gospel is 100 percent gift: God forgives your sins because the Son of God took the punishment for your sins. God gives you the gift of Faith in which to receive this blessing and also the seal of the Holy Sirit(Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus Christ exchanges His Righteousness for your sins so that we become adopted children of God through absolutely no merit of our own. Being aware of her sins and failure to forgive the person who killed her husband, instead of being burdened with more Law, Ann should have been comforted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ann should be encouraged to continue to walk by the Spirit, confessing her sins and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the peace of God through Jesus Christ her Savior, which is living under the Gospel. Jesus Christ lived the perfect life of obedience under the Law for Ann. Jesus Christ received the full wrath of God for Ann’s sins. In the eyes of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, Ann is considered perfect, sinless, and righteous(2Cor 5:21). This is the Gospel. This is the comfort and peace which is sorely lacking in Christian preaching today.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Alleged Roman Catholic Tradition on Justification

Previously, I addressed Roman Catholic citations of Alister McGrath’s book Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. In their usage of this book, they attempt to show that that the protestant understanding of justification was unknown in church history previous to the Reformation. Further, this “fact” is supposed to “prove” that the Reformers deviated from the historical Catholic understanding of justification. Implied in this argument is the proposition that the Roman Catholic Church received their understanding of Justification from the Apostles, and subsequent Church history records the passing on of its understanding to the Church Fathers, and then ultimately to its dogmatic proclamation at the Council of Trent.

McGrath’s book is cited because he says:

A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into the western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification ­ as opposed to its mode ­ must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum." (Alister McGrath - Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 186-187].

A key phrase in the above quote is “western theological tradition”. What does McGrath mean by this? I would assume Roman Catholics think it means their “tradition”- that is, the Roman Catholic Church received their understanding of Justification from the Apostles, and subsequent Church history records the passing on of its understanding to the Church Fathers. Luther then came along “out of the blue” and proclaimed sola fide, quite against the "apostolic tradition."

For instance, our recent Roman Catholic visitor Apolonio Latar says of the McGrath quote:

We also have to note that this doctrine of Sola fide is not an apostolic tradition. We have a Protestant scholar has admitted that Sola fide is not an apostolic tradition.”

I wonder if Latar has actually read McGrath’s book. McGrath implies no such thing. McGrath begins his book by studying the Pre-Augustinian “tradition”. He states of this period that "For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined" [Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 23].

McGrath says of this period:

The history of early Christian doctrine is basically the history of the emergence of the Christological and Trinitarian dogmas. Whilst the importance of soteriological considerations, both in the motivation of the development of early Christian doctrine and as a normative principle during the course of that development, is generally conceded, it is equally evident that the early Christian writers did not choose to express their soteriological convictions in terms of the concept of justification. This is not to say that the fathers avoid the term 'justification': their interest in the concept is, however, minimal, and the term generally occurs in their writings as a direct citation from, or a recognisable allusion to, the epistles of Paul, generally employed for some purpose other than a discussion of the concept of justification itself. Furthermore, the few occasions upon which a specific discussion of justification can be found generally involve no interpretation of the matter other than a mere paraphrase of a Pauline statement. Justification was simply not a theological issue in the pre-Augustinian tradition. The emerging patristic understanding of matters such as predestination, grace and free will is somewhat confused, and would remain so until controversy forced a full discussion of the issue upon the church. Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil. It is with the Latin fathers that we observe the beginnings of speculation on the nature of original sin and corruption, and the implications which thismay have for man's moral faculties.

'It has always been a puzzling fact that Paul meant so relatively little for the thinking of the church during the first 350 years of its history. To be sure, he is honored and quoted, but - in the theological perspective of the west - it seems that Paul's great insight into justification by faith was forgotten.'” [Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 19].

Far from denying Justification by faith as an apostolic teaching, McGrath notes the early church never discusses in any detail what Justification means, and then he posits (via a quote) that the church “forgot” Paul’s teaching for 350 years! Now, is McGrath concluding that Augustine came along and set the record straight on the Biblical term “justification”? No, he’s not, and my previous entry documents this.

Latar has read into McGrath what he wants him to say. There is no unified “Tradition” of the Roman Catholic Church’s understanding of Justification that can be historically linked back to Paul via the Church Fathers. Nor does McGrath state this. What McGrath’s book does is record the church’s struggle to understand the biblical term “Justification.” McGrath never posits a unified Roman Catholic Church “tradition” that emerges from the Apostles.

Sola Fide is based on grammatical and exegetical work on the Biblical text, not on the testimony of history. In speaking of the word iustificari, McGrath notes: "...[I]t would appear that the Greek verb has the primary sense of being considered or estimated as righteous, whereas the Latin verb denotes being righteous, the reason why one is considered righteous by others. Although the two are clearly related, they have quite distinct points of reference" [Ibid. 15].

Roman Catholics: be careful which books you cite to prove your case. Ask yourself, Why would Alister McGrath want to defend your church? McGrath is not a Catholic scholar, nor is he a liberal scholar. Read a text for what it says, not what you want it to say.

So what of McGrath's "theological novum" statement? After he said this, McGrath goes on to say in in the very next paragraph:

"Like all periods in the history of doctrine, the Reformation demonstrates both continuity and discontinuity with the period which immediately preceded it. Chief among these discontinuities is the new understanding of the nature of justification, whereas there are clearly extensive areas of continuity with the late medieval theological movement as a whole, or well-defined sections of the movement, in relation to other aspects of the doctrine, as noted above. That there are no 'Forerunners of the Reformation doctrines of justification' has little theological significance today, given current thinking on the nature of the development of doctrine, which renders Bossuet's static model, on which he based his critique of Protestantism, obsolete. Nevertheless, the historical aspects of the question Continue to have relevance. For what reasons did the Reformers abandon the catholic consensus on the nature of justification? We shall discuss this matter in our study of the development of the doctrine from the Reformation to the present day." [Ibid.187].

Friday, September 01, 2006

Crossing The Tiber: "Conversions" To Rome

I came across this recent article from the Christian Century website via a discussion thread found on LutherQuest:

Going Catholic: Six journeys to Rome (August 22, 2006)

From the article:

"All six all have strong connections to mainline institutions, and several were involved in official ecumenical conversation at high levels. They are also relatively young, poised to influence students and congregations for several decades. They more or less fit the description "postliberal" in that they accept such mainline practices as historical criticism and women's ordination while wanting the church to exhibit more robust dogmatic commitments. All of them embrace what Mattox describes as an "evangelical, catholic and orthodox" vision of the church. They could not see a way to be all those things within mainline denominations."

I find irony in this quote. Those "converting" to Rome accept "historical criticism". Now, not all "criticsm" is negative, but i have the feeling that the "historical criticism"implied is negative, destructive, higher criticsm that attacks the sole authority and the perspicuity of the Bible. But, somehow or another, these "converts" can accept Rome's version of Church history uncritically.