Saturday, June 16, 2012

Universal Objective Justification in Lutheranism

I've spent quite a lot of time looking up obscure Martin Luther quotes and putting them back in context. Primarily, the Luther quotes I've covered are those being used by Roman Catholics. It's one thing to know a bit of history about Luther and his writings and quite another to know the theology and development of Lutheran theology. I know far more about the former than I do the later. Recently I become involved with the dispute among Lutherans concerning universal objective justification (UOJ).

It happened while engaging a long time Lutheran acquaintance on a discussion board. There I was hearing a theology coming from this Lutheran that all men have been given the gift of faith. I contacted another Lutheran acquaintance who informed me what exactly was going on here: a particular Lutheran theology of justification popularly referred to UOJ.

If I've got it correct, UOJ holds Jesus has died for the sins of the world (all men without distinction or exception), and was raised for (and accomplished) the justification of all men. The conclusion that follows is that all  men were objectively justified when Jesus rose from the dead. What needs to happen then is for each person to experience subjective justification (a person accepts what Christ has done in objective justification).

Another Lutheran blogger has put together a brief UOJ primer that's worth a look, this post as well has some helpful clarifications. According to the author of the later link, a great majority of Lutherans in the United States hold to UOJ. Based on interactions with a number of Lutherans over the years, that a majority of North American Lutherans hold to UOJ would make sense to me. Whether or not UOJ is a deviation from earlier Lutheranism is not a topic I care to engage (the last thing I need is countless hours of research on a topic I'm only mildly interested in). Some of the blog posts mentioned already go into this topic historically.

The other Lutheran position is referred to as Justification By Faith Alone (JBFA). What's one of the differences? My helpful Lutheran acquaintance explains:
"There is one vital aspect in this debate that must be brought to light. The two camps, JBFAer and UOJers differ in the object of faith. Consistent UOJers are unanimous in this, that for them the object of faith is not the Atonement that happened in the past as payment for sins, for them the object of faith is the Justification that has already, so they say, occurred 2000 years ago. In this regard the commentator R. C. H. Lenski is correct in his criticism of them. In his commentary on Romans 1:17, Lenski was well correct that in the UOJ scheme of things, there really is no declaration of righteousness that happens when a person believes because the declaration already happened in the past. Whereas in JBFA, the object of faith is the Atonement in accordance to Romans 3:21-26, specially, v.25. UOJers are quick to claim that we are twisting their words, but deny as much as they want, the effect of their teaching is that it simply makes justification a mythical. Lenski rebuts well the idea that if you believe in such a way, you are being synergistic."
Of course, any modern-day discussion of justification can become quite technical, so I'm sure this sparse blog post has only scratched the surface.  I offer it really for my Reformed readers- those particularly who wonder why so many serious Lutherans on the Internet appear to dislike Reformed theology so much. Because Reformed theology holds to limited atonement, this doctrine is seen as a direct assault on objective universal justification.  It certainly has explained a few things to me.  If any of my Reformed friends have interactions with Lutherans on the atonement or other aspects of Calvinism, I suggest becoming acquainted with UOJ so you don't end up talking past whichever Lutheran you're in conversation with. Slow down, and make sure to define your terms carefully.

Martin Yee has suggested this link, Kurt Marquart on Objective Justification helps explain UOJ from the perspective of someone who holds to it. This link makes the following comment:
I agree with Henry Hamann that the terminology “objective/subjective justification” is less than ideal since “subjective justification . . . is every whit as objective as objective justification.” On the other hand, when Calvinists use the same terminology, it expresses their meaning very well: “Passive or subjective justification takes place in the heart or conscience of the sinner.” The Reformed reject universal grace, hence cannot mean general justification by “objective justification;” and “subjective justification” means for them something experiential—precisely what it does not mean for Lutherans. Biblically, justification is God’s act, which faith receives or believes, but does not feel or “experience.”
This writer is quoting Berkhoff who indeed does use the terms objective and subjective justification. It appears to me the author though is putting words into Berkhoff's mouth. Berkhoff appears to be saying nothing more than a sinner becomes aware that a pardon has been granted because of Christ. The conclusion reached is in error. The idea that  "faith receives or believes" is indeed... an experience as well in Lutheranism. In other words, Marquart is making a statement that equally applies to  Lutheranism if Berkhoff is quoted correctly.

Berkhoff is saying that actively or objectively God makes a divine declaration that the demands of the law are met for a sinner, and this logically precedes faith.  For passive of subjective justification, Berkoff states, "The granting of pardon would mean nothing to a prisoner, unless the glad tidings were communicated to him and the doors of the prison were opened. Moreover, it is exactly at this point that the sinners learns to understand better than anywhere else that salvation is of free grace."


Brigitte said...

Let me know when you are done with this useless tempest.

James Swan said...

I would rather know if I've outlined UOJ correctly, and if in fact that's the typical Lutheran position.

This blog post is more of a fact finding post than anything else.

steelikat said...

One problem is the thing that started the "tempest": the mistake that objective (and therefore "universal") justification implies that "every one without exception is given faith. That is not the case. Faith is the means by which justification is communicated particularly and subjectively to the believer. However, faith is not an act that a man does to synergistically bring about his justification, justification is the objective (and in that sense universal) imputation of Christ's righteousness--objectively to all men but not subjectively to all men.

Another problem is that you are getting your definition of objective or "universal" justification from someone who hates it (and who I think hopes to equate it with universalism).

Also, for Christians who have internalized a different understanding of justification, the objective/subjective distinction is critically important and is easily misunderstood.

I am not a theologian and I may not have phrased all that correctly, but I am certain that the one who explained it to you explained it wrong.

Prior to the theology, which is an intellectual exercise, the important thing that any Christian must understand that justification is objective (and therefore in a real sense "universal" in that it does not depend on a particular man's response to it and is not limited) in such a way that he does not lack assurance nor hang his assurance on something that will turn out not to be able to give him assurance, namely the actions of himself nor even the "response" of faith.

Martin Yee said...
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James Swan said...


Thanks, I added your suggested link to the blog entry for fairness. I did though find what I believe to be a basic error in the opening paragraphs in regard to a comment cited from Berkhoff.


Thanks for your comments. I will take them into consideration as I read through the link Martin provided.

James Swan said...

From Martin's link:

"Calvinists mean something quite different and unbiblical when they speak of 'visible' and 'invisible' churches."

Anyone care to enlighten me on this?

Martin Yee said...

Hi James,

Regarding the "visible and invisible church" distinction, for the difference between Lutheran and Calvinist, see this link

Martin Yee

James Swan said...


That content of that link doesn't square with Berkhof's Systematic Theology, a standard Reformed work I currently have out because it was cited in the other link you left.

The link you left states:

"There are not two churches, one invisible, made up of all believers in heaven and on earth, and the other one visible as the earthly institutional structure made up of believers and unbelievers (or elect and reprobate) alike. No, there is but one Church. That is what we confess in the Creed."

Here's what Berkhof states:

"It should be borne in mind that the terms 'visible' and 'invisible' do not denote two Churches, but simply two aspects of the same Church; and that distinction is one that applies to the militant Church, so that it is impossible to regard the term 'invisible church' as a designation of the Church Triumphant. The Church is called invisible, because she is essentially spiritual and cannot be discerned by the physical eye, and because it is impossible to determine infallibly who do and who do not belong to her."

Notice your link goes on to say:

"If this one Church is, as the Lutheran Confessions say, "holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd" (SA III:XII:2, Tappert), then it cannot be visible to the human eye. But then how can one know where the Church is? The classic answer is in the marks, the Word, Baptism, the Supper, etc. In this sense, the Church is visible. The one Church, then, is both invisible and visible. It is a Lutheran paradox."

Berkhof goes on to say of the visible church: "The Church becomes visible in Christian profession and conduct, in the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments, and in external organization and government."

You'll notice there is not much difference between the opening explanation of your link and a standard Reformed systematic theology text.

While I appreciate the links you've left (and by all means, continue to provide such links), I haven't found them very accurate in describing Reformed Theology.

Andrew said...
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Martin Yee said...

Hi James,

Sorry about that. Did not know that Berkhof was misrepresented as I do not have his book. Looks like misrepresentation is a quite a common problem in theological polemics. Sad indeed.


James Swan said...


There's nothing to be sorry for! I still haven't worked completely through the first link you sent. If I have time today, I may go through the visible / invisible church link you sent over. It appears to me, the author of the later link was referring to Calvin rather than Reformed theology in general. I'd have to work through it carefully to see exactly what's going on.

LPC said...


Me an odd ball?

I just have to ask you one thing...

do you accept as Biblical the LC-MS Brief Statement 1932 Article 17.

I challenge you to prove from Scripture that by virtue of Jesus' death or resurrection to prove their UOJ theory that the whole world has already been Justified.

UOJ was unknown to the Lutheran world not until CF W Walther came into the scene. A lot more pastors are now abandoning this source of antinomianism in Lutheranism, than you care to know.


LPC said...


You do not have to go far on UOJ. UOJ teachers have articulated this theory, that the whole world have been Justified when Jesus was raised from the dead or died in many places.

In fact it is an old Lutheran heresy, introduced by Samuel Huber a Reformed pastor turned Lutheran who was driven out by post Concordian Lutherans, i.e the BoC signers and editors.

Judge for yourself from the LC-MS Brief Statement 1932 Article 17. I highlight for you the offending statement...
17. Holy Scripture sums up all its teachings regarding the love of God to the world of sinners, regarding the salvation wrought by Christ, and regarding faith in Christ as the only way to obtain salvation, in the article of justification. Scripture teaches that God HAS ALREADY DECLARED THE WHOLE WORLD TO BE RIGHTEOUS in Christ, Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 4:25; that therefore not for the sake of their good works, but without the works of the Law, by grace, for Christ's sake, He justifies, accounts as righteous, all those who that is, believe, accept, and rely on, the fact that for Christ's sake their sins are forgiven. Thus the Holy Ghost testifies through St. Paul: "There is no difference; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," Rom. 3:23, 24. And again: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law," Rom. 3:28.

You are a Bible student, just check if you can agree with the words I highlighted. Now I am not quoting to you an articulation by any writer, I am quoting to you an official document by the church body.

I have discussed this in my blog as you are aware.

When I first got into this issue, Marquart's article was one of those I studied considerably and after much thought I rejected. Have you read it? Marquart's article sounded like a marine welder patching up a boat filled with holes.

Lutherans today do not do their own exegesis, they are happy to do theology by proxy like quoting uncritically from their respected churchmen, as if these churchmen were infallible and not subject to propaganda themselves.


Bill said...

Your blog post is mostly accurate, except where you indicate that everybody was given faith. Instead what lutherans teach is that every man ever born or to be born was declared righteous as a result of Christ's resurrection. Everybody has been absolved of their sin, including Judas and Pharaoh. Every man is in God's sight righteous. It is very similar to Karl Barth who also teaches a universal objective justification of all men. Now this forgiveness must be received in faith in order to profit eternal life (subjective justification), but the declaration of righteousness was made at the time of Christ's death and resurrection (objective justification), and is received by faith (subjective justification). This is a radical and heretical view of unlimited atonement, call it unlimited atonement on steroids. it is the position of most lutherans today, all confessional lutherans bodies subscribe to it except one small one called ELDONA

Universal objective justification is a clear departure from classical lutheranism in the 16th century and it is not taught anywhere in the lutheran confessions. It is a radical and heretical view. But to be fair, it is in a way a reaction to the heresies of reformed theology with regard to limited atonement introduced in the 17th century in the Canons of Dort and the Westminster confession. Both lutheran and reformed theology have been corrupted badly and do not look anything like the theology of the 16th Century Reformers. The Heidelberg catechism correctly affirms that Christ's satisfaction was universal without distinction for all sinners, just like the lutheran confessions affirm. Unfortunately both the calvinist and lutheran teachings of today have departed from biblical truths.

John Mann said...

I would like to submit a few propositions on the subject of objective/subjective justification to help simplify the discussion (hopefully).
1. The introduction into Christian theology of these two concepts is an incredible complication of a simple idea.
2. Justification and forgiveness are two separate ideas.
3. Forgiveness offered by grace because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus is offered to all, but it is received only through faith. To those who, in faith (belief and trust), accept this vicarious atonement they are justified (declared righteous) through the imputation of Christ's righteousness: you have "clothed yourself with Christ." (Galatians 3:27)
4. The simple idea (above) is expressed in the words of Christ Jesus: "For many are invited, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14)

Bill said...

John Mann, well said I agree 100 %.