Sunday, November 11, 2007

Roundtable 28: Monastic Vows

To appreciate the impact Article XXVII of the Augsburg Confession had, and how particularly upsetting it was to common understandings of the time, the reader has to realize how extensive monasticism was across Germany. By the way, the image here is of two Medieval monks the one giving the other the distinctive "tonsure" or shaving the top of the head, as a sign of having taken vows. Monasticism was regarded as the highest form of service to God and, for any other human reasons a person might enter a monastery we should be aware that many in the monasteries were profoundly sincere in their desire to serve God and their fellow man by devoting themselves to a life of ordered, structured prayer in various degrees of separation, even in some cases total seclusion, from the "secular" world around. To this day the "religous" in Roman Catholicism are those who take up vows and orders.

Making Article XXVII of particular interest is the fact that behind the words of the article are the actual experiences of men who had come out of the monasteries, Luther most notably. In spite of the good the monasteries did during the genuine dark ages in Europe after the fall of Rome and before the rise of more organized and centralized government with the formation of the Holy Roman Empire ca. 800, the fact remains that Medieval monasticism had, and still has, no foundation in Sacred Scripture.

The insight that Luther and his fellow Reformers brought to light once more is the teaching that all of life is an opportunity to serve God, in whatever a person's place/station and calling in life is. Modern Lutherans would do well not to think that monasticism is an issue that is of no immediate application, or relevance, to the church today. There has arisen a new kind of monasticism among us: the view that a person is really only engaged in "church work" if he, or she, is a member of a church committee or taking part in some church-sponsored activity. It would be tempting to regard Sundays as our time to be "religious" while the rest of our week is in the "secular" world, regarding Sunday as the time for sacred things, while the rest of the week we must live in the profane world. This article extols the Christian virtues lived out in all of callings and stations in life: mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, employer, employee. Specifically rejected and condemned in this article is the imposition of lifelong celibacy on a person who does who truly does not have the gift of chastity. Forcing chastity on those without the gift is a horrible sin against God's good creation and led many in Luther's time to think that their standing before God depended on the degree to which they could imitate the "holy life" of the monks and nuns.

Article XXVII concedes that perhaps there could be such institutions as monasteries as long as they are "free associations." (par. 2). It was only after discipline in these institutions became corrupt that vows were imposed, "as in a carefully planned prison." (par. 3). Regulations were piled on to regulations, and many children were put into monasteries well before they were old enough voluntarily to take vows of chastity, something that was contrary to the church's own canon laws. Obscured in monasticism were the truly important teachings about: "faith, the cross, hope, the dignity of secular affairs, and consolation for severely tested consciences." (par. 16).

Here we can not help but think of Luther, who in his first hymn written for congregational singing Dear Christians One and All Rejoice, wrote, "Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay, death brooded darkly over me. Sin was my torment, night and day."

Medieval theologians, such as Gerson, pointed out that monasticism's focus on disciplining the flesh and following regulations crowded out more important doctrinal teachings. Appeal is made by the Lutherans to such writings, as evidence that even within Romanism the most serious of concerns with monasticism were being expressed.

Melanchthon defends the Lutherans from the false charge that they had taken up their concerns with monasticism lightly and without due thought and attention. The drumbeat of the Gospel is heard in this article as well when Melanchthon writes, "The Gospel compels us to insist on the doctrine of grace and the righteousness of faith in the churches. This cannot be understood if people think they merit grace by observances of their own choice." (par. 20).

Paragraphs 22-29 are a defense of the Lutheran position that traditions instituted by the Church can not be made binding on people as if by their omission, one places one's eternal salvation at risk. "It is contrary to the Gospel to institute or do such works thinking that we merit grace through them, or as though Christianity could not exist without such service of God" (par. 29). This was precisely what Medieval Monasticism had become to be regarded as: necessary service to God. Monks and nuns were regarded as persons to whom the common folk could look as people pleasing God, whereas they could not, since they could not devote all their time to living in obedience to monastic vows.

The accusation was made that the reason the Lutherans opposed monasticism was simply because they wished to indulge the lusts of the flesh. No doubt Luther's marriage was in view here, along with all those who had forsaken their monastic vows and entered into the estate of marriage. Note that Lutherans today must take care that they not allow the proper doctrine of justification to become regarded as an excuse for not "discipline and the subduing of the flesh" (par. 30). What do we teach? Christians are to bear the cross by enduring affliction, and furthermore "every Christian ought to train and subdue himself with bodily restraints, or bodily exercises and labors. Then neither over-indulgence nor laziness may tempt him to sin." (par. 33). Do you think that Christians today regard gluttony and over indulgence in food as a real threat? How many commercials do you see on American TV for diet and weight loss?

The point however is that efforts to control the flesh and discipline it are never to be put forward as a way to "merit grace or make satisfaction for sin" (par. 33).

It is interesting to note what the Article assumes will, instead of monasticism, be the case in the Church. All people, at all times, will learn and receive instruction about godly discipline and spiritual exercises, bodily restraint, etc. Prayer and fasting are recommended by citing Matt. 17:21. This is perhaps one of the more neglected portions of the Lutheran Confessions. Lutherans are eager to reject monasticism but so doing tend to neglect what the article says about personal discipline. St. Paul is held up as a model to be imitated. He disciplined his flesh in order to keep it "prepared for spiritual things, for carrying out the duties of his calling." And, therefore, note this comment: we do not condemn fasting in itself, but making fasting a requirement on certain days and teaching that fasting were a necessary service of God. (par. 39).

Then, note carefully paragraphs 40-45. Somehow Lutherans today have assumed that the Lutheran Confessions would have in a view that basically anything goes in the church and between various congregations unless, and until, there is some explicit false doctrine. The value of good order is neglected. But the AC here explains that Lutherans keep many traditions that provide for good order. What are they? The lectionary, chief holy days, etc. People are warned that such things do not justify, but things done in service to good order in the church are not rejected.

As you can see, this article, while on the face having only to do with monasticism actually contains a great deal of important insights into the teachings and assumptions of Lutheranism over against personal self-discipline.

Some questions to ponder:
Where and how can I be attentive to personal self-discipline? Do I over-indulge in food and drink? Do I regularly exercise my body to keep in good shape for service to God? When and how do I find myself being lazy, either bodily or spiritually? How does bodily discipline and self-control help me give glory to God and serve Him? How can I help people understand that self-discipline, prayer and fasting and other means of bodily control do not merit God's grace, but rather provide a structure and order by which I can give Him all thanks and praise? What are my various callings in life and how may I serve God in these callings?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Roundtable 27: The Distinction of Meats

It is difficult for 21st century Christians to appreciate fully the subject under discussion here probably because, both among Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics, the impact of canon laws governing what can, and can not, be eaten and at what times one must fast, and not fast, has become more of a historic relic of the past. Choosing not to eat a certain food, at a certain time, is a matter of Christian freedom, but by the 16th century, Roman Catholicism had created elaborate rules and regulations governing the practice of fasting. These regulations and rules and requirements misled people into thinking that the act of fasting was a means by which they could make themselves worthy of God's favor and earn merit in His eyes. Contrived laws governing what we eat have no basis in command, example of promise contained in the Sacred Scriptures. The confessors at Augsburg were careful in this article to make it clear that fasting is a fine practice, if done for the right reasons. The article asserts that Lutherans keep ancient traditions that contribute to proper piety and devotional meditation on the Word of God. This article actually offers a broader insight into the spirit of the Lutheran reformers than simply a statement about fasting. No observance chosen in Christian freedom for the sake of order, decorum, teaching, etc. can ever be regarded as something that merits justification before God. And it is never any sin to omit them. That every Christian "ought to train and subdue himself with bodily restraints, or bodily exercises and labors, so that neither over-indulgence nor laziness may tempt him to sin." (AC XXVI, par. 33; Concordia, p. 52).

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Roundtable 26: Confession

The Lutheran Reformation has its root cause in the confessional. People coming to make their confession to Father Martin Luther began to tell him that they needn't worry any longer about forgiveness, or about what they might, or might not do, because they had purchased an indulgence, and considered it a "get out of hell free" card that assured them of God's grace and mercy in spite of anything they, or their deceased relatives, had done. Whether this was an accurate understanding of what indulgences were meant to be is not the point. The practical consequence of the false teaching of the indulgence peddlers, who at the time were raising money on behalf of the local Roman Catholic Archbishop who was in turn paying Rome off for the exception granted him to hold more than one ecclesial office, and Rome in turn was raising cash to construct St. Peters. In the midst of this deep and profound corruption of the Gospel and the Church, the Biblical gift of absolution and the practice of giving that absolution privately to the individual sinner through the practice of private confession and absolution was being horribly distorted, corrupting the very Gospel itself. And hence, in the Augsburg Confession, in Article XXV, the Lutherans had to defend themselves from the accusation that they had done away with private confession and absolution and make clear that what they rejected were the false and Gospel obscuring practices that had grown up around the practice, like noxious weeds, choking out the beautiful gift of the absolving good news of Christ Jesus. In a tragic irony, today, for the most part, the practice of private confession and absolution has been lost in the Lutheran Church. That's the bad news. The good news? There has been a renaissance of the practice in recent years, with the convention of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod last summer (July 2007) adopting a resolution encouraging its use and a return and restoration of this practice in the congregations of the Synod. The voice of Christ Himself, using the voice and mouth of the ministry, is being heard by the sinner in private confession and the personal application of the absolution is a priceless treasure that must be extolled and retained.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Roundtable 25: The Mass

"Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved..."

So begins Article XXIV. Here's a rather unbiased observer's notes on what the Lutherans were up to back then. Musculous, the south German, writes:

Eisenach, May 14, 1536, Cantate Sunday: the so-called "Office of Mass" was held at 7:00. First the Introit "Cantate Domino" was sung in Latin by the teacher and school children, in the papistic fashion by the choir alone. Then the Kyrie, in which the organ played in alternation. Then a liturgist, dressed in papistic fashion, intoned at a papistically decorated altar the Gloria in Latin, which was continued by the choir and organist in alternation. Then the liturgist sang a so-called "Collect" in German with his face to the altar and his back to the people. Then he turned to the people and read a lesson in German from the letter of James. Then the organ was played again, and the choir intoned "Victimae Paschali" within which the congregation sang "Christ is Arisen." Then the liturgist sang the Gospel facing the people. Then the organ was played, upon which the congregation intoned "We all believe..." Then Justas Menius preached in street clothes. Then the Liturgist said a prayer. Then a brief admonition to communicants, then he sang the Words of Institution: first the bread, during which he elevated the host in papistic fashion while the people knelt, then the cup, which he likewise elevated after he had spoken the words. Then the organ was played and the Agnus Dei was sung in alternation by the choir. During this the Priest distributed the cup in street clothes. No men communed, and only a few women. After them the Liturgist communicated himself. First the bread was venerated, but not the cup, after which he carefully finished drinking and cleaned with newly poured wine so that no blood remained. After the Supper he sang a prayer facing the altar, then he sang a blessing facing the people. Then while the people exited the choir sang "Grant Peace, We Pray" in German. [Wolfgang Herbst, Evangelischer Gottesdienst: Quelle zu seiner Geschichte, Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992), pp. 104, 105.]

You can see why the AC was indignant that we had NOT abolished the mass! The south German Musculus was not impressed - thought the Lutherans looked entirely too "papistic." Sadly, he was neither the first nor the last to think so.

What is absent was the offertory and Canon of the ancient Roman Rite with their frequent stress on sacrifice. In the Lutheran Divine Service the accent shifted decidedly from sacrifice, with its from-us-to-God emphasis, to sacrament, with its from God-to-us emphasis. Rather than our offering to Him, it is His offering to us. After all, think of the very words that institute the Eucharist: "Take and EAT; Take and DRINK." Never "Take and Offer." Thus the Words of Institution were left standing alone to stress the gift nature of what the Mass was all about in the overwhelming majority of 16th century Lutheran liturgies (Sweden's being a marked exception, but still inside of its eucharistia accenting squarely the sacrament as gift from God to us).

What the Lutherans DID abolish - and were not about to apologize for getting rid of - was the SALE of masses, the private mass (where the priest alone communed), and the notion that the Mass was instituted to be a propitiatory sacrifice for actual sins (while Christ's atoning death on the cross covered original sins). Additionally, they especially abominated the idea that the priest performing the mass could apply that mass to the sins of the living or the dead to their benefit merely by performing the outward act!

Rather, the Lutheran Confessors stress the true use of the Sacrament. It is the impartation to us of Christ's once-for-all-time-upon-the-cross sacrifice as the sign and seal of that sacrifice availing for us. "Therefore the Mass was instituted so that those who use the Sacrament should remember, in faith, the benefits they receive through Christ and how their anxious consciences are cheered and comforted. To remember Christ is to remember His benefits." The person, anxious and troubled about their sin, is thus given unspeakable comfort in the gift of the Body and Blood that achieved sin's forgiveness and death's destruction, given specifically "for you, for forgiveness."

Since the Mass is established to give out this joyous comfort, the Lutherans freely confess:

"We have Communion every holy day, and if anyone desires the Sacrament, we also offer it on other days, when it is given to all who ask for it."

A century after the Reformation, in Magdeburg, the Sacrament was still being regularly celebrated and offered on each Lord's Day, each Tuesday, and each Thursday.

About the ceremonies, the Lutherans have little to quibble with: "We keep the public ceremonies, which are for the most part similar to those previously in use. Only the number of Masses differs." And that because the Lutherans allow for no private mass at all.

In sum: according to the Augsburg Confession, the Mass is diligently kept and reverently celebrated in the Lutheran parishes, and it is restored to the use for which it was instituted: bringing the comfort and joy of forgiveness to poor sinners.

One final note. Someone once said: "Yes, but that was descriptive, not prescriptive." Another friend, who is quite the Wag, agreed: "Yes, it is descriptive of what a LUTHERAN is; you are quite right." In the spirit of that comment, I close with words from the sainted C. F. W. Walther on the matter of ceremonies:

In an essay delivered to a district convention, Walther said:

“We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them…. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Papism in outward things. It is a pity and a dreadful cowardice when one sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American sects, lest they accuse us of being papistic (i.e., too catholic!). Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?”

We are not insisting that there be uniformity of perception or feeling or of taste among all believing Christians – neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he is. Nevertheless it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extend that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are addressed or instructed (NOTE: if he were writing today, he’d no doubt add: they look like movie theatres in which the hearers are entertained!), while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world. (Essays for the Church, Volume 1, p. 194 (St. Louis, CPH, 1992).

P.S. The Augsburg Confession and Apology use the word "Mass" in a neutral way to refer to the liturgy of the Divine Service observed in its traditional manner. The Smalcald Articles speak quite polemically against the "Mass" but intend especially the Mass as practiced under the Pope as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead in which the Church joins Christ in making His sacrifice.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Roundtable 24: The Marriage of Priests

By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, forced celibacy was the rule for all men who wanted to serve as priests [pastors] in the church, and in any position of ministry. Canon law requiring such was put into place in Germany some four hundred years previous to the Augsburg Confession. But much earlier, enforced celibacy was enacted. At a Roman council held by Pope Siricius in 386 an edict was passed forbidding priests and deacons to have conjugal intercourse with their wives (Jaffe-Löwenfeld, Regesta, I, 41), and the pope took steps to have the decree enforced in Spain and in other parts of Christendom (Migne, P.L., LVI, 558 and 728). Underlying the issue of forced priestly celibacy, as with the other abuses addressed at the end of the Augsburg Confession, is the question of the Church's authority to demand or forbid neither demanded, nor forbidden, by our Lord or His chosen Apostles in Sacred Scripture. Lutheranism maintains that there is no such authority in the Church to forbid what is free to all: marriage. The Scriptures clearly teach that St. Peter had a wife, the "first pope," as it is claimed by Rome, was himself a married man! His mother-in-law is referred to in Matthew 8:14 and Luke 4:38. Simon was thus married, and, according to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III, vi, ed. Dindorf, II, 276), had children. The same writer relates the tradition that Peter's wife suffered martyrdom (ibid., VII, xi ed. cit., III, 306). This example should have been enough to prove that forbidding priests and other clergy to marry is outside the faith. That there are men who are given the gift of celibacy is true (see Matthew 11:11 and 1 Corinthians 7:7), but that celibacy is a requirement of those who are given the churchly office is false. St. Paul assumes that there will be married me in the churchly offices of ministry when he comments on a man's marital status and his family situation in the Pastorals (see Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Tim. 3:1-7). The Augsburg Confession here rightly asserts that marriage is a gift from God to be received with thanksgiving by laypeople and clergy alike, and to teach otherwise is a teaching of the Evil One. When considering the problems among Roman Catholic clergy and child abuse one need ponder long and hard the extent to which insisting on celibacy among the clergy has not provided a supposed "haven" for homosexuals and others dealing with sexual problems, thinking that the "safety" of enforced celibacy will help them resist their particular sexual temptations. One can hear in the words of the AC the direct, personal experiences of those who were forced to live celibate lives, like Luther and Bugenhagen and others of the Lutherans who were at one time Roman clerics or monks. "For it is clear, as many have confessed, that no good, honest, chaste life, no Christian, sincere, upright conduct has resultd from the attempt to lead a single life. Instead, a horrible, fearful unrest and torment of conscience has been felt by many until the end." (AC XXIII.6; Concordia, p. 46).

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Roundtable 23: Various Abuses Corrected -- Communion under Both Kinds

The Augsburg Confession concludes its presentation on various doctrinal points and moves into a presentation on the "various abuses" that have been "corrected" by the Lutherans. Obviously, these "abuses," as the Lutherans refer to them, struck a very raw nerve among Roman Catholic theologians and princes. The topics dealt with in this section of the Augsburg Confession are, in the following order: both kinds in the Sacrament, the marriage of priests, the Mass, Confession, the distinction of meats, monastic vows and church authority.

The section on the correction of abuses begins with this prefatory explanation:

1] Inasmuch, then, as our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons, we pray that Your Imperial Majesty would graciously hear both what has been changed, and what were the reasons why the people were not compelled to observe those abuses against their conscience. 2] Nor should Your Imperial Majesty believe those who, in order to excite the hatred of men against our part, disseminate strange slanders among the people. 3] Having thus excited the minds of good men, they have first given occasion to this controversy, and now endeavor, by the same arts, to increase the discord. 4] For Your Imperial Majesty will undoubtedly find that the form of doctrine and of ceremonies with us is not so intolerable as these ungodly and malicious men represent. 5] Besides, the truth cannot be gathered from common rumors or the revilings of enemies. 6] But it can readily be judged that nothing would serve better to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to nourish reverence and pious devotion among the people than if the ceremonies were observed rightly in the churches.

One could say that the "abuses corrected" are in fact the "flash points" of the Reformation, where the implications of the Gospel recovery that took place in the 16th century were most noticeable and dramatically apparent: laity receiving both the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, priests being married, no more mandatory or forced confession, monasticism abolished, forced fasts ended, etc.

Here however Lutheranism also reveals itself as a reformation, not a revolution, for unlike the fanatics, Anabaptists and the emerging Reformed movements, Lutheranism does not do away with ceremonies and practices, but corrects abuses associated with them, and observes them rightly. Hence, priests are not required to be celibate, but may marry, or remain unmarried. Fasting is not abolished, but not required by way of meriting grace. The historic form of the communion liturgy, the Mass, as it came to be called, is not ended, but reformed and the Gospel restored to its heart and center, and so forth.

And so we begin with the correction of the error of Rome in withholding from the laity the Lord's blood, under the wine. How did this error develop? When did it develop? It was, relatively speaking, a recent innovation by the 16th century. Up until the twelfth century, in both Eastern and Western Churches, the cup was given to the laity. The Council of Lambeth in 1281 forbid the laity from receiving the cup. When this practice became universal is hard to say, but by the time of the Reformation the laity did not receive the consecrated wine. It was particularly at the Council of Constance in 1416 that communion under both kinds was abolished, John Hus, was burned at the stake for, among other things, advocating communion under both kinds. You can read a good overview of the Roman perspective on this issue at the New Advent site. In an astounding coincedence of history, Martin Luther took his monastic vows at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt, Germany, lying prostate on the tomb of the Catholic Cardinal who had served as Huss' chief judge at the Council of Constance.

There developed in Romanism anemically foolish argument that since the blood of Christ is surely also given under the consecrated bread, with His body, that receiving the bread is "enough" for the laity. This theory, known as concomitance, is a silly philosophical excuse for violating the clear Word of Christ and His command: take and drink, all of you. Reasons for withholding the cup from the laity developed ex post facto and even today when read strike the objective reader as wholly absurd, lacking in any meaningful Biblical foundation. Vatican II in the 1960s reversed the Roman practice of refusing the cup to the laity, and while still communion under one kind is permitted and practiced, communion under both kinds is now commonplace in many Roman parishes.

But at the time of the Reformation, the Lutherans insistence on offering the Lord's Supper, whole and inviolate, to the laity: both the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine, was regarded as an act of open rebellion against Roman rule of the Church.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Roundtable 22: Worship of the Saints

Charles Porterfield Krauth notes that the doctrinal sections of the AC begin with God and end with the saints. Most fitting. There is undue fear of the saints in current Lutheranism (a bit of reaction, I suppose, to Roman excesses) that would have surprised and shocked the Augsburg Confessors. Instead of ignoring the saints (or pretending "they're just the same as you and me"), the Confession approves honoring the saints by telling their stories (the history of the saints) so that we may follow the example of their faith and of their good works, as appropriate to our calling.

Since the Emperor was the audience at the moment, they remind Charles V that he "may follow the example of David in making war to drive away the Turk from his country. For both are kings." But if the saints may be honored by the retelling in the Church their stories, yet the Confession is clear: "...the Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or ask the saints for help. Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to. He has promised that He will hear our prayer. This is the worship that He approves above all other worship, that He be called upon in all afflictions." The clincher is in 1 John: "If anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father." The reserve of this article is astonishing and a testimony to the good will of the Confessors to try by all means to maintain unity with Rome to the furtherest extent conscience would allow. What is unstated here but clearly running in the background is that the Roman practice had made the faithful imagine that they could not come to Christ directly, for He was thought of as a stern judge, but must instead go to the saints who might soften Him up a bit, and lead to Him having mercy on us. Particularly was the Most Blessed Virgin called upon to accomplish this, though by no means her alone. "Saint Ann, help me and I will straightway become a monk!" the terrified young Luther had once cried. In the Larger Catechism Luther will comment that where we turn for help in time of need discloses who we are trusting as our God. If in time of need, we turn to the saints, because we think that they might give us a better hearing than our Lord Jesus, then we have indeed tragically turned the saints into idols and betrayed the very faith that they sought to hand onto us.

Two closing thoughts that are tangential to AC XXI, but explicit in Ap XXI: we do not deny that the saints in heaven intercede for the church in general. Granted, there is no explicit Scripture that teaches this outside of the dream in 2 Maccabees where Jeremiah is seen pleading for Jerusalem. But Scripture does teach that the angels intercede for us (Zechariah 1), and since we know that our Lord, the premier Saint, lives to intercede for His Church to the Father, it is quite sound to hold that the saints in heaven join Him in His intercession for the pilgrim church on earth.

Thus, do not allow yourself to be drawn into typical Roman or Eastern polemics about the intercession of the saints as though we denied it; we do not. Rather, what we have always denied is that the fact that they intercede for the Church in general justifies the practice of the saints on earth invoking the saints in heaven. And since this is so, it is contrary to the Gospel to require people to pray to the saints in heaven. Second, the joy of the saints' company is not that they invite us to focus on them. Rather, the very mark of the saints is that they invite us to focus with them upon the Lamb who redeemed them with His own blood, sanctified them in the waters of Baptism, and made them shining witnesses to the glory of His resurrection. They are not dead. They live in Him. Their spirits join us (and we them) in the Divine Liturgy (Hebrews 12!) and we sing a united song with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven. "Holy, holy, holy!"

P.S. Don't neglect to check out the fine introduction to the Commemorations in Lutheran Service Book on p. xii!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Roundtable 21: Good Works

Lutherans forbid good works. That was what folks were saying then, and some have gone on saying it, including those who should know better.

No, Lutherans do NOT forbid good works, but they command all those works which God has enjoined on us. As Luther pointed out - if we take care of those, we won't have any time for the ones we try to make up on our own. The made up ones - "particular holy days, particular fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honor of the saints, the use of rosaries, monasticism, and such" (AC XX:3) - they are what occupied the opponents' preaching.

Used to be they taught just works justify. Now, says AC, they've at least learned to mention faith along with the works - a step in the right direction that brings a tad more comfort.

But nothing compares to the comfort of knowing that your works - not even those works that God Himself commands us to do - do not justify us. Can't get away from AC IV. There it is again. Our teachers proclaim throughout our churches that "our works cannot reconcile God to us or merit forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification." Rather, all these come to us only by faith, "when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ's sake." Not our works, but He alone gets to be "the Mediator and Atoning Sacrifice." (AC XX:9) To think that our works - especially our made up works - merit grace is "seeking a way to God without Christ, by human strength." It's to reject Him who proclaims "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (AC XX:10)

The Lutherans were utterly confident on this point that they had not made up a new interpretation of Paul. How does one know this? The old standard: "Check the Fathers!" Augustine and Ambrose are mentioned. Turns out to be pseudo-Ambrose in the work cited, but there was more than enough ammo in Ambrose and the other fathers too. You knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to throw out a few juicy lines. How about these?

Augustine:

And before this redemption is wrought in a man, when he is not yet free to do what is right, how can he talk of the freedom of his will and his good works, except he be inflated by that foolish pride of boasting which the apostle restrains when he says, "By grace are you saved, through faith." Enchiridion 30

And lest men should arrogate to themselves the merit of their own faith at least, not understanding that this too is the gift of God, this same apostle, who says in another place that he had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful," here also adds: "and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." And lest it should be thought that good works will be wanting in those who believe, he adds further: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." We shall be made truly free, then, when God fashions us, that is, forms and creates us anew, not as men—for He has done that already—but as good men, which His grace is now doing, that we may be a new creation in Christ Jesus, according as it is said: "Create in me a clean heart, O God." For God had already created his heart, so far as the physical structure of the human heart is concerned; but the psalmist prays for the renewal of the life which was still lingering in his heart. Enchiridion 31

Ambrose:

If, then, you wish to reclaim any one of the lapsed, do you exhort him to believe, or not to believe? Undoubtedly you exhort him to believe. But, according to the Lord's words, he who believes shall have everlasting life. Repentance, Book I, par 48

He then who has faith has life, and he who has life is certainly not shut out from pardon; "that every one," it is said, "that believes in Him should not perish." Since it is said, Every one, no one is shut out, no one is excepted, for He does not except him who has lapsed, if only afterwards he believes effectually. Repentance, Book I, par 48

Therefore it is said: "That every one that believes in Him should not perish." Let no one, that is, of whatever condition, after whatever fall, fear that he will perish. Repentance, Book I, par. 51

Let us consider another similar passage: "He that believes in the Son has eternal life, but he that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:36 That which abides has certainly had a commencement, and that from some offence, viz., that first he not believe. When, then, any one believes, the wrath of God departs and life comes. To believe, then, in Christ is to gain life, for "he that believes in Him is not judged." John 3:18. Repentance, Book I, par. 53

St. John Chrysostom:

The favors of God so far exceed human hope and expectation, that often they are not believed. For God has bestowed upon us such things as the mind of man never looked for, never thought of. It is for this reason that the Apostles spend much discourse in securing a belief of the gifts that are granted us of God. For as men, upon receiving some great good, ask themselves if it is not a dream, as not believing it; so it is with respect to the gifts of God. What then was it that was thought incredible? That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor. Homily 4 on 1 Timothy

And he well said, "a righteousness of mine own," not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you. For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other. But what is that other? That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God. This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift. And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence. Homily on Philippians 3

Okay, okay, I'll stop. But there are SO many more to choose from. The Fathers are simply stuffed full of testimonies to justification by faith and not by works. How could they be anything else? Well the Confession goes on that the whole value of this faith - not a fictitious faith consisting of historical knowledge, but a living faith that holds tight to the promise of forgiveness (AC XX:25), is in the battle of the conscience, which despairs before God because it has nothing of its own that it can set against the just demands of God in His law. But that is, of course, about justification, not good works.

But the article returns to good works with joy and says: "But see, we don't just teach what they are, we show how to do them!" (AC XX:35) It is FAITH that is the mother of the good works of love, faith that receives the Holy Spirit who renews our hearts. Back to Luther's old favorite of "grace" and the "gift in grace." Forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables those "new affections" that can bring forth the good works. (AC XX:29)

Take away faith, say the Lutherans, and human nature will not be able to really do the good works that the Ten Commandments require. Without faith, no calling upon God, no expecting squat from Him, no bearing of the cross. But let faith come in, that holds to the forgiveness of sins given in Christ Jesus, and watch out! The Holy Spirit rules the heart instead of "all kinds of lusts and human intentions" (AC XX:38)

Which is all just taking seriously our Lord's solemn words: "Apart form me you can do nothing." And joy of all joys, the clencher in this article is the LITURGY. They say: "It's what we sing after all." Veni Sancte Spiritus is cited, verse 6.

Summary then: good works are the works God has commanded; we must do them; we can only do them as those who have been justified by faith and renewed by the Spirit. So, indeed, "Come, Holy Spirit!" Amen!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Roundtable 20: The Cause of Sin

Our churches teach that although God creates and preserves nature, the cause of sin is located in the will of the wicked, that is, the devil and ungodly people. Without God's help, this will turns itself away from God, as Christ says, "When he lies, he speaks out of his own character" (John 8:44).

We stand here again and gaze on a mystery: evil. What is known about it is that evil and the sin that follows from it are very real. It would seem more likely that people would believe that there is such a thing as evil, even if they are uncertain about God. The 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, but yet there are still fools about who deny that there is such a thing as "evil" and "sin." But whence comes sin and evil? The Augsburg Confession simply attributes sin to the will of those who are wicked. Not much of an answer really, sin comes from the sinful. Speculations into the "why" of evil and the "why" of sin are futile and pointless, ultimately. What is revealed in God's Word is that there is no hope for the wicked, apart from Christ. Years after the AC was written, well-intentioned Lutherans came along who tried to assert that sin is of the very essence of what it is to be human, but to say this is to contradict this article, and to attribute to God the source of evil, since, if sin is of the essence of what it means to be human then God is the creator of evil.

The Roman Catholic confutation concurs with this article and states: "The nineteenth article is likewise approved and accepted. For God, the supremely good, is not the author of evils, but the rational and defectible will is the cause of sin; wherefore let no one impute his midsdeeds and crimes to God, but to himself, according to Jer. 2:19: "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee and thy backslidings shall reprove thee;" and Hos. 13:9: "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help." And David in the spirit acknowledged that God is not one that hath pleasure in wickedness, Ps. 5:4."

What then do we say to those who are in the midst of a particularly severe struggle with evil? We are always struggling with evil, to be certain. But what of those times when is presses particularly hard on us? What of the times when the Devil is throwing in our face our sinfulness and failure to live as we should? What of the times when sin separates us from our loves ones? What of the dark moments in the night when we are all alone and at those times we see the sin that is ever before us? What of the struggles and testings that come when our bodies become sick and weak and when we finally recognize that we are in our last months, or days, or hours on earth? To whom do we turn? Where do we place our hope and confidence? The answer God gives is the comfort of the Savior and the Holy Spirit bring to mind once again His words: peace, be still. Do not let your heart be troubled. I have overcome the world. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you also will be. I have called you friends. Today, you shall be with me in paradise. As the Apostle St. Paul declared: Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Roundtable 19: Free Will

Article XVIII:
Our churches teach that a person’s will has some freedom to choose civil righteousness and to do things subject to reason. It has no power, without the Holy Spirit, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness....

Our churches condemn the Pelagians and others who teach that without the Holy Spirit, by natural power alone, we are able to love God above all things and do God’s commandments according to the letter....


Article XVIII flows out of Articles IV and V and really presents nothing substantially new. If justification is entirely by grace through faith for Christ’s sake, then the will of man contributes nothing in the way of spiritual righteousness that avails before God. To guard against determinism, Melanchthon introduces the distinction of civil/spiritual righteousness. Civil righteousness is before men (coram hominibus) and is concerned with temporal, earthly matters. In this sense, man possesses “some liberty” to do those things subject to reason. However (the disjunction sed/aber is absent in the Concordia edition), without the Holy Spirit, there is no power in man to work spiritual righteousness, that is, the righteousness that avails before God (coram Deo).

Melanchthon quotes from Book III of Hypognosticon, wrongly attributed to Augustine in support. Did Augustine actually teach this? In his anti-Pelagian writings, Augustine certainly emphasizes divine monergism over and against the will of man, even to the point of double predestination and God acting even when men are inclined to do evil. Clearly, Melanchthon does not wish to run this far with Augustine. Perhaps this explains his citing of the pseudop-Augustinian work.

A great deal hinges on the phrase “without the Holy Spirit.” This might be construed to imply cooperation in salvation between the person and God. In the Variata of 1540, the sentence was changed to read, “but spiritual righteousness is effected in us when we are helped by the Holy Spirit.” Clearly, after 1535, Melancththon maintains that the will cooperates in salvation and works together with the Word and the Spirit. Here Melanchthon parts with Luther.

The unnamed opponent is Gabriel Biel and the school of Ockhamism, the via moderna of medieval theology which states that man is able to merit saving grace by doing the good that is in him which is then rewarded by God with grace enabling man to do more of the same. According to Biel, free will, quite apart from God’s grace in Christ, can do that which is good and so fulfill, at least in part, the divine commandments. Further, one is able by one’s own power to dispose oneself to grace, since the intellect can acknowledge the good and the will can freely subscribe to it. (see Grane, 181-189)

Surprisingly, the Confutation approves of this article without reservation, stating that it befits Catholics to pursue the middle way between Pelagianism and Manichaeism. This is followed by a long series of Scriptures which supposedly support this view. Melanchthon is uneasy with the response and the citations, and argues that there is little difference between the Pelagians and his own opponents, since both believe that natural man is able to love God, do good works, and merit justification without the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of Article XVIII is what we confess in the small catechism when we say under the 3rd article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” The Holy Spirit must intervene, for by nature we are, in ourselves, spiritually dead. This has great implications for our preaching and the proclamation of Christ in the world. We do not speak of salvation in Christ in such a way that it implies a decision or choice on the part of the hearer (”Christ died for you if you believe in Him,”), but as an accomplished fact in Christ with an imperative to believe (”Christ died for you; believe it.”) There is no neutral place between sin and righteousness, hell and heaven, the devil and Christ. One is not born into freedom to decide one way or the other, nor is one fated one way or the other. Obviously the mystery of election lies close at hand, and many a theologian has been crucified on the crux theologorum. Article XVIII leaves to God what is God’s without abrogating responsibility for man’s actions.

As I indicated, this is a tricky article, juggling the dynamic paradox of divine monergism and man’s will. Attempts to reconcile the paradox will invariably lead to deterministic double predestination on the one hand or semi-Pelagian synergism on the other. Hardly a "middle way," Article XVIII pursues the paradoxical way of the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Roundtable 18: Christ's Return for Judgment

Just offer to unlock the secrets of Revelation and reveal all kinds of end-time mysteries and watch your church pack out. The Lutheran Church with joy misses out on these Hal Lindsey fests. Instead she confesses the certainties which Scripture gives:

* At the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead.

Appear is a big word. In the NT, more often than not, the Parousia is described as our blessed Lord's APPEARING rather than as His "coming." There is an unveiling that will take place on that day and ALL will SEE the realities in which we as His Church now live by faith. "Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age." They will see that Christ has indeed been with His people exactly as He promised - not with some piece of Him, but the whole. Not just His divinity, but as the indivisible God-Man. It's like the drawing back of a great veil: Voila! See the realities in which His people have lived, have believed, and have loved and died in hope. They were bigger and stronger than any realities that might be seen.

* He will give the godly and the elect eternal life and everlasting joys.

Basic Athanasian Creed stuff here. The godly and elect are those in whom He has worked the gift of faith. That is, whose faith was real and living - not fained and fake. The godliness that resulted was not so much the result of their doing as the result of living in union by faith with the One who had freely justified them.

* He will condemn ungodly people and the devils to be tormented without end.

"O Ruthless Love that wilt not look on mankind robed in contempt of Thee" (Franzmann). The ungodly, the unbelievers, including those who had fake faith (head knowledge of the facts of redemption, but no fruits of the Holy Spirit - those who thought forgiveness meant a license to sin instead of the breaking of sin's shackles) experience the unending torture of existence without Him who is Life. This is, what they chose on earth, to resist every prompting of the Spirit, is finally conceded. Thus they get to share with the devils the culmination of their heart's desire. "Just go away and leave us alone, Lord." Sadly, the Lord finally says: "If you insist." Lord, preserve us from presumption and give us repentance and faith!

* The anabaptists are wrong in thinking there is an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

Well, if they said it then, Origen had taught it earlier. It is a hope that certainly sounds so pious, but it goes against the very nature of the way God has both created and redeemed His creatures. A salvation that is forced is no salvation at all. He gives His gifts and as a very wise fellow once said: "For a gift to be a gift it must be rejectable." Such are the critters God has made: in their awesome use of freedom they can resist Him and His love to the bitter end. He lets them do this.

* Those are wrong who imagine a millennial kingdom in this world before the resurrection of the dead with the general suppression of ungodliness.

Not in and through this world is our hope founded, but upon the making new of this creation which Christ accomplishes by His glorious appearing on the Last Day. "My kingdom is not of this world" forever seals off the hope of more than bandaids for what ails here and now. We can labor in the love and healing of this world as best we can, but we do so knowing the the full healing of this world finally lies not in this age, but in that which Christ shall bring about at His appearing.

AC XVII thus leads us to cry out with the voice of our greatest Lutheran hymnist:

What joy to know when life is past,
The Lord we love is first and last,
The end and the beginning!
He will one, oh, glorious grace,
Transport us to that happy place
Beyond all tears and sinning!
Amen! Amen!
Come, Lord Jesus!
Crown of gladness!
We are yearning
For the day of Your returning.
LSB 395:6

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Roundtable 17: Civil Government

From the exciting topic of church ceremonies, to the boring topic of government. Well, okay, I've shown my prejudice. The biggy in AC XVI is to teach that "lawful civil regulations are good works of God." In other words, there's nothing dirty about them in themselves, which is not to say that we cannot abuse them the same way we abuse every other good gift of God. Because they are "good works of God" the Christian has full right to them: "to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by Imperial laws or other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to take oaths required by the magistrates, for a man to marry a wife, or a women to be given in marriage." None of these things is in the least conflict with being a Christian; all of them can be engaged in with a good conscience.

Thus, the Lutherans were saying loudly and clearly at Augsburg (and since that day): "We ain't no Anabaptists!" For us, there is no flight from the civil realm - which seems to follow from thinking of the civil realm as "secular" - i.e., not God's! The Lutherans say "Balderdash! It is also God's, but under a different governance than the Church." That different governance is hinted at when we hear of the judging matters by "Imperial laws or other existing laws" and the notion of "just" punishments and wars. This all is grounded in the notion that God's way of dealing with the civil realm is through civil righteousness founded upon the law God has written on the hearts of all people. Pity that Melancthon didn't have Lewis' Abolition of Man at hand when he wrote, because I have no doubts he would have found it a concise exposition of the notion. Of course, back then both the Roman party and the Augsburg party took that foundation for granted.

The Lutherans also want to be clear that "evangelical perfection" is not found in running away from the civil realm - either to a monastery or in your new utopian community. Rather, "the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart." This righteousness of the heart does not require and demand the overthrow of the civil state or of the civil state's foundation in the family. But it does effect a reordering of disordered priorities. Obedience to parents, to government has its place, but also its limits. The limit is when in their sinfulness those in civil state or family would command the Christian to sin. Then, a higher obedience comes into play: "they ought to obey God rather than men." But unless and until such conflict between the will of God and civil or familial obedience arises, one obeys God also through obedience to the authorities. That speed limit thing, for instance. Mea culpa. But it's true, even if it seems trite: for Christians (unlike the world) see the very hand of God ALSO in the governance of the "civil realm." Thus, for us, there is no such thing as "secular" if that is taken to mean "not God's." It all belongs to the Blessed Trinity.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Roundtable 16: Church Ceremonies

Our churches teach that ceremonies ought to be observed that may be observed without sin. Also, ceremonies and other practices that are profitable for tranquility and good order in the Church (in particular, holy days, festivals, and the like) ought to be observed.

Yet, the people are taught that consciences are not to be burdened as though observing such things was necessary for salvation. They are also taught that human traditions instituted to make atonement with God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. So vows and traditions concerning meats and days, and so forth, instituted to merit grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel. (AC XV, Concordia, 39)

This is the third of what I term the “apologetic articles” (Articles 13-21) which are written in response to certain slanderous allegations by Eck and other papal apologists against the Lutherans and also to distance the Lutheran side of the Reformation from the more radical elements. Clearly, the charge is that the Lutherans had abrogated and abandoned the traditional rites and ceremonies of the Church.

The conservative nature of the Lutheran reformation is apparent. Our churches keep the traditional ceremonies and practices, including the liturgical calendar, for the sake of tranquility and good order. This attitude is restated clearly in Apology XV where Melanchthon states: “We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify” (Ap XV.38). The same idea is echoed in the close of the Augustana where the reformers state, “we have introduced nothing, either in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Holy Scripture or the universal Christian church.”

Melanchthon makes three points in Article XV. First, the existing rites of the received tradition are kept insofar as they do not conflict with the Gospel and contribute to peace and good order in the Church. Second, consciences are not to be burdened by making man-made rites necessary for salvation. This corresponds to Article VII in which the preached Gospel and administered sacraments are the necessary marks of the Church, while man-made ceremonies may vary and do not contribute to the unity of the Church. Third, certain traditions are rejected, ie monastic vows and fasting regulations, not for what they are but for what they purport to do, namely “to earn grace and make satisfaction for sins.” These are deemed “useless and contrary to the Gospel.”

The papal Confutation accepts the first part of this article but resoundingly rejects the second part, precipitating a lengthy response from Melanchthon in Apology XV. The gist of Melanchthon’s apologia lies in this sentence: “We can affirm nothing about the will of God without the Word of God” (Ap XV.17). Therefore, no rite or ceremony can serve as a revelatory sign of God’s grace without the Word of God. Interestingly, this article does not mention or deal with the liturgy or divine service. (That is taken up in article XXIV on the abuses of the Mass). This is not surprising since the reformers would not have considered the divine service a “manmade rite” but the Word of God, since the liturgy is composed almost entirely of Scripture passages and allusions. In his reform of the Mass, Luther simply excised those manmade parts that were in contradiction to the Gospel.

In our thinking about church rites and ceremonies, this article needs to be read and applied before we get to Formula Article X. Far too often in our circles today, the concept of adiaphora is invoked in a way that is contrary to the conservative spirit of the Lutheran reformers and much more consistent with the way of Münzer, Karlstadt and the radicals under the banner of “Gospel freedom.” AC XV reminds us that the Lutheran reformation was, and still is, a Gospel reformation of the western catholic tradition, not the beginning of a new church, or a romantic restoration of the first century church, or an exercise in unbounded Christian liberty.

Melanchthon’s maxim is well worth noting today: “Nothing should be changed in the accustomed rites without good reason, and to foster harmony those ancient customs should be kept which can be kept without sin or without great disadvantage” (Ap XV.52).

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Roundtable 15: Order in the Church

Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call (nisi rite vocatus, ohn ordentlichen Beruf). AC XIV.

Short, sweet, and to the point. Article XIV is the third of what I call the “defensive articles,” defending the Lutheran Reformers against slanderous associations with the radicals. This article is in direct response to Eck (Thesis 267) who stated that the Lutherans had abrogated the ordered ministry and had made every Christian a minister. There is no corresponding article to AC XIV in the Schwabach or Torgau articles. The title refers to the order of the office (ordo) (see Ap XIII), not to everything being neat and tidy.

In the background, of course, is the canonical episcopal polity and ordination at the hand of the bishop. Luther had already dealt with this extensively in his letter to the Senate of Prague in 1523 wherein he advocated a “bootstrap” process for reestablishing the holy ministry when the bishops refused to ordain priests for the congregations. Since the papal bishops opposed the reformation, they refused to ordain candidates to fill vacancies in evangelical parishes. This became a serious issue after 1525. It is important to remember that Luther and others were ordained prior to the reformation and so continued in office without any disruption of the ministry. This was not the case as vacancies occurred and pulpits had to be filled. Melanchthon treats this topic extensively in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, which should be read as a companion piece and commentary to AC XIV.

Key to understanding this article is the meaning of “publicly” (publice, offentlich) and “rightly ordered call.”

It was well established among the Lutherans that heads of household were responsible to teach their children and servants, and when necessary, also to baptize. In his 1523 letter to the Bohemians, Luther strongly advised against any private household celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, even to the extent of going a lifetime without it rather than having it in a dubious way. AC XIV is concerned with what goes on “in the Church,” that is officially, in the name of the Church.

What Melanchthon means by an “ordered call” is spelled out more clearly in the Treatise, where Melanchthon defends the thesis that the local congregation always retains the right to a pastor and the authority to make one. “For wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel also exists. Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers” (Treatise, 67). To have a “rightly ordered call,” according to Melanchthon, is to be called, elected, and ordained. This authority, Melanchthon argues in the Treatise, resides with the local congregation and her pastor by divine right (de jure divino) and with the bishops only by human right (de jure humano) for the sake of peace and good order.

The Confutation understands a “rightly ordered call” as “called in accordance with the form of law and the ecclesiastical ordinances and decrees hitherto observed everywhere in the Christian world....” This prompts Melanchthon to both defend the canonical episcopal polity (Oh, that we would have heeded Ap XIV, but don’t get me started!), and at the same time condemn the papal bishops for their cruelty in withholding pastors from their congregations. It is the papal bishops, not the reformers, who are responsible for the breakdown.

The underlying theology of AC XIV is the objectivity of the external Word of the Gospel. “We know that the church is present among those who rightly teach the Word of God and rightly administer the sacraments” (Ap XIV). Melanchthon has already established the Office of the Holy Ministry as the instrumental means of delivering the Gospel and Sacraments (AC V) and has indicated that holy order and ordination have a place among the “sacraments” in that they provide for the proper sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper (Ap XIII). This article underscores the important fact that no one takes it upon himself to become a minister, but he is granted this office by an external, objective act of God - a rightly ordered call. In his writing Against the Heavenly Prophets (1525), Luther held ordination papers to be of far greater value than any interior, subjective “calling” to preach. The objective, external Word makes preachers of the Word.

The objectivity of the ordered call is a source of great strength and comfort, both to preacher and to hearer. As Luther puts it in a Tischreden: “Die vocatio tut dem Teufel sehr wehe” (The call pains the devil greatly.)

An addition to this post:
I love the liturgy. I love the liturgy for many reasons, not the least of which being that it guards us from our own agendas and amnesias. What struck me today as I prepare to preside at the liturgy tomorrow in my congregation are these words: "called and ordained." They have been with me since my childhood in the Lutheran church. "Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word...." They've gone that way from TLH to LW to LSB. LSB adds a little reference to authority, which is the essence of office, the permission to speak and act granted by another. "As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority...." You can't say Office of the Holy Ministry any clearer than that.

Called and ordained. Some would have the call be everything; others would have ordination be the clincher. What God has joined together, let man not rend asunder. "Called and ordained" is how the liturgy has us confess it. Here is the right use of that little slogan "lex orandi, lex credendi." As the church prays in the liturgy, so she believes. The liturgy bears witness over and against our attempts to bend things our way like some wax nose.

Called and ordained is the way of our tradition. In the 14th article of the Augsburg Confession, the Reformers defended themselves against Eck's slanders that they were like the radical protestants, making everyone ministers without distinction. "It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church with a regular call (an "ordered call," ordentliche Beruf)" (AC XIV). Ordination by a pastor, or by a bishop, if such is the arrangement, testifies and confirms that the call is ordered, that is "in order." "Afterwards a bishop, either of that church or of a neighboring church, was brought in to confirm the election with the laying on of hands; nor was ordination anything more (else) than such confirmation" (Treatise 70).

Called and ordained. Both are essential in the making of a pastor. When the bishops attempted to choke out the Lutheran congregations of Germany and refused to ordain pastors to fill their vacancies, Melanchthon and the Reformers argued that the authority to ordain inherently resides with the congregation as an inalienable right. "Consequently, when the regular bishops become enemies of the Gospel and are unwilling to administer ordination, the churches retain the right to ordain for themselves. For wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel also exists. Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers" (Treatise 66-67).

Ordination by a bishop was, and is, a human arrangement (de jure humano), granted by common consent for the sake of peace and unity among the churches. However, "since the distinction between bishop and pastor is not by divine right, it is manifest that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right (de jure divino)" (Treatise 65). Every congregation manifests the fulness of the Church; therefore every congregation possesses the right to elect, call, and ordain pastors, for without the preached Word, the Church would perish.

Ordination is not a "sacrament" in the same sense as Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper. These are "rites which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added" (Apology XIII.3). Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper benefit the recipient and bestow on faith the gifts of salvation. Ordination provides ministers of the Word and sacraments. The Office of the Holy Ministry is the instrumentality of the Word and the sacraments, the means by which these are administered (AC V). "If ordination (that is "order," ordo) is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no objection to calling ordination a sacrament" (Ap. XIII.11). Further, "if ordination (order, ordo) is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it." (Apology XIII.12).

We best understand "call and ordination" in terms of what is proper to each one. The call locates a man in a particular place; there is no such thing as absolute, unlocated, floating ordination. Ordination ratifies and confirms the call, placing the man into the holy order of the Office in such a way that the congregation may receive him as the gift from God that he is as their pastor. Externum verbum, extra nos. We have an approximate analogy from public offices of the state. We elect a person to be president on the first Tuesday of November. And in January we inaugurate him into office with a solemn vow. Only then are we given to address him as "Mr. President."

God calls and ordains through His instruments, the churches and her pastors. There is much that is confessed in that little persistent phrase, "I, a called and ordained servant of Christ...." And much for which to be thankful.

William Cwirla

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Roundtable 14: The Use of the Sacraments

Our churches teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but even more, to be signs and testimonies of God's will toward us. They were instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Therefore, we must use the Sacraments in such a way that faith, which believes the promises offered and set forth through the Sacraments, is increased.

Therefore, they condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify simply by the act of doing them. They condemn those who do not teach that faith, which believe that sins are forgiven, is required in the use of the Sacraments.
-- AC XIII

Note the "not only." That means that they ARE also "marks of profession among men." In other words, you can use the Sacraments to locate the Church. That's one of their uses and it is an important use. A Lutheran distinctive is that we locate the Church via the Gospel preached and the Sacraments given; Rome and the East tend to locate the Gospels and the Sacraments via the Church. It's a matter of where your final certainty rests.

But the Confessors, recognizing that's a big thing, know it's not THE biggy about the Sacraments. First and foremost ("even more") they are "signs and testimonies of God's will toward us." I would gloss "will" with "good will." For that is what they surely reveal: God's good and gracious will toward us!

Said most simply: Baptism doesn't change how God regards you in Christ! Your Baptism MANIFESTS how God regards you in Christ. Similarly with the Supper. Or with Absolution.

I think of a man I know who, when he suffered a stroke, said sadly: "I guess God doesn't love me anymore." This man had been a faithful Christian for years and years! But when something came along that shook his world to the core, his faith was shaken too. At such a moment along comes the Sacrament to make firm that shaking faith and say: "NO! You've got it all wrong. God loves you and HERE IS THE PROOF. His body and blood given into death for the sins of the world. His blood mingled in the water of Baptism washing away your sin and telling you how precious indeed you are to God. His servant commanded to speak into your penitent ear over and over again: Your sins are history, man! Forgiven and gone. Your God is FOR you." This is what the Sacraments testify to, and you see how utterly useless they would be to anyone who didn't believe the promises they speak.

Satan is such a rascal. He always tries to get us to doubt the promises of God! And there is no worse way to doubt them than to turn them into a work we do. So that Baptism saves you because YOU choose to do it and receive it. Or the same with Absolution. Or the Supper.

What utter nonsense. The Sacraments - being by their very nature PROMISE - do not save through a mere external use. They save through an external use that is joined to a faith that trusts what God says is there given. No faith, no benefit of the Sacrament! Why, it would be like a person insisting that he could be satisfied by food set in front of him without actually EATING it. Faith is what EATS the promise of God. Devours it. Clings to it and lives from it.

That such faith is not our own doing is the story for another day, but the burden of AC XIII is that BECAUSE the Sacraments testify unfailing to us of God's good will, their very use is faith trusting the promise as it receives the "sign."

And last note on sign. It recalls the "oth" of the Hebrew. The rainbow was such an "oth" and it was indeed something that pointed to God's good will. Similarly the Passover Lamb's blood upon the door. An "oth" a sign, a promise under which one could shelter and find life and not death. So the "sign" is delivered of its platonic straight-jacket and freed to be what God declares it to be: sort of an X marks the spot of my grace. Run and shelter there, trust my promise, and live!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Roundtable 13: Repentance

"Strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven. It comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruit of repentance." --Augsburg Confession Article XII: Repentance. par. 1-6; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, p. 38.

The Reformation of the Church was sparked in the confessional, as others have noted on this blog. Father Martin Luther, hearing confessions, became enraged when Christians appealed to the indulgence they had purchased as their "get out of jail free card" when it came to a serious repenting from and turning away from evil and putting their trust in the mercies of God in Christ. The Christian life is marked by returning, again and again, to the fount and source of all loving kindness, our Lord Jesus Christ. This article rejects any teaching that implies that our works of satisfaction are part of true repentance. And it also carefully notes that repentance is marked by the fruits of good works, which are "bound to follow" it. The article rejects the Anabaptist assertion that once a person is justified he can never lose the Holy Spirit, or that a person can ever reach such a point of perfection that he can actually not sin. I'm a bit puzzled why the Novatians are mentioned in the article. Others may enlighten on this point. And the article most pointedly rejects Rome's view that faith alone is not sufficient to receive forgiveness, but must be merited by our own works of satisfaction.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Roundtable 12: Confession

"Our churches teach that private absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession. For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible. "Who can discern his error?" (Psalm 19:12)." (-- AC Latin; Concordia edition, 36-37).

By the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the practice of private absolution had been in place for well over 1,000 years. The Augsburg Confession is very brief and is intent simply on affirming that Lutherans continue the practice, but rejected any suggestion that all of one's sins must be enumerated. The article's purpose is twofold: to reject the false accusation that the Lutherans had rejected private absolution, to put distance between themselves and who had rejected it, and to reject the abuse of Rome that demanded that the penitent enumerate every sin he possibly could, or else he would not be certain of forgiveness. Sadly, over the course of time in Lutheranism, the practice of private confession and absolution fell out of practice.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Roundtable 11: The Holy Supper

“It is taught among us that the true body and blood of Christ are really present in the Supper of our Lord under the form (Gestalt) of bread and wine and are there distributed and received. The contrary doctrine is therefore rejected.”

The Latin text is even more tersely worded: “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the in Supper of the Lord. They disapprove of those who teach otherwise.”

As with Article IX on Baptism, Article X is nuanced carefully to distance the Lutheran reformers from the Zwinglians and other radicals. In the background, of course, is Luther's engagement with Zwingli at Marburg in 1528. The precursor Schwabach article 10 went into much greater detail: “The Eucharist or Sacrament of the Altar also consists of two parts, namely that the actual body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine according to the Word of Christ: “This is my body, this is my blood,” and it is not only bread and wine as the deniers set forth. These words also deliver and bring to faith and also exercise the same in all those who desire the Sacrament and do not contradict it, just as Baptism brings and give faith, as one desires it.”

Melanchthon is clearly avoiding the issue of transubstantiation by saying the body and blood are present “under the form” (unter der Gestalt) of bread and wine. The Latin text says even less. In the Apology, he says, “that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present (vere et substantialiter adsint) and are truly exhibited (exhibeantur) with the things that are seen, bread and wine” (Apology 10.4). Only in the Smalcald Articles, do the Lutheran Confessions directly address the topic of transubstantiation, and then only to dismiss it as “subtle sophistry” for which we have no regard (SA VI.5).

The papal Confutation “finds nothing offensive in the words” of AC X but asks the reformers to affirm that the “whole Christ” in both Body and Blood is present in the bread by concomitance, and that in the consecration, the substance of the bread is changed into the Body of Christ. In Apology X, Melanchthon responds by citing positively the epiklesis of the eastern liturgies to the effect that the bread is “changed” (mutare) and becomes the body of Christ, thereby affirming an actual sacramental “change” without fully embracing the teaching of transubstantiation. The subtlety of this exchange is most instructive.

Melanchthon again takes up the Lord’s Supper in AC XIII (on the sacraments in general), XXII (on receiving both kinds), and XXIV (on the nature of the Mass). Unlike the Schwabach Articles, AC X does not mention the role of faith. In AC XXIV, Melanchthon makes three points regarding the Lord’s Supper: 1) it is not a propitiatory sacrifice of which there is but one, namely Christ on the cross; 2) the blessings and benefits are not received by virtue of the work having been performed (ex opere operato); but 3) they are received through faith, and, therefore, the sacrament requires faith.

Article X says just enough to distance the Lutherans from the Zwinglians and the othe radicals, while at the same time providing enough room to engage the various misunderstanding and abuses of the Mass.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Roundtable 10: Baptism

Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that God's grace is offered through Baptism. They teach that children are to be baptized. Being offered to God, through Baptism they are received into God's grace. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism. (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, AC Article IX.)

It would appear from the text of the Augsburg Confession that the only reason this article was put in was to clarify that Lutheranism clearly rejects the anti-baptism theology of the Anabaptists, who denied that baptism was a means of grace. This is validated by the way this article is discussed in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. There however we find this interesting assertion, "The promise of salvation also applies to little children. It does not, however, apply to those who are outside of Christ's Church, where there is neither Word nor Sacraments. Christ's kingdom only exists with the Word and Sacraments." (Concordia, Ap. IX 53). After the Apology indicates that the promise of salvation is for all, therefore all are to be baptized, it moves to an argument to support infant baptism that I do not find terribly strong: namely, that the church exists, thus "proving" the Holy Spirit works through Baptism of infants. It is the one that the Apology goes with, the same one Luther uses in the Large Catechism ten years later when he talks about the subject of infant baptism.

The assertions in AC IX are made very flatly and without any qualification: Baptism is necessary for salvation. God's grace is given through Baptism. I've noticed that often in conversations about Baptism Lutherans seem to want immediately to jump to, "But of course we are not saying Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, look at the thief on the cross." I wonder why it is that so often discussions about Baptism almost immediately run to the exceptions. The Augsburg Confession doesn't offer any such exceptions or qualifications about Baptism at this point. The focus of Article IX of the Augsburg Confession is clearly on what God gives in Baptism and a pointed condemnation of those who teach otherwise.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reflection: Concerning the Name "Lutheran"

A conversation was underway in another topic that deserves to be featured in a separate post. I have asked for the forgiveness of our underpaid and underappreciated authors for deleting their comments on this subject elsewhere. I am trying to keep our discussions on-topic, obviously in a fumbling and hamfisted manner! Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

So, let's open another reflection discussion: concerning the name Lutheran. Why do we use it? What does it mean? Would we be better served to use names such as "Catholic" or "Evangelical" or "Orthodox" or use those terms in lower-case? The name Lutheran nowhere appears in our Book of Concord, but other terms or phrases, such as, "The churches of the Augsburg Confession." Here is what one pastor recently said to me:

The Lutheran Church is the Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Church and that these realities - all three - only meet in her. That that is why the name Lutheran is worth fighting for - because it is the conjunction of these other aspects.

What say you?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Reflection: What I Like About the Book of Concord

What impresses me most as I read the Lutheran Confessions is how pastoral, practical and personal they are.

They are pastoral. The constant drum beat throughout them is the goal of comforting and caring for souls. The Lutheran Confessions are not theological speculations or abstractions. The times in which it was written called for pastoral care on a scale that could only be compared to a national emergency. Souls bruised and bullied by legalisms and demands placed on them outside of and beyond the Sacred Scriptures were healed by the healing and life-giving Gospel. Persons who were not healing the comforting promises of the Holy Gospel, the free and full forgiveness of all salvation through Christ, received the love of God as they heard of the Savior who loved them and died and rose for them. The Lutheran Confessions speak to us today because they speak of the most important issues any of us ever face in our life. Who am I? What is life's meaning? Who do I know God? Am I loved? How can I be sure? What am I do to with my life?

They are practical. They go right to the heart of the key issues and, even in spite of the length of some articlees in them, never wander off on side paths. It is a book on a mission and that is to deliver the Gospel: purely, cleanly, correctly and practically, again, for the care of souls. They are not journal articles indulging in scholarly pursuits, or the pet interests of their authors in the pursuit of credibility and respect in the academic community. The Confessions are practical resources for people's faith and life, as they live and especially, as they die. Why? Because the golden thread running throughout them is the chief and most important teaching of the Christian faith: justification by God's grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, the teaching drawn from Scripture, alone: the Gospel.

They are personal. The Book of Concord was written by people who had deep and long first-hand experience with the various theological ills they are decrying and had first-hand knowledge of just how powerfully comforting and consoling the Gospel is. Therefore, for example, when you read about monasticism in this book, always behind these discussions stands the man who spent well over a decade of his life in this lifestyle, tortured and tormented no end by the lack of Gospel: Martin Luther. The book could almost be said to be a spiritual autobiography of all those who contributed to it. They are not dispassionate scientific essays. They are not mystical and obscure texts. They are personal statements of faith expressed on behalf of the Church, and for the Church, in order to gather more and more into the Church.

Those are three reasons why I am so passionate about the Book of Concord. Why do you like the Book of Concord? What have you found helpful in it? What do you keep coming back to in it that has been of particular help and meaning to you?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Roundtable 9: What the Church Is

Strictly speaking (proprie), the church is the congregation of saints and true believers. However, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons (German text adds “open sinners”) are mingled with believers, it is allowable to use the sacraments even when they are administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,” etc (Matt. 23:2). Both the sacraments and the Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ (propter ordinationem et mandatum Christi) even if they are administered by evil men.

Our churches condemn the Donatists and others like them who have denied that the ministry of evil men may be used in the church and who have thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and without effect.
(Augsburg Confession, Article VIII; Tappert, 33)

Men of the Round Table:

Article VIII guards against the charge of Donatism, which the confessors at Augsburg were well aware was being whispered by the papal representatives who intentionally sought to lump the “evangelicals” with the radical reformation. This article flows out of the dynamic understanding of the church confessed in AC VII. If the church is infallibly recognized by the divine activities of preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments, and these activities are going on concretely in the world, one can reasonably expect that false Christians, unbelievers, and evil men will also be found in the vicinity of these activities, even though they are not part of the church proper. Lief Grane states, “The means of grace certainly constitute the church, as through them the Holy Spirit creates faith. Nevertheless, the do not visibly mark the boundaries of the church over against the rest of humanity” (Grane, 100). As Christ's parable of the weedy wheat field indicates (Mt 13:24-30, cited in Concordia), the church as it is in this life is always a mixed body of believers and unbelievers associated with the sacramental Word in all its forms.

The stated purpose of this article is not to endorse the ecclesiology of Augustine, who posited a true “church of the elect” hidden within the “congregation of the called,” but simply to state explicitly that the Word and sacraments are not compromised in their efficacy when they are administered by evil and wicked men. The Latin text is helpful in locating the basis of this confidence in the “institution and mandate of Christ.”

The confessors follow Augustine’s solution in his engagement with the Donatist party, rigorists who held as invalid the sacramental acts of the “traditors,” pastors and bishops who had surrendered their sacred books and office in the persecution under Diocletian and subsequently returned to office and resumed their ministry under Constantine. Augustine argued the divine monergism of the Word over and against the personal worthiness of the officient. We need to remember that the Donatist controversy dealt with the worthiness of the men ordained to hold the office of the holy ministry. It did not, and does not, speak to such modern novelties as female ordination and “lay ministry,” as is sometimes alleged.

As a sidenote, Augustine’s struggle with the Donatists brought the language of “ex opere operato” into the church, and, in this context, the terminology can be understood properly and rightly. The Donatists argued that the sacraments were valid “ex opere operantis” (by the work of the one working), while Augustine argued that they were valid “ex opere operato” (by the work having been worked), that is, independent of the worthiness of the one administering it. This objectivity of the divine Word over and against the worthiness of the administrant reflects the understanding that the sacraments are Christ’s work and not the church’s or the ministers’. Where this is denied or compromised, the worthiness of the minister, or even the congregation, becomes a criterion for the sacraments’ validity and efficacy.

The papal Confutation accepted this article without controversy; therefore Melanchthon has little to add in the Apology except to underscore the objectivity of the holy ministry by stating that the pastor does not represent his own person but speaks in persona Christi: “...for ministers act in Christ’s stead (vice Christi) and do not represent their own persons, according to the word (Luke 10:16), ‘He who hears you hears me.’” (Apology VII/VIII.47)