Saturday, February 24, 2007

Roundtable 7: New Obedience

Well, sort of. Though it begins with new obedience, the topic quickly shifts back to justification - that is, to what our good works do not do. But there is some positive content and it needs attention.

Eck and company had long blasted the Lutherans for forbidding or at least denigrating "good works." The thought was clearly that if justification is by faith alone, then works become superfluous and a life of antinomianism ensues.

The Lutherans responded to this calumny with a clear confession:

1. Our churches teach that "such" faith is bound to bring forth good fruit.
2. Our churches teach that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God.
3. Our churches teach that we should not rely on those necessary good works to merit justification before God.
4. Our churches teach that forgiveness of sins and justification are received through faith.
5. Our churches teach that Christ our Lord excludes the merit of works in the realm of justification in Luke 17:10.
6. Our churches teach in accord with the Fathers that "whoever believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving forgiveness of sins, without works, through faith alone."

Unpacking that somewhat:

1. The AC puts it in the positive, and the Ap in the negative. AC: "this (solcher, such) faith" - the faith we've been talking about since AC IV - is "bound to bring forth" - "gut Früchte und gute Werke bringen soll" - "fides illa debeat bonos fructus parere." (In passing, note the force of the debeat and the soll - they both appear again in AC XIV!) The Apology asserts that a faith that does NOT result in such good works, good fruit, is not "such" faith - the saving faith wrought by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, for "such faith does not remain in those who obey their desires, neither does in dwell with mortal sin." (Ap V:23)

2. This one is the kicker. And it's not the "necessary." No true Lutheran has ever taught that good works are not necessary. They most certainly are. (Cf. FC IV) They are not necessary to justification or salvation. But they are necessary precisely as the fruits of faith. "For faith alone doth justify; works serve the neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living." But the thrust of this article as it will be expounded by Lutherans is in "good works commanded by God." Think of how the Large Catechism delights in this! Not works we dream up and call holy - but the works that God himself commands. So that the servant girl who cheerfully sweeps the floor and tends to her household chores is doing works that are truly good, pleasing to God - something we could never know about the holiness of the Carthusians and their man-made works.

3. We don't rely on our good works to merit justification. After AC IV, this is like a "well, duh?" Justification, of course, if a gift, can't be owed by God to us for what we do. And the Apostle is clear that justification is preeminently GIFT: "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as ghift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." (Rom 4:4,5) Does this lead the Blessed Apostle into antinomianism? "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Rom 6:1-2)

4. Forgiveness and justification are received "durch den Glauben" or "fide apprehenditur." Back to Article IV again and to Article V. People are freely justified through faith. To obtain this faith we have the Predigtamt giving out the gifts.

5. The use of the Luke passage is excellent. It shows WHY our works can never be the basis of our justification before God: because even IF we have done all we are commanded, we remain "unworthy servants" doing only "what was our duty" while remaining unworthy. Here is the consciousness that a "good work" is a "good work" preeminently because God forgives it. As St. Therese said: "In the evening of this life I shall appear before Thee with empty hands because I do not ask Thee, Lord, to count my works. All our just acts have blemishes in Thine eyes." She got it down pat from Isaiah: "All our righteousnesses is as a filthy rag."

6. The Ambrose was an oo-boo. It was actually the fellow named Ambrosiaster. Not a bad quote. But not the one I'd have given. Chrysostom says the same:

They said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed; but he, Paul, shows that he who adhered to faith alone is blessed. - St. John Chrysostom (Homily on Galatians 3)

or here:

Here he shows God's power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only. - St. John Chrysostom (Homily 7 on Romans)

And so many, many more. The great fathers simply nailed that, and the Lutheran teaching on it was far from the novelty that you sometimes hear the RC and Orthodox apologists claim it was.

But see, the AC has led us from thinking about good works to the fountain from which good works will flow: faith and justification. This is the point that Melanchthon makes explicit in the Apology: we not only teach which good works are to be done (those that God himself has commanded!) but we show HOW the good works can be done.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Roundtable 6: The Ministry

“So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” Augsburg Confession, Article V, “The Ministry” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed.)

“So that we may obtain this faith.” This faith spoken of here is none other than the faith extolled in Article IV, on Justification. Article IV elucidates the object of faith: “By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins.” It is thus for Christ’s sake, through faith, that we are justified and counted as righteous in His sight.

But how does one receive such faith? Faith does not concern itself with “finding Jesus” by somehow traveling backward through time to the historical event of Jesus’ crucifixion. Salvation was achieved on the cross at Calvary, but it was not delivered there. The “instruments” extolled in AC V (Word and Sacraments) deliver salvation, but do not accomplish it.

The Lord does stop with merely accomplishing, or earning, the salvation of sinners. He sees to it that what He accomplished is also delivered. That is the way of gifts! Gifts must be both purchased and given. Gifts that are given must, in turn, be received. Faith, thus, receives the Lord’s gifts.

This first clause, “so that we may obtain this faith,” leaves no doubt that AC IV and AC V go hand-in-hand. The connection between these two articles is illustrated similarly by the fact that John Eck’s Roman Catholic response to AC V is refuted not in a separate article, but within article IV of the Apology.

For the purpose of obtaining faith, “the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.” Whereas the Latin remains with the passive “was instituted,” the German makes it an active verb attributed to God: “God instituted…” In either case what is clear is that what follows and “was instituted” was not merely done so by the arrangement of men; God instituted it. As such, according to his institution, what follows is God’s mandate, thus carrying with it His promise.

What is instituted is, in the Latin, the “ministry of teaching the gospel” (ministerium docendi evangelii) and “administering the sacraments” (porrigendi sacramenta). Lest anachronistically reading some sort of “abstract” idea of ministry here (the Lord does not deliver his gifts through mere abstractions) the German renders this “ministry” as “Predigtamt,” or preaching-office.

Lest there be any doubt that this is a real office, and not merely a “function,” the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope makes the same connection between the Gospel and the Office: “Wherever the Church is, there is the authority to administer the Gospel. Therefore, it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers” (Tr. 67).

While most modern German dictionaries do, in fact, recognize a secondary definition for “amt” as “function,” in the 16th Century context, particularly in the form of “Predigtamt,” “amt” clearly means “office,” as reflected also by the similar concern articulated above in the Treatise. Even in such instances when “amt” is understood in the sense of “function,” it is usually a “function” that is explicitly tied to a particular office – thus any effort to try are “functionalize” the Office of the Ministry, the preaching-office, or pastor’s office, must do violence to the text of AC V.

Nonetheless, this Office is not some sort of higher order, bearing a particularly oppressive authority over the people of God. On the contrary, the Office is instituted for the sake of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. There is not any Gospel being heard without someone put there to speak it. There aren’t any Sacraments being administered without someone there, as an instrument, to administer them. Thus, the Lord does not leave the Church with a merely abstract “Word” and “Sacrament,” but provides the Office through whom the Lord delivers His salvation in Word and Sacrament.

Through these instruments (instruments must have breath if they are to make sound) the Holy Spirit (who is sometimes called the “breath” of God) is delivered. The Holy Spirit works faith “when and where it pleases God” in those who hear the Gospel. Faith is not some sort of magical concoction that can be conjured up by the right combination of preached words or a persuasive tone of voice. Even the preached Word is powerless if the very words preached are not taken by the Holy Spirit and put to His use, according to His terms, when and where He wills faith to be given.

In the Roman Catholic Confutation of John Eck, while approving AC V, he does so with the proviso that by “faith” what should be understood is “not of faith alone…but that faith which is to be understood as working through love.” Eck cites Galatians 3:5 in a misguided effort to support his position: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.” Unfortunately, for Eck, he cited the verse without actually quoting it. The “work” here is not the work of “faith” but the Work of the Spirit, thus Eck had quoted a verse that worked in the favor of the argument of AC V! It seems as though some Lutherans later thought Eck’s idea was a good one, and they thus included Gal. 3:14, “So that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” as a marginal addition in some later Latin editions of the Augsburg Confession.

“…that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.” The language here, in the Latin, closely reflects the language previously used in AC IV, thus displaying again the intimate relationship between these two articles.

Finally the Anabaptists are condemned. The Holy Spirit does not come from within us (intra nos) but from outside of us (extra nos). It is not an “internal Word,” as the Anabaptists had argued, that is to be trusted as the Holy Spirit, but an external Word (Verbo externo). The German calls this Word a “leibliche Wort.” Literally, the German translates into a “physical” Word. That is to say, it is not a sort of “spiritual” Word, but it is through real, physical, human Words through which the Holy Spirit delivers through the aforementioned instruments from outside of ourselves.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Roundtable 5: On Justification

Article IV on Justification
Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God [coram Deo] by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake [propter Christum], through faith [per fidem], when they believe [so wir glauben; cum credunt] that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes [imputat; zurechnen] for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

This is the central and chief article (Hauptartikel) of the faith. Lutheran theology is concentric, centered on the objective, saving work of Christ in justifying the sinner in His death. Rightly this article is often described as the “article upon which the church stands or falls.” Without the hub, the wheel cannot turn properly. Our brother McCain pointed me to the following quote from Apology IV:

“But since in this controversy the chief topic of Christian doctrine is treated, which, understood aright, illumines and amplifies the honor of Christ [which is of especial service for the clear, correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, and alone shows the way to the unspeakable treasure and right knowledge of Christ, and alone opens the door to the entire Bible], and brings necessary and most abundant consolation to devout consciences, we ask His Imperial Majesty to hear us with forbearance in regard to matters of such importance.”

At issue is the justification of the sinner before God [coram Deo]. This is not about our justification before men [coram hominibus], which has to do with civic righteousness, but the righteousness that avails before a righteous God. The 4th article builds on what has been confessed before. Because man is utterly incapable of righteousness before God due to original sin (AC II), and because the Son of God, the incarnate Word, has offered His perfect life as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world (AC III), righteousness before God cannot be achieved by man but must be imputed externally by grace through faith for Christ’s sake. For this reason, justification before God must necessarily exclude any strength, merits, or works on man’s part.

“Faith” is not an active work, rather it is a passive trust in the completed work of Christ, namely that we are received into God’s favor and our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, whose death “made satisfaction” (satisfecit) for our sins.

This article rests on key passages from Romans which form the central theme of Paul’s doctrine, that the law cannot justify the sinner (Rom 3:20), that there is a righteousness apart from the law which comes through faith in Christ Jesus. “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom 3:28). Citing Abraham, St. Paul concludes: “But the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25),

As Melanchthon notes in the Apology, the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel, of our works and Christ’s work, are at the heart of this central teaching. Clearly the Law and our works must be rigorously excluded from the article of justification, lest the merits and sufferings of Christ be diminished. The concept of “imputation” ensures that the Christian’s righteousness before God remains Christ’s righteousness, something outside of ourselves (extra nos) to which faith objectively clings. This also governs the Lutheran understanding of the Christian being simul justus et peccator. In Christ through faith, the believer is totally justified; in himself he remains total sinner by virtue of original sin, which is not taken away but covered by forgiveness. The justification of the sinner before God in Christ is always whole and entire.

Articles IV, V, and VI together form a cohesive whole. Melanchthon treats them as a unit in Apology IV. (There is no Apology V or VI.) The article of justification and its reception through faith flows into a discussion of the ministry of the Word and Sacrament which provides the objective Gospel that creates faith and to which faith clings, which give rise to the good works of love that flow freely from faith.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Roundtable 5: The Son of God

Enough of this dreariness about our miserable condition inherited from Father Adam. Let's move to the Second Adam, the new Head of humanity, Jesus Christ, the Word become Flesh, the incarnate Son of God and Savior from sin and death.

Article III of the Augustana reads as follows (from the Triglotta):
Also they [our churches] teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably enjoined in one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.

He also descended into hell, and truly rose again the third day; afterward He ascended into heaven that He might sit on the right hand of the Father, and forever reign and have dominion over all creatures, and sanctify them that believe in Him, by sending the Holy Ghost into their hearts, to rule, comfort, and quicken them, and to defend them against the devil and the power of sin.

The same (idem) Christ shall openly come again to judge the quick and the dead, etc., according to the Apostles’ Creed.


I offer just a few comments on this article to kick things off. As we have noted before, the Augsburg Confession wants to demonstrate the utter catholicity of our churches, over and against Eck's slanders. The article rests squarely on the Apostles' and Nicene symbols - the Christology is clearly Chalcedon's confession of the personal union of the two natures - divine and human in one Person. Again we encounter the totum/totum paradox of one Person being fully God and fully Man.

For Lutherans, the word "Word" refers first and foremost to the incarnate Word, who assumed (assumpserit) the human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin. For the Latin "assumpserit" the German text reads simply "sei Mensch worden" (became Man). It comes from the Athanasian creed (line 33): Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carne, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deo. It rests on John 1;14 - The Word became Flesh. The "inseparably" (one of the Chalcedonian adverbs) is clearly a reference to the 1528 dialogues with the Swiss, who in their denial of the Body and the Blood in the Lord's Supper became unwittingly Nestorian in their Christology, separating the two natures.

In Lutheran theology, the person and work of Christ are an organic whole. In the AC, the work of Christ flows as a dependant clause from the confession of the union of the two natures. The wording is clearly the Apostles' creed. What catches the eye is the statement regarding Christ's sacrifice, "not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men." Only Christ as true God and true Man can atone for sin, and this atonement is universal - once for all people (hyper panton) and one time for all times (ephapax). Clearly Article 24 on the Mass is being anticipated here, over and against the papal understanding that the Mass is an atoning sacrifice. While the Confutation denies this, Trent (XXII) contradicts the Confutation and teaches that the Mass is truly propitiatory and is rightly offered for sins. (See Leif Grane, "The Augsburg Confession - A Commentary" p. 52).

The "descent into hell" (zur Helle, ad inferos) begins a new sentence, thereby rightly treating Christ's descent as part of His exaltation (Phil 2). The "descent" reappears in the Formula (Article 9), where I'm sure we'll have a fun discussion. It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit should play such a large part in an article devoted to the Son of God. The outpouring of the Spirit is a direct consequence of the reign of Christ, and is therefore inseparable from it. Pneumatology is Christocentric in orthodox, trinitarian theology. There is no separate article on the Holy Spirit; rather the entire Confession is an exposition of the Holy Spirit's work (Grane, 51)

In the same sense, the visible coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead is mentioned in this article as well, noting that this is the "same Christ" (idem), that is the One who is at once true God and true Man who suffered, died, rose, and reigns. Eschatology is similarly Christocentric, or it is not true eschatology.