Saturday, January 23, 2010

Roundtable 45: The Church (SA Part III, Article XII)

This article is what so much comes down to. What is the Church? Is Rome the Church? Ought we to listen to the Pope when he speaks as Bishop of Rome because there is some unique promise attached to his office? Smalcald Articles III, Article XII is joyously clear:

"We do not agree with them that they are the Church." (Accent, should be on the Church) "They are not the Church. Nor will we listen to those things that, under the name of the Church, they command or forbid."

Don't misunderstand. Luther is perfectly clear elsewhere that he does not deny that Roman Christians are still Christians; the question is whether the Roman Pontiff is the voice of the Church and whether the curia and bishops submissive to him are the voice of the Church. The conclusion of our forebears in the 16th century was a resounding: "No way!" They are not "the" Church!

Luther goes on: "Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray, 'I believe in one holy Christian church.'"

Seven year olds could even be admitted to the Supper in those days (see Bugenhagen's preface to the Danish Small Catechism) and thus were expected to know and confess the faith at that tender age. The definition of Church here is Christ's own, right out of John 10. Dr. Kenneth Korby, of blessed memory, pointed out that we must get the correct sense. It's not sight; it's hearing. Don't go looking for the Church with your eyes! Do the looking with your ears! Listen for where the voice of the Shepherd sounds, gathering His flock together around His divine promises. There you will find the one gathering of all believers, living - literally living - from the promises of our Lord.

"This holiness does not come from albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other ceremonies they made up without Holy Scripture, but from God's Word and true faith."

The holiness of the Church can't be "put on" externally, but only believed internally. You won't see it with your eyes, but it is given and bestowed in the Words of God's promise and made our own by the faith that holds tight to those promises. Again, you are directed away from what you can see and directed toward what God says. Find the Gospel being taught and preached and you find the Lord Jesus gathering, feeding and nourishing His flock.

In the context of the Smalcald Articles, the Lutherans were confessing: the Words of Jesus keep the Church the Church and we do not need the papal superstructure to do so, and when the papal superstructure contravenes the Word, far from speaking as the Church, it actually subverts the Church. From from the Smalcald Articles' confession of the Church one can understand the sung prayer of our spiritual ancestors:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Roundtable 44: The Marriage of Priests (Smalcald Articles Part III, Article XI)

Just as we can not make a man, a woman, nor a woman, a man, no matter what modern surgical techniques make possible, so we can not through modern theological "surgery" make a man something other than a man, and demand and require that he renounce marriage before he can serve Christ and His church as a priest/minister/pastor/elder [whatever term you prefer]. The very fact that the Papacy had come to deny marriage to clergy is a mark that indicated to the Reformers its anti-christian character, since the Apostle Paul had clearly warned that among "the teachings of demons" would be the teaching that marriage was forbidden. (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

Luther in Part III, Article XI of the Smalcald Articles asserts that the Roman Church has neither the authority, nor the right, to ban marriage and to burden the office of the ministry with a requirement that is not Biblical. We know, for example, that the Apostle Peter himself, the first Pope, so it is said by Rome, had a wife!

We hardly need to think much further than to the recent sex scandals that have afflicted the Roman Church, and have come out in to the open here in the United States, to concur with the comments of Luther; namely, that enforced celibacy has caused a myriad of problems: "all kinds of horrible, outrageous, innumerable sins of unchastity [depraved lusts], in which they themselves still wallow."

The Reformation threw out the required, enforced celibacy of the clergy, something that remains to this day as a scandalous anti-Biblical teaching of the Church of Rome.

Luther himself set an example that has been followed by countless Lutheran pastors since. He took a faithful and devout spouse, had children with her, and from that marriage, he was richly blessed by God, and by extension, so was his ministry. While marriage is not a requirement for the clergy, avoiding it certainly is not either. The Church has no business attempting to say "no" to what God had declared to be very good, in the beginning of all things.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Roundtable 43: Ordination and the Call (Smalcald Articles III X)

At the time of the Reformation, it was important for there to be a renewed understanding of the extent of the authority of the Church's bishops and other authorities in matters pertaining to the calling and ordaining of the church's ministers, that is, her pastor/preachers/priests — the title makes no difference. Luther was willing to permit a legitimate role for bishops in the administration of the Church, as long as they understood that their authority extended only over matters pertaining to the welfare of the Church. Ordination, that is, the ancient rite of the laying on of hands to commission a person to begin his ministry as a pastor in the Church, does not require a bishop in order to be efficacious. This was an erroneous view that had become well entrenched and established by the time of the Reformation. However, in historic, genuine Lutheranism there was never any doubt that a proper call to serve, formalized through ordination into the ministry, was necessary in order for a pastor to be a properly authorized public servant of Christ.

The problem with Bishops and the system of Bishops at the time of the Reformation was that they had seized power, through a succession of historical circumstances, and had become, particularly in some areas, rulers of both the Church and the civil state. In the Church, the Scriptures teach that only men with the proper theological and personal qualifications are able to serve as pastors in the Church. See 1 Timothy 3:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 15). Even the practice in the Early Church demonstrates that pastors, could, and should, when necessary, ordain other men to be pastors.

The key consideration for whether or not the ministry of bishops can properly be received and used in the Church is simply whether, and to what extent, they would be true actual bishops, that is, overseers who are devoted to the Church and the Gospel.

The Lutheran Church was faulted for ordaining clergy without the participation of bishops in the so-called "line of apostolic succession" which, of course, is more myth than fact.

In the church today, what, and how, could the church make use of the ministry of bishops? Have American Lutherans lost sight of the fact that the historic episcopate is a model that is perfectly acceptable, and is strongly rooted and grounded in historic precedence? Is the greater danger today bishops, or a lack of proper ecclesiastical supervision and care for the spiritual welfare of the Church? Comment.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Roundtable 42: Excommunication (SA III.ix)

Every once in a while one still hears Lutheran pastors speak about imposing the "lesser ban" as though there were also a "greater ban." SA III.ix shows that such is not the case. The greater excommunication is something Lutherans regarded merely as a civil penalty; it has no place in the Church herself (and those who think it does are confusing the two swords - getting Christ's government confused with Caesar's). What the pope calls the "lesser" excommunication is the real deal. "Open and hard-hearted sinners are not admitted to the Sacrament and other communion of the Church until they amend their lives and avoid sin."

Open - which means that the sin is known. It's not secret. It's not hidden. It's blatant and in your face. Everyone knows about it.

Hard-hearted - which means that the sinner doesn't give a rip about the sin. "Yeah, so God says it's wrong; it's a problem. Tough. He'll have to forgive me because I'm not going to change." Nowadays this frequently shows up with folks living together in sexual relationship without benefit of marriage.

To those who meet these two sad criteria, the Church through her called ministers employs excommunication. They are not admitted to the Sacrament *and other communion of the Church* until they amend their lives and avoid sin.

Amend - which means repent and change.

Avoid sin - which means the exact opposite of the embracing of sin; fleeing from it as from a deadly poisonous snake.

Not admitted to the Sacrament is pretty clear. I've had to tell folks before: "You can't receive the Eucharist as long as you are holding onto this sin and refusing to repent." It always is the most difficult of moments, but it must be done when there is no repentance.

What's the "other communion of the Church" that the SA refer to in this article? I think it refers to anything in the Church's life BEYOND being present to hear the Word proclaimed. If a person is serving as a treasurer, and they are excommunicated, then their office is forfeit. Same if they are an organist, a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a parochial school teacher, a deaconess, a lector, a baptismal sponsor, well, you get the idea.

The article concludes by warning pastors not to mingle secular punishments with this ecclesiastical punishment. The reason, if you think about it, is clear: the Church is ruled by the Word of God. She has no other means of persuading or of carrying her responsibilities. She may NOT call upon the state to assist her in this. The "geistliche" estate is governed by "geistliche" means entirely. One thinks of how this got so muddled in early America where folks were pilloried for breaking the Sabbath and such.

Christ rules His Church by His Word. The faithful living out of this in community will call for putting out of the communion of the community those who try to hold onto sin and to justify it rather than letting Christ forgive, absolve and remove them from its shackles.

A final pastoral note: we should always distinguish between ruling sins and besetting sins. Ruling sins are when a person has truly given themselves over to what they know to be sin and no longer struggle or fight against it. To such people, the Law only is to be proclaimed. But they are quite different from those who struggle with besetting sins, sins that they fight against continually, and sometimes win against and sometimes lose. But they HATE the sin and wish to be free of it, and so they flee to Christ, who is the Savior of poor sinners and who will forgive them and strengthen them anew for the battle. To them, the Gospel alone is to be proclaimed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roundtable 41: The Means of Grace (Smalcald Articles III.iv-viii)

Sometimes we hear people ask, “Why do we need the Sacraments if we have the Word?” It’s an understandable question. We tend to think, “If God said He forgives us, and Christ died, why do we need Sacraments?” I’ve heard the question answered this way, “How often do you need to tell your wife you love her? Once?” No, of course not. We tell those whom we love how much we love them, often. And God is the same way. He gives His grace and mercy, lavishly.

Luther has a delightful way of putting it in the Smalcald Articles, “God is superabundantly generous in His grace.” The German word here for “superabundantly” is “überschwenglich” and means “effusive” and can mean “gushing.” A paraphrase might be, “God gushes grace!” The Latin translation of the Smalcald Articles says that God is “rich” (dives) and “liberal” (liberalis) in His grace and goodness” (dives et liberalis est gratia and bonitate sua.)

How so? Luther lists four ways: First, through the spoken word (Ger: mündliche Wort; Lat: verbum vocale), “through which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world.” Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Luther here presents the specific means of grace, which are often referred to as the Word and Sacraments. The “particular office” of the Gospel (Ger: eigentliche Amt des Evngelii) is the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, and the Sacramental means of that proclamation are located, by Luther, in Baptism, Lord’s Supper and the Power of the Keys, which Luther explains most specifically in Article VIII: Confession.

But Luther does not end his “laundry list” of the ways in which God is so lavish and generous with His grace. He explains that there is also a communication of God’s grace through the “mutual conversation and consolation of brethren” which Luther, in his German text, here uses Latin words to explain: “per mutuum colloquium et consolationem fratrum” and then cites Matthew 18:20, “where two or three are gathered, etc.”

Luther’s point in these articles is twofold: to affirm the variety of ways our good and gracious God provides His lavish treasures of forgiveness, life and salvation to us, and to affirm what God’s Word teaches about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the Keys. The key to understanding these gifts is the recognition that it is not in the act of doing them that grace is given, but that God has given us His word of promise connected to these simple, external means of communicating His grace to use: word, water, bread and wine. Thus Luther says of Baptism, that it is “nothing other than God’s Word in the water, commanded by His institution.” (Art. V.1).

In the article on the Sacrament of the Altar we have the most strikingly realistic assertions of what the Lord’s Supper is: “the bread and wine in the Supper are Christ’s true body and blood.” (Art. VI.1). Luther, with a verbal wave of the hand, dismisses the “high reasoning” and “sophistic cunning” that had developed in the Medieval Church to try to explain how it is that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine His blood, and then a way of justifying not distributing the blood of Christ to the laity. These theories, transubstantiation and concomitance, are speculative human theories which have nothing to do with Christ’s institution.

Here we should caution that often we hear Reformed Christians (heirs of Zwingli and Calvin) claim that they do not deny the Real Presence, but they just don’t try to explain how it happens. This is not the same thing as the Roman Church adopting a philosophical explanation for how the bread is the body of Christ. Reformed Christianity rejects the assertion that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, choosing instead to affirm, in various ways, that the actual body and blood of Christ as as far away from the elements of the Supper as heaven is from earth (this is what Calvin asserts in his writing the Consensus Tigurinus).

The binding and loosing of sins in the Church is not a power and authority that is given to the Pope to distribute as he sees fit, but rather it is “given by Christ to the Church” (Art. VII.1). This article is followed immediately by Luther’s comments about Confession. “Absolution, or the Power of the Keys, is an aid against sin and consolation for a bad conscience. It is ordained by Christ in the Gospel. Therefore, Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” (Art. VIII.1). This article really is more about Luther’s desire to assert the strength and power of the means of grace, which is located in the “spoken, outward Word” through which God grace His Spirit or grace “to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word.” (Art. VIII.3).

Luther is very concerned to make these points clear because there were those in his days, as in ours, who were pointing people not toward the external, objective Word and promises of God given to us in Scripture and delivered through the outward preaching and teaching of the Word, but rather pointing people to their feelings, emotions and their perception of the Spirit’s promptings and stirrings. Luther rejects any such interior speculations, be they from radical reformers like Muntzer and others, or from the Papacy itself which Luther says is “sheer enthusiasm” since the Pope finally claims the right to decide and command based on the “shrine in his heart” as evidenced by the Papacy’s directing and teaching things that are “above and contrary to Scripture and the spoken Word.” (Art. VIII.4).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Roundtable 40: Repentance (Smalcald Articles III.iii)

Over the years of the Middle Ages the Gospel was corrupted perhaps most dramatically and visibly in regard to the doctrine of Repentance. Medieval Romanism had developed a view that man is not totally corrupted as a result of the Fall into Sin and as a result there was within man still a spark of spiritual ability that could be aroused and awakened by a "dose" of grace, and following that "dose" of grace, the life of the Christian is marked by man doing what is within him to merit and earn God's continuing grace and favor. The entire Roman Sacramental system had developed around this error. The Smalcald Articles, Article III, Part III, sets forth a proper, Biblical understanding of repentance and grace.

Aside from the important doctrinal content of this section of the Smalcald Articles we have some of the most powerful autobiographical content by Luther in the Book of Concord. He describes his own experience, in the third person:

"As for Confession, the procedure was this: Everyone had to list all his sins (which is impossible). This was a great torment. If anyone had forgotten some sins, he would be absolved on the condition that, if they would occur to him, he must still confess them. So he could never know whether he had made a sufficiently pure confession or if confessing would ever come to an end. Yet he was pointed t his own works. He was comforted like this: The more fully you confess, and the more you humiliate yourself and debase yourself before the priest, the sooner and better you render satisfaction for your sins." (SA III.iii.19).

The Gospel rediscovery on this point is that confession is being moved by the holy will of God, the Law, to see our sin, to confess it and to cling only to Christ for His grace and mercy. This repentance continues until death, throughout our lives, as we wrestle with the sin that remains in us. The Holy Spirit continues to work in us, every day, and Luther asserts that "this daily cleansing sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person pure and holy." (SA III.iii.40).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Roundtable 39: The Law: Smalcald Articles III.II

In this article Luther sets forth the "chief use" of the Law. Whose use? The Holy Spirit's use. It is all the same "Law" but the Law functions in various ways. First, the Law restrains sin "by threats and the dread of punishment and by the promise offer of grace and blessing." It's rather simple: do not run the red light, if you do you may well kill somebody by hitting then, and if you do, you may well receive the punishment of a ticket. If you do not, you obey the law and by it you receive the blessing of not receiving a ticket and may well receive a greater blessing: you do not kill yourself, or others. That's the way the Law should work, and in this life, in the civil realm, that is how it works at times, but God intended for there to be perfection. Luther explains that this perfect system that was a reflection of the perfect Law of God "failed because of the evil that sin has worked in humanity." Now things are topsy-turvey, the Law, which is but a reflection of God's holiness and perfection, is viewed as something "evil" by fallen man, preventing him from doing what he wants to do, telling him that it is wrong to avoid indulging his every sinful whim.

But the "chief office or force of the Law is to reveal original sin with all its fruit." Here again is a very important point that distinguishes Biblical truth, from the false teaching of Rome: original sin is truly sin, not merely a defect. And as a result of original sin, we see its evil fruits in our life and those around us. The Law shows us just "how low can you go," so to speak. The perfection of God's holy will, which is what the Law is, now reveals how deeply we have fallen away from the perfection in which all of mankind was created.

What are the results? Luther is a keen student of human psyche and he rightly identifies the fact that we can feel, all at the same time: "terrified, humbled, depressed." As a result we can despair and while we know we need help, the Law will not help, but only continue to accuse and point out our sins to us.

Reading this article, the words to Luther's first hymn, "Dear Christians" comes to mind, as he describes his own personal experience with the Law and the conviction he felt over against his sin:

Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly over me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper, still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.

The question to ponder today is this: is sin a reality in the view of most? Do most people feel guilty? Or does our culture and society surround us with the false-comfort that "as long as we are not hurting anyone" it is ok for us to to what we want? How does this article from the Smalcald Articles speak to this challenge of life in our modern world? How best can we communicate these truths to people today?

The reason the Law must be so clearly and sharply proclaimed is so that sinful man realizes just how desperately he needs the salvation that is given by God through Christ. And how sweet that good news is on the ears of the humbled, terrified sinner: the blood of Jesus, God's Son, cleanses from all sins!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Roundtable 38: Sin (SA III.I)

In the third part of the Smalcald Articles, Luther walks through a series of basic points of doctrine, asserting the Lutheran "non-negotiables" on these points. As you read the third part of the Smalcald Articles, it is important to keep in mind that the SA was prepared as "talking points" that the Lutherans would be bringing with them to the Council that they were told would very soon be called by the Pope, as long promised by Roman and Imperial leaders. They were further assured that if a council was held, the Lutherans would be permitted to present their views for a free and open discussion. Luther was skeptical, as well as his Elector at this point in time, John Frederick, but as John Frederick finally agreed to participating in a council, he ordered Luther to prepare the SA.

The promised council did not take place, and it was not until the Council of Trent began on December 13, 1545, long after the Smalcald Articles were composed, that Rome finally answered Lutheranism. Of course, it was not a free council as hoped for, but one entirely under the control of the Roman Church. Nevertheless, these points of doctrine, included as they are in the Book of Concord, remain critical for understanding the differences between Lutheranism and Romanism, and for understanding the truths of God's Word on these key points.

And so here Luther begins with a clear definition and explanation of what sin is. Underlying so much of the disagreements with Rome is the understanding of sin. For Romanism, original sin is a deep flaw in human nature, not actually sin. But Scripture teaches that original sin is, as Luther puts it here, the "chief sin," the "Erbsünde" or "hauptsünde," the original or chief sin. All the actual sins that we see in our lives and the world around us are fruits of this "chief/original" sin. Luther offers a list of them here: "unbelief, false faith, idolatry, being without the fear of God, pride, despair, utter blindness, and in short, not knowing or regarding God." Notice how Luther is speaking here first of man's attitude over against God as a result of original sin. From unbelief spring forth all that most people would first identify sinful behaviors.

Sin is in fact so deep a corruption, that human reason can not comprehend it, but we must, rather, believe what God's Word reveals to us about it. Luther cites several Biblical texts:

Psalm 51:5: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."

Romans 6:12-13: "12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness."

Exodus 33:3: "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."

Genesis 3:7-19: The account of the fall into sin.

Luther then condemns a series of teachings of the Roman scholastic theologians, as "error and blindness." These errors lie behind much of the faulty teaching in Rome concerning what man is still capable of even after the fall. It is why Rome teaches that initial grace is necessary to spark activity in the latent abilities still remaining within man; namely, his reason and will, so that man is then able to choose to do good and to spurn evil. Of particular note is the scholastic error that: "If a person does as much as is in him, God certainly grants him His grace" (par. 8). This attitude by the Roman Scholastics explains the notion in Roman Catholicism that non-Christian pagans, as long as they strive to do their best, can be saved.

Rome's errors regarding sin are the foundation for all errors in Rome regarding the salvation of man and so Luther labels all such errors as "heathen teachings that we can not endure." He echos what the Augsburg Confession and its Apology had also made clear, to whatever extent man's sinful condition is properly understood to be total, entire and complete, but merely a matter of innate powers in need of grace to initiate a response that is within the inherent powers of man, "then Christ has died in vain."

Rome, to this day, still continues to regard original sin as a defect common to humanity, but not actual and personal sin. See, for instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and note especially the portions I have italicized for emphasis.

"405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle."

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Roundtable 37: Articles for Reasonable Discussion with Reasonable People

The third part of the Smalcald Articles begins, in light the circumstances, with a rather droll assertion: "We may be able to discuss the following articles with learned and reasonable people, or among ourselves. The pope and his government do not care much about these. With them conscience is nothing, but money, honors, and power are everything." The picture here, by the way, is the Council of Trent in session. Luther regarded these people as neither learned nor reasonable. Fair, or unfair, the Council of Trent was not interested in listening to any Lutherans either, in spite of many promises that it would.

What are these articles that Luther says are possibly able to be discussed with "learned and reasonable people"?

Article I: Sin
Article II: The Law
Article III: Repentance
Article IV: The Gospel
Article V: Baptism
Article VI: The Sacrament of the Altar
Article VII: The Keys
Article VIII: Confession
Article IX: Excommunication
Article X: Ordination and the Call
Article XI: The Marriage of Priests
Artice XII: The Church
Article XIII: How One is Justified before God and Does Good Works
Article IV: Monastic Vows
Article XV: Human Traditions

What we have here, therefore, in the third part of the Smalcald Articles, is a confession-within-a-confession of, quite similar to what would be developed between 1537-1577 throughout all the Lutheran territories, a corpus doctrinae [Latin: body of doctrine], which was the statement of faith for the particular German territory, found as one of the first documents in the territory's "Church Order" or the organizing and governing documents for a particular territory, commissioned by the ruler, and composed by the leading theologians in the territory; or, with the earliest Orders, written for a territory by theologians from Wittenberg. So, this portion of the Smalcald Article roughly mirrors what is found in the Augsburg Confession, but Luther customizes it for the Smalcald Articles to be a precise assertion of the Lutheran "non-negotiables" as the Lutherans were anticipating attending a general council of the Church, which they had been promised repeatedly by both Emperor and even Popes, a council that finally did start meeting only eight years after the Smalcald Articles was written.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Roundtable 36: The Papacy (Smalcald Articles II.iv)

The most vigorous rejection of the office of the papacy in the Book of Concord is found in this portion of the Smalcald Articles. Luther asserts that the Papacy is the Antichrist. This is a statement that shocks most modern Christian ears, striking many as an outrageous excess of rhetoric. Confessional Lutherans must be sensitive to the degree to which this assertion in our Book of Concord is deeply offensive to other Christians when they learn of this teaching. Care must be taken not to imitate the high-volume polemics of the Reformation era in a context where, regardless of what we think of it, high value is placed on civility, politeness and courtesy—qualities obviously not understand in the same way in Luther’s day where there was a much greater degree of “rough and tumble” in the way Christians addressed issues and those with whom they disagreed. This is not to suggest, even for a moment, that we are to back away from this teaching in the Lutheran Confessions, no, not at all. But it is to say that we must be careful to be very clear on what we mean, and what we do not mean, when we continue to assert that the Papacy in Rome is the Antichrist.

"The Reformation's greatest weapon against Rome, was not Rome's errors, but Rome's truths" said John Nevin, a prominent American Lutheran theologian in the 19th century. It is precisely because of this reality that confessional Lutherans continue to assert the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions that the Papacy is the Antichrist. And it is precisely for the sake of the truths of Rome that we vigorously reject and condemn the errors of Rome. Further, Nevin's statement is a caveat to heed carefully that we never throw the baby out with the bathwater even as we point out the grave errors inherent in the Papacy.

This roundtable post will be longer than others posted so far, because, in my opinion, this is such a sensitive issue, yet such a very vital one. I’ve noticed even among confessional Lutherans a tendency to want to dismiss the assertion Luther makes here as historically conditioned. While it is most certainly true that the assertions in this article are historically conditioned and some do not even pertain anymore, at the heart of Luther’s argument is an issue that is still very much alive and well and of essential, vital importance: the issue is the Gospel of Christ and how that Gospel is confessed, and to what degree the Gospel is properly understood and believed. That is the heart of Luther’s argument here and it is why, to this say, we must continue to confess the antichristian nature of the office of the Papacy.

Let us be very clear what we are not saying with this assertion. We are by no means suggesting that within the Roman Catholic Church there are no Christians, or that everything taught and heard in Roman Catholic congregations is anti-Christian. No, quite the opposite is the case. It is precisely because we recognize the Gospel is preached, taught and heard in the Church of Rome, and that the Sacraments are validly administered, that we are all the more concerned to point out as clearly as we can what, precisely, in the Roman Church runs so deeply contrary to the Gospel. That is the animating passion in this article in the Smalcald Articles: the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ, alone. But that there are dear Christians in the Roman Church is undeniably true!

It is therefore important for Lutherans to understand precisely what this teaching is all about and to take care when explaining their beliefs to other Christians, particularly Roman Catholics. Simply put, the historic teaching of the Lutheran Church, as stated here, is that the office held by the particular men chosen to be pope is the fulfillment of what Paul warns the church about in his second letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:3): a man will seat himself in the church of God, as supreme ruler, and claim that his teachings are God’s teaching, making himself thus, effectively, equal to God. Elsewhere St. Paul warns the Church to be on watch for those who enact rules and requirements, like forbidding people to marry and ordering the abstention from certain food (1 Tim. 4:3). We are warned that such movements in the church will result in things like. The person and office that continues, to this day, to best fit this description, is the office of the Papacy in Rome, which continues to claim for itself supreme rule and ultimate doctrinal authority in the Christian Church on earth. At the time of the Reformation, the Papacy claimed not only ultimate authority in the church, but also claimed authority in the realm of civil government. A couple helpful documents from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod help to explain this teaching. In response to a question from a non-Lutheran about the historic Lutheran teaching concerning the Antichrist, the LCMS’ Frequently Asked Questions site states:

The LCMS does not teach, nor has it ever taught, that any individual Pope as a person, is to be identified with the Antichrist. The historic view of LCMS on the Antichrist is summarized as follows by the Synod's Theological Commission: “The New Testament predicts that the church throughout its history will witness many antichrists (Matt. 24:5,23-24; Mark 13:6,21-22; Luke 21:8; 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7). All false teachers who teach contrary to Christ's Word are opponents of Christ and, insofar as they do so, are anti-Christ.” However, the Scriptures also teach that there is one climactic “Anti-Christ” (Dan. 7:8,11,20-21,24-25; 11:36-45; 2 Thessalonians 2; 1 John 2:18; 4:3; Revelation 17-18). . . Concerning the historical identity of the Antichrist, we affirm the Lutheran Confessions' identification of the Antichrist with the office of the papacy whose official claims continue to correspond to the Scriptural marks listed above. It is important, however, that we observe the distinction that the Lutheran Confessors made between the office of the pope (papacy) and the individual men who fill that office. The latter could be Christians themselves. We do not presume to judge any person's heart. Also, we acknowledge the possibility that the historical form of the Antichrist could change. Of course, in that case another identified by these marks would rise. In a footnote, the Commission adds: To the extent that the papacy continues to claim as official dogma the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent which expressly anathematizes, for instance, the doctrine “that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is that trust alone by which we are justified,” the judgment of the Lutheran confessional writings that the papacy is the Antichrist holds. At the same time, of course, we must recognize the possibility, under God's guidance, that contemporary discussions and statements (e.g., 1983 U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue statement on “Justification by Faith”) could lead to a revision of the Roman Catholic position regarding Tridentine dogma.
These things are well said, but of course we know that Rome continues to insist on the historic definition of the doctrine of justification as specified at the Council of Trent and, to that extent, remains in the gravest of error regarding the very heart of the Gospel of Christ itself. And this is the main point of this article in the Smalcald Articles. The reason the Papacy was so strongly opposed, and why to this day we must continue to reject and condemn the office and its powers is precisely because of how it conflicts with the Gospel. Here is the mystery of lawlessness and the degree to which Satan works

It is claimed by by the majority of the mainline/liberal form of the Lutheran Church as typified by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other large state churches in Europe and Germany that the differences between Rome and Lutheranism on Justification were resolved by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. This claim is clearly refuted in an excellent monograph on this issue that was prepared by both Missouri Synod seminaries with the Missouri Synod’s Commission on the Doctrine of Justification. It is essential reading on this point. The other essential book that must be read is Rev. Dr. Robert Preus’ Justification and Rome. It is a penetrating analysis and summary of the critical difference between Rome’s understanding of the Gospel and the Scriptural teaching of the Gospel.

And lest we think it was only Missouri Synod theologians playing the role of eternal party-poopers in ecumenical dialogs, we need to remember that a large number of the most prominent members of German theological faculties also pointed out the failings of the JDDJ. Here is a quote from an article about this:
While sharp critiques from conservative Protestants in the United States did not constitute a hot news flash, the reaction of over two hundred Lutheran theologians in Europe (primarily from German universities) was somewhat of a surprise. Prior to the signing of JDDJ they issued a “Position Statement of Theological Instructors” which set forth seven points of objection to JDDJ. Among the signatories were eighteen professors from the University of Tubingen (hardly a bastion of conservatism), including Peter Stuhlmacher, Martin Hengel, and Otto Betz. Among their objections was that JDDJ promulgates an essentially Catholic view of justification.
And here is the text of the useful FAQ on the JDDJ available on The LCMS web site, which yours truly authored at the time of the release of the JDDJ:

Q. I would like to understand the main problem your church body has with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (signed October 31 by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church). Is it the fact that it implies that we are saved as a result of both faith and works?

A. Yes, you are on the right track here. The recently signed Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) does not signal a change in the Roman Catholic church, but rather, a willingness on the part of the Lutherans who signed it to allow Rome's doctrine of justification to stand as a valid interpretation of what the Bible teaches us about justification. This is something that the Lutheran church has never done before, and in fact, it is a great tragedy and a profoundly sad moment in the history of Lutheranism.

Rome historically has always taught that we are saved by grace, and grace alone. They emphasize that very strongly. The 16th century Council of Trent makes this point very clear. Thus, there is nothing new on this in the Declaration on this point, even though some Lutherans have made it sound as if Rome's words about grace signal some marvelous breakthrough.

What you probably have not heard is that the JDDJ very carefully avoid precise definitions of the words grace, faith, sin, etc. That is no accident. Careful definition of those terms would have shown how far apart our two churches actually are on the doctrine of justification.

The problem with Rome's view of justification is that they view it as a process, whereby we cooperate with God's grace in order to merit eternal life for ourselves, and even for others (that is a paraphrase of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches). They view grace as a sort of “substance” that God infuses into us that permits us to do those works that are necessary in order that we might earn more grace. The Bible describes grace as the loving and favorable disposition of God; in other words, grace is all about what God is doing and giving.

We distinguish between the result of justification, which is the Christian life, and the work of God to save us. Rome mixes sanctification with justification. Why is this view troublesome? Because it teaches that something other than trust in Christ is necessary for or salvation. That “something other” is what we bring to the table. And the only thing we do bring to the table is our sin, not our good works. Our works are a response that God works in us, but not a contributing cause to our justification.

The Roman Catholic Church is very careful to state that even this “something other” is made possibly only because God has given us the “initial” grace to desire more grace. But in practical reality, it is apparent that the Roman Catholic Church is finally throwing people back on relying on what they are doing, or can do, to merit eternal life. When we mix in our works in the picture of our salvation, the glory and merit of Christ always end up becoming obscured.

But the Bible is clear that it is purely by grace, not by works, or else grace would just be a “help” for us to do the works that finally are what merit God's forgiveness. In the Roman Catholic view, justification is a process by which we participate with God in achieving our salvation. The Biblical view is that justification is God's declaration of our complete righteousness and total forgiveness, apart from any works. This gift is received by faith alone--apart from works (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9).

Another point to be made is this: If, in fact, Rome does teach justification as the Bible teaches it, then there should be an immediate change in its view of indulgences, prayer to the saints and the myriad of other extra-biblical traditions that it has embraced. For if justification is the heart and center of the Bible, then these other things are incompatible with it.

I hope this helps you see that the Roman Catholic view of justification and the classical Lutheran view are definitely not complementary, but diametrically opposed to one another. The JDDJ did not change that fact. The Lutherans who signed the document did not insist on careful definition of terms so as to make absolutely clear that our salvation is by faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

The best short study of the historic differences between Rome and Lutheranism on the doctrine of justification is available in a book called “Justification and Rome” by Robert Preus. You may purchase a copy of this book from Concordia Publishing House (CPH) (800-325-3040).
The most complete treatment of this subject is in the 16th century Lutheran response to Trent, which still stands today as the best and most complete treatment of Trent by a Lutheran. It is “The Examination of the Council of Trent” by Martin Chemnitz, also available through CPH.

And it is not only Lutheran groups that have clarified precisely what the JDDJ means, and does not mean. Here is the Vatican's own very carefully clarification and caveats issued at the time the JDDJ was being hailed as a great “breakthrough” by certain Lutherans. Read this carefully and you will see the extent to which claims that the differences between Rome and historic Lutheranism have been “resolved” are entirely false, as anyone with even the most elementary familiarity with the Lutheran Confessions will be able to see in the statement below.

From the Vatican statement issued at the time the JDDJ was announced, this from Cardinal Cassidy:
Under the title “Declaration” it is clearly stated that “a considerable agreement has been reached” on a question that has been for centuries so controversial. Indeed “it is rightly stated that there is a consensus in fundamental truths of the doctrine of justification”. At the same time, the Catholic Church is of the opinion that we cannot yet speak of a consensus such as to eliminate every difference between Catholics and Lutherans in the understanding of justification. And as a matter of fact the Joint Declaration itself refers to some of these differences.

Under the second heading “Clarifications”, the Catholic Church indicates several points that need further study. The major difficulties are to be found in paragraph 4.4 of the Joint Declaration concerning the justified person as sinner. We have some difficulty in seeing how the explanation given in N° 29 regarding the Lutheran understanding of the justified person as sinful can be fully compatible with the Catholic doctrine explained in N° 30. The Lutheran explanation seems still to contradict the Catholic understanding of baptism in which all that can properly be called sin is taken away. Concupiscence remains of course in the justified, but for Catholics this cannot be properly called sin, while in N° 29 it is stated that for Lutherans it is truly sin. Moreover, the Statement in N° 22 that “God no longer imputes to the justified their sins” does not seem an adequate explanation of the Catholic understanding of the interior transformation that takes place in the justified person. The term “Opposition to God” that is used in NN° 28-30 is understood differently by Catholics and Lutherans and so becomes, in fact, equivocal. For these reasons it is difficult to see how, in the current state of the presentation, given in the Joint Declaration, we can say that the Lutheran doctrine of “simul iustus et peccator” is not touched by the anathemas of the Tridentine decrees on original sin and justification.

One of the most discussed points in the Joint Declaration has been the question considered under N° 18, concerning the Lutheran understanding of justification as criterion for the life and practice of the Church. For Lutherans this doctrine has taken on an altogether particular significance. The Joint Declaration states clearly that for Catholics also the doctrine of justification “is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ”. Catholics, however, “see themselves as bound by several criteria” and our Note indicates what those criteria are by stating that, “according to Scripture and already from the time of the Fathers of the Church, the message of justification has been organically integrated into the fundamental criterion of the regula fidei, that is the confession of the one God in three persons, christologically centered and rooted in the living Church and its sacramental”.

The Catholic Church has noted with satisfaction that N° 21, in conformity with canon 4 of the Decree on Justification of the Council of Trent, states that man can refuse grace; but it must also be affirmed that, with this freedom to refuse, there is also in the justified person a new capacity to adhere to the divine will, a capacity that is rightly called cooperatio. Given this understanding and noting that in N° 17, Lutherans and Catholics share the common conviction that the new life comes from the divine mercy and not from any merit of our own, it is difficult to see how the term “mere passive” can be used by the Lutherans in this regard, and how this phrase can be compatible with the affirmation by the Lutherans in N°21 of the full personal involvement in faith. A clarification would therefore seem necessary in order to determine more exactly the degree of consensus achieved in this regard.

The Catholic Church also maintains with Lutherans that these good works of the justified are always the fruit of grace. But at the same time, and without in any way diminishing the totally divine initiative, they are the fruit of man, justified and interiorly transformed. We can therefore say that eternal life is, at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merits.

In pursuing this study further, it will be necessary to treat also the sacrament of penance, through which the sinner can be justified anew.

And then in a third section, the Note indicates some Prospects for Future Work. The hope is expressed that the present important step forward towards agreement on justification may be followed by further studies that will make possible a satisfactory clarification of the divergences that still exist, some of which concern aspects of substance and are therefore not all mutually compatible, as affirmed on the contrary in N° 40. Particularly desirable would be a deeper reflection on the biblical foundation that is the common basis of the doctrine of justification both for Lutherans and Catholics.

And the Note finally expresses the wish that Catholics and Lutherans might seek to find a language which can make the doctrine of justification more intelligible also for the men and women of our day.

9. In conclusion, I wish to stress that the consensus reached on the doctrine of justification, despite its limitations, virtually resolves a long disputed question at the close of the twentieth century, and on the eve of the new millennium. It is a response to Pope John Paul II's appeal in Tertio Millennio Adveniente that “the approaching end of the second millennium demands of everyone an examination of conscience and the promotion of fitting ecumenical initiatives, so that we can celebrate the Great Jubilee, if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium” (N° 34), and will be an enormous encouragement to Catholics and Lutherans as they continue to work in the years ahead for the visible unity to which the Lord is calling us. Indeed, it will be an encouragement to the whole ecumenical movement. It will show that patient work to overcome difficulties through dialogue can achieve results that go far beyond what could have been hoped for when the dialogue began.
And of course there is this illuminating response from the Vatican prepared by the man who is now Pope. Note particularly the very telling affirmation of precisely the very doctrine of Rome that is so vigorously and consistently rejected and condemned in the Lutheran Confessions as the direct contradiction of the Gospel that it is:

1. The major difficulties preventing an affirmation of total consensus between the parties on the theme of Justification arise in paragraph 4.4 The Justified as Sinner (nn. 28-1,0 ). Even taking into account the differences, legitimate in themselves, that come from different theological approaches to the content of faith, from a Catholic point of view the title is already a cause of perplexity. According, indeed, to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in baptism everything that is really sin is taken away, and so, in those who are born anew there is nothing that is hateful to God (3). It follows that the concupiscence that remains in the baptised is not, properly speaking, sin. For Catholics, therefore, the formula “at the same time righteous and sinner”, as it is explained at the beginning of n. 29 (“Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their sins through Word and Sacrament ...Looking at themselves ... however, they recognize that they remain also totally sinners. Sin still lives in them...”), is not acceptable.
This statement does not, in fact, seem compatible with the renewal and sanctification of the interior man of which the Council of Trent speaks (4). The expression “Opposition to God” (Gottwidrigkeit) that is used in nn. 28-30 is understood differently by Lutherans and by Catholics, and so becomes, in fact, equivocal. In this same sense, there can be ambiguity for a Catholic in the sentence of n. 22, “... God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love”, because man's interior transformation is not clearly seen. So, for all these reasons, it remains difficult to see how, in the current state of the presentation, given in the Joint Declaration, we can say that this doctrine on “simul iustus et peccator” is not touched by the anathemas of the Tridentine decree on original sin and justification.
We also need to recognize, as Rome rightly notes, politely yet bluntly, that the Luthreran World Federation can not be regarded as an entity that in fact represents or speaks for world Lutheranism. In fact, at the time the JDDJ was being pushed by the LWF Executive Council many member churches of the LWF did not approve it, or sign on, or vote to adopt it. The Vatican says:

We need finally to note, from the point of view of their representative quality, the different character of the two signataries of this Joint Declaration. The Catholic Church recognises the great effort made by the Lutheran World Federation in order to arrive, through consultation of the Synods, at a “magnus consensus”, and so to give a true ecclesial value to its signature; there remains, however, the question of the real authority of such a synodal consensus, today and also tomorrow, in the life and doctrine of the Lutheran community.
Therefore, when we today read this article in the Smalcald Articles we need to keep in mind that the severity of the rhetoric reflects the reality Luther and his fellow reformers were experiencing at the time: the Roman Papacy was engaged in literal warfare against those who disagreed with Roman Catholicism. They were torturing and putting people to death for affirming the Biblical Gospel. Today we can be thankful that there the extravagant claims made for Papal authority on heaven and on earth are no longer being made by the Papacy, and we praise God for any movement more toward the proclamation of Christ that we do see and notice in more recent Papal sermons and addresses; however, the most fundamental error of Romanism remains: the claim that we are not saved by grace alone through faith alone, but that we are saved through a mixture of faith plus works. The Pope continues to insist on his universal authority in the Church.

We rejoice that we have much in common with our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church. Because of what we have in common, we are committed to working toward true reconciliation of our important differences. We can not support the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification because it does not actually reconcile the differences between Lutherans and Roman Catholics concerning the most important truth of Christianity. What is that truth? God loved the world so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life in our place and to die for our sins. God declares us to be totally righteous and completely forgiven because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God gives us eternal life as a free gift through trust in Christ alone. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that something more than trust in Christ is necessary for us to be saved. It teaches that we are able to merit, through our works, eternal life for ourselves and others. We believe this teaching obscures the work of Jesus Christ and clouds the central message of the Bible. Therefore, despite what has been reported in the public media about the Lutheran-Roman Catholic declaration, very significant differences remain in regard to how we understand salvation, a fact that the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges. We pray for genuine reconciliation of differences among Christians. Our church is intent on working for the day when the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with one voice. We will continue to work toward true reconciliation.

Let's be careful not to forget what Trent declared over against the Gospel:
CANON 9: "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."

CANON 12: "If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ's sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified ... let him be accursed."

Canon 14: "If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema."

Canon 24: "If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema."

Canon 30: "If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema."

Canon 33: "If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.
I ask for your kind indulgence, dear reader, as I wax a bit autobiograpical at this point in this post.

Why Separation from Rome is Still a Tragic Necessity

Some time ago, word went out that the Papacy might be considering lifting the charge of heretic against Martin Luther. This rumor was squelched. In the course of talking about it with a friend, we were going back and forth about our feelings about Rome and the Papacy. I offered him these more personal reflections on my experiences with Rome and what a truly painful thing it is to recognize that Lutheranism and Romanism must be, and remain, separate. In light of the Pope's coming trip to the USA, I thought I would share these thoughts, with a few modifications, more openly here:

The reason I have such strong feelings of frustration and, yes, anger, with the errors of Romanism is precisely because there is so much in the Roman Catholic Church that I love and cherish. "Tragic necessity" is no mere polite soundbite to me, nor to many other faithful Lutheran Christians. We cherish the Gospel that is read and heard in Roman Catholic Churches whenever and wherever it is read, or preached. We cherish the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar which is given and distributed in Roman Catholic Churches. We love and cherish these things in spite of the errors that obscure the glory and grace of God in the mercy of Christ.

I developed close friendships with many Roman Catholics growing up in the Deep South where Lutheran and Roman Catholics were but two sides of the same coin in the view of Baptists, Pentecostals, etc. There was a shared history and experience of liturgy and church history that was unknown to many, if not all, Bible fundamentalists.

I attended a Roman Catholic High School and was so deeply moved and impressed by the nuns and priests there who taught us everything from typing (thank you Sister Mary Jean!) and drilled us to death in English and grammar (thank you Sister Mary Margaret!). I loved Latin class when Father Pine, S.J., would wander in and engage in Latin with our teacher, and when he actually corrected my writing one day, walking up and down the rows of desks, "Ah, excuse me, Mr. McCain, but you seem to have a certain fondness leaving your "t's" uncrossed and your i's undotted." As my face grew red, I was able only but to agree and say "Yes, Father. You are right."

And I recall Father Foley regaling us with tales of youthful episodes with a certain "fair lass" in Ireland, where he hailed from, and I recall listening to him and Sister Mary Ellen rattle away back and forth in Gaelic, their mother tongue, the mother tongue of my ancestors as well.

And they even gave a Lutheran kid best religion student of the year award, twice in a row! And I have the warmest memories of all of the many kind notes and remembrances from the priests, sisters and brothers who, in their own dear ways, encouraged me to become a Lutheran pastor, with quiet conversations, even whispered in some cases. We shared a love for Christ!

But as for the institution and public doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, here is where the tragic necessity of separation becomes a reality.

But I sat seething through four years of Masses where the Gospel was terribly obscured with all manner of nonsense that one can only imagine that would be possible in the mid-seventies, with people trying to impress teenagers attending Mass. (It became so bad the Bishop announced he would no longer conduct mass at our high school until the behavior in Mass got better!).

For these very personal reasons, in addition to my passion for theology, I've been deeply concerned and interested in Roman Catholicism for years and feel such a kindred spirit with the Roman Church, but also at the same time, such a heart-wrenching separation when I watch the Gospel not really proclaimed sweetly and clearly.

Tragic necessity, indeed. Lord, have mercy.

While it is necessary to read and understand this particular article in the Smalcald Articles with the errors of Rome clearly in view, there is also much to be gained from this article in addition to that. Read and applied to the situation even within our Lutheran Church raises opportunities for introspection, confession and repentance. How and when can situations arise in any church where the Gospel is obscured and the authority of a man, or men, is elevated over and above that of Christ and His Word? While the Papacy is still rightly identified as Antichrist, is the Papacy alone antichrist? What are other modern-day “antichrists” that threaten the church?