Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lutheran ≠ German

This Sunday Lutheran churches around the world will observe the Festival of the Lutheran Reformation of the Church – the 493rd anniversary of Luther’s nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. (A great little summary of that here.)

Wittenberg was (and is) in Germany.

Martin Luther was a German.

Many Lutheran theological books and hymns were written in Germany, by Germans.

Lutheran churches in the United States were primarily propagated and populated by Germans, or by Americans of German descent. (Take no offense, our dear Norwegian brothers!)

Therefore, in the minds of some (including some Lutherans), Lutheran = German.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lutheranism is a conviction, not a culture; a confession, not a nationality. I would suggest that there is absolutely nothing that is uniquely German about Lutheranism, except for the fact that many Germans throughout the ages have been Lutherans, and some of them have handed down to us some real treasures composed in the German language, treasures which, once translated, cease to be "German" treasures and simply become part of the vast pool of Christian treasures.

The Lutheran Reformation began and thrived in Germany, but it was not a German event. It was an ecclesiastical event. Lutheranism is not one of many cultural religions. It is nothing but the return to the form of sound doctrine that existed in the early Church and among the Church Fathers following the apostles before the corruptions of the papacy took hold. Lutheranism is The Catholic Faith that is to be taught and believed throughout the world until Christ returns.

The Reformation restored to the Church the true nature of what it means to be “catholic.” To be catholic is not to be beholden to a pope in Rome, or to any man's teaching, or to any man’s whim. To be catholic is to stand on the orthodox truth of the gospel as it has been handed down to us by the apostles of Jesus Christ. To be catholic is to be bound to Christ by means of the one gospel of Christ, the gospel as the whole teaching of God that centers and culminates in the sending and sacrificing of His Son for the justification of sinners. To be catholic is to be freed from the allegiance to man and to culture and nationality and to understand one's place in the grand structure of the Church. To be catholic is to transcend tribalism and personal preference as people from every nation are united to Christ and to one another through faith in the gospel. It is to celebrate the true unity of souls who gather around the One Gospel, rather than to celebrate diversity or emphasize our differences.

The Reformation also restored to the Church the practices that correspond to the gospel. Purchasing forgiveness by buying an indulgence – that practice does not correspond to the gospel. Preaching sermons that have more to do with building castles in Spain than with faith – that practice does not correspond to the gospel. Turning the worship service (i.e., the Mass) into man’s work for God instead of God’s work for man – that practice does not correspond to the gospel. Prescribing acts of penance to merit the forgiveness of sins, frightening God’s people with fictitious stories of purgatory, sending Christians to the saints for help – these are not practices that correspond to the gospel.

Keeping the festivals of the saints, not to pray to them or to benefit from their merits, but to give thanks to God for these gifts to the Church and to learn to imitate their faith and their way of life; preaching people to the Sacrament on the Lord’s Day and on festivals; restoring the Mass as the place where God works and God serves in the Means of Grace and His people receive; teaching people to make the sign of the cross, not as superstition, but as a daily remembrance of their baptism into Christ crucified; pointing people away from themselves and ever and always to Christ, Christ and only Christ for forgiveness, assurance, comfort and strength to bear the cross – now those are practices that correspond to the gospel! These are Lutheran practices, and there's nothing German about them.

When we believe, teach and confess the words of the Lutheran Confessions (whether in Latin or German or English), we are not confessing German truth, but Scriptural truth which is true for all men alike, regardless of their nationality.

When we use the Western Rite of the Liturgy, as the Reformers did, we are not worshiping in the “preferred style” of the Germans. The Western Rite of the Liturgy is not German at all. Its texts are not German texts, but Scriptural texts, ecclesiastical texts. Its order is not a German order, but an order naturally flowing from its content of Word and Sacrament, an order that has been around for over a thousand years and has been used in virtually every country around the Western world. When we worship like the Reformers worshiped, we are not worshiping like Germans. We are worshiping like Christians, among whom the German Reformers are certainly to be counted.

When we chant in worship, as the Reformers did, we are not singing in the “heart language” of the Germans. We are using a very simple, modest melody with just a hint of God-given beauty and artistry, so that it still draws far more attention to the text than it does to itself. When we sing "A Mighty Fortress," we are not singing a German hymn. We are singing a Christian hymn, the text of which speaks of Christ and His embattled but victorious Church throughout the world, the tune of which is accessible to Christians from any culture who are willing to learn it. (See here for an example from the Congo.)

When (or if) we use a pipe organ, we are not using the “heart instrument” of the Germans. We are using an instrument that has proven its ability to support the voice of the congregation. Many people of German descent (like myself) would never think of listening to organ music during the week. But they (myself included) agree that it is a (but not the only) useful churchly instrument for accompanying the singing of God’s people.

This Sunday afternoon, my congregation will be hosting a joint Reformation service that is based on the Deutsche Messe (the "German Mass"), Luther's German version of the Western Rite. The service will be chanted a la Deutsche Messe, including the Scripture lessons. It will also include several old, Lutheran chorales composed hundreds of years ago by German composers in Germany – though sung now in English. Much of the service will be accompanied with an organ (as well as piano, trumpet and violin).

But let no one make the mistake of calling this Divine Service a "German" service, or a service for "Germans." The food served at a Lutheran potluck may well be German. But the Food served at a Lutheran Divine Service – there’s nothing German about it, no matter how many Luther hymns may be sung.

Lutheran ≠ German. Lutheran = Orthodox. Lutheran = Christ-centered. Lutheran = gospel-centered. Lutheran = catholic. Lutheran = Christian.

A blessed Reformation to all of our Intrepid Lutheran subscribers and readers!

Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr'!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Now Resting Peacefully in the Arms of His Saviour, an Intrepid Lutheran goes Home

If one were to peruse the list of those who have publicly subscribed their names, and who stand with us as Intrepid Lutherans as we attempt to address pressing matters of doctrine and practice in our Synod, one name emerges as the topic of this brief post: Reverend Carlton H. Palenske. A WELS pastor, he had been living in Winona, MN, since his retirement in 1991 from 34 years of active ministry. In addition to signing on with us as an Intrepid Lutheran this Summer, Rev. Palenske had displayed an active concern for matters of doctrine and practice in our Synod, having been a cosigner of the 2007 Memorial to Synod, "Definition of the expression 'Framework of Fellowship'". According to his daughter's blog, he was diagnosed this Summer with an aggressive form of lung cancer. He passed away this Sunday, October 24, 2010. His obituary follows:
    Rev. Carlton H. Palenske

    PALENSKE, Rev. Carlton H. December 5, 1931 - October 24, 2010. It has pleased our Almighty God to call home his faithful servant Pastor Carlton Harry Palenske, age 78, retired WELS Lutheran pastor, passed away at his home Sunday October 24th, in Winona, Minnesota. He was born December 5, 1931 in Toledo, Ohio to Louis Palenske and Florence (nee) Hagen. He attended Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Michigan (1950), Concordia College, Fort Wayne, Indiana (1952), Northwestern College, Watertown, Wisconsin (1954), and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin (1957). Following Seminary graduation, he was assigned to Our Savior Lutheran Apache Mission in Bylas, Arizona. He was then called to the following congregations: Trinity Lutheran Church, Johnson, Minnesota; Immanuel Lutheran Church, Findlay, Ohio; St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Monroe, Michigan; Christ Lutheran Church, Saginaw (Shields), Michigan; Peace Lutheran Church, Cape Girardeau, Missouri; and First Lutheran Church, Minnesota City, Minnesota. He retired from the Lutheran ministry January 1, 1991. In retirement, he was employed part-time by the Developmental Achievement Center and The Winona Transit Service, as a bus driver. In retirement he continued to live in Winona County. On September 16, 1989, he was joined in holy matrimony with Geraldine Hilgert-Broring in Pickwick, Minnesota. They were blessed with 21 years of marriage. He is survived by his wife Geraldine, son Stephen (Francis) of Las Vegas, NV; daughters Sandra (Enrique) Arevalos of Brentwood, TN; Rhonda (Jorge) Martinez of Las Vegas, NV; Linda (Jorge) Sasieta of Seminole, FL. Stepsons William Broring of Rochester, MN; Robert (Karen) Broring of Rochester, MN; step daughters Natalie (Albert) Siok of Winona; Nancy (Micheal) Aldinger of Winona; and Julie (Kevin) Finnestad of Winona, 21 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He is also survived by one sister, JoAnn McBride, Toledo, Ohio; two brothers, Milton Palenske, Toledo, Ohio; and Robert (Anna) Palenske, Toledo, Ohio. He was preceded in death by his parents, son David Karl, and a brother, Donald Palenske. Pastor Palenske found great pleasure in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His hobbies included stain-glass work and playing the piano. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m., Thursday, October 28th at the old St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Burial will be in the church cemetery. Rupp Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements. Memorial donations may be made to Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Michigan or Goodview Trinity Lutheran Church in Goodview, Minnesota. Online condolences may be sent to

Monday, October 25, 2010

And That's The Way We See It

An Unspoken Truth – or – Half Praise Is No Praise At All

Jesus once asked the Pharisees, "What do you think of Christ? Whose Son is He?" By this point in His ministry, they had had plenty of time to do a thorough inquiry into this question. They had certainly heard of Him often enough. They knew Who He claimed to be. Often, He had spoken to them directly. He had warned them about the folly and dangers and errors of their teachings and had urged them with great passion to turn from these errors.

So, now the Pharisees were quick to respond to Christ's inquiry. They answered, "The son of David." Now, that answer was absolutely correct – as far as it went. They had spoken the truth. But there remained yet an even more important unspoken truth! The fact was that Jesus was - and is - the actual Son of God, the Messiah; both David's Son, and David's Lord! Thus, it is not enough to proclaim a truth, if it is not the whole truth. Calling Jesus the "son of David," while true enough, leaves a great deal unsaid.

So it is with saying, "We accept the Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God," or "We believe that God works only through the Means of Grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, to create and sustain faith." Such proclamations are good and fine and necessary in truly historic, orthodox, confessional Lutheran churches, and you can find such statements and many more like them at just about every church in the Wisconsin Synod.

Still, perhaps there are things left unsaid in some of our churches. For all the proclamations that only God's Word and the Sacraments bring people into the kingdom, perhaps – just perhaps – there is a tendency to think that our churches must also be "real, relevant, and relational," in order to survive and thrive. Perhaps many have concluded that a "relaxed, come-as-you-are" atmosphere is essential to the continuation of a particular congregation. Perhaps some have come to believe – even though they may not say it – that a "liturgy" is a "barrier" to the Gospel, or that a Pastor in a suit and tie or especially in a gown or alb or whatever is a "turn off" to unbelievers, and therefore must be shelved in order for their Gospel message "to work."

To praise the Means of Grace as the only way to reach the lost, but then to speak and act in an opposite manner condemns those same Means of Grace with only half praise! And half praise, as the Pharisees knew well, is no praise at all!

And that's the way we see it!

Pastor Spencer

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Justification - something to chew on

One more week until the Festival of the Reformation, after which we'll have a little more time to discuss the matter of Justification.

Until then, I submit to our readers the following essay by the sainted Rev. Kurt Marquart, a highly respected former professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. This is one of the best essays I've seen dealing with objective/subjective Justification. I think that it also puts to rest many of the concerns that have arisen from the unfortunate caricature of the true doctrine as taught by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. In the coming weeks, we will attempt to discuss this essay bit by bit and summarize its main points. We'll accept comments with initial reactions, but if you're looking to ask questions or discuss points of the essay, I'll ask you to hold off until we address it more fully in the coming weeks.

Objective Justification, Respectfully submitted, K. Marquart, C.T.S., Ft. Wayne, IN, Epiphany II, 1998

Friday, October 15, 2010

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - October 15

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

“And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” John 17:3.

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In these words Christ shows what eternal life is. He says: Eternal life is this — and My disciples shall receive it in this way — “that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Let him who would walk safely flee and avoid all those things which natural reason and human thoughts are accustomed to advance concerning this article; for there is no counsel and wisdom that can avail against the seducing delusions of the devil, nor anything but our having a steady faith in the plain and simple words of the Scriptures, not at all relying upon our own thoughts and speculations, but saying: Whatever Christ has said must be true, although it may be beyond my comprehension, or that of any other mortal, how it can be true. For it is utterly impossible that human reason should grasp even the least article of faith. Nor can any mortal have any right thought or sure knowledge of God whatsoever, without the Word of God. The farther and more deeply human reason goes in the investigation of God, His works, His will, and His counsel, the farther it gets from the knowledge of them, until it comes at last to know nothing and to believe nothing of God at all. Here you see the words are plain: Christ gives to all who believe eternal life; but no one can give eternal life except God only; wherefore it must incontrovertibly follow that Christ is truly and naturally God.

Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line,
Whom David Lord did call;
The God incarnate, Man divine:
And crown Him Lord of all!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Justification - The discussion continues

As you can see in the comments on the "Law and Gospel" post, the discussion on Justification continues, and we haven’t "shut down" anything. There has been much confusion and many rumors over my attempt to end that discussion thread. I would like to clarify a few things for our readers about this and explain to you the reasons for trying to move on from this discussion.

Not threats from above – No one has threatened us at IL or ordered us to end this discussion. Yes, there are a few leaders (not all!) who want us to shut down the blog, not over the discussion on Justification, but because they don’t think we’re respecting the Eighth Commandment in general, and because they think we’re giving our synod itself a bad reputation. Obviously, we disagree with them. It is our understanding that we will come up on the agenda of the next COP meeting. We’ll see what comes of that.

Time! – The truth is that I am especially short on time to carry on a discussion of this magnitude. I knew as of last week that I would have little time to consider comments and contribute to this discussion until after the Festival of the Reformation. Local duties call. It’s not that I’m the only Intrepid Lutheran who can comment, but the fact is, we all have other responsibilities to attend to in addition to the blog, and these next few weeks are especially busy.

An issue of substance – As I commented previously, getting at the heart of the discussion on Justification that has been raging in the blogosphere for months and years will require more than a dialogue carried on in the “comments.” A serious and honest exegesis is required of several key Bible passages. I personally need to dig deeper into the Scriptures, the Confessions and other confessional writings to hone my understanding and manner of speaking. Not all who speak about "UOJ" have represented it correctly. Misconceptions already abound in this discussion, and people are talking past one another. If we are to carry on this discussion on IL, we will need to do so over time, not as a continuous barrage of comments.

And honestly, we at IL do not believe that every problem in the WELS stems from its teaching on Justification, as some claim. Are there some who are confused about the right and the wrong way to speak of Justification? I suppose there are, but we do not believe that the synod has fallen into apostasy. There are other issues that we feel need addressing.

Avoiding confusion – A danger that weighs heavily on my mind is that an argument over the details of the article of Justification will be used by the Evil One to plant confusion or doubt in the minds of some readers regarding their own justification before God, especially since we do not have the time at the moment to conduct an exhaustive study on the blog and there may be some comments made or questions raised that are not in line with sound doctrine. Such is the nature of a discussion, much like a Bible class forum. But if we don’t have the time to address this matter fully, then some of those comments may be left hanging, and the last thing we want is for doubt to result.

Unfair discussion – Another concern of mine is that this discussion won’t really be fair. We treat people with respect on this blog. We don’t allow ad hominem attacks. I do thank the commenters, who for the most part have stuck to the issue at hand, but we have also had to reject comments from all sides that resorted to personal attacks.

But regardless of what comments we post here, commenters are exposing themselves to possible personal attacks elsewhere, as was the case last Friday when this discussion was carried over to Ichabod. We have asked Dr. Jackson not to do that again. Yes, we actually communicated with Ichabod, and hope that he will respect our request. If anyone on our blog who dissents from his position becomes subject to an online thrashing on his blog, then the discussion isn’t fair at all. So commenters, be forewarned. We have no control over what others do on their blogs. All we can do is ask that they be respectful.

The risk of legitimizing the vitriol – There is one more concern I have, and that others have expressed to me. The discussion on Justification has been happening on the internet for a long time, and it has largely degenerated into a mudslinging campaign. Some have made themselves famous accusing the WELS/ELS of apostasy in this area and have resorted (elsewhere) to a level of vitriol that we do not agree with and simply cannot condone. Some who respond to the self-proclaimed “UOJ opponents” often resort to the same sort of name-calling, misrepresentation and character assassination. By opening up this discussion on IL, we run the risk that people will either 1) assume that we, at IL, are accusing the WELS of officially promoting false doctrine regarding Justification, which we are not, or 2) give legitimacy to the mockery of persons and misrepresentations of positions that have filled the blogosphere.

Nonetheless, we would like to be able to discuss this important doctrine productively. We also reserve the right to bring it to an end when we feel it is necessary, and to reject comments that we don’t feel are helpful to the discussion. We have allowed some comments from those who are not currently in fellowship with WELS/ELS, but we would prefer for the discussion to continue from those within our fellowship.

We at IL do plan on bringing up this subject again, hopefully in November after Reformation. At that time, we’ll try to outline what the issues are and what the issues aren’t.

For now, I think that, based on my understanding of the issue, I will submit the following theses:
  1. A confessional Lutheran confesses that Christ has truly and objectively made satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, and that His obedience is the only righteousness that counts before God.

  2. A confessional Lutheran confesses that faith in Christ is essential in the justification of a sinner before God.

  3. A confessional Lutheran confesses that faith is not man’s work, but is God’s gift, produced by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace alone.
To deny #1 makes one a Calvinist. To deny #2 makes one a Universalist. To deny #3 makes one either an Arminian or an Enthusiast (which are not mutually exclusive). In all that I’ve read on all sides (which is hardly exhaustive), I have not found any disagreement on these points. I don’t think that the official WELS position embraces any of these heresies, in spite of accusations to the contrary. And from what I’ve read of those Lutherans who oppose “UOJ,” I have not seen them denying any of the above points, either. That’s not to say that both sides teach the same thing. But since it’ll be a month before we (the moderators) will be able to discuss the matter in more depth on the blog, I wanted to propose these three statements as food for thought.

And I will ask the readers a favor: Rather than citing what other people have stated or written with regard to these three statements (like "This We Believe" or Becker, et al.), rather than complaining about what you think other people believe about these three statements, please only comment regarding your belief or understanding of them.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - October 8

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." Jude 14-15

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God from the beginning of the world has left it to some to make His Word known (the Word that promises His favor and salvation to believers, but threatens the unbelieving with judgment and condemnation), even till Christ’s coming down from heaven, when it is openly preached to the whole world. But before the birth of Christ God took to Himself for this purpose only a single line from Adam to Abraham, and from there to David down to Mary the mother of Christ, who possessed His Word. Thus also this father, Enoch, insisted on that Word of God which he received from his father, Adam, and which he had of the Holy Spirit. Enoch prophesied: Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all. This can only be said of the last day, on which He will come with all His saints to execute judgment, and He names those who shall suffer under this judgment. He at once strikes upon their life and preaching, and would say this much: They speak fiercely and harshly against the Lord who is to come. They are shameless and proud, they deride and revile Him. These godless ones the Lord will punish (he says) because their preaching is shameless and presumptuous. Thus has Enoch struck in this passage at the very state which should be in the world before the last day, as we now see it before our eyes.

Our foes, O God, are in Thy hand,
Thou knowest their endeavor;
But only give us strength to stand,
And let us waver never,
Though reason strives with faith, and still
It fears to wholly trust Thy will,
And sees not Thy salvation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 1

Our recent series on the “Walking Together Sunday” service seems to have caused quite a ruckus. Some were offended that published materials and public practice would be considered open to critique. Many others recognized the need for such critique and resonated with our criticism. Of central concern throughout the series was the proper handling of God’s Word, whether it rightly divided Law and Gospel. This, for many laymen, prompts a question. We hear this term “Law & Gospel” bandied about as a Lutheran distinctive and preaching requirement. Why is it important? Why is it necessary?

To teach Justification, Law and Gospel must both be taught and be properly divided
Although it is likely a composite of many related quotations, Luther is credited with stating the following: “Justification by faith alone is the article by which the Church stands or falls.” There is little question that the Reformation itself hinged on this essential doctrine. Rome had added works of the Law to the Gospel, teaching a form of synergism called infused grace, by which man is imbued with a divine animating force making him capable of cooperating with the Holy Spirit in obtaining and maintaining his Justification. Quoting from the Council of Trent (1547), today’s Catholic Catechism reads:
    Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:

      ‘When God touches man's heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God's grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God's sight’ [Council of Trent (1547): DS 1525.]

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1993, (emphasis mine).
In the Roman Catholic understanding, God’s grace is not “unmerited favor”, as we Lutherans teach, but is infused as an animating force enabling Christians to perform meritorious works that are necessary for salvation. We hear Baptists and Pentecostals often speak this way as well: “God has given me the grace to do/think/say this, that or the other thing.” Thus, according to Rome, the Holy Spirit enables man to accept God's Word and perform the works of charity necessary to move himself toward justice in God's sight; but apart from His enabling, mankind could never fulfill his obligation to do so. This is a doctrine of synergism.

Understanding the Roman definition of "charity" illuminates this further. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1965 - #1974) defines “charity” as the “Law of the Gospel”. It is the father of all virtues (#1826 - #1827), including the other two theological virtues, faith and hope, (#1814 - #1818), all three of which are
    infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being (#1813, emphasis mine).
Rome teaches that the theological virtues are the foundation of all Christian moral activity -- the manifestation of infused grace -- but that the theological virtue of charity stands above them all as the Law of the Gospel, which man must obey in order to merit eternal salvation. For the Roman, “Love” is a command which must be obeyed in order to secure eternity, it is made a burden, and becomes a lash with which to coercively whip fellow Christians.

For the conscientious Christian, who practices self-examination and is aware of his sin, his inability to perform the works of the Law is regularly manifest. Tortured under the requirements of the Law, Rome taught Christians to “trust the Church” in order to assuage their guilt and give them assurance of their salvation. With their minds and souls captive to the institution, Rome was free to engage in various methods and programs, declared “necessary” for various reasons, which further captivated Christians while providing for Rome’s financial stability: purgatory, indulgences, dietary restrictions, veneration of the saints and their relics, etc. False doctrine, in addition to tormenting souls, thus served corruption as well.

The corrective, of course, was the true teaching of Scripture. Suffering terrors of conscience under the impossible burden of the Law, Luther was directed to the Bible, where he read
    [A] man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ... for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. ...I do not frustrate the the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain (Ga. 2:16-21)
Rather than trusting in the Church, Luther was directed by the Scriptures to trust in Christ, fully and completely. Further, he was shown that in order for Justification to be taught correctly, in order for man to make Christ the sole object of his faith rather than also trusting the Church or his own efforts, the Law had to be stripped from it entirely. That isn’t to say that the Law was not to be taught. On the contrary, in order to understand Justification properly, it was necessary that the message of the Law precede it. In other words, Justification cannot be preached properly unless Law is distinguished and kept separate from the Gospel, and the Gospel has no application unless it follows the message of the Law.

And this is clear from the Confessions:
    [I]t was very foolish for the adversaries to write that men who are under eternal wrath merit the remission of sins by an act of love, which springs from their mind, since it is impossible to love God, unless the remission of sins be apprehended first by faith. For the heart, truly feeling that God is angry, cannot love God, unless He be shown to have been reconciled. As long as He terrifies us, and seems to cast us into eternal death, human nature is not able to take courage, so as to love a wrathful, judging, and punishing God... It is easy for idle men to feign such dreams concerning love, as, that a person guilty of mortal sin can love God above all things, because they do not feel what the wrath or judgment of God is. But in agony of conscience and in conflicts [with Satan], conscience experiences the emptiness of these philosophical speculations. Paul says, Ro. 4:15: The Law worketh wrath. He does not say that by the Law men merit the remission of sins. For the Law always accuses and terrifies consciences. Therefore it does not justify, because conscience terrified by the Law flees from the judgment of God. Therefore they err who trust that by the Law, by their own works, they merit the remission of sins... (AC:IV:36-39)

    [T]hey condemn us, for teaching that men obtain remission of sins not because of their own merits, but freely for Christ's sake, through faith in Christ... For they condemn us both for denying that men obtain remission of sins because of their own merits, and for affirming that, through faith, men obtain remission of sins, and through faith in Christ are justified. 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. For since the adversaries understand neither what the remission of sins, nor what faith, nor what grace, nor what righteousness is, they sadly corrupt this topic, and obscure the glory and benefits of Christ, and rob devout consciences of the consolations offered in Christ. But that we may strengthen the position of our Confession, and also remove the charges which the adversaries advance against us, certain things are to be premised in the beginning, in order that the sources of both kinds of doctrine, i.e., both that of our adversaries and our own, may be known.

    All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal. Moreover, in this discussion, by Law we designate the Ten Commandments, wherever they are read in the Scriptures...

    Of these two parts the adversaries select the Law, because human reason naturally understands, in some way, the Law (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind); [the natural law agrees with the law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments] and by the Law they seek the remission of sins and justification. (AC:IV:1-7)

    ...Because, therefore, men by their own strength cannot fulfill the Law of God, and all are under sin, and subject to eternal wrath and death, on this account we cannot be freed by the Law from sin and be justified, but the promise of the remission of sins and of justification has been given us for Christ's sake, who was given for us in order that He might make satisfaction for the sins of the world, and has been appointed as the [only] Mediator and Propitiator. And this promise has not the condition of our merits... but freely offers the remission of sins and justification as Paul says Rom. 11:6: If it be of works, then is it no more grace. And in another place, Rom. 3:21: The righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, i.e., the remission of sins is freely offered. Nor does reconciliation depend upon our merits. Because if the remission of sins were to depend upon our merits, and reconciliation were from the Law, it would be useless. For as we do not fulfill the Law, it would also follow that we would never obtain the promise of reconciliation. Thus Paul reasons, Rom. 4:14: For if they which are of the Law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. For if the promise would require the condition of our merits and the Law, which we never fulfill, it would follow that the promise would be useless.

    But since justification is obtained through the free promise it follows that we cannot justify ourselves. Otherwise wherefore would there be need to promise? [And why should Paul so highly extol and praise grace?] For since the promise cannot be received except by faith, the Gospel which is properly the promise of the remission of sins and of justification for Christ's sake, proclaims the righteousness of faith in Christ, which the Law does not teach. (AC:IV:40-43)

C.F.W. Walther, quoting Luther and Chemnitz, states the matter just as directly:
    Commenting on Ga. 3:19, Luther says (St.L. Ed. IX, 415): “If the Gospel is not fundamentally and plainly set apart from the Law, it is impossible to keep the Christian doctrine unadulterated. Again, when this distinction has been correctly and firmly established, we can have a fine and correct knowledge of the manner how, and by what means, we are to become righteous in the sight of God...” In conclusion, Chemnitz writes in his Chapters on Theology (Loci Theologici), in the chapter on Justification: “Paul states distinctly that the righteousness which is valid in the sight of God is revealed in the Gospel, apart from the Law. Hence the principal matter in this inquiry regarding justification is that the true and proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel be fixed and carefully maintained... Is there any other light, besides the one furnished by the true distinction between the Law and the Gospel, that has so forcibly broken up the dense darkness of the Pope’s dominion?”... If this light is not carefully guarded, it will soon go out. For instance, we find that this light was still burning in the days when the earliest writings of the Church Fathers were composed. But in the writings of the ecclesiastical teachers who followed them no definite statement is found regarding the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. That is the reason why the Papacy, in a later age, made such rapid headway. The same danger is now threatening us.

    Walther, C.F.W. (1986). The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (W.H.T. Dau, Trans.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. (Translation originally published 1928, original German work published 1897). pp. 65-67.

The centrality of the Doctrine of Justification
Returning again to Luther’s statement, Justification by faith alone is the article by which the Church stands or falls, we begin to see the importance of Justification. The fact is, Justification is the central article of faith in the Lutheran body of doctrine. All other teaching emanates from this doctrine, and returns to it.
    In Lutheran theology the article of justification is the central, chief article by which the Christian doctrine and the Christian Church stands and falls; it is the apex of all Christian teaching. And in assigning to justification this central position the Lutheran Church did not follow its own wisdom, but the teaching of Scripture... In general, Paul preached “all the counsel of God” (Ac. 20:27). When he then declares that he preached Christ only, he asserts that all other doctrines which he preached stand in close relation to the central truth that men are saved without any merit of their own, by faith in the crucified Christ [Ro. 3:9,19; Ac. 10:43; 1 Co. 2:2]... In Scripture, all doctrines serve the doctrine of justification... The Christian doctrine as taken from Scripture, without any foreign admixture, is not a conglomeration of disconnected truths, but an unbroken harmonious unity in which justification by faith, without the deeds of the Law, stands in the center and all other doctrines are either antecedent or consequent to it.

    Pieper, F. (1951). Christian Dogmatics (Vol. II; T. Engelder & T. Mueller, Trans.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1917). pp. 512-514.
There is no teaching of Lutheran Doctrine – that is, of true Christian doctrine – that can be taught apart from also teaching Justification. And only the message of Law and Gospel teaches Justification. Thus, Law and Gospel, properly divided and properly used and applied, is not only central to all Lutheran preaching and teaching, it is necessary to all Lutheran preaching and teaching.

In coming days, the teachings of the Law and of the Gospel will be adduced from Scripture, in detail.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - October 1

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, . . . Jude 3-4a.

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This is as much as to say: I need to write to you so that I may remind and admonish you how you should proceed and persevere in the faith, which has already previously been preached to you. In other words, it is necessary that I should admonish you to be on your guard and remain in the right way. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation. For this reason I will remind you (he says) that you might remain in the faith which you have heard, because there is even now a wavering, and already there have come preachers who establish other doctrines besides faith, by which people are led away gently and unsuspectingly from the true way. This we now well understand, since we know that no one is righteous and justified by works of his own, but only through faith in Christ, to the end that he must rely on the work of Christ as his chief good. Wherever anyone secretly introduces anything else other than this doctrine of faith in regard to such orders and works, he leads the people astray, so that they will be condemned along with him.

In vain would boasting reason find
The path to happiness and God;
Her weak directions leave the mind
Bewildered in a doubtful road.

The various forms that men devise,
To shake my faith with treacherous art,
I scorn as vanity and lies,
And bind Thy Gospel to my heart.

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