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