Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chemnitz on judicial or forensic justification

I posted this article on Martin Chemnitz' definition of justification this morning.  He claims his definition to be the only true meaning of the word "justify" according to the Holy Scriptures, as justification is discussed in the doctrine of justification.  (See the link for Chemnitz' quote in context.)

I invite our readers to compare the following definitions of "forensic" or "judicial" justification.  One is by Martin Chemnitz.  The other is by WELS District President Jon Buchholz, as quoted in a comment on the previous post.

Chemnitz: The meaning of the word 'justify' in this article is judicial, namely, that the sinner, accused by the Law of God, convicted, and subjected to the sentence of eternal damnation, fleeing in faith to the throne of grace, is absolved for Christ’s sake, reckoned and declared righteous, received into grace, and accepted to eternal life."

Buchholz: "Here is the legal or juridical nature of justification, revealed at Calvary. The change does not take place in the sinner. The change takes place in the relationship or the status between a sinner and God.2 A verdict has been rendered, which declares man free of sin and guilt, righteous in God’s sight, and worthy of eternal life, for Jesus’ sake." Page 2

Notice when this courtroom or judicial verdict is said to occur in each definition.  According to Chemnitz, the verdict is rendered when the sinner flees in faith to the throne of grace (i.e., Christ).  According to Buchholz, the verdict was already rendered for all people at Calvary, i.e., 2,000 years ago.

Some will claim that Chemnitz is describing what they call "subjective justification," while Buchholz is describing "objective justification," like "two sides of the same coin."    I find this explanation to be completely inadequate and arbitrary.  Chemnitz does not claim to be describing one side of some fictional "justification coin."  He is describing how sinners are justified, period.  Chemnitz's definition has the support of dozens of Scripture passages.  Buchholz's position has the support of (dare I say) none.  On the contrary, his position is directly contradicted by several passages of Scripture (John 3:16-18, John 20:23, John 5:22-24, Luke 18:14, John 3:5-8, John 3:36, Rom. 9:30-33, Rom. 10:10, 2 Cor. 6:14, Gal. 2:16-17, Gal. 5:4-5, Eph. 2:1-3, 1 John 5:11-12, etc.).

To assert that God did or declared something is a big deal, and one had better be able to support such a claim with clear passages of Scripture.  There are many passages that describe Christ's finished work at the cross, but "justification" is not one of them.  On the contrary, unbelievers throughout Scripture are said to be condemned, not "justified, whether they believe it or not."


Brett Meyer said...

Pastor Rydecki states, “To assert that God did or declared something is a big deal, and one had better be able to support such a claim with clear passages of Scripture.”

To be fair, in his keynote 2005 WELS Convention essay, Justification Expounded By Scripture, District President Pastor Jon Buchholz did make the effort following three doctrinal declarations to clarify that Scripture, in fact, didn’t teach what he was teaching:

"God has forgiven the whole world. God has forgiven everyone his sins." This statement is absolutely true! This is the heart of the gospel, and it must be preached and taught as the foundation of our faith. But here’s where the caveat comes in: In Scripture, the word "forgive" is used almost exclusively in a personal, not a universal sense. The Bible doesn’t make the statement, "God has forgiven the world."

"God has forgiven all sins, but the unbeliever rejects God’s forgiveness." Again, this statement is true—and Luther employed similar terminology to press the point of Christ’s completed work of salvation.16 But we must also recognize that Scripture doesn’t speak this way."

"God has declared the entire world righteous." This statement is true, as we understand it to mean that God has rendered a verdict of "not-guilty" toward the entire world. It is also true—and must be taught—that the righteousness of Christ now stands in place of the world’s sin; this is the whole point of what Jesus did for us at Calvary. However, once again we’re wresting a term out of its usual context. In Scripture the term "righteous" usually refers to believers. "
Page 7

Anonymous said...

Some say this controversy is "just" about semantics. Okay. Semantics are important. The way we form word relationships communicates truth.
I am still processing all this information. But I can imagine the danger of telling an unbelieving visitor in the congregation that he is forgiven and saved before the Holy Spirit has created any faith. The unbeliever is lulled into a false sense of security. He feels comforted, but in reality he is still blind and lost. This danger is particularly highlighted when one considers the trend for churches to minimize the means of grace in order to attract the unbeliever in the first place. If the sermon is mostly law, and the praise songs are pale reflections of God's Word, while the gospel rich liturgy is mostly missing, how can the Holy Spirit create the faith that justifies?

Shelley Ledford

WELS church lady said...

Well stated Shelley, especially your last two sentences. I hope very COP member, MLC professor, and "others" take note of your comment. God's blessings.

Rebecca Quam

Anonymous said...

The main reason my wife and I left WELS is due to its every Sunday statement by the pastor forgiving sins to all in the audience including street walkins. WELS adopted the Roman Catholic position by mis-interpreting John 20:23 as the authority to forgive sin. That verse is teaching church discipline only and in context Jesus himself is giving the Holy Spirit and sending his apostles out to preach the scriptures and that is what WELS is suppose to do. Christ already forgave sin so there is no authority for man to intercede. Mark 2:7 and Mark 2:10 specifically state God is the only one who can forgive sin.
Donald N. Gretel

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