Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Reformation Symphony

Felix MendelssohnThe 19th Century, Romantic Era composer Felix Mendelssohn, as the reader may know, was known as a staunch Lutheran – much like his protégé Johannes Brahms. Unlike Brahms, however (who was born into a Lutheran family), Mendelssohn was, like the 19th Century church historian Dr. Alfred Edersheim, an adult convert to Christianity from Judaism. Residing and composing in Leipzig – the home of Johann Sebastian Bach (who has been featured on Intrepid Lutherans on many occasions) – he was more than merely an important composer of the Romantic Era who happened to be a Lutheran. He was a key figure in the resurrection of appreciation for the works of Bach, which had been forgotten following the time of Frederick the Great of Prussia, with whom Bach valiantly contended for the sake of Christianity.

Not only this, however, Mendelssohn became an ardent opponent of the extravagant Wagnerian philosophy of "Total Art," which, overtaking Europe for a time and eventually infecting America, required very expensive venues to house simultaneous lengthy performances of Ballet, Symphony and Opera, and was successful enough to cause such a drought in these individual genres as to threaten their existence.

In 1830, Felix Mendelssohn penned his Fifth Symphony, in honor of the 300th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Circumstances prevented its timely completion. It was finally published in 1868, twenty-one years after his death, during the peak of Wagnerian artistic philosophy and the consequent trough of the symphonic form itself. It was entitled, the Reformation Symphony. In a manner typical of the Romantic Era, the music was composed as a tonal representation of the struggle for the Truth of the Gospel throughout the Reformation, beginning with John Wycliffe – the "Morning Star of the Reformation" – and Jan Huss up through the German Reformation led by Dr. Martin Luther. It isn't until the latter third of the symphony that the Lutheran can recognize the triumphant strains of Luther's Reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress.

More than a tonal representation of the Reformation, Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony was singularly responsible for reviving the symphonic form throughout Europe and America, as well. With it's clearly Lutheran tonal imagery, it was instantly popular among European immigrants in America, most of whom settled in the midwest, and being a relatively short and simple composition, it was within the talent spectrum of the average German or Scandinavian immigrant, many of whom had acquired a superb education in Europe prior to their journey here, many more of whom had at least average if not advanced musical skill. In fact, many local and regional symphonies and music societies were created specifically to play this piece, and survived for many years thereafter, reviving the symphony and the musical arts not only in the midwest and America, but in Europe as well. Indeed, the popularity of Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony in the 19th Century has been credited with felling Wagner's philosophy of "Total Art."

A fitting piece to spend a few minutes with this evening as we remember and celebrate the Reformation, this is a full recording of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 in D major/D minor, Reformation Symphony, performed by the New York Philharmonic, and led by Leonard Bernstein.

Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony
NY Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein

95 Theses for Reformation Day: Fighting for the Faith

Below is a link to some thought-provoking theses which are meant to be read and debated.  Readers are welcome to debate them here on Intrepid Lutherans.

A New 95 Theses: Challenging The Excesses Of American Evangelicalism (on the web)

A New 95 Theses: Challenging The Excesses Of American Evangelicalism (in PDF format)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Exploring Huber's doctrine further

The following dialogue is my response to this comment by Pr. Rob Lawson. It is far too long for the “Comments” section of the blog, so it has been made into a separate post. The various ‘speakers’ are identified for the sake of clarity. If other participants in this dialogue would like to have similar lengthy responses posted as a post rather than as a comment, we can accommodate them in the same way if they send in their reply via e-mail, preferably already in HTML format.

Lawson: Walther neither ignored, nor was he was ignorant of, Hunnius' later condemnation. The rest of the paragraph that you quoted states: "The Wittenberg theologians (Gesner, Leyser, Hunnius, and others) did not want to tolerate Huber's expression: "Christus contulit proprie redemtionem toti generi humano," that is, "Christ imparted redemption to the entire human race in the proper sense," because the actual imparting, "as it is taken in the theological schools," refers to the appropriation."

Rydecki: Yes, that’s an interesting way for Walther to minimize the devastating condemnation Hunnius leveled against Huber’s teaching of universal justification. Walther makes it seem like it’s just the expression (which occurs in Thesis #1 of Hunnius’ 20 Theses opposed to Huber’s universal justification) “Christ conferred redemption” that the Wittenberg theologians didn’t like. I don’t know if Walther failed to read past Thesis #1, or if he just figured Hunnius was having a bad day. According to the Theses Opposed to Huberianism and the larger description of the problem in A Clear Explanation of the Controversy, it was much more than just a matter of inaccurate expression, and it was much more than just this one expression. I commend these two works for study and discussion. As Hunnius explains over and over, the Lutheran Church did not teach any sort of universal justification.

Lawson: Walther was simply pointing out that the faculty at Wuerttemberg didn't seem to get quite as bent out of shape about Huber's doctrine of "universal justification" as did the Wittenberg faculty. Wuerttemberg noted mainly a terminological difference (which they didn't like) and not a substantive one.

Rydecki: Actually Tom Hardt himself debunks Walther’s claim in footnote #28 of his paper, noting that the response of the Tuebingen theologians was quite early in the conflict and “cannot be used to cover the conflict in general, which is suggested by the inclusion of those words in C. F. W. Walther’s edition of J. W. Baier: Compendium.” In other words, Walther’s inclusion of the Wuerttemberg theologians’ conclusion in the Baier Compendium was misleading. Walther tried to use the early response of the Tuebingen theologians to make the case (or at least he gives the impression) that the whole thing was primarily a matter of disagreement over terminology. Even Hardt, who supports Walther’s Objective Justification, recognizes Walther’s error in that regard.

Even so, the Wuerttemberg theologians, as you say, didn’t like Huber’s terminology, while the Wittenberg theologians unequivocally rejected his terminology. Why, then, did Walther and H.A. Preus go on to adopt that very terminology? And why does it bother the supporters of universal justification so much to be linked to Huber, if, according to Walther, his doctrine was substantively orthodox and nothing for orthodox Lutherans to get bent out of shape about? If Walther’s followers think that Huber was basically orthodox with regard to justification and that the Wittenberg theologians taught justification wrongly (since they rejected Huber’s teaching of it), then it would seem to be the honest thing to just come out and say so.

Lawson: There was, after all, a temporary reconciliation between Huber and Wittenberg in 1594 (which the faculty at Tuebingen also signed on to). It fell apart not because of Huber's doctrine of universal justification per se, but because of where he took it.

Rydecki: I have seen no evidence whatsoever in Hardt or anywhere else that Huber’s doctrine of universal justification was ever found to be acceptable by anyone in Wittenberg, once they learned what it was. Again, as Hardt points out, this temporary reconciliation (February, 1594) was very early in the conflict. Hunnius explains (in A Clear Explanation, April, 1594) that, at first, they were wondering if it was just a difference of terminology, but after further investigation it became clear that it was the concept itself that was flawed. There is plenty of evidence from 1594, from 1597 (Theses Opposed to Huberianism), and from subsequent years that Huber’s universal justification was always found to be wrong, and that the temporary reconciliation that took place was due to Huber’s temporary retraction of some of his statements.

Furthermore, it is the positive teaching of Hunnius concerning the article of justification that demonstrates the error of universal justification just as much as his negative statements about Huber’s doctrine. There was no teaching of universal justification—by that or any other name—in the Lutheran Church. There never had been, according to Hunnius, from the time of Luther on. There was a teaching of the universal satisfaction made by Christ, and the universal will of God for man’s salvation, and the universal call by God to all men in the Gospel, and the universal merit of redemption and reconciliation, but only the particular doctrine of election, and only the particular doctrine of justification.

Lawson: At least that's Tom Hardt's take in his essay "Justification and Easter" in the Robert Preus festschrift. Here is the extended quote from Hardt (sorry for the length). I'm sure you've read it, but for others who haven't…

Rydecki: Yes, I have read Hardt’s essay a couple of times. In fact, I have Hardt’s essay to thank for directing me to study Huber and Hunnius in the first place. Before I read Hardt, I had no idea about either Huber or Hunnius. I simply believed what my seminary professors had always told me, that the Lutheran Church has “always taught” universal justification, especially due to Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 5:19. Then I read Hardt’s account of the controversy between Huber and the Wittenberg faculty, including the section where he quotes the Wittenberg faculty: “Never does Paul teach universal justification. For as far as concerns 2 Corinthians 5, the words ‘not imputing their trespasses unto them,’ they are not to be understood universally about all men regardless of faith.” So I appreciate Hardt’s work and his scholarship, without being able to agree with all of his conclusions, because they do not appear to be supported even by his own evidence.

Hardt: … When confronted with Huber’s interpretation of Romans 5:19b, where he understands ‘all’ to include also unbelievers, his opponents [i.e., ‘men such as Egidius Hunnius, Polycarp Leyser and Samuel Gesner’] introduce a distinction, saying that ‘condemnation as far as it concerns the debt belongs to all men but as far as concerns its execution (“ACTU”) belongs only to impenitents and unbelievers. So the offer of God’s grace and Christ’s merit is universal but as far as it concerns its execution (“ACTU”) it is limited to believers only, who are excluded from condemnation through the benefaction of Christ, grasped by faith.’ Hunnius et alii thus do not reject the idea of a universally valid grace. Against Huber, however, they reject the idea that somehow this grace would already be conferred on the individuals through the universality of atonement, a notion that they think to be present in Huber’s works.

Rydecki: The conclusion of the Wittenberg theologians regarding Romans 5 noted by Hardt is also cited in A Clear Explanation. I wonder if Hardt grasped the argument of the Wittenberg theologians on this point. Hunnius explains it this way (p.64):

Hunnius: And if Dr. Huber were teachable, the learned and vigorous response of the Wittenberg theologians could have abundantly satisfied him. This is how they respond to Huber regarding that passage championed by Huber, Romans 5: “On the contrary, isn’t your conclusion manifestly overthrown by that very passage that you cite, clearly demonstrating that there is no valid reason for your opposition? To be sure, just as the condemnation pertained to all men by guilt , and nevertheless actually pertains only to the impenitent and unbelieving, so also the gift of the grace of God and the merit of Christ is certainly universal. Nevertheless, it is actually restricted to believers only—those who are released from condemnation by the benefit of Christ, who is apprehended by faith.” Thus far the Wittenberg theologians.

Rydecki: There was never any controversy over the idea of “universally valid grace.” The Wittenberg theologians confessed that all along. What they rejected was the idea that grace would be conferred on all men in such a way as to justify unbelievers, which Huber most certainly did teach. “To justify sinners” is the conferral of grace on sinners. To speak of God absolving or justifying the whole world of sinners while not conferring grace on the whole world of sinners is simply absurd.

Hardt: Huber rejects this accusation as a calumniation, assuring that he has only ‘called universal justification that whereby God, considering the satisfaction of Christ, has because of this become propitiated toward all mankind, accepting it as if everyone had made satisfaction for himself.’ He assures that every individual must partake of this gift by faith in the Word and the sacraments. On the surface this seems to be an assuring convergence of views, which explains the temporary reconciliation between the parties.”

Rydecki: Hardt here betrays how he has been influenced by a Waltherian view of an Easter absolution, following the Waltherian paradigm of 1) God’s act of pardoning all men on Easter Sunday, followed by 2) God’s handing out of the already-universally-issued pardon in the Means of Grace, followed by 3) Man’s reception of the pardon by believing that all men have already been pardoned. Hardt therefore views Huber’s statement as a convergence of views and as a positive development, since Hardt is reading the Easter absolution back into the minds of the Wittenberg theologians. Indeed, as demonstrated in the original post, Huber goes on to describe his teaching of justification in almost the exact same words used by the Synodical Conference, asserting that, while all men have been justified by God, no one “possesses” justification until he believes. But it was this very teaching that the Wittenberg theologians went on to condemn.

Hardt: At length no reconciliation, however, was possible. The reason cannot, strictly speaking, be said to be the fact that Huber insisted on using the unusual term ‘universal justification’ or on maintaining the idea that all mankind had been given, in some sense, part of Christ’s universal, substitutionary righteousness.

Rydecki: Here is an example of Hardt’s conclusion not being supported by the evidence. Nowhere did the Lutheran theologians teach that mankind, in any sense, had been “given part of Christ’s righteousness.” On the contrary, they rejected that very teaching, stating over and over that Christ’s universal righteousness, while acquired for all men, is only given or shared or imputed to men by faith.

Hunnius: We most willingly grant that there is a righteousness that avails before God for the entire human race, a righteousness that has been gained and acquired through Christ, so that if the whole world were to believe in Christ, then the whole world would be justified. With respect to this, Paul writes in Romans 5 that “through one man’s justification (dikaioma), the gift of life has spread toward all men for justification (dikaiosis).” But no one is justified nor does anyone receive remission of sins from this universally acquired righteousness without the imputation of this righteousness acquired by Christ. But the imputation of righteousness does not take place except through faith. (Theses Opposed to Huberianism, Concerning Justification, Thesis #5)

Hardt: It is necessary to go more deeply into the confusingly rich material. According to our conviction the essential aberration in Huber’s doctrine on justification was in the eyes of the faculty of Wittenberg – where the main struggle took place – its teaching of unicam iustificationem, only one justification, viz. the universal one, while denying the individual one as a divine action.

Rydecki: Again, Hardt’s conclusions are not supported by the evidence (it would be helpful to be able to review the original source from which Hardt quotes—I have been unable to acquire it). He assumes that the Wittenberg theologians taught two justifications—a universal one and an individual one, as Walther does. He faults Huber, not for teaching universal justification, but for not also teaching a divine justification by faith.

Part of the problem may be his translation of “unicam justificationem” as “only one justification.” The Latin provided by Hardt states: Quod videlicet unicam iustificationem eamque omnibus hominibus absque respectu fidei ex aequo communem, contra Scripturam statuit. Literally, “Namely, that he maintains, contrary to Scripture, a singular (or 'single-faceted' or 'unique' or 'unparalleled') justification, and it common to all men equally without respect to faith.” Hardt’s translation of “only one justification” is weighted to bring about the logical conclusion that “there must be more than one justification,” thus paving the way for Walther to agree with the Wittenberg theologians. But the translation “only one” is not supported by the Latin.

Instead, as Hunnius explains, both in Hardt’s citations and in the two books previously mentioned, the Lutheran theologians explicitly denied any teaching of a universal justification by the Lutheran Church. They did, indeed, teach only one justification—the one that happens only to individuals, only by the Word, only by faith (cf. Ap.:IV:67).

Hunnius: Our Churches have always taught and still teach the justification that is by faith and that pertains to believers, but that by no means extends to the whole world. Besides this justification by faith, Dr. Huber teaches some other justification that is equally common to the entire human race. (A Clear Explanation, p. 57)

Hardt: The accusation is: ‘1) He affirms a universal justification, whereby all men are equally justified by God because of Christ’s merit, regardless of faith. 2) He denies faith’s or the believer’s individual justification to be by God or a special action of God, whereby He justifies only believers. 3) He states faith’s individual justification to be only men’s action, whereby they apply to themselves by faith the righteousness of Christ.’”

Rydecki: Hardt seems to miss the import of the first accusation against Huber. He seems to be interpreting this first accusation, not as an “accusation,” but as a concession of a point that Huber was teaching rightly, while the next two accusations reveal the point of divergence from the Wittenberg theologians. But in fact, all three enumerations are accusations against Huber. He was wrong 1) for teaching a universal justification of all men apart from faith; 2) for denying that justification by faith is a divine act; and 3) for turning justification by faith into a work of man.

Hardt: This is not a mere question of phraseology: ‘We do not deal only with terms but mainly with realities … It is intolerable in the church of Christ that he, contrary to Scripture, states that there is only [sic] one justification common to all, equally and regardless of faith … Also when he affirms universal remission of sin in his sense, … denying the individual one by God.’ Huber’s opponents have discovered that the kind of individual justification that Huber confesses to be necessary for salvation – he never embraced universalism or the final salvation of all men – was a move from man toward God, whereby the individual applied to himself the benefits of the once-forever event. No real divine justification took place in this latter action. Huber’s opponents think that this opinion ‘tastes of pelagianism.’ They point to such Scripture passages as Romans 4, Psalm 32, and Acts 3:19, where the individual remission of sins is said to take place as a direct action of God. Against Huber’s only [sic] one action by God they do not, however, teach a corresponding only one action taking place in the individual’s justification. Rather, they teach a double set of actions, two acts by God, one in Christ and one in the believer. They stress that they ‘do not simply consider, approve and explain two different aspects (nudos respectus) but different acts of God …: one universal, viz. performed by Christ, another special one, consisting in an application, which is no less a work and an act of God than the former one.’

Rydecki: Here Hardt asserts a teaching among the Wittenberg theologians of a “double set of actions.” Indeed, they did teach “two aspects” to the remission of sins (duplex remissio —“a two-faceted remission of sins,” not “two remissions of sins”!). The first aspect is that act of God by which Christ “acquired” or “obtained” righteousness for all men, which is universal. The second aspect is the act of God by which He applies the righteousness of Christ to the sinner by means of the Word, by means of faith, which is individual. However, neither aspect by itself results in anyone’s “justification.” Hardt errs, as did Walther, in identifying each of these actions separately as “justification.”

Hardt himself explains what the universal “action” was to which the Wittenberg theologians were referring: “The universal act of God toward mankind that Huber’s opponents want to maintain is described in the following way: ‘The benefit of redemption has been obtained and acquired for the entire world’, ‘the righteousness has been obtained for us.’”

To use a mundane analogy (begging the reader's forbearance), one might compare the Wittenberg theologians’ “two-faceted justification” with a “two-faceted car repair.” First, the mechanic goes out and acquires brand new engines for every car in the world. Second, he places one of them in your car. Both aspects are necessary in order for your car to be repaired. To assert that the mechanic’s acquisition of billions of engines is, “in some sense,” the repair of the whole world of cars is as ludicrous as asserting that Christ’s acquisition of righteousness for all men results in the justification of the whole world of sinners.

As cited above from the Theses Opposed to Huberianism, the obtaining and acquiring of redemption and righteousness for the entire world was never in dispute. That these things are the equivalent of a universal absolution or justification of all men, apart from faith, is what Huber asserted and the Wittenberg theologians denied. To acquire righteousness for all is not the same thing as “to justify all,” as Hunnius explains at length in the two works cited above, for the act of justification includes intrinsically the application of the righteousness of Christ, and that application is only made by faith, as Hunnius explains clearly in A Clear Explanation, p.60:

Hunnius: Here one may ask Dr. Huber when he thinks all this took place. When were all sins remitted equally to the entire human race? He has to confess one or the other—that this took place either from eternity, or in time. But it will be clearly demonstrated shortly that neither of these options can be true. We interpret those things that the Scripture contains regarding the redemption and reconciliation of the world (or of the human race) concerning the benefit gained and acquired through the death of Christ, and concerning the sufficiency of that merit of Christ—that it is sufficient for the whole world to be reconciled, justified and saved, if the whole world were to believe; that it was also intended for the world and acquired to this end, that all men should thence obtain salvation through faith. Meanwhile, God has never intended it to mean that it avails for justifying or for remitting sins without faith, through some sort of general remission of sins or justification, which is also supposedly done among those who never have faith, never had faith, or never will have faith. He who does not believe, says John the Baptist, will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3). Therefore, regarding those who never believe in the Son of God, from them also the wrath of God was never withdrawn (not even for a moment).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

So Huber wasn’t a Universalist after all

Several commenters on last week’s post rightly identified the anonymous quotation as the words of Samuel Huber. A compendium of some of Huber’s writings has recently been translated by seminarian Andrew Hussman and posted to the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary essay file. The whole work is worth reading in order to see through the false depictions of Huber that have been circulated recently by those who wish to distance themselves from him.

In this post, we will begin to examine Huber’s doctrine, using the same section that was cited last week:
    Those theologians charge that I have set forth a universal justification, and indeed of such a kind that makes every person righteous by the very act of salvation and by participation, and simply carries them away into heaven. To this point they have directed every weapon of accusation thus far. But I have never dreamed or written anything of this sort.
Several proponents of Objective Justification have claimed that Huber’s doctrine was rejected by the Lutheran Church in the 1590’s because he was a Universalist, that is, they claim that Huber taught a universal justification that didn’t require faith for a person to get to heaven. As I have pointed out on many occasions and as Huber’s own words demonstrate, this claim is patently false and betrays a profound and willful ignorance on the part of those who make it. Huber was no Universalist. Neither was Walther a Universalist. Neither do any of the churches of the defunct Synodical Conference teach Universalism. Huber’s error was not teaching that all people go to heaven. His error (with regard to the article of justification) was teaching that God has justified all men, whether they believe in Christ or not, but that they have to “possess” this justification in order to be saved. They “possess” it individually by faith. This is also what Walther taught.

    This, however, I had written against the Calvinists: since justification is universal according to Paul’s teaching (Rom. 5), redemption is not able to not be universal.
Huber used the same sedes doctrinae for universal justification that is still being used today to support universal justification (as noted prominently in the WELS This We Believe statement on justification). Romans 5:18 is said to teach that “all people have been justified.” That is not what the words say, however, nor is it what the context supports, nor is it what the Lutheran Church ever taught about Romans 5:18, except for Huber’s aberration.

Huber made an unfortunate error here in arguing against the Calvinists. It appears that he started with his misinterpretation of Rom. 5:18 to teach a universal justification, which has no Scriptural support, in order to prove the universal redemption made by Christ, which has plenty of Scriptural support.

    But I called universal justification that by which God, considering the satisfaction of Christ, became favorably disposed toward the entire human race because of that satisfaction, and thus he accepted it just as if everyone had made satisfaction for himself, with the law having been entirely fulfilled.
Here Huber describes universal justification in the same way as it has been described by the Synodical Conference. Examples:
    We are redeemed from the guilt of sin; the wrath of God is appeased; all creation is again under the bright rays of mercy, as in the beginning; yea, in Christ we were justified before we were even born. For do not the Scriptures say: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them?'’ This is not the justification which we receive by faith...That is the great absolution which took place in the resurrection of Christ. It was the Father, for our sake, who condemned His dear Son as the greatest of all sinners causing Him to suffer the greatest punishment of the transgressors, even so did He publicly absolve Him from the sins of the world when He raised Him up from the dead. (Edward Preuss, "The Justification of a Sinner Before God," pp. 14-15)
    …justification is used both in the language of Scripture and the church in a twofold way not only of the fact that God counts his faith to the individual believer for righteousness and declares him righteous, but also of the fact that in his judgment God regards the whole world guiltless and ascribes to it the completed satisfaction of Christ for everyone, the righteousness earned for everyone. (H. A. Preus, 1874)
    The doctrine of objective justification is a lovely teaching drawn from Scripture which tells us that God who has loved us so much that He gave His only to be our Savior has for the sake of Christ’s substitutionary atonement declared the entire world of sinners for whom Christ died to be righteous (Romans 5:17-19). Objective justification which is God’s verdict of acquittal over the whole world is not identical with the atonement, it is not another way of expressing the fact that Christ has redeemed the world. Rather it is based upon the substitutionary work of Christ, or better, it is a part of the atonement itself. It is God’s response to all that Christ died to save us, God’s verdict that Christ’s work is finished, that He has been indeed reconciled, propitiated; His anger has been stilled and He is at peace with the world, and therefore He has declared the entire world in Christ to be righteous. (Robert D. Preus, 1981, when he still held firmly to “Objective Justification”)
    If we say that Christ has made satisfaction for the world’s sin, then we cannot refuse to say that God has remitted the sin of the world in Christ… Whether a sinner acknowledges it, or not, he was acquitted through Christ’s work; the atonement and accompanying not-guilty verdict are an objective and universal reality, regardless of personal perception. (Jon Buchholz)
Back to Huber:
    In this respect it is sensibly called universal justification, not first by me, but by Paul. In it only that act of Christ’s merit and satisfaction is considered at the tribunal of God. However, people still do not possess justification by their own act unless they apprehend by faith that which was approved and ratified by God on behalf of all.
Obviously Huber is inventing words of Scripture when he says that St. Paul “calls it universal justification” (referring to Rom. 5:18). Literally translated, the Greek of Romans 5:18 says, “Therefore, as through one’s trespass unto all men unto condemnation, so also through one’s righteousness unto all men unto justification of life.” It is not the Apostle’s words, but Huber’s interpretation of them that results in “universal justification.”

But the main thing to notice is that Huber here describes in almost the exact same words the “Objective/Subjective” teaching of the Synodical Conference. He teaches that God has already justified all people at His tribunal, that is, in His divine courtroom, based solely on Christ’s merit. But “people still do not possess justification unless they apprehend by faith that which was approved and ratified by God on behalf of all.” Compare this to the Synodical Conference:
    The effect of God's sin-forgiving act, which consists in this, that the sinner has the forgiveness of sins and justification as his personal possession and his heart's treasure, cannot be where there is no faith. (H.A. Preus)
    In each case, the objective aspect of justification is tied very tightly to the death and resurrection of Christ. In each case, it is emphasized that justification and absolution are not received and possessed by individuals apart from faith, or before faith. (David Jay Webber)
    Only believers take possession of these universal realities through faith. Only we believers have (ἔχομεν) redemption through his blood, and this only ἐν ᾧ, that is, in Christ. In the same way we can say that only we believers have or possess the forgiveness of sins, and this only in Christ. (Buchholz)
    God forgave the sin of the world by removing the sin of the world and placing it upon Christ. The world’s debt has been paid in full and canceled by Christ (universal forgiveness). In the cross and empty tomb of Christ, God really has acquitted the world of sin, so that in Christ Jesus the world’s status has been changed to “justified” before God (universal justification)… Through Spirit-worked faith, these completed realities are appropriated and received through faith, so that the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ become the possession of individual sinners (individual justification). (Buchholz)
Back to Huber:
    And so that it may be evident that I am thinking nothing foreign to Scripture…I will enumerate their testimonies respectively.
    From Scripture we have Rom. 5, “And so, just as through the fault of one it resulted in condemnation for all, so also through the justification of one it resulted in justification of life for all people;” 2 Cor. 5 “When God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins toward them.” To “be reconciled” is certainly to remove the anger toward the human race. To “be reconciled with the world,” is to remove the anger toward all people, which those theologians…bitterly deny, not without blasphemy. And “not to impute sins” is to justify or to recognize as just, with the manner of speaking being taken up from the market place. Therefore, that justification comes upon all people no less than condemnation; that the world is reconciled; that by the very judgment of God, which God carried out in his own Son, sins are not imputed to us, but are imputed to Christ; and that satisfaction has been offered by him and has been accepted by the Father—that is to set forth universal justification in its own legitimate respect.
Again, Huber uses the very same chief Bible passages (Rom. 5:18, 2 Cor. 5:19) and the very same arguments for universal justification as the modern teachers of universal justification. Jon Buchholz, Jack Kilcrease, Jack Cascione and others have vainly attempted to distance themselves from Dr. Huber, claiming that his teaching of universal justification is essentially different from theirs. Their claim is proven false by Huber’s own words and arguments when compared with theirs. In fact, their claim is proven false by Walther's own admission:
    Already in the year 1593 the Wuerttemberg theologians (Heerbrand, Gerlach, Hafenreffer, Osiander, Bidembach, and others) conceded to Huber with reference to the doctrine of justification that he seemed to deviate from them in it “in phrasi tamen magis ac loquendi modo, quam reipsa,” that is, “more however in the expression and in the manner of speaking than in the substance itself.” (Walther, Justification: Subjective and Objective, pp. 20-21)
Here Walther seems to think that the Lutheran Church always essentially agreed with Huber on the substance of his teaching of universal justification, with which Walther also agrees.  He either ignores or is ignorant of Aegidius Hunnius' later condemnation of Huber's doctrine both with regard to the terminology and with regard to the substance. No one is asserting here that Walther embraced Huber's doctrine of universal election. But Walther himself made it clear that there was essential agreement between him and Huber on universal justification. In fact, after centuries of Lutherans avoiding Huber's terminology of "universal justification" and "general justification," Walther even embraces that, to the extent that the Huberian terminology has become so common in modern Lutheran seminaries that few Lutheran pastors even know the true Huberian origin of the terms, or that there was a time when the Lutheran Church rejected the terms—and the teaching!

They can run from Huber, but they can’t hide.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Whose line is it anyway? (concerning Universal Justification)

I ran across this statement recently and thought it might make for a good "guess who said it" post.  So go ahead and leave a comment with (a) your best guess as to the author and (b) your classification of the doctrinal content as "orthodox" or "heterodox."  For this post, we will allow anonymous comments.  Next week we will give proper attribution to these words and proceed to discuss them, so please save your extended critique of the statement until that time.

    Those theologians charge that I have set forth a universal justification, and indeed of such a kind that makes every person righteous by the very act of salvation and by participation, and simply carries them away into heaven. To this point they have directed every weapon of accusation thus far. But I have never dreamed or written anything of this sort. This, however, I had written against the Calvinists: since justification is universal according to Paul’s teaching (Rom. 5), redemption is not able to not be universal. But I called universal justification that by which God, considering the satisfaction of Christ, became favorably disposed toward the entire human race because of that satisfaction, and thus he accepted it just as if everyone had made satisfaction for himself, with the law having been entirely fulfilled. In this respect it is sensibly called universal justification, not first by me, but by Paul. In it only that act of Christ’s merit and satisfaction is considered at the tribunal of God. However, people still do not possess justification by their own act unless they apprehend by faith that which was approved and ratified by God on behalf of all. And so that it may be evident that I am thinking nothing foreign to Scripture…I will enumerate their testimonies respectively.
    From Scripture we have Rom. 5, “And so, just as through the fault of one it resulted in condemnation for all, so also through the justification of one it resulted in justification of life for all people;” 2 Cor. 5 “When God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins toward them.” To “be reconciled” is certainly to remove the anger toward the human race. To “be reconciled with the world,” is to remove the anger toward all people, which those theologians…bitterly deny, not without blasphemy. And “not to impute sins” is to justify or to recognize as just, with the manner of speaking being taken up from the market place. Therefore, that justification comes upon all people no less than condemnation; that the world is reconciled; that by the very judgment of God, which God carried out in his own Son, sins are not imputed to us, but are imputed to Christ; and that satisfaction has been offered by him and has been accepted by the Father—that is to set forth universal justification in its own legitimate respect.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Service Review

Please watch this service, and then answer the question: How appropriate is this service for a congregation of a confessional Lutheran church body?

Video streaming by Ustream

Friday, October 11, 2013

Nowhere Else To Go

Thoughts from Thunder Mountain
["Huachuca" - A Chiricahua Apache word meaning "thunder."]

Nowhere Else To Go

A few months ago one of my members attended a WELS church in another city. It was a fairly large congregation, with three ministers and two services on Sundays; one labeled as "traditional," and the other as "contemporary." My member chose to attend the traditional service. However, the service was a big disappointment on two fronts. There were a number of "modern" innovations in the so-called traditional service, and the sermon was all about giving money to the synod in various ways. The member left the service in tears and later ask me, "Pastor, where are we going to go to church someday? Where will there be a place for us?"

Now, to be fair, it may have been this was this church's regular "stewardship" or "synod" Sunday, and the service and sermon for that Sunday may have been planned far in advance or perhaps even provided by the synod. Still, the liturgical experimentation, and the lack of Law and Gospel noted by this individual is to be lamented.

As for the various innovations in the service, they are all too common, even in our congregations which announce that they use a traditional liturgy. These usually involve a more "creative" confession of sins and absolution, hymn verses (very often non-Lutheran, Reformed-style hymns) in place of the regular sung portions of the liturgy;  i.e. in place of the Gloria in Excelsis, etc..., and little mini-sermons that clutter-up the Lessons and Gospel, among many other new-fangled practices. The bottom line was that my member felt lost, out-of-place, and uncomfortable, rather than comforted and at peace while worshipping the Lord.

Now, again, in the interest of full disclosure, the liturgies used at our congregation are also "revised" just a bit. However, the changes in the liturgies are quite minor – expansion of the Kyrie, and an exhortation to Communion taken from portions of the Lutheran Confessions, among them. But nothing is really new, or an innovation, or modern, in the sense of starkly different in tone or style from the liturgies themselves. And even these minor variations have been carefully explained and taught before being implemented. In addition, in the 15 years I have been at this church, I've never had a visitor complain that any change in the service was in any way disconcerting or bothersome to them.

OK, so what is my point here today? Fair question. It is two-fold. First, if our Pastors are going to have a "traditional" service, it should be traditional; that is, they should follow the liturgy in one of the hymnals used among us, with only very slight changes, revisions, or additions that meld seamlessly with said liturgies. Otherwise, the label of "traditional" is false advertising and is only bound to upset, confuse, and distract visiting members who came looking for traditional; i.e. historic, orthodox, confessional Lutheran worship. The personal innovations of the Pastor or local peculiarities of that parish should be kept very much to an absolute minimum.

Second, to seek this type of worship is the right and heritage of confessional Lutherans. Those that want so-called contempo-worship can find it in many places, both Lutheran and non-Lutheran, in any city, town, or village in America. But decent and orderly worship, based on the practices of the Apostles and two thousand years of Christianity is starting to become more and more rare among us. If a church body like ours, which claims to hold to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions, and to be legitimate decedents of the "conservative" Reformation, abandons such worship, where will our good, kind, generous members, who never did anything to deserve being subjected to profane and vulgar worship forms (in the sense of worldly and common), go to find a place where they can come before their Lord as befits the dictates of their Christian consciences.

Again, let me make my point very clear; this is just about serving the people for whom the ancient and historical liturgies are very precious treasures. Every element of these services contain beautiful and comforting Gospel proclamations in words that have come to us down through the millennia – from Patriarchs, the Temple, the synagogue, the catacombs, the cathedral, and the country church. There needs to always be a place for these good people. They are blood-bought souls too, and their spiritual needs are as important as those of "seekers" or others among the unchurched.

Therefore, I implore my fellow Pastors to think of these people also; to have a heart and some compassion for them and their heart-felt and profound faith and desires when it comes to worship. Give these fine folks a break, please. In many cases, it was they who built our churches, and worked and sacrificed to fund our ministries and programs. All they want is a quiet, peaceful, respectful, awe-inspiring place and manner in which to worship their Lord and Savior in a dignified and honorable way. I don't think that's too much to ask. Is it? Are we so desperate to fill our chairs and pews that we will alienate those who built them?! That's just not right in my book.

So, if our Pastors want to do these silly, warm-fuzzy, non-sacramental, happy-clappy, unLutheran kinds of services, please, fellas, do them somewhere else. Perhaps you can start your own church body, and your own churches, and compete head-to-head with the "community," non-denominational, Church Growth churches. Good luck with that! I think you'll find that they can do that kind of worship better than you can, and you'll end up with very little in the end. The traditional folks will be driven away, and the contemporary folks will always find something new and different – you won't be able to keep up. I recommend we all stick with what has been handed down to us and leave it at that!  

Deo Vindice!

Pastor Spencer

Monday, October 7, 2013

The ELDoNA Theses on Justification

The ELDoNA's recently adopted Theses on Justification, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe, have now been posted to the diocesan website. Below is an explanatory announcement from the diocese, followed by an alternate link to the theses and to the essay referenced therein.


An Announcement from the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America

Over the past several weeks, Internet speculation has increased over the publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America’s ( recently adopted “Theses on the Article of Justification.” Very simply, the Theses were unanimously adopted by the diocese on August 29, 2013, but, as is only fitting, we chose to postpone their publication until such time as we received an official response to the approved form of the document from the Association of Confessional Lutheran Churches (with which the diocese has been in fellowship for the past several years). It was also hoped to have a total web site overhaul completed by the date of release but, having now received a formal response from the ACLC (which does not approve these theses as written and will continue in their discussion of them with us), the diocese has chosen to publish the theses before the web site redesign is completed. Thus, the URL given for the document will change, but be assured that it will be featured prominently along with previous statements, The Niles Theses and The Malone Theses on our redesigned web site.

A few comments are in order before we get to the details of acquiring these new ELDoNA theses.

We realize that, sadly, some people have already begun to react to a document they haven’t read, based on their preexisting feelings toward the diocese or their own assumptions about the meaning(s) of “Objective Justification.” We will not even attempt to engage those who refuse to allow their opinions to be governed by the facts and regulated by the Holy Scriptures. But for those of a more humble and pious bent, we will make a few observations:
  • It is false to say that the rejection of a Waltherian/Pieperian formulation of “Objective Justification” makes man a contributor to his own salvation, as if all that needed to be done were not accomplished through the work of Christ. Those who reject “Objective Justification” as defined by Walther and Pieper do not hold to any sort of Calvinistic “Limited Atonement.” The pastors of the ELDoNA confess that Christ is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world, even those who are ultimately in Hell for all eternity.
  • Similarly, it is false to assert that holding such a position requires one to have his own faith as the object of his faith. Indeed, this same thing has also been asserted against “Objective Justification,” since the final difference between those in Heaven and those in Hell (for either position) is a matter of whether or not the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice has been received through faith. While someone might demonstrate that some individual with either position has held such a thing, this is merely a straw man used to distract from the substance of either position.
  • When one says things like, “if this is not true objectively, it cannot be applied subjectively,” or “something must exist for it to be given,” there are two answers that must be given. The first is that such thinking is what led to the development of a “limbo of the fathers,” because anyone who died before the crucifixion would have “no objective substance to be applied.” The second is that the way Lutherans used to speak actually made it clear that there was something “objective” and “substantive” that was the case because of Christ’s atonement, but that it was not what Walther and his followers and Synodical Conference counterparts taught that it was (and now demand that it be). This is addressed in the theses, both with regard to what the atonement provided and to how one is to regard a promise made by God (as opposed to one made by Man).
  • Thus, saying that those who hold that Waltherian “Objective Justification” is a bad formulation hold to a concept of faith that makes it the “trigger” (or “button,” or what have you) to make God justify an individual, is absolutely false. A pre-existing word from God (which is not, by the way, found anywhere in the Bible, but only supposed by Man, an extrapolation from the events of either the crucifixion or resurrection by a philosophically driven eisegesis)—declaring all men righteous is by no means necessary, as God’s promise connected to the work of Christ is more than enough. Faith does not drive justification, but is driven by (given through/created by) the atonement and the promise, so that it is exactly what Lutherans have always held it to be: the medium through which God’s grace unto justification is received.
  • Some have expressed disappointment that the ELDoNA would have a statement of its own as a condition of membership in the diocese. Since not everyone who claims Scripture and the Confessions actually holds to them, statements have to be adopted from time to time to clarify issues. When such statements are accepted, the ELDoNA has been very careful to note that these are not new confessions, but the application of Scripture and the Confessions to contemporary issues and, thus, subject to modification if a better way to say something is found. Indeed, it is for this reason that the 2005 Niles Theses were modified at the founding of the diocese in 2006; the substance did not change, but a clearer wording was desired.
  • Note that such a principle is not a matter of having a “quatenus subscription” to the statements or theses issued by the diocese, as some will claim; there is no matter of viewing these as accepted “insofar as they agree with Scripture (or the Confessions),” but they are adopted because they are seen as being in full agreement with God’s Word and the Confessions of His Church. While the Confessions are subscribed as an unchangeable whole, the statements of a particular body are its own possession and, unless adopted by wider Christendom, may be clarified by the unanimous agreement of said body. The ELDoNA speaks to the issues of the day, but does not intend to write or hold “new confessions.”
  • Some falsely accuse the ELDoNA with a hatred of C. F. W. Walther, even postulating that this has driven the diocese to its conclusions in this matter. The fact is that the pastors of the ELDoNA have a great appreciation for Walther; they simply consider him to have been in error on various points. Just as Luther must not be made into some sort of infallible demigod, so must Walther not be so treated. Walther accomplished amazing things considering both his background in Pietism and his having to try to restore a shattered group of immigrants to whom the accusations against their bishop of living a scandalous life were the least scandalous part of the deposing of said bishop: Walther had to demonstrate to them that they were still a legitimate church. Yet, places where he erred or compromised also served to set in motion the things that have left the LCMS (and the rest of the old Synodical Conference) where it is today—not that such was his intent, nor that he even could reasonably be expected to foresee this, but it is what it is.
  • Thus, too, the ELDoNA has no vendetta against the LCMS, WELS, or anyone else. From the outset, the diocese has set itself to be anything but a “micro-synod,” that is, a body that considers itself the “legitimate heirs” of the body from which it came. While other bodies may live to show themselves “right” and live in the shadow of their former affiliations, the ELDoNA has no desire to do so. Any speaking to the realities of the theology and practice of other bodies is done for the education of the parishioners of ELDoNA pastors and the exhortation of those in such bodies who would be faithful. (To date, the only document officially speaking to any particular church body’s errors was written with regard to the ELCA.)
  • What the diocese has set forth in this document is exactly what was confessed by Lutherans from the very beginning. What is declared in the Theses and is demonstrated further in the essay referenced therein, “The Forensic Appeal to the Throne of Grace,” is that some have taken up the hay and stubble that some Synodical Conference theologians built upon the Scriptural teaching concerning Justification and have, thereby, taught a doctrine other than that of Scripture and the Confessions.

Concerning the Rev. Paul Rydecki’s Colloquy and the Composition of These Theses:

Some have suggested that these theses were written to facilitate the colloquy of the Rev. Paul Rydecki. The diocese exists to proclaim the name of Christ Jesus, and to do so in accord with the pattern of sound words we have learned from the holy apostles, as expressed in the Christian Book of Concord. The diocese was certainly not motivated by a need to prove Rev. Rydecki to be right about anything, even as the diocese is not motivated by a need to prove Walther wrong about anything. We are motivated, in all things, by the “one thing” that is needed, namely, Christ and His Word.

More than this, however, there was no predetermined outcome when the theses were assigned for composition: it may well have ended that the one first drafting them would end up alienating himself from the diocese or causing a division within its membership. While our desire is always to walk in full accord with Scripture and the Confessions and, thus, with one another, Bishop Heiser does not micromanage those carrying out such assignments. Scholarship is to be engaged in in such a way that the truth may prevail, and those called upon to present anything to the diocese are to submit their writings with the full expectation that correction and admonishment will take place if they are in error. (Such has happened in the past, and the rejection of fraternal admonishment has led to the termination of membership in the diocese.)

That being the case, it was a joyous occasion when the theses were found to be the unanimous teaching of the diocese. It was also a telling occasion because, with the pastors involved coming from different backgrounds and attending different seminaries at different times, such unanimity would seem unlikely. Yet, its existence speaks to what the education is like in the various seminaries and what the professors there did or did not stress. Clearly, what these theses contain is a reflection both of such emphases and of the independent study of the pastors of the diocese during their time in the Office of the Holy Ministry before their colloquy.

With no further ado, we supply you with the links both to the “Theses on the Article of Justification” and to the essay referenced therein, “The Forensic Appeal to the Throne of Grace,” which will provide you with an excellent sampling of the evidence from the orthodox Lutheran fathers regarding this article of doctrine (especially from the period termed “The Golden Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy” by Robert Preus, including the theologian he listed as the ‘most important’ after Luther and Chemnitz, namely, Johann Gerhard). This essay, the theses, and other essays from the continuing discussion of this topic will be released in print by Repristination Press ( at a later date.

Link to the Theses:

Link to the Essay: 

Divine Service Explanation #4 - Invocation

The Invocation that begins our Divine Service is a simple act of devotion that confesses the name of the Triune God around whose Word and Sacraments we are gathered. The pastor says:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
These words are drawn directly from Scripture (Mt. 28:19) as part of Christ’s command to His apostles to “make disciples…baptizing them….and teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  Ever since the time of the apostles, the ministers of Christ have been baptizing people with water and these words.  The baptized, in turn, have been gathering every Lord’s Day (or more often) in order to “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).  The baptismal formula begins the Divine Service, just as Baptism begins the Christian life.

“Invocation” is the act of calling upon or appealing to someone.  There is a two-fold “calling upon” in the Invocation.
  • First, by using the baptismal formula, the pastor calls upon the congregation of baptized believers to remember the seal God has placed on us in our Baptism where He first brought us into Christ, forgave us our sins, gave us new birth into His family, and placed His Holy Spirit upon us to renew us each day in the image of Christ. 
  • Second, we baptized children of God call upon our Father in prayer, asking Him to accompany us in the Divine Service with all the blessings won for us by the Son and now about to be distributed to us by the Holy Spirit, through the minister, in Word and Sacrament. It is only by virtue of God’s baptismal promises that we poor sinners dare to come into God’s presence to seek mercy from Him in the Divine Service and to give Him thanks.
As the pastor speaks the words of the Invocation, he makes the sign (☩) of the cross, either over himself or over the congregation.  Every baptized believer is, at the same time, encouraged to make the sign of the cross over him or herself as a personal confession that, “I, too, am baptized into Christ, clothed in His righteousness, and I have come to this Divine Service to receive help and mercy from Him.”

Divine Service Explanation #1 - The Purpose of the Divine Service
Divine Service Explanation #2 - The Church Year and Lectionary
Divine Service Explanation #3 - Liturgical Vestments

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Last year's letter to the presidium of the AZ-CA District of the WELS

On this first anniversary of my suspension from the WELS ministerium, I give thanks to God for His providential hand in all that has happened since then.  In His grace, He has allowed me to continue in the Gospel ministry and granted me a faithful flock to serve and a faithful Lutheran ministerium with whom to labor for the truth.  For several months before and after October 2, 2012, I prayed Psalm 27 daily, especially these words:

    The LORD is my light and my salvation; 
          Whom shall I fear? 
          The LORD is the strength of my life; 
          Of whom shall I be afraid? 
          When the wicked came against me 
          To eat up my flesh, 
          My enemies and foes, 
          They stumbled and fell. 
          Though an army may encamp against me, 
          My heart shall not fear; 
          Though war may rise against me, 
          In this I will be confident.  (NKJV)

It occurred to me that I never posted the following letter that I e-mailed to all the pastors of the AZ-CA district one year ago, and since the stance of the district presidium has not changed since then, I have decided that it is most fitting to post it now, with the continued prayer that those who have falsified the Gospel may yet repent, and that those who are still influenced by them may be awakened from their perilous slumber.  I also post it here because several laymen have told me that the doctrinal comparison presented in this letter helped them considerably to understand the real difference between the two positions on the article of justification.


October 15, 2012

To the presidium of the Arizona-California District of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, President Jon Buchholz, First Vice President Steven Degner and Second Vice President David Clark:

Dear members of the AZ-CA District presidium, I write to you in reply to your letter suspending me from the ministerium of the WELS, and also in response to your shameful behavior over the past year.  Since you have formally and publicly condemned me as a false teacher, I no longer address you as brothers in Christ.

Your shameful behavior

I was surprised, President Buchholz, to get a phone call from you on Tuesday morning, Oct. 2, announcing the presidium’s resolution to suspend me.  This surprised me because you stood in front of me and my congregation just six days earlier and explicitly promised, “We will continue to study this issue with your pastor.”  Many of my members expressed to me after that meeting on Sept. 26th how encouraged they were by your promise to continue studying this doctrine with me.  But you have proven yourself to be a liar.

When one of my members questioned your dishonest behavior, you responded with this:

When I spoke with Pastor Rydecki this morning (October 2) we agreed that we are at an impasse.

That is a lie.  You asked me if I thought anything had changed between the meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 26) and that morning (Oct. 2).  I said that I didn’t think anything had changed in those six days.  I certainly did not agree that further study would be unproductive or unnecessary, especially given your public promise that such a study would take place.

You also wrote to my member:

Following last Wednesday’s meeting I took the opportunity to seek advice and counsel from the faculty of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and from the Doctrine Committee of our WELS Conference of Presidents. All of the theologians agreed without hesitation or reservation that the statement “God forgave the sin of the world when Jesus died on the cross” (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Apology IV, 103) teaches the truth of God’s Word and the historic teaching of the Lutheran Church in a simple, clear, and unambiguous way.

So you admit that you were emboldened to break your word to my congregation by the support you received from the seminary faculty and from the COP.  You have thus implicated them in your papistic attempt to establish new doctrine ex cathedra and to force your own made-up statements upon the pastors and congregations of the WELS on threat of suspension.  One would think that those who bear the name of Luther would shun such behavior, but instead you have embraced it—to your shame and disgrace.

I will mention more of your disgraceful behavior.  You had numerous communications with members of my congregation behind my back prior to my suspension, meddling in another man’s divine call.  You tolerated a pastor of this district making a public accusation against me of heresy on the district convention floor—in my absence, no less! —without denying his charge or clearing my good name before the assembly.  You have tolerated any number of slanderous accusations made against me behind my back by pastors of this district, knowing full well that not a single one of them has communicated with me in any way, even to seek clarification from me of my doctrine.  And if they are getting their impressions of my teaching from you, then they certainly are getting the wrong impression.

Your shameful misrepresentation and your confused doctrine

You have repeatedly misrepresented my doctrine, both to my congregation and to various pastors of our synod.  You have written:

Pastor Rydecki: Jesus died and rose again so that the sin of the world could possibly be forgiven.
Scripture: Jesus died and rose again, so that the sin of the world is forgiven.

“Could possibly be forgiven?”  You know I have never taught this.  But neither do you understand the Scriptural doctrine that God forgives sins through the Means of Grace, and that forgiveness is a present-tense divine promise made to “whoever believes and is baptized,” rather than some sort of past tense “reality,” as you like to call it.  All your talk about “possibilities” and “potentialities” and “realities” is worthless philosophical drivel.

Pastor Rydecki (a false and unLutheran teaching): Faith causes a person to become forgiven.
Scripture: Faith trusts the truth that Jesus has forgiven (1 John 2:2; John 1:29; John 19:30; Apology IV, 103; Apology XII (V),94; Smalcald Articles Part 2, Article 1).

Again, you do not understand the Gospel or the Lutheran Confessions, so you do not understand my teaching.  Whenever I have referred to faith as a cause of justification, I have been careful to point out its role as an instrumental cause, just as the orthodox Lutheran Fathers did. Faith is a cause of justification just as much as the grace of God, the merit of Christ and the Means of Grace are causes of justification.  They are not causes in the same sense nor do they have the same role, but they are necessary components of the article of justification, so that without any of these “causes,” sinners are not justified.  This is clearly explained in FC:SD:III:25.

Pastor Rydecki’s gospel is: You can be forgiven, if you believe.
The true good news is: Christ did forgive you. This is preached, so that you may believe.

My gospel is not the one that you state above. You knowingly corrupt both my teaching and the “true good news,” demonstrating again that you do not comprehend the concept of divine promise or the role of the Means of Grace.  The true good news is that “Christ did make satisfaction for your sins by His death.  Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins! Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  Or, speaking to the baptized, the true good news is that “Baptism now saves you also,” or “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Your sins are forgiven.  Go in peace.” Or, “Take; eat.  Take; drink…for the forgiveness of sins.”

Perhaps the most disturbing condemnation you have made is exemplified in your criticism of my Easter sermon, where you write:

Pastor Rydecki’s teaching is subtle and deceptive. In many cases it is found not in what he overtly says, but it is hiding behind what he refuses to say or in the ways he limits or qualifies the gospel. The following notes were drawn from Pastor Rydecki’s writings and sermons and compiled by Pastor Degner of our district. The highlighting is his:

Paul Rydecki:  Adding Faith to the Proclamation of Forgiveness
Compiled by Steven Degner to show how the incorrect teaching on justification by faith permeates the preaching and teaching of Paul Rydecki:

Easter Sermon
But for those who want a sure refuge from God’s wrath, for those who want to be reconciled to God, for those who want Jesus for a Savior, the gospel reveals this truth: that Jesus was delivered up for our sins and raised to life for our justification. His death was sufficient payment for all sin, for every sin, for the worst sinner, for his most bitter enemy; and his resurrection means that all who hope in him, all who trust in him, all who look to him for forgiveness of their sins are absolved before God’s courtroom in heaven. The empty tomb means the justification of all who believe in the risen One.

Here, Pastor Rydecki limits the work of Christ only to those who believe. He refuses to acknowledge that the empty tomb was for the justification of all people.

In person, you accused me of preaching a “conditional Gospel” here because I mentioned faith.  I am amazed that you have so directly condemned the Scriptural and Lutheran Gospel of justification by grace through faith and redefined the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to exclude faith from its proclamation.  Simply put, Pastor Buchholz, your “gospel” without faith is not the Gospel.

Your suspension letter

Now, addressing specifically your letter of suspension:

I am deeply disappointed that you have turned away from the teaching you learned in your ministerial training and have instead denied the truth and fallen into error.

On the contrary, my ministerial training prepared me in the Biblical and confessional languages so that I could search the Scriptures and the Book of Concord and study them in context.  My ministerial training taught me to rely on God’s Word alone and not on this or that seminary professor’s interpretation.  My ministerial training taught me that learning from God’s Word and from history is not to cease when one graduates from the seminary.  And thankfully, my ministerial training taught me that men and synods err; it taught me to avoid the Romish practice of ascribing infallibility to a human organization and of formulating new doctrines and then trying to read them back into the Scriptures and Confessions.

After numerous conversations with you and repeated efforts to admonish and instruct you from God’s word, you have made it clear that you are not in agreement with the doctrine of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

You have never attempted to instruct me from God’s Word.  Instead, you have attempted to instruct me from your personal interpretations, rationalistic conclusions and philosophical assertions.  The doctrine of the WELS and the doctrine of God’s Word are not necessarily the same thing.  Neither I nor any pastor nor any congregation has ever subscribed unconditionally to the WELS doctrinal statements, and yet you have continued to insist that such a subscription is mandatory for all WELS pastors.  You have insisted that we must confess This We Believe as our “own personal confession,” in addition to the Book of Concord. This is pure sectarianism.

I have opened up the Scriptures to every supposed sedes doctrinae for your universal justification and attempted to walk through the exegesis with you and discuss the historical Lutheran exegesis of these same passages in context. But rather than showing me where my exegesis was faulty, you simply insisted that you have personally studied these things, written a synod convention essay on it, and therefore, you must be right.  You have boldly claimed that the WELS cannot be wrong on this issue, and that the doctrine of justification can only be studied to demonstrate how the WELS is right.  There can be no study done by the pastors of our district that might call into question the WELS position.  This is pure Romanism.

Specifically, you have refused to acknowledge and confess that God forgave the sin of the world when Jesus died on the cross (John 1:29; John 19:30; 1 John 2:2; Romans 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:19; Apology IV, 103).

First, I find it interesting that you have chosen the word “forgave” rather than “justified” or “declared righteous,” since this whole discussion has been over the article of justification.  Granted, “forgive” and “justify” are closely related and often used synonymously.  But then, justification is also used synonymously with “regeneration” throughout the Book of Concord.  Why the switch?  Is it perhaps because the Confessions so clearly teach that there is no justification apart from faith, and you have found one paragraph in the Apology (IV:103) that does use the words “forgave” and “all” in the same sentence?

Secondly, as I have confessed in your presence on numerous occasions, I believe and teach that Christ…
  • has died for all people and paid for the sins of all people;
  • has made atonement for the sins of the world;
  • has been obedient to the Law for all people and has made satisfaction for the sins of all people;
  • has earned and acquired righteousness, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation for all men;
  • has redeemed the world;
  • wants all men to be saved;
  • truly offers and gives the forgiveness of sins in the Word of the Gospel, without any merit or worthiness on our part.
But you are correct. I have refused to acknowledge your made-up phrase that “God forgave the sin of the world when Jesus died on the cross,” because, as I have confessed in your presence, the Scriptures do not say this.  What they do say is that God forgives sin only through the ministry of the Word as the instrument through which the Holy Spirit alone creates faith in Christ the Reconciler and thereby justifies believers, not because faith is a good work, but because faith lays hold of Christ, the Mediator.  “Faith is imputed for righteousness.”  This is the “righteousness of faith” spoken of by the Apostle Paul in Romans and taught throughout the Lutheran Confessions.

Your made-up Scriptural support

I will address the passages you have mistakenly cited to support your contrived gospel of justification apart from faith.

John 1:29 (NKJV)   29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

This is a beautiful passage that you have corrupted to force it to say more than it says.  It speaks clearly about the universality of Christ’s sacrifice, but it says not a word about the application of Christ’s sacrifice to the world, as if all men had already been forgiven or justified on account of it.  Christ surely bore the sin of the world and suffered for the sin of the world, and so has merited or earned forgiveness of sins for all people. “By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins” (Augsburg Confession:IV).  Therefore, John the Baptist rightly directs his disciples to “behold” the Lamb of God, that they might become partakers through faith in the forgiveness of sins that He merited for all (or, at that time, would merit) through His sacrifice.

The Apology explains it this way in Ap:XXIV:53-55:

The Levitical sacrifices for sins did not merit the forgiveness of sins before God. They were only an image of Christ’s sacrifice, which was to be the one atoning sacrifice, as we said before. To a great extent the Epistle speaks about how the ancient priesthood and the ancient sacrifices were set up not to merit the forgiveness of sins before God or reconciliation, but only to illustrate the future sacrifice of Christ alone. In the Old Testament, saints had to be justified by faith, which receives the promise of the forgiveness of sins granted for Christ’s sake, just as saints are also justified in the New Testament. From the beginning of the world all saints had to believe that Christ would be the promised offering and satisfaction for sins, as Isaiah 53:10 teaches, “when His soul makes an offering for sin.”

The Confessions clearly and consistently distinguish between the satisfaction made by Christ and the justification that results for those who believe in Him.  For maintaining this distinction, I have been branded a heretic.  It is hard to believe.

John 19:30 (NKJV)  30So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

I find it incredible that you cite this passage to prove your novel doctrine.  Just because you want to slip justification into the “It is finished” spoken by Christ does not make it so. 

It can properly be said that Christ finished earning or winning the forgiveness of sins on the cross, as you know I have said repeatedly, and as Luther also says in the Large Catechism.  But when I have explained my position in this way, you have said that it is still not enough.  According to you, one must also say that “God forgave the world” or “God justified the world” or even “Jesus saved the world. Past tense.”   To this I have objected.

Do you really mean to prove that God finished forgiving sins when Christ died, or that His work of forgiving sins and justifying sinners is the “it” that was “finished” when Christ died on the cross?  So much for the Absolution!  “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23). So much for the Third Article of the Creed!  “In this Christian Church he daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers.”  And so much for Baptism that “works forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”

The Lutheran Church has a name for the work of Christ that was “finished” on the cross.  It is called “Redemption” (cf. Small Catechism, Second Article). It is not called “justification” or the forgiveness of sins (cf. Small Catechism, Third Article).

For as much as you pay lip-service to the Means of Grace, District President, your inclusion of the forgiveness of sins in the “it is finished” of Christ nullifies any efficacy you might claim for the Means of Grace.  What you give with one hand, you take away with the other.  You know you should say that God “forgives” sins through the Means of Grace, so you say it when pressed (although not all of your followers are as quick to say it), but your doctrine of “forgiveness finished” and declared once-for-all from the cross negates whatever efficacy you might claim for the Means of Grace.

1 John 2:2 (NKJV)  2And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

This is another beautiful passage that you have corrupted by inventing new definitions for words and by ignoring the surrounding context in order to prove your contrived doctrine.  That Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world is agreed upon without controversy, and you know very well that I confess this.  But propitiation is not the same thing as remitting sins or justification.  As Apology:XXI:31 says,

For we know that confidence is to be placed in the intercession of Christ, because this alone has God’s promise. We know that the merits of Christ alone are a propitiation for us. On account of the merits of Christ we are accounted righteous when we believe in Him, as the text says, Rom. 9, 33 (cf. 1 Pet. 2, 6 and Is. 28, 16): Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be confounded.

But we needn’t rely on the Confessions alone for this understanding.  The Apostle John himself in the immediate context of the verse you cite explains when and how and for whom sins are forgiven:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.  My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 1:8 - 2:2, NKJV).

Romans 5:18 (NKJV)  18Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.

This verse does not say (or even imply) that God has already justified or forgiven all men.  Adam’s offense earned condemnation for all men, but not all men are, in fact, condemned, for “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).  In the same way, Christ acquired the benefit of justification for all men, but not all men have been, in fact, justified or made alive, but only those who believe in Jesus Christ, as the Apostle teaches throughout Romans 3, 4, and 5, culminating in the first verse of this same chapter, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God…”

Gerhard says the same thing.  Hunnius says the same thing.  Luther teaches the same thing. Luther’s own interpretation of Romans 5:18 is rather embarrassing for those who swear by This We Believe, which cites this verse to prove that “God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ.”  Luther says,

For in the same manner also St. Paul writes in Romans 5[:18]: “As through one man’s sin condemnation has come over all men, so through one man’s righteousness justification has come over all men.” Yet not all men are justified through Christ, nevertheless he is the man through whom all justification comes. It is the same here. Even if not all men are illumined, yet this is the light from which alone all illumination comes (Luther’s Works: Vol. 52: page 71).

This is not only Luther’s consistent interpretation of Romans 5, but, even more importantly, it is the interpretation of the Book of Concord as well:

Therefore, it is considered and understood to be the same thing when Paul says (a) we are “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28) or (b) “faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5) and when he says (c) “by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19) or (d) “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18). Faith justifies not because it is such a good work or because it is so beautiful a virtue. It justifies because it lays hold of and accepts Christ’s merit in the promise of the Holy Gospel. For this merit must be applied and become ours through faith, if we are to be justified by it (Formula of Concord:III:12-13).

The Book of Concord says that Romans 5:18 means the same thing as “we are justified by faith,” or “faith is counted as righteousness.”  This directly contradicts your assertion that God has already justified all people, whether they have faith or not.  It is you who are teaching contrary to the confessional writings.

2 Corinthians 5:19 (NKJV) 19that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

It is certain that Christ has made reconciliation between God and men.  He Himself, as the God-Man, is the perfect Mediator between God and Man.  “God was in Christ.”  He is where the two parties are brought together and reconciled with one another.  He is the One who has satisfied the offended party (God the Father) and who, through the ministry of the Word, continues to call out to the world, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20).

The present-tense participles in this verse in no way indicate a one-time act of “having forgiven” or “having justified” all people that supposedly took place at the cross.  God uses means to reconcile people to Himself.  Through the ministry of the Word, He brings people to Christ the Reconciler and does not impute sins to believers in Christ (clearly expressed in Rom. 4:5-8).  This verse from 2 Corinthians does not teach that the world has already been justified, and was never used by any of the Lutheran Reformers to teach such a thing.  Melanchthon, Chemnitz and the Wittenberg faculty all clearly taught that this verse does not mean that anyone was justified without faith (I would have been happy to study this exegetical question with you, but you were unwilling).  In fact, this “key” verse for your teaching of justification doesn’t make a single appearance in the whole Book of Concord.  Instead, here is the teaching of the Book of Concord:

Formula of Concord:SD:III:23-25
The righteousness of faith before God consists in the gracious imputation of the righteousness of Christ, without the addition of our works, so that our sins are forgiven us and covered, and are not imputed, Rom. 4, 6ff.
But here very good attention must be given with especial diligence, if the article of justification is to remain pure, lest that which precedes faith, and that which follows after it, be mingled together or inserted into the article of justification as necessary and belonging to it, because it is not one or the same thing to speak of conversion and of justification.
For not everything that belongs to conversion belongs likewise to the article of justification, in and to which belong and are necessary only the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith, which receives this in the promise of the Gospel, whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, whence we receive and have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, sonship, and heirship of eternal life.

Finally, you cite one section from the Book of Concord to support your “orthodox” teaching that God forgave/justified all unbelievers, without means, at the cross. And yet it is only one phrase in that entire paragraph upon which you base your novel teaching.  If that whole paragraph is cited in context, then your assertion falls to the ground.

Apology IV, 103-105
103] Here and there among the Fathers similar testimonies are extant. For Ambrose says in his letter to a certain Irenaeus: Moreover, the world was subject to Him by the Law for the reason that, according to the command of the Law, all are indicted, and yet, by the works of the Law, no one is justified, i.e., because, by the Law, sin is perceived, but guilt is not discharged. The Law, which made all sinners, seemed to have done injury, but when the Lord Jesus Christ came, He forgave to all sin which no one could avoid, and, by the shedding of His own blood, blotted out the handwriting which was against us. This is what he says in Rom. 5, 20: “The Law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Because after the whole world became subject, He took away the sin of the whole world, as he [John] testified, saying John 1, 29: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” And on this account let no one boast of works, because no one is justified by his deeds. But he who is righteous has it given him because he was justified after the laver [of Baptism]. Faith, therefore, is that which frees through the blood of Christ, because he is blessed “whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” Ps. 32, 1. 104] These are the words of Ambrose, which clearly favor our doctrine; he denies justification to works, and ascribes to faith that it sets us free 105] through the blood of Christ. Let all the Sententiarists, who are adorned with magnificent titles, be collected into one heap. For some are called angelic; others, subtle, and others irrefragable [that is, doctors who cannot err.] When all these have been read and reread, they will not be of as much aid for understanding Paul as is this one passage of Ambrose.

Both Ambrose and the Lutheran Reformers who cite him explain where and how exactly Christ “forgave to all sin which no one could avoid.”  He forgave to all and continues to forgive to all “after the laver of Baptism,” so that “faith is that which frees through the blood of Christ, because he is blessed whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”  Here Ambrose clearly states that the “all” whose transgression is forgiven are the same “all” who have been justified through Holy Baptism and faith.  Melanchthon summarizes this teaching of Ambrose in the words that follow, “He denies justification to works, and ascribes to faith that it sets us free through the blood of Christ.” 

I know you are not alone in citing this section from the Apology to retrofit your universal justification into the Book of Concord.  But an honest reading of the Apology does not permit it.  For you to assert that this snippet from the Apology somehow proves “the central message of the Bible” (as This We Believe calls it) that all people have been justified without means and without faith is not only absurd.  It is disingenuous.

Do not imagine that I have attempted to answer your claims exhaustively.  Many pages—indeed, many books! —could be written to demonstrate the folly of your position.  To be sure, the entire Bible and the whole Book of Concord teach that sinners are justified by faith alone in Christ.  But let these explanations suffice for now.

We expect you to acknowledge and confess the truth that God forgave the sin of the world when Jesus died on the cross, because this statement expresses the truth of God's Word and the historical teaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in simple, clear, and unambiguous terms.

If it were “the truth,” I would certainly acknowledge it. But as you teach it, it is neither the truth, nor the historical teaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, unless by “Evangelical Lutheran Church” you mean “The WELS.”   More sectarianism. 

Even so, there are many faithful pastors and congregations of the WELS that do not teach this absurdity that God has already declared all people righteous whether they believe in the Righteous One or not.  You would be surprised how many laymen understand the simple Gospel perfectly, without your confusing explanations and redefinition of terms.  Most WELS members, even lifelong WELS members—even multi-generational WELS families have never heard your “gospel” before. 

You would also be surprised how many WELS pastors do not claim This We Believe as their own personal confession.  Some still take their ordination vows seriously—to uphold the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, period.  Some still believe that the WELS is fallible.

As an aside, here is your teaching in “simple, clear, and unambiguous terms.”

  • God has forgiven all people, but if you don’t believe, then you’re forgiven but not forgiven, even though all people are forgiven, and you stand both righteous and condemned before God at the same time.  ?????
  • God declared all people righteous on Easter Sunday—which includes the wicked souls in hell.  ?????
  • Jesus saved all people, but not all people are saved. ?????
  • All people were justified before they were born, but stand condemned already at the time of their birth. ?????
  • God has changed the status of all people to “righteous,” but still counts unbelievers among the “unrighteous.”  ?????
  • God has declared all people righteous, either by imputing to all people the righteousness of Christ apart from faith (as many WELS statements teach), or by not imputing to them the righteousness of Christ at all (as Pr. Buchholz teaches).  ?????
  • God has acquitted all people in his courtroom of divine justice, but sentences those who have been acquitted to eternal death if they don’t believe it. ?????
Can you not see the folly of your position?  It’s one thing to accept a paradox that is found in Scripture.  But your manmade paradox is recognized as folly by Jesus’ sheep, who do not hear their Shepherd’s voice when you speak about God having already justified sinners before His Holy Spirit brings them to faith in His Son.

You have stated openly that you reject the portion of the article on justification in our WELS confession This We Believe that says, “We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ” (Article IV, 1). You have publicly acknowledged your disagreement with WELS doctrine and have made it clear that you do not walk together with the WELS in your teaching.

Until now, I have treated you all as brothers and have been willing to study and discuss these doctrinal differences with you without condemning anyone as a heretic.  But in true papistic fashion, you have refused from the beginning even to admit the possibility that you could have erred or that the WELS doctrinal statements may be wrong.  You called me to repentance for preaching that “all who trust in Christ are absolved before God’s courtroom.”  You stood in front of my congregation and called me a false teacher for teaching the Gospel that sinners are justified by faith alone in Christ, and now you have suspended me from the ministerium of the WELS.

By your words and actions, President Buchholz, you have revealed yourself, together with the presidium of the Arizona-California District of the WELS, as enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I plead with you to turn from your human philosophies and return to the Word of God and the confession of the Church catholic, as summarized in the Augsburg Confession:

Article IV: Of Justification.
Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

I will pray for you, that the Holy Spirit may turn your hearts to see the error of your doctrine and of your actions, and may bring you back to repentance and faith in Christ.  I will also continue to pray for all the faithful pastors, teachers and congregations in the Arizona-California District and throughout the synod, that they may be encouraged to study this important issue, that they may be protected from persecution at your hand, and that they may be strengthened in the conviction and the confession that sinners are justified by faith alone in Christ. 

Lord, have mercy on the WELS!

 Christ’s unworthy servant,
+Rev. Paul A. Rydecki

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