Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The ELDoNA Refutes the ACLC's Critique Concerning the Article of Justification, Part 1

As our readers know, I was suspended from the WELS ministerium back in October, 2012, for teaching the Scriptural, Lutheran Gospel that “all are sinners and are justified solely by faith in Christ” (cf. Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, commenting on Galatians 1:10). The WELS insisted that I should teach the false doctrine of Universal “Objective Justification,” namely, that God has already declared all sinners to be righteous in His sight (whether they believe in Christ or not), but that this justification of all people not by faith in Christ, must be believed so that people can receive the benefits of it.

According to His great mercy, the Lord brought me safely out of the WELS and put me in contact with the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA), among whom the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. But before I could join the diocese, it was agreed that I should explain my confession a bit more thoroughly, and that the diocese should explain its confession on this article of faith so that I would have no doubt what they believe and confess. I wrote an essay on the topic, and the diocese composed and adopted a set of Theses. In the end, we found ourselves to be in complete doctrinal agreement.

The Theses adopted by the ELDoNA and my essay have now been published, both online and in print.
For some time, the ELDoNA had been in fellowship with the Association of Confessional Lutheran Churches (ACLC). The ACLC was not required to subscribe to the Theses on Justification, but they were asked to offer input on the Theses before they were finalized and adopted. Their initial input expressed disagreement with the fundamental conclusions of the Theses. Once the Theses were adopted, the ACLC offered a short response, which can be found here.

In this response, they promised to write up a more indepth critique, which they published about a month ago. It can be found here. In it, the pastors of the ACLC have declared themselves to be tentatively out of fellowship with the ELDoNA, pending final approval by their convention later this year.

Given the confusion created by the inaccuracies in the ACLC's response, the diocese has chosen to refute several of their claims in a series of posts on the diocesan website. The first was published yesterday.

I encourage all Intrepid readers to give it a careful reading, and to follow the ELDoNA posts as we make our confession of faith as plain as possible, to the glory of the Triune God and for the edification of His holy Church.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Descent of the Contemporary Church into Cultural Narcissism – a dialogue joined by Reformed and Lutheran Christians

In April of 2011, I had written a rather lengthy post, entitled, Money, Ministry, God, and Mammon: How “love” binds them all together – a Case in Point ...or... The “love bug” bites Answers in Genesis... on the arse.. It was written following the scandal of Ken Ham’s permanent dismissal from speaking engagements with Great Homeschool Conventions, Inc.. Apparently, he was “being unloving” toward Christians who accepted the theories of Biological and Cosmic Evolution as compatible with orthodox Christian teaching, by publicly warning of their errors. Even though Great Homeschool Conventions, Inc., was informed by Answers in Genesis that Ken Ham would identify another speaker on their docket (specifically, Dr. Enns of the Biologos Foundation) and would warn those attending his own lecture that this person taught contrary to the Scriptures, even though Great Homeschool Conventions, Inc., affirmed Ken Ham’s intent to warn of these errors as their expectation, and in a way that nevertheless welcomed and encouraged him as a speaker, he was, nevertheless, “permanently fired” quite suddenly following the first convention that year: “Ken Ham was not removed for his message,” they put in writing afterwards, “Ken Ham was removed for his spirit” – whatever that means. Not buying weak explanations of this sort, many in the homeschool community smelled a rat – a political rat – and remain suspicious of, and disenfranchised from, Great Homeschool Conventions, Inc.

That post attracted quite a bit of attention at the time, from outside Lutheranism, especially. As a result, one commenter was prompted to ask concerning the differences between Lutheranism and her own Presbyterian church. So I wrote a followup article, entitled, Differences between Reformed and Lutheran Doctrines – a post that has remained popular since that time. I concluded it with the following sentence: Finally, if you’re interested in what confessional Reformed and Lutheran dialogue sounds like, a good radio program to listen to is The White Horse Inn Classic, a program in the weekly line-up of Pirate Christian Radio.

Today’s post features a recording of The White Horse Inn from May of 2012, entitled, Growing in Grace & Knowledge. The title of the broadcast was taken from St. Peter’s admonition to “Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 3:18), admonition which is impossible to heed without deliberately engaging the intellect. But many Christians, including many Lutherans, have been taught to distrust the intellect – “Reason is the enemy of faith,” after all. Even though Luther meant by this the use of Reason over and against the clear teaching of Scripture, many, in my recent experience, choose to chuck reason entirely out the window rather than give it a foothold, and immediately resort to the accusation “But that’s reason,” when one of their cherished falsehoods is challenged by a thoughtful, Scripturally sound and persuasive argument. They forget that Luther more famously said
    Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason... I am bound by the Scriptures... my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.

    (Schwiebert, E. (1950). Luther and His Times. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 504-505.)
Conscience. We’ve used that term many many times here on Intrepid Lutherans. Indeed, three titles worth reviewing with respect to this term include the following: The Theological Disciplines, and the nature of theological discourse..., Theological Discourse in the post-Modern Era, and “Relevance,” and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Conclusion. In these posts, and others, it is emphasized that Conscience is the seat of human identity and the source of one’s Public Confession. Conscience comprises those Truths from which one cannot be separated without ceasing to be who he is, those Truths which one is compelled to cling to, even in the face of his executioner. Luther emphasizes this fact as well, as he faced the Emperor and certain death, by calling upon human conscience – what he was convinced was True – as the basis for standing in the face of error and refusing to recant that Truth. And Christian conscience is founded on what God has given to mankind: His Word and human faculty, coordinate, the latter in submission to the former.

What have you to live for?” is supposed to be the question one is encouraged to consider, as he counts his blessings and in them finds the motivation to continue onward in life. But it is a question which cannot be sufficiently considered at all, apart from the more serious question, “What are you willing to die for?” It is only in this latter question that one is brought into direct contact with his conscience and fully engages his self-identity, as he is forced to grapple with Truth and Falsehood in their grandest conception, in their most objective and meaningful reality. For the true Christian, that identity is defined by his identity in Christ, baptized (Ga. 3:26-29) and redeemed (Ga. 3:11-14), standing, through faith alone, within the shelter of God’s Saving Grace (Ro. 5:1-2).

Grace. Knowledge. Growth. As the Church not only succumbs to post-Modernism, and other forms of Cultural Narcissism, but fully embraces worldly thinking, it is being denied a collective Christian conscience with the courage, confidence and capacity to identify, confront and repudiate the errors hurled at it by the world, and individual Christians are being robbed of the cultivated faculties necessary to adequately consider and react to the withering attacks of the world against Christ, the Church, and against them, individually. The following dialogue is filled, from start to finish, with keen insight into the state of the Western world today – not of the sort that is usually shoveled under the noses of Christians, and even confessional Lutherans; not of the sort encouraging Christians and their congregations to embrace worldly methods and perspectives “for the survival of the church”; but of a less common, disappearing sort, the sort of insight with the courage, confidence and capacity to identify, confront, and repudiate worldly seductions and faith-killing perspectives. Over the past generation or two, as confessional Lutherans have wantonly retreated from cultural significance, the conservative voices among the Reformed have consistently been a couple decades ahead of us, in their understanding of the state of the World today and in sounding the warnings. They identified post-Modernism as the danger it is, soon after it broke onto the scene, and have been sounding the sirens ever since. Some confessional Lutherans are only now beginning to awake to the danger. They rediscovered the Great Tradition of Classical Education – a Lutheran birthright, no less! – and have actively promoted it as a Christian antidote to the proliferation of what is more and more being revealed as not just irreligious but militantly anti-Christian pedagogy. Some confessional Lutherans, are only now realizing that their entire school systems may be invested in ideologies that militate against basic ideas necessary to holding and retaining Christian teaching with any fidelity – ideas like objective truth and ownership of knowledge – and instead promote an experiential collectivist ideology of knowledge that inculcates no personal responsibility for knowing anything in particular. I have found that conservative voices among the Reformed have consistently been far more helpful in identifying worldly threats to Christianity, and the following dialogue is no exception.

White Horse Inn dialogue “Growing in Grace & Knowledge”


Quotes from the White Horse Inn dialogue
“Growing in Grace & Knowledge”

Dialogue participants: Dr. R.C. Sproul (PCA), Dr. Rod Rosenblatt (LCMS), Dr. Michael Horton (URNCA), Rev. Ken Jones (Glendale Missionary Baptist Church) and Dr. Kim Riddlebarger (URCNA)

Knowledge and Truth have fallen on hard times in contemporary American culture. We’re distracted in many ways from thinking deeply about anything because we’re too busy focusing on ourselves, our gadgets, our schedules and our entertainment. But sadly this problem isn’t merely “out there” in the world. Overnight, many churches have become entertainment centers, and purveyors of a kind of narcissistic spirituality. We desperately need to follow the advice of the Apostle Peter who encouraged believers to “Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 3:18). And that’s what we are focusing on in this edition of the White Horse Inn... When people think of sanctification, and the Christian life, sometimes not only “thinking” is put on the back burner, but sometimes it is even seen as inimical to the life of faith... [as if when] “thinking goes up, piety goes down.”

We had the distinction between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge” – the people who read books had “head knowledge” and the people who loved Jesus had “heart knowledge.”

Alot of the problems, I think, have been caused by us... in our past, and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but there was a strong anti-intellectual strain in American Fundamentalism, but we just have to cop to it. The people who were many times most against the intellect were seen as the most spiritual. And it’s coming back to get us.

Back in the middle of the 20th Century, a prominent Anglican apologist by the name of Casserly, had a chapter in one of his books called the “Treason of the Intellectual,” in which he documented how the Church had been betrayed, chiefly through the influence of 19th Century Liberalism, which was carried by the intellectual community. And as a result, he said, the people, have come to the place where, first of all, they don’t trust the intellectuals, because they’re the one’s who betrayed them. They’ve taken their Lord away and they don’t know where they can find Him. This is why he called it the “Treason of the Intellectual.” And so once they became distrustful of the intellectuals, the next step was to obviously distrust the intellect altogether. So we’ve had this weird antithesis between mind and heart... that is totally contrary to Scripture.

There has been an anthropological crisis, I think, in our day, where with the advent of television and the way the media has shaped the culture... that people seem to think that if we’re going to have meaningful worship, meaningful church services, we have to understand that human nature itself has changed in the last fifty hears. Now you don’t get to the heart through the mind, now you go straight to the heart – which is mind less. This is fatal to the Christian faith. And it’s killing the Church everyday.

[In addition to the history of ideas and how it shows the ways in which the Church has succumbed to secularism], there is also the kind of world we swim in, in technology for example – the fact that you can’t go to a restaurant without a TV being on, you can’t go to a public event without cellphones going off. Nicolas Carr, this is from The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brain, he says “We are too busy being dazzled or disturbed by the programming to notice what’s going on inside our heads.And the point he’s making is that it’s not just the content, or missing the point, it’s what the medium itself is doing to us as human beings. He says, “Now, I spent my life reading and writing, but these days my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words, now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”

And here are a couple examples. He says, “A University of Michigan professor says, ‘I can’t read War and Peace anymore. I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.’” Another person, “‘I don’t read books,’ says Joe O’Shay, a former president of the student body at Florida State University, and a 2008 recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship, ‘I go to Google and I can absorb all that information quickly.’ O’Shay, a philosophy major, doesn’t see any reason to plough through chapters of text when it takes but a minute or two to cherry pick the pertinent passages using Google. ‘Sitting down and going through a book, cover to cover, doesn’t make much sense to me,’ he says, ‘It’s just not a good use of my time. And I can get all the information I need faster through the web.’.”

Think of all the knowledge we have lost in information, and all the wisdom we have lost in knowledge.

Christian publishing, for example, is a barren wasteland... You go to the Christian bookseller conventions, and you see the stuff that is peddled, and you wonder how anybody ever was able to secure a literary contract for this stuff, which is so poorly done, and yet, publishers are looking for new material all the time and so they publish this stuff that is so dumbed-down – and we wring our hands about that. But NOW, stuff that couldn’t even get published in that arena is on Facebook every day! Everybody is an author, everybody is a theologian...

There is a kind of dumbing-down occurring where, children, for example, were once expected to learn the Westminster Catechism, or the Heidelberg Catechism, or Luther’s Small Catechism, as part of their education at home – it was just taken for granted. And NOW, some pastors look at that and say “This is too hard for ME to teach ADULTS!

I think, as you talk about technology and the spread of pseudo-communication, and pseudo-information, because that’s what it is – every opinion that a person has isn’t worth saying out loud. But since people are actually saying it out loud, what that does is trivialize genuine information. So that that which is actually significant becomes trivial! – And it also means that the old books lying there on the shelf, which are still there and are still published and are still on shelves because they actually have survived the ephemeral and the trivial, are not going to be part of the shared wisdom of our culture anymore.

Hearers of the Word, we’re prejudiced already in favor of the Word, and of hearing and of reading. Mind renewal doesn’t happen simply by having a succession of experiences. We have experiences of something other than our own experience. So what happens to growth in Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ if there is no time for studied, contemplative, meditative thought? ...You can’t Google that.

And how can you know the mind of Christ, unless Christ has been portrayed and presented to you in public worship? And if worship is about you and what you have to say about God, rather than about God and what He says about Himself, His Salvation and you, then there is not going to be much room for developing this mind of Christ.

Our cultural context for thinking about God... Pragmatism. The narrowing of the sense that knowledge is valuable to only that which is calculable – you can weigh it, measure it, you can calculate how much it can improve your life, as William James the philosopher said, “The test of a truth claim is its cash value in experiential terms” (typical American way of putting it) – and this seems to be for a lot of people what they are demanding in terms of what [a church] is feeding them.

It’s all a matter of relativity”... This is NUTS. People are relativists only when it suits them to be relativists. AND WE SHOULDN’T SURRENDER TO THAT! People will say that “You don’t have to be rational anymore”. You speak irrationality to people, and that may entertain them for a few moments, but you will get a lot further if you try to give a sound cogent reasoned presentation – people still are put together the same way God put them together in the original Creation. So we should have confidence that... WE know that they are – on the basis of Scripture – what God says they are, and that we should appeal to them as rational beings... And that’s why I say it is such a mistake to change the character of worship to accommodate that kind of cultural sensation as if, they’re telling us, that the classic presentation of the Word of God, [with its] content... and the sacraments, and the normal things that have gone on for 2000 years, where God invested the power of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Gospel. THERE IS NO REASON TO ADJUST THAT! That’s why Martin Luther said, “The worst, most impoverished student in the universe is God, because everyone thinks they can do it better... Everybody wants to change the Gospel, make it more palatable, make it more relevant – THERE IS NOTHING MORE RELEVENT TO THAT DYING MAN’S LIFE THAN THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. WHAT CAN I DO TO IMPROVE IT?!

The tragedy is not that we see this lack of commitment to knowledge and truth in the culture. We expect that. But the Church is supposed to be a “heavenly outpost.” That’s where you are supposed to hear something different. And when the Church accommodates the methods as well as the mindset and perspectives of the World and continues this mindless drivel, then we are doing the people of God a great disservice. THIS IS WHERE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO HEAR WHAT THEY ARE NOT GOING TO HEAR ANYWHERE ELSE... We have to have confidence, as preachers and as the Church, that God is creating the appetite. We can give them the Word of God, but we can’t give them an appetite for it. So once they have been detoxed from the culture, and also from bad church, we have to assume that underneath all of that... there is a genuine appetite for the Word of God, because wherever there is genuine saving faith, there is genuine love of the Saviour and a desire to know Him.

Paul also says (warning Timothy), “In the last days people will be lovers of themselves, boastful, proud, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God...” – which pretty much describes our culture, but we can deliver it more quickly today, and give people the impression that their felt needs are their real needs. How much of “cultural narcissism” determines in churches what we are allowed to say, and how relevant we need to make the Truth, as if it weren’t relevant itself? For example, I am thinking of Bible studies, where people say “This what this means to me,” and immediately you have to go to... “What is the cash value?” in experiential terms, “How can I use this?,” not “What is God saying?

To the narcissism... having lost the idea of what the purpose, that the communication, that what takes place in the Church is different from what’s going on in the culture, we approach the Biblical text in the same way we approach self-help books, and not understanding that this is a different text! ...Having gotten away from the idea that the Church is speaking a different language and is using communication toward a different end, people come with worldly expectations... which is [where the] narcissism comes in, because everyone else in the world is telling you that you are the most important person, so why wouldn’t you think that it is all about you?

When people say that “You are only about the intellectual stuff,” that is really just slanderous. God gives me a mind, and holds me accountable for a mature understanding of His Holy Word. He didn’t give us Billboard, or a Jingle, or a Bumper Sticker. [He gave us the Bible.] Look at the size of that book! ...I am ashamed of how much I have not mastered.

I’m going to say something outrageous... The tendency is this: The larger the church, the less likely it is to be sound. And there is a reason for that. We’ve seen the serious problem of Christian television. Christian television is so expensive to underwrite, that the only way you’re able to do it is if you have an extremely broad base, and the only way you can have an extremely broad base is to simplify simplify simplify, and move away from the serious content of the Gospel, and, to use the language, to dumb it down. And that happens not just on TV, but it happens in our churches, as well. Beware of the man that everyone speaks well of... [Of course,] we want churches to grow like the Lord added thousands to the Church in the 1st Century, but to sustain that, they were sustained by the Word.

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