FI_LawAndGospel_Monday

At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.

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To be Lutheran – My Journey

My journey of faith has been an experience with the different expressions of Christianity. I have been told I am pan-denominational. My first experience was with the Baptist church, then United Methodist, then Pentecostal and Charismatic, then Evangelical Episcopal, then the Eastern Orthodox, then Reformed, and now Lutheran. God, it seems to me, has brought me around 360 degrees, and blessed me with an understanding of the reason for the Reformation, and why Martin Luther had to speak up and demand very important changes within the Roman Catholic Church. Being Lutheran for me, began while studying Lutheranism after being called to a Lutheran Church as an assistant pastor for family and youth. I bought a copy of “Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions” and dove in the deep end.

To be Lutheran and the Word of God

To me, being Lutheran means you love the Word of God. Being Lutheran means that the Word of God is central to life and faith. To be Lutheran means to appreciate how Martin Luther read Holy Scripture at face value and allowed Scripture to interpret itself for the most part. This led me to read and study the Scripture from a different hermeneutic than I had used before. The Bible was opened to me in a totally different light. To be Lutheran means I believe in the divine inspiration, infallibility, authority, inerrancy of the Bible as the Word of God. Reading Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechism’s helped me understand how much he relied upon the promises of God in His Word for every aspect of his life. Being Lutheran and the Word of God being central, not only opened my eyes theologically, but opened them regarding family, marriage, society, the Church, and my neighbor; it was like a new light was shed upon my Christian experience. In being Lutheran, you stand apart from the other expressions of Christianity.

To be Lutheran and the Sacraments

To be Lutheran means that the Lord’s Supper is spiritual nourishment, the forgiveness of sins, and what we eat and drink is the true Body and Blood of our Lord. To be Lutheran is to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. To be Lutheran means we enjoy the fellowship we have with one another around the Lord’s Table. To be Lutheran means that I understand that I have been born again by water and the Holy Spirit. I have been washed with water and the Word. Because of God’s kindness and tender mercies, He has saved me with the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. To be Lutheran means I remember the promises of God in His Word; those promises are given in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and they bring peace, joy, comfort, and solace to my heart.

To be Lutheran Is to Believe, Teach, and Confess

To be Lutheran means that what we believe, teach, and confess is God’s Word. To be Lutheran means what we believe comes from the Bible. Lutherans preach and teach the Bible. Lutherans have written down what they believe the Bible teaches as confessions of faith. The Book of Concord which contains the Lutheran Confessions is the result of this Lutheran biblical faith. Lutherans also believe that the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed are descriptors of the biblical faith in which we believe. Being Lutheran is understanding the distinction between Law and Gospel. This has been a hallmark in my study of Lutheranism. The Law tells me I’m a sinner and deserve God’s wrath. The Gospel tells me I have been forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. Everything about salvation is all of God. The Law tells me I must be holy as God is holy. The Gospel tells me that I am holy based upon the righteousness that has been imputed to me, which is the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. To the Law, I’m a slave. To the Gospel, I am freed man. This is most certainly true.

To be Lutheran doesn’t mean you should be German, Norwegian or Swedish

            To be Lutheran means so much more than one’s nationality. To be Lutheran means that I have been blessed with a spiritual legacy left by Martin Luther himself, and every other Lutheran that has come before me from whatever part of the world. To be Lutheran means that I am a part of a continual movement toward Reformation. To be Lutheran means that I believe in God’s Word, the Law and Gospel, and to proclaim and teach it so that other’s may inherit eternal life. No matter what class of individual you are, no matter what race or culture you come from, no matter if you are male or female, young or old, what it means to be a Lutheran is that God makes you His own, and you are justified by grace through faith alone.

To be Lutheran doesn’t mean you should be an American Lutheran

You see, to be Lutheran here in America means you are not a “Luther” Lutheran. American Lutheranism is full of relativism. So many directions, so many destinations, so many routes, so many liberals, and so much confusion. American Lutheranism is not consistent within itself. Martin Luther probably wouldn’t recognize most Lutherans of today. He would be shocked, mortified, and would probably rebuke its condition outrageously.

To be Lutheran means I do not fit into the American evangelical mold, and I do not fit into the American Lutheran mold, nor do I fit into any denominational mold for that matter.

All I have tried to do, my adult Christian life, is to find the truth in Holy Scripture and stick to it. However, most importantly, my desire is to be a disciple of Christ, a follower of Jesus — to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, and obey God’s Word — to be transformed by the Word and the Holy Spirit into the image of God’s Son, Jesus, and to be found a good and faithful servant of my Lord.

I am an American Lutheran? No. However, if I were to be labeled, I would be a “Luther” Lutheran. I accept that label because I respect the changes Martin Luther vigilantly fought for against the Roman Catholic Church, and I respect what he taught, even though I may not agree with all of his theology.

What does matter is that I follow Jesus, obey His commandments, repent and confess my sins, love and worship God alone, love my neighbor as myself, be His witness, make disciples, and proclaim the Gospel. Isn’t that what Jesus called His disciples to do?

           

 

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Individual/Personal Confession

Pastor, what is confession and absolution?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins,and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. It is hard to say,“I was wrong. I am sorry. Forgive me.” God’s Word makes it clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In confession and absolution, God’s Word is having its way with us, moving us to confess the truth about ourselves and our need for His forgiveness. Because of Jesus Christ, confession and absolution is a blessed, joyful, happy exchange! “For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus hung on the cross, He became sin—for us. He was the ransom for sin. God poured out His just wrath on Christ. Christ won peace between God and man. In confession, Christ takes the burden of our sin and gives us in exchange His complete forgiveness and love. Absolution is the ongoing work of Holy Baptism, in which our old, sinful nature in Adam is drowned and the new man in
Christ arises.Through Holy Absolution we receive “the gift of God,”which is forgiveness of sins and “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).*

Pastor, don’t we do Confession and Absolution at the start of the Worship Service? Hasn’t individual confession become “unfamiliar” or “infrequently used”?

Yes, we do. But the Confession at the start of the service is not the form or setting of Confession that we just read about in the Small Catechism. What we do at the start of the service is a group or “corporate” form of Confession and Absolution. What we read about in the Catechism and throughout the Lutheran writings is Individual Confession and Absolution, or, for short, individual/personal confession. What we do at the start of the service is a general confession of sins, not specifying any particular sins, and there is a general absolution, directed to the group. What we do in Individual/personal Confession usually involves confessing specific sins, and the pastor directs the absolution to that individual. It is this individual/personal, individual form of confession that the Catechism has in mind when it talks about “Confession.”

Pastor, I thought Lutherans got rid of Individual Confession. Isn’t going to the pastor for Confession just a Roman Catholic thing?

No, it’s not. Individual/personal Confession is a Lutheran thing, too. Luther did not get rid of Individual/personal Confession, he just reformed it, cleaned it up of its abuses. There were three abuses that needed to be corrected. One was that Confession was forced, mandatory, done under coercion and compulsion. The second abuse was the enumeration of sins, that you had to come up with a complete listing of your sins, in detail, or else you could not be sure that you had confessed adequately. The third, and perhaps the worst, abuse was that, instead of putting the emphasis on the absolution, God’s free gift of forgiveness, the priest would give the penitent works of satisfaction to perform, works of penance, to offset his sins. These “three oppressive things,” as Luther called them, had corrupted the practice of Confession, had turned it from a gift into a torture. Therefore, these were the abuses that the Lutherans corrected and reformed.

But Luther never got rid of Individual/personal Confession. Far from it. He strongly encouraged people to go to Confession. He even wrote “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” in which he says such things as the following: “If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine.” Or, “So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is.” Or again, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”

Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions say the same thing. From the Augsburg Confession, Article XI: “Our churches teach that individual/personal Absolution should be retained in the churches.” Or from the Smalcald Articles, Article VIII: “Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” Again, this is talking about Individual/personal Confession.

But Pastor, do I have to go to Individual/personal Confession to get forgiveness?

No, you don’t. You don’t “have to.” This is a matter of “get to.” You “get to” go to Individual Confession and Absolution. It’s a gift! It’s the Gospel! To be sure, God is rich in his grace, and he gives us his forgiveness in other ways as well. In Holy Baptism, all your sins were washed away, and Baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. Your sins are forgiven also when the pastor preaches the Gospel to you in the sermon, proclaiming the good news that Christ Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, taking them away, and that includes you and your sins. You receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar, when you receive the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

These are all glorious, wonderful means of grace, by which God delivers the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross to us. Holy Baptism, Holy Gospel, Holy Communion–all gifts of God, all means of grace, and each one has its own distinctive value and benefit and place in the life of the Christian. But then so does Holy Absolution. And we don’t want to set one gift of God against another. In other words, just because I get forgiveness in the sermon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Communion. Just because I get forgiveness in Baptism doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Confession. No, God gives us all these gifts, each one of them, for us to use and benefit from.

What’s so special about Individual/personal Confession, Pastor?

For one thing, it helps us to be honest about ourselves. We readily say we are “poor miserable sinners,” but if we just keep it at that general level, we may try to excuse or rationalize sins we should be repenting of. The truth is, poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. And so, examining our lives according to the Ten Commandments and coming to grips with our actual sins helps to keep us honest and accountable and to realize the depths of our sinfulness and our ongoing need for Christ’s forgiveness.

And that leads us to the most important benefit of Confession, and that is, the Absolution, the word of forgiveness. To realize that, yes, God knows my sins, how lousy of a sinner I am, and yet He forgives me–yes, me! I hear the forgiveness spoken into my ears, with my name on it! I feel the pastor’s hands on my head, Christ’s authorized representative releases me from the burden of my sin and my guilt! That is what is so distinctive and refreshing about Individual Confession and Absolution: precisely that it is individual, dealing with my sins and directing God’s cleansing and forgiveness and care to me.

Luther puts it this way in his Brief Exhortation: “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.” “[It] is a work that God does when he declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.” Yes, the great treasure in Individual/personal Confession is the Absolution, spoken to you.

But Pastor, I’ve never gone to Individual/personal Confession before. I’m scared. What can you say to reassure me?

Let me guess what’s scary or intimidating about it. Maybe you think you must come up with some huge, awful sin–like robbing a bank or murdering someone–in order to go to Individual/personal Confession. No, ordinary, garden-variety sins are welcome any time. Maybe you can think of one or two that weigh on your mind. Lustful thoughts, harsh words, not treating your husband or wife with the love and care you know you should–that sort of thing. But even if you can’t come up with any sins or you’re not quite ready to speak about them, then just make a more general confession and the pastor will still speak God’s word of forgiveness to you.

Pastor, if I told you my sins, my dirty awful sins, wouldn’t you think less of me? Wouldn’t it change our dynamic, our relationship, and you wouldn’t be my friend anymore?

No, I wouldn’t think less of you. If anything, I might be tempted to think more of you, that you took advantage of the opportunity to come to Confession. But then, don’t go and get a big head about it and say, “Hey, look at me! I went to Confession!” That would-be pride, and then you’d have to come back to Confession for that!

No, nothing you say would shock me. I believe what the Bible says about our sinful nature, how the old Adam keeps on having evil desires and thoughts. And hey, your pastor knows what a sinner he is! I won’t be shocked by your sins. In fact, I’m here to give you God’s forgiveness for them.

And what’s more, Individual/personal Confession is just that: Individual and personal. The sins you confess go nowhere else. I am under oath, solemn oath, never to divulge the sins confessed to me. I never have, and I never will. I don’t even divulge them to myself, in a sense. What I mean is, when you confess your sins to me, my ears become a graveyard. The sins die there. I don’t carry them around with me in my head and hold them against you. I can still be your friend. But the more important thing for you is that I be your pastor. God has assigned me here to take care of your soul. And that includes hearing the sins you confess, the sins that trouble your soul, and then forgiving them in the name of Christ.

Pastor, tell me once again: Why should I come to Confession?

For the Gospel. For the forgiveness of your sins. To receive the gift Jesus has for you: Holy Absolution, with your name on it!

 

~ Adapted from an article by Rev. Charles Henrickson

– *Paragraph excerpt from article “What About Confession and Absolution”

by Dr. A. L. Barry, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

Why We Use The Lectionary

Posted: January 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

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Why We Use the Lectionary

In general, a lectionary is a collection of readings from Holy Scripture. These readings are arranged according to the Church’s calendar and are intended to be read at the regular, weekly gathering of God’s people.

For the early Church, already in the fourth century, readings were gathered together for this purpose. Initially, the readings were arranged in a continuous fashion, with each Sunday’s texts picking up where the reading had concluded the previous week. For the festival half of the church year (Advent through Pentecost), readings were eventually assigned that reflected the theme of the day.

The use of a lectionary as a focus for worship ensures that our congregation, over time, will hear the various voices and lessons of Holy Scripture and not be captive to the favorite texts of this pastor.  Use of the Lectionary allows our congregation to learn from the whole of Holy Scripture, invites us to consider how multi-faceted and rich the message of Holy Scripture is, and prevents us from focusing only on the messages of Holy Scripture with which we are comfortable and so avoid the challenge that Holy Scripture brings.

This brings us to using the Revised Common Lectionary.

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is a three-year cycle of weekly lections (Holy Scripture lessons to be read in church). The RCL is built around the seasons of the Church Year, and includes four lections for each Sunday, as well as additional readings for major feast days. During most of the year, the lections are: a reading from the Hebrew Bible, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles, and a Gospel reading. During the season of Easter, the Hebrew Bible lection is usually replaced with one from the Acts of the Apostles.

The seasons of the Church Year reflect the life of Christ. Consequently, the Gospel lections for each Sunday provide the focus for that day. The other lections for a given day generally have a thematic relationship to the Gospel reading for that day, although this is not always the case.

Ordinary Time refers to two periods of time in the Christian liturgical year. The first period begins on Epiphany Day and ends on the day before Ash Wednesday; the second period begins on the Monday after Pentecost, the conclusion of the Paschal (Easter) season, and continues until the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.

For Ordinary Time, the (RCL) offers two sets of readings for the lessons from the Hebrew Bible. One set proceeds mostly continuously, giving the story of the Patriarchs and the Exodus in Year A, the Monarchial narratives in Year B, and readings from the Prophets in Year C. In the other set of readings for Ordinary Time, the readings from the Hebrew Bible are thematically related to the Gospel lections. We use the semi continuous readings or the thematic readings during Ordinary Time. They do not typically move back and forth between the two over the course of a single season.

The Gospel readings for each year come from one of the synoptic Gospels according to the following pattern:

Year A – Matthew

Year B – Mark

Year C – Luke

Readings from the Gospel of John can be found throughout year in the RCL.

Therefore, the Lectionary expands our scriptural literacy, encourages better preaching and worship planning, spurs us to wrestle with the human issues posed in the Holy Scriptures, guides our preparation for worship, provides the other churches in the community an important link for worshiping, praying, and working together, and calls us to remember and celebrate weekly the love of God as witnessed by us through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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My late wife and friend, Patricia, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. After many surgeries and over a year’s worth of chemotherapy, she went into remission. In August of 2006, she complained of chest pain and went to the doctor. She had a chest x-ray done which discovered that the breast cancer had metastasized to her lungs and chest wall. After seeing her oncologist that treated her the first time, he told her this time it was much worse and that this cancer now is of the terminal kind. In January 2007, her oncologist gave her 8-12 months. In August of 2007, she was still here, and was doing her best to keep on living!

I have always wondered why she had cancer. I have always wondered why it has affected me so much. I have heard of others with cancer, Lance Armstrong for one, who has continued to “beat” cancer. Then there are those I’ve known who haven’t won over cancer, my mother, a real good friend named Bill, and countless others.

Then a friend of mind named Jim sent me a reply to a message I sent him regarding a bulletin he sent about his daughter reporting that her friend Hillary had “beat” cancer. It was about her receiving a “wish” from the Make a Wish Foundation. Her wish was to care for some children in a third world country. Her wish came true.

In his reply, he said that my family was “sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” I was taken aback from his reply; I was kind of hurt by that statement. I asked God, “how is Pat being sick sharing in Christ’s sufferings?” How can that be? Then prompted by the Holy Spirit, I looked up the passage, Philippians 3:10, which says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”

Did God make her suffer? Did God give her the same cancer – twice? What I came to understand was that God had given her Himself; God was very present with her. He was a God of mystery to her; yet now she knows He is the God of all comfort. She knows that now with Him in heaven. Moreover, I know this now…however much it hurts me inside to actualize the reality that any kind of suffering we experience, Christ suffered the same on the Cross.

Isaiah 53:3-5 explains it, “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

I really know this now. I know this experientially. I feel that most people don’t know this until it actually happens to them. At least, that is how I feel about it myself.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

Through my friend’s words, God’s Spirit touched my heart, and even though I weep at this knowledge, I am comforted as never before. I am comforted knowing that God had compassion on Patricia. He had compassion on even me! God has compassion toward all of His creation. I feel that God may be enabling me to help others to see the compassion of God in times like these, when they are fearful, hurting, doubtful and in despair. Pat went to be with the Lord eight years ago, July 29th.

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What Luther Really Said….

Posted: October 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

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LUTHER’S “MAGNUM OPUS”:

The most significant work of Martin Luther regarding the issues of God’s sovereignty in grace is his 1525 work, The Bondage of the Will. Written in response to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Diatribe on Free Will, the book remains the greatest of Luther’s works. When Luther contemplated answering Erasmus he was very aware that the issue centered around God’s eternal predestination. In May of 1522 he wrote to an anonymous addressee,

“I knew before that Mosellanus agreed with Erasmus on predestination, for he is altogether an Erasmian. I, on the contrary, think that Erasmus know less, or seems to know less, about predestination than the schools of the sophists have known. There is no reason why I should fear my own downfall if I do not change my opinion. Erasmus is not to be feared either in this or in almost any other really important subject that pertains to Christian doctrine. Truth is mightier than eloquence, the Spirit stronger than genius, faith greater than learning. As Paul says: ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than men.’ The eloquence of Cicero was often beaten in court by less eloquent men; Julian was more eloquent than Augustine. In summary: Truth conquers lying eloquence, even though it only stammers, as it is written: ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected strength to destroy the enemy and the avenger. . . .Yes, give my greetings to Mosellanus, for I don’t hold it against him that he follows Erasmus rather than me. Indeed, tell him to be boldly Erasmian. The time will come when he will think differently. Meanwhile, we must bear with the poor understanding of matters held by an excellent friend.”[26]

Luther at this time refused to write against Erasmus on his views, but rather decided to wait for Erasmus to initiate the debate. But from this it is clear that Luther understands the issues of disagreement between he and Erasmus as including the issue of predestination. He also here equates his position with those of Augustine, who was challenged by a more eloquent Julian.

Ultimately Erasmus did issue a challenge to Luther, under pressure from both his friends and enemies: A Diatribe on Free Will.[27]

Luther’s response was his The Bondage of the Will, in which he argues against Erasmus’ notion that the will of man must cooperate with the will of God in the reception of the gospel. As the title suggests, Luther responded that the will of man is bound in sin, and therefore __completely unable to cooperate__ with God. Therefore, the sovereign grace of God must be __the sole determining factor__ in the salvation of men.

Different opinions have been offered of this work, but it can hardly be denied that Luther’s claims are very boldly stated, as well as very Augustinian. Nonetheless, regarding Luther’s view of predestination, Lewis Spitz writes,

“St. Augustine was a high double predestinarian. . . .Luther found assurance in the belief that the faith of the elect was determined by God’s eternal counsel and did not depend upon man’s own weak will, but, except for some polemical passages in his treatise On the Bondage of the Will in which he overstated his own case, he left the question of why some were lost open. . . .”[28]

That Spitz makes this claim apart from any analysis of Luther is unfortunate, considering his good reputation as an historian. He here seems embarrassed for Luther by claiming he “overstated his own case.” While this is quite an admission regarding the contents of Luther’s work, Spitz’s editorialism is simply untrue.

Did the great author himself believe he had “overstated” his case? On the contrary, in 1537, writing to Wolfgang Capito concerning a plan to publish his complete works, he states, “I would rather see them [his books] devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except for perhaps the one On the Bound Will, and the Catechism.”[29]

It is clear that twelve years following its publication, Luther claimed the book as his most important, hardly as an overstatement of his case for predestination.

Furthermore, it would seem as though Luther held his “overstated” double predestinarian views not simply at the time of, or after, the publication of The Bondage of the Will, but years prior as well. In his Commentary on Romans, written around 1515, he wrote,

“All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned.[30]

While Spitz thinks that Luther generally held a single predestinarian view, Oxford scholar Alister McGrath takes quite a different view. In fact, McGrath is a scholar who seriously disagrees with the thesis of this paper: namely, that Luther held a consistently Augustinian view of predestination and did not part from it. McGrath concludes that Luther did indeed part ways from Augustine. He writes,

“[Luther’s] assertions that Wycliffe was correct to maintain that all things happen by absolute necessity, and that God is the author of all man’s evil deeds, have proved serious obstacles to those who wish to suggest that Luther was merely restating an Augustinian or scriptural position….Luther explicitly teaches a doctrine of double predestination, whereas Augustine was reluctant to acknowledge such a doctrine, no matter how logically appropriate it might appear.[31] In light of this quote McGrath certainly disagrees that Luther was a consistent Augustinian. McGrath actually reverses here the positions most Lutherans assume: that Augustine was the double predestinarian, while Luther taught single. Not so, claims McGrath, it is actually the very opposite!

This author would certainly take issue with McGrath in that it is his reading of Augustine that is questionable, but not his reading of Luther. However, that issue is not critical to the thesis of the present work. McGrath is correct, as shall now be demonstrated, that Luther’s work without question teaches double predestination.

Luther begins The Bondage of the Will, after addressing some introductory matters, with a most appropriate question: that is, the nature of the Sovereignty of God. Section IV of Chapter 2 is entitled, “Of the Necessitating Foreknowledge of God.” In this chapter Luther sets out to demonstrate and prove that all things are controlled directly by the counsel and will of God: what he calls “necessitating foreknowledge.” That is, “God foreknows nothing contingently, but. . .He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will.”[32]

Not only is this the case, but Luther also says that it is “fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians” to know and trust this sovereignty,[33] and where it is not known, “There can be no faith, nor any worship of God. To lack this knowledge is really to be ignorant of God – and salvation is notoriously incompatible with such ignorance.”[34]

His justification for saying this is quite simple: “If you hesitate to believe, or are too proud to acknowledge, that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust and rely on His promises?”[35] This logic is refreshingly carried through by Luther:

“If, then, we are taught and believe that we ought to be ignorant of the necessary foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God and the whole gospel fall to the ground completely; for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered, or impeded.”[36]

It is this foundational chapter in Luther’s work that provides the basis for the rest of his conclusions.

While Luther analyzes many different arguments, and exegetes hundreds of passages of Scripture, the Sovereignty of God is the fundamental truth by which his conclusions are reached.

It is from this that he continues by asserting God’s absolute control over man’s salvation through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It is from the Sovereignty of God that he also argues for God’s control over the reprobation of the wicked by means of sovereign control, working evil through them, and handing them over to their sins.

Luther argues against the Erasmian thesis of the cooperative will on the grounds that the human will is bound by sin as a result of the fall of man.

Erasmus fully realized the implications of Luther’s strong statement of God’s sovereignty. He writes that if this teaching of God’s sovereignty is proclaimed, “Who will try and reform his life?”[37]

Luther lashes back, “I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! God has no time for your practitioners of self-reformation, for they are hypocrites. The elect, who fear God, will be reformed by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unreformed.”[38]

Erasmus pushes the point: “Who will believe that God loves him?”

Luther stands his ground: “I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall perish without believing it, raging and blaspheming, as you describe them. So there will be some who believe it.”[39]

This is the central point Erasmus makes in his Diatribe, that God’s sovereignty should not be emphasized to the point that the freedom of man’s will is usurped.

Luther fires volley after volley, arguing that unless the sovereign God changes the heart of man, none shall accept the gospel. He writes:

“God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises [sic] that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone.”[40]

Thus Luther affirms the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. In this same passage, Luther also goes on to speak of those who are not elect, that is, the reprobate. He realizes that his theology will not allow him to speak only of the elect, but of the non-elect as well. He writes:

“Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death.”[41]

Thus Luther exhibits no qualms about following his theology to it’s logical conclusion.

Time and time again he makes this known. He uses the specific examples of Pharoah, Judas, and Esau to prove his case that God sovereignly, in the counsel of His own will, determined to harden and reprobate them. At this point it is best to allow Luther to express his own views.

“Here, God Incarnate says: ‘I would, and thou wouldst not.’ God Incarnate, I repeat, was sent for this purpose, to will, say, do, suffer, and offer to all men, all that is necessary for salvation; albeit He offends many who, being abandoned or hardened by God’s secret will of Majesty, do not receive Him thus willing, speaking, doing and offering. . . .It belongs to the same God Incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, though that will of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish. Nor is it for us to ask why He does so, but to stand in awe of God, Who can do, and wills to do such things.”[42]

“On your view [Erasmus], God will elect nobody, and no place for election will be left; all that is left is freedom of will to heed or defy the long-suffering and wrath of God. But if God is thus robbed of His power and wisdom in election, what will He be but just that idol, Chance, under whose sway all things happen at random? Eventually, we shall come to this: that men may be saved and damned without God’s knowledge! For He will not have marked out by sure election those that should be saved and those that should be damned; He will merely have set before all men His general long-suffering, which forbears and hardens, together with His chastening and punishing mercy, and left it to them to choose whether they would be saved or damned, while He Himself, perchance, goes off, as Homer says, to an Ethiopian banquet!”[43]

This passage remarkably demonstrates Luther’s purpose in The Bondage of the Will. Here he states that the entire problem with the theology of Erasmus is that it makes its case for free will by robbing God of His sovereignty.

The entire problem with Erasmus is that on his terms God would not mark out, predestine, and know those among the elect and reprobate.

A single predestinarian may at this point claim that God marks out and knows those whom he elects, but not the remaining number.

The simple question is then how God elects any in an informed manner? How does God know He has elected all He wants to elect? This is to say, that unless God marks out and knows both the elect and reprobate, His sovereignty as well as omniscience suffers. Thus, Luther chastises Erasmus for promoting a relinquishing of God’s sovereignty. He writes that Erasmus has been deceived by the “Mistress Reason”[44] and that

“Reason will insist that these are not the acts of a good and merciful God. They are too far beyond her grasp; and she cannot bring herself to believe that the God Who acts and judges thus is good; she wants to shut out faith, and to see, and feel, and understand, how it is that He is good and not cruel. She would certainly understand, were it said of God that He hardens none and damns none, but has mercy on all and saves all, so that hell is destroyed, and the fear of death may be put away, and no future punishment need be dreaded!”[45]

“[I]f God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas became a traitor of necessity, and it was not in the power of Judas or of any creature to act differently, or to change his will, from that which God had foreseen. It is true that Judas acted willingly, and not under compulsion, but his willing was the work of God, brought into being by His omnipotence, like everything else. . . .If you do not allow that the thing which God foreknows is necessarily brought to pass, you take away faith and the fear of God, you undermine all the Divine promises and threatenings, and so you deny Deity itself!”[46]

This is a strong statement in favor of maintaining God’s sovereign will over even evil events and actions such as Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus.

Luther understands the initial offensiveness of the doctrine he teaches, but holds that though it may be difficult, God must be reverenced and believed on the subject. He states, “Doubtless it gives the greatest possible offence [sic] to common sense or natural reason, that God. . .should of His own mere will abandon, harden and damn men.”[47

After admitting this to be a great stumbling block, even for him, he states that “None the less, the arrow of conviction has remained, fastened deep in the hearts of learned and unlearned alike. . .that if the foreknowledge and omnipotence of God are admitted, then we must be under necessity.”[48]

“You may be worried that it is hard to defend the mercy and equity of God in damning the undeserving, that is, ungodly persons, who, being born in ungodliness, can by no means avoid being ungodly, and staying so, and being damned, but are compelled by natural necessity to sin and perish; as Paul says: ‘We were all the children of wrath, even as others’ (Eph.2.3), created such by God Himself from a seed that had been corrupted by the sin of the one man, Adam. But here God must be reverenced and held in awe, as being most merciful to those whom He justifies and saves in their own utter unworthiness; and we must show some measure of deference to His Divine wisdom by believing Him just when to us He seems unjust.”[49]

It is here that two very important considerations must be addressed. Opponents of the doctrine of double predestination often object on the grounds that the doctrine makes God into an “arbitrary” being – having no just reason to choose one over another. The other is an objection that the doctrine makes God to be the author of evil. These two objections Luther himself addresses quite adequately.

Is it true that upon the basis of double predestination God becomes a creature of arbitrariness, not having a just reason for choosing one man over another? Why did God choose to harden some in their sins and not alter their evil wills? “This question touches on the secrets of His Majesty, where ‘His judgments are past finding out’ (cf. Rom.11.33). It is not for us to inquire into these mysteries, but to adore them.”[50] Luther surely recognizes an element of mystery in the doctrine of predestination, as did virtually all the Reformers. But Luther goes on to address the issue in a more satisfying manner.

The same reply should be given to those who ask: Why did God let Adam fall, and why did He create us all tainted with the same sin, when He might have kept Adam safe, and might have created us of other material, or of seed that had first been cleansed? God is He for Whose will no cause or ground may be laid down as its rule and standard; for nothing is on a level with it or above it, but it is itself the rule for all things. If any rule or standard, or cause or ground, existed for it, it could no longer be the will of God. What God wills is not right because He ought, or was bound, so to will; on the contrary, what takes place must be right, because He so wills it. Causes and grounds are laid down for the will of the creature, but not for the will of the Creator – unless you set another Creator over him![51]

Luther himself, in a skillful approach, answers the objection of arbitrariness. The ground upon which the objection must be brought is that God is bound to some greater rule of equity than His own infallible will. Luther articulates that the actual rule of equity God is bound to is His own will. That is, God does whatsoever pleases Him, and because it pleases Him, it is by definition equitable and right. While sometimes men may not understand fully the justice and righteousness of God’s ways, Luther explains that God’s ways are often mysterious to fallible and sinful men, and that He must be “reverenced and held in awe.”[52]

The second objection regarding double predestination stems ultimately from a misunderstanding of it. Many caricatures of the doctrine see God as electing and reprobating men in eternity past, with no reference to man as sinner, but merely as creature. Thus, when God reprobated men from eternity, he had to then set His plan into action by then creating them sinful, (that is, create their sin afresh) and actively incline their hearts to wickedness so that he could punish them eternally. This particular doctrine is best called symmetrical predestination, in that God reprobated in the same active fashion as he elects. That is, as God must create a new, righteous, heart in the elect man, God must also create a new, wicked heart in the reprobate man. Very few theologians, especially Reformers, held this particular view.

The view that Luther maintains is also the view of the other major Reformers, including John Calvin, as well as earlier St. Augustine and Johann Staupitz. This view may be called asymmetrical predestination, as it pictures God electing and reprobating in eternity past with reference to man as sinner, not as creature.

Therefore, when God had before him the entire human race, he viewed mankind as fallen.

This is why Luther constantly writes that God “damns the undeserving” as well as “elects the undeserving.”[53]

God, in His act of election and reprobation, saw both kinds of men as “undeserving.”

The implications of this are such that God had no need to create the reprobate with fresh evil in them, as if it were possible for Him to be the author of evil, but rather, His decree of reprobation was passive. God simply “passed over” the reprobate in the exercise of His saving mercy.

One may wonder how this differs from “single” predestination. Quite simply, in single predestination there is no “decree of reprobation,” while in asymmetrical double predestination there is, albeit a passive decree.[54]

It is the opinion of this paper that the positions of Martin Luther are in no way compatible with any scheme of “single” predestination.

Luther at every turn affirms the sovereignty of God in both election and reprobation, as well as in everything that comes to pass. That is, God’s sovereignty is the foundation upon which all his argument flows.

If the very candid statements by Luther so far are not enough to convince the skeptic, nowhere does Luther so skillfully defend the doctrine of double predestination as in the following (lengthy) passage:

“The Diatribe gathers its second absurdity from Mistress Reason – ‘human’ reason, so-called: to wit, that on my view blame must attach, not to the vessel, but to the potter, especially in view of the fact that He is a potter who creates this clay as well as moulds it. ‘Here (says the Diatribe) the vessel is cast into eternal fire, a fate which it in no way deserved, except that it was not under its own control.’ Nowhere does the Diatribe more openly betray itself than here. You hear it saying (in different words, admittedly, but with identical meaning) just what Paul makes the ungodly say: ‘Why doth He find fault? Who shall resist His will?’ This is what Reason cannot receive nor bear. This is what offended so many men of outstanding ability, men who have won acceptance down so many ages.”

“At this point, ___they demand that God should act according to man’s idea of right___, and do what seems proper to themselves – or else that He should cease to be God! . . . .Flesh does not deign to give God glory to the extent of believing Him to be just and good when He speaks and acts above and beyond the definitions of Justinian’s Code, or the fifth book of Aristotle’s Ethics! No, let the Majesty that created all things give way before a worthless fragment of His own creation! Let the boot be on the other foot, and the Corycian cavern fear those that look into it! So it is ‘absurd’ to condemn one who cannot avoid deserving damnation. And because of this ‘absurdity’ it must be false that God has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and hardens whom He will. He must be brought to order! Rules must be laid down for Him, and ___He is not to damn any but those who have deserved it by our reckoning___! In this way, Paul and his simile are satisfactorily answered; so Paul must presumably recall it, and allow that it has no force, and remodel it; because the Potter in question (this is the Diatribe’s explanation) makes the vessel unto dishonour on the grounds of merit preceding, just as He rejected some of the Jews by reason of unbelief, and received Gentiles by reason of their faith. But if God works in such a way as to regard merit, why do the objectors grumble and complain? Why do they say: ‘Why doth He find fault? Who resists His will?’ Why need Paul restrain them? For who is surprised, let alone shocked or inclined to object, if one is damned who deserved it? Moreover, what becomes of the power of the Potter to make what vessel He will, if He is controlled by merits and rules, and is not allowed to make as He would, but is required to make as He should?”

“….Suppose we imagine that God ought to be a God who regards merit in those that are to be damned. Must we not equally maintain and allow that He should also regard merit in those that are to be saved? If we want to follow Reason, it is as unjust to reward the undeserving as to punish the undeserving. So let us conclude that God ought to justify on the grounds of merit preceding; or else we shall be declaring Him to be unjust. One who delights in evil and wicked men, and who invites and crowns their impiety with rewards!”

“But then woe to us poor wretches with such a God! For who shall be saved? Behold, therefore, the wickedness of the human heart! When God saves the undeserving without merit, yes, and justifies the ungodly, with all their great demerit, man’s heart does not accuse God of iniquity, nor demand to know why He wills to do so, although by its own reckoning such action is most unprincipled; but because what God does is in its own interest, and welcome, it considers it just and good. But when He damns the undeserving, because this is against its interest, it finds the action iniquitous and intolerable; and here man’s heart protests, and grumbles, blasphemes. So you see that the Diatribe and its friends do not judge in this matter according to equity, but according to their passionate regard for their own interest.”

“….[I]f God who crowns the undeserving pleases you, you ought not be displeased when He damns the undeserving! If He is just in the one case, He cannot but be just in the other. In the one case, He pours out grace and mercy upon the unworthy; in the other, He pours our wrath and severity upon the undeserving; in both He transgresses the bounds of equity in man’s sight, yet is just and true in His own sight. How it is just for Him to crown the unworthy is incomprehensible now; but we shall see it when we reach the place where He will be no more an object of faith, but we shall with open face behold Him. So too, it is at present imcomprehensible how it is just for Him to damn the undeserving; yet faith will continue to believe that it is so, till the Son of Man shall be revealed.”[55]

The author of these words might well have drafted the Articles of Dordt, the Westminster Confession of Faith, or any other historic Calvinist creed. In this quote are found a summary of all that has been said thus far. Luther addresses every element: election (active), reprobation (passive), God’s justice (anti-arbitrariness), and God’s sovereignty.

The Modern Lutheran statement on predestination states that, “[We] reject that God does not want everybody to be saved, but that merely by an arbitrary counsel, purpose, and will, without regard for their sin, God has predestined certain people to damnation so that they cannot be saved.”[56]

Luther and every Calvinist would agree on at least one point: God’s counsels nor purposes are never arbitrary. They are righteous and good because God Himself makes them, and God does not reprobate without regard for their sin. God’s reprobation presupposes their sin.

Regarding God’s desire for all men to be saved, Luther himself objects. In response to the claim that ‘God desires all men to be saved,’ and that ‘Christ died for all men,’ he writes that:

“These points and others like them can be refuted as easily as the first one. For these verses must always be understood as pertaining to the elect only, as the apostle says in 2 Tim. 2:10 ‘everything for the sake of the elect.’ For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all, because he says: ‘This is my blood which is poured out for you’ and ‘for many’ – He does not say: for all – ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 14:24, Matt. 26:28)”[57]

CONCLUSION:

Something has gone wrong in Lutheranism. It has been more than adequately shown that regarding the doctrine of the eternal predestination of God Martin Luther taught things directly contrary to the standards of Modern Lutheranism. Something very clearly happened in Lutheran doctrine between 1546 and 1580. In the span between Luther’s death and the Formula of Concord a radical shift came in “Lutheran” theology. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine exactly what did happen, enough has been said to demonstrate that something did indeed happen.

Luther never taught any such doctrine as “single” predestination. The concept was clearly very foreign to him, as it required the suspension of God’s sovereignty over the reprobation of man. Such a suspension to Luther was the “denial of Deity itself.”[58]

Luther understood that in terms of God’s predestination, the principle is indeed “double or nothing.” Either God is sovereign over all things which comes to pass, or He is not sovereign at all.

Modern Lutheranism, however, treats reprobation in an almost agnostic fashion. Recall the quote from Robert Hoerber: “[T]he ‘unreasonable’ doctrine of election to salvation (but not to damnation) is a particularly comforting part of the gospel message.”[59]

No explanation is given by Hoerber as to how it is possible (indeed, he admits that it is “unreasonable”) for God to maintain sovereignty over election yet not over reprobation.

One can almost anticipate Luther’s response that “the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered, or impeded.”[60]

Hoerber’s supposedly “comforting” single predestinarian view is thus rejected by Luther himself. Comfort is only drawn through faith in God’s sovereignty, not faith in His relinquishing of it.

Though Martin Luther and other Reformers like Calvin and Zwingli may have differed over many issues, such as the regulating principle of worship, the nature of the sacraments, the use of law in civil government, and the like, they never had a public disagreement over their respective doctrines of predestination.

In an age of controversy, this fact is quite remarkable, especially as the doctrine remains the most controversial of all doctrines. If one reads the doctrine as presented by the Reformers, a single, uniform, voice will be found: God is sovereign over heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, life and death.

The health of the church today requires re-thinking on the issue of God’s sovereignty. With semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism the norm rather than the exception in the modern church, the tough issues must once again be grappled with. There must be another reformation.

Perhaps this should start with a “rediscovery” of the doctrines of times long past. Perhaps there must be a revival of reading ancient documents and treatises to discover the secrets long obscured. The church must see its place in history through the light of the past. The author, however, does not speak now of that ancient light of St. Augustine, now dimmed and wearied with age. God continues to raise up new lights for the continual reformation of His church. The light now shining is not Augustine, but Martin Luther himself.

Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Soli Deo Gloria

For full article and references, see Brian G. Mattson’s “Double Or Nothing: Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Predestination

Up to this point I’ve not attempted to make any contribution to the Trinitarian debates that have been cascading across the internet (and beyond) for the past several months.. My public silence on the issue—and I’ve talked at length in private with many individuals—has been owing to three factors..

Source: Distinguishing Among the Three Persons of the Trinity within the Reformed Tradition