In By Grace, Stay in By Faithfulness? (2)

In the first part we quickly introduced the basic doctrine of covenant nomism, namely that God has established a system whereby sinners are admitted to the covenant by grace and they stay in or they retain that status or they retain the benefits given by faith and works or faithfulness or by grace and cooperation with grace. We saw that this is essentially the medieval and Roman view. There are those who otherwise identify with the Reformation who, nevertheless, construe “getting in” and “staying in” that create the conditions for similar problems.

Federal Visionists, Lutherans, and Baptists

Sometimes it is said that one is admitted to the covenant through baptism. This is the doctrine of the Federal Visionists. Lutheran orthodoxy also teaches that God confers salvation through baptism. Article 9 of the Augsburg Confession (1530) teaches of baptism “it is necessary to salvation,” and that the baptized “are received into God’s favor.” More pointedly, Martin Luther (1483–1546) argued at length in his Large Catechism (1529) that though it is true that we are justified by faith alone, the water of baptism, having been joined with the Word of the gospel, becomes a sacrament and so “faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life.” He reiterated that “without faith it [baptism] profits nothing.” For Luther, baptism, as a gospel sacrament, has the same power of the Gospel to effect new life. It God’s work, not ours. Whatever ambiguity there might have been in Luther’s doctrine of baptism, was largely removed by the orthodox Lutherans who interpreted Luther (and the Augsburg Confession) to teach that baptism is a “means of justification.”13 Further, it “works forgiveness of sins…washes away sin…sanctifies and cleanses…regenerates and saves.” Though orthodox Lutheranism confesses a doctrine of unconditional election, they also deny our doctrine of reprobation and perseverance of the saints. According to them, at the moment of the administration of baptism faith is kindled, and one is not only included visibly into the church, but one is made alive and shall remain so unless and until he resists the grace of the Spirit. Not surprisingly, as a consequence of this view, the orthodox Lutheran theologians were and remain highly critical of our Canons of Dort.

Though like the Anabaptists (See Belgic Confession Art. 34) in their rejection infant baptism (paedobaptism) as contrary to the New Covenant, Modern Baptists are actually descended from the congregational and Presbyterian churches. The Baptists reject paedobaptism on two principal grounds:

  • It is not taught in the New Testament
  • It is contrary to the Spiritual nature of the New Covenant.

In the confessional Baptist understanding, only those who actually believe are members of the New Covenant. Therefore the London Baptist Confession (1689) teaches that those “who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance” (29.2). In the confessional Baptist view, baptism is not merely a sign and seal of what is true of those who believe, but of categorical statement of what is actually true of the person baptized at the time of baptism (21.1). In the Baptist confession, baptism is not about promises made by God, in baptism, and realized by faith, but only about present realities. If the realities symbolized by baptism are not present, one is not eligible for the ordinance. To Reformed folk, Baptists seem impatient. They expect too much of the heavenly reality in this life and they confuse the substance of the covenant (possession of new life, faith, and  justification) with its outward administration.

Iin their own ways, the Federal Vision, Roman, Lutheran, and Baptist views of baptism all identify too closely the sign (baptism) with the thing signified (the benefits of Christ). Only the Reformed view of baptism confessed in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards (1647–48) avoids either confusing baptism with covenant and election or stripping from it the promises of God which make it a sacrament and a means of grace. [Much of this post is taken from the pamphlet, Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace]

Next time: Why is nomism so attractive?

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  1. I appreciate the way you have framed the Lutheran position. I would only add that, while we do not hold the Reformed doctrine of perseverance, we trust in Christ’s promises to preserve us.

    • Hi Nick,

      But, according to the confessional Lutheran view, one can resist that grace and fall, right? If so, in some way, it’s up to us to persevere, to do our part to “stay in.”

      Wouldn’t that make Luther a little nervous?

      Wasn’t the crisis prompted by the medieval demand to cooperate that pushed him toward the Refomation?

  2. Dr. Clark,

    We do have a doctrine of apostasy. We believe that the theology of the cross teaches us that Christ’s word and Christ himself come in the form of weakness and, therefore, men can reject them.

    God saving and us rejecting are not the same though. Salvation is from God alone. We are wholly receptive from beginning to end and have no part in it. Those who reject Christ are wholly responsible for their rejection. I think we would agree on both of those statements?

    This is really difficult for me to explain; I know that Calvinists look at this possibility of falling away as something that would rob them of assurance. I know that I did, initially, when I was a Calvinist.

    Maybe it would make sense if I juxtapose it with Calvinism. Most of us know people who have been in the church, partaking of the word and sacraments, and who seemingly believe in Christ, but then walk away, rejecting the promises. Lutherans would see this as a real apostasy and call them back to the promises given in their baptisms. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Calvinists would say that they were never believers in the first place.

    Which is more of an existential crisis? The fact that God warns me with the sternest law to keep trusting in His promises lest I fall away, or the fact that I my faith my end up being false faith? In the former scenario, Christ has given us salvation in Holy Baptism, He forgives our sins daily and richly in the absolution and the Lord’s Supper, and He promises to preserve us. Christ is no liar; that is something outside of me that I can trust in. In the latter scenario, what can I hang my hat on, so to speak?

    Forgive me if I have misrepresented your position. I am honestly still trying to figure out where you guys (by that I mean guys like you, Dr. Horton, Dr. Hart, etc) are coming from. I am coming out of pietistic Calvinism (Piper et. all), and I appreciate the emphases I find here, even if they are hard for me to gel with Reformed theology.

    This is a really helpful article on the Lutheran position of apostasy in relation to the Reformed.

    I think more Lutheran/Reformed dialogue would be really helpful. While we probably won’t end up agreeing, nuancing our discussions with each other would help us further understand the uniqueness of our own positions.

    One of the only theologians I know that is dealing with Reformed issues on a regular basis is Pastor Cooper, a former Calvinist. He is currently writing a book on the differences in our theologies. I hope that some of you Reformed folk will read it and interact with it. Unfortunately, you guys are caricatured by a lot of our other theologians. It reminds of of Packer’s Knowing God where he talks about the Lutheran/Wesleyan position. Oye. This is Pastor Cooper’s blog.

    • Nick,

      I agree that too often Reformed folk write inaccurately about confessional Lutheranism but I also confess that I do see a significant difference between Luther and the orthodox Lutheranism. There is real continuity, to be sure, but I don’t think Luther would have embraced the view of apostasy that you sketch above.

      I understand the reaction to subjectivism (e.g., pietism) toward the objective but the FV and Lutheran view of baptism is unnecessary. It’s hard for me to see how it doesn’t create the very same uncertainty that Luther faced before he became a Protestant. I’m grateful that those confessional Lutherans who are faithful to their tradition tend to be so clear about Law and Gospel and justification that the doctrine of resistable grace doesn’t get much attention — or does it? My experience is limited.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    I have never seen or heard of a Lutheran teacher or pastor talk about resistable grace as if it should breed any uncertainty. The certainty is in the word attached to Holy Baptism and the promise of forgiveness given in Holy Communion. I don’t think it is something we think about in the abstract. We just accept the warnings at face value, and trust in the promises of Christ.

    I get where you are coming from though. When I first heard about the possibility of falling away, I thought, well how is that any more comforting than wondering whether I have faith or whether I am elect? Maybe there are Calvinists out there that don’t ever have thoughts like that. I wasn’t one of them. My experience is not the basis for doctrine, but when you can look at the Crucifix on your wall — you have one, right? 🙂 — and know that it is without a doubt “for you,” you don’t think about falling away.

    But I’m sure we can agree that it is ultimately not about what is most comforting but about what the scriptures teach.

    • Isn’t there perhaps a softening of Luther’s doctrine sin in the confessional Lutheran view? I understand that confessional Lutherans use Luther’s language (and that’s a good thing!) on sin but if the assumption is something like “well, we really don’t have to worry about falling” seems to assume that we’re not that wicked.

      I’m a Romans 7 guy.

      15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 bFor I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

      So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members fanother law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from gthis body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

      If that describes the Christian, then we can have no confidence in our ability not to fall. If we can fall, we will. If we can resist, we will.

      Is grace that is resistible, really grace? Doesn’t it become intrinsically conditional. It’s grace, so long as you don’t resist. Is that free, unconditional favor?

  4. Dr. Clark,

    I’m not implying that they don’t preach the law that condemns us. The warning passages are law and they condemn us; we absolutely would forsake Christ apart from grace. But to dwell on an abstract doctrine when Christ has concretely given us such great things would be a bit morbid, don’t you think? It surely wouldn’t produce faith like the gospel does.

    “If that describes the Christian, then we can have no confidence in our ability not to fall. If we can fall, we will. If we can resist, we will.”

    I agree with that sentence wholeheartedly. In fact, I agree with a lot of the things you guys say, but I always think you take it into a realm where scripture doesn’t speak. The scriptures don’t tell us why some people fall away. They don’t answer the crux theologorum. Particular redemption is an attempt to answer it. Appealing to free will is an attempt to answer it. We don’t attempt to answer it. We let the paradoxes ride. Salvation is all of God. People reject His gift. Christ atoned for all. Some are damned.

    We accept apparently contradictory doctrines as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the death of God, etc. I don’t understand why we feel like we have to rationally explain everything else. We can only confess as much as God reveals.

    • Why is resistible grace or falling away an “abstract doctrine?” Why is it more abstract than justification sola fide?

      I understand the need to preserve mystery and paradox. I get killed by rationalists for affirming them. That people fall away is a great mystery but does Scripture really teach that those who’ve been elected unconditionally (Lutheran doctrine) may also resist that grace and fall?

      What about “they went out from us because they were not of us”?

    • Here’s the passage:

      19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

      (1 John 2:19)

  5. Dr. Clark,

    It is abstract because it is not tied to anything concrete. Our salvation is promised in God’s word through the means of grace. The prospect of falling away is real, but it is not tied to something that we do or that has been done to us. The idea of rejecting the faith is very abstract when you are daily receiving the forgiveness of sins, and when Christ is absolving you through His called servants and placing His body and blood in your mouth for the forgiveness of your sins. I think you agree that the bible does not tell us to ask the question whether we are elect, right? It calls us to trust in Christ’s promises. It’s a matter of faith, which is a gift of God. We’re not denying that there is an elect that will be saved. We’re just not hoping in the doctrine of election; we’re hoping in Christ who forgives us in word and sacrament.

    re 1 John 2:19, we also are not denying that there are hypocrites and false teachers in the church. But scripture also gives us examples of those who have shipwrecked their faith. Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Demas come to mind. With the examples and the warning passages, which indicate that those who actually have faith can fall away, why not just accept the paradox?

  6. Also, did anyone prior to the Reformation teach the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints? Not asking to be a smart alec or anything, I just honestly don’t know.

    • Nick,

      Yes, I think so. Augustine did as did some of his followers. There were strong Augustinians in the 9th century and then a revival of Augustinianism in the late middle ages leading up to the Reformation, including Luther’s father confessor von Staupitz. Luther drew upon that neo-Augustinian movement as he worked through the Psalter, Romans, Galatians etc.

      I think by “abstract” you’re saying “we don’t think about it much.”

      Existentially, “I have the power to resist grace” is quite concrete. I don’t take Rom 7 as a warning as much as a confession of the effect of sin. If we’re really that sinful, how apart from God’s preserving grace, could we not fall away? I’m sure that unless Christ had me gripped very tightly I would fall.

      Have you addressed my question about the nature of grace? Is resistible grace really grace?

  7. I wasn’t trying to imply that Romans 7 was a warning passage. I agree that it is a confession that each of us could make. Falling away is not something that you dwell on when you have the forgiveness of sins delivered to you weekly. We would reject God apart from His grace. Bondage of the will and all that. We could all give it up tomorrow. Christ is rejectable. He comes weak and lowly, not in overwhelming power. Resistable grace is grace, at least in the bible. Those who were really given faith, such as Hymenaus and Alexander, shipwrecked it. The faith was real. It was a gift. They walked away from it. Just because we can’t rationalize it, doesn’t mean the bible doesn’t say these things.

    This conversation is really nothing more than dwelling on the doctrine of election, which is obviously something we criticize you guys about. Honestly, and no offense, but this is only a conversation that I could have with a Calvinist because I think if you guys could just get the means of grace, that they are not just signs of the gospel but real, live forgiveness that we receive literally all the time, you’d understand why falling away from the faith is not our focus. It is not faith speaking. It is like saying, “Never mind that Christ shed His blood for you, did you know that you can fall away? Never mind that Christ gave you life and salvation in the waters of Holy Baptism, did you know that you can fall away? Never mind that Christ forgives you every Sunday by giving you His body and blood shed for you on Calvary, did you know that you can fall away? Never mind that the pastor just absolved your sins in the stead of Christ, did you know that you can fall away?” Christ is so clearly for us, why in the world would we worry about falling away?

    • Nick,

      This conversation isn’t about election. It’s about grace! That’s not abstract.

      Have you read Bondage of the Will? It wasn’t a Calvinist who wrote that. What about the Sermo de duplici iustitia or de triplici iustitia? These were not “Calvinist” sermons. They were Luther’s. If this is all so abstract, why did Luther respond to Erasmus the way you respond to me? Why did he write De servo?

  8. It seems as though asking whether you will fall away is akin to asking whether you are elect. I think this is essentially a Calvinist question because salvation is not objective in Reformed theology. We point to our baptisms because God actually saved us there; therefore, we know he is for us. When you point people to their baptisms, what exactly do you mean by it? Did God really give you forgiveness there? If not there, where and when did he give you forgiveness?

    I have read the Bondage of the Will, but I don’t think I am familiar with those sermons. As you know, we don’t deny total depravity or unconditional election. We don’t think this necessitates the L, I, or P, nor do we think those are taught in scripture. Maybe we could grant a form of I in that the elect will be in the Kingdom. But again, that’s where the scriptures stop and the rest is conjecture.

    • We’re not talking about asking whether one is elect. That’s a foolish question. We only ask what the promises are and whether we believe.

      Asking what the nature of grace is, whether it is resistible, can’t be reduced to a question about election. If I may speak frankly, that’s a dodge.

      What about “no one shall snatch them from my hand?” Isn’t that a gospel promise we can trust? If we can resist, aren’t we snatching ourselves from his hand?

  9. Dr. Clark,

    I have answered your question about the nature of grace. It is resistable. I have also given scriptural examples of people in the bible who had faith, Hymenaus, Alexander, Demas, but who shipwrecked it. The faith was real. I don’t know what else to say about that. There is a tension between God’s promises of preservation and the real biblical data of warning passages and real examples of people rejecting Christ. That’s where the text leaves it. So we hold on to Christ’s promises, because He is faithful.

    “What about “no one shall snatch them from my hand?” Isn’t that a gospel promise we can trust? If we can resist, aren’t we snatching ourselves from his hand?” Of course you can trust Christ’s promise, but as I said, there is tension between two realities there. These are questions of law and gospel that are worked out in real life situations.

    The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not bring the assurance that I think the Reformed believe it brings. Ironically, I think you need a doctrine of real apostasy.

    Do not the Reformed have a doctrine of false faith? That is, do that not teach that people can appear to have true faith but never have believed in the first place? If so, then how do I know that my faith is not false.

    Can I look to the Cross? In Reformed theology, there is no sure word there for me because it was not for all people, so it is unclear whether it is for me.

    Can I look to my baptism? God did not surely save me there. Maybe I was just placed into the covenant and not given real salvation. How do I know?

    Can I point to the fact that I am a member in good standing of my church who is given the Lord’s supper as a covenant member? What if I am just one of the hypocrites that is fooling everyone.

    In all these cases, it is not enough to point to my faith because it might be false faith. So where are the gospel promises given to you in Reformed theology? What can you point to to know that Christ is 100% for you?

    As it stands, you guys trust in the promises of preservation once you are “in” and that’s great. You absolutely should. But what promises are you trusting in to know whether you are “in” in the first place? Where is the sure word?

  10. Dr. Clark, if I may I’d like to attempt an explanation of what we mean when we say we don’t treat apostasy in the abstract. It is something to be preached only to people who are literally walking away from the Church, people who are leaving the Faith. It is for the people who received the letter to the Hebrews. If you are walking away from the Church, shunning the Body and Blood of Christ, then that stern word of warning is for you. Nick isn’t in that position, and neither are you as far as I’m aware. That’s what we mean. It is a doctrine preached to real people in real situations.

    As for the question about whether grace is grace if it is resistible, all we can do is say what we confess. Grace is resistible, and it is really, actually grace. And yet, salvation is all of God and none of us. As Nick said, there is a sense in which grace is irresistible in Lutheranism.

    Forgive me for being so bold, but I think I might understand the fear of Reformed Christians about believing in a doctrine of real apostasy. I know what my own fears were when I moved to Lutheranism from Reformed Christianity after coming to Reformed Christianity from a very law-oriented place. I was afraid of what I experienced growing up. I was afraid of being constantly threatened with damnation if I had any un-confessed impurity (thought, word, and deed). That is not at all the Lutheran doctrine of apostasy.

    Hope that helps.

  11. Dr. Clark, you said above, “We only ask what the promises are and whether we believe.” This is what I was attempting to get at in my post last week, though I admit I probably didn’t do a great job of communicating it. From a Lutheran perspective, when that question is asked it turns faith into the object of faith. Now, I realize this is simply a difference in our respective confessions. Lutherans talk about faith by talking about the object of faith, Jesus (who is objectively for you in His Cross and Passion and in the Sacraments). Without that “for you” we don’t see how there is a Gospel at all. Allow me to borrow an illustration from Dr. Horton’s book The Gospel-Driven Life. Remember how he talks about the victory in Europe, and how the sailor and the young girl on the streets of Manhattan merely received a report and rejoiced in it? Well, to a Lutheran, without an objectively true “for you,” the Gospel would be like that edition of the New York Times washing up on shore in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s good news for… someone.

    That’s why we say what we say about the Cross and Sacraments. The Cross is for you, and the Sacraments are Divine channels of salvation, God’s delivery of that Cross for you. Faith clings to the water. Faith clings to the Body and Blood. Faith clings to the Absolution. Those things are God’s voice, and He doesn’t lie. Faith talks about its object, not about itself.

    • Nate,

      I understand but it seems to me that in its quest for objectivity, Lutheran orthodoxy moved beyond Luther. Re-read the Small Catechism again. I think my language is closer to Luther’s than yours. I don’t think Luther would have a shred of difficulty with the language of the Heidelberg Catechism.

      I think the reason your doctrine of the sacraments is so hard to explain is not that it’s mysterious–there’s plenty of mystery in the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments. The Lutherans kill us for not being able to say HOW we eat the “proper and natural” body and blood of Christ in the Supper beyond “The Spirit does it.” In that sense the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity or “in, with, and under” is approaching rationalism. You can say how.

      If you’ll take a look at the chapter on Christology in my book on Olevianus, I compare Chemnitz with Olevianus and argue that his Christology is much more “philosophical” and less exegetically grounded than Olevianus’. I was actually surprised at how much dependent on reason Chemnitz was in De duabus naturis was.

      So, I really don’t buy the Lutheran argument that “we’re biblical and mysterious and you Reformed people are rationalists.” The move to resistible grace was the product of a sort of rationalism (by which I mean the elevation of reason over Scripture) as was the move to a universal atonement.

    • I disagree, Dr. Clark, but you knew that already. 😉 I don’t see anything in the SC or the LC about signs signifying things that aren’t given in and with the water. Wasn’t Luther’s argument with Karlstadt over sign and thing signified? Didn’t he write Against the Heavenly Prophets to address that?

      Fair enough, Dr. Clark. I’ll read your book on Olevianus when I get the chance.

      For what it’s worth, I think the Reformed make too much of the “in, with, and under” language (which wasn’t in our earlier confessions). Our basic confession is that the bread IS the Body. Period. God’s Word accomplishes what it says. You may not believe me, and that’s ok, but it isn’t an attempt to explain “how.” It is merely an attempt to say, “God is able to do with His Body whatever He wants.” It’s a matter of having somewhere to actually receive the forgiveness of sins.

      Do you have any thoughts on what I said above?

      • Luther does explicitly use the prepositions “in” “with” and “under” in the catechisms of 1529. I’ve quit describing the Lutheran view as “consubstantiation” but those prepositions are definitely Luther’s.

        On the Supper I only wish Lutherans hadn’t confessed that Calvin was a sacramentarian. Here’s where the rationalism creeps in. They set up a verbal test that everyone had to pass. Calvin failed the test and ergo he must be crafty and a sacramentarian. Zwingli was, I think, a sacramentarian but not Calvin nor the Belgic Confession. I think that Luther would be satisfied with “proper and natural” body and blood. I don’t see how anyone could ask for stronger language.

        We say that we are fed on the actual, proper, natural body and blood by the mysterious operation of the Spirit, through faith. I know that the Lutherans want more than that but they really ought to be satisfied with that.

        The Lutheran rejection of the Reformed as liars (and worse–see this essay: R. Scott Clark, “Calvin as Negative Boundary Marker in American Lutheran Self-Identity 1871–1934″ in Johan de Niet, Herman Paul, and Bart Wallet, ed., Sober, Strict, and Scriptural: Collective Memories of John Calvin, 1800–2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 245–66) was part of what made a stronger alliance between Lutheran and the Reformed impossible in this country. As a consequence the Reformed turned to Zwingli in the 19th century and we actually started to become what the Lutherans said we were! Further, the alienation actually helped to facilitate the transformation of Protestantism in this country, in the 19th century, into Anabaptism. It’s just like the 30 Years War. The Lutherans refused to cooperate with the Reformed (unless they would become Lutheran) and thus things went as they did.

    • Actually Dr. Clark, if we’re just talking definition of justification, I agree with you. Sorry for being dense. I don’t know Luther’s mind but I know Lutherans today talk about the Heidelberg Catechism quite respectfully until it comes to the sacraments. The exact quote I remember from a Lutheran who’s never been Reformed is “that thing is great until it talks about the sacraments.” That’s what I was thinking when you said Luther would be “with you” more than “with us,” so to speak. I doubt very much Luther would agree with the Reformed on the sacraments.

      As for our differences on justification, my only point is where faith looks. Can you say with Luther that faith clings to the water? That’s all I was attempting to say. Sorry again for misreading you.

      • I would rather say that faith clings to Christ. It’s so easy to confuse the sign with the thing signified and in the history of theology that confusion has done a great deal of damage but inasmuch as the water stands for Christ, represents Christ’s promises, his obedient death for us, yes, I can say it. It’s a sort of shorthand, however, that needs further explanation. I think Luther’s explanation that the sacrament must be mixed with faith, what is signifies must be received by faith, that’s a salutary emphasis and it’s there that I think we’re close(r) to Luther. In our early discussion of a few days ago, I had the sense that there was some reluctance to talk about faith as the instrument and I think Luther had no such reluctance.

    • I think I understand your concern Dr. Clark. If I came across as unwilling to acknowledge faith as the instrument that receives, I apologize. My pastor always says, “Salvation is given to you in Baptism. Faith receives that gift.” There’s no tension or ambiguity there in our view.

      But I think where the difference lies is that we are completely unwilling to separate Christ from Baptism. We would say that is where Christ locates Himself for you (to cling to by faith; but again, we don’t ask if we believe, we as where the sure promise of Christ is located, which is in the water). It seems to me that the Reformed view is uncomfortable saying that Baptism is the means Christ uses to deliver Himself. I don’t see any wavering there for Luther. Is that fair?

      • Well, Luther says, in the Small Catechism, “It’s not the water…” It’s Christ who saves and the instrument is faith. Baptism isn’t the instrument. The flood did not save Noah, the ark did or rather Christ did through the ark. Noah was saved “through water” inasmuch much as the water was the judgment for the reprobate. He was delivered through the water but Christ is the savior through faith. Baptism is a sign and seal of that salvation and we ought to have the closest possible relation between the thing (salvation) and the sign without confusing the two. Obviously there are baptized people who are not saved so baptism isn’t itself salvation. Only Christ is salvation and only faith lays hold of Christ.

        We should say to ourselves, “I am a baptized person.” Amen. I am identified with Christ. I belong to Christ. That’s the point of the first question of the English Catechism, “What is your name?” It’s to remind them that they are baptized persons. Their identity is grounded in what was done to them and for them—not by them.

        So, it’s not a matter of separating but distinguishing. There is a difference. On analogy with the Chalcedonian formula re Christology. The one nature doesn’t become the other yet he is one person. Distinct but not separated. They are “inseparable” and “indivisible” according to Chalcedon. Amen.

    • He uses “under” in the SC, but I do see “in” and “under” in the LC, so fair enough. But the Luther who wrote the LC and the Smalcald Articles certainly wouldn’t be alright with Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper. It was a two-way street though. Calvin didn’t want anything to do with our doctrine of the Sacraments, as far as I can tell.

      Luther explains what he means by “it’s not the water…” in Smalcald Part III Article V. I’ve posted on that at the end of our previous discussion:

      I’m not sure how to say it more clearly. Faith receives the salvation given in Baptism. From a Lutheran perspective, your response creates a false dichotomy between Christ and the gift He uses to give us Himself. “All who have been baptized into Christ…,” etc.

      • Fair enough. I’m working from memory – it was the LC and the SC conflated.

        Of course, we can only speculate but were it Calvin at Marburg and not Zwingli, who knows? They did agree on quite a lot and Calvin was much closer to Luther than Zwingli.

        It seems likely that Calvin signed the invariata (between ’31-41 during his exile from Geneva). Why can’t that be taken as a sign of good faith rather than as a sign of duplicity?

        Baptism is salvation by synchdoche or figuratively but literally it is Christ who saves. The question is how, by what instrument? Well, faith is the instrument. Baptism has no intellect, will, or affections. Persons have that. The Spirit creates faith that has intellective, affective, and voluntary aspects to it.

        Faith receives the salvation signified by baptism. We may say faith receives the salvation offered in the gospel and insofar as baptism is the gospel made visible then faith receives the salvation offered in baptism. We don’t know exactly what, in any given case, the Spirit does in baptism. He is free to renew but he is free not to renew. I was baptized a Lutheran but I did not come to faith for some years after. Was “salvation” given to me in my baptism? Well, the sign was given but I had not new life until I did. I was a hard-hearted, bitter, hatrer of Christianity and Christians. I was alternately agnostic and atheist and then theist (unitarian) then Christian. I did, sola gratia, sola fide, receive what was offered and promised to me in my baptism (praise God!) but the baptism itself did not confer it upon me.

    • Was it the 1530 or the Variata? I had heard he signed it but never knew which one. I’m sure you already know the Lutheran lore on that one. You have probably also heard the Lutheran one-liner, “that was the pinnacle of his theological career.” Hardy-har-har, belly laughs all around. But in all seriousness, what did he do with Article XII? And when he repudiated the views articulated in the Augustana in print (the Institutes), how do we explain that?

      We would say that salvation was given you in your Baptism. We really wouldn’t try to answer the question of whether you were given faith or not at that time, the material thing is that (as we would say) you were brought back to your Baptism (praise God indeed!). Faith received the gift given. You certainly could have had faith as an infant (fides infantum), and we wouldn’t shy away from saying that God’s word in the water creates faith.

      The question for a Lutheran is where the believer places his trust here and now. Do I trust that Word of God in the water? Or do I ask myself if I believe? I’m sure you see the difference from our perspective, even if you disagree.

      • John Calvin, Last Admonition of John Calvin to Joachim Westphal, (Tracts & Treatises, 2.355)

        My words are: in regard to the Confession of Augsburg my answer is, that (as it was published at Ratisbon) it does not contain a word contrary to our doctrine. If there is any ambiguity in its meaning, there cannot be a more competent interpreter than its author, to whom, as his due, all pious and learned men will readily pay this honor. To him I boldly appeal; and thus Westphal with his vile garrulity lies prostrate.

        This refers, I think, to the Variata.

        In 1557 he wrote to Martin Schalling,

        Nec vero Augustanam Confessionem repudio cui pridem volens ac libens subscripsi sitcut eam autor ipse intrepretatus est.” (“Neither do I repudiate the Augsburg Confession to which I, willing and cheerfully subscribed long ago as the author himself has interpreted it.”)

        It’s not clear in the second instance to which he refers but I assume to the same. C. P. Krauth, like other Lutherans, believed that Calvin had signed the invariata. Where other Lutherans accepted this claim and took it as evidence of Calvin’s alleged duplicity (as a “crafty” “sacramentarian”) Krauth, in 1875, was willing to take Calvin’s signature as an endorsement– and then turn around and dispense with him as a crafty sacramentarian! He came to regard Calvinism as the seminary of Socinianism. He repeated the (Lutheran) proverb, “A Young Calvinist, an old Socinian.” Krauth’s rhetoric was much milder than that of Walther and Mueller–the latter is positively shocking.

    • It doesn’t surprise me that Lutherans said crazy things about the Reformed. Good grief, the only Lutherans I know who can accurately articulate Reformed doctrine used to be Reformed! But the same goes for the Reformed saying crazy things about us. Consubstantiation, anyone? Inconsistent monergists?

      It doesn’t necessarily have to imply duplicity, but can he actually make good on his claim? I doubt it. Did he retain Private Absolution? Did he regard it as “wicked” to do away with it? Did he keep the Mass intact? Did he believe that ordination could be regarded as a sacrament? Did he believe that those those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost? Is Baptism necessary for salvation?

      • Nate,

        The tense of the verb is wrong. It should be present indicative active. “Are saying.” Yes, there are good lot of Reformed who write ignorant things. I get a lot of “stick” from Reformed people who couldn’t find a glow-in-the-dark version of the Book of Concord with night-vision goggles.

        Calvin said that he agreed with Melanchthon’s interpretation of the Augustana. The test you set Luther himself fails. Did Luther retain private confession? Did Melanchthon? Did Luther and Melanchthon (or Lutheran orthodoxy for that matter) keep the “mass intact”? Who of the Lutherans passes every one of those tests and yet didn’t they sign the Variata until the restoration/rediscovery of the invariata? How many Lutherans today could pass all those tests?

        So, in your view we really are crafty sacramentarians?

    • True enough. I cringed the last time Issues Etc did a “comparison with the Reformed” segment. It was bad. You’ll have to take my word on it, unless you want high blood pressure.

      Luther wrote a Latin Mass that was quite conservative (as I’m sure you know). We know what the Reformed said when they traveled to Lutheran territories: “Papists!” As far as I know Luther confessed to Bugenhagen. Private Confession has made a comeback in Lutheranism, and many churches celebrate the Mass weekly and on the regular festivals of the church year (as our confession states). Many modern Lutherans think they are American evangelicals. Everyone has that problem.

      But isn’t that beside the point? We’re talking about Calvin, aren’t we? If he signed the Invariata, did he practice it? Did he believe the twelfth article? I’m genuinely curious.

      Yes, crafty sacramentarians all! Just kidding. But, seriously… No, not really. What should one say to such a question? I don’t see the Reformed claiming the Invariata these days, so what use would I have of that?

    • Dr. Clark,

      I hope you don’t mind me following up on this. Zeeden shows that private confession and absolution was deeply ingrained in Lutheranism from the time of the Reformation onward (p. 49). Some territories mandated it before one could receive the Body and Blood (Augsburg Article XXV). The evangelical Mass is described in great detail (particularly Musculus’ account from Eisenach), and Zeeden notes some of the common practices that fell out of use with the onslaught of pietism, namely vestments, adorned altars, the priest chanting while facing the altar, and making the sign of the cross (p. 39).

      It appears then that Lutherans simply put into practice their confession of the Augustana, which is clear on these subjects despite the ambiguity in the decades immediately following the Diet due to the Variata. I think you’ll find it most interesting.

  12. Nick and/or Nate,

    I have a question (or really, series of questions) concerning unlimited atonement that I’ve never had the opportunity to ask of a thoughtful adherent if you would indulge me. Do you consider the work of Christ and its benefits to be part of the New Covenant? If so, how do you reconcile the work being for all people? Is it that all people are properly members of the New Covenant or that New Covenant blessings are applied to those who are not members of the covenant? If the former, where would you find Scriptural support for such a wide acceptance? If the latter, how would you reconcile that with the fact that in every other covenant (and I believe we would agree that all of these covenants are to point us to Christ in the New), covenant blessings and curses are dispensed only to covenant members?

  13. Drew,

    While we Lutherans can see and appreciate helpful aspects of Reformed covenant theology (in Dr. Horton’s book God of Promise, for instance), we don’t confess the exact substance of Reformed covenant theology. So, at the outset, we’re speaking different languages and there is a real danger of talking past each other when the question is formed in such a way that precludes the possibility of a view that comes from outside the framework of Reformed covenant theology.

    With that in mind, I think we would say that Christ accomplished a full, complete redemption on the Cross for all, and that redemption is delivered to you and me through the means Jesus instituted (Baptism, the Eucharist, Absolution). So we distinguish between the accomplishment of redemption and the application of redemption (to use terms that might be more familiar). We don’t use the language of all people being “members of the New Covenant,” nor do we speak of “New Covenant blessings being applied to those who are not members.” The “New Testament” (the language we use) is, properly speaking, the Body and Blood of Christ given for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. That’s just institution of the Supper stuff. “This is the New Testament in my Blood…,” etc.

    So I realize this probably isn’t a terribly satisfying answer, but that’s how we approach the subject.

  14. Nate,

    Thanks for the response. You’re right, it’s not the answer for which I was looking but it’s fair that you don’t want to be boxed into a scheme or language that doesn’t fairly represent you. I do have some further questions, because I’m not sure if I completely understand your response. Are you saying that you do not view the economy of salvation as existing within a covenantal framework and that you would rather restrict the New Covenant/Testament to the supper only? How would you interpret Jer 31, the book of Hebrews, Gal 3 & 4 in regards to covenant/testament? Is there a wider theology of covenant/testament in Lutheran theology and if so, how does it apply to the accomplishment and application of redemption?

  15. Dr. Clark and Nick –

    The Lutheran position is that a saved person can say that they no longer want to be a Christian and that they can walk away from it. They don’t lose their salvation by sinning, but can hand it back.

    The Lutherans will warn folks that say that they are Christians and no longer attending church etc., that they should be in the means of grace on a regular basis through church attendence. In other words, the means of grace will keep a person saved, as God works through His means of grace.

    Lutherans teach that Baptism does four things. 1. Creates faith. 2. Sustains faith. 3. Washes away sins. 4. Gives the the Holy Spirit.

    Lutherans do no teach that all that get baptized get saved. Lutherans teach that baptism is a means of salvation, not the only means of salvation.

    Lutherans teach that a person can resist the call of God to salvation (through the preaching of the Word), but the elect will not resist it.

    Lutherans will view the doctrine of only the the elect being saved and Jesus dying for all as a paradox.

    • Hi Lloyd,

      I understand. I appreciate this.

      When you say “the elect will not resist it” the Reformed say Amen! So, the person who resists was not elect, right? That’s how I read Melanchthon’s turn in the late 1530s and 40s—not as a turn to synergism (even though he said some unhappy things at times) but a turn to a more nuanced approach to predestination, in contrast with the 1521 Loci Communes where all he wanted to talk about was (double) predestination. He moved his discussion to the doctrine of the church and wanted believers to have assurance that they only believe because they are elect.

      Thus, a believer should not doubt. Those who fall away were not “believers” in the same sense as the elect who believe. They had historical faith, they had a temporary faith, but they did not have the Heidelberg Catechism calls “true faith.” We explain that by saying that those who have a false faith (e.g., purely intellectual assent without a heartfelt trust, without fiducia which is born of the Spirit’s regenerating work) have only an outward relation to Christ.

      I understand re the atonement. There were Reformed in the 17th century, e.g., Amyraut, who approached this position but who limited the atonement at a later (logical) stage. Everyone but universalists limits the atonement somehow, even if they aren’t conscious of it. Only the universalists say that Jesus actually redeemed everyone who ever lived. So it’s not a question whether there is a limit but just how and where it gets applied.

  16. Drew,

    We don’t tend to articulate these things in terms of a “framework.” I should have added, “properly and narrowly speaking…” above. Please forgive me. What we would say is that the covenant is Christ for you and the gifts He uses to deliver Himself to you. The promise of Christ (the covenant) is for all, just as His Cross is for all. So the main distinction in the Lutheran view is between the accomplishment of salvation and the delivery of salvation. The covenant is Christ Himself, for you.

    The key for us in Jer. 31 is, of course, v. 34. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” That seems to be the culminating statement of the way that all the things previously said are true. And for that we have no further to go than Christ’s Cross for you, and the delivery of that salvation to you in Baptism. Galatians 3-4 likewise. The covenant is Christ for you. I think that stays the same in Hebrews.

    In our view then, the covenant is that promise accomplished by Christ for you and delivered by Christ and to you. Of course for us the pinnacle of this is the Sacrament of the Altar, which is where we receive Christ’s last will and testament continually each week. So we do sometimes speak narrowly about the “New Testament” being the Eucharist.

    I hope that helps, though again I doubt it’s very satisfying.

  17. Nate,

    It helps in giving me a better idea how to ask questions so I’m certainly appreciative of that. The view you’re articulating is a bit vague for me right now and I’m not confident that I could accurately represent it but it does help to know that we approach the idea of covenant in a vastly different manner. Thank you.

    • I agree completely, the differences are confusing and quite distinct. I thought about attempting to explain the differences, but I’m not sure I would be able to add any clarity. Suffice it to say, if you check the Lutheran Study Bible you will find the same ANE covenant-making research that Dr. Horton uses in his book, but of course it ends up playing out quite differently in our theologies.

    • Thanks for the link Nate. It does give me a better feel for the Lutheran position, although it still doesn’t really flesh out the Lutheran position on covenant, he just seems to say that law/gospel takes priority. This is odd to me because I can’t conceive of how law/gospel can be divorced from the covenant context. In Reformed Theology, covenant gives us the reason for why there is a law and a gospel. The way your position appears to me, from my admittedly limited interaction, is that covenant/testament exists in the Scriptures and God did and/or does some things according to covenantal/testamental terms but salvation is couched in law/gospel terms.

      So this leads me to some other questions. In the Lutheran understanding, when does God first give the law and on what basis does He give the law in the first place if not covenant? What was the purpose for the covenants given to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David and do they have any significance for us this side of the cross? Does God ever deal with humanity, individually or corporately, without regard to the law?

    • Hi Drew,

      I understand the difficulty, as I struggled with this when changing from Reformed to Lutheran. I think there are a couple issues here that make it difficult to communicate clearly across confessional boundaries. First, I think it can be misleading when we Lutherans talk about covenant as if it is simply a secondary “thing” to law/gospel. For us, covenant falls under law/gospel, whereas for the Reformed law/gospel is promulgated under the framework of covenant. What I mean by that is that we apply covenant passages through law or gospel (or both). Law/gospel is in some sense a hermeneutical tool, but it is primarily an application tool. So, we’re not going through our Bibles highlighting “law” passages and “gospel” passages, though it is true that in some passages the law shines more clearly and in other passages the gospel shines more clearly. Any passage could have a law application or a gospel application. “Be ye perfect” could be the most beautiful gospel, in that it is the very Word of Jesus that accomplishes and gives the perfection it requires. It can also be the harshest law, requiring something far beyond our ability (I took this from Pr. William Cwirla’s preaching on the Sermon on the Mount). This is the reason you heard Pr. Cooper go immediately to the context of preaching. Second, to a Lutheran, any time we talk about the promise of Christ, we are talking about the Gospel itself. I doubt that’s controversial. Therefore, we don’t talk about people being “in the covenant” but not “in Christ” (and that’s where I assume you’ll demur). We don’t really use phrases like “in the covenant” anyway, but to Lutheran ears that would sound like “in Christ but not in Christ,” since the covenant (I’m confining myself to the promises, not the law here) is Christ and His gifts. In some Reformed circles you hear things like “covenant children” or “covenant baptism,” and that makes sense within a Reformed context. But for us, Baptism is Christ. “All who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ,” or “All of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death…” etc. It is probably obvious at this point that while we see some continuity between circumcision and Baptism, they are not the same thing. So to answer your question about some of the particular promises in the OT, specifically the protoevangelium, Abraham, and David, those promises are Christ. Christ given for you on the cross and Christ given to you in the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church. If you were to hear a Lutheran pastor preach on any of those today Christ would be front and center. Moses is more complicated, but if you’re wondering where we fall on things like the recapitulation debate in Reformed theology, we really don’t. We see law and gospel in the garden (tree of knowledge of good and evil, tree of life), and we see law and gospel in the texts surrounding Moses and Sinai.

      If you’re interested in the specifics of how the law fits into all of this you might look into this book:

      Again, I’m sure I haven’t done justice to your very good questions, but I hope I’ve given some idea of how we approach these things.

    • Hi Nate,

      Thanks for bearing with me on this. I also asked some of the same questions to Pr. Cooper on his page so I’ll be interested to see how he goes about answering them as well. Your response is actually very helpful and shows more common ground in some of these areas than I expected given our earlier discussion. For the sake of full disclosure here so you don’t have to worry about addressing this area for me anyway, I’m not concerned here with the studies surrounding the ANE treaties or the republication debate concerning the Mosaic Covenant. I see the covenants with Noah and Moses as being as much a part of the continuity of the Covenant of Grace as the covenants with Abraham and David.

      I certainly agree that the promises given in those covenants is Christ. I’d nuance that a little by saying that there are in many cases temporary typological fulfillments of those promises prior to Christ but I certainly believe Christ to be the substance of those promises. So, in seeing your description of the covenants, it sounds like we agree as to of what the covenants consist. I would agree with you describe the law/gospel hermeneutic and application as well. This is encouraging.

      So, if I’m understanding correctly, the chief disagreement seems to be in how we see the administration of the covenant, which is actually what I though at the beginning of our discussion. This is where I’m probably not able to see how you would interpret some of the aspects of covenant I have in mind. The idea of covenant being subsumed under law/gospel is still fuzzy for me.

      However, we may be getting a little off track from what I was originally asking here which might lead to some misunderstanding. You are answering the question as to how you view children and others in the church who have not professed faith and how you see them in relation to the covenant and you’re right we disagree there but that part is at least more straightforward. My question is, what about those with no relation to the church and who have never professed faith in Christ? Is it appropriate to use the in/out language in regards to the covenant with them? How would you describe their relation to Christ and covenant and is it any different than for those who have saving faith?

    • Hi Drew,

      It is no trouble, although I must say I recommend Pr. Cooper’s responses much more highly than my own. If he says something that contradicts me, believe him.

      I think all I’m trying to convey by saying law/gospel takes priority is that we interpret and apply anything covenant-related through law or gospel, not the other way around. So, simplistically, a “covenant” is a command or a promise for us. It isn’t the church. We don’t see the need to use the idea of covenant as a unifying factor in Scripture, because Christ is that unifying factor for us. Now, that isn’t to say that Christ and covenant are unrelated. The covenant is the promise of Christ for you and given to you for the forgiveness of sins. When we see covenants (promises) in the Old Testament we see Christ. If I may attempt a contrast with the Reformed view, it seems to us that the Reformed view of covenant is one step removed from Christ Himself, i.e. “in the covenant” but not “in Christ.”

      For someone who isn’t baptized, of course we would say that they are not “in Christ” (of course there are exceptions, but exceptions don’t make good rules). Baptism unites that person to Christ and church. That is the personal application of the promise of Christ for them, i.e. “Come and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins…,” etc. When the gospel is proclaimed to anyone, we would say that is the same reality as God giving Abraham the promise of the Seed Who would bless all nations. “He preached the gospel beforehand…,” etc. For those who are baptized we can say that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, etc., are all theirs. For both baptized and unbaptized, Lutherans preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.

      Hope that helps.

  18. Hi Dr. Clark –

    I am at work and don’t have my Bible with me. My take, personally, is that if you are elect, you can’t resist it, or else God’s decree was in error, and He would have to change it because we resisted His grace.

    If a person could lose their salvation, they never had it to begin with. If one sheep gets away, Jesus leaves the 99 to get the one and bring him back. Ephesians says that God gives us the H.S. as a down payment which guarantees our salvation.

    It basically comes down to this….Anything that the creature does does not change the immutable decree of our Father in Heaven. If He decrees to save someone, He will see that it must happen, because He has decreed it so. He will give the creature (us) the ability of believe, Phil. 1:29, and see us through to the end.

  19. “Luther wrote a Latin Mass that was quite conservative (as I’m sure you know). ”

    Yes, and Luther retained elevation. But the whole sacramental direction was completely reversed. This was eminently and prominently embodied in the one act of the priest turning to face the congregation. These days, we have a few LCMS (not that I’m LCMS) doing the exact opposite – reverting to facing “the East” (which inevitably reflects the so-called God-ward movement of the sacramental action).

    One could add that such practices would have been impossible in the time and age of the pioneers and fathers of the LCMS (including Lohe).

  20. “So we do sometimes speak narrowly about the “New Testament” being the Eucharist.”

    The Eucharist as we know is quite an unLutheran term. As we know, it means “giving thanks.” And as we know, that’s not what the Lord’s Supper is all about.

    • Everyone knows what “Eucharist” means. No one is confessing that the Supper is solely confined to our thanksgiving by using the word “Eucharist” for the name of the Supper.

  21. Jason,

    I agree the sacramental direction was reversed. God comes to us and forgives our sins. Don’t we distinguish between the sacramental and sacrificial elements of the liturgy? My own pastor celebrates ad orientem until the liturgy of the Sacrament, at which point he switches sides (from the Preface through the Distribution), and then switches back at the Nunc Dimittis. As long as the pastor turns around at the Pax Domini, is there really an issue with celebrating ad orientem? The small chapel our congregation uses for mid-week services doesn’t have a free-standing altar, so this is how we usually celebrate mid-week.

  22. Speaking as a Lutheran, I’d say that Dr Clark is much closer to the De Servo than confessional Lutherans who as we know place the BoC higher than Luther the man himself.

    • Mr. Loh,

      Since you are speaking as a Lutheran saying that a Reformed teacher understands Luther better than confessional Lutherans, I must ask in what way?

      Lutherans confess the Book of Concord as the true teaching of the one, holy catholic and apostolic church. If we were only interested in following the teachings of a man, even one of the caliber of Luther, then rightly did the Roman church label us a sect.

  23. Dear Nate,

    I’m afraid your pastor should give more thought and consideration to what the Lord’s Supper is all about. You and I, we both know, that Lutheran approach to the Lord’s Supper is distinctive. The classical Anglican has the Prayer of Consecration; the “modern-day Anglican” who uses the liturgy has the epiclesis or some other counterpart prayers, etc. There is a “time-lag” (interposition, for lack of better terms) between the Words of Institution and the communion/ reception. Put it simply, the Lord’s Supper is meant to be consumed immediately. IOW, we Lutherans we don’t sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper.

    As for a fixed altar, sorry for getting ahead of myself here. My pastor, however, doesn’t do elevation at all as in my church too the altar is fixed. He merely lifts the species of bread and wine at shoulder length. And the entire duration of the Lord’s Supper conducted by my pastor is short and simple. After the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the whole process is finished quickly. Because he can’t wait to distribute the Body and Blood and I can’t wait to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord whilst simultaneously hearing the Promise!

  24. Dear Nick,

    Yes, I’m saying that some Reformed have greater affinity with Luther in De Servo (and in certain respects). Dr Clark is one of them. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the Sacraments for example. But on the issue of the irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints, Luther and the BoC diverges. Luther held to “absolute necessity” of God in all things – divine omnipotence. Vast majority of confessional Lutherans don’t. For the Reformed who hold to double predestination, there’s even greater affinity with Luther in De Servo. Incidentally, there’s one area where Dr Clark and Luther would not be on the same page and that is on the free offer of the Gospel. Luther’s exegesis of Ezekiel 33 is based on the distinction between Law and Gospel. The free offer is based on the distinction between God’s preceptive and decretive will.

    • Jason,

      FWIW, I think I agree with Luther on the free offer. I often read it to the Medieval-Reformation course during the Luther section. I think Luther’s argument is a corollary to the other. I don’t think they’re in tension.

  25. Dear Dr Clark,

    Luther actually did not hold to the free offer. I know where you’re coming from. Luther’s position is quite different from the FoG in that he does not understand Ezekiel 33 as the difference between the two wills of God. Rather it is the difference between Law and Gospel where one passage can be understood as either/ or. IOW, either as command or promise, respectively. Thus, the FoG becomes as a function of the salvific will of God becomes Law as per De Servo.

    May I refer to the late Gerhard Forde – Luther’s foremost interpreter in North America – and The Preached God (Eerdmans). I am sure you would have heard or read his writings, Dr Clark. The difference between Law and Gospel. is the difference between the preached-God and not-preached God. The preached-God as God Incarnate desires the salvation of all. But the not-preached God does all in all. The difference is therefore between theology and proclamation. Hence, the tension is not within systematic theology but between theology and proclamation. And furthermore, consistent with the *for you* that fellow Lutherans Nick and Nate have been highlighting as a Lutheran distinctive vis-a-vis the Reformed, Luther’s salvific will of God is not optative or a wish or desire as in the FoG but the promise of forgiveness of sins delivered in Baptism, Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. IOW, a fait accompli.

  26. Luther’s paradox is different from e.g. what some Reformed theologians such as John Murray espoused. Luther’s paradox is existential paradox rather than “philosophical” (i.e. within an overarching system). Hence, Luther’s *absolute* distinction between Law and Gospel, simul, hidden (not-preached) and revealed (preached) God, two kingdoms, etc. Like Nick, I too came out of the Reformed tradition. But unlike Nick, my experience and exposure was different because there are no confessional Lutheran (let alone strict subscriptionist) churches in Malaysia. Moreover, I never had the intention of abandoning my belief in double predestination having been exposed to De Servo earlier.

    My “crossover” really began when like Nate, I simply typed predestination and Lutheranism on Amazon because I was desperate to study the history and theology of predestination in Lutheranism which I could not find in-depth in the Internet. Hence, my exposure to the writings of Gerhard Forde and by extension, Steven D Paulson, Mark C Mattes, James Arne Nestingen, etc. began and also Oswald Bayer, Gustaf Wingren, etc.

    It’s interesting because these theologians’s ecclesial situation and mine are rather similar (ELCA and the Lutheran Church in Malaysia are sister denominations) and thus I found just the theological outlook and approach that was not bound to the BoC but went back to Luther (ad fontes Lutheri). Thus, I was able to combine my predestinarian concerns with Lutheran sacramental theology, to put it rather simplistically.

    • Jason,

      The Reformed distinction between theologia archetypa/ectypa is no more or less philosophical than Luther’s distinction Deus absconditus/revelatus. They are corollaries. The former was derived from the latter. Have you read my chapter on the well-meant offer? “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149–80.

      That distinction is foundational for Luther’s doctrine of the well-meant offer and for the Reformed. The latter consciously followed Luther when they spoke of the promiscuous offer at Dort. They were responding to moralizing rationalism inherent in the Remonstrants.

  27. “My “crossover” really began when like Nate, I simply typed predestination and Lutheranism on Amazon …”

    Oh dear, my apologies. I had originally wanted to say that like Nate, I too was on a quest for reformed/ evangelical catholicity. One which is “Augustinian” (predestinarian) and at the same time sacramental & liturgical. I found it in Lutheranism (although I don’t fully subscribed to the BoC – not on single predestination and the salvific will of God, universal grace) which only came home to me when I came across Lutheran Quarterly books. Before that, as an Anglican I was quite contented with my Prayerbook tradition and saw Lutherans as fellow Protestants.

  28. Nick –

    Actually it is possible for a Reformed person to know Lutheran theology better than a confessional Lutheran.

    I have known quite a few confessional Lutherans–some as long as 60 years, that have never even read the BOC. Some of the same folks couldn’t even explain the Lutheran teaching of the Sacraments, how they work etc.

    This also applies to some of the Reformed, that don’t sudy and read their confessions. I have known some Reformed that have never even read Calvin. You might be surprised at how many folks say they are confessional and don’t know anything.

    • Definitely understand the ignorance of some laity, but I wouldn’t actually consider someone confessional if they have never read the BoC. I took Mr. Loh to be referring to our confessional Lutheran tradition and teachers, and, perhaps, to the BoC itself.

  29. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 3:21

    Baptism does not save, but God will not save one who does not submit to the sign. There is no biblical indication of whether or not a person who has been compelled (i.e. an infant) to be baptized will be justified.

  30. “The Reformed distinction between theologia archetypa/ectypa is no more or less philosophical than Luther’s distinction Deus absconditus/revelatus. They are corollaries. The former was derived from the latter. Have you read my chapter on the well-meant offer? “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149–80.

    That distinction is foundational for Luther’s doctrine of the well-meant offer and for the Reformed. The latter consciously followed Luther when they spoke of the promiscuous offer at Dort. They were responding to moralizing rationalism inherent in the Remonstrants.”

    Dear Dr Clark,

    The distinction between the hidden and revealed God in Luther may have origins in the nominalism which Luther inherited, but Luther also appealed to Isaiah and other biblical passages too. In fact, Luther had more affinity with the Eastern distinction between cataphatic and apophatic theology. The hidden God for Luther is not a *concept* in systematic theology, but an *encounter* which causes the Christian to flee to the revealed God – pressing against God toward God. Hence, the “mysticism” in Luther’s theology (as confirmed by Heiko Oberman, Paul Rorem and other scholars) which broke away from the hermeneutics, including the theological anthropology, of the medieval tradition.

    IOW, one does not approach the distinction epistemologically but soteriologically. We can *experience* only the hidden God as wrath. This God does not desire salvation at all. “He” does all in all. In fact, Oswald Bayer and Christine Helmer have argued that one cannot even speak of the Trinity in relation to the hidden God because to cite the Eastern tradition, essence and energies breakdown … one cannot tell which from the other. The hidden God is “sheer power.”

    Thus in speaking about the Ezekiel 33, Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel means the passage where God says:

    “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

    It either means Law OR Gospel. If is interpreted in the sense of the FoG, it becomes Law. Luther is clear that a FoG-type of interpretation *implies* free will. In fact, the FoG was precisely Erasmus’ stance to which Luther was refuting. If Gospel. then it is a *promise* of the immutable God “standing behind or aligned to” or who “is now” the revealed God. IOW, The hidden God as sheer omnipotence cannot be explained away by theology but can only be the basis for the PROCLAMATION of the unconditional nature of the forgiveness of sins which is the Gospel. What was sheer abstraction now becomes a “for you” in reality, in the living present. Not an offer, a desire to save but salvation itself; a promise that does what it says and says what it does.

    As for the Canons of Dordt, as far as I know, the Counter-Remonstrants never appealed to Luther. And the PRC has made a case that the word offer in Latin (offero) does not necessarily mean the way it does in modern parlance or colloquial usage.

  31. I speak from experience. Living and studying in the UK, I have seen how ministers proud and steeped in the tradition of Welsh evangelicalism and revivalism proclaimed the FoG but at the same time one can sense the virtual impotence — simply because it is an offer. Indeed, the best offer in town … a kind of hawking Jesus. But this offer as no different from a human offer have to be accompanied by the Holy Spirit. I believe that the FoG and revivalist theology have not helped the promotion of the Reformation, not to mention their incompatibility. Of course you have Edwards the Great Awakening in America too. And yes, the Puritans, another sacred cow.

    This is not Luther’s Reformation discovery where sign and substance are one and the same reality in the living present here and now. The promise is not an offer. It does what it says, and says what it does.

    Liturgical theology shapes scholarly theology as much as vice-versa. There is a communicatio idiomatum between the two. IOW, the practice of Absolution shaped Luther’s understanding of God salvific will as much as vice-versa. In fact, as Robert Kolb has demonstrated, Luther derived his “doctrine” of justification from the sacramental nature and character of Baptism – which is part and parcel of the proclamation of the Gospel. The distinction for Luther is between theology and proclamation paralleling the distinction between Law and Gospel.

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