Roman Catholicism on Justification by Grace Alone

A friend of yours who is a Roman Catholic asks you the following question: “When I hear descriptions of the Reformation, I usually hear that the distinctive feature of Lutheran theology is that we are justified by grace alone.  But my church also teaches that we are justified by grace alone.  So is there any real difference between us on this part?”

To be clear the Reformation distinction is more nuanced than just saying we are justified by grace alone.  The distinction is that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and that we know all of this by Scripture alone.  The Calvinist reformers typically add that all of this is to the glory of God alone.  The word alone is spoken in all of these prepositional phrases to stress that our individual works, or merits, are completely void in our salvation.  Grace does not involve our works.  Faith is not our work.  Christ’s work alone is where our faith clings for salvation.

This is not what Rome means when Roman Catholics speak of being saved by grace alone.  For Rome, our works are still involved in our justification.

To demonstrate this point directly, one can look at the Council of Trent’s Cannons on Justification:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).

And…

“If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema” (Canon 14).

Anathema is a very strong word.  It means accursed or eternally condemned.

Such statements reject the Reformation teaching that justification is completely void of our works.  A rewording of Canon 9 from the negative stance to the positive would state that “something else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that this is in every way necessary.”  To my knowledge Rome never states directly that we are justified by grace and works, but such statements push one to such a conclusion.  To demonstrate in more detail how Rome teaches that our works are involved in justification, one only needs to look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on this doctrine:

Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man” (CCC, par. 2019).

“No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods” (CCC, par. 2027)

In the first quote from the CCC, it is plainly stated that justification includes not just the remission of sins, but also sanctification and the renewal of the inner man.  This definition of justification points us not to the work of Christ alone for our justification, but instead it turns us inward on ourselves.  How am I doing?  Am I progressing enough in sanctification?  Am I experiencing this inner renewal day by day?  When we are honest with ourselves and uphold the full instruction of God’s commands and demands for us, such an inner turn for our justification can only lead to despair.  Since in Rome’s definition of justification, the work of Christ alone and his righteousness are not the sole means by which we are justified, we lose all assurance, confidence, and certainty of salvation.  The second quote I provided from the CCC details this further with the clear words that “we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life.”  Merit by definition involves my works, and according to Rome, I am even capable of working to merit the graces necessary for the eternal life of others too!

These graces that I can merit are found in the seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. Concerning the graces of these sacraments, the CCC states:

“The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions” (CCC, par. 1131).

Here the CCC stresses that to receive the graces proper to each sacrament one must receive them with the required dispositions – this again involves our merit, our work.

In Reformation theology, justification is the work of God alone.  Our work, or merit, or required disposition, is not a qualifier for our justification at all.  In Reformation theology, justification is instantaneous – at the moment of faith – a person is declared justified, declared righteous in God’s sight on account of Christ’s righteousness, though we are still sinful.  Sanctification in Reformation theology, unlike in Roman Catholic theology, is distinct from justification; in Reformation theology, it is not part of justification, but in Roman Catholic theology it is, as was previously quoted from the CCC.  Sanctification is a process, a life-long process of becoming less and less sinful, more and more like Christ and his image of perfect righteousness.  This process is not always a constant upward motion of increased holiness.  There are dips and valleys in this life-long process of sanctification, which is in Reformation theology is viewed as the process of becoming what we were already declared to be in justification.  This process is never complete this side of heaven.

This proper distinction of justification and sanctification in Reformation theology gives the person who has received God’s grace through faith the assurance and confidence that his or her sins are forgiven, because on account of Christ’s innocent, bitter suffering and death, that person is truly forgiven – instantly at the moment of faith.  In Roman Catholic theology, because there is no proper distinction between justification and sanctification, one cannot look to Christ’s saving work through his death and resurrection alone.  The person must look at their process of growing in holiness as the gauge of their justification.  Since the person will always have sin in his or her life and since God alone is the true judge of righteousness, the Roman Catholic who believes the doctrines of the papacy will have no assurance, no comfort, and no confidence of his or her eternal salvation.  This wreckage to our certainty of salvation is what inserting our work into justification always produces.

Metcalf’s Definition of Original Sin in Response to Sam Harris

R.C Metcalf has written a counterpoint to Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation.  In this article, I will only address Metcalf’s presentation of original sin within his counterpoint, not his entire rebuttal to Harris’ open letter.  Metcalf introduces the Christian doctrine of original sin into his rebuttal as a way of pointing out that mankind is by nature prone to sin as a way of illustrating that we have a greater problem than just needing to be concerned about the promotion of morality as a way to increase human happiness and lessen suffering.  Metcalf understands that we need a full restoration of humanity, a solution that only God can provide.  Moving forward in this paper I will focus on evaluating Metcalf’s description of original sin and his method of persuading Harris to accept original sin. I will make this evaluation on the basis of the Lutheran Confessions, which I believe to be an accurate exposition of the teachings of Scripture*.

First, I want to address Metcalf’s description of original sin.  Metcalf writes, “We are not all born with the burden of Adam’s specific sin pressing down upon us.”  On the contrary, we are all born, even conceived, in a state of guilt having inherited a sinful nature that comes from Adam’s specific sin.  Article I of the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord states, “As a result of Satan’s seduction through the fall, human beings, in accord with God’s judgment and sentence, have as their punishment lost the original righteousness with which they were created” (Kolb, p. 536.27).  This punishment is defined in the same article as such: “The punishment and penalty for original sin, which God laid upon Adam’s children and upon original sin, is death, eternal damnation, and also “other corporal” and spiritual, temporal, and eternal miseries, “the tyranny and domination of the devil”’ (Kolb, p. 534.13).  As such, “this inherited defect is guilt, which causes us all to stand in God’s disfavor and to be “children of wrath by nature” because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, as the Apostle testifies in Romans 5[:12]” (Kolb, p. 533.9).

Second, Metcalf expresses that original sin is “an inherent tendency toward sinful behavior; a sense of selfishness that yields a desire to promote our own personal happiness.” Metcalf’s use of the word tendency lessens the severity of our sinful disease that invades all of our humanity. He even closes this section by stating that we have the capacity to do good, it’s just that “we do not have the capacity to only do good; we must also sin.” This is another point in which Metcalf is in error, since the inherited defect of guilt in original sin is not just a “tendency toward sinful behavior.”  This defect places us all in a state of total depravity, so that we by nature cannot approach God or do anything to please him in any way apart from God’s work in us to produce any goodness.  Original sin is not just the tendency for us to sin; it is the cause of our sin.  The Apology of the Augsburg Confession in Article II explains that we have only two options concerning our relationship to God due to Original Sin: “For our weak nature, because it cannot fear, love, or believe in God, seeks and loves carnal things; it either despises the judgment of God in its complacency or hates it in its terror” (Kolb 115.24).  In other words, we are bound to sin and are incapable of doing good by God’s standard.  To be accurate, we can speak of our doing good by the standards placed upon us by our society or culture, but not by the standards of God.  This is another flaw in Metcalf’s description of original sin – there is no clear definition of morality, most importantly there is no clear standard for absolute, universal morality.

Third, I want to address Metcalf’s approach to convincing Harris of the reality of original sin.  From Harris’ open letter, he assumes that Harris won’t accept the words of the Apostle Paul on this issue, so he adopts the approach of speaking of evolutionary theory and his perception of evidences of selfishness in all of us from birth.  This is the wrong approach to convincing someone of original sin.  Metcalf is trying to reason with Harris using observations of our human experience to bring him into a recognition of original sin, however, reason alone cannot lead to a knowledge of original sin.  In Article I of the Third Part of the Articles of the Smalcald Articles of the Lutheran Confessions, it is confessed, “This inherited sin has caused such a deep, evil corruption of nature that reason does not comprehend it; rather, it must be believed on the basis of the revelation in the Scriptures (Ps. 51[:5] and Romans 5[:12]; Exod. 33[:20]; Gen. 3[:6ff.])” (Kolb p. 311.3).  Understanding original sin is not optional, because our view of the cross is directly related to our view of sin.  Article II of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession explains this point stating that “we cannot know the magnitude of Christ’s grace unless we first recognize our malady” (Kolb, p. 117.33).  Despite Metcalf’s assumption that Harris won’t accept Paul’s words, those words are exactly what Metcalf must share and what Harris must hear in order to be convicted of sin so as to receive the only true solution to our predicament of suffering – the sweetness of the Gospel message received in saving faith.

Finally, knowing that it is through the revelation of God in Scripture that one can alone come to the knowledge of both sin and God’s saving grace, one must opt to defend the truthfulness of this doctrine through the use of Scripture.  This is not done by convincing people that everyone is selfish from birth through anecdotes of crying infants… the truthfulness of this doctrine is defended by defending the truthfulness of Scripture by pointing people to the reality of the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.  As the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ is not raised, then the Christian faith is a lie.”  We do not have to trust that Scripture is the Word of God by its description of itself apart from other evidence as Harris suggests Christians and all religious adherents do of their sacred texts.  Christians can approach the New Testament Gospels as historical documents.  We can see that their text has been reliably transmitted to us today.  We can see that they are internally consistent and that their authors intend to convey factual information that they claim to have seen firsthand or that they are relaying the testimonies of people who were eyewitnesses.  We can see that there are no competing testimonies from the first century, and that the Jews and Romans who both had the motive and the means to disprove the testimonies of the Gospel writers and the apostles could not produce the bones of Jesus.  The best that they could do was persecute the apostles and the other believers in an attempt to shut them up!  Such persecutions were unable to stop them from speaking their witness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins.  They had no earthly reason to fabricate this message – to lie – especially under such physical and emotionally distress of physical death. We can trust their testimonies and thus the words of Christ they record for us in which he affirmed the Old Testament Scriptures to be the Word of God and gave his seal of approval on the teachings of the apostles that were to come (the New Testament Scriptures).  We can then trust that the Scriptures are the Word of God and thus believe the revelation of Original Sin that can be known from Scripture alone.

* For Bible verses on Original Sin please watch my video: “Scripture Verses for Original Sin”

Book of Concord quotes from the following translation:

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000)

Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation

Metcalf’s Counterpoint

In the person of Christ, God died!

The following is a scenario that is anticipated to arise in a Bible class discussion of Jesus of Nazareth’s death.

Andy: (Referring to the following verses on a class handout: John 3:16-17, 1 Tim 2:5-6, Romans 5:18, 2 Cor. 5:14-15, Hebrews 2:9, 1 John 2:2, John 12:32, 2 Peter 2:1) Scripture teaches that on the cross, the Son of God died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.  This is in opposition to the Calvinist teaching that Jesus only died for those that will be with Christ for all eternity.

Jesus' DeathBill: Andy, I agree that Scripture teaches universal or general atonement, but I have a question about your statement that the Son of God died.  Technically, the Son of God only died according to his human nature.  Isn’t that right?

Andy: That’s a good question. I’ve heard this question before from someone who sent me an email after reading my book.  He questioned a line that I wrote in which I said, “In Christ, the divine nature was put to death with his human nature.”  Let me get a gauge here with where everyone is at on this concept, how would you respond to that statement?  “In Christ, the divine was put to death with his human nature.”  True or false?

Nancy:  I would think like Bill… that Jesus only died as a human, not as God.

Jack: Yea, it was only as a human that Jesus suffered and died, not as God.

Andy:  Why would you say that, Jack?

Jack: Because God can’t be tempted, God can’t get tired, God can’t get hungry, God can’t bleed, God can’t die.  And so that’s why Jesus had to become human, so that he could do these things to be our savior.

Andy: Is that what you are thinking too Nancy and Bill?

Nancy and Bill: Yeah.

Andy: Does anyone want to answer true?

Megan: I think the answer is true, because Jesus is one person with two natures.  He’s fully God and fully man.  That’s why I’ve heard him called the God-Man.  It seems that what happens to Jesus happens to both natures.

Andy:  What Megan has stated does express how the historic church has understood the union of the two natures of Jesus.  Jack was right when he said that it is impossible for God to be tired, hungry, thirsty, tempted, and killed.  So Bill and Nancy, you too are correct on these points, except in Jesus, the divine has assumed a human nature, and according to that human nature, God can experience what would be impossible according to his divine attributes.

Bill:  So because of the union of the divine nature and human nature, is it safe to say that God was entirely dead?

Andy:  Yes.  But only in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (the 2nd person of the Trinity) did God die.  The divine nature did not die in the Father or the Holy Spirit, when Jesus died.  From the moment of the Incarnation, when the 2nd person of the Trinity assumed a human nature, the divine and human natures became united so as to not be separated from his personhood – ever.  If the humanity of Christ is put to physical death, then so too is his divinity.  Since Jesus is fully God, we can say God was tired, hungry, thirsty, tempted, and killed in the person of Christ (the 2nd person of the Trinity). These feelings and experiences were experienced by Jesus in accordance to his human nature, yet due to the union of the natures the divine nature experienced them too.

Bill: So since Jesus’s divine nature could die when he took on a human nature, does that mean his divine nature was in some way reduced?

Andy: We might think that could be the case, but that’s not what Scripture teaches.  The attributes of humanity that Christ experienced of which the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot partake occurred because Jesus allowed them to occur, because he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but instead he humbled himself and chose not to make use of his divine attributes or retain the glory due to him because of his divinity.  In other words, the divine nature did not receive human attributes with the union of the two natures in the person of Christ.  That would be a reduction of Jesus’ divinity, which we know did not occur.  If his divinity is reduced, he could not be our savior.  Does this answer your questions?

Bill:  Well, I guess I have one more question.  Another reason why I thought that Jesus’s divine nature did not die is because Scripture to teach that Jesus holds all things together.  That’s what Colossians 1:17 says, and Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus upholds all things by the power of his word.  If Jesus died as you are saying, and it makes sense that he died with the way you have explained that death occurring to the person, would his death interrupt his ability to hold all things together by His powerful word?

Andy:  That is a very good question, and it is one that I have considered.  There were certainly signs that the universe was falling apart as the Lord of Glory was dying on the cross, such as the darkening of the sky and the earthquake at his death, so there appears to be some indication that his death did impact his role of holding all things together.  However, we know that the Father and the Holy Spirit did not die.  They could have held everything together.  I also know that before his resurrection, Jesus descended into the prison to proclaim victory.  He wasn’t there suffering.  He could have been holding things together then.

I also know that when we speak of salvation, we speak of Jesus being our savior, because Scripture speaks like this, but we also know that the Father and the Holy Spirit work in our salvation.  The Father sent the Son.  The Father accepts his sacrifice.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, gives us faith, and preserves us in that faith, and sanctifies us.  We typically speak of the Father as the Creator, yet we know that Jesus worked in creation, as did the Holy Spirit.  My point here is that just as we typically credit one person of the Trinity with a particular work, as Scripture does at times, we also can see that the other persons are also at work in that way in some capacity.  Therefore, the Father and Holy Spirit could be at work in holding creation together, not just Jesus.  Examples I can think of are that Scripture speaks of God (the Father) giving rain and sunshine to both the righteous and the wicked and giving every good gift in life to us (is that not part of holding creation together)?  Also, Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as giving us life (physical and spiritual).  That physical life is an aspect of holding creation together.

That’s the best I can do to address the question about who was holding creation together as Christ was dying in respect to both his divinity and humanity being put to death for our salvation.  And that’s the best I can do to answer that question based on what the Lord has revealed to us in Scripture.

Bill:  That all makes sense.  Thanks for answering my question.

Andy: I’m glad you asked it.  It seems that others had similar thoughts and it is good to work through these questions, because the union of the divine and human natures in Christ are vital to him being our savior.

Megan:  And why is that?

Andy: As the God-Man, Jesus alone was able to redeem mankind from its sinfulness. Being fully divine, he was able to fulfill God’s standard of righteousness. Being fully man, he was able to be tempted and die in our place, suffering hell eternally on the cross. Now that may not make sense, but since Jesus is fully God, he could suffer hell eternally in a short time span; God after all can do all things. And since Jesus is fully God, he was able to die as a replacement for all of mankind. In Christ, the divine nature was put to death with his human nature. The death of God is valuable enough to serve as a vicarious atonement for all of mankind, past, present, and future. No other religion can claim such divine redemption, because no other religion was founded by God incarnate.

Megan:  That makes sense.  Thanks.

Andy: Any more questions on the person and natures of Christ?  If not, we’ll go back to our study of Christ’s atoning death for all of mankind.


In the above discussion I drew upon three kinds of communication between the two natures and the person of Christ and his saving work.  They are the genus idiomaticum (the kind of communication that pertains to the attributes of the natures to the person), genus maiestaticum (the kind of communication that pertains to the majesty of Jesus’ divine nature to his human nature), and genus apotelesmaticum (the kind of communication that pertains to the natures to the work of the person).

In the genus idiomaticum, the attributes of the divine nature and the attributes of the human nature are both communicated to the person of Christ.  This communication is what I was drawing upon when I spoke of the person of Jesus having attributes that come from both attributes.

In the genus maiestaticum, the attributes of the divine nature communicate to the human nature so that the human nature may receive divine attributes.  This communication is one way; the divine nature does not receive attributes from the human nature, otherwise, Jesus would not be divine.  This communication is what I was drawing upon when answering Bill’s question of if Jesus being able to die meant there was a reduction of his divinity.

In the genus apotelesmaticum, both natures are always at work in whatever the person of Christ does – or in the question at hand, in whatever is done to the person of Christ, both natures are involved – even when dying.

Random Theology Terms Part 1

The following is a partial list of terms that I needed to know for a theology test.  Some of the terms are defined from tertiary sources found online, some from notes I took in class, and others from a peer in the class with me.  Enjoy reading through this random list. 

Accidents and Substance according to Aristotle

Substances are the ultimate things in the universe – typically these are nouns – people and things.  Accidents are the features of the substances.

Altered Augsburg Confession

The Altered Augsburg Confession (Lat. Confessio Augustana Variata) is a later version of the Lutheran Augsburg Confession that includes substantial differences with regard to holy communion and the presence of Christ in bread and wine.

Authority (primary authority, secondary authority, tertiary authority)

A Primary Source offers first-hand evidence on the subject you’re investigating. Written or created by an eyewitness or participant, it presents an insider’s perspective. For example:

  • Diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, speeches
  • Journal articles reporting original/new research or findings

A Secondary Source is NOT the original source. Written or created after the subject you’re investigating, it offers interpretations, analyses, or criticisms of primary sources. For example:

  • Journal articles that review an existing body of scientific literature, rather than describe new research
  • Biographies
  • Historical studies
  • Reviews (e.g. movie, music, play, art, etc.)

Tertiary Source synthesizes information from other sources–primary and secondary–and presents it with relevant context. For example:

  • Reference materials (e.g. encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, etc.)
  • Textbooks

Calling or Vocation

One’s God given roles through which God works to care for and provide for his creation.

Catechism

A catechism is the summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.

Catechism’s components

Luther’s Small Catechism

Section 1- 10 Commandments, Creeds, Lord’s Prayer, Sacrament of Baptism, Confession, Sacrament of the Altar

Section 2 – Daily Prayers

Section 3 – Table of Duties

Section 4 – Christian Questions with their Answers

Commands of God or Virtues of Christian life

God’s will for his creation.

Confession (as understood by Lutherans)

Two Terms/ideas

  • Confession: to say again.  A statement of belief which summarizes the whole teaching of Holy Scripture in addition to serving as a hermeneutical guide for understanding Scripture, the World, and the Christian’s place in that world.
  • Also means to speak/admit one’s sins in order to receive absolution.

 Confessional subscription

To subscribe to a confession or confessional statement means to attach oneself to that confession and make it one’s own.  The LC-MS requires its pastors to subscribe to the Confession of the Book of Concord stating they believe it is a proper understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures.  The two main types of subscription are quia and quatenus subscription (SEE BELOW).

Contradict – They Can’t All Be True

A book written by Andy Wrasman, published by WestBow Press in 2014.

 Corpus doctrinae

This term, meaning “body of doctrine,” is used for a collection of writings that was meant to summarize authentic apostolic teaching and doctrine.

Creatio ex nihilo

God created all things out of nothing by his spoken word.

Ecumenical creeds

Ecumenical creeds is an umbrella term used in the Western Church to refer to the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed and, less commonly, the Athanasian Creed. The ecumenical creeds are also known as the universal creeds.

The Apostle’s: Foundation of the Christian faith.  Believed to be an early baptismal creed.  Clearly articulates the identity and roles of the three persons of the trinity.

Nicene: Creed created in response to Arianism and later refined to combat Pneumatomachians.  Affirms the divinity of Son and Spirit.  Further expounds details of Apostle’s Creed

Athanasian creeds: Expounds comments on particular theological issues.

Epistemology of faith (or epistemology of Saint Paul, 1 Corinthians 1)

Epistemology is the study of knowledge.

Paul outlines four areas of knowledge:

  1. Empirical (Experimental) knowledge
  2. Logical (Reason) knowledge
  3. Aesthetic (Having to do with beauty) knowledge
  4. Authoritative knowledge (Knowledge above) – above all other knowledge.  This is God’s knowledge which must be trusted and taken without question.

Fear of God

Luther explains the fear of God using this analogy of his son: “little Hans knows I love him, but he also knows I’m much bigger and stronger than him and can whop him clear across the room if I so choose”

 Gnosticism

Greek religious movement that emphasized secret knowledge for its initiates.  Gnosticism had and has many variants.  Gnostics commonly emphasized a radical distinction between the material world (which was evil) and the spiritual dimensions (which were good).

Furthermore, this belief had an influence the early Christian Church.

God as defined in Luther’s Large Catechism, Creed, first article

Anything you fear, love, and trust above all else.

Law

The will of God for his creation.  Often times this is defined as God’s commands and demands.

Thomas Aquinas’ four types of law:

  1. Eternal Law – Exists in the mind of God.
  2. Divine Law – The part of eternal law that has been revealed (Namely the Ten Commandments).
  3. Natural Law – The law of the universe that is discernable by human reason (Paul reverences this in Romans- Law written on their hears).
  4. Human Law – Application to natural law in a specific context/situation/culture.  Ex. We have Laws in the USA.

Natural law

Will of God for creation which is best summarized in the Decalog (Ten Commandments).

Ninian Smart’s seven component parts of all religions

Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (private and/or public) (often regarded as revealed)

Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human’s place in it.

Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss (private)

Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation (public)

Ethical and legal: Rules about human behavior (often regarded as revealed from supernatural realm)

Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form

Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural

Original sin

AKA – Inherited Sin.  From Adam’s fall, the sinful nature was beget to all humans, so that we are by nature sinners.

Quatenus

Definitions:

  1. how far/long?, to what point
  2. since
  3. to what extent
  4. where
  5. while, so far as

I subscribe to the Book of Concord quatenus (so far as) it is a faithful exposition of the teachings of the Bible.

Quia

Definitions:

  1. because

I subscribe to the Book of Concord quia (because) it is a faithful exposition of the teaching of the Bible.  

Relationship of the first commandment to the other commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism

All the commandments are essentially a breaking of the first commandment.  When a person lies, cheats, steals, kills, covets, or commits adultery, he is ultimately putting his fear, love, and trust in something or someone else over the fear, love, and trust that is rightly due to God alone.  Essentially – idolatry is the root problem of all sin.

Relationship of Scripture and the Book of Concord

Scripture is the Word of God.  The Book of Concord is a faithful exposition of the teachings found in the Book of Concord.

The Bible norms the confessions.  The confessions norm our teachings and practices.

Relationship of the spiritual and material realms of creation

The Spiritual and material realms are God’s way of working in the world. Lutherans are often accused of dualism here, but that is a blatant misunderstanding of Luther since these realms intersect in the life of the Christian and the life of the church.

  • The Spiritual realm involves things pertaining to God such as confession and absolution, the sacraments, the word of God, and Christian individuals who are called to a higher virtue of loving their neighbor.
  • The Temporal or Material realm includes government, commerce, and the laws of the world which are used primarily to curb evil rather than to point an individual to God.

Regula fidei

Rule of faith.

Subjective – everyone has a rule of faith that they run with

  • But this rule of faith must be in submission to Scripture
  • As to confessions the rule of faith has a flexible guide
    • This flexible guide shifts to the needs of the people
      • Confessions don’t always address the concerns of the day
      • Is it Left Behind? Is it speaking in tongues and spiritual gifts?  Is it transgender issues?  It depends.

Operative rule of faith

  • A rule that one would write for his current situation to operate by

Righteousness, human

Being in a right relationship with one’s neighbors and within one’s society.  A person can be righteous in the human sense, but not in the divine.  To be in a right relationship with God, a person must have faith in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

Spirit of Augsburg

  1. Evangelical – tells the Good News of Jesus Christ
  2. Eschatological – sees itself as part of Christian witness in these end times (the Antichrist is present in the office of the Papacy)
  3. Ecumenical – yes, even though the LCMS thinks this is sometimes a dirty word
  4. Edicatory – imparts knowledge intended to be used for helping others grow
  5. Evangelistic – desires to share the Word of God with others

Symbol (as document)

From the second century on Christians have expressed the biblical faith in summaries that served to identify the church’s public message.  The Greek word symbol – a technical word for creed – identified the function of such summaries of church’s teachings as its identifying statement of belief, purpose, and mission.

Tables of the law

The “First Table of the Law,” then, describes our fear, love, and trust of God, our exclusive worship God, our prayers, and our hearing the Lord’s Word.

The “Second Table of the Law,” beginning with the commandment “Honor your father and your mother” gives shape to our love for our neighbors.

Unaltered Augsburg Confession

The original text of the Augsburg confession written by P. Melanchthon for the Diet of Augsburg on June 25th, 1530 A.D.  Also called the Confessio Augustana Invariata: the original text of the 1531 edito princeps.

Later editions “watered down” chief principles of this confession which permitted a “spiritualized” view of the Lord’s Supper.

Valentianism

The gnostic heresy of Valentianism was a dualistic sect. Founded by an ex-Catholic Bishop by the name of Valentius, he taught that there were three kinds of people, the spiritual, the psychical, and the material. This meant that only those of a spiritual nature (his followers) received the gnosis (knowledge) that allowed them to return to the divine Pleroma (totality of Divine Power). Those of a psychic nature (the ordinary Christians) would attain a lesser form of salvation, and that those of a material nature (the pagans and the Jews) were doomed to perish.

Valentinus (also spelled as Valentinius, c.100 – c.160) was the best known and most successful early Christian gnostic theologian for some time.

Walks of life (estates)

Luther saw all of human life ordered across three spheres of structured relationships: the politia, the oeconomia, and the ecclesia. These indicate government and state, the household and economic human interactions, and the church. Each estate or sphere is ordered hierarchically (thus the alternative designation, “the three hierarchies”). In each estate there exists a set of hierarchically structured relationships that organize human life under God’s care. The top of each hierarchy stands God himself who endows those ruling and governing in the given hierarchy with their given authority. The basic premise of all hierarchies is that the authority that subsists in each is finally divine.

Luther’s Small Catechism – What is it good for?

When asked what is the best resource for teaching the Christian faith and way of living to youth today, a doctrinal book written in 1529 that was designed for fathers to use to instruct their children in proper Biblical beliefs and living probably doesn’t pop into most people’s minds as their go to source.  I’m of course referring to Martin Luther’s, Small Catechism.  He wrote it after a shocking visit to the congregations of Saxony in which he found that not only the laity, but also the pastors, didn’t know the basic tenants of the Christian faith – most not even able to say the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer.  In terms of their Christian living, you wouldn’t even recognize that they were Christians with the license to sin at will approach they took that abused their Christian liberties afforded in the Gospel.  To rectify this situation – ASAP – Luther wrote his Small Catechism and Large Catechism.  The Small Catechism was designed for parents to instruct their children in the home. The Large Catechism was designed as a resource book, explaining the doctrines of the Small Catechism in further detail.  His instruction worked wonders in Saxony and it can still do the same today.

Small Catechism.jpg

The Small Catechism is so effective for teaching the Christian faith because it names and explains the meaning of all the doctrines necessary for one’s salvation in succinct, easy to remember and recite statements.  In the first section of the Catechism, Luther wisely used three critical texts as the means to accomplish this goal: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Presented in this chronological order, Luther set-up a sequential flow from Law to Gospel to Christian living.  Luther presents the Ten Commandments as the accusation of the Law.  This accusation charges us as having broken God’s will for our lives and places us in a state deserving of God’s eternal wrath.  The Apostles’ Creed is presented as our confession of what God does for us – namely saves us through the work of God the Father in Creation and sending his Son Jesus who redeemed us and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us through gifting us with faith and preserving that faith through the Word and Sacraments of the Church.  The Lord’s Prayer is taught as our prayer for God to do these things through us – namely do the work of salvation.  Next, in this section, Luther gives instruction on baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, means by which God presents himself to us today in the Church, giving sinners his grace.

Sections two and three of the Small Catechism pick up on the points of section one to address how we should live in our day to day lives as members of society.  Section two contains daily prayers that focus and guide our everyday activities to be sanctified by God’s Word and prayer.   Section three contains the Table of Duties that lists and explains our various callings in life to serve our neighbor as God’s priestly people.

Again, all of these sections present these doctrines in succinct and to the point language, while directing readers to clear Biblical passages from which these teachings arise.  And again, all of these teachings cover the definitive doctrines of the Christian faith for believers to be found in a right relationship with God and their neighbors, and Luther’s presentation is such that anyone can take these truths and share the faith with others.

 

 

 

Creeds! What are they good for?

The following is an example of an all too common conversation that arises when certain Christians encounter confessional subscription for the first time. 

Lucy: Hey, Andy, I know you are studying at a Lutheran seminary.  I was hoping you could explain to me what just occurred during this installation service for Pastor Forde.

Andy: (Starts to nod yes to give a reply, but is cut off.)

Lucy: During the service, the pastor said he confessed the Bible to be (she throws up her fingers for air quotes) “the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”  But then he also pledged himself to the creeds and the Lutheran Confessions.  Then he promised that everything he would do as a pastor would be (throws up her fingers for air quotes again) “in conformity with Holy Scripture and these Confessions.”  This seems like a contradiction.

Andy: How so?

Lucy: It seems to me that the promise he made puts the Confessions on the same plain of authority as the Bible.  Is this correct?

Andy:  No.  That isn’t correct.  Before I answer your question, let me first share with you what the Confessions are, so that you know what it is he subscribed to believe to be in conformity with Scripture. The Lutheran Confessions are called The Book of Concord which contains the three ecumenical creeds of the Church, the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasius Creed, as well multiple documents written during the 16th century during the Reformation: Luther’s Small and Large Catechism, Philip Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession and Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s Smalcald Articles, Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Authority and Primacy of the Pope – in which he calls the office of the pope the office of the Anti-Christ – it’s awesome!  You’ll love it Lucy – and the Formula of Concord, which was written by many authors.

I can give you more information on any of these writings, if you would like them, but to answer your question; what the pastor just subscribed to was that he unconditionally recognizes that these writings are a correct exposition of the Bible.  In other words, The Book of Concord accurately represents the teachings of Scripture.  It is not “the infallible rule of faith and practice.”  Instead, the Confessions are normed by “the infallible rule of faith and practice” – the Bible.

Lucy: Do I understand you to be saying that these Confessions are true only insofar as they represent accurately what is in Scripture?

Andy: Some Lutherans might be open to accepting such a subscription, but my church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, expects our pastors to subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions not insofar as they are a correct exposition of the Word, but because they are a correct exposition of the Word.

Lucy: To my way of thinking this still seems like splitting hairs.  It appears as if the Confessions are being raised to the level of Scripture.  Why is it necessary to have the Confessions?  In my Church, we don’t believe in creeds or have confessions; we just believe in the Bible.

Andy: I understand how this can be a bit confusing to you, as I do understand how this might seem as if we are adding words to the Bible, since you are not familiar with confessions or their use.  I ensure you that’s not what we are doing, and I might be able to help you understand how we are not doing this by pointing out that you just shared a creed of your church body.

Lucy: I didn’t share a creed.  We only believe the Bible.

Andy:  That’s your creed.  (Pausing to let it sink in)

Lucy: …That’s not a creed.  It’s an anti-creed.

Andy: A creed is simply a statement of belief.  You believe that creeds are not necessary for a church body to have and confess, but that is a statement of belief, thus creedal.  Essentially, everyone has creeds.

Lucy: So maybe what I’m asking and really wanting to know is, why isn’t the Bible enough?  What task or function do the Confessions play that make them necessary, or really important?

Andy: Great questions.  When we consider the Bible, it’s not that large of a book, but certainly there are many interpretations that emerge concerning it, wouldn’t you agree?

Lucy: Yes.  I know that you Lutherans believe that baptism saves you, but I reject that idea entirely.

Andy: That’s an example of division in the Body of Christ.  And from my experiences, when discussing this teaching, both sides of the debate end up using the same verses.  When I point to verses that I believe demonstrate the promises of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation that God has given to us in baptism, Christians from your position typically say those verses are about spiritual baptism.

Lucy:  That’s right.  My church body would say such gifts are received in Spiritual Baptism when we receive the Holy Spirit and faith – or when we are born again.

Andy:  Because of these differing interpretations and the different hermeneutics – rules of interpretation – that bring forth these contradictory teachings, confessions are necessary and helpful.  They place a stake in the ground concerning what one understands to be the proper interpretation of Scripture.  You and I both would agree that we what we believe is found in Scripture, but we believe different things are taught by Scripture.  For instance, how would I know what you and your church body believes concerning the Bible, since all you believe is the Bible?  Would I have to read the whole Bible?  And then because of different hermeneutics, I still likely wouldn’t arrive at knowing what you believe when you say, “I just believe the Bible.”

Lucy: You’d go to our church website and you can find our “What We Believe” page.

Andy:  And when I click on it, would the page simply show a picture of a Bible, or would it take me to the entire text of the Bible, since that’s “just what you believe?”

Lucy: (Pausing a moment in thought) Are you suggesting that our “What We Believe” page functions as our Confessions.

Andy:  Yes, I am.  And I think when you understand that, you’ll understand more fully the function of confessions. I’m sure you believe that your church’s “What We Believe” page is in submission to Scripture.

Lucy:  I do.

Andy: And as such, that page and the beliefs found on it, are a helpful tool for you to share your faith with others.  It’s a good summation of what you (throwing up air quotes with his fingers) “confess” to be true as a Christian – even though the Bible is (again, throwing up air quotes with his fingers) “the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”

Lucy:  I’m glad we’re having this conversation.  I’m understanding creeds and confessions in a brand new light.

Andy: Thanks for taking the time to understand our position and use of the Lutheran Confessions.  We certainly don’t want anyone to think that we are adding to or taking away from Scripture with our use of creeds and confessions.  I think it is also helpful to understand the origins of confessions.  Many scholars consider 1 Corinthians 15 to contain an early church creed.  Paul says that what he first received he passed on to the Corinthians as of first importance.  As I said, creeds are useful for sharing and teaching the faith with others, because they formulate what is in Scripture in precise statements that Scripture doesn’t always do for us.  The idea then is that Paul received this instruction when he became a believer and then he used that instruction to pass the faith on to others.  It’s a very simple creed: “Christ died for sins, was buried, and raised on the third day according to Scripture,” and then a list of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Lord is given.  If someone were to ask me what the Gospel is, I’d use that creedal statement that in this instance, interestingly, goes back to before Scripture was even written!

Lucy:  Are there other reasons creeds and confessions are used, or other reasons they were formulated besides simply confessing and teaching?

Andy: I do think we take for granted much of the doctrines we know in the Church today.  For instance, if I looked on your church’s website’s (throwing up air quotes) “creedal page,” I imagine that I would find statements about the Trinity – God being three persons, yet one God.  That doctrine and the wording we use to describe the nature of God is not clearly defined or formulated in Scripture.  We can see that all three persons are fully God in Scripture and we can see that Scripture is clear that there isn’t three Gods, so what do we do with that?  Well… thankfully, the early Church handled such problems for us by formulating doctrinal statements on the Trinity – a word that is not in the Bible by the way.  The Church was forced to do such work, because they recognized that teachings were emerging that were against the witness of Scripture.  Because the saints that have gone before us have done such work formulating the doctrine of the Trinity, such as what is recorded in the Nicene Creed, we don’t have to and that creed can serve as a boundary marker for us on what is correct and incorrect concerning the person and nature of the Triune Lord.

Lucy:  So what do you do if a new controversy or false teaching arises that isn’t addressed in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church?

Andy:  I’m glad you asked.  The Confessions can serve as a flexible guide that shifts to the needs of the times, since the Confessions don’t always address the concerns of the day.  For instance, a couple of decades ago, the book series, Left Behind, sparked a lot of conversation concerning the return of Christ.  The Lutheran Confessions don’t directly make statements on the Rapture or the Millennium found in Revelation chapter 20, yet they do provide guidance on what is allowed and not allowed to believe concerning such matters by the boundary markers they set concerning how we can interpret Scripture.

Lucy:  It is interesting that you mention that example, because when that series was so popular, our church made an addition to our “What We Believe” page.  Do you think your church body would ever add or update your Confessions to meet the needs of the day?

Andy:  It is possible.  We however have the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) that provides study documents, opinions and statements on theological issues that are not directly and specifically addressed by the Confessions in our current context.  Their reports serve as guidance to the pastors and congregations in our church body, but pastors are not bound to subscribe to them as they are the Confessions.

Lucy:  This is all very fascinating.  Thank you for taking the time to explain the Book of Concord to me.

Andy:  I’m glad you found my answers helpful.  Let me send you a text message of an image I have saved that I think will serve as a good summary of what we’ve discussed that you can use as a tool to help explain this conversation to others in your church.  I probably should have pulled this up at the start of our conversation. (Sends text message)

Lucy: (Opens message and sees the following image)

Creeds and Confessions