Uh...That Aint What It Says, Pelagians

It's pretty disturbing when people can make Scriptures means the opposite of what they plainly state. One such example is Romans 12:3, which I will post in a few different translations.

Ro 12:3 (KJV):  For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Ro 12:3 (ESV): For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Ro 12:3: (NASB): For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Pelagians love to rip this verse out of its context in support of an inherent ability to choose Jesus and be saved by that choice. The argument goes something like this:

According to Romans 12:3, God has given everyone universally an amount of faith. Now it is up to them to use that faith properly and put it in Christ.

But that's not at all what it says. First off, it's addressed to believers in the church. It's not talking about everyone universally.

Second, this interpretation goes against other clear passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 that says we are saved by grace through faith.

Third, there are other Scriptures that flatly deny this interpretation, such as:

2 Thess 3:1-2 (ESV): Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.

So, the Pelagians would have us believe that Romans 12:3 says that everyone has faith and just need to use it properly, but the same inspired author tells us in another writing that not everyone has faith.

On the contrary, this passage is addressed to believers, telling them not to think more highly of themselves that they ought to, because it was God alone who gave them that faith in the first place, and their brothers and sisters in Christ have been given that faith as well.

By grace. Not by nature.

Just another reason Pelagius and the folks who espouse the same crap he taught a millennium and a half ago are rightly considered heretics. Yes, even now.


Westminster Confession of...Fail.

Westminster Confession of Faith, XXIX: V

Of the Lord's Supper

The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.

There is Westminster regarding the elements in the Eucharist. Let us examine what they are saying here.

First of all, Westminster wants us to see that the elements in Holy Communion are related to Christ. So far so good. I don't think anyone would want to say other wise; especially in light of Christ Himself instituting the Supper. As stated, "The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified..."

The rest of the blurb is where Westminster goes off the rails. The next statement, "...truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ..."

So Westminster says that the elements are truly and sacramentally related to Christ, so much so that they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent. So, according to this, the bread and wine are related to Christ, so that they can be actually called the Body and Blood, because that is what they represent.

Here is problem number one. Is the Lord's Supper some sort of trick where we call the elements what Christ called them, but they really aren't them? Why would we, or should we, call the elements by the words Christ called them, if the elements only represent something? Was Christ looking to fool the Apostles at the Last Supper?

I get it. Westminster wants to retain some sort of Real Presence and actually have a Sacrament. The problem is, when you deny the Real Presence via rejection of Christ's words and set up a mere symbol instead (received spiritually by faith only WCF XXIX: VII), you have no Sacrament. If the Sacraments do not do the things that Christ said they do and are not the things that Christ said they are, then there is no Sacrament. Neither does our faith make Christ present. Christ IS present precisely where He says He will be present.

Westminster further clarifies this explanation in the final statement, "...albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before."

The key word here is only. Why is this so? Because Westminster is telling us that the bread and wine is only the bread and wine. NOT the Body and Blood of Christ.

What Westminster gives in one hand it quickly snatches away by denying the Real Presence. They want to affirm a Real Presence (all Reformed Theology does) and claim that the elements are Sacramentally related to Christ. But they are not what Christ said they are, according to them. So, the one thing that retains the Sacrament - the true bodily presence of Christ - is patently rejected by Westminster.

Ultimately, Westminster has no business using the word Sacrament in their doctrine of the Lord's Supper. In their own words, by their own statements, all they have is a bare memorial, despite their desire to keep the Lord's Supper Sacramental.

What do they have, according to them? Well, nothing more than bread and wine, and a pious remembrance of faith that looks to Christ in glory.

But not the Body and Blood of Christ truly present in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of their sins, which is exactly what Christ said it is.

Real Presence denied. Sacrament rejected.


High Priestly Hyper Calvinist Twisting Shenanigans

John 17 is commonly referred to as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. In it, there are some phrases spoken by Christ that Hyper Calvinism wrenches from the prayer and reads way more into them that what is actually said by Christ, thereby forcing their theology onto the text of Holy Scripture.

The specific verse to which I refer is John 17:9, which states: I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

To the High or Hyper Calvinist, they then read much more into this verse than what is actually there. They see this verse and say: See! Christ only prays for the elect alone and not for the world. In fact, He never prays for the world and always only prays for the elect!

But that is a major amount of assumption here; the Scripture in question here simply does not say that. This passage simply is recording a prayer of Christ. In this specific prayer, He certainly is praying not for the world. But it does not follow that He never prays for the world - He simply did not do so in this specific prayer.

We can especially see the error in this interpretation when we look at other Scriptures from the same Bible. For instance,

1 Timothy 2:1-4: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Surely, we would not be commanded to pray for those whom Christ refused to pray for, right?

And what about Luke 23:34?

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

I've seen High Calvinists deal with this text in two ways. The first way is to claim that it is a textual variant and that passage might not really be part of Holy Scripture. The second way I've seen is that they will claim that the ones Christ is praying for on the cross are elect. Yet, the text gives no indication of this one way or another.

Neither of these manners of dealing with the text are convincing enough to explain away the plain reading of Scripture here. The simple text is recording that Christ prayed for His persecutors while on the cross.

Calvinists also employ this exact way of thinking when doing exegesis on atonement passages.

John 10:11, 14-15: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep...I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

The argument made here is identical to the twisting job used in John 17. They read that Jesus laid down His life for the sheep, and surmise that this means that He did not lay down His life for the goats. i.e. Jesus died only for the sheep, and none else.

But again in this text, Jesus never says that He did not die for the goats. And this is especially relevant when we see that the Scriptures have numerous other texts that say that He died for the whole world (which ends up being described not in terms of individuals - which means 'whole world' does not mean every single person.) 1 John 2:2 is normative here:

1 John 2:2: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

So here we have two clear examples where Calvinist logic and reason is disproved by logic and reason; allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves.

Kinda makes these interpretations illogical and unreasonable, don't you think? More so, they are direct denials of God's Word in some places.

+Grace and Peace+


Continual Christian Exhortation To Do Better?

Do Christians need continual exhortation to be spurred on to better works and love of God and neighbor?

That's a big question, and one that I think has a clear answer. I answer this with an emphatic: NO! Of course, there are plenty of examples of exhortation in the Scriptures, so there is a time and place for it.

This is, properly put, a Law and Gospel issue. The Law exhorts and commands, whilst the Gospel promises and forgives.

I think, when we consider the options, some clear answers emerge. I posit that there are two types of people who need to be bashed over the head with the Holy Law of God on a continual basis.

First and foremost, the Law shows us our sin. Thus, those who are unrepentant need to be preached the Law for the main reason that it indeed does reveal that we have not kept it and therefore must repent. Hence, St. Paul can write such passages like this:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. ~Galatians 5:19-21

St. Paul here is clearly referring to unrepentant folks who engage in these things with no sorrow for their sin.

Those who are unrepentant need the harshness of the Law. No doubt about that.

The second type of person is the person that thinks they have made it and think they are doing such a wonderful job of living the Christian life that their works are better than other folks' works; even to the point of not sinning. They need the Law too, because in essence, they're unrepentant as well by way of denying their sin.

Those who claim they are in Christ and claim they do not sin need the Law preached to them continually. Why? They're liars. They do sin, and they're unrepentant of it.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. ~1 John 1:8-10

Those who are repentant and have a Godly sorrow for their sin, however, need the Gospel preached to them in all of its glory and sweetness. They need that one-sided divine promise that says that they belong to Christ.

So, I answer thus: Does a repentant Christian with a Godly sorrow for their sin need to be hammered continually with the Law and with exhortation to do more works? No way. This will accomplish nothing but leading them to despair. They are already repentant of their sins, and all that continual exhortation will do is serve to show them more and more sinfulness within themselves.

Give them, that group or repentant people, that good old sweet savor of the Gospel.

Grace and Peace


We Need The Gospel Too, Ya Know

The Gospel is the sweet savor of salvation for all those who believe. It's the verdict rendered in the work of Christ alone that says 'not guilty!' It is not milk for the babes, nor is it simply something we need to tell unbelievers. It's not something we can move beyond or move past. It's not something we can brush aside as we move on to bigger and better things, or deeper Christian concepts.

It's our lifeblood. It's Jesus.

As I see it, having been through numerous churches in my years, the Confessional Lutheran churches seem to be the only ones who practice this. Now, hear me out. I do not mean to say that there is no Gospel in Evangelical churches, or Reformed Churches, or Orthodox churches, or Roman Catholic churches. Because, you know what, there is. Wherever God's Word is proclaimed and Christ crucified is preached, there is some Gospel there.

But, we need the Gospel continually. The pastor, priest, or whoever is giving the homily or sermon is quite simply put not doing their job if they do not preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of all of our sins. Every sermon. And if they do not, they have just done the congregation a huge disservice.

We can never relegate the Gospel to secondary status. All too many churches and Christian believers categorize the Gospel as something they already know, so they think they do not need to hear it. What they really need, they surmise, are commands and instructions on how to live a holier life. Now, I grant you, Scripture is replete with commands on how to live. The Decalogue (10 commandments) is the prime example of this.

But...that pesky Law of God always accuses us and shows us that we have not loved the Lord our God with our whole heart, nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves. We need the Law. The Law is good! (Rom 7) And even more than that, we need the Christ who kept it perfectly on our behalf.

This is why, when we enter the Divine Service, we not only invoke the Triune Name of God by beginning our liturgy in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; but also why the next thing we do is confess our sins and receive a one-sided divine forgiveness through the office of the pastor. As surely as Christ has forgiven our sins, our sins are forgiven by those who stand in the stead of Christ in the office of the ministry. This is why Confessional Lutheranism retains private Confession and Absolution. Yet, this is also why Confessional Lutheranism retains private Confession and Absolution apart from works of satisfaction (aka the Sacrament of Penance in the RCC). The works of satisfaction bit in essence turns the Gospel right back into the Law, as the Roman parishioners are required to do works of satisfaction after Confession, and so on.

But I am not intending to make this a discourse about Roman Catholic Sacraments. Rome has written plenty on that topic, and we will allow Rome to speak for herself in this matter.

Back to the Divine Service. As we enter we are absolved. This is an entrance or introduction of sorts, as we prepare for the Real Presence of Christ in the reading of the Holy Scriptures. Lutherans sometimes relegate the Real Presence to the Eucharist, but in reality, we would be remiss to mention that Christ is present in the Divine Service through the reading of the Word as well. The climax of the Liturgy of the Word in the Divine Service is the reading of the Holy Gospel; the very words of Christ Himself.

Yet, after the reading of the Word, we move on to the sermon (or homily). Here is a bridge from the liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament, and the pastor has a simple, but also very difficult, task to accomplish here. The pastor's job in the sermon, every Sunday, is to deliver us the Law of God that kills us and shows us that we are by nature sinful and unclean and stand condemned before God. However, he is also bound to deliver us the Gospel. After preaching that Law, He is to preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins. The Gospel is not a crutch to bring us back to the Law. The Gospel stands by itself, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins because of Christ's merit, not ours. And done. That is a sermon.

Far from being some sort of "radical" Lutheranism, this is simply the pattern we see over and over in Scripture when the Apostles are preaching.

We need that forgiveness proclaimed every time we gather in the Divine Service in the presence of Christ Himself, angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven.

Here is where, as I see it, only the Confessional Lutheran churches stand tall and faithful. Most churches will offer not a proclamation of the Gospel in a sermon, but a guide on what God wants us to do, how to live, or how to do this or that. Most pastors will offer suggestions (from Scripture, in their defense) on how to better follow Jesus by loving God and your neighbor. If the Gospel is mentioned and preached (praise be to God when it is!), it generally is used to move us on to 'bigger and better' things. Like following the Law (commands).

But, that puts us right back where we started. In despair. We hear that Word of God in the Law. We hear those commandments on how to love one another and love God. And once again, we realize that we are in deep trouble. We try to do them. We do our best to honor God. But if we're being honest, we fall completely and utterly short.

Proper distinction and proper usage of the Law and the Gospel seems simple, but in reality, it's not easy. Our pastors have a difficult task of moving us from the Law that condemns us to the forgiveness of sins in Christ that saves us, apart from the Law.

We need the Gospel just as much as every non-Christian in the world today. We need forgiveness just as much as them too. The Gospel does this. It is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). The Law is not.

Nor should we revert to a sermon format of Law-Gospel-Law (in essence this is what Reformed Theology does). Nor is it just to preach the Law by either preaching strictly on works and holy living or even turning the Gospel into a command to be followed (this is essentially what Rome does). We need Law to accuse and kill, and Gospel to save and forgive. I am not denying the third use of the Law, and our Confessions uphold it in strong language as well. The Divine Service, however, is to give to us the forgiveness of sins, something which the Law, nor our living, can ever possibly do.

The Gospel. It's everything. And you, Christian, need it continually. Just like every other person in this world.

The Gospel is everything because Christ and what He has done is everything.

Grace and Peace


Right Doctrine is Super Vital. And Stuff.

I came across a quote on the www today by Charles Spurgeon, the great Landmark Baptist "Prince of Preachers," as he is so called. It states:

"Believing right doctrine will no more save you, than doing good works will save you." ~Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon

Let it be said from the outset that what Spurgeon says here is true. But let us also move on to what Spurgeon did not mean by it. To be blunt, Spurgeon was not downplaying the vital importance of right doctrine. I'm pretty sure all he was trying to say is that we are saved by grace alone.

Suffice it to say, I am in no way endorsing the Calvinistic Baptist theology of Charles Spurgeon. But it is very safe to say that Spurgeon himself was very strict in his doctrinal stances.

However, to the postmodern mind, Spurgeon's statement ends up meaning something entirely different. They see this statement and read it to mean: See? Even Spurgeon was not a hard core doctrine preacher! Even he saw that all we need to do is love Jesus, no matter what we believe!

They will say: diversity in belief within the church is a good thing, even to the point of accepting beliefs that are not anywhere close to orthodox Christianity. This is why men and women like Tony Jones, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Rachel Held-Evans have a big following and platform for their ideas within supposed Christian circles. Namely, these folks wave around the Name of Jesus and also think right along with our culture in a postmodernist fashion. In other words, people now days in the United States, being thoroughly postmodern, relate to these teachers and understand them.

It's also why sect and cult leaders of the past have found there way into mainstream Christianity. Ellen G. White (Seventh Day Adventism), Aimee Semple MacPherson (Four Square Pentecostalism), and to a far lesser extent, Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah's Witnesses), and even Joseph Smith (Mormonism) all find footing within mainstream Christianity. One needs to look no further than the mainstream Christian acceptance in some circles of Glenn Beck (Mormon) to see this. It's why rank heretics like Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and Bill Johnson are treated as mainstream Christians. We suck at doctrine, and the postmodernism of the culture tells us that it's OK.

To the modern (properly: postmodern) mind, these voices are prophetic. They speak in vague terms and never claim anything as absolute truth. That is exactly what our culture values: Acceptance of everything and anything in the name of love.

Here is what they miss: Jesus Himself, the God-man whom they claim as their Savior, said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6) Jesus states that HE IS THE TRUTH.

OK, so technically they don't miss that. But they do go on to say that we can't know anything with certainty, and so on and so forth. Thus we ought to be accepting and tolerant of other views; even welcoming them into fellowship. The end result is a melting pot (or a salad bowl) or all sorts of heterodox and heretical beliefs welcomed as things that are acceptable and even embraced in Christianity. Hence, men like McLaren can write a volume such as A Generous Orthodoxy, where much of everything is redefined to be orthodox Christian teaching, at the whim of McLaren.

Let's exaggerate this a little bit and flesh it out to it's logical conclusion. Let's back up to the Council of Nicaea in the early 300s A.D.

The major discussion at Nicaea was the deity of Christ. Arius, on one hand, posited that although Christ is God, He is not as much God as the Father, who created Christ. To wit: Christ is the first created being. Arius was condemned as an heretic in a way that our postmodern friends would never do today. The Council decided with Orthodox Trinitarian theology, and as a result years later, the Nicene Creed was formulated, which had its basis in the Council of Nicaea.

The culture we live in today very much so assumes the validity of postmodernist thinking. It's not cool to say someone else is wrong. It's the height of intolerance and arrogance, they say, because you're claiming to know absolute truth, and you can't claim that, because you don't know anything for sure.

You know what makes a perfect bedfellow with postmodernist thought? Here's a hint: It's a belief that rejects the absolutes of truth altogether and says that science and culture create truths. It's called Atheism.

Postmodernist Christianity is nothing more than an attempt to keep Jesus as Savior, but read Scripture, and indeed all of life, through a philosophy that is a perfect fit for Atheism. This is why movements (or a conversation, as they put it) such as the Emergent Church will fail. It is grounded not in Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins; not in Scripture as absolute truth given to us by God, but in an Atheistic philosophy. What fellowship has darkness with light?

Right doctrine is vital. Why? Let me make it simple. Christ is the Truth and true doctrine points us to Christ. Heterodox and heretical doctrines do not point us to Christ. They point us to falsehoods that are not of Christ. Thus, they point us away from Christ.

Heterodox and heretical doctrines do not lead us to Christ. They lead us away from Him. If you don't believe what Scripture says plainly, then you are rejecting the Word of God in that manner, and thus pushing yourself further from Christ.

Christ is Truth, and we must hold fast to what is true about Him, revealed in the Word.

It's not about how we live and how much we accept as Christian. This is as unchristian of an idea as anything else you'll find out there. But it is subtle in that it seeks to retain Christ.

Right doctrine; the truth about Christ and the Truth who is Christ, drives right living. Another way to say this is that orthodoxy drives our orthopraxy.

So why are Lutherans a bunch of stodgy old doctrinaire codgers? Because we realize this to be true. A little leaven leavens the whole lump, as St. Paul said in Galatians 5:9.

So when someone comes at you with the whole tolerance spiel in reference to heterodox (or even heretical) doctrine, you can know that this is definitely not a Christian idea. It can only serve to deny Christ, reject the faith by pointing us away from Him, or to turn Christianity into a mess that resembles eastern mysticism and spirituality.

But it's not, and never will be, Christian.

Grace and Peace


The Simplicity, and Depth, of the Gospel

This post is not intended to be a major theological treatise, but rather, a reflection of my own journey to the Evangelical Catholic (Lutheran) faith. Granted, in my reflection there will be (and must be by necessity!) some theological statements and claims.

One of the most important facets of Lutheran theology is the distinction between Law and Gospel. The Law kills, whereas the Gospel brings life. The Law cannot bring life, for that is not its function. It can only tell us what to do. To lapse into finding life in obeying commands is to lapse into legalism, and to lapse into finding assurance in your works is to lapse into a perversion of the Gospel itself.

In Christianity, only the Confessional Lutheran Church upholds this proper distinction, although many Continental Reformed Churches are doing pretty good at it these days. Notice, I did not say all Reformed Churches. The Puritans did a horrible job of this, and their influence in Reformed circles is enormous, even today. Some of the Continental Reformed folks do OK here though. I think of Reformed scholars like Michael Horton, for example.

As I made my own journey to the Lutheran Church, I was confronted with all of these issues, especially I was a staunch Calvinist for many years; even flirting with Postmillennialism and Theonomy along the way. I still to this day have a high regard for the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen in the arena of apologetics. I think he is amazing in that regard. Yet I also think his theology is bunk in many ways.

The Law killed me. Absolutely, positively, killed me. In my journey, especially through Reformed Theology, I was constantly seeing the Law as a bad thing. Yes, I know, Reformed Theology does not see the Law as a bad thing - no Christian Church does. But allow me to explain. As a Calvinist, I was forced by necessity to judge my election based on my obedience to the commands of God. I can hear the howls of protest from my Reformed friends now...

Why is this so? Well, there are two doctrines in Reformed Theology that push a person in this direction. They are the doctrine of Reprobation and the doctrine of Limited Atonement. To put it simply, the doctrine of Reprobation (aka Double Predestination) says that a portion of humanity is predestined to burn in hell, for lack of a better explanation. Limited Atonement says that Christ only died for those who are elect and will be saved.

Here is the problem: If those two things are true, how can you know you are saved? Well, you can't know that you're not predestined for heaven. You might fall away or have a false faith. In that case, you were never saved in the first place. You also can't know for sure if Christ died for you, well, because you don't know if you're predestined for heaven and might fall away or have false faith.

So where does one look for assurance in Reformed Theology? To their own fruits. To be fair, many Reformed people would protest this, and rightly so. Much of Reformed Theology teaches people to look to Christ, and that is a good thing. Yet, how can you not help but to look to yourself if Christ only died for certain persons? To act a little Reformed here, it's an irresistible logic.

From our Lutheran perspective, this is a confusion of Law and Gospel. To look to anything you do (Law) to have assurance of salvation is going to drive you to despair. Or pride. In other words, the thing that is supposed to clearly show your election in Christ either kills you or makes you sin even more by presupposing something that is not a foregone conclusion (if Christ died for you), or leads a person to thump their chest in the name of humility to know and say they are elect.

All of these things mingle the Law into the Gospel. The Law does not give us assurance. It only causes despair or pride.

It's not that I don't think that Reformed churches (and Baptist, and...whatever else) don't have the Gospel. They certainly do. It's that they obscure it by allowing the Law to be mingled in with it. They don't allow the Gospel, and only the Gospel, to do all the heavy lifting.

The despair however, is where it led me. And, I would argue, the Law driving us to despair is precisely what it should do. And when the Law kills you, it also shows you that you are completely and utterly helpless. And screwed. Royally screwed.

That is where the simplicity, and depth, of the Gospel comes in. The Gospel is something outside of us that gives us Christ and His promises, benefits, and work, as a one-sided divine gift. Christ for you, outside of you, clothing you with His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). He died for you (1 Jn 2:2).

And what's also awesome is that He gives Himself to us not only in His Incarnation, death, and resurrection, but also temporally, apart from ourselves. Not so much to make us better (although the Spirit comes in and the new man rises), but precisely because we suck and fall short. We fall short of everything. God demands perfection (Mat 5:48). We cannot meet it (Jam 2:10, Rom 3:23). We are sinful from conception (Ps 51, Rom 5:12-21).

The Law and the Gospel are both super important. Without the Law, we needn't be saved. Without the Gospel, we can't be saved. For it is the Gospel, not the Law, that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16).

Nor does God kill us with the Law to save us with the Gospel just to drive us back to the Law again (Gal 3:2-3).

Christ outside of us, for us, continually coming to us in Word and Sacrament for our salvation. Not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ alone has done.

Anything less than that rips the purity from the Word of God and strips the Gospel of its power to assure us that we are Christ's and He is ours.

Christ saves us. He says: I baptize you in the Name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mat 28:18-20). He says: Whoever believes in me is saved (Jn 3:16, Rom 10:9-13). He says, take and eat, take and drink, this is My body and blood, for you, for the forgiveness of your sins (Mat 26:28).

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8), does it all, despite of us, not because of us. And because God's Word is sure and God never lies, we also locate our assurance in these promises given to us in Word and Sacrament outside of us, spoken by God.

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5



Faith in Faith?

Interesting topic, this. I do think, when we look at this topic of faith and sola fide, that Lutheranism differs from the rest of Protestantism, including Reformed Theology, Arminianism, and good old mainstream Evangelicalism (i.e. Baptists and Methodists of all stripes. Yes, I know that is a huge group with all sorts of different stances).

How exactly is Lutheranism different in this arena? To see that, we must look at how different camps view faith. Rest assured, we are very different. I hesitate to even use the word "Protestant" when I speak of Lutheranism. We're not really Protestant; we're Evangelical Catholics.

The Difference

In Protestantism of all stripes, the main premise is simply this: Everyone that believes in Christ is saved. (Jn 3:16, Ac 16:31, Ro 10:9-13)

In Lutheranism it is this: I baptize you in the Triune Name of God. (Mt 28:18-20)

Does this mean Lutheranism discounts belief in Christ? Far from it! Rather, Lutheranism sees faith as something that is in the Word of God and simply receives and recognizes what is true. Therefore, we are baptized and thus saved, and we had better not call God a liar. He has spoken it. It is so.

Does this mean that Protestantism discounts baptism? Well, no. But the grounds of assurance of salvation is ultimately rooted in faith, which is subjective, and not in baptism, which is objective.

Thus, we could look at this topic in a sort of logical format. In Protestantism, the major premise is that everyone who believes is saved. The Protestant is thus pushed to looking to himself. In other words, the Protestant will say something like: I believe. Therefore I am saved.

The Lutheran on the other hand will look outside of himself and may say something like: I am baptized. God put His Triune Name on me in Holy Baptism. God always tells the truth. Baptism now saves you. I receive this truth from God because the Word says so.

The biggest difference here is that for Protestants faith is a very introspective sort of thing. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place for introspection, for sure. That being said, in Protestantism, whereas faith may indeed look to the Word of God (e.g. Jo 3:16, Ro 10), it ultimately ends up asking itself if it is really faith. In other words, the Protestant always comes back to around to the question: How do I know I have really truly believed - and therefore am saved?

Lutherans, on the other hand, look to the promise of God given in Baptism. We know we believe not because we believe, but because Christ gave us Himself on the tree of Calvary and then in our Baptism. God does not lie. I was baptized, but more importantly, I AM baptized.


Ultimately the biggest difference we see here is in Sacramental efficacy. Some Protestants affirm that the Sacraments are effective (the Reformed), but stop short of saying that the Sacraments are always effective. We could use the example of the Eucharist here. In much of Protestantism, the Eucharist is nothing more than a bare memorial of pious remembrance. In Reformed Theology, the believer communes with Christ in faith, but the unbeliever receives only bread and wine. In Lutheranism, the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for you, regardless of whether or not the person receiving it is a believer. Every partaker of the Eucharist receives Christ; in their mouth.

Lutheran Theology is very Sacramental, and hence, very objective when it comes to faith and salvation. We are saved (and know we are saved) because we are baptized into Christ, receive His true body and blood in our mouth for the forgiveness of sins, and are forgiven in Holy Absolution. In these ways, Christ is given to us.

Protestant Theology is not Sacramental, and hence, very subjective when it comes to faith and salvation. They are saved (and know they are saved) because they believe in Christ.

Hopefully this is helpful. It's a very rough sketch of the topic and volumes could be written about it. But this, as I see it, it a pretty accurate summary.

+Grace and Peace+


Baptism is for Oranges

The Council of Orange (529 AD) is a famous early church ecumenical council. There are a few major points we can draw from this council.

First, the council was utterly against all forms of Pelagianism. In other words, the dispute between St. Augustine of Hippo and the (probably) British monk Pelagius was discussed at this council. The council sided with St. Augustine on this issue; precisely because Holy Scripture sides with St. Augustine's stances in this area.

The other major thing we can take away from these canons is that Orange taught divine monergism and linked it directly to Holy Baptism.

CANON 1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was "changed for the worse" through the offense of Adam's sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20); and, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:16); and, "For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19).

CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam's sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).

Second, the council affirms baptismal regeneration and rejects double predestination.

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

CANON 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him "unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).

According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema. We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him. We must therefore most evidently believe that the praiseworthy faith of the thief whom the Lord called to his home in paradise, and of Cornelius the centurion, to whom the angel of the Lord was sent, and of Zacchaeus, who was worthy to receive the Lord himself, was not a natural endowment but a gift of God's kindness.

To conclude, it boggles my mind how Reformed Theology loves Orange so much. True, there are things in Orange that are compatible with Reformed Theology; such as the rejection of Pelagianism. On the other hand, the council is clearly against double predestination, which every form of Reformed Theology holds to, and is clearly in favor of baptismal regeneration, which Reformed Theology rejects. The council is favorable an compatible with Lutheran teaching (in light of justification and sanctification), and with Roman Catholicism (progressive justification), properly understood.

The Early Church councils are worth our time and effort. Orange is no exception. you can find the canons of the Council of Orange here: Canons of Orange 529


So You Wanna Tick Off A Confessional Lootran, Eh?

Top 10 ways to get under the skin of a Confessional Lutheran.

10. Tell them that oyster crackers and grape juice is communion.

Jesus used unleavened bread and wine, not oyster crackers and Welch's. We are foolish, foolish, foolish, to change the elements that Christ used. And by the way, we come to the altar to receive Christ, not sit in our pews and see if we're holy enough to actually partake.

9. Associate us with the ELCA.

The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is the largest church body in the United State that bears the name Lutheran. Problem is, they're not Lutheran, like at all. The ELCA is theologically liberal, and we cringe when they use the name Lutheran. They don't stand for anything that Lutherans have stood for throughout history.

8. Tell us that modern day Lutherans are really synergistic Philippists.

Ah, no. We already had this controversy back in the day between the Gnesio Lutherans and the Philippists (named for Philip Melanchthon, who sadly compromised a lot in his later years). The Formula of Concord solves all of this. We're monergists in the purest sense of the term.

7. Tell us that Baptism is just a work of obedience.

Go ahead, try telling us that. You'll probably end up getting about 20 Scriptures in response.

6. Tell us that Martin Luther wouldn't be a Lutheran if he were alive today.

Do you even Small Catechism, yo?

5. Tell us that we're really no different than Roman Catholics.

Well, we are. That's kinda why Luther got excommunicated by Rome. We have much in common with them, that is true. But we differ on some very big issues. Like the Gospel.

4. Tell us that Luther was really a Calvinist.

This one is common. The Reformed want to claim Luther. Too bad he flatly rejected much of Reformed doctrine, such as limited atonement, "spiritual" presence only in the Eucharist, and the denial of baptismal regeneration. He also later in life rejected double predestination. Luther was definitely not a Calvinist. Monergist does not equal Calvinist. Sorry, but Luther thinks you're heretics.

3. Deny the Real Bodily Presence.

Oh boy. You don't even wanna go there. This (the bread) IS (is, is, IS) MY (Christ's) Body. Jesus hath spoken. Nuff said.

2. Tell us that we deny sola gratia (grace alone) and sola fide (faith alone) because of our sacramentalism.

Wait a second. We LIKE those terms. Of course, when one sees baptism and communion as works of obedience, then they get the means of grace wrong. Are they even listening? WE LIKE THOSE THINGS! WE BELIEVE THEM! Baptism and the Eucharist are gracious, not works.

And the number 1 way to tick off a Confessional Lutheran...

1. Call me a Pietist.

Do it. I'll sin in response.


American Pelagians

Mainstream Christianity in the United States is very Pelagian - at least in practice. A recent survey by Christianity Today of Evangelicals has revealed that 68% of American Evangelicals believe that people seek God first and then He responds with grace. 67% agree that people can turn to God on their own initiative. Over half -55%- believe that we must contribute to our own salvation. And 18% said that God loves them because of the good they do or have done. I have provided a link to the article below, which also points out that Arianism is alive and well, as well as the denial of the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Evangelicals Favorite Heresies

I do think, however, that this result should not surprise us that much. After all, mainstream Evangelicalism has been severely influenced by humanistic methods and American ideals. The poster boy for Evangelicalism and the methods they use has got to be Charles Grandison Finney. The Mainstream Evangelical Church is held in captivity to many methods that originated with Finney and other preachers like him.

My point is, these Evangelicals believe these things because they are taught certain methods that are used to get people saved. They hear these methods week in and week out from the pulpit.

Functionally, Pelagianism relies heavily on a denial of original sin. the denial of original sin goes hand in hand with another doctrine that is nearly universally taught and assumed in Evangelical circles; the Age of Accountability.

When Evangelicals hear week in and week out that their infants and small children have not reached the Age of Accountability and only then are they responsible to make their own decision for Christ, what should we expect? Do the math. A person is innocent and thus saved until they can apprehend and understand their sin, the Gospel, and so on. And then, to be saved, they must make their own decision to follow Christ.

Where is grace in all of this? According to the Christianity Today poll, 68% of Evangelicals believe that grace is a reward or result of their own decision. We find God, then He helps us out.

Should we be shocked? No. Should we be outraged? Maybe. Should we be upset and saddened by these outright heretical teachings and beliefs? Absolutely.

The point is, they believe this because this is what the methods used teach them to believe. When you hear that you are saved by making a decision, saying a prayer, or coming forward for an altar call, what should we expect? It's all human initiative, and it's all unbiblical at best.

Traditional American values also play into this sort of theology. In America, we love the idea of individualism. We adore the "self-made man." We love to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and create our own destiny. So why not import those ideas in some form into the church?

What can rectify this situation? Well, theologically, Evangelicalism doesn't have the answers to this. This is for a few major reasons.

1. They minimize the Ecumenical Creeds. The Ecumenical Creeds (Apostle's, Nicene, Athanasian) properly read and understood would do away with the Arianism and the denial of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The shameful Word of Faith and Prosperity movement is a very big reason for the denial of the Spirit's personhood.

2. Their Ecclesiology is weak at best. They do not have a robust doctrine of the office of the ministry. A pastor in Evangelicalism is a hireling. It is not a divine call to preach Christ crucified and properly administer the Sacraments.

3. They do not have any Sacraments. This is a huge one. Evangelicalism rejects that the Sacraments are means of grace; divine gifts that deliver to us Christ the crucified. Where there are no Sacraments, Pelagianism is bound to take over. Where there are no Sacraments, the human will becomes the arbiter of salvation. It's not given to you. Rather, you must take it and appropriate it for yourself by your decision.

The Church catholic has always been creedal, confessional, and sacramental. Without the powerful creative Word working through sound, light, water, bread, and wine, we are left with an idea of grace as a nebulous thing that we get when we choose God. But how can we know we are receiving grace if it is not outside of ourselves and objective?

Thanks be to God, despite the outright Pelagianism and anti-Christian doctrines being taught in American Evangelicalism, God will have the last Word. His Church will be triumphant and He will continue to save people and lead us to everlasting life.



Romans 8:29-30: I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means

Romans 8:29-30 is a battleground text in Scripture. Differing theologies interpret it differently. I'm going to try to show what the verse says and what it doesn't say here. I'll do my best.

Romans 8:29-30 (ESV): For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

There it is. It's a heavy passage, loaded with some big time theological words. Foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. Our Reformed friends see this as a golden chain of salvation. And I think in concept they're correct here. It is certainly talking about that. Yet, I also think they push it too far as well. Our Arminian friends see this as God looking through the corridor of time and seeing who would choose Him of their own free will. This interpretation is pretty far from the mark, I think. It actually makes little sense when it is fleshed out.

I've also heard of another interpretation in the past tense that this is only referring to those who were in Christ before the book was written and after they died. Thus, those whom God foreknew would be those whom He knew in ages past, pre-St. Paul.

So then, what is it saying, and how far should we take this? How far is too far? I think it's fairly simple if we just allow this one to say what it says and not read too much into it.

It is clearly a promise of God and flows naturally from Romans 8:28, which states: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

So God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. And then, the promise of that is that He predestines all those He foreknows, and promises to call, justify, and glorify them as well.

So I think this verse is a very strong passage for the Lutheran dogma of single predestination insofar as it is promising that God will save all those whom He foreknows and has predestined. He promises to call them, justify them, and glorify them. If we would like, we could call these people the elect.

But what this passage does not say is anything about those who are unbelievers. It says nothing about them. So whereas we know that God promises to save the predestined people, and those are the only ones who are finally saved, it never comments at all on others. In short, this is not a congruent passage teaching that there is a group of people who are predestined to be damned. Likewise, it never says anything that these other folks will not be called by God and will never be justified. It never says God predestines them to hell.

To put it simple, the people who do not end up in glory can't say that God predestined them there for His glory, because the Bible simply does not teach that; certainly not here in Romans 8. And indeed, in other places of Scripture, God is said to "desire all people to be saved" (1 Tim 2:1-4), and that "the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people" (Tit 2:11), and "The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world" (Joh 1:9).

Likewise, looking to our predestination is foolish. Wondering if Christ died for us is also foolish, because He did. You're a sinner and a human, thus He died for you. He also elects us before the foundation of the world, but carries this election out via means of grace temporally in Baptism, the Word, and the Eucharist.

So what is the gist of Romans 8:28-30? Well, it's a blessed promise. Those predestined in Christ are saved and will be in glory. Predestination is a soft pillow for the believer in Christ. It says nothing about unbelievers.

Thus, while strongly affirming predestination, we refuse to go beyond what is written. We look to Christ and His work and gifts to us as our assurance, not our election before the foundation of the world, for that is only revealed through the means of grace that bring us faith in the crucified and risen Christ. Plus nothing.

Yes, I know, neither our Reformed friends or our Arminian friends like this line of thought. They argue that it has to be one or the other, logically speaking. But when Scripture offers us this paradox without a solution in Holy writ, we must affirm both.

Of course, Lutheranism is not against reason and logic, per se. We are simply against using it as a lens through which to build a systematic theology (Calvinism, Arminism, etc.). Where the Word speaks clearly, our answer is to be Amen! Let it be so!

Even if our feeble minds can't logically explain it or reason out way into a perfect reconciliation of texts. Inevitably, something gets twisted and denied when we do that. The Reformed affirm a predestination to hell (due to logic), and the Arminians pervert the entire meaning of predestination - not to mention the foolishness that results from rationalism of the Open Theists or the Hyper Calvinists.

Rest in Christ. Our election is in Him and is given to us objectively in Word and Sacrament.

Amen! Let it be so!


Becoming Lutheran

Why? Why am I a Lutheran? In this post, I'll attempt to answer that question, as well as give some background on how I got here. I am by no means a life-long Lutheran. Far from it, in fact. I wrote about this briefly before (From Calvinism to Lutheranism), but I intend to go a little deeper and give more of an explanation of my thoughts in this post and address more of the things flying around in my whirlwind of a mind.

I suppose I'll start from the beginning. I was raised in a Christian home with parents whom I respect and adore. My father was a pastor for many years in the Evangelical Covenant Church, although I also must comment that my dad was not Evangelical Covenant in theology (If there is such a thing. The ECC is open to pretty much anything these days.). He was a true blooded Baptist. He still is. And nobody studies the Word as much as that guy. So, suffice it to say, now as a Lutheran, I really don't agree with my father on many things within Christianity, but you're not going to hear me take shots at him. Far from it. Indeed, I am thankful and grateful for my Christian upbringing. My parents always tried to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

So, in short, I was raised in that environment. Baptist, pre-trib, dispensational, and so on. But mostly, I was raised to be a Christian, plain and simple.

I was baptized by full immersion in a lake when I was about 10 years old. It was Trinitarian, and my dad assisted in it. So, no need for me to be baptized again. ;)

Fast forward to 2007 or so. My wife and I had just moved to Michigan from Chicago and we ended up at a Bible Church in the area in which we lived. It was a vibrant church full of a lot of great people. They were big on weekday night studies in Scripture and I gained a lot from those. An inductive study on the book of Romans at that church was a big turning point for me. It led my fallen-away self back to the Gospel. But it also led me to the 5 points of Calvinism eventually.

You see, I have a very logical, mathematical, and scientific type of brain. Heck, I have a degree in Physics and taught high school Physics and Math in my life. That's just how I am wired. So, when I saw predestination all over Romans, my logical mind kicked in, and voila - Calvinism. When you take a doctrine like unconditional election (which is a true Scriptural doctrine) and jam your logic and reason onto it, everything else falls into place. Of course, when you do that, your primary operating assumption is the absolute sovereignty of God. Or we could say, that was my material principle. I interpreted everything in Scripture through that lens and made Scripture fit with the doctrine of election and predestination.

But I made one big faulty assumption. Where does Scripture itself tell us that the material principle and primary assumption is the hidden decree of God? Where does it ever even hint that is the central principle by which we should interpret all of Scripture. To put it bluntly, it never says that anywhere. Not to mention, there are other logical deductions that go hand in hand with that assumption. Namely, there are many Christians out there who are just confused and deceived. That's a logical deduction. They might not be elect. In other words, they might be non-elect, which is an idea that Scripture never uses, despite the rational sense it makes.

A logical mind like mine hates paradox and other things that I can't reconcile. I like to be able to figure it all out and put it into a neat little system where it all makes perfect sense and flows logically. Calvinism did that for me. I started with God's decree before the foundation of the world (heck, why not start at the beginning, right?) and saw everything as an outworking of that. Hence, you have the elect and the non-elect. You have those for whom Christ died (the elect) and those for whom Christ did not die (the non-elect). You have those whom God loves (the elect) and those whom God hates (the non-elect), or whom He only loves due to His "common grace," as many Reformed Theologians say. It all makes sense when you start with the hidden decrees of God and work from there.

Yet, the Holy Scriptures are full of paradox and things that we have a very difficult time reconciling. This does not mean that they can't be reconciled, but it does mean that God's ways are higher than our ways. Paradox is completely acceptable in theology, contradiction is not.

But there were a couple huge problems. God's Word says a lot of things that go against these doctrines, and God's Word must have the final say in these matters. This naturally led me to the work of Christ. Christ Himself is the key to the entirety of Holy Scripture, not God's decrees. Christ must be at the center. Christ must also be at the beginning. Where Calvinist Theology is very linear, starting at God's decrees, Roman Catholic Theology is very much grounded in Apostolic Succession and the magisterium of the Roman Church, Lutheran theology is like ripples on a lake. Christ is at the center, and all theology goes out from there, like the circular waves made when an object is dropped into water.

Recognizing that Christ is at the center of everything brought me to a couple huge questions: What did Christ do for us and how does He give it to us. Both Calvinists and Lutherans affirm that it is Christ alone that saves us.

The work of Christ is central. When we look at that in Scripture, it's very plain that it is available -and for- everyone universally. Far from resulting in free-will theology, this fact simply makes Christ's work, given by grace alone, universally available. Scripture says as much, stating in St. John 1:9,  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. And again in Titus 2:11, For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. But nowhere does Scripture ever add to those passages, "but only if you choose it."

That draws us headlong into the discussion of how God gives us that universally available grace. Scripture answers this as well.

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 6:3-4: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 10:13: For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Colossians 2:12: having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

1 Peter 3:21: 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

St. Matthew 26:26-28: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

And so on. Per the Holy Scriptures, grace is given to create faith in the finished work of Christ. We are saved by grace through faith. How is this grace given? Simply put, through various means. They are the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution (St. John 20:23).

Lutheranism affirms all these things. It parrots Scripture. Is this a case of "we believe it but you don't?" Well, sort of, and that's a common criticism now days - to act offended when someone challenges your beliefs. (Postmoderism...grr...) We must however, allow God's Word to have the last word. We must allow God's Word to speak for itself and not try to rationalize something systematic on top of it to make it fit. Not dispensationalism, not covenant theology, not free will. None of that. We start with Christ. We end with Christ. The Bible is about Christ.

The second big problem was Church history. Reformed Theology loves to claim St. Augustine. But he was anything but Reformed. Sure, he held to double predestination like the Reformed, but he also held to baptismal regeneration and falling from grace. In short, the early church was never Calvinist. Many Calvinist doctrines were never taught by anyone in the early church. The Council of Orange (529), which Reformed folks love, actually condemns double predestination and upholds baptismal regeneration. And more importantly, Scripture bears this out because it does not teach double predestination and does teach baptismal regeneration.

On a final note, I must address one other issue that has popped up lately. I've been accused of being arrogant lately, multiple times. I've also been accused of thinking that nobody but Lutherans are saved. I apologize if my tone is not always amicable, but I will never apologize for standing firm in what the Scriptures state.

First of all, it's never arrogant to stand on what Scripture says. I think all Christians would agree. The charge of arrogance is leveled when you stand on something plainly written and someone doesn't agree with you. The true accusation is that you think you're right and they're wrong and that is arrogant.

Secondly, I have *never* even hinted that people outside of Lutheranism are unsaved. That would be a form of neo-Gnosticism (salvation by knowledge). We're saved by grace alone. There are saved Lutherans, saved Calvinists, saved Roman Catholics, saved Baptists, and so on.

I certainly am harsh on theologies that deviate from Scripture. I absolutely am. Why is that so? Plainly put, any doctrine that is in error regarding Christ will lead people away from Christ, not toward Him. The more we get Christ wrong, the less Christ looks like Christ and the more He looks like an impostor. There are numerous cults out there that claim Christ and are not Christian at all. The same principle applies to any church. The more the false doctrines creep in, the further a church gets from Christ. Eventually, it's not even Christian.

The point is, true and pure doctrine drive proper faith and practice. Wrong teachings cannot bring us closer to Christ, only further away.

So in that light, I will continue to be someone who boldly proclaims truth and does not hesitate to call out error.

So why am I a Lutheran? Because it's true.



Lutheranism and Election

Much has been written about the doctrine of election in Christian circles. It is clearly one of those topics that divides entire church bodies. Generally the topic of election and predestination gets presented as a wrangle between Calvinists and Arminians. But this is not the only way to see the doctrine. In fact, every church body has a stance on the issue. And well they should, considering it is in Scripture.

We do believe, as Confessional Lutherans, that both the Calvinists and the Arminians rationalize the doctrine in opposite directions, both deviating from Scripture in some aspects. Calvinists affirm the biblical teaching of election, but then go too far and concoct a parallel doctrine of reprobation. In some circles, they even hold to a crazy doctrine called Equal Ultimacy, which is essentially Hyper Calvinist. So, we should paint all Calvinist doctrine as holding to Equal Ultimacy. That would be not only unfair, but crass misrepresentation. On the other hand, the Arminians completely redefine the doctrine of election and in essence deny it altogether in favor of human choice. At the far end of the spectrum in the human choice camp are the Pelagians who deny original sin and the Open Theists, who deny essential attributes of God taught in Holy Scripture.

From my perspective, I would tend to see Open Theism (and Pelagianism) and Equal Ultimacy as equal and opposite errors. Both are dreadfully wrong because they both do away with attributes of God.

Confessional Lutheranism sees all of these as deviations from clearly revealed Scripture. Both the double predestination of Calvinism (not to mention Equal Ultimacy...shudder) and the denial of the doctrine altogether by redefinition of Arminianism (and Open Theism and Pelagianism...yuck) are erroneous.

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord answers this well.

Solid Declaration, XI, 13-22

Therefore, if we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably concerning eternal election, or the predestination and ordination of the children of God to eternal life, we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the bare, secret, concealed, inscrutable foreknowledge of God, but how the counsel, purpose, and ordination of God in Christ Jesus, who is the true Book of Life, is revealed to us through the Word, 14] namely, that the entire doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation should be taken together; as Paul treats and has explained this article Rom. 8:29f ; Eph. 1:4f , as also Christ in the parable, Matt. 22:1ff , namely, that God in His purpose and counsel ordained [decreed]:
15] 1. That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless [innocency] obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.

16] 2. That such merit and benefits of Christ shall be presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments.  

17] 3. That by His Holy Ghost, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, He will be efficacious and active in us, convert hearts to true repentance, and preserve them in the true faith.  
18] 4. That He will justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith, and will receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life.  

19] 5. That He will also sanctify in love those who are thus justified, as St. Paul says, Eph. 1:4.  

20] 6. That He also will protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, and rule and lead them in His ways, raise them again [place His hand beneath them], when they stumble, comfort them under the cross and in temptation, and preserve them [for life eternal].  

21] 7. That He will also strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work which He has begun in them, if they adhere to God's Word, pray diligently, abide in God's goodness [grace], and faithfully use the gifts received.  

22] 8. That finally He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified.

There are a few important things we can pull from Concord here. First, God's election is carried out by specific means (the classical Calvinist would affirm this too). These means are not to be sought in God's decree (which is hidden) but in the Word and Sacraments. Therefore, God elects people through Baptism, the preached Word, Holy Absolution, and the Eucharist. This the classical Calvinist would have a hard time affirming due to their doctrines of the Perseverance of the Saints and Limited Atonement.

This is to say that while God elects in eternity past (Eph 1:4), this is carried out temporally through the finished work of Christ being delivered to us objectively in Word and Sacrament. God elects in Baptism, in the preached Word, in the Eucharist. And this is all God's working, completely monergistic. It is God who saves us in our baptism. In fact, baptism of infants is the perfect example of divine monergism at work. A helpless infant, completely dependent on others for its well-being, is saved unilaterally by God in their Holy Baptism.

In short, the Formula is compelling us to look to Christ and the effective gifts that he gives for our election. Look outside of ourselves to that finished work of Christ on the cross given to us in Word and Sacrament and rooted in the immutable character of God and His promises, for God does not lie and His Word means what it says.

Yet, we also must affirm the other side of the coin. The Saxon Visitation Articles, an appendix to the Book of Concord, are not an official confessional document, but nevertheless address the flip side of the coin. They are written contra-Calvinism.

Here is what is affirmed in the Saxon Visitation Articles regarding predestination.
1] That Christ died for all men, and, as the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the whole world. 

2] That God created no man for condemnation; but wills that all men should be saved and arrive at the knowledge of truth. He therefore commands all to hear Christ, his Son, in the gospel; and promises, by his hearing, the virtue and operation of the Holy Ghost for conversion and salvation. 

3] That many men, by their own fault, perish: some, who will not hear the gospel concerning Christ; some, who again fall from grace, either by fundamental error, or by sins against conscience.

4] That all sinners who repent will be received into favor; and none will be excluded, though his sins be red as blood; since the mercy of God is greater than the sins of the whole world, and God hath mercy on all his works.

Thus, while affirming eternal election in strong terms in the Formula, we also affirm the following aforementioned doctrines. Christ indeed died for everyone. Yes, even Judas and Pharaoh. He also desires to save everyone. In the third article we reject the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance.

And here is what we reject regarding Calvinism's doctrine of election.
1] That Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect.

2] That God created the greater part of mankind for eternal damnation, and wills not that the greater part should be converted and live.

3] That the elected and regenerated can not lose faith and the Holy Spirit, or be damned, though they commit great sins and crimes of every kind.

4] That those who are not elect are necessarily damned, and can not arrive at salvation, though they be baptized a thousand times, and receive the Eucharist every day, and lead as blameless a life as ever can be led.

We reject limited atonement. We reject double predestination. We reject the Calvinist doctrine of perseverance. And we reject the idea that predestination is carried out apart from means.

In short, God's election, while done in eternity past, is carried out temporally through Word and Sacrament. And since Christ died for YOU, you can know with certainty that the Sacraments are also for YOU. Limited Atonement points a person to themselves, since Christ's death is only for certain people.

Here is the kicker: These means of grace are universally available to everyone. (Titus 2:11) God desires to save everyone (2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4).

Paradox? Yep. but Scripture teaches both. This is where God's Word stands and speaks. We had best affirm both sides of the coin, lest we deviate from the Holy Scriptures.