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.