Dispy Free Gracers Implicitly Deny Grace Alone

I came across an article published online by the Grace Evangelical Society titled How Lutherans Implicitly Deny Faith Alone in Christ Alone.

I found this article to extremely misrepresent Lutheran theology. I also think that much of this is due to the presuppositions of the author's own theology. In short, if you are going to critique Lutheranism using Dispensational Free Grace Baptist definitions of theological terms, you're going to end up saying that Lutheranism is outright heresy. Using the author's stances on these things, Lutheranism teaches salvation by works and not only implicitly denies faith alone, but outright rejects it entirely.

Of course we know that this is not the case. We (Lutherans) like faith alone. After all, it was Martin Luther who brought this doctrine back to the forefront in Christendom.

The problem with the author's critique in this article is that he brings his own definitions of things to the keyboard, without bothering to interact with how Lutheranism (and Scripture) sees these theological topics.

First and foremost, the author's definition of what "faith alone" means and the Lutheran definition of what "faith alone" means are not the same thing. As I am familiar with Dispensational Free Grace theology, I can say that faith alone in this theology is essentially what boils down to a positive choice to believe that Christ is your Savior. Ultimately, justification in this theology is a mental assent to the truth. To be sure, this is not completely untrue. Christ is a real person who really died for our sins and rose from the dead for us. There certainly is propositional content here. The right things regarding Christ should be believed.

In Lutheranism, this is not how we formulate faith alone. Rather, we see faith alone as trust. Not so much to proper mental attainment, but rather trust in Christ alone that He has got us and we are His. The first of the author's critiques points out that he is not representing Lutheran theology or soteriology in a fair light.

The author states, "Unfortunately, unlike Free Grace Theology, the Lutheran tradition has not kept to faith alone in Christ alone, despite their stated intention. Indeed, I believe the Lutheran tradition has adopted a number of doctrines in direct opposition to justification/eternal life by faith in Christ apart from works. Let me give three examples:"

He then proceeds to give three examples where he thinks that Lutheranism has abandoned sola fide.

"Infant Baptism. The fact that Lutherans baptize infants denies justification by faith alone. Infants cannot believe and yet Lutherans claim that they are justified in the act of water baptism."

The first thing I will point out here is that this short statement betrays what I have already stated above: The author's theology is in rejection of the biblical doctrine of sola fide. Even more so, implied in the statement is that baptism is a work.

Let us phrase this as clearly as possible. It is no more possible for an infant to believe than it is for an adult with a fully developed cognitive reasoning. In fact, I would almost go as far as to say that it's more unlikely for an adult to believe, since even our reasoning is sinful. To be even more clear: We are all dead in sin (Eph 2). No one seeks God (Rom 3). And nobody can choose to have faith. Such is Arminian free will doctrine, and it is false. The author implies that adults can believe. One must wonder on what basis this is true? Is it because adults have a more fully developed sense of reasoning? If this is the case, why not deny original sin? I mean, seriously, our reason, intellect, and thoughts are sinful. They are even more so the more developed our reasoning gets. Yet the author would have us believe that it is these more developed sinners who can believe, and the infants cannot.

So in what light can we say that Baptism justifies? Well, in the same light as Romans 3:22b-25: For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

St. Paul says here that we are justified by His grace as a gift, which is received by faith. Baptism is a means of grace. Simple enough.

The point? It is impossible for anyone to believe apart from God's powerful working of grace.

"By baptizing people who do not have faith, the Lutheran churches effectively teach that justification is apart from faith, not by it."

This is simply false, but it takes a couple Scriptures to show this. First of all, I would think that the author would agree that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, as Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches. Here is where it gets sketchy for the author's theology. Where is grace given to fallen sinful people? Does his theology have any means of said grace? As I am familiar with Free Grace theology, I am confident the author here would answer that the means of grace are the Word of God and prayer. In the first case I answer a hearty Amen! in the second case I ask two things: First, where does Scripture ever equate prayer with receiving grace? Second, isn't prayer a work? So, if the unsaved person prays to be saved, didn't they do something to be saved? The author may answer then that God perhaps prepared their heart by grace to say a prayer to Him to be saved. But where is this in Scripture? Also, where is this grace coming from? Yes I know: God. But more specifically, by what means? God does not function in a vacuum. He does not regenerate people apart from means. He does not separate the natural world from the spiritual world. We are not Gnostics, after all.

The point is this: God extends grace to people through certain specific means. In this way we can know God is coming to us in grace and mercy on behalf of Christ to save us and not in wrath to condemn us. If there are no natural, tangible, and objective means of grace, our assurance of salvation will be destroyed. How can we know it was God? Are we sure it was the Holy Spirit leading us? Such is the glaring error of the Pentecostal movement.

The means of grace are simple: Word and Sacrament. Natural means that actually carry with them spiritual promises. Baptism is a means of grace, not a work done by us for God. And on we go to the author's second critique.

"Baptismal Regeneration. Paul chastised the Galatians for thinking that circumcision was necessary for salvation. And yet Lutherans insist that we must be baptized in order to be saved. Water baptism was as much a work of the law as circumcision (Lev 16:23-24). How can Lutherans teach that making circumcision a condition of salvation is legalism but making baptism a condition of salvation is not?"

There are a few things to say here. I would like to begin with Leviticus. The author is stripping a ceremonial washing under the Law out of its context and applying it to New Testament Christian Baptism in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I highly doubt that Aaron bathing himself for ceremonial cleanliness was Christian Baptism into the Name of the Triune God. Jewish ceremonial washings are not Christian Baptism. Case closed on that one.

This of course destroys the rest of his argument here regarding circumcision. Of all people, a dispensationalist should recognize the movement from promise to fulfillment. This is why the New Testament repeatedly uses salvific language when talking about baptism. Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27-29, 1 Peter 3:21, and Colossians 2:11-12, which actually states that Baptism buries us with Christ and raises us in faith. How can the New Testament use this language? Because grace saves, and Baptism is a means of grace.

Hence, the attempt to parallel circumcision to Baptism on a one-to-one basis is an error. Scripture never says that circumcision saves us, or buries us with Christ, or raises us in faith. But it does say all those things about Baptism.

"If Lutherans held consistently to faith alone in Christ alone, they would not make Baptism a condition of eternal salvation."

If we are to believe Scripture as it is written; particularly the passages that speak of what Baptism does, then this argument severely misses the point. To argue that Baptism is not a condition of eternal salvation is pretty much saying that grace is not a condition of eternal salvation. Moreover, if we are to believe Scripture, grace precedes faith. Grace first, faith results as a gift.

Of course, to be sure, it is precisely the powerful working of God that gives Baptism it's power. It's not the water per se. It's the Word of God working in and through the water.

"Loss of Salvation. Lutherans do not believe in eternal security...If Lutherans held consistently to faith alone in Christ alone, they would know that losing our salvation is impossible."

Except, Scripture is very clear that we can fall from grace, abandon the faith, be lost, and so on.

"If a believer commits a grave sin, or persists in sin, or has a lapse of faith, then they can lose their salvation, according to Lutheran theology."

The key word here is "believer." We know for certain that there are many people who are believers that later in life completely abandon the Christian faith and reject Christ altogether. The Free Grace proponent will say one of two things here. First, they may say that the person, despite abandoning Christ and becoming an atheist or some other nefarious thing, is still saved. Second, they may say that the person never really believed in the first place. The problem is, the Scriptures never once speak in either of these manners. On the contrary, Scripture speaks very sternly to believers that abandoning the faith is like, pretty bad. And stuff. Consider Hebrews 10:26-27, "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries."

Those are very strong words. I am sure our dispensational friends have some interpretation that says this only applies to Jews, or people in the tribulation, or other such nonsense. But the fact of the matter is that they are simply wrong here.

To be plain, the security of the believer if for believers. If someone is no longer a believer, they are no longer in Christ and thus not secure. All they can expect is a fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire.

"To see why, consider the explanation that Lutherans can give as to how a person can lose their salvation. The answer always involves something that the believer does...This is another way of saying that justification by faith depends on our behavior. But if our salvation depends upon our behavior, then justification depends in part on our works, and is not by faith alone."

This is just not true of Lutheran theology. Certainly we do affirm that it is us who decide to throw Christ away. I won't argue with that. However, the author here implies, without actually consulting Lutheran thoughts on the topic, that this means that we teach that we must have to do something in order to keep our salvation too. This is not Lutheran teaching. The only thing we can contribute to our salvation is sin. We are responsible for falling away, throwing Christ out, and so on. But GOD, not us, is who keeps us in the faith, saves us, and extends to us the grace needed for the journey. We are passive recipients in all of this. It is God who works in us. It is all grace (through faith).

To summarize, I believe the author has inadvertently mixed up the biblical order. I don't think there is any room in his theology for that other great sola; sola gratia, or grace alone. He seems to be working with a definition of sola fide that necessitates that grace is a reward for faith. The theological problems with this are legion. The most glaring one however is something that the author seeks to avoid: justification by works. If grace is a reward for faith, then faith itself is turned into a good work. The problem is identical when one considers the normal means of salvation in dispensational churches: Saying a prayer to receive Christ. Funny enough, by the author's insistence on sola fide (which is a different formulation of it than classical Christianity), he undermines sola gratia.

Most dangerously, he calls grace works. The Scriptures are abundantly clear about the salvific nature of Baptism (as well as the Lord's Supper, for that matter). By that standard, Baptism must by necessity be gracious. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), and only grace can work faith in an individual. Yet our author here separates faith from the means of grace and ends up regarding means of grace (specifically Baptism) as works.

Ultimately it is the author's theology that ends up being justification by works, since faith is in essence a work. It's something you do to be saved in Free Grace theology. Make a decision, say a prayer, and so on.

But thanks be to God, he has given us tangible, objective, and natural means of grace by which He saves us. He does not separate out the natural world from the spiritual as the Gnostics did, but He sanctifies the natural and uses it for spiritual things. If God can work through the preaching of the Gospel in sound waves from the voice of a preacher that is heard by the recipient in numerous languages worldwide (this is a natural means...it's Physics), then He certainly can work through other natural means like water, bread, and grape juice...err, I mean wine. ;)

Free Grace theology is aberrant and heterodox at best. It simply cannot deal with the massive amount of texts on grace, faith, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Word of God in a manner that is consistent with Scripture itself or the history of the Christian Church for 2000 years.

Restorationists need not apply here.