Thursday, July 8, 2010

Catching Up on My Reading...

While putting a book away, an older periodical dropped off the shelf.  When I picked it up to return it to its place, I saw the title of an article that I had not yet read (thanks to those who put their table of contents on the cover).  It was "Why Luther Is Not Quite Protestant" by Phillip Cary (of Eastern University) and it is from the Fall 2005 issue of Pro Ecclesia.  I started reading it and I am glad I did.  You may check it out here if you do not subscribe to this journal.

I am not going to post all of the article here.  Suffice it to say that Cary examines the logic of faith in a sacramental promise.  In other words, he spends his time comparing and contrasting the role of faith and the promises of God that form the means of grace.  He sees in Luther something not quite in keeping with the way Protestants generally see things.  This is the catholic Luther (the only real Luther) who does not make faith itself the primary foundation upon which conversion, baptismal regeneration, absolution, and the Lord's Supper are based.  According to Cary this is, at least in part, the reason why there is "no revivalist tradition native to Lutheranism" and why the revivalist tradition of Protestantism is foreign to Lutheran understanding of the working of God and the faith that apprehends His work.

For Protestants (read this Calvinists, especially), the certainty of salvation rests upon faith.  Cary has put it this way:  Whoever believes in Christ is saved (major premise); I believe in Christ (minor premise); therefore, I am saved (conclusion).  But for Luther it did not work this way.  For Luther, justification does not require either a conversion experience or a decision.  These are acts of the will that detract from Christ and His work.  The minor premise in all of Luther's approach is "Christ never lies but only tells the truth" - not "I believe..."

So for Luther the certainty rests not on MY faith but on CHRIST and His Word/Promise:  It looks like this, according to Cary:  Christ said "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (major premise); Christ never lies but always tells the truth (minor premise); therefore, I am baptized (I have new life in Christ, I am saved, etc.) -- conclusion.

The sacramental Word is wholly external.  There is a great difference between having faith in Christ and depending upon that faith for your new life, justification, and salvation.  The efficacy is in the sacramental Word and not in the faith itself.  This is key to Luther and the key difference between Lutherans and the Protestants.

This is especially pointed when it comes to sacramental absolution.  Calvin thought it wise and good pastoral practice to offer private absolution but not as a sacramental act.  Instead, Calvin saw this as a conditional statement -- conditional upon faith in Christ -- but for Luther this is the unconditional Word of Christ that does what it promises.

Calvin:     Christ promises absolution to those who believe in Him.

                I believe in Christ.
                I am absolved of all my sins.

Luther:     Christ says "I absolve you of all your sins in the Name of the
                        Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
                Christ never lies but always tells the truth.
                I am absolved of all my sins.

For Luther, to NOT believe in this absolution is to call Christ a liar while for Calvin the priest can never say these words unconditionally and the absolved must posit his assurance in his or her faith to know that he or she is forgiven.

We could go on and on.... in the end, Cary sees Luther's understanding of justification tied to sacramental piety -- a very catholic understanding, indeed.  While there is much to consider in this article, it does highlight the issues within the LCMS about borrowing from those whose revivalist traditions are in direct conflict with our understanding of the means of grace and the efficacy of Christ's Word and promise.  It goes to the heart of what takes place on Sunday morning and to the nature of what should be sung as the hymns or songs of the faithful.  It challenges those who use the language or vocabulary of Protestantism to speak to those outside the Church and the duplicity of a witness which says one thing and means something other (or maybe not, if, indeed, those who do this have lost touch with the efficacy of Christ's Word and promise as the minor premise of this sacramental piety and liturgical life).

I highly commend the article for your reading. . .


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

The difference between Calvin and Luther sounds like the difference between TLH's p.5 announcement of forgiveness and the p.15 absolution.

Anonymous said...

I'm from the land of the easily distracted--what is up with that T-shirt?

Why is the L missing in Calvin? Did some joke just go over my head?

Phil said...

The p. 15 absolution is also conditional:

"Upon this your confession..."

Anonymous said...

Both those TLH absolutions are still much better than the "As you believe, even so may it be unto you."

Padre Dave Poedel said...

I, too, love it when I "happen" upon a gem in my library that I forgot I had.

It is so hard to get folks to think the way you describe. The American evangelicalism so permeates the vocabulary of our people...even our Synodically formed teachers. It is definitely an uphill battle. Thanks for the reminder.

Pr. Hinkle said...

First, this is one of your best posts.

Don't be too hard on the "as you believe, so may it be unto you." The penitent has already expressed his belief that the pastor speaks for Christ. Therefore, it is equivalent to saying "here is the word from Christ you came for." If the penitent does not believe the pastor speaks Christ's truthful word the conversation ends and the absolution remains unspoken.

Anonymous said...

Cary's article (and the resulting follow up studies) had a significant role in my conversion from confessional calvinism to Lutheran theology. Extra Nos must be Extra Nos.

Jim Wagner said...

Yes! Carey gets it so right. And he's an Anglican.

FYI, Carey also has a series of lectures on Luther from "The Great Courses,"

Anonymous said...

Both Phillip Carey’s article and your posting, Rev. Peters, proclaim the pure Gospel, as our Lord gave it to us. I was therefore puzzled at the ambivalence of most of the comments. But then I understood: most pastors would say that this is the Gospel they have been proclaiming all of their lives. They remind me of my friends who can recite the “what does this mean” portions of the Catechism from memory, but have not a clue as to what they really mean. Even Carey, in all good faith, without suspecting that he is contradicting everything he will write later, has this statement near the beginning of the article: “Whereas all agree that one is born again only once in a lifetime (either in baptism or in conversion) for Luther justification is a different matter: it is not tied to any single event but occurs as often as a Christian repents and returns to the power of baptism.4” The footnote reads: “4 The alien righteousness by which we are justified before God "is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant," according to the 1519 sermon "On Two Kinds of Righteousness," LW 31:297.”

If “simul justus et peccator” means anything, then we never “return to the power of baptism”, because “Christ never lies but always tells the truth.” This is the traditional pietistic confusion of justification and sanctification. The Kingdom into which our Lord has transferred us in Baptism, is one peopled exclusively by sinners. We do not leave that Kingdom every time we sin, otherwise we would spend most of our time outside of it. We remain justified within the Kingdom, even as our Lord “daily and richly forgives our sins.” He did say, “ask anything in my name, and my Father will give it to you”; therefore when we pray, “and forgive us our sins”, they are forgiven, because “Christ never lies but always tells the truth.”

We are exposed to this “subjective” Gospel every time we hear the words:
“true faith” as a condition of our salvation,
“true repentance” as a condition for forgiveness.
These no longer make the Gospel effective because of what our Lord said, but demand our own performance. And, of course, when we pray “fill us with your Holy Spirit” we proclaim that we do not believe our Lord did that in Baptism, as He promised.

The pure Gospel is a source of unspeakable joy. But if anyone qualifies it to include conditions we must meet, the person who knows the dimensions his sin will reject this “other Gospel”, because he knows that it deprives him of all hope.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Rev. James Leistico said...

I've used this syllogism a few times since I first heard Cary (note: no "e") say it at CTS 2007 Symposium paper - July/October 2007 CTQ or online at
He was on Issues, etc about this
Klem Preuss made a similar point as Carey's syllogism in his presentation to our SID Prs Conference (unfortunately for Kornacki, before his time began amongst us). Where Lutheran's look directly to Christ for certainty in salvation, Baptist theology looks to the heart, and RC theology looks to their connection to the Pope as vicar of Christ for certainty.
While Googling the Symposia paper, I stumbled across this blog post (and not ensuing discussion) by R. Scott Clark about his Calvinist take on our Lutheran take on Calvinism -

RobbieFish said...

Thank you for this awesome article. It really hits the target in terms of the object of the faith being separate from faith itself. God's promises are true and therefore His Word is efficacious apart from faith. Therefore we can rely on His promises without reservation, for though our faith is imperfect, His promises hold true!