Does Capacity Define Dignity? A Response to Norman Metzler

— by John T. Pless

The January 2019 issue of The Day Star Journal carried an article by the Rev. Dr. Norman Metzler, a professor of theology (emeritus) at Concordia University, Portland, under the title “Sanctity of Life: the Complexities of the Abortion Issue.” In this article, Prof. Metzler moves rather quickly from “problem pregnancies” to an argument to keep abortions “legal and therefore medically safe and responsible” (p. 1). While there is much in Metzler’s article that needs to be critiqued, I wish to dwell on a single assumption rooted in a deeply flawed anthropology. Metzler’s argument assumes that dignity is not a gift bestowed on the human being but a status that is achieved at some later stage of biological development.

Metzler argues that because so many zygotes fail to implant and many more “self-abort or miscarry within the first 4-5 weeks of pregnancy,” we cannot reasonably assert at this early stage of development that a human person is present or destroyed. At best, he argues, we are dealing only with “a miniscule portion of potential life” (p. 2). Thus the Portland professor says, “it is misleading (if not emotionally manipulative) for antiabortionists to refer to abortion as taking the life of a ‘child’ or of a ‘person,’ equivalent, for example, to murdering a two-year old” (p. 3). He summarily dismisses biblical references such as the unborn John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb or the Prophet Jeremiah being know by the Lord before his birth as “poetic utterances” which do not “reflect an awareness of modern medical and moral complexities in the current abortion discussion” (p.3).

The chilling assumption that undergirds Metzler’s argument is that human life is only worth protection once it has acquired certain capacities. Metzler’s anthropology is antithetical to Luther’s confession of the First Article in the Small Catechism that God has made me and He has done this “only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” 

Dignity is not a status to be acquired, rather it is given. The German Lutheran theologian, Oswald Bayer, wrote an article, “Self-Creation? On the Dignity of Human Beings” (see Modern Theology, April 2004, pp. 274-290). Countering the claim of the Princeton ethicist, Peter Singer, that the crucial moral question is not when life begins but when this life reaches a point at which it merits protection, Bayer notes that the embryo does not develop into a person but develops as a person. In truth, Metzler’s position is different from that of Singer only in degrees. It is substantially the same argument differing only to the degree that Metzler assumes the involvement of God while Singer does not.

Bayer’s careful theological work is of service in deconstructing the unbiblical anthropology in Metzler’s article. Bayer writes “The dignity of any human being lies in the indissoluble intertwining of element and instituting word. It is attributed to him or her–bestowed, given on loan–by the One who promises and gives himself unconditionally to humankind: namely, God. Thus, my dignity as a human being is attributed to me ‘without any worthiness on my part’ ” (“Self-Creation? On the Dignity of Human Beings, p. 279).  Bayer further explains this catechetical truth in a more recent article, “Being in the Image of God” (Lutheran Quarterly, XXVII, 2013, pp. 76-88): “Because this dignity is bestowed by God, it disallows every human requirement. In this absolute gratuity lies the decisive viewpoint for the formation of ethical judgment; human life is recognized (pre-socially) and to be recognized (socially) as unconditional, without having to justify itself through specific properties, merits, or self-acquired ‘dignities.’” (p. 81). 

Metzler begins with the assumption that there are problem pregnancies that may be ended by abortion. For Metzler this a simple conclusion built on the assumption that the developing life in the womb cannot be identified as a person. Personhood, for Metzler, consists in the presence of certain functions or capacities. By way of contrast, Bayer follows the logic of the Small Catechism in confessing that the unborn possess dignity not as a reward for survival but as a categorical gift from the beginning without any worth or merit on their part. We champion the “sanctity of life” because this sanctity is a gift freely given by our Triune Creator.


Dr. John T. Pless teaches at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.

 As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Issue 27-2 Adiaphora, Antinomianism, & Legalism

Editor's Introduction

LOGIA 27-2 Cover Image.jpg

In any serious discussion on the power and purpose of the law in the Christian life after baptism, certain questions have always remained the same: What power does the law have in the Christian life? Does the law only accuse? Do the righteous even need the law? What is the law’s relationship to sanctification and holy living? Should preachers use the law to motivate Christians to good works? Or do good works happen spontaneously from the gospel?

The recent publication of The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law and Gospel (CPH, 2017), a collection of essays from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, North American Lutheran Church, and Lutheran Church—Canada theologians, takes up these questions and demonstrates once again that the distinction between law and gospel is still very much at the heart of Lutheran theology. Where the distinction becomes unnecessary, preachers and hearers fall into error on either one of two sides: either they hear the gospel and assume that they can ignore the power of sin that still remains in the Christian life, or else they turn to the law to correct what the gospel apparently could not accomplish on its own.

On the surface, the disagreements in the sixteenth century that required a Lutheran confession concerning the “third use of the law” in the Formula of Concord appear to be similar to those at present. Those who follow St. Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 1:9, that the law is not laid down for the righteous but the ungodly, have argued (see the articles by Steven Paulson and William Cwirla in LOGIA, Reformation 2016, “Simul justus et peccator”) that the law should be preached only to sinners, to accuse them of sin and bring about repentance. Thus the Christian who is righteous by faith does not need the law to motivate him to good works, since works spring forth from faith in the gospel, freely and out of joy. To preach the law to the righteous is, according to this view, anachronistic, since the law does not apply to the new man, but only to the old. Insofar as the old man and sin remain, the law must constantly be preached among Christians. Others have argued, however, that, although the law must be preached to Christians, it must not only be preached to the old man. The new man also needs the law, to exhort him to good works, since good works do not happen spontaneously when one believes the gospel. According to this view, the Holy Spirit uses the law to increase sanctification by pushing and prodding the old nature against its will, while still exhorting the new nature to do the will of God.

This issue of LOGIA, “Adiaphora, Antinomianism, & Legalism,” is an effort on the part of the editors to give voice to these various concerns about the place and power of the law in the Christian life. Although all the authors in this issue are deeply concerned with the proper distinction of law and gospel, readers will undoubtedly be able to hear two voices emerge.

Mark Surburg’s article represents one voice. Surburg is rightly concerned with antinomianism infecting Lutheran pulpits. He challenges pastors to address the need for good works in the Christian life and to model their preaching after the apostolic model of paranesis, that is, exhortation to good works. He argues that it was the view of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions that the law must be preached to Christians, because the Holy Spirit uses the law to admonish Christians to good works (see, for example, FC SD VI, 12). Surburg’s concern that, because of sin, works do not happen automatically in the Christian by the powerful working of God through the gospel seems to echo similar concerns raised by Joel Biermann in his book A Case for Character: Towards a Lutheran Virtue Ethics (Concordia, 2014). Lucas Woodford, in his article, offers a response to Biermann’s call to virtue ethics. After a critique of Biermann’s virtue ethics as anthropocentric, Woodford argues that we should consider a Christocentric, “baptismal virtue ethic,” which places Christ and his gifts at the center of the Christian life. Wade Johnston’s article also offers a contrasting view to that of Surburg, in which a sharp distinction must be made between death and life. The law kills and the gospel alone makes alive. According to Johnston, the life-giving gospel is God’s only means to make sinners righteous and to sanctify them. Therefore, the gospel must be preached, since it can do what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not.

Bror Erickson’s article, though historical, is refreshingly contemporary in its application. He explores the theological influences of Bo Giertz, particularly the influence of Henric Schartau on Giertz’s view of the Christian life. Schartau’s gospel-filled sermon for Transfiguration Day, we may remember from The Hammer of God, helped liberate the young curate Fridfeldt from the condemnation of the law. Erickson compares specifically Schartau and Giertz on the order of salvation (ordo salutis) and demonstrates how Giertz was able to appropriate Schartau’s emphasis on Christian living while avoiding the legalism that was often inherent in Pietistic preaching on the Christian life. Harold Senkbeil’s timely article on sanctification in a sexual age urges pastors to cultivate a robust teaching and application of sanctification in their pastoral care. Senkbeil offers a case study on sins against the Sixth Commandment, the pandemic of pornography and sexual sins in our decadent twenty-first-century culture, and offers pastors some concrete ways to apply both law and gospel to those enslaved by sexual sins.

We believe these articles together will further discussions concerning the law in the Christian life and the application of the third use of the law in the church today. Since confessional pastors and congregations have promised to uphold the biblical doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions, we pray that reflection on these articles will lead readers back to a careful study of Article VI of the Formula of Concord, “Concerning the Third Use of the Law.”

Jason D. Lane
Mequon, Wisconsin

This edition available for purchase. You can also subscribe to LOGIA here

Book Review: Hinges

Hinges: Opening Your Church’s Doors to the Community. By Terry Tieman, David Born, and Dwight Marable. Cordova, TN: Transforming Congregations Network, TN, 2015.

This book is a collaboration between three individuals, one of which sadly passed away in an accident in the final stages of the book. It is evident that these three men all have a passion for reaching the lost. Together they formed a consulting service called the Transforming Congregations Network (TCN) with the desire to “transform” and “revitalize” congregations in such a way that everything congregations and pastors do—from weekly worship to congregational events, daily life, preaching and teaching—is centered on reaching out to the lost (unbelievers). The foundation of their efforts is clearly laid out from the beginning. Namely, after their research with some 1,000 congregations, “based on extensive research and proven results with real people and real situations,” they offer “a principle-centered approach that focuses on proven best practices” that “must be contextualized” to each congregation’s unique setting, all in an effort to enable congregations “to open doors to their community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (11). As such, various “metrics” are set forth in combination with these best practices that together are upheld as the standard and evaluation of a congregation’s “successfulness.” 

The authors should be commended for not simply lamenting the decline of the church in our time, but proposing a remedy. However, this begs the question: are churches truly not bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the lost? Though this can certainly be debated, their contention is that this is indeed the problem. The authors speak from a particular denominational affiliation, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), a conservative and confessional Lutheran church body known for its rich Reformation theology and robust Gospel proclamation. Unfortunately, recognition and integration of this rich theological tradition within the book appears anemic at best, if not altogether absent. More on that later.   

In short, the authors note a decline of the church with many congregations closing at an “alarming rate.” This, of course, is a current reality not unique to their LCMS church body;[1] it is generally acknowledged across all denominational lines of North America.[2] At the same time, they also say churches are figuratively closing their doors by being too inward focused and failing to bring people from the outside (unbelievers) in to their churches. 

What they propose as a solution is an alternative paradigm for being the church and organizing the church. Based on their research and analysis they have created metrics and tools for congregations to implement specific “hinges” that will make them more able and more willing to reach out to the surrounding community of unbelievers and thus be properly focused on “Christ’s Great Commission to reach those outside the church” (22). As I have noted elsewhere in my Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession: The Mission of the Holy Christian Church (Wipf & Stock, 2012), the emphasis upon the “Great Commission” as a mantra for the mission of the church is part of a more recent obsession over the last fifty years to demonstrate that the church has a clear mandate to be “missional” in nature and function. This has spawned a number of related but consecutive outreach movements—Church Growth, Emergent/Emerging Church, Missional, Contextualization—where each movement is really just a variation or perceived correction on the same theme of the original Church Growth Movement.

Even so, the authors look to add their paradigm of “hinges” and “metrics” to the mix: “We have sought to know the key characteristics of churches that effectively empower church members to engage their communities with the Gospel. In other words, our research has focused on identifying the key factors, what we call Hinges, that shifted inwardly-focused congregations into churches that opened their doors to the community” (25). These “hinges” are identified and put into two “factors” categories—those of the pastor and those of the congregation. Four hinges pertain to the pastor: 1) Empowering God’s People, 2) Personal Leadership, 3) Visionary Leadership, and 4) Bridge-Building Leadership. Another four are identified for the congregation: 5) Community Outreach, 6) Focused Prayer, 7) Functional Board, and 8) Inspiring Worship. 

Assurances are given about how their research and metrics prove the effectiveness of these “hinges” for the greatest missional “impact” on the community: “The sophisticated processes that we have used have been guided by experts in this kind of statistical analysis. The results of the research conclusively indicate that there are eight behavioral drivers that will transform a plateaued or dying inwardly-focused church” (26). However, such assurances of transformation and growth mirrors the claims that first began the movement among evangelicals to commandeer the “Great Commission” as the official motto of the church some fifty years ago. Consider the promises of the “homogenous unit principle” of Donald MacGavran’s Understanding Church Growth (Eerdmans, 1970; 1980; 1990); Bill Hybel’s Becoming a Contagious Christian (Zondervan, 1994) and his noted “fifteen characteristics you’ll find in evangelistically effective churches” (200); or Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church (Zondervan, 1995) that promises “a Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church” (103).

However, reservations and concerns over such confident assertions and approaches have become louder and louder. Among the many voices, consider evangelical Sky Jethani’s recent book Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church Inc. (Moody Publishers, 2017), which expresses concern with what he calls “the idol of effectiveness.” He observes that the “Idol of Effectiveness has power because it causes us to look at the wrong fruit. We become enamored by relevance, power, impact, and how much we have changed the world. While all of those things are measures of effectiveness, none of them are a measure of faithfulness” (25). One wonders if faithfulness would be a plausible “hinge” for the church in this paradigm? What is more, even the secular world is now observing the danger of becoming too fascinated with metrics. In his just released book, The Tyranny of Metrics (Princeton University Press, 2018), Jerry Z. Muller brings to light what he calls a “metric fixation” (17) and the many ways in which numerical and statistical evaluations result in deleterious performance in our schools, our universities, our hospitals, our military, and our businesses. Other voices include Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison in their recent book, When Everything is Missions (Pioneers, 2017), which calls the evangelical church to serious self-examination. They pose many thoughtful questions about the claims that “everyone is a missionary” and everything the church does is missions. They remind the evangelical church there is more to the life of a Christian than evangelism. “A life of repentance is central and vital to living the gospel each day of our lives. Our hearts and minds need cleansing and renewal for our understanding of the Great Commission to be brought to its rightful place. To think about missions well, we must embrace the illuminating wisdom of God’s word as our guide, submitting other books and teachings to be held accountable to the missiological guidance of the Bible” (114).

Suffice it to say, these books reflect the significant concerns this reviewer has about Hinges. In the zeal to reorient the church to what is deemed as the sole mission of the church (reaching out to unbelievers), damaging consequences result from this paradigm and others like it. They include marginalizing the needs of faithful members (chief of which is the forgiveness of sins), reducing the church to a humanly created enterprise subject to the whims of metrics experts, and in the case of this book, negating the rich theological foundation that lies at the core of the authors’ own tradition. This criticism is by no means meant to denigrate the absolute importance and intentional effort that should be given to being a witness of Jesus Christ to all unbelievers, as well as regularly praying for them. Rather this is simply urging extreme caution when considering this paradigm because of the damaging consequences that are inflicted upon the church through it. Again, more about that in a moment.      

Before those specific concerns are unpacked, a couple of potential strengths are worth noting. The discussion about empowering God’s people is helpful, though ultimately misguided when it comes to the implicit theology undergirding for it. The authors clearly indicate what they mean about empowering people: “When we say empower God’s people we are referring to equipping people for works of service” (41). This has the potential to be a wonderful emphasis. However, this equipping is routinely unpacked and framed within the organizational life of the church, and for the specific and seemingly sole purpose of reaching out to the unchurched or lost. A tremendous opportunity is missed here. The rich Reformation theology of vocation (a vibrant part of the authors’ noted theological tradition) is never once mentioned. It would have been a great way to affirm the everyday life of God’s people in the midst of their daily God created vocations, and therein equip them to naturally and readily give witness within those daily vocations. Instead, the opportunity to affirm the First Article gift of daily vocations was replaced by the laborious organizational work of the numerous possible outreach events that they suggest a congregation should put on. The message is that the only service of value by God’s people is that which has a “missional impact” on the community. 

This message, however, overlooks and marginalizes the many important vocations every member of the church already possesses (family member, worker, congregation member, and citizen, as well as community member). What is more, one could venture to guess that the authors would never tell their adolescent children or grandchildren that they were going to leave or abandon them for the children of the community. Yet, in effect, that’s what they are suggesting the church and her pastors should do for the sake of unbelievers. For a tradition that cherishes the importance and central role of the forgiveness of sins in the daily life of every believer, there is little evidence of its role in this paradigm.     

Other potential highlights are their discussions of congregational governance board and leadership woes, along with the organizational dysfunction that often immobilizes congregational boards, as well as the importance of pastoral leadership. Chapters five, six, and nine discuss these issues respectively, though significant theological shortcomings are present in those discussions. Yet, in terms of positive contributions, the authors address the importance for pastors to continue learning, maintain healthy spiritual disciplines, and keep good personal health. They also bring out the legitimate point that pastors need to be familiar with leading the church forward as the local organization it is, preferably with a good sense and vision for what the congregation needs to be doing at the organizational level. 

Likewise, the authors also address the unhealthy and often unspoken assumptions that congregations have about their pastors and note how numerous congregational boards are unnecessarily charged with micro-managing the details of the staff and ministry in a way that limits the board being able to see the broader picture and free pastors to do the work they are called to do. As such, the discussions of congregational governance possibilities and solutions that can free the pastors for their work are helpful, though what the authors of this book limit that work to include (primarily only those things related to evangelism and outreach, with tasks like hospital visitation and pastoral care of souls being delegated to members) creates extreme disagreement for this reviewer. 

Finally, one last positive contribution is their treatment of the life cycles of congregations. Though one may disagree with some of the details of the life cycle, the general principle of life cycles and the diagrams showing them (86-87) are helpful for thinking strategically about ministry at a congregation.  

Now on to a collegial discussion of the remaining specific concerns about the book and the overall shortcomings of the Hinges paradigm. To begin, perhaps it would help to apply the metrics of a confessional Lutheran theological analysis to a paradigm that claims to originate within the tradition of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. For example, how many times does this paradigm explicitly or implicitly draw upon the practical truths and theological principles as understood in the Lutheran Confessions? What research was conducted to contextualize the Hinges paradigm to orthodox Lutheran theology? What theological best practice was employed to create this approach to ministry? Would it be fair to say that such a paradigm doesn’t fit within a theological tradition if those questions were all negatively answered? Or would it be said that for the sake of the lost (unbelievers) churches must be willing to sacrifice their theological heritage? If so, why? 

Confessional Lutherans have a specific means to define the church and its mission. Lutherans hold that the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ for the justification of the sinner (AC IV), stand at the center of the mission of the church. And the marks of the church are identifiable when the Word of God (both law and gospel) is preached in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administered faithfully for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith (AC V). This confession takes seriously the relentless effects of sin upon every soul and recognizes the constant need for all people to regularly receive the cleansing grace and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.

The Hinges paradigm reorients not only the definition of the church, but also the marks of the church. Rather than the church being “the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly” (AC VII), where both members and outsiders alike could come to receive the means of grace, this paradigm organizes the local congregation entirely around the law. In the well-meaning but misguided effort to get inward churches to begin looking outward, the material principle of the Gospel (the shed blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins) is replaced by the Great Commission (Go! Evangelize, serve, and do whatever it takes to win the lost.) In essence, the law now becomes the organizing principle of the church. Here the marks of the church (Word and Sacrament) are likewise traded for the pragmatism of best practices and metrics of missional impact. 

This paradigm is one of many in the recent past that seek to reorient the Church, but which are all ultimately rooted in the law. Most certainly, the church should go about compassionately showing mercy, happily serving others, and vigorously giving witness to unbelievers. But from a confessional Lutheran perspective this is not the organizing material principle of the church. This corrective to inward-focused churches that the authors desire to provide is certainly understandable and commendable, but the remedy they propose breathes in a foreign theology that muddles the Gospel, marginalizes the work of faithful pastors and the vocations of members, and reduces the power of God to organizational metrics.     

The influence of this foreign theology appears, for example, in the advocacy of “prayer walking” (chapter 10) and “inspiring worship” (chapter 11). To be sure, Christians are free to pray anywhere, and walk anywhere, and even to pray while they walk. But the advent of focused “prayer walking” as a means to increasing the efficacy of prayer and claim a neighborhood for Christ has no biblical precedent or injunction, is of recent origin, demeans other prayers and those who pray elsewhere, and has plenty of unhelpful baggage—see Prayer Walking by Steve Hawthorne and Graham Kendrick (Creation House, 1993). Consider this quote from chapter 10: “All churches pray, but it’s prayer that is focused on the lost and unreached and equipping God’s people to connect with them that really makes a difference (144).” That is not what James 5:16 says actually makes a difference: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). Ironically, chapter 10 is the one chapter that does invoke the Lutheran Confessions, specifically Luther’s Small Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer, and does have some edifying things to say about prayer, but ultimately it turns prayer into another spoke in the wheel of the law-oriented paradigm of outreach. 

This leads the reader into a chapter 11 that explores the “hinge” of “inspiring worship,” which for better or worse, makes many a confessional Lutheran gnash one’s teeth. True, there is certainly something to be said about insuring worship (the Divine Service) in all aspects is done well, with integrity, clarity, and quality, regardless of what instrumentation a congregation uses. But adding the emotional adjective “inspiring” to worship is dubious business. It once again puts the emphasis upon the law (and the sinful self) and manipulates the worship service to serve the ulterior motive of the organizational vision (the service exists to inspire outreach) rather than the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ. Ironically, in their attempt to articulate this, the authors quote a respected Swedish confessional Lutheran, Bo Giertz, from his 1949 pastoral letter written after being elected Bishop of Gothenberg, which they say embraces the tension between “liturgy” and “awakening,” but where they assert Giertz’s use of “awakening” carries the same meaning as their “inspiring” (165). However, rather than an inspiring and emotional high, Giertz’s use of awakening more likely refers to repentance than anything else. In fact, one could simply read Giertz’s renowned 1941 work, The Hammer of God, to clear up any misunderstanding about how he understood awakening, or even this proposed paradigm for the church. Just consider how he sets up the conversation between the young curate, Pastor Fridfelt, who considered himself a “true believer,” talking to the more mature rector (or senior pastor) about the “revival” or “awakening” movements of their time:

The rector maintained the point of view that the revival movement could well, and with more permanent gain, have stayed in the Church, and defended the place of baptism and confirmation in their relation to such awakenings among people. “Awakened people also have children, and when they are once brought into the world there remains the duty of nurturing them. We have had revivals before in these parts, and always it has gone badly for the children. Either the revival burns out with the older generation, or it becomes necessary to begin to reckon the children as Christians and nurture them with catechism and confirmation and all the churchly ministrations, as the Church has always done”(119; Augsburg, 2005).

In the end, though this book has some helpful things to consider regarding the organizational elements of a congregation and the leadership of pastors, there are too many unhelpful things to be able to commend it to the confessional Lutheran tradition.[3] 

Rev. Dr. Lucas V. Woodford

Sr. Pastor

Zion Lutheran Church and School

Mayer, MN



[3] For an alternative that looks to prize the rich Reformation theology of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, keep the Gospel at the center, and provide a beginning framework to mobilize the church for intentional witness right where they are at in their daily vocations, you might consider the aforementioned Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession? The Mission of the Holy Christian Church. My aim in that book is the same as writing this review: to bring more light and less heat on matters central to the life of the church. In our confusing times we need more honest and open dialog through collegial conversation.

2017 Bjarne W. Teigen Reformation Lectures

The annual Bjarne W. Teigen Reformation Lectures will be held October 26–27, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. This year the theme will be Luther’s Three Treatises: The Reformation Platform. These lectures delve into the Reformation heritage with presentations on the history and theology of the Lutheran Reformation with application to the teaching and practice in the Lutheran church today. The lectures are presented in free conference format. 

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Thursday, October. 26, 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m. 
Lecture One: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation

Speaker: Prof. Emeritus Erling Teigen, Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, MN Moderator: Pres. Gaylin Schmeling, Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mankato, MN 

Thursday, October 26, 2:00-3:30 p.m. 
Lecture Two: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

Speaker: Dr. Erik Herrmann, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO
Moderator: Dr. Michael Smith, Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mankato, MN

Concurrent Event at Trinity Chapel on the Campus of Bethany Lutheran College at 4:00 p.m. Reformation Chorale Vespers, featuring the Bethany College Choir

Friday, October 27, 10:30 a.m. –12:00 p.m.
Lecture Three: The Freedom of a Christian
Speaker: Rev. James Langebartels, St John’s Lutheran Church, Rib Lake, WI, and Zion Lutheran Church, Ogema, WI
Moderator: Dr. Lars Johnson, Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, MN

Friday, October 27, 2:00–3:30 p.m.
Moderator: Dr. Timothy Schmeling, Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mankato, MN

For registration information, see

Download the flyer with signup here.

Download the press release here. 

Book Review: The Necessary Distinction


The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law and Gospel. Edited by Albert B. Colver III, James Arne Nestingen, and John T. Pless. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. Click Here

Most pastors are bibliophiles but also busy and so can appreciate the clever (if a bit macabre) Internet meme that says, “I’ll probably die next to a stack of books I was meaning to read.” Don’t let this book stay on that stack. As the fruit of “ongoing discussions” (p. 9) among pastors and theologians from three Lutheran church bodies, The Necessary Distinction means to be the first course of its subtitle: a continuing conversation.

And what a delicious conversation. The prose is often sparkling and witty and always engaging and erudite. Books of theological essays by different authors are sometimes like music albums before the age of iTunes: one or two big hits while the rest of the content is mostly bland stuff meant to merely take up space. Every essay in The Necessary Distinction is on point and worth the reader’s time.

The book begins with an LCMS perspective on Law and Gospel—from Walther’s evening lectures for seminary students to recent publications and controversies—and then moves to an overview of the distinction of Law and Gospel. Mark Seifrid’s general summation of the topic belongs right where it is, at the start of the book. It is an excellent and succinct introduction and will make a great resource for adult catechesis. At a recent theological seminar on preaching, the topic of pastors teaching (or neglecting to teach) laypeople how to listen to sermons was discussed.  Seifrid’s little essay on the distinction of Law and Gospel is the perfect tool for such an ear-training task.

The next few essays are examples of a metaphor a dear professor and mentor regularly used to describe good practical theology: “Practical theology,” he said, “is just systematics, exegesis, and historical theology wearing out a pair of cowboy boots in the parish.” The authors ask and answer how Law and Gospel do their killing and resurrecting work in the liturgy, in pastoral care, in the Christian Life, and in the pastor’s calling. “It is no exaggeration to say that the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is the native air in which Lutheran pastors live, move, and have their being” (p. 109). What does it look like when Law and Gospel wear out boots at the altar, walking down the corridor of the oncology ward, on visits to the homes and workplaces of parishioners? “This vocation is crucial and not to be compromised—it delivers in specific and concrete ways God’s actually dealing with sinners” (p. 133).

After an excellent overview of Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, much of the rest of the book deals with controversies old and new surrounding the distinction of Law and Gospel—with two essays dedicated specifically to the third use of the Law. The most vivid and arresting of all the essays is Steven Paulson’s: “A Royal Ass” (even the title gets one’s attention). Paulson’s wordsmithery approaches wizardry and delights as it guides the reader on a tour of Luther’s jocular schooling of Erasmus on Psalm 73, “free will,” and Law and Gospel. A taste:

But the real question is not whether you are in fact an ass or not but precisely what kind of ass, since there is not one species, but two. Which kind of ass you are makes all the difference in the world . . . To be very precise, we learn that we are two asses at once, which is called the simul. But before anyone attempts to investigate himself to find evidence of the kind of ass he is, he must learn to look away from himself to the external matter of lordship. The kind of ass you are depends not upon any choice you ever have made or ever will make, and requires no “consent” of a “free” will, but depends entirely on who is your lord, who is precisely the one who rides you. You are an ass ridden by your Lord (p. 268).

In 2017, five-hundred years after the beginning of the Reformation, theological debates are no longer initiated by inky paper nailed to church doors. Now the theological jousting and chatter largely occur on the Internet—with all it’s blessings and curses. Too much of the “light” emitted therein is from the burning of straw men. In such a dispiriting atmosphere, The Necessary Distinction is so very welcome.

This volume offers a wealth of thoroughly researched, well-crafted reflections that shine edifying light on the distinction between Law and Gospel. Take up, and read.

The Rev. Karl Hollibaugh
St. James Lutheran
Gonzales, Louisiana

Confirmation: When? Early? Later, or not at all?

A Study of Lutheran Practices for Being Admitted to the Lord’s Supper

—by Armand J. Boehme

Abstract: This essay sets forth the Reformation pattern for admission to the Lord’s Supper – baptism, instruction, admission to the Lord’s Table. Age was not a factor in this historic practice. Modern changes have moved toward early communion before full instruction and confirmation. All three major Lutheran hymnals in the US have orders for the rite of first communion before full instruction and confirmation. Early communion was followed by a strong push for infant communion since the Eucharist is the birthright of the baptized. Early communion and infant communion have now led to the Communion Without Baptism (CWOB) movement seen in Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal and Lutheran circles today. A eucharistic view of John 6 provides a scriptural basis for infant communion and CWOB. As the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation looms, Lutherans need to study their current catechetical practices, liturgical rites, and theology in relationship to the admission of the baptized to the Lord’s Table to examine their faithfulness to Reformation theology and practice.

INTRODUCTION: Arthur Repp stated several general ideas which characterized the historic Lutheran practice regarding admission to the Lord’s Supper. The first was that Lutherans rejected the Roman view that confirmation was a sacrament. Second was the requirement of Christian instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper. The third was that confirmation emphasized both sacraments. The baptism of a child placed the parents and the church under the obligation to instruct the child in the faith in preparation for the child’s attendance at the Lord’s Supper. The fourth generalization was that age was not an important criterion for determining admission to the Lord’s Supper. What was important was the instruction given which prepared a person to partake of the Sacrament of the Altar in a worthy manner.[1]

Though there were some variations, over the years, catechetical instruction before receiving the Lord’s Supper was retained. Recent practice has not always followed this historic pattern. This essay will look at how practices have changed and raise the question as to whether the changes are a bane or a blessing for Lutheranism.


After WWII Lutherans in Germany began to examine the criteria for admission to the Lord’s Supper. By 1966 there were three different views on admission to the Lord’s Supper. 1) First was the traditional view with slight modifications which retained full instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper. 2) The liberal view was brief instruction in the Lord’s Supper leading to early communion followed by more formal instruction leading to full membership in the church. This  three-step process raised questions about the status of those who did not complete the educational process. 3) The radical view desired to abolish confirmation entirely with the baptized children coming to communion with their parents until a year after finishing  elementary school. Then they would be be questioned by the pastor and following that they would be able to commune by themselves. There was no emphasis on catechetical instruction. The instruction that might occur would probably be done by parents in the home. [2]

Due to circumstances in Europe after World War II, changes in catechetical practices in other Christian church bodies, and ecumenical influences, there was greater and greater encouragement to separate full catechetical instruction in the Christian faith and the rite of confirmation from the admission of a baptized Christian to the Sacrament of the Altar. 

Thus many Lutherans began to investigate and to engage in the practice of early communion before confirmation. Often it was said that the Lord’s Supper is the birthright of the baptized.[3] Generally some instruction in the Lord’s Supper was the only criterion for early admission of the 5th or 6th grade baptized child to communion. It was assumed that those admitted without full catechetical instruction would continue their instruction after receiving the Lord’s Supper. This assumption however did not always prove a reality. 

As one Lutheran educator wrote, “Often this [early communion] instruction taught children primarily what taking of the Lord’s Supper entails . . . then, at a later date, came a fuller study of Biblical truths. But so often we do not get those children back for classes at that time.”[4]

Having been admitted to the Lord’s Supper with, at best, minimal instruction, led some children and parents to see no need for beginning or continuing catechism classes leading to confirmation. Their children were already receiving the sacrament, so parents and child would come to the conclusion that instruction was pointless. Paul Bretscher stated that this shift to early communion “radically” departed from the historic Lutheran practice of admission to Holy Communion.[5]

In times past, Lutheran practice stated that insufficiently instructed individuals were to be denied the Lord’s Supper whether they were adults or children.[6] Lutheran teaching and practice would label communing insufficiently instructed people as the opposite of closed communion (i.e., open communion). It could also be described as functionally open communion.[7]

What ideas lay behind the thinking of those who crafted the change to early communion in Lutheran practice? Some history will help supply background for answers to that question. 

After WW II many Christian groups, including the Lutherans, were studying the relationship of baptism, catechetical instruction, chrismation, confirmation, and the reception of first communion. 

A part of this study of the relationship of confirmation and baptism was a response to the work of Karl Barth who denied infant baptism and thus the rite of confirmation.[8]

The study of confirmation and admission to communion in most church bodies concluded that confirmation should be significantly changed or done away with entirely. The idea that baptism is the only qualification for reception of the Lord’s Supper, coupled with other changes in perspective, caused this shift.

These ideas were stated by David Holeton, an advocate for infant communion. “In a number of churches confirmation existed as a rite of admission to the eucharist . . . Over the past decade this rationale for confirmation has lost tremendous ground. The renewal of patterns of community life and the admission of young children to the eucharist by churches of almost all confessional families pose a particular question to this rationale for confirmation. What status does confirmation now confer? In the past it was that of communicant or full membership in the church. This is no longer the case. If baptism confers at least the right to receive the eucharist, as the continuing sign of membership in the body, churches whose rationale for confirmation was that it was, at least in part, a required rite to be received before communion need to examine their continuation of a rite that has lost its principal rationale.”

“The [new] perspective in which incorporation into Christ and the church is seen makes the sharp distinction between the confirmed and the unconfirmed untenable. Again, this is particularly clear when one takes account of the increasingly common practice of admitting unconfirmed children to communion. They already receive all the church has to give, they cannot be fuller members of the body than they already are.”[9]

The push for early communion was ecumenical in nature. A World Council of Churches meeting on the subject of admission to the Lord’s Supper rejected “any age limit as a condition to admission for first communion.”[10]

The joint Lutheran study of the relationship of baptism, catechesis, admission to communion, and confirmation was written by Frank Klos. This 1960s study recommended that a revised definition of confirmation be adopted, that admission to communion “be separated from confirmation,” that children be admitted to communion in the fifth grade, and confirmed in the tenth grade after further instruction.[11] This practice became standard for many American Lutheran congregations having been officially approved by both the ALC and LCA, church bodies that merged to form the ELCA.[12]

Three current Lutheran hymnals or their agendas (LBW, ELW, LSB) contain services for the rite of first communion separated from confirmation.[13] These services and the practice of admitting children to partake of communion before being fully instructed is historically more of a Roman Catholic practice than one of historic Lutheranism. This was admitted by the joint Lutheran study which stated that the move to early communion would have Lutherans “approaching the Roman Catholic practice on the one hand and the Baptist practice on the other.”[14]

The baptismal rite in Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and its relationship to admission to communion reflected  “much new thinking on Christian initiation.” The greatest influence on the initiatory rites in LBW came from the Roman Catholic scholar “Adian Kavanaugh,” and “Geoffrey Wainwright” who was a member of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission and chaired the final redaction of their document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. Also influential were the “rites being developed by other North American Christians (sic) denominations.”[15]

The standardization of the practice of early communion in a large part of American Lutheranism is different than Lutheran practice during the Interims. At that time Melanchthon was “ready to have first Communion precede confirmation.” This practice was “strongly opposed” by Johann Aepinus and Matthias Flacius because it was a concession to Rome and seen as “a Romanizing” view of the relationship between confirmation and admission to Holy Communion.[16]


For some like John Zoppi the encouragement for early communion was movement toward infant communion. 

“In 1970, however, the Joint Commission on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation declared, in its infinite wisdom, that it was indeed proper and Evangelical for persons to participate in the Eucharist prior to their Confirmation. ‘Lex orandi!’ To keep pace with this ‘new theology’, our worship book changed too. Confession was no longer a precondition for reception of the Sacrament; the rite of Confirmation was restored to the Baptismal liturgy; Confirmation became ‘Affirmation of Baptism’. The old traditional gap which had existed between Baptism and the Eucharist (and which had been filled by Confession, Confirmation and the age of discretion) had been eradicated. Our new theology and practice seemed to indicate that the Eucharist should be the natural and immediate consequence of Baptism…hence, infant Communion. ‘Lex orandi. . . .Lex credendi!’”[17]

It is to be granted that not all Lutheran advocates of early communion are also advocates of infant communion. However, it is clear from the statements of advocates for early communion, that the push for early communion before full instruction was simply a step towards infant communion. Ralph Quere wrote that Klos’ study and the 1970 report of the Joint Commission on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation “set the stage for new debates on infant communion.”[18]

David Pearcy stated that the movement towards early communion and infant communion placed Lutherans in line with the “Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics” who were all “moving toward the recovery of infant communion.”[19]

The ELCA officially sanctioned infant communion when it adopted the document The Use of the Means of Grace at its 1997 Churchwide Assembly.[20]

The push for these changes in admission to the Lord’s Supper was fueled by the modern/ecumenical/Roman Catholic liturgical movement which sought to unify the doctrine and practice of all Christian denominations.

Roman Catholic theologian Charles Davis wrote: “The liturgical, biblical and catechetical revivals are busy, not simply with practical matters, but with a doctrinal renewal.” The liturgical movement was “intimately connected with” biblical and “catechetical” change. What the liturgical movement desired was to change “the fundamentals of doctrine” in the church bodies influenced by the movement.[21] And the desire of the modern ecumenical liturgical movement was to move the church to infant communion.

For Eugene Brand the findings of the ecumenical and liturgical movements were “pressing the question of catholicity” which posed this question for Lutherans, “Are we prepared to be evangelical catholics? Are we prepared to revise our Lutheran story accordingly?”[22]

The stated desire of Lutheran evangelical catholics like Mark Chapman is a return to Rome: “. . . evangelical catholic Lutherans” look forward to a “full reunion of Lutherans with Catholics and the restoration of one Church under the Bishop of Rome.”[23]

Advocates of infant communion describe its lack of practice as “demonic,”[24] as “excommunication,”[25] and as a “mortal sin.”[26] Robert Jenson, one of the people who helped produce LBW, has described the refusal to commune baptized infants as “flat disobedience to Scripture” and “a Pauline impossibility.” He also called the practice of infant communion a “more catholic understanding of the faith.”[27]

In addition to ELCA Lutherans, a growing number of Missouri Synod Lutherans have also accepted the catholicity of infant communion, and that the Eucharist is the birthright of the baptized.[28] This is a view at odds with the position stated by the LCMS. 

A CTCR report (LCMS) on the Lord’s Supper said:  “9. Is it appropriate to commune infants? No. St. Paul says: ‘Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup’ (1 Cor. 11:28). Since infants cannot examine themselves, it is inappropriate to commune them.”[29] The CTCR document “Response to ‘Concerns of South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion’” stated that, on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:17–34, “infants” are not able to “consciously reflect on their readiness to receive the Lord’s body and blood,” and because they are “not capable of such reflection” they “must not be given the sacrament.”[30]

Advocates of infant communion invoke the early church practice of combining baptism, chrismation, and reception of the Eucharist because it was the historic practice of the church. However those adults who were baptized, chrismated, confirmed and admitted to the Eucharist had undergone a three year period of rigorous instruction before they could be baptized. Before their baptism, they were not even allowed to remain for the communion service, much less receive the Lord’s Supper.[31]

These historical circumstances raise the question as to whether the practice of intense education before being baptized and allowed to commune truly supports the normalization of the practice of early or infant communion both of which lack the intense instruction before and often after being baptized and admitted to the Lord’s Supper. There is no unanimity on the universality of the practice of infant communion in the Western church. Granted there was a period of time when infants were baptized and then quickly communed, but this practice did not continue in the Western church.[32] Are the arguments advocates of infant communion bring against the lack of infant communion sound theologically and biblically? Continued study of and response to this issue is necessary.

A lessening of the importance of religious instruction is seen in the ILCW’s work in crafting LBW. “Public catechesis” of those who were baptized and then to receive communion was “discouraged” by the crafters of LBW. The ELCA’s Renewing Worship materials also emphasized the fact that baptized individuals (both adults and youth) should be enabled to attend communion through the “affirmation of baptism” rite, even though they had received “little or no Christian nurture/instruction following their baptism.”[33]


Many advocates of infant communion have a eucharistic understanding of John 6. Such a view is an integral part of the biblical basis of advocates for infant communion.[34]

Luther was aware of the eucharistic view of John 6 held by Rome and the Hussites. Luther and Lutheranism have historically rejected a eucharistic interpretation of John 6.[35]


Advocates of infant communion believe that the sacrament of Holy Baptism is neither complete nor full initiation into the Christian Church without the subsequent completeness and perfection that comes from the reception of Holy Communion. This is a prominent idea in the modern liturgical movement as is stated by the Roman Catholic theologian Charles Davis: 

“The Eucharist is the event by which the Church is given existence and permanence in different times and places . . . Baptism exists as a first step towards the Eucharist. It unites us to Christ and the Church, but by relating us to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is, as it were, already active in and through baptism. Union with Christ and the Church remains the proper effect of the Eucharist, which alone gives it in full.”[36]

The latest Roman Catholic catechism says that “the Eucharist makes the Church.” It further states that Christians have been called in Baptism to form “one body” and that it is the “Eucharist” which “fulfills this call.”[37] In another section this catechism states that the “holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation,” that is the initiation begun in Baptism.[38] Further it states that the Eucharist “is the source and the summit of the Christian life.”[39] It also says that “the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.”[40]

Another Roman Catholic catechism states that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation and bases this statement on a eucharistic understanding of John 6. “Like Baptism, the Eucharist is necessary for salvation to be received either sacramentally or in desire. Christ's words, ‘if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you’ (John 6:53), means that Holy Communion is necessary to sustain the life of grace in a person who has reached the age of reason.”[41]

Another Roman Catholic site states this in answer to the question as to whether the Eucharist is necessary for salvation: “The necessity for the Eucharist is absolute in that without the grace of the Eucharist, which is union with Christ, no salvation is possible.”[42]

The new Code of Eastern Canon Law states that the traditional practice of the Eastern Churches is “the communion of newly baptized infants as the completion of initiation . . . Sacramental initiation into the Mystery of Salvation is perfected through the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. Therefore let it be administered as soon as possible after baptism and chrismation.”[43]Another author noted that “Christian Initiation” was made up of “three moments” — “baptism, chrismation and Eucharist, and without all three the process is incomplete.”[44]

The Lutheran Book of Worship Manual on the Liturgy states that “the completion of the initiation into the Christian community is the sharing in the Eucharist [which] . . . may be exercised immediately.”[45]

In a paper available on the ELCA website, Bryon Hansen wrote that Lutherans like himself who advocate for infant communion and CWOB also believe that the Eucharist “is the completion of the sacraments of initiation” (baptism and chrismation/confirmation). Having infants receive the Eucharist immediately after baptism and chrismation means that one is “fully initiated” into the Church, and receiving communion is the “fullest expression of unity with Christ” and the Church. This three-fold pattern (Baptism, chrismation, eucharist) has been “restored” in the Church as a result of “Vatican II and subsequent liturgical renewal.”[46]

Some Lutherans also believe that the Eucharist makes the Church.[47] There is also the belief that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation (based on John 6), and that one’s church membership is incomplete without being able to receive the Eucharist. These ideas provide the impetus for the normalization of infant communion in the ELCA.[48]

Believing that baptismal regeneration is incomplete without the eucharist, and believing that the eucharist makes the church are ideas which denigrate Baptism as the sacrament which fully unites believers with Christ and the whole Christian church, and gives sinners the fullness of faith, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation.

The LCMS’s CTCR stated: “Arguments for infant/toddler communion bypass the truth that in Baptism, we receive ‘victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ and the Holy Spirit with his gifts’ (LC IV:41–42, Kolb/Wengert, 461) as though the promise of Baptism remained unfulfilled without the Lord’s Supper. By waiting until children have been instructed, examined, and absolved before admitting them to the Lord’s Supper, they are not being deprived of Christ.”[49]

Mark Tranvik, writing about infant communion stated that “the communion of infants also tends to undermine baptism . . . communing infants at the same time they are baptized would raise questions about baptism’s efficacy. People would be led to wonder: Isn’t baptism enough? Why is communion needed to complete it? The sacrament of baptism . . . would be marginalized if infant communion became accepted church practice.”[50]

In response to the WCC’s Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document (1988), some Lutheran church bodies expressed concern about the Eastern Orthodox concept of Christian initiation. The concern over the Eastern Orthodox view of Christian initiation (baptism, chrismation, the laying on of hands, and the immediate reception of the Eucharist which was the completion of initiation) was regarded by Lutherans “as a questioning of the validity and completeness (sacramental integrity) of their baptism.”[51] Thirty years later Lutherans are embracing as orthodox practices that they had formerly rejected because those practices raised questions about the validity, integrity, and completeness of the baptismal grace given in Lutheran churches!  


But the push for the baptized to receive the Lord’s Supper earlier and earlier with little if any instruction in the faith has not stopped with infant communion. The rallying cry, “Communion is the birthright of the baptized” is now being set aside with the advent of the “Communion Without Baptism Movement” (CWOB).This movement is growing in prominence in Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, and Methodist circles.[52] The writings of theologians like Jurgen Moltmann and Norman Perrin lend credence to CWOB.[53] A eucharistic understanding of John 6 is also part of the biblical foundation for CWOB.[54]

The CWOB movement holds that Christianity should be hospitable to all, thus all people should be welcome at the Lord's Table. Advocates of CWOB (also known as “Open Communion”[55] or “Radical Hospitality”) believe that this is the way of Christ. He was welcoming and affirming to all regardless of their beliefs. Open Communion is also viewed as “a means of evangelism.”[56] So today Christ’s church should welcome all people to her family meal — the baptized and unbaptized, the penitent and impenitent, those who have no knowledge of Christ, the Christian church, the Lord's Supper or Christian teaching as well as those who do, those in the Christian faith and those without faith in Christ. The idea that the Eucharist makes the church also gives encouragement for CWOB. Since CWOB desires to commune everyone it appears that CWOB also shares the perspective that all religious roads lead to the same God.

The CWOB perspective appears to be based on an ex opere operato perspective of the Sacrament of the Altar. Regardless of whether the recipient has faith in Christ, the triune God, and Jesus’ words about the Lord’s Supper, CWOB theology assumes that the sacrament will be a blessing to those receiving it, simply because it is being performed and received. As Paul Ellis, an advocate for CWOB stated: “Denying unbelievers the Lord’s Supper is like denying them the Gospel.”[57]

Another Lutheran author stated the CWOB perspective: “If the Sacrament of the Altar actually does what it proclaims, giving forgiveness and life to people, why would the church want to restrict its use only to the baptized?”[58]

The Lutheran Confessions do not view the sacraments, especially the Lord’s Supper, as an evangelism tool, nor are the sacraments seen to be operating in an ex opere operato manner. “It is much more necessary to know how to use the sacraments. Here we condemn the whole crowd of scholastic doctors who teach that unless there is some obstacle, the sacraments confer grace ex opere operato, without a good disposition in the one using them . . . that is, without faith.” That the sacraments confer grace without faith in the recipient is described by the Lutheran Confessions as an “ungodly and wicked notion.”[59]

Holsten Fagerberg stated the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions on this matter. “In the emphasis on the connection between the Lord’s Supper as promise and faith, we also find a strong polemic against the Catholic opus operatum teaching. The Mass must be Communion: it requires a worshiping congregation which in faith accepts the Word of promise.”[60]

CWOB theology views Baptism, Confirmation, and the Lord's Supper as sacraments of initiation. It also views the catechesis of those baptized, if and when it is done, as being spiritual formation (how to live one's mission or vocation in life, how to live a good ethical life, how to have right feelings about God) rather than an education in Christian doctrinal teachings.[61] This deemphasis on doctrinal content is also seen in the ILCW which crafted the LBW baptism and first communion liturgies to move away from a “Lutheran obsession with theology,” away from doctrine, to actions and “feelings.”[62]

CWOB appears to have had a lengthy history in Lutheran circles. In 1972 Arthur Carl Piepkorn wrote in opposition to communing the unbaptized and attempts to use communing the unbaptized as an evangelism tool.

“In principle, the eucharistic assembly is always the company of those who have been made members of the body of Christ upon earth by Holy Baptism and who are gathered together in this capacity alone to commemorate His triumph in His death and resurrection . . .” 

“. . . it is wrong to admit individuals to the Holy Eucharist indiscriminately . . . with no effort to determine if they have been baptized, with no effort to determine their continuing status as members of the church, and with no assurance that they have the requisite disposition of sorrow for their wrong-doing and faith in the atoning work of our Lord that is made present again in this mystery.”

“I submit that it is misguided . . . to use the celebration of the Holy Eucharist as such as an evangelistic device and to impose on the celebration of the Holy Eucharist a burden that it was never intended to bear, that is, to serve as the means of communicating the basics of the Gospel to people to whom the Gospel has never been communicated. There are other vehicles for this task.”[63]

CWOB was still being practiced among Lutherans in the 1990s as Lyman Lundeen wrote: “I am not very optimistic that the ELCA can do much to stop infant Communion. I suspect that the question of whether the Church should commune infants is becoming a moot issue . . . Similarly, we can expect that some pastors will make it very clear that even Baptism is not necessary for reception of communion. There are those doing that now.”[64]

Further evidence of the progress of CWOB in Lutheranism is seen in the “My Turn” column in the ELCA’s official lay publication, The Lutheran (March 2005). It contains an article written by Pastor Olin K. Sletto who offers communion to everyone “even those, especially those, who are not baptized.” Pastor Sletto believes that communing the unbaptized is to be “inclusive” rather than “exclusive.” He concluded his article saying, “Jesus would want it that way.”[65]

The October 2010 issue of Forum Letter reported on a Sierra Pacific Synod (ELCA) service at which “everyone without exception” was invited “to the Table.”[66]

The ELCA officially engaged in a serious denomination-wide discussion about welcoming the unbaptized to their altars since the Episcopalians do. This would remove barriers to intercommunion with unbaptized Episcopalians with whom they are in full pulpit and altar fellowship.[67] This proposal received stiff opposition from some in the ELCA.[68]

For those incorporated into a CWOB church, there often is at best minimal religious education in the doctrines of the church. Congregations practicing CWOB find that “it is notoriously difficult to move people from the table to the commitment of the font.”[69] Why should they commit to anything? They have been admitted to the Lord's Supper without any conditions — even faith in Christ — so why should they submit to a program of instruction/education or baptism? Some “Open Communion” congregations baptize their new members quickly “with little preparation and encourage all to commune.”[70] Some even see Baptism as an “obstacle” to participation in the church.[71] Some advocates of CWOB say that “baptism before eucharist is always a mistake.”[72]

Today the debate over the propriety of CWOB continues. “Increasingly” Christian church denominations are debating the question as to “whether the unbaptized are eligible or welcome to eat at the Lord’s Table.” This debate is a theological “powder keg” for the Christian church. The question remains as to whether or not the Lord’s Supper is “just for the baptized?” If not then all who come should be welcomed to the Table. “On the other hand,” by welcoming the unbaptized and unbelieving to the Lord’s Table, Christian “churches may be abdicating their responsibility to their neighbor by not warning people that without faith, a gift given in baptism, they may be eating poison rather than the gift of life and salvation.”[73]

The concern about people eating poison rather than receiving the gifts of life and salvation is in line with the following words from the Lutheran Confessions: “unworthy guests at the Supper are, namely, those who go to this sacrament without true contrition and sorrow for their sins, without true faith, and without a good intention to improve their life and who by their unworthy oral eating of the body of Christ burden themselves with judgment (that is temporal and eternal punishments) and profane the body and blood of Christ.”[74]

Thus CWOB raises the following questions. What of God’s judgment on those who commune unworthily (1 Cor. 11:27, 29)? How is is possible for an unbeliever to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes? How is it possible for an unbeliever to discern the Lord’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament? How is it possible for an unbeliever to believe Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper? How is it possible for an unbeliever to be penitent in a scriptural way?

The impetus for early and infant communion has been accompanied by a diminishing emphasis on confession before receiving the Eucharist — as John Zoppi noted: “Confession was no longer a precondition for reception of the Sacrament [of the Altar].”[75] This was evident in LBW by its separation of the confession of sins from its Eucharistic liturgies.[76]

As the church wrestles with the above questions, the historical record is clear. The ELCA has moved from full instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper, to early communion, to official acceptance of infant communion, to wrestling with official recognition of CWOB. The Missouri Synod has progressed from full instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper, to early communion, to increasing advocacy for infant communion. If the LCMS follows the pattern of the ELCA, then it is only a matter of time before advocates of CWOB will begin promoting this practice in the LCMS. Perhaps those proponents are already in the LCMS but silent as of yet until infant communion gains a greater foothold in the LCMS.


The trend in the Christian Church at large, and in Lutheranism as well, has been to provide less and less scriptural education, less teaching of the catechism, less teaching about the church, church history, and the Lutheran Confessions, and to place more emphasis on feelings, actions, emotions, ethics, and inclusiveness.[77] This lessening of the teaching of doctrine has been accompanied by a distinct downturn in religious knowledge among Christians. 

Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, discovered that many lack “the traditional substantive content” of their religious traditions. A “significant part of Christianity” in the US is “only tenuously Christian in any sense” of “the actual historical Christian tradition” to which they belong. They have lost the “language and experience of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, heaven and hell.”[78] These doctrinal truths have been supplanted by feelings and emotions. The level of religious knowledge today has been described by some as “widespread biblical illiteracy.”[79]

Biblical illiteracy afflicts Lutherans as well as others. In a study done in the late 1990s barely 50% of the Lutherans believed the doctrine of justification, 65% believed that most religions lead to the same God, barely 50% believed in original sin, and 33% denied the doctrine of the Trinity.[80]


What gave rise to the historic Lutheran practice of full Christian catechetical education before admittance to the Lord’s Supper? The Saxon Visitations in 1528 revealed that there was widespread religious illiteracy among the Christians in the churches of Luther’s day. Many of the people communing had “no knowledge of Christian teaching.” Many pastors were “incompetent and unfitted for teaching” for they too lacked basic knowledge of the Christian faith. Luther lamented, “Although the people are supposed to be Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, they do not know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments.”[81] One Lutheran theologian described the conditions Luther found as “abysmal ignorance of the faith among both clergy and laypeople.”[82]

The deplorable spiritual conditions observed during the Saxon church visitations moved Luther and Melanchthon to press “the need for a universally acceptable catechism further and suggested that the condition for first communion be an understanding of the five parts of the Catechism: the Decalog, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”[83]

For Luther instruction was to begin with the Ten Commandments and moved through the chief parts of Christian doctrine finishing with instruction in the Lord’s Supper. “Begin by teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, etc.”[84] “When these three parts are understood, we ought also to know what to say about the sacraments which Christ himself instituted.”[85]

This instruction was designed to enable people to come to the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner in accord with 1 Corinthians 11 and other verses of scripture. 

“Our clergy instruct the people about the worth and fruits of the sacraments . . . we do this according to both the Gospel and the ancient canons. But we do not prescribe a set time because not everyone is ready in the same way at the same time. In fact, if everyone rushed in at the same time, the people could not be heard and instructed properly . . . Christ says (1 Cor. 11:29) that those who receive in an unworthy manner receive judgment upon themselves. Therefore our pastors do not force those who are not ready to use the sacraments.”[86] Preparation for a worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper was a large part of the reason Luther wrote the catechisms. 

Arthur Repp wrote about Luther’s “emphasis that all Christians, young and old, needed to be instructed so that they could partake of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner.” Luther stated that those desiring to commune should “first be examined” and “in particular, be able to indicate what he believed concerning the Lord’s Supper and what he expected to receive from the Sacrament.” The Instructions to the Saxon visitors said the same thing. Both “catechisms of Luther emphasized the importance of instruction in preparation for the Lord’s Supper.”[87]

Luther also wrote that “If any refuse your instructions . . . they should not be admitted to the sacrament” of the altar,[88]

Other portions of the Lutheran Confessions also speak about the necessity of full Christian education before admission to the Lord’s Table.

Melanchthon wrote: "In our churches the use [of the Sacrament of the Altar] is more frequent and more devout. It is the people who use it, and this only when they have been instructed and examined."[89]

Further he said: "Every Lord's Day many in our circles use the Lord's Supper, but only after they have been instructed, examined, and absolved . . . Among our opponents there is no catechization of the children at all, though even the canons give prescriptions about it. In our circles the pastors and ministers of the churches are required to instruct and examine the youth publicly, a custom which produces very good results.”[90]

In addition to these confessional statements there are other writings from Luther noting the need for proper education before attending the Lord’s Supper – “The catechism was the teaching by which one prepared the people for receiving the sacrament [of the altar].“[91]

In a letter to believers in Frankfurt Luther wrote: 

“However, because we are concerned about nurturing Christians who will still be here after we are gone, and because it is Christ’s body and blood that are given out in the Sacrament, we will not and cannot give such a Sacrament to anyone unless he is first examined regarding what he has learned from the Catechism and whether he intends to forsake the sins which he has again committed . . . all of this we have received from the beginning of Christendom . . . those in need of instruction are to be examined and by their answers show that they know the parts of the Catechism, that they recognize the sin they again have done . . . If they will not do this, they may not come to the Sacrament.”[92]

In the above quotation, Luther stated that the necessity of thorough instruction before admission to the Lord’s Supper was a practice received from the beginning of Christendom. There is scholarship which supports Luther’s statement and the perspective of the other reformers on this point. R.T. Beckwith wrote that an “interval between baptism . . . in infancy and first communion at a later age is definitely attested . . . Origen, about A.D. 235 . . . states that children were not given communion . . . Third century Syrian support for Origen is found in Didascalia, 9 . . . where a long period of Christian education intervenes between baptism and admission to communion . . . Now, it may be that the . . . practice . . . in this matter goes back to Judaism . . . the reformers’ belief that they had a precedent for their confirmation practice in the early Church and Judaism can be seen to be far less wide of the mark than is usually stated.”[93]

The interrelationships of the parts of the Small Catechism are important. For people to understand what sin is, and what should be confessed in preparation for coming to Holy Communion, Luther began the catechisms with an exposition of the Ten Commandments. Having been moved to a knowledge of sin and to penitence by the Spirit of God, Christians need to know how the Triune God has dealt with their sin in the justifying work of Christ. Thus the teaching of the Creed. Speaking with God about sin and other matters necessitates teaching about prayer/the Lord’s Prayer. Following that Christians need to understand who they are — baptized, redeemed, and forgiven sinners, God’s sons and daughters, believing saints of God in Christ. Hence the teaching of Baptism. Since baptized Christians remain sinner/saints there is the need for teaching about the Keys and the confession of sins. Luther emphasized that the most important part of the Keys is the absolution — sinners knowing God’s pardon in Christ. All of this is in preparation for coming to the Lord’s Table in a godly and worthy manner, knowing by faith what Christ is giving sinners in His Last Will and Testament — the spiritual inheritance of eternal life by the salvation won for sinners through Christ’s sinless life, death, and resurrection.[94]

The above summary emphasizes the importance of understanding the theme and narrative of Luther’s Catechisms. That theme is the doctrine of justification by grace through faith apart from the deeds of the Law. “’Justified by faith without the deeds of the Law’ — that is the thought that runs through the Catechism like a silken cord.”[95] The explanations of the commandments emphasize the fact that Christians are to “fear, love and trust in God above all things.”[96] The explanations of the creed begin with “I believe.”[97] In the Lord’s Prayer catechists are encouraged “to believe” that God is our dear Father in heaven Who will hear and answer our prayers.[98] In Luther’s exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism he emphasizes that the 5th petition is “an appeal to God . . . to deal graciously with us” and “to forgive as he has promised.”[99] In Baptism people are to “believe . . . the Word and promise of God” that comes with the water.[100] In Confession and Absolution Christians are encouraged to believe that “our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.”[101] In the Large Catechism Luther emphasized the fact that Christians are to believe that the most important part of Confession and Absolution is not our word of confession but God’s Word of forgiveness or “absolution.”[102] In the Lord’s Supper Christians are worthy and well prepared as they are led by the Spirit to “believe” the words of Christ that “the forgiveness of sins” and Christ’s true body and blood are “for you.”[103]

Luther and the Confessions teach that Spirit-led faith in Christ and His words, and faith in what God is giving in the Lord’s Supper is necessary for a worthy reception. For Luther and the Lutherans in the Reformation era, education in the chief parts of Christian doctrine before reception of the Lord’s Supper was the normative practice.

Arthur Repp credits Luther for emphasizing “instruction, especially in preparation for the Lord’s Supper” and states that this is one of Luther’s major contributions” to this issue. He writes as well of Luther’s emphasis on “private confession and absolution” which also “underscored” his “concern for proper preparation for the Lord’s Supper.”[104] This strong emphasis on examination and confession in preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper is one of the hallmarks of historic Lutheran preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper. Luther, the Confessions, and many Lutheran theologians emphasize this point. Changed practices have greatly lessened this emphasis on preparation for coming to the Lord’s Table.

The above practice of thorough catechetical instruction before receiving the Lord’s Supper has the foundation of a number of passages in Holy Scripture which emphasize the need to teach or catechize the young in the basics of the faith. These Old Testament passages teach about the importance of religious eduction: Exodus 12:21–27; Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:1–9; Psalm 78:1–8; 119:9–16; Proverbs 22:6; These New Testament passages speak about the Lord’s Supper and the importance of catechetical training. Matthew 26:26–28; 28:18–20; Luke 1:4; Acts 18:25; 1 Corinthians 11:23–34; Galatians 6:6; Ephesians 6:1–4; 2 Timothy 3:14–17.[105]

Today this Reformation pattern for Christian education beginning with the Ten Commandments and finishing with the Lord’s Supper is increasingly being replaced by the pattern of beginning with teaching something about the Sacrament of the Altar and then admission to communion (early communion). Instruction in the rest of the Six Chief Parts may or may not follow. For those practicing infant communion, one is baptized and then receives communion. Some instruction may or may not follow. For the practitioners of CWOB the person is admitted to communion and this is often followed by little else.   


As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches the above essay indicates that many current practices for catechesis, admission to communion, and confirmation are quite different from those of our Lutheran forefathers. In the early days of Lutheranism age was not a factor for coming to the Lord’s Table but thorough religious instruction was. This training led to knowledge which helped enable Spirit guided self-examination, confession and repentance, and a worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper. 

The changes that have occurred raise the following questions. Does the widespread religious and biblical illiteracy of today indicate the need to modify or reject current practices like early communion, infant communion and CWOB? Is there need for a greater emphasis on preparation for communion, and on the need for self-examination and the confession of sins before communion? What practices will better equip today’s Lutheran Christians with a deepened theological foundation for godly living in the world? Do our current cultural circumstances justify the changes that have occurred or do they indicate the opposite? What pathways should Lutherans chart in these areas for the next 500 years to remain truly catholic? What are the theological foundations for the current changes in admission to the Lord’s Supper? Are they in line with the Bible and Reformation theology? Which practices have the better biblical foundation? Which practices for admission to the Lord’s Supper should 21st century Lutherans be following? Are there other practices in line with Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions that can or should be discovered and followed? Have the noted changes affected the justification by faith orientation of Luther’s Catechisms? 

Continued study of the reasons for the changes in theology and practice will assist 21st century Lutherans in determining whether these changed practices are faithful to Reformation doctrine and practice or not. This serious and diligent study should be done with the goal of assisting Lutheran Christians 500 years after the Reformation to continue to catechize the baptized in the teachings of God’s Word and the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ so that future generations of God’s people would be biblically and catechetically prepared to know the truth, to live their Christian faith in their daily lives, to confess their sins, to receive the Lord’s Supper in a godly penitential manner, and, by God’s justifying grace in Christ, to enter eternal glory.

This study concludes with a quotation from the LCMS’ CTCR which recently studied infant communion again. Its conclusions touch on many of the changes that have been discussed in this essay.

“We have been unable to find any reason to commune our infants and very young children. No exegetical, systematic, confessional, historical, or pastoral argument was found to either require or encourage such a practice among us. The understanding of the Lord’s Supper—its nature and its benefits—that we have derived from our study has confirmed the reformers’ practice of continuing to require the sort of careful self-examination required by Saint Paul and, more importantly, by the Lord who spoke through Saint Paul and whose Supper this is. For the sake of those being examined, careful, thorough, and life-long instruction was to be provided. The insistence seen on the part of the reformers and of our synodical fathers that such examination conclude with confession and absolution is perfectly in line with the Apostolic and Dominical instructions concerning the worthy and beneficial reception of the sacrament. The pattern for baptized children in Lutheran congregations has been clear and consistent until very recently: instruction was followed by examination leading to confession, absolution, and the reception of the Lord’s body and blood. As more and more groups promote the Eucharist for all the baptized or simply the Eucharist for all, it becomes all the more important that we remain faithful stewards in our own generation of the mysteries entrusted to us. At the same time, ongoing study of our understanding of the sacrament and of the resulting understanding of its worthy reception can only be beneficial, provided it is carried out under the supervision of the supreme norm of our thought and practice, the Holy Scriptures, and informed by their faithful and true exposition, the Lutheran Confessions.”[106]

Armand J. Boehme serves as Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Northfield, MN, and as an EIIT mentor. He served on the CTCR for 14 years, and as a missionary in Kazakhstan.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

[1] Arthur C. Repp, Confirmation in the Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 55–56.

This statement is from the original constitution of the LCMS: “The constitution of the Missouri Synod says: ‘The district synod is to exercise supervision so that its pastors confirm catechumens only when they can at least recite the text of the Catechism verbatim, without the exposition, and their understanding of it has been brought to a point that they are capable of examining themselves according to 1 Cor. 11:28 . . . they should all first receive confirmation instruction before they are admitted to holy Communion.’” Further, Walther writes that those who “cannot examine themselves according to 1 Cor. 11:28” should not be admitted to “the Lord’s Table.” C.F.W. Walther, Walther’s Pastorale: that is American Lutheran Pastoral Theology, trans. John M. Drickhamer (New Haven, MO: Lutheran News, 1995), 188, 190.

“When children have arrived at an understanding of the catechism that they can examine themselves according to the command of the holy apostle, 1. Cor. 11:28, then they should no longer be constrained from partaking of the Holy Supper.” Wm. Loehe, quoted in Geoffrey R. Boyle, “Confirmation, Catechesis, and Communion: A Historical Survey,” Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol. 79, Nos. 1–2 (January/April 2015), 139.

[2] Repp, Confirmation, 144–145.

[3] S. Anita Stauffer, “Baptism: Back to the Future,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vol. 30, No. 5 (October 2003), 377; Berthold von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” Concordia Theological Monthly Vol. 42, No. 6 (June 1971), 357. “The gift of Communion is the birthright of the baptized.” Lutheran Book of Worship Ministers Desk Edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House/Philadelphia: Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978), 31 – hereinafter LBW:MDE.

[4] Kurt Sylvester, “In My Opinion: When to Commune Our Children?” Lutheran Witness Vol. 103 No. 4 (April 1984), 21. 

In reference to Sylvester’s statement, the author of this essay had Lutheran parents who came to his congregation with children who were told by their former pastor that they could attend communion simply because they appeared mature enough to do so. They were not instructed before being admitted to communion. Several adults who came to this author’s church from another Lutheran synod had simply been asked by their former pastor if they wanted to be baptized, and without any instruction were baptized and admitted to communion.

[5] Paul G. Bretscher, “First Things First: The Question of Infant Communion,” Una Sancta Vol. 20, No. 4 (1963), 40.

[6] “The Lord’s Supper must be denied . . . D. To those who are not able to examine themselves, such as children and adults who have not been sufficiently instructed . . .” A Short Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1943), 204–205. See also Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 241; Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 244.

[7] Fritz’s Pastoral Theology states that catechization in the six chief parts of Christian doctrine “is necessary for one who would partake of the Sacrament of the Altar” so that “he be able to examine himself, 1 Cor. 11,28” and confess his sins. Fritz also writes that the ability to confess one’s sins is the “conditio sine qua non for a worthy reception of the Sacrament.” John H.C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1932), 127 & 137. See also Gregory Seltz, “Topic Fourteen: The Lord’s Supper,” in Edward Englebrecht, ed., The Lutheran Difference: An Explanation & Comparison of Christian Beliefs (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014 - 500th Anniversary of the Reformation edition), 444. “Luther assumes that people will have studied the other parts of the catechisms before coming to the Lord’s Supper. That way they will be ready to examine themselves.” Seltz, “Topic Fourteen,” 440. Joel Biermann, “Step Up to the Altar: Thinking About the Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper,” Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol. 72, No. 2 (April, 2008), 153.

”The practice of intercommunion reflects the unity of the articles of faith in a single confession (‘doctrine and all its articles,’ SD X, 31). . . Communicants at an orthodox Lutheran altar profess not merely the single article of the real presence, but the whole doctrine of the Small Catechism to which they solemnly pledged themselves in their confirmation vow . . . Conversely, the historic practice of closed communion attests commitment to a whole body of doctrine consisting of interconnected articles. Moreover it calls for resolute and careful catechesis both before and after admission to the altar.” John R. Stephenson The Lord’s Supper: Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Volume XII (St. Louis: the Luther Academy, 2003), 162–163.

Webber ties together the ELCA’s “open communion” practice which welcomed “adults with no Lutheran catechesis” to commune at Lutheran altars, with the practice of admitting “uncatechized children” and “infants” to communion. David Jay Webber, “Infant Communion in the Lutheran Church?”  8 -

[8] Repp, Confirmation, 139–144.

[9] David R. Holeton, “Confirmation in the 1980s,” in Max Thurian, ed., Ecumenical Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches Faith and Order Paper 116, 1983), 81–82.

Some Lutheran responses to the WCC document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry stated that “infant baptism and confirmation are becoming increasingly empty of meaning.” Michael Seils, Lutheran Convergence? An Analysis of the Lutheran Responses to the Convergence Document “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission (Geneva, Switzerland: Lutheran World Federation, 1988 – LWF Report 25), 43.

[10] Eric W. Gritsch, “Birthright of the Baptized,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 14, No. 3 (Reformation 1980), 28.

“The ecumenical convergence since Vatican II has resulted from and helped shape a similar convergence in liturgical practice. The various American Protestant denominational hymnals witness within their pages to this liturgical convergence.” Those ecumenical changes in LBW and other hymnals are described as “proper liturgical practice.” Part of that proper practice is the admission of just baptized infants to the Lord’s Supper. Kent J. Burreson, “The United Methodist Book of Worship: A Prod to the Revision of Lutheran Baptismal Rites,” The Bride of Christ Vol. 21, No. 4 (September 1997), 12, 15. And Do Not Hinder Them: An Ecumenical Plea for the Admission of Children to the Eucharist (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982 – Faith and Order Paper – No. 109). This book contains numerous essays encouraging early communion and infant communion.

[11] Frank W. Klos, Confirmation and First Communion: Leader’s Guide (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House/Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the Lutheran Church in America/St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 29. See also Frank W. Klos, Confirmation and First Communion: A Study Book (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House/Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the Lutheran Church in America/St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 117-139; Carl E. Braaten, “Views & Counter views: Communion Before Confirmation?” dialog Vol. 1, No. 3 (Summer 1962 – Reformation and Rome), 61–62;  Repp, Confirmation, 147–153.

[12] von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” 353.

[13] “Affirmation of Baptism,” Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis/Philadelphia: Augsburg Publishing House/Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978), 198–201; “First Communion,” LBW:MDE, 31-32; “Affirmation of Baptism,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2006), 234–237; “First Communion Prior to Confirmation,” Lutheran Service Book: Agenda (St. Louis; Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 25–27. A proposed order for “Admission to First Communion” is in Klos, Confirmation Study Book, 137–139. Hereinafter Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW); Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW); Lutheran Service Book (LSB); Lutheran Service Book: Agenda (LSB:A).

[14] Klos, Confirmation Study Book, 200.

[15] Jeffrey A. Truscott, The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American Lutheranism (Lanham, Maryland and Oxford – Drew University Studies in Liturgy, No. 11, 2003), 1, 19. See also Peter Hinchliff, “The Modern Period,” in Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, SJ, eds., The Study of Liturgy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 133–146; Cyrille Argenti, “Chrismation” in Thurian, Ecumenical Perspectives on BEM, 46–67; Holeton, “Confirmation in the 1980s” in Thurian, Ecumenical Perspectives on BEM, 68–89; William H. Lazareth & Nikos Nissiotis, eds., Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches Faith and Order Paper no. 111, 1982), 4–5; Edward Kersten Perry, What Is Really Going On Here? An Essay on the Rhetoric, Process, and the “Doing of Theology” about the so-called “Infant Communion” issue (np: Upper New York Synod Lutheran Church in America, 1979), 12–21, 32–34.

[16] Repp, Confirmation, 49. Repp discouraged the practice of early communion before confirmation. Repp, Confirmation, 176–177.

[17] John J. Zoppi, “Infants at the Eucharist,” The Bride of Christ Vol. 4, No. 2 (Lent - Easter, 1980), 4.

[18] Ralph W. Quere, In the Context of Unity: A History of the Development of Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2003), 235. Questions about infant communion also arose as a result of the publication of the WCC study entitled Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (BEM). Seils, Lutheran Convergence?, 42.

[19] David L. Pearcy “Infant Communion, Part II, Present Barriers to the Practice,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vol. 7, No. 3 (June, 1980), 170.

[20] “37 Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation from the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized . . . Infants and children may be communed for the first time during the service in which they are baptized.” The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament (Minneapolis: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1997), 37d.

[21] Charles Davis, Liturgy & Doctrine (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), 23, 123.

What the ecumenical/liturgical movement desired was “a common confession of the apostolic faith” leading to “the goal of visible unity.” To that end agreed upon statements of belief (like Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry) were crafted. To bring about unity of belief there needed to be a “revision of baptism catechesis.” To achieve this a common ecumenical catechetical curriculum needed to be written. Becker provided three examples of common catechetical materials. Ulrich Becker, “Catechetical Implications,” in Thurian, Ecumenical Perspectives on BEM, 175, 180, 176–180. 

See also Johannes Feiner & Lukas Vischer, The Common Catechism: A Book of Christian Faith, trans. David Bourke, et.a., (New York: Seabury Press, 1973). This was a catechism produced jointly by Lutherans and Roman Catholics in the Netherlands. In 2010 the Vatican called for the production of an ecumenical catechism — Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and the Reformed were to join the Roman Catholics in producing such a catechism.

[22] Eugene L. Brand, “The Lutheran Book of Worship—Quarter Century Reckoning,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vo. 30, No. 5 (October 2003), 331 – Brand was one of the crafters of LBW; Perry described the liturgical changes as “foreign” to “Lutheran piety and worship.“ Perry, What Is Going On? 52, note 2.

[23] Mark E. Chapman, “Fundamental Unity: Evangelical-Catholic Non-Negotiables,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 39, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter 2005), 18. 

“To return to our earlier question, does evangelical catholicism lead to Rome? The inevitable answer is yes, it does . . . Properly speaking, Lutherans are Catholics in exile, an exile that must someday end and for which one must offer ardent prayers . . . it is inevitable, there will be a reunion . . . the direction of evangelical catholicism is toward Rome.” Russell E. Saltzman, “Proleptic Reunions,” Forum Letter (Vol. 27, No.5 (May 1998), 5–6.

[24] Larry David McCormick, “Children at Communion: Some Biblical Factors” The Bride of Christ Vol. 4, No. 1 (Advent 1979), 20.

[25] “LCA Seminary Bars Professor from Celebrating Eucharist: The Issue Is 'Infant Communion,'” Missouri In Perspective Vol. 6 (January 15, 1979), 3 – Eric Gritsch was the professor who was barred. See also Truscott, Reform, 231. Lutheran Forum described the responses of the ALC and LCA to the Gritsch situation as the “ill-considered prohibition of infant communion” by both church bodies’ conventions. Wartburg Seminary urged the ALC convention to see “infant communion” as an “open” question. The article referred to the exclusion of infants from communion as “excommunication.” The article also noted Robert Jenson’s refusal to preside “at the Eucharist because of the ban on infant communion.” “Infant Communion: A Battle Nobody Needs,” Forum Letter Vol. 8, No. 1 (January 28, 1979), 1.

[26] von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” 354.

[27] Robert W. Jenson, “On Infant Communion Again” Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter, 1996), 18. Jenson was an author of the eucharistic prayers in LBW.

[28] Scott M. Marincic, “Truly Worthy and Well Prepared: A Reexamination of Infant Communion in Light of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions with A Brief Historical Introduction;” Richard Futrell, “Does Our Lord Invite Baptized Infants to His Supper?” (presented to the Missouri District’s Springfield Circuit ‘Winkel’ of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod – 8 November 2011); “A Place at the Table: Why We Welcome Infants and Children in Our Church to Commune at the Lord’s Table” (a tract from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church—LCMS, LaGrange, Kentucky); Patrick Fodor, “The History of Infant Communion” The Bride of Christ Vol. 27, No. 3 (June 2003), 3–10; Patrick S. Fodor, “A Case for Infant Communion in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod)”, Burreson, “The United Methodist Book of Worship,” 15; von Schenk, “First Communion and Confirmation,” 357.

The LCMS’s CTCR issued a "Response to 'Concerns of South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion,'" To the Ends of the Earth: Convention Workbook - Reports and Overtures: 60th Regular Convention The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, July 11-17, 1998, pp. 61–65. Also at the CTCR website – Response to “Concerns of the South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion.”

There are those in the WELS who are advocates of infant communion – James A. Frey, “Infant Communion: A Look at Lutheran Liturgical Practice” at the web site “The Motley Magpie” -

[29] Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper (St. Louis: A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, May 1983), 28. See also Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, Committee trans. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 383, fn. 133.

[30] “Response to ‘Concerns of South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion,’” 13.

[31] Carl A. Volz, Pastoral Life and Practice in the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1990), 67–68.

In the early church altar fellowship was “possible only on the basis of the confessed faith.” The requirement for attendance at the altar was a “confession of the formulated content of faith.” The content of this confession was a result of “the careful instruction given to catechumens.” The early church “admitted into full membership only those who had personally and clearly made a confession of the specific content of their faith.” Individuals were carefully instructed and tested before they were even admitted to the assembly as a hearer. The hearers and the catechumens “had to leave the assembly” before “the Eucharist began.” Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, trans. N.E. Nagel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 71, 72, 75.

[32] For essays supporting the widespread practice of infant communion see Fodor, “The History of Infant Communion,” 3–10; Gary V. Gehlbach, “The Discontinuance of the Practice of Communing Infants in the Western Church”; Tommy Lee, “The History of Paedocommunion: From the Early Church Until 1500” - communion&item_type=topic; David L. Pearcy “Infant Communion, Part I, The Historical Practice,” Currents in Theology and Mission Vol. 7, No. 1 (February, 1980), 43–47. See also Mark Dalby, Infant Communion: The New Testament to the Reformation (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010).

For arguments against the widespread practice of infant communion especially in the early years of Christianity see Marc Kolden, “Infant Communion in Light of Theological and Pastoral Perspectives” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn 1996), 249–250; Mark D. Tranvik, “Should Infants Be Communed? A Lutheran Perspective,” Word & World Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter 1995), 86; R.T. Beckwith, “The Jewish Background to Christian Worship,” in Jones, Wainwright & Yarnold, The Study of Liturgy, 46-47; John T. Pless, “Theses on Intant/Toddler Communion” -

For an extended refutation of the arguments for widespread infant communion in the first five centuries which examines the writings of the church fathers supposedly favoring infant communion and an exposition of the early father’s use of 1 Corinthians 11 to guard the altar see Matthew Winzer, “The True History of Paedo-Commiunion,” The Confessional Presbyterian Vol. 3 (2007), 27–36.

See also the following bibliographies or extended notes on the subject of infant communion.”Paedocommunion Bibliography” at; Tom Richstatter, “Chapter i38 Eucharist: Culmination of Initiation” - – this is a Roman Catholic urging the practice of infant communion and CWOB – there are many other things on this site relating to infant communion as well; Gary V. Gehlbach, “Infant Communion: Bibliography – Chronological” -; That Lutheran Guy, “Lutherans, Infant Communion & 1 Corinthians 11:28” - – has some extended quotations from Lutheran sources and the church fathers on this subject. Gary V. Gehlbach, “Infant Communion Bibliography” -

[33] Truscott, The Reform of Baptism, 163, 230. See also LBW:MDE, 31–32; Renewing Worship: Holy Baptism and Related Rites (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002); Armand J. Boehme, “Review Essay: The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American Lutheranism,” LOGIA Vol. 23, No. 2 (Eastertide 2014), 58–59.

[34] Robert W. Jenson, Visible Words (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 84–85, 163–164; Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Paper No. 111, 5, 10, 15; David Holeton, Infant Communion—Then and Now (Bramcote Notts.: Grove Books, 1981), 4–7, 13–15. 

“The structure of John’s Gospel (with John 3 and 6 showing in precisely the same way the necessity of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar) and the history of the Church’s understanding of Jesus’ Words in John 6 show us that we should understand the Words of our Lord sacramentally.” Fodor, “The History of Infant Communion,” 10, fn. 38 – see also 5. For a refutation of the supposed sacramental connection between John 3 & 6 see Armand J. Boehme, “John 6 and Historic Lutheranism” LOGIA Vol. 25, No. 1 (Epiphany 2015), 10–11.

[35] AE 36, 15–16, 19–20; Thomas A. Fudge, “Hussite Infant Communion,” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer 1996), 184–185. Martin Luther, “Letter to Nicholas Hausmann, 1523” in Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter 1996), 13; Boehme, “John 6 and Historic Lutheranism,” 7–15; Meredith J.C. Warren, My Flesh Is Meat Indeed: A Nonsacramental Reading of John 6:51–58 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015). One of the best refutations of the Eucharistic nature of John 6 is Kenneth F. Korby, “The Use of John 6 in Lutheran Sacramental Piety,” in Frederic W. Baue, John W. Fenton, Eric C. Forss, Frank J. Pies, and John T. Pless, eds., Shepherd the Church: Essays in Pastoral Theology Honoring Bishop Roger D. Pittelko (Ft. Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 2002), 144.

Walther and Pieper wrote against infant communion and the attempts of advocates to justify it by referencing John 6. “Since according to God’s Word everyone who would approach the Lord’s Table should first examine himself and discern the Lord’s body, it will not do to give the Lord’s Supper to children incapable of examining themselves. It was a manifest abuse when this practice . . . was quite general from the third to the fifth century . . . through a misinterpretation of John 6:53 as referring to sacramental eating and drinking. This misuse was prevalent also among the Bohemian Hussites . . . Luther wrote: ‘I cannot side with the Bohemians in distributing the Lord’s Supper to children, even though I would not call them heretics on that account.’” Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, III, 383, fn. 133; Walther, Pastoral Theology, 146–147.

See also Craig R. Koester, “Infant Communion in Light of the New Testament” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn 1996), 233–239; Todd Nichol, “Infant Communion in Light of the Lutheran Confessions”  Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn 1996), 241–247; Kolden, “Infant Communion in Light of Theological and Pastoral Perspectives,” 249–257.

[36] Davis, Liturgy & Doctrine, 69–70. See also Louis Bouyer, “The Word of God Lives in the Liturgy,” in The Liturgy and The Word of God (Collegeville, MN: The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., 1959), 71; Avery Dulles, “Faith and Order at Louvain” Theological Studies Vol. 33, No. 1 (January 1972), 41. “. . . the Eucharist remains the culmination of Holy Baptism.” Stauffer, “Baptism,” 377; Burreson, “The United Methodist Book of Worship,” 15.

[37] Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: William H. Sadlier, Inc., 1994), 352 – #1396. Hereinafter CCC.

[38] CCC, 334, #1322.

[39] CCC, 334, #1324.

[40] CCC, 292, #1129.

[41] “Eucharist” in John Hardon, Basic Catholic Catechism Home Study Course -

[42] Jan Wakelin response to the question “Is receiving the Eucharist necessary for salvation?”


[44] “Infant Communion: The Ancient Western Tradition” This is an excerpt which defends the practice of infant communion written by a Roman Catholic scholar Robert Taft.

[45] Philip H. Pfatteicher & Carlos R. Messerli, Manual on the Liturgy Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg Publishing House, 1979), 187. Hereinafter LBW-ML.

[46] Bryon Hansen, “Font to table or table to font” — a paper presented at the August 3–6, 2009 gathering of the North American Association of the Catechumenate, Niagara Falls, Ontario, 1.

[47] Michael P. Plekon, “Communion in Holy Things: The Eucharist Makes the Church,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass Winter, 1996), 48; Chapman, “Fundamental Unity: Evangelical-Catholic Non-Negotiables,” 13. “The unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church.” CCC, 353 #1396 (italics in original); also #1407.

[48] The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament (np: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1997), 42; see also its statement on the unbaptized receiving the sacrament, Principle 37G; Truscott, Reform, 232.

[49] “Knowing What We Seek and Why We Come: Questions and Answers concerning the Communing of Infants and Young Children” (An Opinion of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, September 13, 2014), 7. (To access this document go to the LCMS website and click on Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and search “Lutheran Doctrine and Practice” and type in the title of this document into the search box.) See also Boyle, “Confirmation, Catechesis, and Communion,” 133, fn. 49.

[50] Tranvik, “Should Infants Be Communed? A Lutheran Perspective,” 90.

[51] Seils, Lutheran Convergence?, 41.

[52] Sixty-five percent of Southern Baptist churches allow non-baptized people to partake of the Lord’s Supper.; James A. Patterson, “Participation at the Lord’s Table” SBC Life: Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention (Winter 2016) Vol. 25, No. 2

“The Wesleyan tradition has always recognized that Holy Communion may be an occasion for the reception of converting, justifying, and sanctifying grace.” []

James Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of Open Communion,” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 86, No. 2 (Spring 2004), 215–238.

In 2010 the PCUSA approved an overture allowing the unbaptized to receive the Lord’s Supper.

If approved at its 2016 convention the PCUSA Directory of Worship would change the understanding of communion from being a covenant meal to a meal “of radical inclusivity” which “removes any distinction between believers and unbelievers.” Baptism and faith would no longer be required for communion attendance. Walter L. Taylor, “From Covenant Meal to a Fiesta of Inclusivity: Changes in the PCUSA Directory of Worship”

The proposed changes in the PCUSA reflect the actual practices of a number of PCUSA congregations and the theological recommendations of study committees which for years encouraged the move to early and infant communion and then to radical hospitality. 

In the UPC the move to early and infant communion is noted in “Special Committee on Baptized Children Participating in the Lord’s Supper Prior to Confirmation” which noted that all baptized children should be admitted to communion. Minutes of the General Assembly of the UPC, 1970, Vol. IV, Pt. 1, 627–633.

In 1977 the “Report of the Special Committee to Study the Theology, Nature, and Practice of the Lord’s Supper” encouraged open communion/radical hospitality stating that “the Lord’s Table is open to all people who would respond.” The Lord’s invitation to His Supper is “an open invitation to all . . . No one is barred from the Lord.” The report regarded the necessity of Baptism before admission to communion “as a reward for Baptism.” Minutes of the General Assembly of the UPC, 1977, Vol. XI, Pt. 1 222, 229. 

The pattern is familiar – the historic requirement was thorough education before admission to the Lord’s Supper, then came the move to early communion, then to infant communion, and then to open communion/radical hospitality/CWOB.

[53] Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 242–246, 258–260. Moltmann’s theology supports CWOB theology by emphasizing the teaching that Christ’s invitation is to all, and this open and inclusive, unconditional invitation overcomes alienation, division and separation. See also Andrew McGowan, “The Meals of Jesus and the Meals of the Church: Eucharistic Origins and Admission to Communion,” in Maxwell Johnson & L. Phillips, eds., Studia Liturgica Diversa (Portland, OR: Pastoral Press, 2004), 101–116.

[54] “Advocates for open communion also point to the eucharistic theology of John as it is laid out for us in chapter six. John does not give us a Last Supper narrative. Instead we have a lengthy discourse on the Bread of Life. What precedes this discourse? The feeding of the multitudes. This presumes something different than the meal being for only those committed. This eucharistic theology arises from . . . inclusive feedings for all people.” Hansen, “Font to table,” 5 – italics in original.

The above essay also notes that the Supper is a “means of leading people to faith,” and that “participation in the Eucharist leads to repentance.” Hansen, “Font to table,” 4, 7.

[55] The term “open communion” in this context is not what many understand to be intercommunion with other Christians. Open communion and radical hospitality mean that every person who desires to commune may do so whether they are Christian or have any faith in God or not.

[56] Hansen, “Font to table,” 3.

[57] Paul Ellis, “Escape to Reality: Can Unbelievers Take Communion?” Posted March 32, 2013 -

[58] Gordon A. Jensen, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring 2017), 14.

[59] AP XIII, 18 – Tappert, 213. “Similarly, why will faith be necessary if sacraments justify ex opere operato, without a good attitude in the one using them?” Ap VII & VIII, 21 – Tappert, 173. The Confessions show that Scripture does not teach that the mass “justifies ex opere operato.” AP XXIV, 31 – Tappert, 255. Also AP XXIV, 5, 9–13, 25–40, 58–67, 78-97 – Tappert, 250–251, 253–257, 260–261, 263–268.

[60] Holsten Fagerberg, A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529–1537), trans. Gene J. Lund (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 199.

[61] Kenan. B. Osborne, The Christian Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Mahwah, NJ: The Paulist Press, 1998); Kathryn Tanner, “In Praise of Open Communion: A Rejoinder to James Farwell,” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 86, No. 3 (Summer 2004), 473–485; James Farwell, “A Brief Reflection on Kathryn Tanner's Response to 'Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,'” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 87, No. 2 (Spring 2005), 303–310; James F. Turrell, “Muddying the Waters of Baptism: The Theology Committee's Report on Baptism, Conformation, and Christian Formation,” Anglican Theological Review Vol. 88, No. 3 (Summer 2006), 357. Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (New York: Ballantine Books, 2007).

[62] Truscott, Reform, 21. The ILCW desired to make baptism a “joyful event” (23) involving “drama” (25), congregational “experience” (21, 25) and “movement” (27); also Klos, Confirmation Study Book, 92.

[63] Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “The One Eucharist for the One World,” in Michael P. Plekon and William S. Wiecher, eds., The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn (Delhi, NY: ALPB Books, 1993), 164.

[64] Lyman T. Lundeen, “Should Lutherans Commune Infants?” Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 4 (Christmass/Winter 1996), 19–20.

[65] Olin K. Sletto, “My View – Christ invites the unbaptized . . . to 'take and eat,'” The Lutheran (March 2005) See also Russell E. Saltzman, “Cheap grace at the table,” Forum Letter Vol. 34, No. 4 (April 2005), 1, 2.

[66] Richard O. Johnson, “Quackery indeed,” Forum Letter Vol. 39, No. 10 (October 2010), 6.

[67] The ELCA’s invitation for congregations to discuss the issue is seen in Scott Weidler, “Table and font: Who is welcome?, An invitation to join the conversation,” Seeds for the Parish: Resource Paper for Leaders of ELCA Congregations (Summer 2014), 4.

[68] Paul R. Hinlicky, “The Truth About ‘Radical Hospitality,’” Lutheran Forum Vol. 48, No. 3 (Reformation/Fall 2014), inside front cover & 37–39; Wesley C. Telyea, “The Ecclesiological Implications of an Open Table,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 48, No. 4 (Winter 2014), 42–45.

[69] Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,” 236.

[70] Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,” 238.

[71] Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus,” 237.

[72] Tanner, “In Praise of Open Communion,” 485.

[73] Jensen, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” 13, 14.

[74] FC SD, VII, 69 – Tappert, 582.

[75] Zoppi, “Infants at the Eucharist,” 4.

[76] LBW’s “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness” is separated from each of LBW’s eucharistic liturgies. LBW, “Brief Order,” 56, 77, 98. “Holy Communion Setting One” begins on page 57 with a note that the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness may be used. But the liturgical service really beings with the entrance hymn and goes to the Kyrie. The same liturgical pattern is found in Setting Two (78), and Three (99). LBW’s Manual on the Liturgy says that the “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness” is “not theologically or liturgically necessary” before “every celebration of the Holy Communion” (LBW-ML, 196).

Though there are orders for corporate and private confession and absolution, the removal of confession and absolution from the structure of LBW’s eucharistic liturgies illustrates a de-emphasis of the need for penitence/confession before coming to the Lord’s Table. This lessening of the importance or necessity of confession before communing is tied with the movement to early and infant communion as Zoppi noted (see footnote 17). 

This pattern was slightly modified in ELW by the inclusion of either a confession of sins or “Thanksgiving for Baptism” at the beginning of the first two of its communion liturgies. ELW, 94–97, 116–119. Settings Three through Ten however follow the lead of LBW and omit both the confession of sins and the “Thanksgiving for Baptism” from these communion liturgies stating that either the confession or baptismal thanksgiving “may” be used. ELW 138, 147, 156, 165, 175, 184, 193, 203.

[77] William E. Thompson, “Catechesis: The Quiet Crisis,” Concordia theological Quarterly Vol. 56, Nos. 2–3 (April–July 1992), 99–121; Virgil Thompson, “The Promise of Catechesis,” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 4, No. 3 (Autumn 1990), 259–270.

See also Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2008) who notes that the majority of American Christians are either “experientialists” or or “moralists” rather than “confessionalists.” Moralists have a values based, moralistic and ethical theology (I’m for/against abortion). Experientialists have a theology of feeling and emotions (didn’t that service make you feel good!), rather than into doctrinal theology. There is also an emphasis on experience and doing rather than any content of what might be believed (43–47, 124–152).   

This downturn in catechesis has been accompanied by a corresponding downturn in theological substance in youth ministry: Christopher Richmann, “Restoring Proclamation to the Center of Youth Ministry,” Lutheran Forum Vol. 44, No. 3 (Fall 2010), 20–25; Brian H. Crosby, Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2012); Cathy Mickels & Audrey McKeever, Spiritual Junk Food: The Dumbing Down of Christian Youth (Mukilteo, WA: Winepress Publishing, 1999).

[78] Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 171. See also Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 29–64; Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

"Poll: Teen beliefs not consistent with Bible's truths," Lutheran Witness Reporter (December 2000), 7;; Bob Unruh, “Testing the Faith:1 in 3 'Christians' says 'Jesus sinned' – Barna poll shows adults develop their own beliefs,” (Jan. 16, 2009 post) -

[79] Mary Jane Haemig, “Recovery Not Rejection: Luther’s Appropriation of the Catechism,” Concordia Journal Vol. 43, Nos. 1 & 2 (Winter/Spring 2017), 51; also 44, 53. See also the Prothero, Religious Literacy references in footnote 78.

[80] Lutheran Brotherhood’s Survey of Lutheran Beliefs & Practices – Summer 1998 (np: Lutheran Brotherhood, 1998), 3–5.

This survey concluded: “In short, it appears that for many Lutherans, little or no worship, little or no Bible study, and little or no faith discussion all contribute to a rudderless Lutheran faith.” LB Survey, 4.

“Many Lutherans are no longer anchored to a core set of beliefs. On topics ranging from original sin, to the Trinity, to justification, to the Gospel, to the place of Scripture in one's life, many Lutherans tend to either misunderstand or disagree with the historic teachings of the Lutheran Church . . . The research suggests that more time and attention be given to addressing what it means to be Lutheran not only among those on the periphery of the church, but also among those who regularly participate in Lutheran worship services.” LB Survey, 19.

A Barna survey found that 54% of Lutherans answered "Yes" to this question, "Can a good person earn his way into heaven?" Andrew Simcak, “How Do We Get to Heaven?” Lutheran Witness Vol. 119, No. 7 (July 2000), 26.

In another poll, 73% of the Lutherans surveyed agreed "that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others, he or she will earn a place in Heaven.” Bruce Kueck, "Poll: Most Christians' beliefs out of sync with Bible," Lutheran Witness Reporter (July 2001), 11.

At the St. Olaf “A Call to Faithfulness” gathering in 1990, a group of predominantly ELCA Lutherans said that there "is a crisis of the gospel in our church as we face the modern secularized world. There is no agreement among us, nor in the ELCA, as to the specific gospel content of the church's proclamation." “’A Call to Faithfulness’: Working Group Reports – Ministry – Walter Carlson and Andrew Weyermann,” dialog Vol. 30, No. 2 (Spring, 1991), 163. 

An earlier poll indicated that only 39% of ELCA Lutherans believed that sinners were justified by God’s grace without the deeds of the Law. Martha Sayer Allen, “Churches reflect on members’ views,” Minneapolis Star Tribune (Sunday, April 1, 1990), 7B.

[81] SC, Preface, 2–3 – Tappert, 338.

In the Shorter Preface to the Large Catechism, Luther stated the fact that many people were “ignorant” of the basics of Christian doctrine, and yet they still came to “the Sacrament of the Altar,” LC, Shorter Preface, 5 – Tappert, 362.

[82] Haemig, “Recovery Not Rejection,” 45. See also Louis H. Koehler, “Luther’s Catechism,” in Theodore Laetsch, ed., The Abiding Word: An Anthology of Doctrinal Essays for the Year 1946, Vol. 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1947), 611–613; F. Bente, Historical Introductions to the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Concordia Triglotta (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), 66–72.

[83] N.S. Tjernagel, “Forerunners of the Catechism: A View of Catechetical Instruction at the Dawn of the Reformation,” in David P. Scaer & Robert D. Preus, ed., Luther’s Catechisms – 450 Years: Essays Commemorating the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Martin Luther  Ft. Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1979), 54. Also F.V.N. Painter, Luther on Education (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1889), 121–122, 149–155.

[84] SC, Preface, 10 – Tappert, 339.

[85] LC, Short Preface, 20 – Tappert, 364. Also LC, IV, 1 - Tappert, 436.

[86] AP XI, 3-5 – Tappert, 180–181. Also AP XIII, 19–23 – Tappert, 213–214; AP XXIV, 71–73, 91 – Tappert, 262–263, 266; FC SD VII, 60 – Tappert, 580.

The Christian Questions with Their Answers were written “for those who intend to go to the Sacrament [of the Altar], and were to be used after “instruction in the” chief parts of the Catechism. LSB, 329.

[87] Repp, Confirmation, 18–19. 

“The sacrament should not be administered to children until they are able to discern the Lord’s body. To this end they must be instructed in the chief articles of Christian belief.” A.E. Krause, “The Proper Use of the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” in The Abiding Word: An Anthology of Doctrinal Essays for the Years 1954–1955, Volume 3 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960), 506.

[88] SC, Preface, 6, 10–11 – Tappert, 338–339. Also LC Short Preface, 2, 26–27 – Tappert, 362, 364; LC V, 2, 33–38, 85–87 – Tappert, 447, 450–451, 456–457. The denial of communion to the uninstructed is also noted in the Saxon Visitation Articles AE 40, 288–293.

[89] Ap XXIV, 49 – Tappert, 258. Also AP XXIV, 1 - Tappert, 249; AP Xil, 5 – Tappert, 181.

[90] Ap XV, 41-42 – Tappert, 220. Also FC SD VII, 60–72 – Tappert, 580–582; LC Short Preface, 1-3 – Tappert, 362; SA Part III, Article VIII, 1–2 – Tappert, 312.

[91] LW 51, 182; also 137, 188–189; LW 53, 32–37; 64–69.

After the Saxon Visitations, part of the purpose of catechetical instruction was admission to Holy Communion. J. Michael Reu, Luther’s Small Catechism (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1929), 16, 157, 165, 167, 188, 227–228; Repp, Confirmation, 17–20.

[92] Martin Luther, “An Open Letter to Those in Frankfurt on the Main, 1533,” trans. Jon D. Vieker, Concordia Journal Vol. 16, No. 4 (October 1990), 343.

[93] R.T. Beckwith, “The Jewish Background to Christian Worship,” in Jones, Wainwright & Yarnold, The Study of Liturgy, 47.

[94] Martin Luther, “A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (1520),” trans. C.M. Jacobs, Works of Martin Luther, Vol. II (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman & The Castle Press, 1915), 354–355; Charles P. Arand, That I May Be His Own: An Overview of Luther’s Catechisms (St. Louis: Concordia Academic Press, 2000), 123–146; Robert Kolb, Teaching God’s Children His Teaching: A Guide for the Study of Luther’s Catechism (Hutchinson, MN: Crown Publishing, Inc., 1992), 1-7 to 1-9; Krause, “The Proper Use of the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” in Abiding Word, 506. Reu, Small Catechism, 371–394.

[95] Koehler, “Luther’s Catechism,” in Laetsch, The Abiding Word 2, 619. Also Arand, That I May Be His Own, 149–154. Luther’s Catechisms emphasize “individual faith.” For Luther, the catechism was a “tool” for teaching “the gospel of salvation by faith through grace.” Marilyn  J. Harran, Martin Luther: Learning for Life (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), 204.

[96] SC I, 2 – Tappert, 342.

[97] SC II, 2, 4, 6 – Tappert, 345.

[98] SC III, 2 – Tappert, 346.

[99] LC III, 92 – Tappert, 432.

[100] SC IV, 6, also 10 – Tappert, 348–349.

[101] SC V, 16, also 26-29 – Tappert, 349-350, 351.

[102] LC V, “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” 22 – Tappert, 459.

[103] SC VI, 8-9 – Tappert, 352.

[104] Repp, Confirmation, 19–20. 

“In particular, the two Catechisms were to serve the purpose of properly preparing the children and the unlearned for the Holy Eucharist . . . The Sacrament of the Altar, in Luther’s estimation, is the goal of all catechetical instruction.” Bente, Historical Introductions, in Triglotta, 80.

[105] Koehler, “Luther’s Catechism,” in Laetsch, Abiding Word 2, 609–611.

[106] “What We Seek, and Why We Come, ” 8.

The 1970 pan-Lutheran Report of the Joint Committee on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation advocated the separation of confirmation and communion, and advocated for early communion. However, it referenced 1 Corinthians 11:28 and stated that it was “incumbent” for the Lutheran churches to “prepare” baptized members “for a meaningful participation in the Lord’s Supper” which meant there must be “a basic understanding of the nature of Holy Communion” so that one is able “to participate in its benefits.” 

This understanding of and desire for communion meant “(1) understanding Christ’s redemptive work, (2) accepting the presence and promise of Christ, (3/5) understanding sin and recognizing/anticipating God’s forgiveness in Sacrament and Word, (4) awareness and appreciation of life in Christ, and (6) expectation of seeing and banqueting with Christ.” This understanding was to include the “comprehension of certain basic facts of salvation history and certain formulations of faith.” The final statement of this section said: “To receive Holy Communion without understanding would be to perform a meaningless act.” Quoted from Quere, In the Context of Unity, 235–236. 

The writers of this 1970 report would look at a large portion of Lutheranism and its catechetical practices today and conclude that there is meaningless activity occurring in the church today.

TBT: Kilcrease Discusses Forde

Current discussions in confessing Lutheranism involve the teachings of Gerhard Forde. In this article from the 2012 Epiphany Issue of LOGIA Journal, Dr. Kilcrease examines Forde's theology. He provides both a positive assertion of some elements of Forde's theology and a critique of his weaknesses. 

In 2012, Dr. Kilcrease introduced his article on Gerhard Forde: 

The theology of Gerhard O. Forde (1927–2005) has grown in its influence in traditionalist North American Lutheran circles over the last few decades. Ironically, although Forde was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for many years (and before that the American Lutheran Church), interest in his theology and institutional support for his ideas within that denomination have dwindled.  The real growth of interest in Forde’s theology has been within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and other confessional Lutheran church bodies. Some have reacted with alarm to the growth of this influence, while others have welcomed it. What I would like to argue in the following short article is that Forde is neither the demon nor the demigod that many have made him out to be. He has made many theological contributions but also many mistakes. Below I will outline several positive contributions that I believe Forde has made to North American Lutheran theological discourse.  Then I will also discuss several areas where he displays weakness or error.

You can download the article here, or purchase the entire issue here


A Response to Woodford


— by Mark Surburg

Editor's note: This article is a response to Rev. Lucas V. Woodford. The original article is linked in the first paragraph.

Last week LOGIA Online posted an article by Pastor Lucas Woodford entitled “Third Use of the Law and Sanctification.” He offered a descriptive analysis of a “debate going among conservative confessional Lutheran circles regarding the nature and use of the Law, particularly its Third Use, as well as the issue of antinomianism and the sanctified life under the Gospel.” He noted in conclusion:

Again, my aim has been to shed some collegial and pastoral light upon this ongoing             debate. I mean no ill will, nor do I mean to antagonize or demonize anyone or any one     position. If I have misspoken, I am open to correction and clarification. 

While I appreciate the descriptive tone of his effort, I believe that Woodford has failed to understand key issues that are at stake. After engaging in this discussion for the last four years and coining the term “soft antinomianism” in describing what I have encountered, I believe that I am in a good position to respond to Pastor Woodford on behalf of the second group he describes. Following Woodford’s lead, I will pursue a descriptive course rather than providing specific argumentation in support of a position.

In Woodford’s estimation the two sides are each defending some specific theological truth, but in so doing they are also excluding “a corollary and very important truth” as they each fall off one side of Luther’s horse. Woodford describes the first group in the following manner:

For example, one group appears to be aiming to reach disaffected evangelicals who have     been repeatedly bludgeoned by the law. They want to “liberate” them from the bonds of   the law and teach them how to “hold fast” to Christ and the “radical” freedom the Gospel     affords. Thus, they begin to speak in terms of limited categories.

He adds latter:

Though perhaps well intentioned, and maybe having a particular disaffected evangelical       audience in mind, this tends to seem like a repetitious single note being played over and over again, and is often aided by the sensationalism of digital media, and corresponding       bumper sticker-like slogans, complete with all kinds of catchy sound bites. It may be well     received by the specific audience they desire to hear it, but the legs seem to be falling off   the saddle for the rest of us.

While this description is an entirely accurate one of several prominent groups online and in social media, Woodford has focused too narrowly. Instead, this approach that sees only the accusing role of the law in revealing sin and emphasizes salvation by grace through faith in Christ apart from works is symptomatic of a far deeper problem in modern Lutheranism. It does not simply describe a small group seeking to reach out to disaffected former evangelicals. Instead it includes many Lutherans today and the debate that has gone on for the last four years has focused on how Lutheran pastors talk to Lutheran congregations.

The denial of the third use of the law that emerged after World War II (associated chiefly with Werner Elert, but involving others as well) has created an enduring theological outlook in which the law only delivers sin-revealing accusation, while the Gospel frees us from this apart from works. With the law limited in this way, the abundant New Testament paraenesis (exhortation to live a God-pleasing life in response to the Gospel) becomes intelligible only as more accusation intended to reveal sin. Lutheranism loses the ability to speak to Christians about living as Christians in the way of the New Testament and Luther’s postils (sermons), because this is viewed as just more accusing and condemning law.

When we turn to the second group Woodford describes, which I represent, I must confess that I am genuinely puzzled by his description. He focuses on “progressive sanctification” and uses this term to describe instances where “this position has a tendency to set forth quotes from the confessions that assert an increase in sanctification.” This becomes the centerpiece of his presentation as he critiques problems with the position and tells us, “However, the term ‘progressive sanctification’ is not in the Lutheran confessions.”

I am puzzled because I don’t know of anyone who uses the term “progressive sanctification” nor anyone who places the central emphasis on the need to see an ongoing increase in sanctification. Woodford has imported this concern and in doing so has missed the reason that I and others have cited biblical and confessional texts that speak of increase: it is because they substantiate the fact that according to Scripture and the Confessions, the work of the Holy Spirit actually makes a difference in the individual.

The position I represent has three basic points about which it is concerned. The first point is about what the Gospel really means. The Gospel does not provide merely a forensic declaration of change in status before God that leaves individuals basically unchanged in relation to how they live. Instead, the Gospel provides a forensic declaration of change in status before God, while the Holy Spirit also creates the new man who through the work of the Spirit is now able to live in ways that reflect God’s will (something the Confessions call “cooperation”).

The second point is that when we understand how the Sprit creates, sustains, and enables the new man through the Means of Grace, then we can understand how the Confessions teach about the third use. The law always accuses, but it doesn’t always do one thing as it accuses. God uses the law as it accuses to reveal sin (second use). He also uses the law as it accuses the old man to guide, teach, compel, and repress (third use).

In the third use the Spirit uses the Law so that the actual behavior of the Christian reflects God’s will. It is the Spirit who always supports the new man through the Gospel so that he can struggle against the old man (the Spirit is the source of any God-pleasing life). It is the new man who struggles against the old man. The Spirit applies the Law in its third use to the old man and the Spirit's use of the law to guide and repress the old man aids the new man in his struggle so that the new man determines what the individual actually does. In this way it is entirely correct to say that the Law helps the Christian live according to God’s will. To be clear, this is different from a Calvinistic view where the law itself is the means of producing obedience in the Christian.

The third point is that when we understand that God can use the law in this way, we are free to speak in the language of Scripture by exhorting and encouraging Christians in how they should live. Certainly we can’t determine how the Spirit will use the law. St. Paul couldn’t either. But we can be certain that the Spirit does use the law in this way and so we can follow the inspired model of Paul and the other biblical writers. Robust preaching of the Gospel present for the believer in the Means of Grace is complemented by robust exhortation, encouragement, and teaching about what it means for how they live. This is what one finds in Luther’s postils as well.

These three points are absent from the first group that Woodford describes (there is a range within this group and while most would not explicitly deny the first point, whether this happens functionally in their theology is a different matter). In addition, when he sets forth his “third perspective” that sanctification “is the result of Christ and his Spirit in action in the life of the believer,” he seems unaware that he has not in any way addressed these concerns. I presume he would affirm the first point. But what does his position have to say about the second and third? This is the real issue at hand. From what I have seen, since the idea of sanctification being “Christ in action” became widely discussed in the early 1990’s, it has generally had a very poor record on this. But perhaps Pastor Woodford deploys it in a new way.

I hope this is helpful in explaining why Pastor Woodford’s piece has for the most part failed to address the composition of the first group, and how his focus on “progressive sanctification” has not described the second group, which I represent. Hopefully it will also aid him and others in explaining how a “Christ in action” view deals with the concerns I have listed.

The Rev. Mark P. Surburg serves Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Marion, IL and has published articles in the Concordia Journal, Concordia Theological Quarterly, and the American Lutheran Theological Journal.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Third Use of the Law and Sanctification

—by Lucas V. Woodford

There is debate going among conservative confessional Lutheran circles regarding the nature and use of the Law, particularly its Third Use, as well as the issue of antinomianism and the sanctified life under the Gospel.

I normally don’t do this on these forums. I know it is a bit risky. But perhaps it might offer some clarity and shed some collegial and pastoral light upon this ongoing debate. I’ve published a number of things pertaining to this indirectly and directly, with two more journal articles coming out this spring and summer. In any case, here’s my take:

What I have observed is that in many instances the differences are really a turf war. In other words, there are those who have a theological and/or spiritual turf they are trying to assert or a position they are trying to protect over against a threat to that position or theological truth. But sometimes in so doing one excludes a corollary and very important truth. I believe it was the good doctor Luther who said there are two sides to fall off a horse.

For example, one group appears to be aiming to reach disaffected evangelicals who have been repeatedly bludgeoned by the law. They want to “liberate” them from the bonds of the law and teach them how to “hold fast” to Christ and the “radical” freedom the Gospel affords. Thus, they begin to speak in terms of limited categories.

Others, wanting to protect against licentious living and “soft antinomianism” or outright antinomianism, assert the language of the Lutheran confessions that speak in terms of “increase” when it comes to sanctification, or more specifically, the good works of believers. (I haven’t yet noted any article of faith that actually uses the word “progressive” but I could be wrong). Therefore, the 3rd Use of the Law is invoked as a corrective to the perception of those pushing a “radical Gospel” and making it appear that the law only accuses (though, of course, it has two other functions). Although these groups may not necessarily openly say the law only accuses, the very clear appearance to many is that this is the only issue they are dealing with (i.e. they are constantly only dealing with the accusing nature of the law and the radical freedom of the Gospel).  

However, a third perspective, (and one that I assert) comes from those of us who desire to retain the clear Lutheran confession of the truth regarding sanctification (and really the whole life of the believer), which is the result of Christ and his Spirit in action in the life of the believer. In other words, one cannot progress in degree of holiness when that holiness is always borrowed and received from the one and same Christ and his Spirit.

To be sure, this position retains that if all things were to remain equal, wherein the life of a believer is lived out in a mildly docile and uneventful life, the believer will ordinarily decrease in vice and evil desires and increase in good works as they live out their baptismal identity and life in daily contrition and repentance (as both the Small and Large Catechisms teach). However, once the devil and his lies of darkness afflict and oppress a believer, in many cases extraordinarily so, that trajectory of faith will invariable have peaks and valleys as the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh contaminate, afflict, and defile the soul. At times an increase of good works might be detectable, at other times it might be a decrease in vice and evil desires. However, depending upon the particular defilement or contamination of sin a soul is dealing with at any given time, an increase may not necessarily be the case for a season of life. But yes, in general, the sanctified Christian life moves away from vice and toward an increase of the fruits of the Spirit.

But even so, to speak in the abstract, apart from the reality of souls living in sin and dealing with their sin, is a dubious business when it comes to asserting one must increase in good works. Yes, the confessions speak this way, but not merely for abstract purposes, but for the real life lived in faith.

What seems to be the common thread in all of these positions is how works are being viewed by each position. The first position deals primarily from the angle of justification, and wants to free believers from the accusation of the law, so much so that they seem to routinely ignore or do not treat the other elements of the sanctified Christian life. Again, they appear only to be dealing with justification and are constantly trying to dispel the need of works in view of the Gospel.


Though perhaps well intentioned, and maybe having a particular disaffected evangelical audience in mind, this tends to seem like a repetitious single note being played over and over again, and is often aided by the sensationalism of digital media, and corresponding bumper sticker-like slogans, complete with all kinds of catchy sound bites. It may be well received by the specific audience they desire to hear it, but the legs seem to be falling off the saddle for the rest of us.

The second position wants to fight this radicalism by (at times myopically) focusing on the good works of sanctification. But unfortunately at times these works end up being called sanctification, to the exclusion of what actually sanctifies (Christ and His Spirit). Thus, this position has a tendency to set forth quotes from the confessions that assert an increase in sanctification. However, in my opinion this position really means to say an increase in good works, which are the fruit of sanctification. In an eagerness to fight the licentious life, which must certainly be done, there is the danger of falling off the horse on the other side.

What is more, if I were to say something like “there is no such thing as progressive sanctification” to someone of this second position, they would likely have an adverse reaction. They would not necessarily hear that phrase with the baggage of evangelicalism with which I hear it, i.e., the belief that one actually increases and climbs a latter of holiness the further they go in the Christian life. Rather, they would hear me saying sanctification will not create an increase of good works (which I would not, in fact, be saying) and thus flat out think I am an antinomian.

However, the term “progressive sanctification” is not in the Lutheran confessions. And sanctification proper refers directly to the holiness we receive from Christ, wherein the only progress we make is one of constant return to Christ and His holiness, but yet wherein the power of the Gospel is such that it will certainly bring cleansing, healing, forgiveness, holiness, and subsequently an increase of fruit (works), as well as a decrease in evil desires and vice. To be sure, the law can certainly instruct and even guide, but it can never deliver or create these good works.

Nonetheless, to put such good works or the Gospel on a quantifiable continuum or measureable scale will never do. (Whose scale will it be?) The Gospel is never measurable in the sense that we want it to be. “It is not quantifiable,” to quote a beloved professor of many. In other words, Jesus forgives us more sins than we’ve got. Yes, the Confessions certainly speak of an increase in works, but that must understood as relative to the Gospel and not to someone else’s predetermined numerical calculation or quantification.

Thus, in the end, it’s my contention that it does us well to see our theology pastorally and through the care of souls as they deal with the devil, the world, and their sinful flesh on a daily basis, rather than from only a position of theological abstractions or theological sound bites.

Again, my aim has been to shed some collegial and pastoral light upon this ongoing debate. I mean no ill will, nor do I mean to antagonize or demonize anyone or any one position. If I have misspoken, I am open to correction and clarification.          


The Rev. Lucas V. Woodford serves Zion Lutheran Church, Mayer, Minnesota and is author of Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Book Review: Confessing the Scriptural Christ against Modern Idolatry

Confessing the Scriptural Christ against Modern Idolatry: Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Truth in Scientific and Biblical Conflict. By Philip Hale. Omaha, NE: Mercinator Press, 2016. Click here.

The Rev. Philip Hale, pastor at Zion West Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE, takes on a problem that may suggest itself to anyone keeping up with exegetical theology produced in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod at present, and that is—for want of a better way of putting it—turning the Gospel into a wax nose of the exegete’s own making (see pages 208, 211). If the authority of Scripture does not stand or fall with inspiration and inerrancy, Hale avers, the theological position—no matter how learned or cutesy—has nothing to commend it. This could apply to hermeneutical approaches grounded only “in Christ” rather than his words (202-03, 205, 206, 209, 211, 213, etc.), or those approaches that find undefined “sacraments” under every scriptural rock (245). In Hale’s opinion, historical criticism still dogs the LCMS even though the conservatives prevailed at St. Louis forty-some years ago (229, 248). Hale’s solution is to return to so-called “propositional revelation” (23; cf. 29-30, 75, 105, 163, 196, 206, 218, 227, etc.).  Faith in Christ is created by “static, meaningful words” (231). The Scripture’s “it is written” trumps everything else, so “why do we demand more?” (285). Only the “bare words” of God avail (179); everything else is an idol, one’s “own personal cathedral” (179; cf. 181, 205, 217). Hale makes plenty of other points as well, though the ideas identified here provide a reasonably accurate picture of what this book is about.

Clearly Hale is on to something, though his solutions are nearly as problematic as the errors he identifies. The Kloha-Montgomery debate reveals that there are important parallels between the current situation and the Seminex debacle of yesteryear. Still, there are important differences also, and the tendency of some to look askance at all teachers of theology—just because they hold higher degrees—is not helpful. One may always quote an orthodox teacher out of context or even at an unguarded moment (e.g., 74 n. 43; 87 n. 24; 124 n. 12; 156 n. 13; 184 n. 22, etc.), but the way Hale links all seminary professors together—both “pre-walkout” and “post-walkout”—is unsettling to say the least and could deceive the laity. He repeatedly chides historical critics for their “arrogance” (66, 68, 83, 97, 139, 216, etc) yet rather high-handedly opines that theological degrees and scholarly tools are “not required” (180, 181). Oh really? Did Pastor Hale himself not receive his M.Div. in 2007 from Concordia Theological Seminary? Did he not learn anything during the years he was privileged to study theology at the seminary? Are all LCMS seminary professors suspect because they learned “critical methodology from pagan professors to become professors themselves” (184)? Such unfortunate thinking is unfair to the many teachers of Synod who labor faithfully in the seminaries, universities, and institutions of our church. Hale, though, endorses a hermeneutics of suspicion against anyone who may have gone on for further study. He does not realize that specialization could be among God’s gifts to the church, the way pastors themselves are (Eph 4:11). Of course, God in Christ Jesus will bless one’s use of the Word of God, even when treated ham-handedly; but exegetical theology has for a long time coexisted peaceably with other useful arts and disciplines—such as, classics, papyrology, ancient history, philosophy, text criticism, and the like. Such outside disciplines cast a bright light upon Holy Scripture and contribute mightily to the theological enterprise. Hale seems not to realize that by growing as a young pastor—by becoming more adept in Greek, let us say—it is sometimes possible to beat the hostile critics at their own game. Moreover, a careful read of his book reveals his positive citation of several theologians who stood opposed to the Lutheran Confessions—for example, Johann Major (138 n. 13), Matthias Flacius (161 n.4; 163 n. 16; 171 n. 27; 173 n. 35; 289 n. 17), and John Calvin (296 n. 21). Granted, sometimes substandard theologians contribute something positive, and that is why Hale cites them in his book. In general, however, Hale’s writing is not carefully nuanced and so can be picked apart by checking the facts. The book was painful to read on account of the author’s mixing of fact and fiction—multiple times, on many pages. Indeed, Hale would benefit immensely from the rigors of further theological training, even though “critical thinking” is something he routinely condemns.

I concede that many of the matters Hale takes up constitute real problems in our church at present and require attention—such as the current flap over text criticism. Still, today’s problems are not the same as those over which our church agonized in the 60s and 70s. The candidates of theology our seminaries produce must contend not only with the errors of yesteryear, but be in a position to wrestle carefully with the problems of today and tomorrow (when new heresies shall emerge). Which is to say that critical thinking remains a necessary part of the theological task, not knee-jerk reaction. Of course, historical criticism should be not be permitted back into our church, the way it was enthusiastically endorsed at St. Louis prior to 1974; nevertheless, the historical grammatical method could help interpreters to submit to Scripture as the Word of God while allowing the useful arts that inform scripture studies to flourish. How should that be done? Carefully, humbly, being ready always to beg forgiveness for perhaps having caused offense, and ever mindful of the fact that Holy Scripture is pre-eminent to which all outside documents and methodologies submit. On the use of historical methods of biblical interpretation our own church body provided guidance many years ago that seems quite pertinent now:

Since God is the Lord of history and has revealed Himself by acts in history and has in the person of His Son actually entered into man’s history, we acknowledge that the historical framework in which the Gospel message is set in Scripture is an essential part of the Word.

Furthermore, we recognize that the inspired Scriptures are historical documents written in various times, places and circumstances.  We therefore believe that the Scriptures invite historical investigation and are to be taken seriously as historical documents.  We affirm, however, that the Christian interpreter of Scripture cannot adopt uncritically the presuppositions and canons of the secular historian, but that he will be guided in his use of historical techniques by the presuppositions of his faith in the Lord of history, who reveals Himself in Holy Scripture as the one who creates, sustains, and even enters our history in order to lead it to His end.[1]


John G. Nordling

Department of Exegetical Theology

Concordia Theological Seminary

Fort Wayne, IN


[1] A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, 1973; reprinted November 2000) 8.

Book Review: Lex Aeterna

Lex Aeterna: A Defense of the Orthodox Lutheran Doctrine of God’s Law and Critique of Gerhard Forde. By Jordan Cooper Eugene. Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2017. Click here

In Lex Aeterna, Jordan Cooper strives to defend the scholastic view of the eternal law and a positive use of the law. He seeks to do so over against what he perceives to be Gerhard Forde’s view of the law and its place in Christian preaching and the Christian life. Cooper writes well and accessibly. The book has exceptional flow and is clearly organized. Furthermore, Cooper demonstrates a deep concern for getting doctrine right, which is admirable and of course most Christian and Lutheran. Moreover, the reader will recognize early on that Cooper has an obvious familiarity with Lutheran scholasticism. These are great strengths. Unfortunately, the book is not without its weaknesses. This review will focus on weaknesses especially in Cooper’s critique of the theology of Forde.

Before delving into some of the potential pitfalls of the book, I do think it would be helpful to know the audience for which this book is intended. If it is written for the laity, some of the weaknesses addressed in this review are more understandable, as Cooper may not have wanted to bog such readers down in footnotes and, for their benefit, striven to largely summarize Forde as he understood him. If, however, this book is intended for academic consideration and debate—the fact that the first footnote indicates it is a revised “Master’s thesis” seems to indicate that (1)—and for theologically astute clergy and laypeople, the lack of footnotes and the number of assertions made without support hurts its cause, even if a number of his assertions are correct. This is more true of the sections dealing with Forde or non-scholastic theologians, but this issue does manifest itself throughout the book.

A few examples of assertions without support come to mind as emblematic, if not most critical. First, early on Cooper makes comparisons between Forde and Werner Elert and intimates the latter’s influence on the former. Although he concedes that they had differences, which he does not, however, explain, he proceeds without engaging Elert’s thought in any substantive way. He does not cite any of Elert’s works (2). We are left to trust Cooper’s very brief summary of Elert’s theology. He does make reference to Elert’s The Structure of Lutheranism, but Elert wrote very clearly on the matter of law and gospel in several much shorter and more focused works as well, which could have been explored in at least some cursory manner, if he is so important to the story of Forde’s writings as to garner mention on the second page of a critique of them. Cooper’s approach thus undermines his argument, whether or not there is merit to his argument. Moreover, while he feels Elert important enough to mention on the second page of the book, he fails to pick up on or elaborate the importance of Elert vis-à-vis Forde’s theology much beyond this second page.

Chapter Four is perhaps where the problem of citation and demonstration is most evident. Cooper here makes a number of assertions, many, in my opinion, that are in and of themselves worthwhile, but unfortunately fails to amply support them or elaborate upon key terms and concepts. This will leave the unversed above their heads and the well-versed unsatisfied. Quite simply, Cooper needs to demonstrate his familiarity with the actual works of those whose names he throws about and back up his contentions. While in many places I agreed with him, I found myself writing repeatedly in the margins things like, “Define,” “Cite,” “Demonstrate.” This is seen, for instance, with respect to Cooper’s treatment of Bultmann. Cooper argues for strong similarities, while not identicalness, between the thought of Forde and Bultmann, specifically in eschatology (84), as well as a clear neo-orthodox influence upon Forde’s thinking (82). That is fine and good. What he fails to do, though, is meaningfully argue it with sufficient explanation, and from primary sources. Here, for an academic book, he needs to establish connections clearly, with textual backing. Unsubstantiated claims, even when true, undermine arguments. Cooper needs to bring his reader along with him, giving us a ride on his train of thought, including what has informed it.  

Cooper also too often fails to give a proper sense for the secondary sources he utilized to shape his opinions. Even when it seems clear he has a grasp on the general ideas of the matter, there are too many particulars that need substantiation. If he did not comprehensively engage the actual writings of the authors he mentions in connection to Forde, whether as disciples or influences, or at least does not reference them in a way reflective of such a comprehensive approach, he needs at least to show more regarding the secondary sources which shaped and corroborate his opinions. Labels and allegations of error are serious things. They ought not just be tossed about. He needs to justify his use of them and make clear where he got the pieces he put together to form the framework of his theses.

Less seriously, but illustrative of Cooper’s failure to show his work (here, once again, I am not claiming he did no work, but rather that he has fallen short of the academic’s responsibility to provide evidence of it), when trying to argue for a Kantian influence upon Forde—which, once again, is all well and good if he wants to provide a more reasoned, supported, and cited argument for it—he contends that “without Kant, existentialism could likely not exist” (83). While there might be something there, it is thrown out with little explanation and is at best a very generalized simplification. Such generalizations appear too often in Lex Aeterna. In this regard, it should also be noted that Cooper sometimes confuses, or at least causes potential confusion for his readers, between existentialism and an existential experience of a word of God. While Elert, for instance, does approach law and gospel along existential lines, that does not mean that he was an existentialist in the sense of existentialism, the belief that existence precedes essence, or in a way similar to the way Heidegger or Sartre or even Kierkegaard were existentialists (2). This might seem minor, but it becomes even more problematic when we remember that this factors rather prominently into his evaluation of Forde’s thought.

Cooper largely operates in his critique on the basis of his reading of two of Forde’s writings, which he describes as definitional (9). This would be understandable, if he made a clear case for why they are definitional. He fails to do so, though. We are left to take his word for it and wondering to what extent he immersed himself in and is conversant with the rest of Forde’s corpus. Of the two works Cooper declares definitional, one is a revision of Forde’s dissertation (The Law-Gospel Debate). I do not know any scholar who would want to be judged largely upon his or her dissertation. Moreover, this approach fails to take into consideration development in Forde’s thought. With respect to the second critical work in Cooper’s mind (Where God Meets Man), he fails to prove sufficiently that it encapsulates Forde’s thought in a manner that justifies (let alone sanctifies) Cooper writing a critique largely upon the basis of it and one other work. If these works are definitional, it needs to be demonstrated why they can stand alone apart from any significant treatment of his other writings. Moreover, these writings, if they provide the backbone of his arguments, need to be contextualized. With regard to Where God Meets Man, Cooper devotes less than two pages to its background, scope, and purpose, and two footnotes in his summary of it. If we are to trust his take on these works, we should be given adequate information about them and from them.

Ultimately, it is impossible to declare any author’s works definitional without demonstrating a fluency with the rest of their work. With respect to Forde, this ought not be too difficult, either. Forde wrote a lot, but not too much to work through for a study like this, and his work is certainly navigable. Such investigation surely was not “impossible for this current project,” unless Cooper has in mind his Master’s thesis and not this book (9). I cannot think of any pressing reason the book would have needed to be published posthaste, so that more careful and extensive research was prohibited. If he wanted to track Forde’s intellectual history, he could have wrestled with Forde’s own words about it, for instance, in “One Acted Upon.”[1] Or he could have taken up the thoughts of some of Forde’s longtime colleagues, students, and dear friends about it, such as Nestingen’s essay in the Forde Festschrift, which deals with a lot of the contentions Cooper makes.[2] In short, Cooper cites writings about Forde in unbecoming proportion to writings by Forde. He cites reactions to Forde’s works similarly, even in the parts of the book explicitly devoted to dealing with Forde’s theology. This is not to say he did not consult or reference some of Forde’s other writings. It does mean, though, that he casts a wide net without enough twine.  

Here another problem arises. Given the widespread use Cooper makes of the term “Radical Lutheran” throughout the book, and especially at the end, it would make good sense to have included Forde’s seminal essay, “Radical Lutheranism,” as a third definitional work.[3] If the title of that work serves as definitive for Cooper, it is perplexing that the work itself would not also be definitional. Without having treated it as such, the term “Radical Lutheran” as denotive of a group of pastors or theologians or a broader movement proves troublesome, especially since he casts a wide net with it and leaves its boundaries ill-delineated, with the exception of a rather strange section near the end where he gives several rulings on who is or is not, may be or may not be a “Radical Lutheran,” from respected and very well-established theologians in the LCMS (entirely without evidence) to members of the ELCA (127ff).

While many readers from the churches of the former Synodical Conference, like myself, will sympathize with some of Cooper’s objections to the theology of Gerhard Forde, for instance, with respect to penal substitution, other objections Cooper raises could be undermined in their minds because of a failure to present Forde’s case with a more thoroughgoing engagement with his actual words and a more referenced approach to his corpus. This is critical, because those familiar with Forde’s writings will realize that many of his most important works are not monographs with a single, consistent thread throughout, but rather short treatises tackling very specific matters. Without such information, the skeptical reader is left to wonder whether the book contains a critique of Forde’s theology or of Forde’s theology as Cooper understands it. Cooper, whether deliberately or not, gives the impression that he reads Forde’s essays together as a whole, a totality, and not as individual essays. Forde is not Gerhard, at least not Johann Gerhard. Unlike the great dogmatician, his volumes do not build upon each other systematically. Thus, Cooper seeks a thread where there is not necessarily one to be found. This is not conducive to any meaningful engagement with Forde’s works, and because of it Forde too often seems more a foil, a boogeyman (and do we Lutherans ever love a bogeyman?!), than a theologian being seriously engaged. This is seen, for example, as happens more than once, when he makes reference to something from one of Forde’s essays with only a mention of the title of the book in which the essay could be found (96), not alerting the reader that the book does not stand as a whole, but includes a variety of Forde’s writings, each written in reaction to and in order to address different things.

One more example of academic inadequacy deserves mention here, supposing Cooper is writing for academics (since he is responding to one). Too often Cooper simplifies complex matters. In the introduction, for instance, where, among a slew of assertions, Cooper commends David Scaer for upholding a positive use for the law (without defining what all that entails), he leaves the reader to assume Forde did not do so (3). One need only read Forde’s “Luther’s Ethics” to recognize that the matter is not so simple as Cooper presents it.[4] Cooper might not like where Forde locates a positive use for the law, but that is a different matter. While Scaer and Forde might well, and likely certainly do, disagree on what a positive use of the law is and how it operates, this needs to be addressed and expanded more. Moreover, on the same page, while praising Joel Biermann for espousing two kinds of righteousness, Cooper gives the impression that Forde disavowed law and gospel as good and that he denied a positive use for the law as a guide for righteousness coram mundo. Forde addresses this in his essay “Lex semper accusat?” and specifically acknowledges that we can see a positive use of the law when it has an end [in Christ] and “is intended for this world” as a “civic righteousness.”[5] Forde, like Biermann, clearly recognizes a use of the law as a guide for righteousness coram mundo, then. He certainly does so differently, though, subsumed under the political use and extended beyond believers to all. The law, Forde makes plain, does bring benefits for society through its first use, and this is surely good.[6] Finally, all it would have taken to clear up a good deal of misunderstanding regarding Forde’s view of the commandments in the Christian life would have been to address his book, Free to Be, written with James A. Nestingen, whom Cooper, to Nestingen’s great relief, I am sure, absolves of some of Forde’s alleged sins (127). There Forde certainly shows that in his view the pastor’s task was not as limited as Cooper claims in his conclusion (144) and that he did see a very clear place for the law in Christian instruction and daily life.

Along these lines, Cooper sometimes, certainly unintentionally, conflates, or leaves his readers to conflate, the law always accusing and the law only accusing. He also sometimes fails to make clear that it is the established doctrine of confessional Lutheranism that the law always accuses. He writes of Jack Kilcrease, for example, that “he agrees [with Forde] that the law always accuses” (26). I would certainly hope so, since the Apology teaches this, as I am sure Cooper knows.[7] The problem is the lack of clarity of the statement, what the reader is assumed to know or left to assume.

Finally, Forde certainly did criticize the third use of the law and reject a third use built upon the views of Melanchthon and Calvin, but he did so especially as he had experienced it in pietistic preaching. This, too, needs further explanation, especially since Forde clearly outlines it in “Radical Lutheranism” (6ff). It is impossible to understand Forde without understanding his experience with and aversion to pietism. Forde’s aversion to the third use as expressed by decadent pietism does not mean that he held that the Christian will not serve and love his or her neighbor after having come to faith. Forde explained, “The good person, the one saved, is given creation back again as sheer gift, an arena in which to do the good.”[8] To his credit, Cooper does sometimes come back elsewhere in the book to some of these things in a more thoughtful and sharp manner, but that does not mitigate the fact that there are too many instances where the reader is left hanging and thoughts go underdeveloped and ill-defined. What the Formula of Concord describes as the third use can be found in Forde under the political use of the law and that is indeed where Luther most often included it. This is not an apology for Forde’s teaching on the third use, nor is it an attempt to deny that there are problematic aspects for those from the synods of the former Synodical Conference, but it is to say that it is more nuanced than Cooper presents it.

As noted at the beginning of this review, Cooper has an established interest in Lutheran scholasticism and in this book seeks to evaluate Forde’s writings in the light of it. There are several challenges this presents, though. Three especially come to mind. First, Forde, like Luther, was not a systematic theologian in any Synodical Conference sense. Second, Forde’s theology is especially homiletical in its focus, and so it is rightly centered in justification (whether or not it is weak on sanctification, as some, including Cooper, charge). Third, Forde’s writings often deal over against some threat to the central doctrine of justification. So, first, Cooper faces the temptation to systematize Forde’s writings in order to critique him. In so doing, he sometimes reacts to things not actually expressed in Forde’s theology and analyzes supposed presuppositions and influences which may or may not have actually factored into what Forde wrote. Second, this approach runs the risk of reading something Forde wrote as a reaction as if he were presenting a positive theology, something created in a vacuum, which becomes particularly precarious when dealing with Forde’s essays, such as those included in A More Radical Gospel. Third, Cooper seems to approach Forde with the expressed concern of protecting sanctification, something Forde himself noted people teased him about being weak on. Here we might note that the Confessions themselves could be accused of being weak on sanctification when it comes to the believer’s cooperation in sanctification after conversion, which is done in “great weakness,” and not like two horses pulling a wagon.[9] One must be excessively clear in this regard, therefore. Context is crucial, and this requires comprehensive research and a demonstration of it.

It is important to note as well, as we approach the close of this review, that Forde himself was concerned with antinomianism, a much more dangerous antinomianism.[10] This antinomianism seeks in the law or gives hearers the impression that they can find in it something of which it is not capable. Even more, such antinomianism can leave its hearers with the understanding that the law reflects or effects something that it does not and cannot, namely, one’s status before God as anything other than a sinner. Here I think a weakness in the scholastic approach espoused by Cooper becomes particularly clear. Cooper wants to defend law and gospel, Scripture, God, etc. as each is. He sees it as a weakness that Forde approaches them primarily as they do (88ff.). This is how the Christian comes to know and experiences these things, though—by, through, and in what they do. That is not to deny that there is an are to all of these things, but, functionally, Cooper’s scholasticism is too abstract to preach and not concrete enough to fully confess Christ as a person, flesh and blood, whose incarnation, when it comes to us, was not primarily about being something, but about doing things. Moreover, in this approach Cooper falls more than a little into Milton’s error, striving to justify the ways of God to men.[11] The problem isn’t always what Cooper says, but rather why he seems to feel the need to say it. Scripture, law and gospel, God, all these things do not need our help nearly so much as we fear. Rather, they need to be let out of their cage, and Cooper’s scholasticism sometimes closes the gate much more than it opens it. Christ, as the sinner knows him, will not become more Savior by the chasing of windmills.

Those of us who struggled at mathematics throughout grade school and high school likely remember that we could at least score some points by showing our work. Whether or not Cooper is right or wrong in many of his conclusions, in too many instances he loses points for not showing his work. The reader needs to be taken along on the journey. In Lex Aeterna, Cooper fails to do that. While many might agree with him, they will be left doing so on Cooper’s word or on the basis of previously formed opinions, and thus, through an intellectual veil, dimly. Disagree with Forde or not, any distinguished theologian deserves more and better treatment than what is provided in Lex Aeterna. A good book may create an echo chamber (sad a consequence as that is), but it does not speak to one. There is too much assumed or taken for granted in Cooper’s book to win over those not already convinced of his arguments and just enough to win praise from those itching to catch the next bogeyman.


Wade Johnston
Wisconsin Lutheran College
Milwaukee, WI


[1] Gerhard Forde, “One Acted Upon,” Dialogue 36, no. 1 (Winter, 1997): 54–61.

[2] Nestingen’s essay can be found, among other helpful essays by those who knew Forde and his work well, in By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde, edited by Joseph A. Burgess and Marc Kolden (Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004).

[3] Gerhard O. Forde, “Radical Lutheranism” in A More Radical Gospel, edited by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 3–16.

[4]   Gerhard O. Forde, “Luther’s Ethics” in A More Radical Gospel, edited by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 154.

[5] Gerhard O. Forde, “Lex semper accusat?” in A More Radical Gospel, edited by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 49.

[6] Forde, “Luther’s Ethics,” 154.

[7] Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV in Kolb and Wengert, 166.

[8] Forde, “Luther’s Ethics,” 149.

[9] Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II.65 in Kolb and Wengert, 556; Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II.66 in Kolb and Wengert, 557.  

[10] For example, see Forde, “Radical Lutheranism,” 15ff. To be fair, Cooper does briefly mention Forde’s views on antinomianism and lists two kinds of antinomianism Forde opposed—overt and covert—but in two paragraphs, largely, again, without sufficient engagement with Forde’s own words and extensive citation, and mostly as a springboard. Given that many of the charges Cooper levels are rooted in Forde’s relationship with the law, this seems highly insufficient. Moreover, I think Cooper misses or fails to fully address what Forde sees as some of the very real dangers of such antinomianism, which ultimately makes the law less than the law, a toothless threat, a measuring stick, or a sword too dull to kill. While the term “antinomianism” has historically been used for other threats to true doctrine or proper preaching, that does not mean that Forde is not correct in his diagnoses of some abuses or misunderstandings of the law in his day and ours.

[11] John Milton, Paradise Lost, I.25–26.


Luther On the Psalm 51 by Pless

Editor's Note: This post is a handout from Prof. John T. Pless's class on the Psalms. 

Points from Luther’s Commentary on Psalm 51 (AE 12:303-410) for Pastoral Theology

For background of Luther’s work on Psalm 51 in 1532 see “The Teacher of Justification” in Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation 1521–1532 (Fortress), 451–59.

  1. Luther says that David speaks of a twofold theological knowledge in this psalm, a theological knowledge of man and of God. Hence “The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject, is error and poison” (311).
  2. Note Luther’s definition of the knowledge of sin: “it means to feel and to experience the intolerable burden of the wrath of God” (310). Luther writes “. . . the sinful man is one who is oppressed by his conscience and tossed to and fro, not knowing where to turn. Therefore we are not dealing here with a philosophical knowledge of man, which defines man as a rational animal and so forth. Such things are for science to discuss, not theology. So a lawyer speaks of man as an owner and master of property, and a physician speaks of man as healthy or sick. But a theologian discusses man as a sinner” (310). Luther says that David speaks of a twofold theological knowledge in this psalm, a theological knowledge of man and of God. Hence, “The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject, is error and poison” (311). Also see Ngien’s discussion of Luther’s distinction between man the “conscious” sinner and man the “unconscious” sinner (Dennis Ngien, Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms, 38). When all is said and done all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That is, there are finally two kinds of sinners, “holy sinners” (those who justify God) and hypocrites (those who justify themselves).
  3. Psalm 51 shows us the depth of sin. Luther observes that the psalm teaches us not to look superficially at the external sins but go deeper to the root of sin, that is, to see “the whole nature, source, and origin of sin.” (305) “Therefore our sin is that we are born and conceived in sin” (310).
  4. The psalm sets forth the two elements in true repentance: recognition of sin and recognition of mercy-fear of God and trust in mercy (305). On the development of Luther’s understanding of repentance, see Korey Maas, “The Place of Repentance in Luther’s Theological Development” in Theologia et Apologia: Essays in Reformation Theology and its Defense Presented to Rod Rosenbladt edited by Adam Francisco et al (Wipf & Stock), 137-154 and Berndt Hamm, “The Ninety-five Thesis: A Reformation Text in the Context of Luther’s Early Theology of Repentance” in The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation (Eerdmans, 2014), 85–109.
  5. Luther uses Psalm 51 to clarify the distinction between deus absconditus and deus revelatus. Deus absconditus is what Luther calls the “absolute God” or the “naked God.” Luther writes “Let no one therefore, interpret David as speaking with the absolute God. He is speaking with God as He is dressed and clothed in His Word and promises, so that from the name ‘God’ we cannot exclude Christ, whom God promised to Adam and the other patriarchs. We must take hold of this God, not naked but clothed and revealed in His Word, otherwise certain despair will crush us” (312).  Also see G. Forde’s discussion in “Absolution: Systematic Considerations” in The Preached God (152–62), noting Forde’s argument that “The only solution to the problem of the absolute is actual absolution” (152). Also see Steven Paulson, “Luther on the Hidden God” Word & World (Fall 1999), 363–71 and Oswald Bayer’s distinction between God’s “understandable wrath” and His “Incomprehensible Wrath” in Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, 196–201.
  6.  Unbelievers speak with God “outside His Word and promises, according to the thoughts of their own hearts; but the Prophets speak with God as He is clothed and revealed in His promises and Word. This God, clothed in such a kind appearance and, so to speak, in such a pleasant mask, that is to say, dressed in His promises — this God we can grasp and look at with joy and trust. The absolute God, on the other hand, is like an iron wall, against which we cannot bump without destroying ourselves. Therefore Satan is busy day and night, making us run to the naked God so that we forget His promises and blessings shown in Christ and think about the judgment of God. When this happens, we perish utterly and fall into despair” (312). Outside the Word and promises of God, sinners devised their own means of accessing God.
  7. David has been crushed by the hammer of the Law (316). His terrorized conscience does not turn back to the Law or flee to the naked God but to the mercy of God. Thus Luther can speak of David’s prayer for mercy “as though he were praying against the whole Decalog” (314). Commenting on verse 1 of Psalm 51, Luther says that “at the very beginning David shows an art and a wisdom that is above the wisdom of the Decalog, a truly heavenly wisdom, which is neither taught by the Law nor imagined or understood by reason without the Holy Spirit” (314). Note the section on “Guilt and Shame” in the PCC: “For the Christian who is driven by the Law to despair of the mercies of Christ Jesus, the pastor ‘must set the whole Decalogue aside’ (Luther) and make the most of the Gospel” (PCC, 307). This is taken from Luther’s letter to Jerome Weller where he says “When the devil attacks and torments us, we must completely set aside the whole Decalogue” (Tappert, Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel, 86). Without this heavenly wisdom, Luther says that trouble consciences are like geese, they see the hawk coming and they attempt to escape by flying when they should run. They see the wolves threatening and they attempt to run when they would have a better chance of escaping if they were to run (368).
  8. The divine wisdom of the Gospel is that God is merciful to sinners for the sake of Christ Jesus. To pray for mercy as David does is not to trust in oneself or works. “God does not want the prayer of a sinner who does not feel his sins, because he neither understands nor wants what he is praying for” (315). Such praying, Luther says, is to be compared to a beggar who cries out for alms and when offered money begins to brag of his riches (315). “Thus mercy is our whole life even until death; yet Christians yield obedience to the Law, but imperfect obedience because of the sin dwelling in us. For this reason let us learn to extend the word ‘Have mercy’ not only to our actual sins but to all the blessings of God as well: that we are righteous by the merit of another; that we have God as our Father; that God the Father loves sinners who feel their sins — in short, that all our life is by mercy because all our life is sin and cannot be set against the judgment and wrath of God” (321). David is like a beggar, he asks for forgiveness for no other reason than that he is a sinner (334).
  9. The psalm sets forth these two principal teachings of Holy Scripture: First, that our whole nature is condemned and destroyed by sin and cannot emerge from this calamity and death by its own power. Second, God alone is righteous. Political, domestic or ceremonial righteousness will not free us. Even a prince or husband who is righteous in the execution of his office, must confess “Against Thee only have I sinned; Thou only art righteous” (339). Also see The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther by Hans Joachim Iwand.
  10. To confess your sin is to cease the futile attempt to self-justify. Rather it is to join with David in saying to God: “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you might be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). In confession, the sinner acknowledges that God is right. It is to agree with God’s verdict: Guilty. “When sins are thus revealed by the Word, two different kinds of men manifest themselves. One kind justifies God and by a humble confession agrees to His denunciation of sin; the other kind condemns God and calls Him a liar when He denounces sin” (341). Note Johann Georg Hamann: “With respect to my life I have justified God and accused myself, indicated and discovered myself — all for the praise of the solely good God, who has forgiven me, in the blood of his only begotten Son, and in the testimony which the Spirit of God confirms in his word and in my heart" (quoted by Bayer, A Contemporary in Dissent: Johann Georg Hamann as a Radical Enlightener, 50). Also Elert: “We must agree with the men of the Bible that God’s word concerning the question of guilt (Psalm 51:4; Romans 3:4) is decisive; and this means not only that His decree is infallible, but also that His whole course of action is blameless. The recognition of this fact, despite our inability to fathom all His motives is expressed in the biblical idea of holiness (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). It means not merely that He can stand every moral test, but that His moral quality is an unsearchable mystery and superior to every human judgment” (Werner Elert, An Outline of Christian Doctrine, 40–41).
  11. Luther’s interpretation of Psalm 51 reflects the reality that the whole of the Christian life is lived baptismally, in repentance: The Christian “is not formally righteous” . . . that is, righteous according to substance or quality. Rather the Christian’s righteousness is “according to his relation to something, namely, only in respect to divine grace . . . which comes to those who acknowledge their sin and believe that God is gracious and forgiving for Christ’s sake” (329). The bath or washing of which the psalm speaks in verse 2 is continual as while sin cannot condemn us it continues to vex us and ever threatens to drag us down in unbelief (329).
  12. “Human nature such as it is cannot be without the worship of God; and if it does not have the Word, it invents services, as the examples of both the heathen and the pope show” (361).
  13. Only when the Gospel is preached does the ear of the sinner “hear joy and gladness” and the bones that God has broken rejoice. Luther says that both “the man of thought as well as the man of action” are in error (369). Justification by faith alone brings an end to both justifying thinking and justifying action (see O. Bayer, Living by Faith, 25). Luther: “As far as we are concerned, the whole procedure in justification is passive. But when we are most holy, we want to be justified actively by our works. Here we ought to do nothing but this, that we open our ears, as Psalm 45:10 tells us, and believe what is told us. Only this hearing is the hearing of gladness, and this is the only thing we do, through the Holy Spirit in the matter of justification” (368). Also see “Faith and Promise” in Lutheran Theology by Steven Paulson (114-137)

— Prof. John T. Pless

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Reformation Reading by Pless

— by John T. Pless

A number of pastors have asked me for suggestions for recent books on Luther as we are now into the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What follows are my suggestions for books that would be valuable in a congregational library and for reading by interested laity. Several of these books would serve well as the basis for an adult Christian education class. Those marked with an * fit that category.

Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and his Career* by James M. Kittelson and Hans H. Wiersma (Fortress, 2016) is an accessible and informative account of Luther’s life and career. The narrative moves at a good pace but does justice to the Reformer’s personality and the critical episodes of his life. Shorter but given to a pointed engagement of Luther’s theology is the fine little book by Steven Paulson, A Brief Introduction to Martin Luther* (Westminster/John Knox, 2017). Paulson is a sparkling writer, and he presents a lively summary of the Reformer’s theology. Also compact but helpful is Thomas Kaufmann’s A Short Life of Martin Luther*(Eerdmans, 2016).  More comprehensive is Martin Luther: Visionary and Reformer by Scott Hendrix (Yale University Press, 2015). Not really a biography, but an interesting look at Luther’s career in light of its impact on the publishing industry is Andrew Pedigree’s Brand Luther (Penguin Press, 2015). The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation by Berndt Hamm (Eerdmans, 2014) traces both the continuity and discontinuity of Luther’s early thought with medieval thought. True Faith in the True God: An Introduction to Luther’s Life and Thought by Hans Schwarz (Fortress, 2015) is a topical approach to Luther with chapters on such items as Luther on marriage and the family, Luther on music, Luther on economics, and so forth. More in depth topical treatments are two books edited by Timothy Wengert, Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church (Eerdmans, 2004) and The Pastoral Luther: Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical Theology (Eerdmans, 2009).

The best single volume summaries of Luther’s theology are Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation by Oswald Bayer (Eerdmans, 2008) and Robert Kolb’s Martin Luther Confessor of the Faith (Oxford, 2009). Bayer’s book has the advantage of using Luther’s catechetical outline as way of viewing the coherence of Luther’s teaching while Kolb goes a bit deeper into historical development. There is also the impressive new study by Kolb of how Luther and his Wittenberg team understood the Holy Scriptures and preaching, Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God (Baker Academic, 2016). Shorter recent books by Kolb also include Luther and the Stories of God(Baker Academic, 2012) and his book with Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology* (Baker Academic, 2008).

There are several relatively new books that deal with different aspects of Luther’s life and work. From the perspective of Luther’s care of souls there is Martin Luther-Preacher of the Cross: A Study of Luther’s Pastoral Theology(Concordia, 2013) as this book deals with how Luther counseled the sick, the dying, the grieving, prisoners, married couples, the anxious, and people in various callings. Stephen Pietsch’s Of Good Comfort: Martin Luther’s Letters to the Depressed and Their Significance for Pastoral Care Today (ATF Theology, 2016) looks at Luther’s strategies for dealing with depression. Dennis Ngien’s Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms* (Fortress, 2015) explains Luther's use of the lament Psalms. Praying Luther’s Catechismby John T. Pless (Concordia, 2016) is a study of Luther’s theology and practice of prayer from the perspective of the Small Catechism. A free, downloadable study guide on this book is available from the Concordia Publishing House website as well. The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther* by Hans Joachim Iwand (Wipf and Stock, 2008) is a fine study of Luther on the doctrine of justification and the necessity of the distinction of the law from the gospel. Carl Trueman’s Luther and the Christian Life* (Crossways, 2015) is solid study of Luther’s understanding of the cross and freedom in the life of the Christian. Gerhard Forde’s The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Eerdmans, 2005) is a brief but finely-tuned and bracing commentary on one of Luther’s most important works The Bondage of the Will. A helpful study of Luther’s doctrine of vocation is Mark Tranvik’s Martin Luther and the Called Life* (Fortress, 2016). Australian scholar, Michael Lockwood, explores Luther’s teaching on the First Commandment in The Unholy Trinity: Martin Luther Against the Idol of Me Myself, and I* (Concordia, 2016). The five-volume set by Albrecht Peters, Commentary on Luther’s Catechism (Concordia, 2009–2013) is a magisterial study of Luther’s catechisms and a “must have” for Lutheran pastors.

Those looking for daily devotional readings from Luther will be well served by Athina Lexutt’s A Year with Luther: From the Great Reformer for Our Times (ATF Theology, 2016).  Good reference works for the study of Luther are The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology edited by Robert Kolb et al (Oxford, 2014) and  A Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions edited by Timothy Wengert et al (Baker Academic, 2017).

Concordia Publishing House continues to publish volumes in the extension of the American Edition of Luther’s Works, the most recent being Volume 79: Church Postils V. Fortress Press is in the process of releasing a nicely done six volume set, The Annotated Luther. Enriched with Reformation art, spacious margins for note-taking, concise historical introductions and generally insightful commentaries this set will contain core Luther texts. Four of the six volumes are now available.

EDITOR's NOTE: All the links above contain Amazon Affiliates link. If you use those links, LOGIA receives a little extra support. 

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.


— by Martin R. Noland

During the January 2017 Symposia week at the Fort Wayne seminary, I had the opportunity to not only hear many excellent lectures, but also to renew many friendships with people in my synod—The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (hereafter LCMS)—and in other Lutheran synods here in North America and around the world. 

One little episode stands out in mind. I was waiting for the next lecture to start in the auditorium when a former seminary classmate of mine sat down next to Walter Dissen. Mr. Dissen is, among other things, presently a member of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Board of Regents. My classmate said a few words, and then came the memorable phrase: “You know, Walter—you are a national treasure!” Nearly six years ago, my friend “Johannes” (a pseudonym) said that Mr. Dissen was a “synod treasure”[1] in his response to Dissen’s receipt of the Miles Christi Award. All plaudits are well deserved!

After the January Symposia, it occurred to me that I have had the unusual privilege of meeting, working with, being taught by, or working under a good number of “synodical treasures” like Mr. Dissen. These are steadfast confessors of the Lutheran faith, who throughout their lives have carried the burden of Lutheran orthodoxy and Scriptural inerrancy to the next generation. In many cases, they were in the middle of the “Battle for the Bible” in the LCMS. Some have suffered in various ways for their convictions. Others labored endlessly because of their convictions. All deserve our thanks, respect, and special consideration!

As a small gesture of thanks, respect, and consideration, I offer the following brief “Hall of Fame” of LCMS synodical treasures. Criteria are: a) steadfast confession in both the doctrine of orthodox Lutheranism as found in the Book of Concord and the issue of Biblical inerrancy and authority; b) national influence within the LCMS, either through its national offices, seminaries, universities, auxiliaries, ministerial training programs, national conventions, or publications directed to the membership; c) retired or of retirement age. 

I have excluded those who have passed to glory, since their names belong to the history of our synod. In the listing of what I consider some of their most significant contributions to the synod, I apologize in advance for any errors of fact or detail. Names are listed in alphabetical order by surname, not in order of distinction.


(1) Rev. Dr. Thomas Baker — leader among conservative students at the St. Louis seminary prior to the walk-out (he graduated in 1971); author of Watershed at the Rivergate[2]; former editor of Affirm newsletter; and career-long work in and with Balance, Inc., later with Affirm, Inc.

(2) Rev. Dr. Karl Barth — member of the President’s “Fact-Finding Committee” (1970–71) investigating the St. Louis seminary; South Wisconsin District President (1970–82); and President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1982–90).[3]

(3) Mr. Walter Dissen — attorney; key member of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Board of Control (1971–83) during the seminary’s crisis, walkout, and rebuilding phases; member of the Commission on Appeals (1983–95) during the Robert Preus case; member of the Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Board of Regents (1995–2007) during its rebuilding phase; member of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Board of Regents (2013–present); president of the Lutheran Concerns Association (2010–present); and editor of The Lutheran Clarion newsletter (2010–present).[4]

(4) Mr. Richard Hannnenberg — lay member of the 1969 “Continuation Committee”[5]; one of the lay founders of Balance, Inc. (later Balance-Concord), which published Affirm newsletter, with career-long work in and with these organizations and a persuasive lay voice at national and district conventions.

(5) Rev. Dr. Steven Hein — assistant to J.A.O. Preus, LCMS President, in the turbulent years just prior to the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis crisis and walkout (1972–73); leading on-campus conservative theological voice and Professor of Theology at Concordia Teacher’s College/Concordia University, River Forest, IL (1975–98); author of The Christian Life: Cross or Glory[6]; director of the Concordia Institute for Christian Studies (1988–present); and member of the Board of Directors of the Consortium of Classical and Lutheran Education (2001–present).[7]

(6) Rev. Dr. Robert Kuhn — Central Illinois District President (1985–95), during which time he was a close friend and ally of Dr. Al Barry in the Council of Presidents; First Vice-President of the LCMS (1995–2000), in which office he continued his support for Dr. Barry; member of the LCMS Board of Directors, nine years as chairman (2001–13); and LCMS 6th Vice-President for East-Southeast Region (2013–2015).

(7) Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier, Jr. — professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield/Fort Wayne (1965–present); editor of Affirm newsletter (1970–73); author of Form Criticism Re-Examined [8]; author of “Crossroads” letter to 1973 synodical delegates; and 2nd-5th LCMS Vice-President (1973–95).

(8) Rev. Dr. John W. Montgomery — after colloquizing into the LCMS in 1965, Dr. Montgomery gave a series of ground-breaking lectures (November 1965 to May 1966) to the LCMS Council of Presidents, the joint seminary faculties, and to Midwestern LCMS Pastor and Teacher Conferences, which lectures were published in volume one of Crisis in Lutheran Theology[9]; regular columnist for the Evangelical flagship journal Christianity Today (1965–83); and a leading critic of the theologies of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann, summing up much of his opposition to Liberal Christianity and radical theologies in works such as Crisis in Lutheran Theology, The Suicide of Christian Theology, and God's Inerrant Word.[10]

(9) Deaconess Betty Mulholland — leader among nine deaconesses, who together with Dr. Paul Zimmerman, President of Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, Illinois, established the Concordia Deaconess Conference in 1979 for LCMS deaconesses and deaconess students who wanted to be faithful to the official LCMS doctrinal position.[11]

(10) Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel — Preceptor of Westfield House, Cambridge, U.K., the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (1958–1967); Dean of Chapel and Professor of Theology at Valparaiso University (1967–1983); Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1983–2008); translator of Hermann Sasse’s essays in the Concordia Publishing House We Confess series[12] and of other Sasse material; and co-founder and co-mentor with Ronald Feuerhahn of the Colloquium Viatorum group of LCMS graduate theology students, meeting annually at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (ca. 1992–99).[13]

(11) Rev. Herman Otten, Jr. — leader among conservative students at the St. Louis seminary during its liberal years (he graduated in 1957); editor of Christian News newspaper (1962–present); and publisher of numerous books and resources through Lutheran News, Inc.[14] 

(12) Rev. Walter Otten — pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Brookfield, Illinois for most of his career; in his early years, a member of the Chicago Study Club, meeting in Oak Park, Illinois in order to counteract the influence of ecumenism and liberalism on the LCMS; in his later years, a founder and leader of the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans (aka NICL), which met in the western suburbs of Chicago for the same purposes; and an effective opponent of liberal professors at Concordia Teacher’s College, River Forest, IL in the years prior to the formation of Seminex and the AELC.

(13) Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus — a founder of the Minnesota Confessional Lutherans during his years as a pastor at Truman, Minnesota (1978–86); a founder of the Association of Confessional Lutherans (1992–present); Director of the Concordia Historical Institute (1995–2001); First Vice-President of the LCMS, during which time he spoke publicly about the error of the district president who was involved in the Yankee Stadium worship service (2001–2004); Director of the Luther Academy (2005–2012); 3rd-5th LCMS Vice President (2010–present); and author of Why I Am A Lutheran: Jesus at the Center.[15]

(14) Rev. Dr. David Scaer — leader among conservative students at the St. Louis seminary during its liberal years (he graduated in 1960); Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield/Fort Wayne (1966–present); editor of Concordia Theological Quarterly[16] (1970–94, 1999–present); author of three volumes in the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series[17]; and prodigious author of theological articles, sermons, and books.[18]

(15) Rev. Dr. Wallace Schulz — Lutheran Hour Associate Speaker (1977–2002); 2nd, 4th, and 5th LCMS Vice-President (1995–2004); Evangelist for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (2002–10); editor and publisher of Good News magazine; and while serving as Vice-President, he became the judge of the church-court case involving the Atlantic District President for his participation in the ecumenical, inter-faith worship service at Yankee Stadium in September 2001.[19]

(16) Rev. Dr. Edwin S. Suelflow — for many years, his congregation in Milwaukee, Walther Memorial Lutheran Church, was the mailing address and production base for the Affirm newsletter of Balance, Inc.; District President of South Wisconsin District (1988–94), during which years he was a close ally and supporter of Dr. Al Barry; and during which time, he and Dr. Barry worked together to convince the various conservative and confessional Lutheran organizations in the LCMS to cooperate in the nomination and election of synodical officers and board members.

(17) Rev. Dr. William Weinrich — resisting the lure of liberalism at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (he graduated in 1972), he went on to receive the doctoral degree Insigni cum laude from the Faculty of Theology at Basel, Switzerland in October 1977; Professor of Early Church History and Patristic Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (1975–present); president pro tem of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (1995–96), during its difficult transition year; academic dean at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (1996–2006); 3rd and 4th LCMS Vice-President (1998–2004); editor of Revelation[20] in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; editor of Greek Commentaries on Revelation[21] and Latin Commentaries on Revelation[22] in Ancient Christian Texts; and author of numerous other books and articles.[23]

(18) Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe — resisting the lure of liberalism at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (he graduated in 1971), he went on to receive the Th.M. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary (1975) and the Ph.D. degree from the University of Notre Dame (1991); Professor of Old Testament at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield/Fort Wayne (1971–77, 1980–present); President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (1996–2011); President of the Concordia University System (2014–present); Associate Editor of the Concordia Self-Study Bible[24]; General Editor of the Concordia Commentary Series by Concordia Publishing House; editor of Jeremiah/Lamentations[25] in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; and author of numerous other books and articles.[26]

(19) Mr. Al Wipperman — lay member of the 1969 “Continuation Committee”; one of the lay founders of Balance, Inc. (later Balance-Concord), which was the publisher of Affirm newsletter, with career-long work in and with these organizations; and a persuasive lay voice at national and district conventions.

If you have the privilege of meeting any of these persons in the days and years ahead, make sure that you thank them for their service to our synod and to confessional Lutheranism world-wide. If you have the time, ask them out to lunch or dinner to learn about their experiences in the church. If you have the time and skills, consider recording and telling some of their stories—with their permission—in journals such as the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, LOGIA, and other venues that will pass on these stories to the next generation of faithful Lutherans.

  As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.  


[1] See; “Johannes” attribution is #2 in the comment section; accessed January 31, 2017.

[2] (Sturgis, MI: T. Baker 1973).

[3] For a sampling of Dr. Barth’s engaging style of speaking and writing, see his collection of blog articles in: Karl L. Barth, Just a Chip Off the Old Blog (Milwaukee: PIP Printing, 2008).

[4] For current subscriptions and resources, see; accessed January 31, 2017.

[5] On the “Continuation Committee,” see James C. Burkee, Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 105.

[6] (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2015).

[7] For a brief curriculum vitae of Dr. Hein, see; accessed January 31, 2017.

[8] (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973).

[9] John Warwick Montgomery, Crisis in Lutheran Theology, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Bethany Lutheran Fellowship, 1967).

[10] For Dr. Montgomery’s biography and extensive bibliography, see and; accessed January 31, 2017. For other biographical details, see his festschrift’s foreword and tribute sections: Dembski & Schirrmaker, eds., Tough-Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery (Nashville: B &H Academic, 2009).

[11] The official doctrinal position of the LCMS is described in Article Two of its Constitution. The other eight deaconesses were: Mildred Brillinger, Kay Gudgeon, Clara Strehlow, Luella Mickley, Cheryl Naumann, Nancy Nemoyer, Joyce Ostermann, and Ruth Stallmann. The full story is told in: Cheryl D. Naumann, In the Footsteps of Phoebe (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009).

[12] Hermann Sasse, We Confess, 3 vols., tr. Norman Nagel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984–86); this is primarily translations of selected essays from Sasse’s In Statu Confessionis.

[13] Biographical essays on Dr. Nagel may be found here: L. Dean Hempelmann, “Foreword,” in his festschrift: Krispin and Vieker, eds., And To Every Tongue Confess: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Dearborn, MI: Nagel Festschrift Committee, 1990), ix-xiv; and his second festschrift: Matthew Harrison, “Foreword,” William M. Cwirla, “In the Way of the Law and the Gospel: Classroom Reminscences,” and Rudolph H. Blank, “A Visit with Norman Nagel,” in Vieker, Day, Collver, eds., Dona Gratis Donata: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of His Ninetieth Birthday (Manchester, MO: Nagel Festschrift Committee, 2015), xi–17.

[14] For current subscriptions and resources, see; accessed January 31, 2017.. Some persons may question whether Pastor Otten should be included in this “honor roll,” citing his journalistic methods, or pointing to various political or theological opinions which he advocates; but no one can deny his influence in the period being considered or his steadfast confession of the authority of the Lutheran Confessions and the inerrancy of Scriptures. Therefore he belongs in this group of LCMS “confessors.”

[15] (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2004). For a brief biography of Vice-President Preus, see Klemet Preus, “Daniel Preus: Protecting and Promoting the Lutheran Ethos,” in his festschrift: Scott Murray,, eds., Propter Christum: Christ at the Center, Essays in Honor of Daniel Preus (n.p.: Luther Academy, 2013), xiii–xix.

[16] For current subscriptions, see; accessed January 31, 2017.

[17] For this series, see; accessed January 31, 2017. Dr. Scaer wrote the volumes in the series on “Baptism,” “Christology,” and “Law and Gospel and the Means of Grace.”

[18] For a complete bibliography of Dr. Scaer’s writings from 1963 to 2008, see Peter C. Bender,, eds., In Christ: The Collected Works of David P. Scaer Lutheran Confessor, vol. 2 (Sussex, WI: Concordia Catechetical Academy, 2008), 245–288. For a brief biography of Dr. Scaer, see Lawrence R. Rast, “David P. Scaer: A Biographical Appreciation,” in his festschrift: Dean O. Wenthe,, eds., All Theology is Christology: Essays in Honor of David P. Scaer (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 2000),15–18. Another bibliography and his works hosted on the CTS-FW website may be found here:

[19] For details on the Yankee Stadium case, see Herman Otten, ed., Crisis in Christendom: Seminex Ablaze (New Haven, MO: Lutheran News, Inc., 2004).

[20] New Testament Vol. 12, general ed. Thomas Oden (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005).

[21] General ed., Thomas Oden (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2011).

[22] General eds., Thomas Oden and Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2011).

[23] A curriculum vitae and his works hosted on the CTS-FW website can be found here:

[24] General ed., Robert G. Hoerber (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, ca. 1986).

[25] Old Testament Vol. 12, general ed., Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009).

[26] For a brief biography of Dr. Wenthe, see: Lawrence R. Rast, Jr., “Dean O. Wenthe: A Biographical Appreciation,” in his festschrift: Just and Grime, eds., The Restoration of Creation in Christ: Essays in Honor of Dean O. Wenthe (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), xvii-xxi; for a brief bibliography, see “A Select Bibliography,” in ibid., xxii–xxv. Works of note by Dr. Wenthe and his works hosted on the CTSFW website can be found here:

Book Review: Biblical Authority after Babel

The “solas” are at the forefront, appropriately so, of a lot of Reformation jubilee discussion and literature as October 31, 2017 approaches. Because they can be seen as providing a content-rich but extremely compact summary of the Reformation movement, Reformation teaching, or of the motivations of the Reformers, even the fact that they’re in Latin is overlooked. I myself find, as I pastor in a setting where Lutherans are one of the rarer breeds of Christianity, that a short reference to sola gratia,sola fide, and sola scriptura can go a long way, not only to describe who we are, but also to garner some respect among those who otherwise suspect me of having a shrine to Martin Luther in my house.

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Issue 26-1: Lutheran Triumphalism


— by Paul Lehninger

According to a quotation making the rounds recently, “Success without decency is a hollow victory”or perhaps a “hollow triumph”? The articles in this issue provide valuable insights as to the nature of Lutheran triumphalism, its relative decency, and its contemporary relevance, especially in light of the forthcoming Reformation 500 observances.

For an explanation of the cover,  click here .

For an explanation of the cover, click here.

Michael Albrecht takes us all the way back to Reformation 100 and carries us through the centuries to the present, demonstrating how in the past century Luther and the Reformation were reimagined to suit Unitarian and Communist ideologies. His description of J. P. Koehler’s term for triumphalism, the “hurrah sentiment,” which causes individuals to substitute a charismatic leader for the gospel as a means of salvation, is especially chilling during election years.

Compelling leaders who champion pseudo-theologies that obscure the gospel have always been with us. Arnold Koelpin argues that a misunderstanding of the two kinds of righteousness lies at the heart of this deception, and he sets forth the example of liberation theology to demonstrate this.

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A more prevalent pseudo-theology in America today is that the music used for worship is a means of grace, or at least a necessary handmaiden of the gospel, and Luther has been quoted and misquoted to support this view. Too often the lines have been drawn between those who believe that the pews will empty unless the language of worship is accompanied by “contemporary” music, and those who are convinced that only chant and Baroque-era compositions have the Holy Spirit’s stamp of approval. Both are forms of triumphalism, and James Crockford does the church a great service in his analysis of the three senses of music. His reminder that, while music is a great gift  from God, like any gift  it can be abused in this sinful world.

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For those of us who have fond memories of the Synodical Conference, Mark Braun and Erling Teigen provide evidence that triumphalism is a debilitating disease that can contaminate even confessional Lutherans when they ignore the symptoms of their illness. Missouri is still medicating (as must we all), while the ELS ultimately had to amputate the gangrenous limb.

While Michael Albrecht took us back to Reformation 100, Carl Springer turns our attention all the way to pagan Greece and Rome. Springer’s pagans dealt seriously with death as well as life.  They celebrated their triumphs thoroughly, but in the background they were always conscious of death, the memento mori. Of course, they had no concept of the Lutheran theology of the cross. This is the only valid answer to the question of Lutheran triumphalism. Surely, “In the midst of earthly life snares of death surround us,” but even more surely, “Who there my cross has shared finds here a crown prepared; who there with me has died shall here be glorified.”

A Word about the Cover

— by Aaron Moldenhauer, Senior Editor, LOGIA

The anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 is a big year for Luther and Lutherans. All kinds of Reformation celebrations are being planned, and many are already underway. Perhaps what will be lost in the celebrations is Luther's own emphasis on humility. Some of the last words from his pen said that "we are all beggars," a final reiteration of his point that it is God who works good in his church through his word. Man is merely the instrument through whom God works, and Luther would remind us that this calls for a healthy dose of humility.

LOGIA XXVI-1 Cover.jpg

The Epiphany issue of LOGIA examines times when Lutherans have forgotten this point and fallen into the danger of triumphalism. The articles in the issue provide opportunity for confessional Lutherans to reflect on our own approaches to confessing the faith, and to ask if we have always done so with the humility befitting fallen sinners redeemed by Christ's grace and enlightened by his Holy Spirit. We feel this is a salutary reminder at the beginning of a year of Luther celebrations.

The cover image is meant to be a visual way to reflect on such themes, and to inspire thought and reflection. How does one picture Lutheran triumphalism? The cover image is one attempt to do so. It is not meant to portray a faithful pastor whose doctrine and life is normed by scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

The artist—a strong confessional Lutheran—had in mind those who heroically profess to be Lutheran while paying mere lip service to the Book of Concord. These are the kinds of Lutherans whom Kurt Marquart criticized for using the Confessions as a kind of "rabbit's foot," ignoring the content of the Confessions and stripping them of binding force while working for triumphal unions based on empty words about confessional subscription (Anatomy of an Explosion, Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1977, 66-76). The image is an intentional parody of the heroic realism of socialist art. We feel that it is an effective image to lead Lutherans to look at their own attitudes and to reflect on how they might continue to speak the truth in love to those inside and outside of the church. And, personally, I find it striking and thought-provoking that the cross is pushed to the background of this image and nearly invisible.



Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. By Scott Keith. Irvine: NRP Books, 2015. Order here.

Much ink has been spilled over the subject of Christian parenting, especially the vocation of “father.” The critique of modern Western society that the role of father has been degraded to the point that we no longer recognize the true purpose or value of having a father is more than accurate. Doubtless this is a contributing factor to the Western acceptance of the equivalence of mother and father or much worse the irrelevance of the father. Yet many recognize the need of some sort of father-like figure—certainly all the super-villains and heroes in the movies having “daddy issues” is no coincidence. So what is a father? Is he necessary? What does he look like? What does he do?

Scott Keith, executive director of “1517 the Legacy Project,” adjunct professor of theology at Concordia University, Irvine, and (more relevant) husband and father of three children, brings the light of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and even some anecdotal experience to these questions with the book Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. Rather than being a how-to manual on raising children as a man, Keith examines what the Scriptures tell us about being a father from the example given us in our heavenly Father. Keith’s stated purpose for the book: “This book . . . will draw a picture of a good father given as a gift by a good God in order to bring children, to bring little sinners, to Himself” (6). For this reason, Keith suggests, it is the father’s first God-given duty to bring the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins to the children entrusted to his care. 

The emphasis throughout the entire book is that the father should be a theologian who properly distinguishes Law and Gospel in the home. Keith never suggests that the father ignore the Law and be a passive patron of cheap grace, rather Keith constructs the book to demonstrate that a father is a God-given picture of His divine grace.

Keith’s first step is the ever-familiar parable of the prodigal son. He gives an in-depth study of the characters, motivations, and emotions involved in this parable. While Keith offers no novel ideas, he gives an absolutely necessary starting point for understanding the vocation of father: the benefactor and teacher of grace, and of children: receivers and witnesses of grace.

At this point Keith discusses the necessity of manly men, or in his words “masculine fathers.” He attempts to discern from the dim mirror what a masculine man is like. Certainly being a real man is more than drinking beer, smoking, shooting guns, and eating red meat. Keith suggests—and I believe correctly—that a truly masculine man is not only capable of performing “manly tasks” (whatever those may be according to his vocation) but he is gracious and loving. Keith defines “loving” in the sense of the Greek virtue “philia” brotherly friendship and love, or what our confessions would call “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” (SA III:IV). A masculine father demonstrates this virtue to his children and exposes them to it through his various interactions with them and others in the world. Yet here no exhaustive list of characteristics can be made for the masculine man, instead we simply accept the flesh and blood examples.

It is no coincidence that God places great importance on the estate of marriage. This clearly is for the protection and good of both husband and wife, but also for the protection and raising up of children. For this reason, Keith devotes an entire chapter to the father fulfilling his vocation as husband. He discusses that the vocations of father and mother are neither equivalent nor opposite each other; rather father and mother complement each other.

Keith devotes the rest of the book to discussing what it is to be a father, the “magic” and wonderment a father can and should bring into his children’s lives, what it means that the father is the “head of the household,” and finally what a healthy reliance of children on fathers looks like. Keith closes the book with helpful anecdotes from those in the vocation of father and/or child. He uses these to illustrate the single point successfully made throughout the entire book that the foremost duty of the father is to be a picture of our gracious, heavenly Father.

“God provides fathers so that children can know His love in this denotative way. Fathers provide the opportunity for children to point at their dads and say, ‘God’s love is like that. Like him over there. Like my dad,’” (82). Keith’s book is a welcome and necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion on the necessity and qualities of that thing we call “fatherhood.” In this book, he hits on the necessary points to show from Scripture and experience how the father is an absolutely necessary God-given vocation in this life.

Aaron M. Hambleton
Redeemer Lutheran
Lisbon, ND

Issue 25-4: Simul justus et peccator


—by Aaron Moldenhauer

Some years ago in Bible class I led a discussion that as Christians we are simul iustus et peccator. Class members readily and heartily acknowledged that they were sinners. But the group struggled to see themselves as saints and declined to call themselves such. Saints, they reasoned, were holy, while they were sinful. They could not look past their sin to see the righteousness of Christ that is theirs through faith, the righteousness by which they are accounted saints. By only confessing half of the equation, they demonstrated that they had not internalized the concept of being simul.

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While instructing parishioners about being simul is challenging, this instruction pays rich rewards for the person who grasps the simul. Parish pastors do well to offer this instruction both in Bible classes and in private counseling. The simul is especially effective for those who, for one reason or another, question their faith. Pointing the parishioner to the father in Mark 9:24 who cries “I believe, help my unbelief!” can bring immense comfort to one who recognizes that his faith is weak. Walking through Romans 7 with a parishioner beat up by legalistic preaching is an effective means to show them that they are Christ’s, even when they see sin in themselves. Conversely, the simul allows the pastor to preach to the self-righteous that they are sinful without driving them to despair. The simul remains an excellent resource for pastoral care and theology. This issue of LOGIA offers several perspectives on the simul in Lutheran theology.

The simul is deeply rooted in Lutheran theology. From an early date in his life, Martin Luther delights in placing paradoxical statements beside one another. The simul is one instance of Luther’s paradoxical pairs, appearing early in his career. These apparent contradictions appear at least as early as The Freedom of a Christian (1520), where Luther famously asserts that the Christian is both a perfectly free lord of all and a most dutiful servant, subject to all (LW 31:344). In the same work Luther describes the exchange between Christ and the Christian by which Christ shares in the believer’s sins while the believer receives Christ’s righteousness. As Christ and the believer hold all things in common, they are both sinners and righteous at the same time (LW 31:351–53). This identification of the believer as both sinful and holy begins in Luther and persists in Lutheran theology as the simul iustus et peccator. The persistence of this concept is seen clearly in the authors analyzing and using it in this issue of LOGIA.

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In the first article of this issue William Cwirla draws connections between scriptural expressions containing the content of the simul, Luther’s thought, the Formula of Concord, and the parish. His article analyzes how the simul functions in the Formula’s articulation of the third use of the law, and how this relates to conceptions of spirit and flesh, old and new, inner and outer. Cwirla shows the relevance of these doctrines for the pastor. His contribution highlights the often-overlooked truth that the pastor must first see himself as simul. Then Cwirla continues to discuss how parishioners and the church are also simul.

Steven Paulson’s contribution to this issue examines the two kingdoms in light of the simul. Paulson highlights how the simul cuts against natural intuition and experience. By looking at the two kingdoms in light of the simul, Paulson identifies temptations to turn the church into an instrument for social action, a move that can collapse the two kingdoms into one. His article offers a unique look at the role of the church in liberal democracy by applying the simul to the question of the two kingdoms.

The simul Christian lives in a creation that is also simul. Our lives as simul iustus et peccator are lived in this simul creation, and the implications of this setting are explored by Joshua Miller’s analysis and application of Oswald Bayer’s thought on the rupture of the ages. Bayer’s idea of the rupture highlights how sin closes ears to the message that God speaks through creation. The result is that God is hidden, along with his eschatological answer to sin. By casting the believer and creation in this light, Bayer opens up room to understand the Christian life as lament — an insight offering rich applications in pastoral care.

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The simul offers one way to examine developments within the understanding of the office of the ministry. Mark Menacher’s article follows this tack. Menacher cautions against the dangers that come when the simul is forgotten in thinking about the ministry, both on a personal and an ecclesial level. Menacher develops this argument by using Luther and the Confessions as resources for thinking about the ministry and the simul.

Menacher’s article leads into Kristian Baudler’s essay on Luther and the priesthood of all believers. Baudler argues that Luther espouses the idea, and contends that recent efforts to argue that Luther does not hold to the priesthood of all believers serve an ecumenical agenda.

Together, these articles offer a rich array of material for contemplating the simul. The themes of simul and office continue into the Forum section, with diverse voices from Lutheranism represented there. Taken together, the writings in this issue of LOGIA provide resources for a Lutheran perspective that sees oneself as both sinner and saint, and then speaks the gospel to others who are likewise sinners, those to whom Christ grants his forgiveness and so accounts them saints.

Not the Same

EXCERPT: In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court, its allied judges, and its like-minded politicians are engendering the American republican-democratic state into establishing or into becoming the state Church of Neopaganism in the USA with the Supreme Court Justices in majority ruling as its self-ordained high priests.

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