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.

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. 

Herrmann (1).jpg

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. 

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.

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.

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:

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.


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.

Read More

Three Principles of Ecclesiastical Art Production from the Writings of Luther

— by Ted Giese

Art is something that must be perceived. Of course many things in the daily life of the individual are perceivable, but a great deal of things go unnoticed both actively and inactively by the casual observer. There are two kinds of perceivable things in the world: those things touched by human hands and those things that are not. In the case of those things that are touched by human hands, intentionality becomes an essential clue as to the purpose behind their formation, just as Gene Edward Veith suggests in his book Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, when he states that art “brings abstract philosophies down to earth.” H.W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson in their classic art history textbook History of Art assert that art is the most intentional of humankind's activities, or at least it is the most intentional form of expressing ideas and concepts in nonverbal non-traditional linguistic forms. What has been defined as art has fluctuated over time, and the artisans of one time become the artists of another and vice versa. This is largely due to shifts in social attitudes and tastes.

At the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, art was becoming what people generally understand it to be today: drawing, painting, sculpture, and architecture. This Renaissance period that coincided with the Reformation period was a great time of upheaval within Western culture, and some scholars like Erik Erikson believed that Martin Luther had little interest in art at all. This is not true. Luther commented and wrote about art many times, yet he did not give a single list of parameters that one could use in the proper production of ecclesiastical art. For this, one must look more broadly at the writings of Luther and deduce from them useful principles.

When Luther was writing about art, he was writing about architecture, drawings, paintings, and sculptures as they could be found in the secular and religious culture of his time. What is measured as art in our current time has widened considerably to include a vast and varied set of interrelated fields and disciplines far exceeding the confines of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and buildings. Conceptual art, performance art, text-based art, textile art, installation art, earth art, photographic art, cinematic art, time-based art, kinetic art, sound-based art, digital art, printmaking, and assemblage all comprise the current definition, along with drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture. These fields will at times intersect with one another, creating complex relationships and systems.

Luther's writings in no way encompass all of these current fields, yet three essential principles can be taken from Luther's writings when it comes to the production of ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.

  1. Christian ecclesiastical art must respect the inerrancy of Scripture, that is the Old and New Testaments contained in the Christian canon, and them alone;
  2. Christian ecclesiastical art is to act as secondary instructional materials in the form of memorials and reminders for the Christian, which is to say it must serve a pedagogical purpose;
  3. Contextual matters are to be taken into consideration when producing ecclesiastical art for the divine service.

These principles will all be examined briefly to give a better understanding of how Luther looked at ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.

First, scriptural inerrancy is a key building block of confessional Lutheran thought, second only to Christ himself, for scripture is the infallible word of God and must be respected as such. A great deal of the assurance of the Christian is based on the fact that the scriptures are true and contain no falsehoods or errors. Scriptural inerrancy then becomes the first rule by which Luther discerns art of any kind. If it is in adherence to Scripture, it is good and useful; if it is not, then it is dangerous to faith. Producing ecclesiastical art that is good and faithful can only be accomplished through respect for scriptural inerrancy.

An example of this approach by Luther can be found in his 1539 Lectures on Genesis where Luther notes, concerning contemporary images of the patriarch Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Isaac on mountain of the Lord, that "it was not a sword, and the picture commonly painted of Abraham about to kill his son is incorrect. It was a knife, such as butchers and priests were accustomed to use." (LW 4:110–11). Two very different things are conveyed when the sword of a king is compared and contrasted with the knife of a butcher or an Old Testament priest. The first is a symbol of government and the vocation of the sword, the other is a symbol of the sacrifice, particularly in the case of an Old Testament priest. With the cross of Christ and Jesus' death upon that cross as the center of Scripture and with the account of Abraham and Isaac typologically pointing to the sacrifice of God's only Son, the question can be asked: Which better conveys visually what the text of Scripture teaches? The sword or the knife? Artistic licence in this case can introduce error at worst and theological dissonance at best.

Earlier in 1522 Luther likewise pointed out, in his sermon for the festival of Epiphany, that the common misconception promulgated by artists that there were three Wise Men from the east just because there were three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) was in fact incorrect, because Scripture never numbered the wise men (LW 52:160). These examples may seem nitpicky to some, but they show the serious attitude Luther had concerning the inerrancy of Scripture and the potential pitfalls of bearing false witness in ecclesiastical art production. There is also an element of common sense in Luther's statements: if the text of Scripture does not say it, do not make it so in art. To do anything else would be a lie, as well as subversive. If the intent is to produce faithful ecclesiastical art, then hyperbole becomes a dangerous ground upon which to build, even if it is well intentioned or has become traditional. It should be noted that Luther does not specifically insist on scriptural inerrancy, while at the same time it is important to note that Luther singles out as "incorrect" works of ecclesiastical art that do not adhere to scriptural inerrancy.

Second, ecclesiastical art contains a pedagogical purpose in the form of memorials and reminders. While discussing the use and production of personal prayer books (LW 43:43), Luther advocates the daily remembrance of Scripture through imagery in a similar fashion as he advocates the daily remembrance of baptism in his Small Catechism. Scripturally, Luther accepts the use of images, even including crucifixes and images of saints, based on Joshua 24:26 and 1 Samuel 7:12, because examples of ecclesiastical art such as these serve the same function of memorial and witness as is sanctioned in the Old Testament with the proper use of witness stones (LW 40:87).

For Luther, ecclesiastical art was permissible only when it was not the object of worship. Consider the bronze serpent made by Moses in Numbers 21:8–9 under the specific direction of God. It began as a useful object and had a specific pedagogical purpose. It was there to teach the people to trust in God and his promise. When it was being misused later in the time of Hezekiah, Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Ki 18:4) because it was being worshiped (LW 40:87). Between the time of Moses and Hezekiah there was no problem with the bronze serpent because its only function during that time was to serve as a reminder of the grace of God for his afflicted people.

Because of the value of ecclesiastical art as pedagogical, it is necessary at this point to take a short detour into Luther's response to iconoclasm in his time. Luther preferred to avoid the destruction of ecclesiastical art if it did not have to be physically destroyed, or rather he preferred teaching as opposed to hammer, chisel, and torch (LW 40:58). Luther's approach in this regard was much more pastoral. On the one side, the Roman church taught falsely concerning images, claiming that just seeing, and/or praying to, or being in the presences of certain material objects could forgive sin (SA II.23), produce miracles, and be counted as meritorious. On the other side, Luther had the iconoclasts and enthusiasts who wished to strip the world bare of all ecclesiastical art, seeing it as inherently idolatrous. Luther stuck with Scripture and promoted an alternative approach. His main concern was the worship of images, and in his treatise of 1525 "Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments," Luther provides the above discussion concerning the bronze serpent, as well as his philosophy for avoiding idolatry, as he debated the iconoclasm of Karlstadt. He states:

“[I] approach the task of destroying images by first tearing them out of the heart through God's Word and making them worthless and despised. This indeed took place before Dr. Karlstadt ever dreamed of destroying images. For when they are no longer in the heart, they can do no harm when seen with the eyes. But Dr. Karlstadt, who pays no attention to matters of the heart, has reversed the order by removing them from the sight and leaving them in the heart. For he does not preach faith, nor can he preach it; unfortunately, only now do I see that. Which of these two forms destroy images best, I will let each man judge for himself (LW 40:84).”

On the one hand having ecclesiastical art and keeping it present within the worship and devotional life of the Christian provides opportunity for pedagogy. Conversely, on the other hand, the absence of such art will hamper and/or shift pedagogy away from visual learning. The latter was not the intention of Luther. He certainly understood such visual learning as valuable, and made a case that it would be beneficial if images like those printed in his translation of the Bible would find greater uses.

Before leaving this second principle, consider how Luther suggests that such prints as found in books should be painted on walls because, as he puts it, they "do no more harm on walls than in books." He continues saying, “It is better to paint pictures on walls of how God created the world, how Noah built the ark, and whatever other good stories there may be, than to paint shameless worldly things. Yes, would to God that I could persuade the rich and mighty that they would permit the whole Bible to be painted on houses, on the inside and outside, so that all can see it” (LW, 40:99).

Third, ecclesiastical art best serves the church when context is considered. This might best be thought of as a natural refinement coming out of the first two principles. These principles being a deep and careful regard for scriptural inerrancy and the desire to produce works of art which focus themselves as pedagogical reminder and witness.

The question of context for Luther utilizes the most basic form of common sense flowing from the first two principles. Luther gives a very strong opinion concerning this as he writes about the Sacrament of the Altar on the basis of Psalm 111 in 1530:

Whoever is inclined to put pictures on an altar ought to have the Lord's Supper of Christ painted, with these two verses written around in golden letters: ‘The gracious and merciful Lord has instituted a remembrance of His wonderful works.’ Then they would stand before our eyes for our heart to contemplate them, and even our eyes, in reading, would have to thank and praise God. Since the altar is designated for the administration of the sacrament, one could not find a better painting for it. Other pictures of God or Christ can be painted somewhere else. (LW 13:375)

Luther wishes to reinforce the fact that "the Lord is gracious and merciful" (LW 13:373). The trouble comes when individuals approach the Sacrament of the Altar in confusion, when the recipient of the body and blood of Christ is afraid of Jesus, afraid of God the Father because Jesus has been "painted" either with words or presumably with paint, to varying degrees, as angry or displeased in the institution of his sacrament. Luther assures the Christian that "[Jesus] will not devour you or stand over you with a club when you go to the Sacrament" (LW 13:374).

Here we can see how Luther is making the distinction between what is appropriate and what is not, and how an individual piece of art in the wrong place can bear false witness concerning the true teachings of the church. The preceding block quote provides a positive example of how art can be employed to get the right message across to the troubled soul, becoming that proper reminder and witness. When applied, this third principle would suggest quite strongly that there is a proper place for ecclesiastical art.

For example, one would be encouraged to put ecclesiastical art concerning baptism around a baptismal font. In contemporary art theory, this is called site-specific; the fabrication or production of aesthetic elements that interact with the pre-existing environment. This is most common in the field of installation art where a change in the environment is attempted; the success of such a change is largely determined by how seamless the integration of the preexistent merges with the aesthetic additions. The desire is generally one of two things: either to create unease or inquiry by the use of juxtaposition, or to create harmony by the use of common homogeny or winsomely developed homogeny. Luther appears to desire the latter. Juxtaposition is not generally useful in ecclesiastical art unless it serves the first two principles and is contextually appropriate.

To put a finer point on the necessity of context, consider this example. King David is a prominent individual recorded in holy Scripture. It is entirely possible to produce a painting or sculpture of David that would be faithful to the text of Scripture, an image that contained no spurious errors. Such a work of ecclesiastical art could rightly be understood as serving as a witness to the personage of David and his life lived in the grace of God's promise of salvation, yet it would be contextually inappropriate to place such a work of ecclesiastical art predominantly at the altar. Doing so would be an elevation of David over Christ and would then retroactively break the first two principles. The work of art would, because of its placement, teach falsely and if it taught falsely it would subsequently no longer be respectful of Scripture and scriptural inerrancy.

These three principles for the production of ecclesiastical art give the artist and patron/congregation valuable insight into what best constitutes ecclesiastical art how it can be faithfully utilized by the Christian. In the current milieu, the field of art encompasses virtually all elements of Christian worship. As a result, these three principles may be applied more broadly especially when the entirety of the divine service and its physical setting is deemed to be art. Movement, color, gesture, body language, duration of time, fabric, construction materials, tone, structure, sound, music and all the non-verbal elements are perceivable as art. The principles of respect for scriptural inerrancy, pedagogical reminder and witness, and appropriate context can therefore be applied to an individual element or to the whole of the divine service.

Lastly, because of the common sense nature of these three principles, they have been generally applied by Lutherans, but because they have not been presented as principles formally, their use has been subject to variability due in part to shifts in social attitudes and tastes. As a result the Lutheran church in North America, on the congregational level, has often been influenced more by the artistic principles of other denominations and/or by secular artistic movements than it has been by Luther and its own writers and thinkers. Careful consideration of these three principles from the solid footing of Scripture could provide a way forward toward a comprehensive understanding of ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.


Rev. Ted Giese serves as associate pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina Saskatchewan Canada.

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.

Standing Bold Upon Firm Ground

— By Gunnar Andersson

Translated by Bror Erickson

At the beginning of this month (June) the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia in synod decided to update the church order to say that only men can be ordained as pastors. The decision reinforced what was already the practice since 1993 when Janis Vanags became archbishop. Seventy-seven percent of the delegation voted for it; only seventy-five perfect was needed for such a change to be made.

The 2016 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meets in the Cathedral of Riga.  Photo via the ELCL .

The 2016 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meets in the Cathedral of Riga. Photo via the ELCL.

It is very encouraging that the church in Latvia has integrity and stands up to pressure from different directions to follow along with the modern agenda. To see that a church dares to go against the stream, towards the word of God and not away, is a sign of hope in our time.

During the same synod a Swede (!), Hans Jönsson, was elected bishop for the Diocese of Liepaja. Because of his faithfulness to the Bible and confession even in the question of holy ministry, Hans could not be a pastor in the Church of Sweden, and this finally led him to Latvia where he was ordained in 2003. Since then he has garnered more and more confidence as dean, as overseer of the Church’s economy, and as chairman of the board of regents for the church’s seminary. His consecration as Bishop takes place on the sixth of August in Riga’s Cathedral.

No church is free of challenges and worries, not even in Latvia. But there is a decisive difference between striving against God’s word and serving with God’s word. The latter has the Lord’s promise with it. For a long time, the Church of Sweden has been on a collision course with the Bible and the confessions and has said no to people the Lord has called to ministry precisely because they are not able to compromise with their consciences that are bound to the word of God. Instead of faithful pastors, many communities have received those that would lead them away from their Savior.

Against this background of the church and congregations in Sweden depriving themselves of the call and gifts of the Lord, it is a joy to note that the church in Latvia values and receives the ministry of those who want to remain faithful to the Lord’s will. Let us pray for the Lord’s blessing and protection for the church in Latvia and her future bishop.

The need in Sweden for genuine evangelical divine service and congregational life is acute. The remaining functional congregations in Sweden are being disposed of at an alarming rate. Many have been anesthetized by continuing to sit under pulpits where God’s word was first diluted before moving on to pure heresy. Congregations and priests, bound to the confessions of the Church of Sweden but independent of the presently politically bound organization are needed in many places, both so that the Christians can be built up and strengthened in faith and trust in Jesus, and so that new converts could be won for him.

Unfortunately, there have been very different opinions both concerning the need and the way forward among groups and individuals within the confessional movement. To judge from the growing number of converts to the Roman Catholic Church many seem to have subsequently given up hope for evangelical Lutheran Church life in Sweden. Perhaps there is reason to question how much the evangelical Lutheran faith really meant for them. Or perhaps the discord within the Church of Sweden become an excuse for them to do what they have always wanted?

Another worry that can be sensed is that we in different areas have been eager to defend our specific spiritual traditions and are not capable or willing to see and affirm that which is good and in other places. Faithfulness to the Bible and confessions is a must, but freedom of expression needs to prevail as it fits.

The most significant initiative to bring forth the great heritage of the Swedish Church is the Missions Province, the college of pastors of which Hans Jönsson is a member. The Province is not big, and it isn’t growing very fast. At the same time, numbers and greatness are not anything the Bible emphasizes as a sign of whether or not we have the Lord’s blessing. However, the Lord asks for faithfulness.

There is every reason for the Mission Province to work boldly, both to nurture the already established congregations, and to establish new congregations. This is especially true in areas where there are few alternatives, organizationally independent of the Swedish Church. The newly established congregations in Borås and Karlskrona are examples of this.

No matter which country one lives in, or how the congregation’s circumstances look, there is great reason for boldness if one stays on the God given firm ground. The Lord remains seated on the throne!

This article was originally published in Kyrka och Folk Nr. 25-26 23 Juni 2016 93 Årg.

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.

An Update to Martin R. Noland's Article

From the Editor:  

Martin R. Noland posted an update to his article here. I felt it was worth including as a separate post:


"I know this blog post is now below the blog-surfers' radar, but I wanted to add a postscript item that should have been in my footnotes. Ed Stetzer wrote a blog post in November 2014 that I had seen but lost track of, that agrees with the essence of my argument. It was re-cited this week at Christianity Today, so is making the rounds. Point your browser here:"

A Word from Our Chinese Brethren

Editor's Note: This letter was originally written for Luther Academy.

A Letter from our Chinese Brethren

—by Pastor Jason Li

We, Chinese Lutherans, need solid, genuine, and orthodox Lutheran teaching as much as possible. Luther rediscovered the Gospel, and that is the only reason why we were baptized and became Christians. We believe that Lutheran theology is the faithful interpretation of the Gospel. 

Lutheran writings in Chinese are extremely scarce, almost next to none in Chinese circles, compared to Reformed and Catholic books that are flooding the market. If Luther felt frustrated when he saw the deplorable conditions of the German churches and then wrote the Small Catechism, I believe Luther would be deeply depressed to see the even more deplorable conditions of the gospel among Chinese churches. We Lutheran pastors don't even have orthodox Lutheran books in Chinese to read, let alone the Christians in our churches.

As bad a situation as this is, Luther Academy supports us by donating many confessional books (see below). These books will be a huge blessing to our Chinese Lutheran pastors in over 30 Chinese Lutheran Churches in North America, including Canada.

As for one example, the theological teachings on the Lord's Supper is the distinguishable point between Reformed churches and Lutheran churches. Every Lutheran should pay more attention to this point and not allow the Devil to take away our dear Lord from the Lord's Supper.

Another example, I am reading the article "The Decline of Biblical Preaching in the Past Century" from the book The Word They Still Shall Let Remain. I realized that I need to pay more attention to preaching biblically. The article shows that "there is nothing that keeps people at church more than good preaching. The true adornment of the churches is godly, useful, and clear doctrine, the devout use of the Sacraments, fervent prayer, and the like" (Ap. XXIV.50-51). 

We pastors always want to know how to attract people to come and worship. The Apology already tells us that a good sermon is a must. After all, the most important reason that people come to church is to be fed by the Word and the body and blood of Christ. Just like the flower without water will wither, without good biblical preaching, the hungry faithful Christian will fade away sooner than we think. And the Apology already gives me the criteria for good sermons: godly, useful, and clear doctrine. When we pray, we pray fervently. When we receive the Sacrament, we receive devoutly.

We greatly appreciate Luther Academy's support of the Chinese Lutheran Ministry. May the Lord bless your ministry and bring to us more books with solid, genuine, and orthodox Lutheran doctrines. If these books could be in Chinese, that would be the best blessing for us all.

To support the work of Luther Academy, go here

To purchase your own copy of The Word They Still Shall Let Remain, go here

Why The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Its Kin Have Declined in Membership and What to Do About It

By Martin R. Noland

Lutheran church leaders have been trying to explain the slow-but-sure decline in Lutheran church membership in America since the 1980s. Explanation for the decline in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)[1] is straight-forward and obvious. A constant focus by the ELCA on “social justice,” church fellowship with non-Lutherans, and adoption of the gay-lesbian agenda at its 2009 convention has led many of its former members to drop out, join other denominations, or start new synods, such as the North American Lutheran Church (NALC)[2] and the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC)[3].

Explanation for the much slower decline in membership of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS)[4] and its kin—the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)[5] and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS)[6]—is less obvious and is, in fact, puzzling. From about 1973 to the present time, church-going Evangelical Protestants have consistently out-numbered church-going mainline Protestants in the United States. Today the church-going Evangelicals outnumber church-going mainline Protestants nearly four to one.[7] In the four key beliefs that define Evangelicalism, the LCMS and its kin are aligned with Evangelicals, not mainline Protestants.[8] So in this period, why haven’t the “confessional Lutherans,” i.e., the LCMS and its kin, enjoyed the same, or similar, membership growth that Evangelicals have seen?

In my opinion, the “confessional Lutherans” have not seen growth primarily because of four factors. These four factors are things that the Evangelicals have done, and we confessional Lutherans have refused to do. The confessional Lutheran refusal to follow Evangelical practices in these matters is commendable. I would not have these synods do otherwise. The LCMS, WELS, and ELS have been faithful to their beliefs, their confessions, and the Scriptures by refusing to do these four things.

The first factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to participate in unionistic worship services, revivals, and other unionistic religious work. American Evangelicalism really began with the Second Great Awakening, which was led by Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist ministers as a self-consciously unionistic enterprise.[9] Evangelicalism has been unionistic ever since. Unionism, or religious cooperation between people of contrary beliefs, is a key component of Evangelicalism’s popularity and its great “success.” The LCMS and its kin, on the other hand, have been strictly anti-unionistic, as were their orthodox Lutheran predecessors going back to the sixteenth century.

The second factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to accept the theology and practices of the charismatic movement. Although the early leaders of modern Evangelicalism in the post-war period were not Pentecostal or charismatic, the tide has changed. Charismatics, who are usually classified as Evangelicals, now are a majority among “born again” Evangelicals in America.[10] Charismatics are also a key component in Evangelicalism’s growth. This has led to some conflict with non-charismatic Evangelical leaders.[11] The LCMS and its kin, on the other hand, though buffeted by charismatics for a time, have resisted the siren song of tongues-speech, bogus healings, speculative prophecies, and related manic practices. 

The third factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to “sheep-steal.” The twenty-second paragraph of the Preface to the Book of Concord elaborates the Lutheran belief that there are many pious Christians “who err ingenuously and who do not blaspheme the truth of the divine Word” (Tappert, 11) in non-Lutheran Christian churches. This belief is the reason that, as a rule, Lutherans do not consider members of other Christian churches to be a focus of their evangelism efforts. Evangelism is properly directed to the non-churched, the unbeliever, and to people of other religions. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have grown in numbers in large part due to their willingness to proselytize their fellow church-going Christians. Although some Evangelicals have criticized this practice,[12] it is a common practice defended by “church growth” gurus.[13] Since confessional Lutherans hold to the same key beliefs as Evangelicals, our youth and young people have been “easy pickings” for Evangelicals.

The fourth factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to identify with American Evangelical politics and political organizations. A recent pastoral letter by President Matthew Harrison reminds pastors of the LCMS that, though we have a few issues of concern for the body politic like abortion and same-sex marriage, neither the pastors nor the synod should tell people how to vote or whom to vote for.[14] 

This is in stark contrast to the Evangelical common practice of making political statements, persuading public officials, and telling the Evangelical flock how to vote and for whom to vote. Of modern Evangelicals, 62% believe that religious organizations should persuade senators and elected officials on legislative matters, which compares to 40% of Liberal Protestants, 47% of Roman Catholics, 37% of non-Christian religious people, and 28% of secularists.[15] This is a big change from the conservative Protestants in the 1950s and 1960s who believed that they should not be political involved.[16] The heavy involvement of modern Evangelicals in politics since the 1970s has been well-documented and analyzed.[17] One might conclude that many people joined the Evangelical churches since the 1970s out of political convictions, instead of spiritual ones. In the present political season (i.e., early 2016), the political convictions of Evangelicals seem to be “Trumping” their spiritual convictions.[18]

What should the “confessional Lutherans” do about this? Imitating Evangelical worship practices, sheep-stealing, accepting charismatic or unionistic practices, or any other Evangelical practices or theology will only further erode the membership of “confessional Lutheran” churches. These are not options for us.

In my opinion, in the present climate, we “confessional Lutherans” should concentrate on our strengths, not on our weaknesses. We should tell people that in regard to the four key beliefs of Evangelicals, we are Evangelicals—Dr. Gene Edward Veith has been saying this since 1999, if not before[19]—and we have so much more to offer than what is found in Evangelicalism. 

Our preaching is permeated with the constant grace and love of God, because we believe that the Gospel should predominate in preaching and teaching, not the Law. We have a doctrine of sanctification that allows for failure, because it recognizes we are always sinners and saints, and that Jesus forgives anyone who repents. We have a solid hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible that has been tested by five hundred years of theological debate. We have a time-tested theology in the Book of Concord, which our pastors are expected to follow and which keeps them from idiosyncratic teaching and church-fights over doctrine. 

We have a congregational polity, which keeps our pastors “in check,” prevents abuse of power by “bishops,” avoids problems of pastoral succession, and which recognizes the ecclesial role of the laymen in exercising their own “priesthood.” We have a liturgy and hymnody that sings the praises of God, not of ourselves. We have sacraments in Baptism and Absolution that actually give the Holy Spirit, faith, and forgiveness to those who receive them. We recognize that reason and the arts are a gift of God, unlike many Evangelicals who are anti-intellectual or who despise science and the arts. As a rule, we avoid political involvements, since we recognize the left-hand of God at work in rulers, and we have learned by historical experience that political engagement corrupts the church, and vice versa. 

  Finally, we confess that “Christ . . . in His Supper, engages with us in a blessed exchange whereby he unites himself with us through his holy flesh and blood so that, by his power, he may continually crucify and kill the old Adam more and more. And thus we all become one body in Christ, where each member is to love, honor, and support the other. . . He who finds that he is weak in faith has in the Lord’s Supper a blessed, powerful antidote to strengthen faith.”[20] 

These are just some of our strengths, which we should be happy to confess before the world in the coming 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation.

[1] See ; also see ; accessed March 4, 2016, as were all other web pages in this article.

[2] See

[3] See

[4] See

[5] See

[6] For current statistics, see Statistics for 1991 indicate 21,347 baptized members in the ELS; in John F. Brug,, WELS and Other Lutherans (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1995), 104.

[7] See

[8] The four key beliefs of Evangelicals are explained here: The beliefs are defined by the authors with the following statements used in surveys: 1) “The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”; 2) “It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior”; 3) “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin”; and 4) “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.”

[9] See ; see also,_Kentucky.

[10] See

[11] See ; and

[12] For example, see: William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep: The Church’s Hidden Problems with Transfer Growth (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001).

[13] See Donald McGavran, “Sheep Stealing and Church Growth,” in Win Arn, ed., The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook (Pasadena, CA: Church Growth Press, 1979), 15–18.

[14] See

[15] See James Davison Hunter, American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983), 115–16.

[16] See Hunter, American Evangelicalism, 116.

[17] See Robert Zwier, Born-Again Politics: The New Christian Right in America (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982); James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991); D. Michael Lindsay, Faith in the Halls of Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation (New York: Harper One, 2008); Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2012); and Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015).

[18] See

[19] See Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals, 2nd ed. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010). The first edition of this book was in 1999.

[20] See Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae, Church Order for Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel , 1569 edition, tr. Jacob Corzine, Matthew Harrison, and Andrew Smith, ed. Jacob Corzine and Matthew Carver (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015), 63.

Preaching Not to Kill God

—by Joel P. Meyer

When Stanley Hauerwas writes in his memoir that, “I live most of my life as if God does not exist,”[1] he makes more than a personal confession. He captures the cultural mood that frames Christian belief and practice in much of North America. Most of us can live perfectly coherent lives without ever once thinking about God. This does not mean that we have stopped believing in God or even that we have stopped going to church. It only means that Christians often do not take God very seriously in their own belief and practice. One way of expressing this mood is to say that God is dead. God no longer has constructive force and authority in our lives. In this paper, I will argue that God will have no constructive force and authority as long as the central form of Christian discourse about God, apostolic preaching, is eclipsed. In order to make this argument I will first demonstrate that our mood reflects an inversion of authority. Human beings assume the authority to give life and meaning to God. Then, I will argue that failing to distinguish between what Gerhard Forde calls explanation and proclamation reinforces this condition. Finally, I will suggest that a recovery of the Triune God’s authority will require that Christian preaching be apostolic in nature.

Whatever Happened to God?

Already in the late nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche realized that an epochal change had taken place, even though it had gone unnoticed by most. He saw that the basic structure of Western life and thought had turned upside down. God was no longer the source and ground of everything that exists. Instead, human beings had taken the place of God by assigning themselves the authority to give meaning and to determine truth.[2] In the Middle Ages, for example, the unquestioned assumption about the world was that the God of the Bible created it.[3] Everything that happened was explained in reference to his will and purposes, which seemed to permeate all things. But that clear and shining presence had darkened. And in God’s place, we human beings now stand as the source and ground of existence, even the existence of God.

One way Nietzsche expressed this change was to say that God is dead, and probably his most famous expression of God’s death can be found in a short tale he calls, “The Madman.” The story begins with a deranged man yelling out in the market place that God is dead and we are his killers. The man, in this case, is not an atheist but a reporter, telling us that the God who was once alive and well is now a decomposing corpse. Nietzsche’s sharp prose captures the magnitude of the event. The madman asks in amazement, “How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions?” The point is straightforward. If God is God, then God alone is necessary. Everything else is contingent on God. So without God, we have no orientation; nothing on which to base our judgments about what is good and evil or true and false except our own will to choose. But that is just the problem. Contingent creatures have killed God by making themselves the highest authority. The madman puts it this way: “Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”[4]

The problem Nietzsche identifies is not that we Westerners no longer believe in God. Rather, the way we believe in God no longer assumes that God is the ultimate authority.  One example of our condition can be found in a book by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton called Soul Searching.[5] The book summarizes the results of a large scale survey conducted by the National Study of Youth and Religion. Surprisingly, they report that American teenagers are fairly active and conventional participants in religious practices. Teens follow closely the habits of their parents, they have a generally positive attitude toward religion, and they participate in formal religious practices quite regularly on average. But at the same time, these same teenagers are extremely inarticulate about what they believe, they have great difficulty noticing what difference their beliefs make in their own lives, and they have a negative attitude to those who would pattern their life according to a set standard of beliefs. So while American teens are religious, “religion actually appears to operate much more as a taken-for-granted aspect of life, mostly situated in the background of everyday living, which becomes salient only under very specific conditions.”[6] 

This does not mean religion is unimportant, but only that it is important in a particular way. Religion still draws American teens insofar as it makes them happy and helps them get what they want out of life. “What legitimates the religion of most youth today is not that it is the life-transformative, transcendent truth, but that it instrumentally provides mental, psychological, emotional, and social benefits that teens find useful and valuable.”[7] This attitude is so pervasive among American teenagers that Smith and Denton summarizes their findings by suggesting that teens share one dominant kind of religion. Smith and Denton call it “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”[8] This form of religion has three major components. First, it has a moralistic element: religion provides the impetus for being good, which naturally leads to happy and successful lives. Second, it has a strictly therapeutic element: religion helps teens feel better about themselves. And third, this religion believes in a certain type of God, one who is not demanding or an active part of their lives, but one who shows up when they need him to resolve a problem or give them help. 

The implications for the way American teens treat God are enormous. Rather than providing the beliefs and practices that make the world shine forth with God’s will and order, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism operates as a salve for teenage life. God is not important because he is the way, the truth, and the life. God is important insofar as he helps teens cope, insofar as they find him valuable or useful. If Smith’s findings are accurate, the madman is exactly right. God is dead. American teens have not stopped believing in God, but the form of their belief treats God as little more than a therapist. God is merely someone who helps teens make their way through life rather than the One who works life, death, and all in all. Put another way, human beings have the authority to assign meaning and life to God. But a God whose meaning and importance depends on the value humans find in him is a dead God.

The way American teens treat God is not unique, however. It only reflects the small place God has within the larger patterns of American culture. Building on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Robert Bellah, theologian John Wright identifies two poles of typical American life—the managerial and the therapeutic. “The public, managerial realm seeks efficiency in a competitive economic marketplace.”[9] In this realm, the most important concern is the bottom line. The goal of this realm is productivity. Managers, whose sole purpose is to match means to ends in order to achieve maximum efficiency, dominate this realm. Humans, along with other materials, are resources for the maintenance and growth of organizations. The managerial realm is impersonal and competitive, and often physically and emotionally draining. So the therapeutic realm exists to compensate for the toll of the managerial realm. “The private, therapeutic realm provides personal affirmation, meaning, self-fulfillment and expression—what has come recently to be called ‘spirituality.’”[10] This realm consists of all kinds of therapists, who help us cope with the impersonal managerial realm by giving us personal support and encouragement that heals or reenergizes us to go back to work. 

By marking out these two poles, Wright is not suggesting anything profound. The give and take between the managerial and therapeutic is as basic to American life as the pursuit of a job that pays us enough to enjoy life apart from work. What’s disturbing, though, is the place the church has within this cycle. Wright observes that typically, “Churches exist as therapeutic safe houses in an impersonal world,”[11] and pastoral care aims to mend exhausted and broken lives with psychological support couched in terms of divine love. Within this cycle, God only fits within the therapeutic realm. God does not help us make managerial decisions, for instance. God, in this case, only helps us get by as he gives us personal encouragement and individual purpose. God is nothing more than something in which we find personal value. 

These examples demonstrate what it means to say that God is dead. In typical American life, God is significant only insofar as we find personal value in him. Therefore, we stand over-against God as the authorities who give God meaning and significance. So in the remainder of the paper I want to ask this question: How does Christian speech about God reinforce or overcome this condition? In order to answer this question, I will turn from cultural reflection to systematic theology, and from Nietzsche to Gerhard Forde.

Explaining God to Death

Throughout much of his work, Forde worries that Christians have stopped observing Luther’s distinction between God preached and God not preached.[12] According to Forde, the distinction works this way: Apart from the preaching of the gospel we cannot get a grasp on God. God does many things for which we have no explanation. If God is a living God, he controls and effects all things. But that means God cannot be easily excused from tornadoes, car accidents, tumors, and viruses. God works life, death, and all in all. God as such presents a problem for us because he cannot be handled, contained, or explained. When a loved-one dies unexpectedly in a car accident, for example, we can say some nice and pious things about God. We might say something like “God did it because he wants something good to come out of it in the long run.” But explanations like this do not hold water. It does not take long before we realize that our explanations of God just make God all that more imposing. If God wanted something good to come out of a death, could not God have done it without killing the person? We might try to say the opposite: God had nothing to do with it all. But then God lacks either the will or power to stop it. 

 The point is that God refuses our explanations. God simply is who he is and does what he does and nothing we say about it all will ever change or resolve that. God is much too great and abstract for us to handle. But that is just the point Forde wants to make. Since God is God, the only thing we can do about it is be silent and listen to God when he speaks for himself. The only way to deal with the abstractness of God is to let God break through it all and talk to us. God does exactly that in the preaching of the gospel. God breaks through the abstractness and actually speaks. “In and through Jesus, the crucified and risen one, a peculiar band has been unleashed on the world, commissioned and authorized to speak, not merely about, but for God.”[13] 

Forde calls this speech on behalf of God “proclamation.” “The proclamation is…the divine address, speaking not my words but the word God has commissioned me to speak, not what I think, but what God has ordered me to say.”[14] The preacher who proclaims stands in God’s place as God’s commissioned representative to speak on God’s behalf. Absolution is the paradigmatic example: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you.” Because God has authorized someone to speak on God’s behalf, this person’s word to you is God’s word, as if God were standing here right now speaking to you face to face. The opposite of proclamation, however, is explanation. Rather than speaking words from God, explanation speaks words about God. Explanation says something in general. Rather than actual absolution, explanation says something like “God is a forgiving God.” Or, “God’s eternal disposition is merciful.”

Now Forde does not want to say that explanation is bad, but only that it has its place; namely, to prepare us for proclamation. We start running into trouble when explanations take the place of proclamation. For example, it is one thing to say about God that his eternal disposition is merciful. But just what does that mean when my brother dies in a car accident. Has God in his mercy decided to kill my brother? When explanations take the place of proclamation, the concrete reality of God more or less drops out of the picture. Rather than letting God be God in both his unsearchable majesty and his own spoken word, God becomes an idea that we can either assent to or not. Forde puts it this way: “Lectures about God are substituted for preaching God. Our personal difficulties with God are assuaged with a little theological tinkering—perhaps a new name, a new image, a new theology more to our liking.”[15] 

We should not miss the therapeutic undertones of Forde’s point. When an idea about God takes the place of God himself, whether in his absolute majesty or in his proclaimed word, God begins to bend to our demands and desires. Take again the example of a tragedy. If we start with the explanation that God in general is merciful, it doesn’t take long for us to start questioning that generalization. Is this how God’s displays his mercy? Well, once we have taken a step down the road of explanation, it is hard to turn back. Now, it seems, we have to give a reason why this tragedy happened that coheres with God being merciful in general. Maybe we say next that it happened because God wants something good to come out of it in the long run. Maybe that will satisfy us. 

In reality, though, our explanations rarely get that far. Usually we are satisfied to hear something nice about God in general on Sunday mornings and go on our way. “God loves sinners.” “God’s Son has paid the price for our sin.” “God forgives.” Speech like that is often enough to help us feel better about the one who does all in all. Once we have God in the grips of an explanation, God doesn’t seem as threatening. Explanations seem to secure us from God’s unpredictability. God is confined, predictable, and even rational, someone we can feel safe about. And that is just the problem. Wrapped in an explanation, God poses no serious interruption to our lives. We can go on just as we did before, but now with the comforting thought that God isn’t really the threat he seems to be. Explanation turns out to be good therapy. 

Preaching that Kills God and the Preaching of the Living God

There are lots of ways that explanation takes the place of proclamation, but none does more harm than in preaching. Christian preaching is supposed to be the place where proclamation happens, where God’s ordained servant speaks on God’s behalf just as he has been authorized and sent to do. But often, preaching tries to convey an idea about God. There are many ways that either explanation takes over the pulpit or proclamation happens there, but I want to focus on one fundamental instance: the preacher’s disposition toward the scriptural text.

When a sermon aims for explanation, the preacher will approach the text of scripture as a resource for information about God, as if there exists within it a kernel of truth that needs to be excavated and conveyed. The preaching task then consists of two stages. First, the preacher uses interpretive skills to locate that kernel of truth, which is thought to be the real meaning of the text. Depending on one’s religious preference, this kernel can be doctrinal in nature (the text reveals a doctrinal truth), or exegetical (the text reveals the author’s intent), or even moral/religious (the text reveals a truth about life). Second, once the preacher locates the central truth within a passage, the preacher then finds a rhetorically skillful way to convey that truth to his hearers. Such rhetorical skill aims to bridge the gap between the truth within the text and the hearer. Usually, the preacher bridges the gap by starting with an illustration that is attention grabbing and easy to grasp. Once that basic connection has been made with the hearer, the sermon goes on to show how the passage of scriptural text fits with the illustration. In the end, the preacher stands in the pulpit as a conveyor of information about God derived from the text.[16] 

Forde comments that,

The basic presupposition for such oral communication tends to be the freedom of choice. The words provide information about God and Christ which one is expected to appropriate or accept by an act of will. One may, of course, insist that such choosing is aided by grace or the workings of the Spirit…But even so the presupposition remains the same, that of the continually existing subject making its choice over against a battery of facts.[17] 

So rather than confronting us with God’s own present speech, the preacher associates God with an idea that we have to be enticed to believe on the grounds of the rhetorical persuasiveness of the sermon. If the sermon succeeds and we happen to find the idea persuasive, then that is exactly the problem: we find the idea persuasive. God fits into what we already know about the world and we remain the authorities on God.

If preachers want to maintain God’s authority over-against us, if they want their speech to honor God as a living God, then they must ask the question, “What does the text of scripture authorize me to say on God’s behalf?” When preachers proclaim from the pulpit, they have the authority and the obligation to speak in the stead and by the command of God himself. 

Speaking on behalf of God is doing something different than conveying information about God. In his book Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks,[18] Nicholas Wolterstorff makes a helpful distinction between divine revelation and divine speech. According to Wolterstorff, the claim that God reveals something is different than the claim that God speaks. Divine revelation is an act by which God discloses some item of knowledge about himself that was hidden or previously unknown. That is to say, divine revelation is the act of conveying information. This might occur when God uses a written text in order to deliver a message. Or this might occur indirectly through God’s actions in history. In either case, divine revelation is characterized by the communication or transference of some item of knowledge. 

Divine speech, on the other hand, is something quite different. When talking about divine speech, Wolterstorff has in mind here what J. L. Austin calls illocutionary acts, such as asserting, commanding, promising, or asking. According to Wolterstorff’s account of speech, God does not simply convey information to us. God enters into a moral relationship with a person by assuming a normative standing. He explains,

Imagine, for example, a field worker uttering in the hearing of his fellow worker the words, “would you hand me a drink of water,” thereby requesting the other to hand him a drink of water. The standing of having issued that request is now normatively ascribed to him. And part of what thus having that standing entails is that if the addressee understands what was said, and the speaker’s request is not undercut for him, then the addressee is (prima facie) obligated to hand the speaker a drink of water…By uttering that sentence, the speaker has altered the moral relationship between himself and his fellow worker.[19]

One condition that would undercut the speaker’s request would be that the speaker does not have the authority to take such a normative stance. For example, an observer in the stands of a baseball game might declare that the runner was out at first. But the game will go on regardless of what the fan said because only the umpire has the authority to take up such a normative standing.

Divine speech, then, happens when God uses words to enter into an obligating relationship with someone. A principle instance of divine speech is when God makes a promise. Oswald Bayer, commenting on Austin’s work in reference to Luther, helpfully describes what takes place when God makes a promise. “What happens when this is said or heard? I place myself under an obligation. An activity is described, but it is not what is asserted by an uninvolved observer who says, ‘He is making a promise,’ but is rather an activity that actually constitutes a certain state of affairs. A relationship is created thereby that did not exist previously.”[20] So when God speaks, he does not merely use words to transmit knowledge about himself. God uses words to act in the present upon another. God takes a stand over-against us as a living and contemporary person that we have to deal with—a person who addresses us, and by his address obligates himself to us, and us to him.

When preaching aims at proclamation, the preacher will approach the text of scripture as directions on how to speak to his congregation on God’s behalf. Rather than serving as a resource for information, the scriptures authorize the preacher to stand in the pulpit as God’s own spokesperson. The task of the preacher, then, is to discern how God speaks through the scriptures. So the preacher must not simply ask what information about God lies at hand, but how God uses the scriptural text to speak.

How does the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ use the scriptures to speak? I can only sketch an answer to this question, and my basic description will try to follow the account given in the synoptic Gospels and especially Luke and Acts. The God of Israel sent Jesus to bring about God’s eschatological reign. Anointed by the Spirit, Jesus acted and spoke in the stead and by the command of this God. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead and he absolved sinners of their sins. But Jesus’ own authority to speak and act on God’s behalf was challenged by the leaders of Israel. When Jesus would not back down from his claims to authority, they crucified him with the help of the Romans as a blasphemer: one who did not have the authority to speak and act on behalf of God. But God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. Jesus then commissioned his disciples to go into the whole world with Jesus’ own authority to act and speak on his behalf—to forgive sins, to baptize, and to be witnesses to the things that had taken place concerning him so that all who believe in Jesus will be saved from the wrath of God’s final judgment. God sent Jesus to speak on God’s behalf. Jesus sent the apostles to speak on his behalf by bearing witness to the things God had done through Jesus. They considered their own words to be God’s words because just as God had commissioned Jesus, Jesus had commissioned them. The New Testament scriptures, then, are authoritative apostolic divine speech. God uses them to speak to us about his Son, so that we might trust in him and in his words.

Therefore, preaching will be proclamation when the preacher steps into the pulpit as part of the apostolic mission, speaking the apostolic word as he is commissioned by the scriptural text. Forde describes the mechanics of proclamation when he says, “the proclaimer should attempt to do once again in the living present what the text once did and so authorizes doing again.”[21] Exactly what that deed is will be determined by the individual text and the place it has within God’s purposes of speaking through the apostles to create a people for himself. That speech might be to make a promise concerning Christ. For instance, when Jesus promises in John 6:35 that, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,” the preacher should aim to make the same promise about Jesus to his hearers. Or, the text might move to elect its hearers on God’s behalf, or to warn them of complacency, or both. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 10:1–13, Paul elects the Corinthians by typologically placing them within the story of Israel. Then he warns them not to put God’s election to the test. Then he promises that despite their unfaithfulness, God will be faithful. A preacher should aim to do the same to his hearers and speak in the present just as Paul spoke as an apostle of Jesus on behalf of God. 

In any case, when the preacher lets the scriptural text place him within the apostolic mission as God’s own spokesperson, God gets the final word. Rather than conforming to our own best ideas, God stands over-against us and speaks his own mind. If the Christian God is to be a living God, then, preachers need to fully embrace the apostolic mission for which they are ordained.

Rev. Joel P. Meyer is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Kingsland, Georgia

[1] Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), x.

[2] Both my account of Nietzsche and my expression of the problem owe much to Martin Heidegger, “The Word of Nietzsche: ‘God Is Dead,’” in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, ed. William Lovitt (New York: Harper, 1977), 53–112.

[3] See Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelley, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age (New York: Free Press, 2011), 118–142, in their discussion of Dante.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Vintage Books, 1974),181–182.

[5] Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University, 2005).

[6] Smith, Soul Searching, 130.

[7] Smith, Soul Searching, 154.

[8] Smith, Soul Searching, 162–170.

[9] John W. Wright, Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2007), 129.

[10] Wright, Telling God’s Story, 130.

[11] Wright, Telling God’s Story, 133.

[12] For Luther’s use of the distinction, see Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (1525), in Luther’s Works, vol. 33, ed. Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 138–140.

[13] Gerhard O. Forde, “Whatever Happened to God? God Not Preached,” in The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament, ed. Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 44.

[14] Forde, “Whatever Happened to God,” 46.

[15] Forde, “Whatever Happened to God,” 38.

[16] See Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 152–55, as well as Wright, Telling God’s Story, 24.

[17] Forde, Theology, 147.

[18] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

[19] Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse, 84.

[20] Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 51.

[21] Forde, Theology, 155.

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

A Bold Church in an Age of Terrorism—Part III

—By Fredrik Sidenvall 

Translated by Bror Erickson 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a three article series. Find part one here and part two here

Martin Chemnitz, like Martin Luther, has at the heart of his doctrine the discovery of the certainty of salvation. Torbjörn Johannsson explains in his insightful and inspiring doctoral dissertation how Martin Chemnitz in his great work “Examen concilii tridentinii” criticizes the Council of Trent for its decision that says that no one, “with the certainty of faith that cannot be mistaken is able to know that he receives the Grace of God.” The decision of Council of Trent will have the effect that “when men hear that even he who holds to Christ’s promise must remain in uncertainty they will begin to gather together all their works. Not content with the deeds that God orders in his commandments, they will instead turn to others like the invocation of the saints, supererogation, trading in indulgences, masses and merits. When these works still don’t give comfort during temptation, one has purgatory. Chemnitz calls the uncertainty taught by Trent a ‘horrible slaughter of conscience.’”

If we then turn to what Chemnitz expressly writes about the sacrament in his theological handbook, “enchiridion,” we see plainly where he puts the emphasis. This book is formatted like a catechism with questions and answers. Question 215 asks, “What is the essential thing that must be shared for it to be a sacrament of the New Testament?” Chemnitz’s response reads “Two things. First an external visible element or sign in a certain external ceremony or act, established and instituted by Christ through a special word and express command and which is bestowed upon the whole church with the purpose that it should be used to the end of the age. The second thing needed is a word or promise of grace united with the element in this act, namely (the word which says) that the sacrament was instituted by Christ with the purpose and benefit that through them with exterior means and visible witnesses he will hold forth, apply, bestow, confirm and personally seals to those using them in faith the promise of grace that is otherwise proclaimed and offered in the gospel to everyone in general.” Then he continues to describe the sacraments as weapons against spiritual terror in his answer to the question, “For what reason does Christ establish the sacrament of the word?” Answer: “So that our weak faith would be maintained and preserved in this manner, because our senses cannot so easily hold to the bare and naked word and firmly trust in it. For even if one does not mistrust the gospel’s universal promise when one listens to them, so it is yet so with a conscience that is disturbed plagued by temptations, that it usually falls into doubt as to whether the general promises also belong to and encompass him, and if he can and ought to apply them to himself. Therefore Christ who is rich in mercy has instituted external and visible sacraments to help our damage in this area; through these sacraments as such open and conspicuous testimony, he would deal with us and in this way as through such a highly secure seal and declaration testify that he certainly applies, confirms, and seals the gospel promises individually for those who use the sacrament in true faith.”

To this I will add that Christ has given us the sacraments even as weapons against the type of spiritual terror that is exerted by the spirit of lawlessness, he who wants to lull a man into a false security. At the entrance into God’s kingdom and to the Sacrament Christ’s word remains clear: repent and believe in the gospel, Mark 1:15. In Baptism the bubble of false security is burst when a sinner is crucified with Christ and the old man is killed and buried. To be dead is really a very good reason to not work in the service of sin. When our old employer calls us to work, a Christian can calmly answer: I am sorry I can’t work today, you understand I am dead, so I have to stay home with my Savior. In connection with the Sacrament of the Altar the apostles admonish us: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world”(1 Corinthians 11:28-32 ESV). Through self-examination and confession the enemies first strategy is fought, and the conditions of false security are broken in repentance. 

Naturally, this should not be understood and applied in such a way that souls believe that degrees of their repentance are a prerequisite for the effect of the Sacraments or for the right to apply the gospel to themselves. It should destroy all. The mere desire to flee God’s wrath and receive God’s blessing instead, the desire receive life instead of death, is indeed sufficient incentive to accept the gospel. Tom Hardt helps us understand this when he writes: 

“When the fathers of the Lutheran Confessions want to summarize the difference in the faith that had arisen, they said,  ‘Leo X’s bull had condemned a very important teaching that all Christians ought to hold fast to and believe, namely that we shall trust that we have been released, not on the basis of our repentance, but upon the basis of Christ’s word:’ “and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ESV). Here in this bull, which in fact is the Roman Institution’s condemnation of the Lutheran congregations as heretical, a chasm opens that separates faith from unbelief according to the Lutheran Confessions. Here the Roman teaching lays emphasis on human effectiveness in confession, namely the good works (penance) while for the Lutheran all emphasis is laid upon faith in the sacrament being instituted by Christ, he who gave the authority of the keys to the apostles . . . This Roman instruction that points to preparation must consequently also teach that because no one knows his own position, all forgiveness is also uncertain . . . What Rome never understood, and still doesn’t understand, is that the gospel (in all its forms) is God’s power of salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). In the perfect sacrifice that the gospel proclaims there is an eternal righteousness won once and for all, and when the Gospel comes to us in the Sacrament or in any other means of grace it requires faith and nothing but faith . . . This directs attention to the word that the pastor takes in his mouth and the sacrifice that he holds in his hand, and frees a person from all thoughts of effective preparation, the depth of repentance and a successful communion. The thought of successful communion, successful confession that always leave the individual floating between hope and despair, is replaced by the rock solid word, a sure release and the superabundant atoning sacrifice.” (Reference)

Here we see plainly that the point with the means of grace is certainty of salvation and victory over the monster of uncertainty, the worst of all terrorists. Against this background we can see the importance of first understanding communion in a sacramental manner as God’s perfect gift to us and not primarily in a sacrificial manner as our imperfect gift to God. It also stands clear that truth of Christ’s body and blood actually present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper can never be emphasized enough, because it has a direct existential impact on the souls, namely this blessed certainty of participation in Christ’s eternal and perfect sacrifice. 

The basis for Luther’s boldness in the area of conscience through faith in grace and the means of grace is his boldness in the area of truth. The boldness in the area of truth has its basis in that scriptures are true and clear. Luther writes: “All the points of Christian doctrine must be such that they are not only fully certain in and of themselves but also confirmed by such clear scriptures that they stop the mouths of all.”

Contrary to many who have argued that Luther was estranged from dogmatic teaching and the authority of scripture, Luther says: I will hold fast for all eternity to what I have taught up to now, and say that whoever teaches otherwise or condemns me, he condemns God himself and must remain a child of hell. For I know that my teaching is not my teaching.” When Martin Luther stepped before the Diet of Worms with the whole world against him and spoke the powerful words “Here I stand, and I can do no other so help me God,” that was the church speaking with boldness.   

This boldness is grounded in the clarity of Scripture, in a pure and clear gospel and objectively effective means of grace.

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

How Do We Understand Suffering Through a Theology of the Cross?

—By Adam Welton

The theology of the cross

How do we understand suffering through a theology of the cross? There are two reason to use a question here. First, the question allows for an open dialogue with the subject allowing for a fuller exploration of the topic at hand. Second, in the question points to the answer. The question that most people are really asking is how to understand suffering. The answer to this question can only rightly be understood through a theology of the cross. 

Gerhard Forde said, “How can the cross be a theology? The cross is an event. Theology is reflection on and explanation of the event. Theology is about the event, is it not?”[1] All of Christian theology is about one single event: the cross. Without the cross at the center of all theology we simply get anthropology. Scripture gives the history of the plan of salvation from sin by God. There is motion in Scripture which leads us from the fall to the cross and then out from the cross to the church where the benefits of the cross are received. The center of the church is nothing other than the event of the cross. 

Before we tackle the hard question of suffering let us explore the theology of the cross. This term, while not found in the Bible, presents a basic hermeneutic. The way we understand Scripture will change the way we see our world. The lens Christians see the world through is Scripture, because it gives God's view of the world. Only in Scriptures do we find the true condition of the world. Knowing this, how we understand Scripture affects how we view the world and finally understand suffering. 

The terms “theology of the cross” and “theology of glory” both come from Dr. Martin Luther. Luther presented the Theses of the Heidelberg Disputation on 25 April 1518 at the Augustinian convent for public disputation.[2] John Staupitz invited Luther and Beier to acquaint the Augustianian order with Wittenberg's new theology.[3] Vicar Staupitz wanted Luther's new theology to be known and well received by these educated men. In writing for this purpose, Luther first introduced the language of the theology of the cross in his Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation. 

The Heidelberg Disputation opposes the theology of the cross to the theology of glory. These two theologies are set as diametrically opposed to each other. Their opposition becomes visible when the core components of each is mapped out:



God is visible

God is hidden



Acceptable to human reason

Offensive to human reason

God works in power

God works in weakness

Human will is free

Human will is enslaved to sin

Righteousness is achieved doing the works of the law

Righteousness is a gift through faith in Christ alone

Characterized by either despair or arrogance

Characterized by the humility of confidence in Christ 

The first item in the chart opposes a visible God to a hidden God. Theses 19 and 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation give an unclear understanding of this: “Thesis 19 That a person does not deserve to be called a theologian who claims to see into the invisible things of God by seeing through earthly things (events, works). Thesis 20 But [that person deserves to be called a theologian] who comprehends what is visible of God (visibilia et posteriora Dei) through suffering and the cross.”[5] The theologian of glory sees God in the events and works of the world. Many will look at sickness and suffering as God's wrath and punishment or at a person’s success as a mark of God's favor on the person. The theologian of the cross sees God only in the suffering of Christ on the cross.[6] This is a radically different way to see God. It means for the theologian of the cross the only place to know God is in Scripture. The only way to see God is not with our eyes but with our ears. 

The second point opposes “the eyes” to “faith,” or “the eyes” to “the ears.” The theologian of glory will not believe unless he has visible signs. For the theologian of the cross all faith comes from hearing. Steven Paulson states this quite well in his book Lutheran Theology: “What Luther discovered next was that faith is created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by words. God's own justice becomes passive because God wants to be justified in his words. … “That Thou mayest be justified in thy words” (Psalm 51:5 and Romans 3:4 translation altered).”[7] This faith, created by the word of God, allows us to see God. But what we see of God is only the homo factus est (God who has been made man): God taking on flesh and blood, and dying on the cross. Here in the lowliness, in the suffering, do we finally see God. 

The third point considers whether theology is acceptable or offensive to human reason. To be plausible to the wisdom of the world, theology must be reasonable. If what is said is not reasonable and is offensive to human reason, then it will be discarded. St. Paul points us to this in 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Clearly when speaking of the cross the world sees it as foolishness. To have a savior who dies and does not lead men in victorious battle is foolishness to them. The theologian of glory accepts this way of thinking. He considers it and says that there must be something more. There has to be something behind the cross. The theologian of the cross sees the true wisdom and power in the cross, in the very event of Christ's death on the cross itself. While this does not make sense to human reason, the theologian of the cross simply takes God's word for it. 

The fourth point opposes a God who works in power to a God who works in weakness. This is the chief point. This one point changes expectations of God. A theologian of glory looks for God to show himself in power. He sees God coming to people not in their suffering but only in their success. Gene Veith writes about how the theology of glory appears in Christian bookstores: 

Today their shelves too are stocked with ways of using God for one's own health, happiness, and prosperity. . . . Their covers make vast and excited claims, as if by following certain steps family problems will disappear, our bodies will do what we want, our financial problems will evaporate, we will solve our nation's problems, grow the church, and live happily ever after.[8]

Veith notes how people create methods out of God's word in order to make better lives. These books do not give the promises found in Scripture but use God's word to create methods to reach perfection in this life. Follow these methods, as Veith observes, and one will “live happily ever after.” God will be present in power and success. Life will become a fairy tale ending.[9] 

The theologian of the cross knows that God reveals himself in weakness and helps mankind in the same weakness. Isaiah 53:2 says that there is no appearance of greatness in the one who comes to save the world. Isaiah describes not only how Christ had nothing which appeared to be great but also how he will be rejected and be acquainted not with power and might but with grief (Isa 53:3). Christ, who is true God, sets aside his power and might to become man in order to win salvation for man. Isaiah speaks of this savior: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:4–5). In the stripes of Christ we are healed. Here the chastisement of Christ brings us peace in times of suffering. Here the theologian of the cross has to see God, for here God made himself manifest to mankind in his son Jesus Christ. It was not in power, but in this lowliness described by Isaiah that Christ came. Man would not have chosen for God to work this way. However, God chose to work this way for man. 

The fifth point could have its own paper; we consider it only briefly here. The theologian of glory assumes man's will is free while the theologian of the cross knows man's will is enslaved to sin. St. Paul tells us we are in the condition of being enslaved to sin (Rom 7). The theologian of glory, holding that the will is free and one is able to keep the law of God, contradicts what St. Paul says. Free will leaves the question of why we need Christ open. If the will is free, if people can choose not to sin, no longer do we need Christ. It could be said that Christ only begins to forgive sins and then enables a person to grow as a Christian to the point of sinlessness. Why then would Christians still suffer? If sin is gone, because the will of man does the will of God, then the person should not be suffering. The reason for suffering then must be insufficient faith or morality.

The sixth point opposes righteousness achieved by doing the works of the law to righteousness as a gift through faith in Christ alone. In the end the theology of glory comes down to righteousness no longer being a free gift of Christ given to man, but a work of the law. This point lumps all theologies of glory together, irrespective of whether it be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Mormon theology. The theologian of glory is no different than the world. The theologian of the cross sees the only hope we have in righteousness which is given to man through faith by Christ. It is justification through faith by grace alone. Melanchthon summed this up in Augsburg Confession IV. This gift is given by the Holy Spirit through the gospel to create and sustain saving faith in the hearer. Luther says of justification: “For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.”[10] 

Finally, the theology of glory is characterized by either despair or arrogance while the theology of the cross is characterized by the humility of confidence in Christ. Theologians of glory have abandoned hope in Christ for despair or arrogance in the self. The theology of glory finds only despair in suffering, for suffering brings the weakness and helplessness of man to the surface and strips away all illusions of power. Those who succumb to suffering must have had inadequate faith. God has abandoned them. God then ends up in one of two categories. God is either the creator of the world who does not break into time and space to help man,[11] or there is no God. The theologian of glory finally has nothing to offer the one suffering. 

The theologian of the cross sees God in weakness. St. Paul speaks comfort to all who are suffering in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. St. Paul speaks the comfort which can only come from seeing God in the weakness of the cross, from knowing that God has suffered that we may be restored. A theologian of the cross finds confidence in the cross of Christ. 

The world will never agree with the theologian of the cross who finds comfort in a man who has died on a cross. But those who are being saved by the cross finally find all of their comfort and confidence in the cross. It is here, in the theology of the cross, where the theologian has something to offer to those who are suffering. 

Understanding suffering 

“Dear friends, you know that it is customary in this season to preach on the Passion, so I have no doubt that you have heard many times what kind of passion and suffering it was. You have also heard why it was that God the Father ordained it, namely, that through it he wanted to help, not the person for Christ, for Christ had no need at all for this suffering; but we and the whole human race needed this suffering.”[12] Luther points to our need of Christ's suffering to relieve our suffering. This is the starting point for understanding suffering from the cross of Christ. 

We must be clear from the outset that “every Christian must be aware that suffering will not fail to come.”[13] This is the first point in which the theology of the cross differs from the theology of glory. The theology of glory seeks to avoid suffering. “Modern culture would tell us that pain and suffering are just a part of life, and that we need to do everything we can to avoid both.”[14] This idea seeps into the theology of many Christians. Richard C. Eyer writes: “If a person holds to a tragic view of life that pursues happiness now at any cost, a view that devalues the sufferings of this life, he will inevitably hold to a theology of glory, seeking to avoid suffering—perhaps even to the point of despair and self-destruction in suicide.”[15] Eyer observes the thinking of the secular world working its way into the church. 

A short survey of some of the largest churches in America confirms Eyer’s observation. Joel Osteen writes: “Living your best life now means being excited about the life God has given you. It means believing for more good things in the days ahead, while living in the moment and enjoying it to the hilt. … God's people should be the happiest people on earth. So happy, in fact, that other people notice. Why? Because we not only have a fabulous future, we can enjoy life today!”[16] For Osteen hope is not just in the future for the life to come but is right now. God wants people to have a great life and nothing can limit God from giving you that life except you: “God is limited only by our lack of faith.”[17] Osteen goes on to address a question which gets to the heart of suffering: “Yes, but Joel, it's been a rough year. I've gone through so many disappointments. I've lost a lot of good things.”[18] Osteen answers, “Maybe so, but have you considered this: If it were not for the goodness of God, you might have lost it all. Why not be grateful for what you have? Quit looking at what's wrong and start thanking God for what's right. Get up each day expecting God's favor.”[19] Joel Osteen sees suffering as the result of a lack of faith. In the midst of suffering we do not see a gracious God who cares for us but one who is angry and wrathful at insufficient faith.

The theology of glory deals with suffering by trying to dismiss it or thinking one’s way out of it. Thinking one’s way out of suffering is to glorify the self and seek help from the self and not from God. By turning in on oneself, one cannot possibly turn to God. The theology of glory also denies the fact that we cannot always do something about suffering. We cannot always relieve pain, hurt, loss, or physical problems. Directing a person to the power of positive thinking to resolve suffering does them an injustice and denies the truth of the situation. 

Here we finally see the difference between a theologian of glory and a theologian of the cross in suffering. “A theology [Forde points out that the Latin literally says “theologian” rather than “theology”] of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology [theologian] of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”[20] The theologian of the cross just says suffering is suffering and there is not much we can do about it. Take the example of a man who is dying of cancer. The doctors have done everything they can do and there is nothing left to do. The theologian of glory smiles and tells the person and the family that things will be okay. The theologian of the cross says the man is dying. There is recognition the man is dying and we can do nothing. The theologian of the cross does not deny that God can and does work in miracles at times, but knows this is not the normal way God works. He does not look for a miracle where God has not promised one. When death is at hand the theologian of glory offers false hope in miracles while the theologian of the cross gives true hope in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for the sake of Christ. 

Knowing suffering comes and there is nothing we can do to avoid it does not really help us to understand suffering. It does not help to answer the questions which come up when we suffer or our loved ones suffer. It does not answer the question of why some who are evil do not suffer while those who are good suffer. To address this question, we must first consider the cause of suffering.

Suffering was not part of the world created by God and declared by him to be good. Suffering came into the world at the same time as sin:

Through Adam and Eve, and through their sin, pain, suffering, and death were brought into God's good and perfect creation. When God created this world, including Adam and Eve, He did not create pain and suffering as part of His creation. Rather, the pain and suffering that is experienced in the world is a result of the sin that has been brought into the world.[21] 

Genesis 3 portrays suffering as a result of original sin. “[T]his inherited defect is guilt, which causes us all to stand in God's disfavor and to be ‘children of wrath by nature’ because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, as the Apostle testifies in Romans 5[:12].”[22] All people are affected by original sin and are under its punishment: “The punishment and penalty for original sin, which God laid upon Adam's children and upon original sin, is death, eternal damnation, and also ‘other corporal’ and spiritual, temporal, and eternal miseries, ‘the tyranny and domination of the devil.’”[23] The reformers knew with sin came not only eternal punishment but also temporal miseries. We confess this each Sunday: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”[24] We know that there is both temporal and eternal punishment, but we often do not think of these punishments as suffering. We connect punishment with imprisonment and other civic penalties. Pain and suffering are part of the punishment which comes for sin. We may wish that there were no pain in the world, but it is clear from the curse in Genesis 3:16–19 that pain is part of the punishment for sin. But does that mean all pain and suffering can be linked to a specific sin?

The answer to the question is yes and no. Some suffering can be linked to a specific sin. This is easiest to know when God tells us through a prophet. When the Israelites are taken into captivity by the Babylonians, God tells us through Isaiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah that this was the result of Israel's sin. Through Amos God lays out in great detail the sins the Northern Kingdom committed that led God to punish them. Linking suffering to a specific sin becomes harder and very dangerous when we do not have a direct word of God. It is safe to say that an alcoholic suffering from liver disease suffers because of sin. A link can be made between leading a promiscuous life style and contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Yet caution should be used in these cases. While it may be true in some cases, it is not necessarily true in all cases. To jump to this conclusion falsely can cause a great amount of pain and suffering. We do need to speak God's law, but this needs to be spoken carefully and in love for the person. The law already works on them in their suffering. We risk driving the person into complete despair if we continue to hit him with the law.[25] With that said, when sin and suffering go together we cannot deny it. In most cases, however, people suffer without a specific sin as the cause of their suffering. Suffering is just part of living in this fallen creation. 

Evil does cause suffering—but not always. Indeed, the usual complaint is that the evil don't seem to suffer. However, the causes of suffering may not always be evil—perhaps not even most of the time. Love can cause suffering. Beauty can be the occasion for suffering. Children with their demands and impetuous cries can cause suffering. Just toil and trouble of daily life can cause suffering, and so on. Yet these are surely not to be termed evil. The problem of suffering should not just be rolled up with the problem of evil. Only false speaking lures us into doing that.[26]

We should not be drawn into the idea of a specific sin leading to specific suffering. While all suffering is caused by sin not all sin lead directly to suffering. 

How then is suffering dealt with? Is suffering something which is simply to be avoided? Or is suffering to be expected and dealt with when it comes? The first is the way of the world and the way of the theologian of glory. The second is the way of the theologian of the cross and of Scriptures. Suffering is part of this life and this world because of the fall into sin. 

Knowing suffering is in the world is only part of understanding suffering. The other part is seeing suffering in light of the cross. A theologian of the cross sees and knows suffering as part of the world and does not simply try to rid the person of suffering. What does the theologian of the cross do? “Pastoral care consists in helping suffering people learn to relate the cross to their suffering here and now as well as to their hope for hereafter.”[27] The theologian of the cross helps the person who is suffering interpret suffering by the light of the cross. 

In Scripture there are connections between suffering and sin, and forgiveness and healing. Jesus is always moving among the people and doing the work of restoring the fallen creation. This work is ultimately carried out in his death on the cross. Here God does the work of paying for sin and restoring creation to himself. This reveals that “the connection between sickness and the forgiveness of sins is the connection between our helplessness before God and the cross of Jesus on which Jesus became our help.”[28]

In the weakness of suffering we finally come to see our need for forgiveness. When faced with the loss of control in our life we come to understand that we are not able to take care of the problems in our life. We need help to deal with our sin and with our suffering. Here in suffering, in weakness God reveals himself. Through the suffering of Christ we finally understand God is the one who deals with our suffering. 

Under the cross we also know God has not left us alone in suffering. God forgives sins and cares for the body. At times God grants healing to those who are suffering. We do not know why some are granted healing and some are not. Truthfully, we should not try to answer this question. This is the hidden knowledge of God that has not been revealed to us. As theologians of the cross we do not try to search out this knowledge. We accept that this is the way of the Lord. We can know God does give healing and he ordinarily does it through regular means. 

Most of the time suffering is a response to pain.[29] While not all pain is accompanied by suffering, often pain and suffering go together. With this in mind we can consider how pain relief alleviates suffering. God accomplishes this through doctors and nurses. Sometimes pain cannot be completely cured but can only be managed. This is also God's way of taking care of our bodies. But this underscores that it is not our job as Christians, who are not necessarily medical professionals, to relieve pain and suffering. Our job is to point the person to the foot of the cross. There at the foot of the cross God is seen. There the true hope for the sufferer is found. 

The question of why we must suffer comes up often. Eyer writes, “Why God chose to make himself known in the midst of suffering on a cross, God only knows. Perhaps, if speculation is allowed, it is because it is there that we need him most. Or perhaps it is there that we least expect to see God, yet God does come—on his own terms, by grace.”[30] Nowhere else should we look for God than in suffering and especially the suffering of Christ on the cross. We cannot help but come back to Christ’s suffering again and again for it becomes the only hope we have. Luther answers this question as well in a sermon he writes on the cross and suffering during Lent:

In the third place we want also to consider why it is that our Lord God sends us such suffering. And the reason is that in this way he wants to make us conformed to the image of his dear Son, Christ, so that we may become like him here in suffering and there in that life to come in honor and glory [cf. Rom. 8:29; 8:17; II Tim. 2:11–12], … The second reason is this, that even though God does not want to assault and torment us, the devil does, and he cannot abide the Word. … Thirdly, it is also highly necessary that we suffer not only that God may prove his honor, power, and strength against the devil, but also in order that when we are not in trouble and suffering this excellent treasure which we have may not merely make us sleepy and secure. … Lastly, Christian suffering is nobler and precious above all other human suffering because, since Christ himself suffered, he also hallowed the suffering of all Christians.[31]

Luther points us to a fourfold reason for suffering. These reasons are not the cause of the suffering but the good which comes from the suffering. Luther's answer to why God allows suffering is finally the good it brings to us. Luther points us to how suffering forms us to Christ (in Christ's suffering on the cross), how suffering is brought by the devil (because we believe in God), suffering helps to keep us from becoming secure in our sin (in the good times) and finally how Christian suffering is holy because it is suffering in Christ. Luther finally leads us to understand suffering not as evil but as necessary and good. Luther later preaches in the same sermon: “Since we know then that it is God's good pleasure that we should suffer, and that God's glory is manifested in our suffering, better than in any other way.”[32] God's glory is made manifest in our suffering. God is shown first and chiefly to us and then second to those around us. The Christian faces suffering very differently because of Christ's suffering on the cross. We do not suffer as those who have no hope but instead as those who have hope of the relief of our sufferings. 

Suffering and weakness are where God has chosen to reveal himself to humanity. In our own weakness and suffering God leads us to find that we are not able to provide for our needs. We are shown our true nature in original sin and our helplessness in the face of original sin. Finally, in Christ’s suffering and death we find how God has dealt with all human suffering. 

To those who suffer

Christians have a lot to offer to those who are suffering. The greatest thing we have to offer is Christ. To understand suffering though the theology of the cross is to understand suffering in light of the hope which we have in the forgiveness of sins. When we speak to those suffering we cannot let this be forgotten. 

We speak of the hope of God granting healing here but this does not become our focus. The comfort we bring is the future hope we have in Christ. This limits how we talk about healing. Healing is no longer the ultimate end, but only a gracious gift that points us to something greater.[33] St. Matthew in the fourth chapter of his Gospel makes it clear that Jesus heals bodies and not just souls. A note in The Lutheran Study Bible explains this passage: “healing. The various diseases and afflictions cataloged in v. 24 are evidence of how sin has spoiled God's creation. Jesus' healing miracles showed the nearness of God's reign and gave a foretaste of our final deliverance from disease and death.”[34] Earthly healing only goes to show us a little of what eternal life will be like. “For even if they are reborn and ‘renewed in the spirit of their minds’ [Eph. 4:23], this rebirth and renewal is not perfect in this world. Instead, it has only begun.”[35] Where the Formula of Concord speaks about the sanctification of a person it refers not only to our keeping the law but also has to the restoration of the body. 

As we speak to people about healing we can tell them God may grant them healing as a foretaste of what is to come in paradise. We can also tell the person who has no hope of physical or mental healing that God has not abandoned them, but in the life to come they will be restored completely and no longer suffer. For St. John tells us in Revelation: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We see here a complete reversal of the curse placed on Adam and Eve and all their descendants. We can now point those who seem to have no hope in this life to the hope which is to come. 

We certainly can pray for healing[36] but we do not think our prayer gives some kind of healing power. “It is important to see prayer, not as taking charge of life or death but as a way of putting all things into the hands of God and finding peace in doing so.”[37] We do not then depend on how well we pray to bring healing. We pray for healing the whole time knowing God is good and gracious and always does what is best for us. 

We pray in faith, trusting God and fearing him at the same time. We are often uncomfortable with the fear of God. The fear of God is not to be in terror of God. The fear of God is a filial fear, a fear that understands the person, or God, as always having your best interest in mind. This differs greatly from servile fear. Servile fear is the fear which only sees the person as having their best interest in mind. It could be said the father always has the son’s best interest in mind while the master only has his best interest in mind. Filial fear is the fear of God. We fear God in the way dear children fear their dear father. We know God always has our best interest in mind. 

We pray trusting that God will do what is best for us. Even if we do not ask for what is good God will only give to us what is good for us. This truth we know because God is our heavenly Father who cares for us and takes care of our every need. Eyer says, “To pray rightly, ‘Thy will be done’ is to trust that God's intentions toward us are good and gracious.”[38] Finally, “Prayer is not a tool of faith by which we control his control over our lives. Rather it is the conversation God began with us when he established a relationship with us in Baptism. As his children we can ask anything.”[39]

Pastors bring certain things that laity cannot. Pastors bring Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper to those who are suffering. It has not been given to all people to bring these means of grace to people in suffering. What laity bring, which many pastors cannot, is the comfort of Christian fellowship. While the pastor can be there and speak the truth of God's Word, he often does not bring the same comfort as a friend brings. We do not need to deny this truth. God gathers his people together into fellowship for the purpose of strengthening and upholding each other. This is not just to be done in the church or at pot lucks. It is while suffering that people need to be surrounded by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is one of the regular means by which God brings earthly comfort to those who are suffering. This happens in ordinary ways, such as a simple visit to a hospitalized or home-bound person. We do this out of our identity as sons and daughters of God who go and do works of mercy. 


This, you see, is the way we teach concerning suffering, and you should also accustom yourself to distinguish carefully between the suffering of Christ and all other suffering and know that his is a heavenly suffering and ours is worldly, that his suffering accomplishes everything, while ours does nothing except that we become conformed to Christ, and that therefore the suffering of Christ is the suffering of a lord, whereas ours is the suffering of a servant.[40]

Understanding suffering comes from understanding the suffering of Christ on the cross. By our suffering we do not become more qualified for heaven. By Christ's suffering we are given forgiveness and eternal life. As we face suffering in this world we understand that we cannot avoid all suffering. When it comes, we know that in our suffering and weakness we see Christ. There we are lead to the foot of the cross to be forgiven and receive healing of this body which is a foretaste of what is to come in the next life. Finally, our hope is never in this life but in the life to come. As we suffer and we go to those who are suffering we bring the comfort of the life to come. We hear the words of Joy F. Patterson in the hymn “When Aimless Violence Takes Those We Love”:

Our faith may flicker low, and hope grow dim,

Yet You, O God, are with us in our pain;

You grieve with us and for us day by day,

And with us, sharing sorrow, will remain. 

Because Your Son knew agony and loss, 

Felt desolation, grief and scorn and shame,

We know You will be with us, come what may,

Your loving presence near, always the same. 

Through long grief-darkened days help us, dear Lord,

To trust Your grace for courage to endure,

To rest our souls in Your supporting love,

And find our hope within Your mercy sure.

(“When Aimless Violence Take Those We Love,” LSB 764, stanzas 3–5)

Rev. Adam Welton is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Presho, SD, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Reliance, SD.

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] Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputations, 1518 (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 3.

[2] Ernest G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective, (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950), 327.

[3] Schwiebert, Luther and His Times, 327–8.

[4] John T. Pless, Study Guide for: On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde, distributed in PMM 150, 2–3.

[5] Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 71.

[6] “Theologians of the cross are therefore those whose eyes have been turned away from the quest for glory by the cross, who have eyes only for what is visible, what is actually there to be seen of God, the suffering and despised crucified Jesus.” Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 79.

[7] Steven D. Paulson, Lutheran theology (London: T & T Clark International, 2011), 54.

[8] Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 57–8.

[9] “Luther called this kind of self-aggrandizing, success-centered, power spirituality ‘the theology of glory.’ Of course its attraction is understandable. Naturally we want success, victories, and happiness. We will be attracted to any religion that can promise us such things.” Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross, 58.

[10] LW 27:9.

[11] For a discussion of the implications of cold deism, see James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 52.

[12] LW 51:197.

[13] LW 51:198.

[14] Making Sense out of Suffering (Saint Louis: Concordia, 2006), 2.

[15] Richard C. Eyer, Pastoral Care Under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering (St. Louis: Concordia, 1994), 28.

[16] Joel Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith” (accessed 15 March 2014).

[17] Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith.”

[18] Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith.”

[19] Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith.”

[20] Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 81.

[21] Making Sense of Suffering, 1.

[22] FC SD I:9

[23] FC SD I:13

[24] Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 184.

[25] “Seldom can sickness be traced back to a specific sin in an individual's life, and, if there is one, the pastoral counselor is advised to support the parishioner's voluntary discovery of this sin for himself rather than pointing it out to him.” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 46.

[26] Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 84.

[27] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 25.

[28] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 58.

[29] “Pain can be defined as a greater or lesser degree of physical discomfort. … Suffering, on the other hand, can be defined as the existential anxiety, fear, worry, or hopelessness that may or may not accompany pain. Suffering is a reaction to pain.” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 44.

[30] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 48.

[31] LW 51:206.

[32] LW 51:208.

[33] “Healing is a sign of hope for things greater than physical welfare” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 62).

[34] Edward Engelbrecht and Paul E. Deterding, ed., The Lutheran Study Bible: English Standard Version (Saint Louis: Concordia, 2009), 1585. Note on Matthew 4:23.

[35] FC EP VI, 4.

[36] “However, we are invited to pray against all odds of illness” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 61.

[37] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 62.

[38] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 59.

[39] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 62.

[40] LW 51:208.

A Bold Church in an Age of Terrorism—Part II

— By Fredrik Sidenvall

Translated By Bror Erickson

Kyrka och Folk Nr. 37 Sept 10 2015

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three part installment. The first part may be found here: Part I

The Basis for a Bold Church

Let us return to the besieged Jerusalem during the time of King Hezekiah. Two events made it so that Hezekiah and his friends could not push the accusing words of the Assyrians away from them, namely the tangible truth of the vast military advantage of the Assyrians and that their consciences were stung by the realization that they had placed their faith and trust in Egypt rather than the Lord. In this setting King Hezekiah responds in a manner that is in complete accord with the handbook for victims of temptation; he does not flee from the Lord in despair, but seeks the presence of the Lord in the temple; he doesn’t make excuses for himself but goes and confesses his sin, he speaks to God from out his distress in prayers, and he asks for the word of the Lord. And what does the Lord say? Yes, the Lord speaks through his prophet Isaiah concerning the overpowering enemy:  “he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” (Isaiah 37:34–35 ESV)

We encounter the gospel in these words, the good and joyous message that is addressed to both areas that the kakangelium previously attacked, the truth and the conscience. The truth that is revealed is that the Lord shall intervene. The revealed truth will soon become the apparent truth when 185,000 Assyrians die in camp and the overpowering army was pressed into a retreat. But to timid consciences who do not think they have any right to demand or expect any help from the Lord, the Lord says that he shall help for his own sake and the sake of his servant. They should not look within themselves for any basis for grace, but in God’s heart and for his servant’s sake. Hezekiah who was disheartened and went through the deepest agony which was the fruit of Sennacherib, the prince of the world’s kakangelium, was through Isaiah’s gospel a living member in a bold church and could say with newly awakened courage: “The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:20 ESV)

The basis for a bold church is the same today: grace and truth. When the church becomes the mother of ravaged street children like Europe was after the Migration Period and the cultural unity of the Middle Ages grew forth from the coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas day in the year 800, then it is shown that the power of truth is not dependent upon blood ties and territory, that it doesn’t grow up from below, but is given from above. The separated people and tribes were united before Christ in the body and blood of the altar and in a common adoration of the Agnus Dei. But for the church of the Middle Ages truth was not only liturgical and turned in, it reached out to all of the known world. Thomas Aquinas wanted to put everything and everyone into the context of truth. Certainly it wasn’t some lifeless pedantry that drove him, but instead the desire that the truth should make God’s people free and bold. We know that the kakangelium could penetrate the church’s holy city for various reasons. The people on the walls reached by the harassing word and the law of God and man accuse the consciences of people and the boldness was turned to anxiety and painful uncertainty again in the medieval church. He who was then sent to the beleaguered and anxious Zion in the footsteps of Isaiah was Martin Luther and his disciples. With newly acquired ability to read the original languages of Scripture he rediscovered that the Lord’s promise of help was not based upon the righteousness of man or hindered by man’s sin, but has its basis in God’s grace and righteousness. In the Greater Galatians Commentary, Luther uses the telling expression monstrum incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty) for the spiritual powers that are both behind the kakangelium, and are also its fruit. Yet Luther found the effective counter measure in the pure and clear gospel of the justification of the sinner through faith alone. Luther writes: “may we also thank God that we are freed from this behemoth of uncertainty, and can now be certain that the Holy Spirit cries, and his ineffable sigh proceeds and enters our hearts:  and the basis is this: the gospel commands us to consider not our good deeds, and our perfection, but God himself who gives the promise and Christ himself, the Mediator. However, the Pope wanted one to direct his eyes, not to God in his promise, not to the High Priest Christ, but to our works and our merit. If uncertainty and despair necessarily follow from this, then certainty and joy in the Spirit necessarily follow when you cling to God who cannot lie. He says: ‘Behold I give my son into death for you so that he may redeem you from sin and death with his blood’.”[1]

Nothing in life and death can bestow such a boldness as this gospel. We find one of the most radical expressions of the gospel’s boldness in 1 John 4:17: “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17 ESV) This gospel is the basis for the bold church. We are now offered this foundation not though our own spiritual performance or strength or pious feelings, but through hands on things like the plain and clear gospel and through the real Sacrament. 

The Pastor and Doctor Tom G A Hardt, who was a congenial disciple of Hermann Sasse, who as early as between 1930 and 1976 gave many genuine contributions to confessional theology and church life in Sweden and  the world at large, writes in an essay on the Lord’s Supper, “It would be much better if the useless fear of Catholicism that is guilty of such erroneous and unhealthy excesses in its attacks against the teaching of Transubstantiation, would instead want to explain the Lutheran content . . . It is instructive to note that there is often great ignorance concerning the battle lines that actually run here. Even churchly Protestants accept the common notion that the reformation loosed the ties between the means of grace and spiritual forgiveness, and that faith means that the importance of an individual replaced the importance the priest and the means of grace had earlier. One such description disfigures the most essential difference between Rome and Lutheranism in such a manner that the opponents change sides. If it is at all possible to give a simple, summary of the question then it can be said of the reformation- nota bene the Lutheran Reformation- offered a real forgiveness of sins through the means of grace to men, who through all the years before had used the means of grace in the conviction that these did not give the forgiveness of sins with certainty. This was the true nature of the medieval theology’s monstrum incertitudinis; the spiritual monster of uncertainty that commanded, and today still do command, that no one may apply the promise of the gospel and the sacraments to himself with full certainty." (Hardt, Tom G. A. The Sacrament of the Altar s. 37, art. Övers)[2]

To be continued . . . 

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] Greater Galatians Commentary, pg. 323 (WA pg. 589)

[2] Tom G. A. Hardt, The Sacrament of the Altar s. 37, art. Övers