A Bold Church in an Age of Terror

—By Fredrik Sidenvall

Translated By Bror Erickson 

This article first appear in Kyrka och Folk Nr. 37 Sept 10 2015

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three part series.

The gospel frees us from fear. It is the church’s great and glorious discovery and the church’s errand to humanity. With the boldness of this faith that Christ gives, the church has reached out to all peoples in good and bad times and taken great risks. This boldness is born from the belief that God is good and desires our best. God’s word is not a threat but a gift. The truth makes us both free and bold. This grace and redemption that Jesus won for all on the cross gives us the privilege to be God’s free and beloved children. From this secure relationship, the church of every age has found the courage to be different, despite various human power structures that wanted to get her to adapt and commit herself. 

We love the Church of Sweden. The message she has in her confession along with her historical commission to reach all people with the gospel is given by God. Yet today, we cannot escape seeing many decisions, choices and new teachings are typified by anxieties and fears. “What should people feel and think? How shall mass media see this?” In this manner the Church of Sweden has been reactionary. Her message is reactionary and formed by ideologies other than the gospel. Fears have crept in so deep that fellow Christians have begun yielding to others because external pressure. 

At the same time we see another movement among people. Those who have never been in the presence of the church’s life but are completely typified by post war era secular society are seeking answers to their questions. What they are looking for is not a dull mirror image of the one dimensional culture they come from, but they are looking for a fresh alternative. They rejoice to encounter a bold church. 

The bold church sees it as her call to work so that the Church of Sweden in its choices and decisions at all levels should be typified by a steadfast faith in God’s will and opportunities. We will work so that the Church of Sweden should be free and brave to openly step forward with the gospel as part of Christ’s worldwide church. It is our prayer and hope that the Church of Sweden shall return to the joy of her work and awaken the whole hearted commitment of the people. 

As you can see, there is the thought behind the slogan “Bold Church” such as receives validation from outside the borders of Sweden. It is a possession that is needed and which shines forth in a world typified by spiritual and physical terror. 

Now I think we should take a moment to study the bold church of the Old and New Testaments. First we will look at a few examples of the terror against which only the Holy Spirit can sustain the church’s boldness. 

4 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me?... 13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 36:3–5, 13–15 ESV)

Opposition to a Bold Church

The opposition to the evangelium (gospel) is kakangelium (kakos means bad or evil in Greek) – the evil message, the bad news. It is precisely this kakangelium that Rabsheka, the Assyrian commander, who shows signs of being an apostate Jew, preaches to Jerusalem. He has with him a stunning military superiority. It is to that which is seen that the kakangelium draws attention, not to any invisible reality, not to some promise. Rabsheka cleverly attacks the faith that trusts in the Lord. He wants God’s people to think that they have the Lord himself against them, and that the Lord has sent enemies on account of their sin. 

Eliakim, King Hezekiah’s representative, quickly loses courage before what he sees and hears and now anxiously pleads with Rabsheka that he would not speak Hebrew but Aramaic. He is afraid that the people on the city walls shall hear and understand and panic. 

The situation reminds us of how we would like the liberal theologians and the learned armies of unbelief to speak theological and philosophical “Aramaic” and not the “Hebrew” of the people of the church so that panic would not spread from the pastors to the people. This is what we have experienced over the last twenty years in the Church of Sweden, that bishops and pastors have begun to proclaim for common church people the theology that has been taught in academia for the last hundred years. 

There is even an element of God’s word in the kakangelium according to Rabsheka. It is actually true that God will punish his people because they have set their hope on Egypt instead of the Lord. But the law that is proclaimed in the kakangelium never drives to Christ but only to despair. One can see a parallel to this in the life of the church today where unbelieving men emphasize the church’s historical mistakes and abuse of power and the church is expected to pray for forgiveness from one group or another. The forgiveness one hopes for is not the unconditional grace of God, but the highly conditional grace of man and media. Because it is the church’s traditional teaching that is seen as having led to the abuse, and the teaching of Christ and his redemption is part and parcel of this, the kakangelium does not drive one to Christ, but away from him to the arbitrariness of man where ultimately there is nothing but despair in the waiting. 

A strange picture in an old issue of the church’s newspaper shows an enormous stone erected in memory of the women who were burned as witches. In front of the stone stands the atheist (if he isn’t now a crypto-muslim) journalist and author Jan Guillou standing tall and talking, behind him and to the right has a woman who with her head held high, probably represents the witches, and to the left stands a little plump and hunched over bishop with his head hanging low giving us a picture of what a bold church is not. 

Now it is important to remember that the evil message is not only proclaimed as an attack against the Christian church. It is preached for all of humanity and has many faithful listeners. It focuses on two main areas, namely truth and conscience. As we have heard the bad news sounding stronger over the last century there have come to be two variations: 

  1. The modern variation which says that there is an unambiguous truth that all have to bow before, and this truth excludes all hope and confidence before material constraints and facing death, all that we have is here and now, and we are all subject to the unyielding laws of nature. 
  2. The postmodern variation which tells us that there are many truths and therefore no truth at all by extension. In this situation, when there isn’t any truth to seek or find, there remain only the truths one can argue. It is a courage of despair that we discern behind the politically correct defenses of the media and politicians. Joined by great desperation in the fight for the one constructed truth we find many different extremist groups such as the resurgence of ISIS followers and animal rights activists among others. 

The other area that the kakangelium speaks to is conscience. Here too, it goes along two diametrically opposed lines. Along the first line it is proclaimed that for the contemporary man there is no day of accounting to have before your eyes, no absolute norm by which to test yourself and by which one can have true guilt. All residual values from earlier eras, in particular norms with religious backgrounds must be fought and crushed in constantly new expression using films, art and music to affirm and celebrate the previously taboo. 

But when people are shaken in such a manner from peace in a normless everyday existence then the kakangelium spreads the realization of failure. When confession of true guilt is not permitted, the suppression leads to vague anxiety, self-hatred or shame. Shame that one is not happy, or not successful in one area or another, or not beautiful. Today, people experience a guilt in areas where God’s law never accuses them, and a thin hollow boldness in areas where there stands opposition to order of life and God himself. The false security and the false guilt is the perfect environment for the spiritual terrorists. Yes, today we experience the fruits of that which is in opposition to the boldness of the evangelium (the gospel) namely the kakangelium of fear: “and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. (Luke 21:25-26 (ESV) 

It is in such a world characterized by the distress of the end times that the Holy Spirit builds up God’s bold church with the gospel. 

To be continued . . . 

Fredrik Sidenvall, pastor in the Church of Sweden, serves as principal for the Lutheran High School of Gothenburg, where he lives with his wife Anna. He is editor for the weekly Lutheran magazine Kyrka och Folk (Church and Nation) and co-founder of the North European Lutheran Academy. 

Bror Erickson is pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Farmington New Mexico. He has translated and published several books including Then Fell the Lord's Fire by Bo Giertz and Witness by Hermann Sasse. 

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.

Integrating Faith and Learning With the Trinity

—by Mary H. Korte, Ph.D.

Faculties and administrators at Lutheran institutions often discuss the importance of integrating faith and learning; however, the percentage of called or even Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) professors at many Concordia University System (CUS) institutions has dramatically declined over the last decade while the percentage of non-LCMS professors has increased. Although these professors may be excellent scholars, proficient in their disciplines, and practicing Christians, they are often unfamiliar with Lutheran doctrine or have spent little, if any, time studying theology. Before asking, “How will I integrate faith and learning?” professors must ask, “Which faith will I integrate?” and “What elements of that faith should be integrated with learning in my discipline?” The goal at a Lutheran university should not be to integrate a generic spirituality, an inoffensive but vapid Christianity, or a New Age personal “faith” with learning. Instead, the goal should be to provide a robust Christian education that is compatible with Lutheran doctrine as understood by the LCMS and which integrates basic Christian theology with learning. A “Concordia education” should not describe merely an education for Christian students, courses taught by Christian faculty, or programs offered at an institution affiliated administratively, financially, and historically with the LCMS.

Because CUS schools are liberal arts universities offering diverse programs and sincere Christians disagree about some practices, e.g. communion, baptism, married clergy, or women’s ordination, certain questions are best left to theology courses. However, to integrate faith and learning and model Christian scholarship, all professors should consider C.S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity.” An authentic “Christian education” demands teaching and learning infused with an understanding of who God is and what our relationship with Him is as codified in the ecumenical creeds, all of which affirm God’s Triune nature. The Apostles’ Creed is an excellent starting point to integrate faith and learning through the Trinity in the liberal and fine arts, business, education, and professional programs.

Heresies about God’s nature have arisen throughout Church history. Creeds address heresies and affirm Scriptural teaching about God. CUS institutions employ faculty from many denominations; however, all orthodox Christian faiths confess the ecumenical creeds. The Apostles’ Creed is a theologically sound and universal statement for integrating faith and learning at CUS schools. Christianity is unique in its description of God as Triune. Although Scripture uses neither “Trinity” nor Triune, Trinitarian theology is derived from Scripture’s descriptions of God.  Lest we think theology is of little use, consider how C. S. Lewis compared theology to a map:

If a man…look[s] at the Atlantic…and then… at a map of the Atlantic, he…will be turning from something real to something less real….The map is…only coloured paper, but there are two things…to remember….[F]irst…, it is based on what…thousands of people have found…by sailing the real Atlantic….[I]t has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together….[Secondly]...to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun….But the map is going to be more use…if you want to get to America.
[T]heology is like the map….Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused…. [S]econdly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map….In fact, that is just why a vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.[1]

Although the Trinity may be seen as a problem, it is a solution. God is not alone: God is one essence and three distinct persons. God’s Triune nature models not only how we should interact with each other at CUS institutions, but also how we should act professionally. Humans, created in God’s image, are not designed to function as solitary academics but in an academic community. Although the Trinity may feel as if it does not make sense and analogies of the Trinity eventually break down, it is a theological map that helps us understand God’s nature. Why is the Trinity important? Without the Trinity, Jesus is not God because there was no Incarnation; however, only the Incarnation makes atonement possible. Jesus must be fully God to reconcile man with God. The Trinity also makes the resurrection possible. Trinitarian theology based on Scripture holds that there is only one God (1 Tim 2:5), the Father is God (2 Pet 1:17), the Son is God (Titus 2:13), the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4), Jesus is God in human flesh (John 20:28), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate, distinct persons (Luke 3:22), and all three persons of the Trinity have a role in our relationship with God (Matt 28:19). 

The Trinity is how God revealed that our relationship with him is with three divine persons, and our salvation depends on it. We should consider what it means for us, our vocations, and our scholarship that God is one in three persons, a blessed Trinity. The Apostles’ Creed has practical applications for integrating faith and learning because the Trinity is central to vocation in a Christian community. Seamands suggests that understanding and emphasizing the Trinity is critical because God’s Triune nature models how we should function in our ministry.[2] Integrating faith and learning is not just about academic content—it is also about how we interact with and support each other. We baptize, pray, worship, and receive the benediction in the Triune name of God. Why not also integrate faith and learning in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? We can then identify convergences among Trinitarian doctrine, Reformation theology, vocation, “mere” Christianity, Christian experience, and the heritage of Lutheran education. 

Christian vocation requires a Trinitarian, not just a monotheistic, vision and commitment. The Apostles’ Creed can set norms and expectations for faith and learning as we prepare students for service to Christ in the Church and the world because God is Triune. Through the Trinity, we understand what God expects with regard to interpersonal relationships, e.g. faculty with administration, faculty with faculty, faculty with students, and faculty with other scholars and professionals. Creedal Christianity is an important foundation for vocation and scholarship. Like Lewis’s map, the Apostles’ Creed is a map to direct our teaching ministry. When we confess the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm belief in the Trinity. The First Article acknowledges the work of God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. The Second Article affirms the redemptive work of God the Son, the incarnate Christ who, by his atoning death on Calvary and his resurrection, brings salvation and eternal life to sinful beings. The Third Article describes the work of sanctification performed by the Holy Spirit in lives of individual Christians and through the “communion of saints” which is the Church.

Lutheran theology has historically concentrated not only on the connection but also the proper distinction between law and gospel because this was the heart of the Reformation. The law demands perfect obedience to God’s will and holy living, an impossible task for fallen humans, while the gospel promises forgiveness through God’s grace alone by faith in Jesus Christ. Lutheran educators often integrate faith with learning as it relates to redemption and sanctification, i.e. the second and third articles of the Apostles’ Creed but ignore the first article. As noted in Together with All Creatures, a report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the LCMS, an unintended consequence of our Reformation heritage is that many Lutherans “have focused to such a degree on salvation that nothing else matters. [They say,] ‘I’m saved and am going to heaven, so why worry about this present world?’”[3] A significant exception has been in science where integrating faith with learning often ignores redemption and sanctification but emphasizes creation, i.e. first article theology, because it seeks to answer a basic question scientists ask, “How did this universe and everything in it begin?” Depending on one’s denomination, integration has focused on understanding the shortcomings of naturalistic evolutionary theories vis-à-vis theories such as Intelligent Design or young-earth creationism, analyzing how evolution and natural selection might conflict with Scripture, or exploring how theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism might be reconciled with Scripture. 

Using environmental science as an example, this paper will consider how the three articles of Apostle’s Creed are related to the integration of faith and learning. The First Article states that God the Father is Maker of heaven and earth. Luther (SC) explained 

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that he provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to him to thank, praise, serve, and obey him. This is most certainly true.

In response to rising environmental awareness in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Christian bodies, including the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), developed statements outlining theological understandings of environmental stewardship and the responsibility of Christians to serve and obey God by caring for creation. In 1969, the LCMS noted that God the Father had tasked mankind with stewardship of the world’s natural and human resources, and it was resolved that the Church would develop educational materials about environmental stewardship (Res 10-08). In 1977, Synod adopted a resolution on energy conservation with particular concern regarding energy costs for people in poverty (Res 8-06).  In 1986, a resolution (Res7-18) concerning stewardship of soil and water was passed. In 1986, commentary in Luther’s Small Catechism stated, “It is our duty to…be good stewards of creation…We are good stewards when we avoid polluting air, land and water; carefully dispose of waste; use rather than waste natural resources; conserve rather than waste energy; recycle or reuse materials whenever possible; and value and take care of all God’s creation.”[4] A 1992 resolution affirmed natural resource conservation on local and national levels, and in 2000 the Stewardship Ministry division of the LCMS produced a booklet titled “Stewardship of Creation” to educate members about environmental stewardship. In 2007, Synod Res. 3-06 requested the CTCR “to develop a biblical and confessional report on responsible Christian stewardship of the environment.”[5] The CTCR study was released in April, 2010, as Together with All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth. This analysis of where humans fit into creation and how we should live within creation is available as a booklet through Concordia Publishing House or on the LCMS website (www.lcms.org). It is excellent material to initiate discussion in environmental science, ecology, or related courses at Christian schools and is a resource professors can use to integrate faith and learning with respect to environmental issues and theological considerations surrounding responsible stewardship of earth’s resources.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a statement in 1993 which emphasized that “Christian concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on a cross, [and] the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth.”[6] Notice how this parallels the three articles: it refers to the work of God the Father as Creator, God the Son as Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit as Sustainer. The ELCA statement links environmental abuse with degradation of God’s gifts and notes that Scripture teaches God is the creator who blesses not only humans but also all the world. Because man and animals were all made from the earth, they share a common kinship. Man was tasked with tilling the earth and caring for other living creatures. Other documents include a call for environmental justice and sustainable living.  Issues such as mountaintop removal for coal mining, energy usage, and water scarcity and pollution are specifically addressed on the ELCA website.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Synod website summarizes Christian responses to environmental problems. It states that “[c]aring for the world in which we live is more than a political or economic issue. For the Christian it is a moral issue.”[7] Using numerous verses, the WELS document relates environmental degradation to sin and man’s fallen nature while noting that humans have been tasked to care for creation with benevolence while looking forward to inhabiting their heavenly home.

Considering only this brief summary, it is clear that the branches of American Lutheranism agree on principles of environmental stewardship. However, authors of many environmental science texts still present Lynn White, Jr.’s thesis as evidence that the Judeo-Christian heritage is at the root of the world’s environmental problems, and professors teaching courses other than environmental science need to understand and know how to counter White’s arguments. Understanding First Article theology is critical in many disciplines.

White argued that science and technology are rooted in Christian teachings about man’s relationship to God and nature. He wrote, “[W]hat people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them.”[8] White is correct that what people believe about man relative to creation significantly influences how they treat nature. However, White incorrectly answered that Christianity teaches God created the world solely for human benefit and nature has only utilitarian value when he asked, “What did Christianity tell people about their relations with the environment?”[9] He concluded, “By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.”[10] Professors of environmental law, environmental policy, environmental ethics, environmental literature, environmental history, and environmental science can all counter White’s arguments with First Article theology.

Many connections exist between First Article theology and environmentally oriented courses. Most criticism of Christianity is derived from mistaken interpretations of Genesis 1:28 which proclaims, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” White wrote, “[m]an named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them.  God planned all of [creation] explicitly for man’s benefit and rule:  no item in…creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.”[11] White’s error is three-fold:  1) he does not rightly consider the Biblical meaning of dominion; 2) he fails to consider the Fall’s effects, that is to say, that all men have inherited Adam’s sin and all creation has been affected; and 3) he does not understand the ethical significance that man was created in God’s image. White’s charges against Christianity fail to connect the First and Second Articles of the creed or extend them to the Third Article. When God created the world, he made humans in his image and gave them dominion over creation. Christ’s servant leadership, which is neither autocratic nor domineering, exemplifies what dominion means in this context. Jastram noted, “Dominion can be exercised without abuse.  Christians whose hearts have been changed by Christ are able to resist ‘lording it over’ others.”[12]

Many scientists can integrate faith and learning in relation to the First Article. Scientists follow God’s model when they create experimental protocols to gather data as they explore logic and design in the natural world. Students are accustomed to seeing how disciplines such as art, music, drama, or literature require creativity; however, they are often surprised when assigned a science problem that requires creativity for its solution. Since God created our human parents in his own image, all people are equal and deserve to be treated accordingly. Thus, when human subjects are involved, faculty and student researchers must submit proposals to an Institutional Review Board tasked with protocol approval in light of ethics and appropriate informed consent. Likewise, animals were created by and proclaimed “good” in God’s sight. Universities must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee to review protocols using vertebrates.

Peter Pesic quoted Johannes Kepler as writing, “Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God.  That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God.”[13] Kepler was driven to “read the mind of God” and astronomers and NASA still use Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Because God the Father declared his creation to be very good, science must acknowledge certain limits and take care not to exceed them. Issues such as cloning, stem cell research, and genetic engineering are familiar topics in bioethics. Less familiar cases, e.g. more than twenty U.S. nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll (1946 to 1958) or the Tuskegee syphilis study (1932-1972) can also be discussed in light of the First Article and man’s proper use of creation. 

Although through one man’s sin we are now all born in sin and all creation suffers with us, we learn from the Second Article that by his perfect life, suffering, and death, Christ redeemed not only mankind but also all of creation. The fall and Christ’s redemption are cosmic and ultimately apply to all things, biotic and abiotic. Because we are redeemed and made in God’s image, we are called to be co-workers to care for and sustain creation. Luther’s explanation of the Second Article (SC) teaches us to confess

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and delivered me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be wholly his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

In the Second Article, we confess that Jesus, God Incarnate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The purpose of his suffering and submission to the Father’s will was to redeem humanity “together with all creatures” because only his perfect sacrifice removes the stain of Adam’s sin. Creation’s redemption came with a heavy price, Christ’s blood. Although the full price of redemption has been paid, sin has irrevocably defiled God’s originally perfect world. Because of sin, all living things will suffer until Christ returns. The victory has been won; however, just as humans are able to use their creative talents to participate in God’s sustaining work in creation, they can also participate, albeit imperfectly and incompletely, in Christ’s work of redeeming the world from sin’s effects. The Fall produced the general effect of bringing death to all creatures; however, Christ descended into hell, defeated Satan, and rose triumphantly. He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. Those who through grace have faith in Christ will share life in his eternal kingdom. Although we can do nothing to cancel the general effect of sin, God Incarnate has done so for us. However, the Fall produces on-going effects of sin in this world. Sinful abuse of natural resources defiles and pollutes our environment. When we encourage students to be responsible stewards because the world belongs to God who created and redeemed it, we are in a small but significant way modeling Christ’s Second Article work.

  Whenever we relieve human or animal suffering though our vocations, we are partially ameliorating sin’s terrible effects. Many CUS programs prepare students for vocations that relieve suffering. Applied science examples include physical or occupational therapy, athletic training, nursing, psychology or counseling, pharmacy, pre-medical or pre-veterinary majors, and a physician assistant program. Service learning projects can be especially useful in these disciplines if students are taught that by helping others they are acting as “little Christs” in service to their neighbor. Not only is this related to the Second Article, but it also exemplifies the purpose of CUS schools.  For example, the mission statement of Concordia University Wisconsin is to be a “Lutheran higher education community committed to helping students develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and the World.”

Unless we ground our service in the Creed, it can be compassionate and professional; however, it is not different from a secular model and our service is indistinguishable from generic caring. A secular model of scholarship, e.g. Boyer’s Model, might see scholarship of teaching and learning through a lens of originality, humanitarian or community service, and professional/personal self-improvement or development. A Trinitarian model relates scholarship to God the Father as creator, God the Son as redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit as sanctifier and comforter. This model is fuller and richer, has lasting spiritual meaning, and motivates us to practice our vocation for the glory of God in service to our neighbor. 

Knowing Christ died to redeem all creation leads us to consider how the Third Article, i.e., addressing sanctification, relates to scholarship and vocation. As an example from environmental science, the Holy Spirit guides us to repent of misusing God’s gifts and natural resources, grow in faith, trust that God daily forgives us, and in repentance truly desire to care for our fallen world, its suffering creatures, and polluted ecosystems. Paul Althaus wrote that Luther believed “All creatures are God’s masks and disguises; He permits them to work with him and help him create all sorts of things—even though he could and does create without their co-operation.”[14] However, unregenerate sinners see only the mask of God, namely the creature, and cannot see God. This ultimately leads to idolatry and a mechanistic, utilitarian view of nature. Luther warned that humans should be humble with regard to creation:  we are creatures and co-workers with God but we are not co-creators. In fact, the Fall was due to human desire to be gods. Although God gave Adam and Eve free will to obey him, they had limited freedom with regard to creation; they were forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Their use of nature had boundaries as should ours. God is active in creation through human agents as they practice their vocations and grow in faith through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. As professors, administrators, citizens, civic leaders, government officials, clergy, students, scholars, or researchers, we are responsible for preserving as much of the broader image of God as possible as we fulfill God’s calling to practice creation care. 

Once we see this large theological picture and relate environmental ethics to all three Creedal articles, we can counter the charge that Christianity is the root cause of environmental problems and instead proclaim that Christianity is the best way to address environmental issues. Luther understood the effect of sin on creation is such that “All our faculties today are leprous, indeed dull and utterly dead….[T]he knowledge of nature—that we should know all the qualities of trees and herbs, and…beasts—is utterly beyond repair in this life.”[15] He was appalled that although “… [God] has granted us the enjoyment and, as it were, the rule of almost all the creatures….almost all of us live in the most shocking abuse of the gifts of God”[16] because environmental degradation, particularly with regard to logging and mining practices, was already evident in his time. 

When God gave man dominion over earth, it was not his intent that we should drive species to extinction or destroy habitat with a consequent loss of biodiversity.  Centuries before the LCMS published Together with All Creatures, Luther wrote, “This Word assigns to all creatures their function and also preserves all creatures that they may not degenerate but that the distinct species may be preserved in endless propagation.”[17] Luther understood that only humans are moral agents; therefore, other creatures depend on us to exercise dominion carefully and justly.  We have been given dominion but not freedom to abuse either humans or non-human organisms. Environmental problems come from sins such as greed, corruption, or self-centeredness that result from disobedience and disrespect for God’s gift of dominion. Environmental degradation and injustice are the consequences of sinfully ignoring the Genesis 2:15 mandate to “work and keep” the Garden, i.e. to cultivate and preserve it which would develop a fruitful relationship with earth and all creatures; it is not the result of man having been given lordship of creation. Because all men have sinned, the “tragedy of the commons” is seen in all, not just Christian, cultures.

When teaching about faith, both law and gospel should be in each lesson. Beyond understanding that environmental degradation results from sin, students can be reminded of God’s immanence in creation and that through the incarnation, He took on human flesh to redeem fallen man as well as the fallen creation including all species and ecosystems. As redeemed creatures wearing the masks of God, we are privileged to work for Him as we practice environmental stewardship. We, together with all creatures, share in Christ’s redemption and are ecologically interdependent in this physical world.

Both man and nature have intrinsic, not merely utilitarian, value because Christ died for all creation. God does not sustain his creation as a distant power but is one with creation while remaining separate as he maintains an active and holy presence in it.  God did not create the natural world, its creatures, and mankind simply to withdraw from them as some might argue.  Instead, God remains involved in his creation and with all his creatures not only in ways that are discernible to human senses but also through means we do not know or fully comprehend.  This understanding is not animistic but is similar to Luther’s teaching that the infinite can be found in the finite (finitum capax infiniti). Paradoxically, there can be transcendence in immanence. Both biotic and abiotic elements of nature, including mankind, are masks of God in this world and as such, creation reveals God. When studying ecology, students can see both law and gospel: God’s wrath as evident in the physical death and decay of all organisms as well as God’s love for his creatures as evident by his provision through natural cycles and ecological checks and balances. Even so, we must remember that the Word is needed for salvation because only through the Word comes faith in Christ’s redemptive work.

Just as the Apostles’ Creed clarifies the mystery of the Trinity, our vocational calling to serve God as scholars and teachers should include an attempt to clarify mysteries in our academic disciplines. We should acknowledge what we don’t know, work to correct our errors and learn from them, and accept in humility that we cannot expect to know or understand everything. We will make mistakes, we will sin, and we will fall short not only of God’s desires for us but also fall short of our own expectations. Regardless, we can live in blessed confidence as we say with Luther (SC)

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

Luther clearly understood that by nature we are poor stewards of the environment.  He wrote, “This is the universal bane of our nature, that we are not satisfied with God’s gifts but abuse them and thus mock their Donor and Creator.”[18] However, when we confess the Third Article, we trust that the Holy Spirit is empowering us to grow in holy, God-pleasing living and service to others. If we integrate this truth of faith with learning, we can model a joyful and thankful response to the working of the Holy Spirit in our teaching, research, and environmental stewardship as we live our earthly lives “together with all creatures.”  

Dr. Mary Korte is a called LCMS Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences, Concordia University Wisconsin

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (NY: HarperCollins, 2002), 127–28.

[2] Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2005).

[3] Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Together with All Creatures, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 6.

[4] CTCR, Together, 5.

[5] CTCR, Together, 5.

[6] http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Environment.aspx

[7] http://www.wels.net/news-events/forward-in-christ/february-1990/environment

[8] Lynn White, Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155 (1967): 1205.

[9] White, Historical Roots, 1205.

[10] White, Historical Roots, 1205.

[11] White, Historical Roots, 1205.

[12] Nathan Jastram, “Man as Male and Female: Created in the Image of God,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 68, no. 1 (January 2004): 24.

[13] Peter Pesic, Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 90.

[14] Paul Althus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 1966), 107–8.

[15] LW 1:66.

[16] LW 1:245.

[17] LW 1:95–96.

[18] LW 1:244.

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.

Against the Heavenly Televangelists: A Lutheran Critique of the Televised Preaching of Joel Osteen and John Hagee

—by Richard Wolff

God speaks through the preacher in the pulpit. This I, Martin Luther, have said and believe … for preaching is an awesome responsibility. As I have written, “‘Here God speaks.’ God himself has said it, and I repeat it … whoever cannot boast like that about his sermon should leave preaching alone, for he surely denies and blasphemes God.”[1] Those who are not certain that God speaks through their mouths should be quiet. The Reformation placed great importance on the preached word. As a latter-day scholar of my work has written about how we Reformers thought of this matter, God draws near to us through preaching; indeed, “the word brings God with all God’s gifts.”[2] Those who would follow in my footsteps will abide by preachers of the pure gospel. My followers, who crave for “right understanding and for his holy, pure Word,”[3] will guard against false preachers, whose words and ideas mislead those thirsty for God.

Therefore, I must speak out against twenty-first century preachers who corrupt the gospel, sending messages via an invention called the television—a marvel that is similar to what the printing press was to us in the sixteenth century—reaching souls far and wide. To those who hear such corrupt messages, I send an “earnest, sincere warning and admonition,” as I warned of those misleading the faithful in an earlier age.[4] So I say, concern yourselves with “faith and good conscience before God,” and not “with what glitters and shines before reason and the world”; be on your guard, “for God nonetheless always holds his grace firmly over the world, so that he permits no false prophets to attempt anything except something external, such as works and subtle minute discoveries about external things.”[5] Indeed, these cautions apply to the likes of Mr. Joel Osteen, who uses the pulpit and Bible to spread a message of personal wealth and success in worldly terms, and Dr. John Hagee, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who uses stage and scripture to spread a message of morality and national exceptionalism in apocalyptic, triumphalist terms. Guard yourselves against both Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee! The first exemplifies preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” the gospel of “self-help and self-love,” who trace their lineage to the writings of Norman Vincent Peale. The second exemplifies preachers of triumphant “apocalypticism,” who draw on the “left behind” writings of Timothy LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.[6] Both are false preachers and misuse the gospel.

My undertaking, friends in Christ, is to provide “sincere counsel and warning” for you against such televangelists and their messages—misuses of the gospel, which rightly proclaims the power of faith in the crucified and risen Christ.[7] Mine is an important task, for when “errors arise among Christians, … these deprive consciences of such a comforting knowledge, lead to error, and unconsciously turn the spirit from inward grace toward external things and works.”[8] I shall therefore say a word about the importance of preaching in reaching souls with the gospel, discuss Mr. Osteen’s and Dr. Hagee’s preaching and how their messages reflect broad trends in twenty-first century theology, and use my own writings and thought to critique and respond to these false preachers. To achieve this, I shall draw on crucial terms I discuss in my Preface to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, what I called the “purest gospel.” In the end, I seek to expose these televangelists for how their preaching and misuse of the Bible run counter to my own writings on the gospel, and outline what good preaching should proclaim.

Even as I believe that God speaks through preachers, nonetheless—lest preachers “become arrogant and domineering” in their awareness of speaking for God—I have one abiding principle to guide them: “Nothing except Christ is [to be] preached.” One should preach Christ as savior— “his passion and resurrection.”[9] This is the gospel, which I loved. It comes not only through preaching Christ as savior, but also focusing on his words more so than his deeds, for Christ’s words “bring us life.”[10] A preacher must be “a servant of the word.”[11] As I have written:

Whoever, therefore, does not know or preach the gospel is not only no priest or bishop, but he is a kind of pest to the church, who under the false title of priest or bishop, or dressed in sheep’s clothing, actually does violence to the gospel and plays the wolf in the church.[12]

Introducing the Wolves

And now, before undressing them, I shall introduce two of these wolves.

The first is Joel Osteen, a televangelist whose preaching is broadcast from a mega-church in Texas. His recurring message is that blessings await those who believe and do good—that is, worldly blessings, such as increased wealth and property, successful relationships and overcoming depression. His prosperity gospel also connects with a history of triumphalism, whereby God exalts faithful followers on earth, such that a sign of one’s salvation is economic success; hence, one would see “God’s approval in growing personal wealth.”[13] To this end, a recent sermon included Mr. Osteen making the following assertions: “with every act of obedience, God will reward you”; “when you obey, dreams come to pass, health is restored”; “when you obey, a blessing is attached to it”; and “you can’t out give God.” He shared several examples, such as his purchase of a subpar home, on faith that God would provide (which happened when a developer bought the property and Mr. Osteen made a profit) and an acquaintance getting a job for which she was unqualified, because she obeyed God.[14] Another sermon used the example of the release of Hebrew slaves to allegorize that God will also free faithful followers from financial burdens, career problems, addictions, sickness, relationship problems and bad habits, because “you have an advantage as a child of God,” for which God will “lead you to fulfillment” and “take you places you never dreamed of.”[15] Although this sermon never mentions Christ, others do, often as an example of good, ethical behavior – such as by discussing the mercy Christ showed to the criminal on a cross, in a sermon on loving others.[16]

Another sheepskin-wearing wolf in the church is Dr. John Hagee, a televangelist who preaches from another mega-church in Texas. Although his style and message differ from Mr. Osteen’s, Dr. Hagee’s sermons also concern me. His sermons trace their history through another strand of triumphalism—one that sees the need to purify the nation by adherence to an unchanging, uniform code of morality, and seeks political influence in order to impose this vision.[17] Hence, “it attempts in rhetoric and action to pursue a theocratic worldview, marked by an otherworldly spirituality that becomes self-righteous, judgmental, and tyrannical facing opposition.”[18] To motivate listeners, Dr. Hagee’s sermons tap into a history of moralism, which uses a “fear of punishment on earth and idealistic promises of heaven,” to give listeners a (false) “sense of spiritual security” (and, indeed, superiority) that they are assured salvation by following a moral code[19]—and what is more, that salvation is tied to imposing this code via political influence. Seeing a clear, Biblically-based distinction between Christian and secular morality, Dr. Hagee “[applies] this distinction at times to moral and political life, usually out of an almost paranoid fear that American is being threatened by evil forces aimed at the eradication of our original ‘Bible-based civilization.’”[20] He expects his followers to “obey unconditionally” what he tells them to believe and do, demanding “strict adherence to moral and political norms” as he defines them, resulting in a “defense of a ‘civil religion’ which undergirds a capitalist culture by celebrating the virtues of family, country, monogamy, work, frugality, sobriety, and other aspects of a ‘Protestant ethic.’”[21] Finally, Dr. Hagee’s preaching involves an apocalypticism which sees America’s place in the world as part of God’s plan to bring about “the gradual fulfillment of the book of Revelation,” and sees the duty of “true” Christians to restore God’s moral principles in America, so to lead other nations to God and bring them to salvation.[22]

Hence, Dr. Hagee’s preaching features the rhetoric of fear, triumphalism, morality, nationalism, and apocalypticism. One recent sermon concerned the kinds and implications of wealth. Starting with a distinction between the “provisions” that humans and God may provide, Dr. Hagee extolled the virtues of giving, saying we are never more like God than when we give (and “when you give, you prosper”), and encouraged listeners to tithe to the church. Along the way, he related wealth and power to the “culture wars” by name, and encouraged listeners to fight against abortion, the ACLU, welfare, restrictions on domestic oil drilling, the overreaching power of the current government, and to use their power to combat all this evil, because, through faith in Christ, “victory belongs to you!” He admonished listeners to follow a strict moral code, and believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.[23] In another sermon, Dr. Hagee proclaimed that in heaven people will hold ranks based upon their accomplishments on earth, and that all will receive triumphant glory, but some more than others; this would be determined by one’s performance in battle, and “the battle is now!” The church, preached Dr. Hagee, is at war with this world. “America,” he sermonized, “is laughing at the gospel message of morality”; those who are righteous and will find salvation on judgment day are those who confront sins and follow the code of morality.[24]

On the Preaching of Wolves

What then to say of the preaching of Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee? Is it good, sound, Christian preaching? Answer: no. They are false preachers who do not preach the risen Christ, whose death and resurrection mean all the faithful are saved, by Christ’s act, not people’s works. Indeed, their preaching has become so widespread that, as I did with the false prophets in my own day, I am compelled to refute what they say.[25] Both televangelists preach a false gospel, but for different reasons. Where they stand together condemned, however, is on the basis of a central criterion that I used to assess the relative standing of scripture—Was Christum treibet, or “what pushes Christ.”[26] The criterion I used to assess whether a work of scripture was built on straw or met a gold standard may also be used as “a tool for judging contemporary works”[27]—yes, including televised preaching. That standard is whether the work bears some “evangelical character,” preaching the gospel, the good news over everything else—the gospel of God’s love shown in “Christ’s saving crucifixion and his resurrection.”[28] The gospel is that which makes one alive upon hearing it proclaimed. Beyond the law, which condemns and makes us fearful before God, “we must also preach the word of grace and the promise of forgiveness by which faith is taught and aroused.”[29]

By this measure, Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee fall short. The first, with his promises of worldly wealth to the “faithful,” presents God as a “celestial Santa,”[30] one who will bring them riches of the flesh in this world, if they believe and approach life positively. The reward for saying you follow Christ, and have accepted him as your savior, is success. On the other hand, Dr. Hagee presents God as a “nasty lawgiver,”[31] one who bases salvation on accepting a morality Hagee himself defines, proof texting scripture for his own political purposes, saying good works (that is, adhering to Hagee’s interpretation of a national political agenda based on the Bible) make people good, thus reversing what I say is the authentic order of things: that “good people do good works.”[32] In both cases, the televised preachers stand condemned of not preaching an authentic “relation to God.”[33] They do not preach the God as revealed to us in the unexpected, as one who suffered on the cross out of love-born desire to reconcile us humans to God and make us righteous by faith. The God Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee preach is not the one revealed, but the one contrived in their preaching: as one who either died to bring about our worldly success, or one who expects adherence to a particular moral standard to achieve glory in terms first national, then apocalyptic. By so preaching, both deny listeners a true relation with the living God via proclamation of the true gospel.

And where might one find this true gospel? For me, the answer is in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, which I call “the chief part of the New Testament, and … truly the purest gospel.”[34] In my Preface to this work, I discuss Paul’s theology as developed over the course of the letter, but only after discussing the language Paul uses; for, as I say, without that, “no reading of the book has any value.”[35] Since a proper understanding of these key words is essential to understanding Paul’s articulation of “the purest gospel,” I will discuss these terms, comparing what I say Paul means by each to how Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee understand the same terms, as revealed in their preaching. My point shall be to demonstrate the conflict these false teachers evince with what is “purest gospel,” either by their misconstruing these terms, or neglecting some entirely. These terms are “law,” “sin,” “grace,” “faith,” “righteousness,” “flesh,” and “spirit.”

“Law” concerns not “what works are to be done or not done,” for that is how we understand human laws; God, instead, judges “according to what is in the depths of the heart,” in a manner that “cannot be satisfied with works.”[36] No one can keep the entirety of the law by doing (or not doing) deeds, because it is impossible to be righteous by such a standard; hence, due to of its overwhelming demands, people hate the law. This is why, properly understood, “the law is spiritual”—it is not of the body—and only a heart filled with the proper spirit can love and fulfill it.[37] For this reason I distinguish between “doing the work of the law” and “fulfilling the law.”[38] Any works one does trying to keep the law are in vain, for since no one can successfully keep all the law, one will ultimately despise it. Fulfilling the law, doing its works “with pleasure and love,” may only by done through faith—a faith that “alone makes a person righteous and fulfills the law.” And faith is a gift, a “divine work in us,” which changes us and makes us righteous, for the sake of Christ, who by grace died and was raised, to make us righteous before God.[39] Sin, then, is unbelief.[40] This is why preaching is so crucial, for “faith … comes only through God’s Word or gospel, which preaches Christ saying that his is God’s Son and a man, and has died and risen again for our sakes,” as Paul says throughout the epistle.[41]

If this is the standard by which to judge preaching, both Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee are false preachers. Mr. Osteen does not preach of God’s forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ, who was crucified and resurrected; instead, he preaches of worldly prosperity, granted to those who accept Jesus as their savior. But, savior from what? Sin, in Mr. Osteen’s preaching, is absent, or reduced to not having faith enough to reach one’s potential in attaining earthly wealth, career advancement and happiness in human relationships. Indeed, there are no “laws” to speak of in his prosperity gospel; he preaches only of principles to achieve happiness, success and increased wealth. This is not to say he does not speak of works. A proper attitude is the “work” of which Mr. Osteen speaks, in service of attaining prosperity. Faith is not a gift from God that reckons us righteous; inasmuch as one’s success is a reflection of the sufficiency of one’s faith, even faith here is a work, without which one is not able to attain the worldly blessings Mr. Osteen preaches God bestows on those who accept Christ as their “savior” and follow His example.

Further, the “benefits” of which Mr. Osteen speaks are not spiritual. Whereas his preaching concerns how to find betterment of one’s present life, he exemplifies what I call “the flesh,” that is, a person “who lives and works, inwardly and outwardly, in the service of the flesh’s gain, and of this temporal life.”[42] His preaching is unconcerned with “the spirit,” which characterizes one who works “in the service of the Spirit and of the future life.”[43] God’s gracious act of giving his Son to suffer and die on a cross, so people might be reckoned as righteous via faith, is cheapened and degraded to God allowing his Son to suffer and die so “believers” might achieve fleshly glory: to get that big promotion, marry the spouse of their choice, and live in a house whose worth (they believe) reflects their level of faith. Often this is not by a focus on Christ’s words about redemption, or by faith in Christ and what makes him unique as one whose death and resurrection reckon us righteous before God, but by following Christ’s example, Christ here mentioned alongside other Biblical figures. This fails to appreciate what makes Christ unique. Mr. Osteen thereby becomes like other false prophets who direct attention “only to the work of Christ, wherein Christ is held up as an example, which is the least important aspect of Christ, and which makes him comparable to other saints. But turn to Christ as to a gift of God, or, as Paul says, the power of God, and God’s wisdom, righteousness, redemption, and sanctification, given to us.”[44]

Here, we have a false teacher who leads people astray from the true gospel. Focusing on faith as a work, the sufficiency of which bestows fleshly rewards as a measure of faith, subverts the good news. It convinces followers that God gave His Son for our worldly wealth, making people despair of their insufficient faith if they do not attain what they desire. They become condemned by the “law” for not living up to God’s expectations, as evinced by their lack of wealth; or they believe themselves blessed if they do receive worldly riches, unaware that their spiritual salvation must follow a different faith—one in a God found in weakness, a God who suffers, who is vulnerable, whose love for us is so great that God would suffer for our spiritual salvation … and what comfort this love brings! This is the theology of the cross, which does not lead people to find God revealed in their glorious attainment of earthly riches and worldly power, but finds God where God chooses to be revealed, “in the brokenness of the cross, the emptiness of unbelief, the guilt of sin.”[45] What works we do “inwardly and outwardly, in the service of the Spirit and of the future life,”[46] we do in response to the love which fills us, and to which we cannot help but respond, content with expressing our own overflowing love for the One who also loves us.[47] The gospel concerns God’s love and sacrifice, not our worldly wealth and prosperity; its central focus is “the Spirit and future life,” not that of the flesh and its gains; it addresses sin and grace, and how awareness of these leads to joy and comfort, not worldly lack or divine favor leading to earthly riches in keeping with the measure of one’s “faith.” To debase that truth with Mr. Osteen’s God-died-for-your-fleshly-happiness preaching makes him guilty of misleading souls hungry for the pure gospel.

As for Dr. Hagee, his preaching also does not measure up to the standard of “the purest gospel.” In Hagee’s sermons, moralism and triumphalism supplant the role of forgiveness and reconciliation. Righteousness, in his preaching, is established by adhering to his particular moral political agenda; sin is holding any other political, moral views. Only those who uphold this political agenda will be raised in glory for having helped establish America as the triumphant leader of the world. Hence, America serves as a savior to other nations, leading by a particular moral example. Accepting and supporting this morality, and fighting the political fight, is the work that distinguishes some Christians from others, and certainly nonbelievers. Thus, Hagee, like others, distinguishes his “Christian” morality from the “secular,” and applies this distinction “to moral and political life, usually out of an almost paranoid fear that America is being threatened by evil forces aimed at the eradication” of a civilization based on Biblical morality.[48] God condemns those who do not support this political agenda, in a manner that limits God’s grace from all those who have faith in Christ, to those “elect” who follow Hagee’s fleshly agenda and views. Indeed, Dr. Hagee’s preaching leads followers to base their salvation on law and their works of morality, making that which saves not Christ’s gracious, loving act on the cross, but something they do, and making enemies of those whose moral sense differs from theirs. Dr. Hagee’s preaching emphasizes fear, judgment and works, rather than joy, grace, and faith in a salvation freely given; he preaches prideful superiority based on morality, rather than faithful discipleship, that is, service freely rendered to neighbors.[49] 

Hence, in Dr. Hagee’s preaching, we are reckoned as righteous not by Christ’s act, but by our own works—acts of morality and politics, which make us worthy of salvation. This leads to a sense of supremacy, along with condemning and judging others, even though all fall short of the law, which no one can keep where it matters, in the heart.[50] Absent from his fire-and-brimstone sermons is talk of grace, forgiveness offered to all regardless of works, and the good news that we are made righteous not by keeping the law, but by faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Indeed, Dr. Hagee looks not to a theology of the cross, which would find God revealed in weakness and suffering, but to a theology of glory, emphasized in his apocalyptic preaching. He ties this to his and his followers’ own quest for glory and power, as “they seek a powerful God to match their own claims to power, and a powerful Scripture as well,” instead of God as revealed, coming to us “humble and lowly.”[51] Their quest for power based upon morality makes of these principles an idol, “idealizing what they do,” “deriving behavior from rigid principles,” instead of love.[52] 

Further, instead of preaching the comfort to those seeking “God’s word of promise and hope,” Dr. Hagee condemns those whose morality is not bound with that which he preaches, based upon his interpretation of scripture.[53] What Dr. Hagee should realize, as one latter-day interpreter of mine has written, is that “we are neither pope nor emperor but fellow believers living with one another. This means that Christians cannot simply assert one interpretation of Scripture over another but must always respect the conscience of others with whom we may disagree.”[54] Consider this in relation to my discussion of moralism, above. In presenting his interpretation of scriptural morality as law, Dr. Hagee errs. So too does he err in preaching law without gospel—the pure gospel, which proclaims good news and comforts the terrified, unable to keep the law. While the law may bring us to repent before God, preaching the good news means comforting troubled consciences, that “through faith in God’s unconditional, gracious promise of forgiveness in Christ,” we are saved, reckoned as righteous for Christ’s sake.[55] Would that Dr. Hagee learn from this and proclaim this pure gospel, instead of the false one that he preaches.

Wherefore could both false preachers look to correct their wayward preaching? Answer: the gospel itself. That is, they could preach scripture. While I myself placed greater emphasis on the other Reformation solas, I nonetheless held a treasured place for scripture for its “Christological principle,” “precisely because this book alone pushed Christ.”[56] Indeed, the word for me was “not simply the Bible but its proclamation.”[57] Preaching the good news is proclaiming how a scriptural text pushes Christ, that is, the saving Christ. Part of the problem for both Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee is that their approach is to preach not on a scriptural text but on a theme of their choosing, based on their own brand of what one scholar has called “toxic Christian traditions,” which are each in their own way idolatrous.[58] To serve their predetermined message of prosperity, fundamentalism, triumphalism and/or moralism, they develop a message and selectively choose passages to support their views. Thus, they wrest a toxic message out of a source that, on its own terms, wants to “push Christ”; they thereby fail to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and salvation. To wit, they make scripture their slave, using it to serve the predetermined needs of their “poisonous” message. 

If they would but go “back to the sources” and let scripture be their guide—lectionary texts, which embody the good news—Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee too might preach “the purest gospel.” For it is by means of hearing the external word—God’s word, preached to us; not false preachers’ messages that mangle scriptural verses to serve their needs—that God reaches us. Instead, Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee “fill the world with their chattering and scribbling—as if the Spirit could not come through the Scriptures or the spoken word of the apostles, but the Spirit must come through their own writings and words.”[59] It is God’s word and the preaching of it that transforms us with its message of promise, forgiveness and salvation: the good news, centered on Christ. Indeed, as I show in my prefaces to the books of the Bible, one can find the good news throughout Scripture when one reads it for how each book “pushes Christ.” It is God’s work and word that saves, not anything imposed on it by false preachers. 

As is, both of these twenty-first century televised preachers choose a theme supportive of their preferred message, either the prosperity gospel or a triumphalist-moralist-apocalyptic reproach, and develop a message around these themes with proof-texts as needed. Hence, Mr. Osteen has preached sermons on themes like “Be Positive or Be Quiet,” “Take Control of Your Happiness,” “Healthy Families,” and “Have a Spirit of Excellence,” while Dr. Hagee has preached sermons titled “Can America Survive?” “Battle Cry,” “The War for the Soul,” “The Seven Secrets of Success,” and “Triumphant in the Days of Trouble.” They “impose their own direction” instead of letting the lectionary be their guide, and are led astray from preaching the good news of God’s “gracious word” and “saving power.”[60] Listeners are left remembering not a scriptural text, but the televangelists’ theme designed to enslave scripture in service of its own, imposed message.

We are brought back to the method for discerning what preaching is truest to the gospel. As scripture is “self-authenticating,” judged by its ability to transform us via the sharing of the good news, so we may use the same standard of “what pushes Christ” to assess all Christian writing and preaching.[61] That standard is the same for all writing and preaching, which is the authority of “the crucified and risen Christ.”[62] These televangelists, in not preaching on this authority but on messages of their own devising, may be said rather to preach “what pushes Osteen or Hagee,” or even “what Osteen or Hagee pushes.”[63] Realizing this, we must be careful, to “notice what kind of interpreter [is] speaking and what the fruits of his or her teaching [are],” and “whether the teaching brought the consolation of faith or simply more works.”[64] 

Ultimately Mr. Osteen and Dr. Hagee do not push Christ, do not preach the good news, and do not console terrified consciences with the message of salvation through faith in Christ; rather they preach works, the law, a fleshly reward instead of a spiritual, and a theology of glory instead of the cross. They preach of earthly prosperity, or a triumphalist, apocalyptic salvation conditioned upon a particular morality. Their preaching gives a “false sense of spiritual security,” inevitably resulting in a sense of inadequacy and fear.[65] This is not the good news. By preaching on matters other than the gospel, these false preachers separate us from the love of Christ. This is why they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. To those who wonder why this is of such import, I say because “it is perilous when … errors arise among Christians, for they deprive consciences of such comforting knowledge, … and unconsciously turn the spirit from inward grace toward external things and works.”[66]

This is why I warn of the threat these false televised preachers pose to the pure gospel, and to people’s very souls. For they “avoid, run away from, and are silent on the main points of Christian doctrine. For in no place do they teach how we are to become free from our sins, obtain a good conscience, and win a peaceful and joyful heart before God. This is what really counts.”[67] In preaching such false teachings, they thus are a menace. As I have written:

The greatest evil on earth is a false preacher. He is the worst man on earth. No thief, murderer or scoundrel on earth can be compared to him. They are not as wicked as a preacher who dominates people in God’s name … and leads them into the abyss of hell through [his] false preaching.[68] 

These televangelists are guilty of such preaching. Be assured, their sermons “are childish and foolish nonsense,” and they should instead preach “why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, what benefit it is to us to accept him.”[69] Would that these televangelists preach the promises of God, proclaimed in the gospel! For “What person’s heart, upon hearing such things, will not rejoice greatly and grow so tender that he will love Christ in a way not possible by the observance of works or law?”[70] Dear Christians, let us thank our gracious God for his mercy and promises, and for the preaching of the purest gospel, in the twenty-first century as in my day. 

Richard Wollf is Professor of Speech, Media Studies and Religious Studies at Dowling College.

[1] Martin Luther, quoted in Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1983), 12.

[2] Ibid., 12–13; quotation 13.

[3] Martin Luther, “Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments,” LW 40:80.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How we Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2012), 52, 62.

[7] Martin Luther, “Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit,” LW 40:67.

[8] Ibid., 66.

[9] Meuser, Luther the Preacher, 16, 19.

[10] Ibid., 17–18.

[11] Ibid., 16–17.

[12] As quoted by Meuser, 17.

[13] Eric W. Gritsch, Toxic Spirituality: Four Enduring Temptations of Christian Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 104.

[14] Joel Osteen; all episodes reviewed as cablecast on WWOR-NY (Houston, Texas: KTBU): October 20, 2013.

[15] Joel Osteen: November 2, 2013.

[16] Joel Osteen: October 27, 2013.

[17] Gritsch, Toxic Spirituality, 85–131.

[18] Ibid., 130.

[19] Ibid., 149, 154.

[20] Eric Gritsch, Born Againism: Perspectives on a Movement (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1982), 98.

[21] Ibid., 99.

[22] Douthat, Bad Religion, 256, 261, and passim.

[23] John Hagee; all episodes reviewed as cablecast on Daystar (Dallas, Texas: Daystar): October 20, 2013.

[24] John Hagee: October 27, 2013.

[25] Conrad Bergendoff, Introduction to “Against the Heavenly Prophets,” LW 40:76.

[26] Timothy Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 9.

[27] Ibid., 3, 6–7.

[28] Ibid., 3, 6, 8.

[29] Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” LW 31:364.

[30] Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, 41.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., 108.

[33] ibid., 41.

[34] Martin Luther, “Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans,” LW 35:365.

[35] Ibid., 366.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., 366–367.

[38] Ibid., 367.

[39] Ibid., 368, 370.

[40] Ibid., 369.

[41] Ibid., 368.

[42] Ibid., 372.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Luther, “Letter to the Christians at Strassburg,” LW 40:70.

[45] Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, 49.

[46] Luther, “Preface to Romans,” LW 35:372.

[47] Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, 42.

[48] Gritsch, Born Againism, 98.

[49] Ibid., 100.

[50] Luther, “Preface to Romans,” LW 35:366.

[51] Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, 52.

[52] Ibid., 73.

[53] Ibid., 77.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 76.

[56] Ibid., 19.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Gritsch, Toxic Spirituality, 161, 4.

[59] Martin Luther, “The Smalcald Articles,” in The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 322.

[60] Meuser, Luther the Preacher, 47.

[61] Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, 8, 11.

[62] Ibid., 11.

[63] Ibid., 10–11 (adapting Wengert’s discussion to Osteen and Hagee).

[64] Ibid., 19.

[65] Gritsch, Toxic Spirituality, 155.

[66] Luther, “Letter to the Christians at Strassburg,” LW 40:66.

[67] Luther, “Against the Heavenly Prophets,” LW 40:222–223.

[68] Luther, as quoted in Mueser, Luther the Preacher, 44.

[69] Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” LW 31:357.

[70] Ibid., 70.

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.

PREACH IT BROTHER! The Importance of Sermon Delivery in the 21st Century

It is a singular blessing for the pastor to be authorized to proclaim the Word of God in purity and truth before a congregation of God's people. Few Christians are blessed with the opportunity and training necessary to carry out this task. However, often the routine of preaching becomes arduous. The rigmarole of pastoral responsibilities threatens the time needed to adequately prepare for a sermon. What the preparation process looks like may be open to interpretation, but some part of the sermon production process suffers. More often than not, the part of the sermon production process that suffers is not the doctrinal fidelity, or even the textual exegesis, but the one thing that makes a sermon a sermon: the public delivery itself.

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What was Luther's Best Book? and a Free Reading Plan

Next year, 2016, will be the 470th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther’s “heavenly birthday,” his earthly death. And then in 2017 the whole world will observe the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. It will mark just the beginning of the Reformation, since in 1517 Luther certainly had not yet reformed the church. Instead, the posting of the 95 Theses set into motion the events that would lead to a reformation and purification of the public teaching and practice in the Western Church, especially in Germany. At this time, therefore, it is good and right to consider what those writings were which moved the Reformation forward and set forth the Gospel in its purity.

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Audience or Congregation?

The consequence of a person diluting God’s Word with something that is attractive to the old Adam is disastrous. “A man gathers together an audience rather than a congregation. He replaces faith with religious interest.” One binds a man to something other than Christ, writes Giertz, who stresses that this is not meant as a judgment against “the many important attempts to reach those who from pure boredom or under the pressure of a secularized society do not come to hear God’s Word.”

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An Open Letter to Dr. Matthew Becker: Don’t Try to Argue for My Place in the Church

Editor's Note: An Addendum—at the beginning. 
This letter originally appeared on April 27, 2015. Since then, many events have occurred, and the author has had the opportunity to revise her thoughts on the letter. We have posted her amended letter here at the beginning of the original post. We have for the sake of historical accuracy retained the original letter at the bottom of this post. 

—the Editors

An Open Letter to Dr. Matthew Becker: 

Don’t Try to Argue for My Place in the Church

“Given the plethora of data in nature that support the theory of the evolution of human beings, is it really possible any longer to maintain with theological integrity that a man (‘Adam’) was created ‘first’ and a woman (‘Eve’) created ‘second?’ Has not this traditional view been overturned by physical data and contemporary scientific investigation of nature and natural history…?”

- Matthew Becker, “An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians”[1]

Dear Dr. Becker,

Before I begin, I want to thank you. You obviously have a deep concern for the women of the Church. Perhaps you see us as downtrodden, denied our rightful place in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Maybe you’ve come into contact with women in whom you have seen potential in theology, but who you think have been told that they cannot fulfill their rightful vocation within the LCMS. Speaking out for those who have been slighted is a noble cause, and I commend your intentions in trying to rectify what you seem to perceive as a systematic injustice. However, in your attempt to speak for this group that you believe to be disenfranchised, I think you have oversimplified the broad and complex discussion surrounding the roles of women in the Church, which makes your arguments less than compelling. Additionally, I think you have misunderstood the true nature of that which you use to try to support your arguments, i.e., science. As a female student of theology and science, please allow me to explain.

To begin, let me give you some context. It’s lengthy, but I think it’ll help you understand my position much better. I grew up the daughter of an LCMS pastor, not really knowing that there was such a thing as “Synod.” I simply went to church, attended a school called the “Math and Science Center,” and decided that I wanted to make a difference in the world using my abilities in math and science. So I went off to engineering school – Carnegie Mellon University, to be specific. In 2014 I earned a Bachelor of Science with University Honors in Chemical Engineering, with a double major in Biomedical Engineering. Between academic years I also had the opportunity to work in biological and pharmaceutical research (see here for an example of work in which I was involved). However, as happens to many college students, my ideas of what I wanted to do with my life changed during the course of those four years. I took classes in rhetoric and found myself enthralled, and through the teachings of my parish and campus pastors in Pittsburgh, I continuously discovered how much more there was to learn about theology than I had ever realized. The summer after I received my undergraduate degree, I had the amazing opportunity to go on an almost full scholarship to the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights, to study under the renowned Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to share what I learned by presenting at my church in Pittsburgh, and lecturing at another LCMS congregation. One day I hope to teach and speak on apologetics widely, not to mention on other theological topics that I think need to be more thoroughly addressed, such as sexuality. However, for now I’m kept busy by the job that pays off my student loans and other bills.

Dr. Becker, I wanted to give you this background because from this context I want to address two issues: women in theology, and common misunderstandings regarding science.

First, I want address the issue of “women in theology.” Of course I cannot address this issue in full in a short open letter, nor do I think it would advance the discussion much to simply state a one-sentence working definition with which you would likely disagree. After all, what “women in theology” should mean is essentially what is being debated. Instead, I think it will be helpful to first look at how you portray the concept of “women in theology” in the article from which I quoted above, “An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians.” This examination should help frame my issues with your article, which I will present afterward.  

Early in your article, you claim, “a ‘theology of subordination’ . . . has been central for those who seek to restrict the role and service of women in the LCMS.” Later, you claim, “deny[ing] the full humanity of women . . . often occurs in theologies of subordination.” Though you make many points in your article, I find these two excerpts to be very indicative of the article’s overall theme. You seem to write as though there are two options for the motives of those who would support any restrictions on the “role and service of women in the LCMS.” Option one is that they intentionally ignore evidence in a malicious attempt to wrongfully subordinate women, and might even deny women’s full humanity. Option two is that they are unintentionally inconsistent in their application of the relevant Bible passages, blissfully ignorant of the “truth” (as you see it) that women’s ordination follows directly from women having teaching roles in the Church. The final sentence of your article in particular seems to provide for no other alternative: “There is no legitimate biblical or dogmatic rationale for why the LCMS should now prohibit women from serving as theologians and pastors in the church.”

Indeed, in the LCMS there is disagreement on the proper role(s) for women in the Church, and therefore this topic should be discussed if the Synod is to be brought into true unity. However, I contend that your article is actually destructive rather than conducive to the necessary open and honest discussion, because it oversimplifies the situation. For one, I would contend that there are differences between “subordination” (as you call it) and “submission” (which I believe is the word more commonly used in the LCMS). However, although I think word choice is important, I am not interested in speculating about why you chose “subordination” over “submission.” I think it is more interesting that you completely neglect to mention an “option three” for the motives of LCMS pastors and theologians who support some restrictions on women’s role in the Church. Pastors and theologians who fall under “option three” openly and honestly engage the texts and historical background, and this engagement results in a position that acknowledges and even facilitates some teaching roles for women in the Church but affirms the historic and Biblical teaching that women are not called to be pastors in the Church. That is, they do not agree with your article’s largely implicit but critical assertion: that your arguments for having women theologians can and must extend to having women pastors.

I know of this third option, Dr. Becker, because the pastors of my church home in Pittsburgh embody it. My church home in Pittsburgh can rightfully be characterized as “traditional,” even “conservative.” For one, women do not serve the parish as elders, lectors, or even acolytes. Additionally, my campus pastor is a vocal and well-known advocate of “traditional” views of sexuality and marriage, whether he’s dialoguing with the humanist or LGBT groups at my alma mater, serving as a chaplain at the recent national LCMS campus ministry conference “TABOO,” or ministering to Christians and others who have same-sex attractions. Essentially, my church in Pittsburgh is probably the kind of church that you think needs to be “reformed” from its backward ways and made to realize the valuable contribution that women can make to theology. 

But here’s the thing, Dr. Becker: my pastors at that church have been the biggest and most fervent supporters of my growth in learning and teaching theology. It started when their Bible studies engrossed me, but it grew into so much more. When I wasn’t sure of whether or not I wanted to “take the leap” and study apologetics in France, my campus pastor encouraged me repeatedly, even finding me more scholarship money than was supposed to be available, so that I was able to go. When I got back and expressed interest in sharing what I had learned with the congregation, my parish pastor gave me two Sundays during the adult Bible study hour to teach on historical apologetics. Unlike my campus pastor, my parish pastor couldn’t attend those Sundays, but when he got back, he told me, “I heard you were great. I’m not sure how I’m going to follow that!” 

And they’ve expressed their confidence in me as a theologian in countless other ways, from providing me with thought-provoking books when I asked about the theology of chastity, to asking me to review books that they were considering using for our student Bible study, to listening and working with me when I get on one of my rants about how sexuality is not addressed as fully or properly as I would like it to be within the LCMS, to encouraging me to write more and helping me publish those pieces (and many, many more ways). These are the same men who affirm the historic and Biblical teaching that women are not called to be pastors in the Church, and they hold this view not because of blissful or willful ignorance, but because they have engaged the texts and historical background, and the writings of other theologians who have also done so. 

You seem to think I need to be liberated from these men. I’m sorry, Dr. Becker, but I don’t. These men are the champions who produced my passion for theology, and I won’t let you bash them or question their “theological integrity.”  They are my fathers in the faith, and without them, I wouldn’t consider myself a theologian today, or aspire to be even more involved in theology in the future. So please don’t presume to speak for me or for many other faithful LCMS women when you talk about these issues. I have a place in the Church as a theologian, and it doesn’t need to be won by you. 

Now, regarding your attempt to use science to back up your claim, quite simply, your attempt doesn’t agree with how science works. You speak of “the plethora of data in nature that support the theory of the evolution of human beings,” and how the “traditional view [has] been overturned by physical data and contemporary scientific investigation of nature and natural history.” However, this is simply not how science works. Data does not come with a handy guide attached to it that tells the scientist how to interpret it, and what ideas it supports. Scientists are like everyone else; our worldview shapes the way we interpret data, because (as the term suggests) our worldview shapes the way we see the world. For example, my specialty when I was doing scientific research was in DNA. When I was in high school, I was taught that most of the genome was “junk DNA,” which had built up over the millennia of evolution. The cells simply cut out this useless DNA in the process of making proteins, since it was the refuse of the mutation that drives evolution. However, scientists have recently discovered evidence that this DNA is not junk at all; it is actually incredibly important to gene expression, which is fundamentally tied to the causes of human differences and human disease. For years, the evidence (i.e., that this DNA is removed in the process of making protein) caused scientists to believe that this DNA was junk, but now new evidence is making them fundamentally reconsider all they had ever thought and taught on the issue (see here for one example). This is how science works. Sometimes the evidence seems to point to one thing, but then more evidence comes along and fundamentally shifts scientists’ thinking. So please, don’t characterize science as something that can fit into the neat little box of “this data supports this theory, and can never support any other idea.” Please don’t speak as if science should be used to overturn Scripture, when science is continuously overturning its own ideas. And please don’t speak as if we all have to interpret the data in the same way that certain scientists with other worldviews interpret it. Being told how to think seems like precisely the kind of thing that you would want women like me not to endure.

In conclusion, Dr. Becker, I appreciate your desire to facilitate discussion on a topic that is contentious within the LCMS. If the pastors and congregations of the LCMS are to truly have one confession of faith, as we claim to have, we must address this issue until we are in agreement amongst ourselves, and more importantly, until we are in agreement with the witness of Scripture. Unfortunately, your “Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians” oversimplifies the situation and displays misunderstanding of the nature of science. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you would not presume to speak for those of us women who identify as theologians. Some of us don’t like being characterized as victims, or hearing our pastors’ theological integrity questioned. Some of us would simply like to continue as we are, doing the theological work that we love, alongside the pastors with whom God has richly blessed us.

Kaitlyn Nowak

President emeritus, Lutheran Student Fellowship

First Trinity Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh

here: http://www.geothermal-energy.org/pdf/IGAstandard/SGW/2013/Fujita.pdf?

here: http://www.genengnews.com/insight-and-intelligence/what-junk-dna-it-s-an-operating-system/77899872/

[1] Matthew Becker, "An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians," The Daystar Journal, 10 Nov. 2013. Web. Accessed 6 Apr. 2015. <http://thedaystarjournal.com/an-argument-for-women-pastors-and-theologians/>

The original letter appears below: 

“Given the plethora of data in nature that support the theory of the evolution of human beings, is it really possible any longer to maintain with theological integrity that a man (‘Adam’) was created ‘first’ and a woman (‘Eve’) created ‘second?’ Has not this traditional view been overturned by physical data and contemporary scientific investigation of nature and natural history…?”

— Matthew Becker, “An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians”1

Dear Dr. Becker,

Before I begin, I want to thank you. You obviously have a deep concern for the women of the church. Perhaps you see us as downtrodden, denied our rightful place in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Maybe you’ve come into contact with women in whom you have seen potential in theology, but who you think have been told that they cannot fulfill their rightful vocation within the LCMS. Speaking out for those who have been slighted is a noble cause, and I commend your intentions in trying to make things right. However, since you are not a member of this group that you believe to be disenfranchised, I think you have misunderstood some of our challenges. Additionally, I think you have misunderstood the true nature of that which you use to try to support your arguments, i.e., science. As a female student of theology and science, please allow me to explain.

To begin, let me give you some context. It’s lengthy, but I think it’ll help you understand my position much better. I grew up the daughter of an LCMS pastor, not really knowing that there was such a thing as “Synod.” I simply went to church, attended a school called the “Math and Science Center,” and decided that I wanted to make a difference in the world using my abilities in math and science. So I went off to engineering school—Carnegie Mellon University, to be specific. In 2014 I earned a Bachelor of Science with University Honors in Chemical Engineering, with a double major in Biomedical Engineering. Between academic years I also had the opportunity to work in biological and pharmaceutical research (see here for an example of work in which I was involved). However, as happens to many college students, my ideas of what I wanted to do with my life changed during the course of those four years. I took classes in rhetoric and found myself enthralled, and through the teachings of my parish and campus pastors in Pittsburgh, I continuously discovered how much more there was to learn about theology than I had ever realized. The summer after I received my undergraduate degree, I had the amazing opportunity to go on virtually full scholarship to the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights, to study under the renowned Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to share what I learned by presenting at Bible study at my church in Pittsburgh, and lecturing at another LCMS congregation. One day I hope to teach and speak on apologetics widely, not to mention on other theological topics that I think need to be more thoroughly addressed, such as sexuality. However, for now I’m kept busy by the job that pays off my student loans and other bills.

Dr. Becker, I wanted to give you this background because from this context I want to address two issues: women in theology, and common misunderstandings regarding science.

First, let’s tackle this whole “women in theology” thing. Put quite simply, Dr. Becker, I have never felt disenfranchised as a woman in theology. My church home in Pittsburgh can rightfully be characterized as “traditional,” even “conservative.” For one, women do not serve the parish as elders, lectors, or even acolytes. Additionally, my campus pastor is a vocal and well-known advocate of “traditional” views of sexuality and marriage, whether he’s dialoguing with the humanist or LGBT groups at my alma mater or serving as a chaplain at the recent national LCMS campus ministry conference, “TABOO.” Essentially, my church in Pittsburgh is probably the kind of church that you think needs to be “reformed” from its backward ways and made to realize the valuable contribution that women can make to theology. But here’s the thing, Dr. Becker—my pastors at that church have been the biggest and most fervent supporters of my growth in learning and teaching theology. It started when their Bible studies engrossed me, but it grew into so much more. When I wasn’t sure of whether or not I wanted to “take the leap” and study apologetics in France, my campus pastor encouraged me repeatedly, even finding me more scholarship money than was supposed to be available, so that I was able to go. When I got back and expressed interest in sharing what I had learned with the congregation, my parish pastor gave me two Sundays’ worth of Bible study time to teach on historical apologetics. He couldn’t attend those Sundays, but when he got back, he told me, “I heard you were great. I’m not sure how I’m going to follow that!” And they’ve expressed their confidence in me as a theologian in countless other ways, from providing me with thought-provoking books when I asked about the theology of chastity, to asking me to review books that they were considering using for our student Bible study, to listening and working with me when I get on one of my rants about how sexuality is not addressed as fully or properly as I would like it to be within the LCMS, to encouraging me to write more and helping me publish those pieces (and many, many more ways). These are the same men who affirm the historic and Biblical teaching that women are not called to be pastors in the church. These are the men from whose ideas you seem to think I need liberating. I’m sorry, Dr. Becker, but I don’t. These men are the champions who produced my passion for theology, and I won’t let you bash them or question their “theological integrity.” They are my fathers in the faith, and without them, I wouldn’t consider myself a theologian today, or aspire to be even more involved in theology in the future. So please don’t presume to speak for me—or for many other faithful LCMS women—when you talk about these issues. I have a place in the church as a theologian, and it doesn’t need to be won by you.

Second, your attempt to use science to back up your claim doesn’t agree with how science works. You speak of, “the plethora of data in nature that support the theory of the evolution of human beings,” and how the “traditional view [has] been overturned by physical data and contemporary scientific investigation of nature and natural history.” However, this is simply not how science works. Data does not come with a handy guide attached to it that tells the scientist how to interpret it, and what ideas it supports. Scientists are like everyone else; our worldview shapes the way we interpret data, because (as the term suggests) our worldview shapes the way we see the world. For example, my specialty when I was doing scientific research was in DNA. When I was in high school, I was taught that most of the genome was “junk DNA,” which had built up over the millennia of evolution. The cells simply cut out this useless DNA in the process of making proteins, since it was simply the refuse of the mutation that drives evolution. However, scientists have recently discovered evidence that this DNA is not junk at all; it is actually incredibly important to gene expression, which is fundamentally tied to the causes of human differences and human disease. For years, the evidence (i.e., that this DNA is removed in the process of making protein) caused scientists to believe that this DNA was junk, but now new evidence is making them fundamentally reconsider all they had ever thought and taught on the issue (see here for one example). This is how science works. Sometimes the evidence seems to point to one thing, but then more evidence comes along and fundamentally shifts scientists’ thinking. So please, don’t characterize science as something that can fit into the neat little box of “this data supports this theory, and can never support any other idea.” Please don’t speak as if science should be used to overturn Scripture, when science is continuously overturning its own ideas. And please don’t speak as if we all have to interpret the data in the same way that certain scientists with other worldviews interpret it. Being told how to think seems like precisely the kind of thing that you would want women like me not to endure.

In conclusion, Dr. Becker, I appreciate your concern for what you see as the plight of the LCMS woman, but I think you have seen an optical illusion of a problem that simply isn’t there. Though you might not be convinced by my story alone, please keep it in mind when you presume to speak for those of us women who identify as theologians. Some of us don’t like being characterized as victims, or hearing our pastors’ theological integrity questioned. Some of us would simply like to continue as we are, doing the theological work that we love, alongside the pastors with whom God has richly blessed us.


Kaitlyn Nowak

President emeritus, Lutheran Student Fellowship

First Trinity Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh

  1. Matthew Becker, "An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians," The Daystar Journal, 10 Nov. 2013. Web. Accessed 6 Apr. 2015. <http://thedaystarjournal.com/an-argument-for-women-pastors-and-theologians/>

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The Rev. Matthew Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, has said on more than one occasion that a pastor "wear out his shoes" as he lives among the people that, and the community in which, God has called him to serve. Harrison's point is this: the chief task of the man who answers God's call to the Office of the Holy Ministry is to be with his people, serving them with God's means of grace.

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Those who know me know that I am firmly opposed to the ordination of women. Yet many of them can’t understand why I am so adamant on this, since it seems such an unimportant issue and so contrary to common sense. How could I be so unreasonable? They are even more puzzled when they discover that I did not always have a strong conviction on this matter. I have therefore been asked why I have changed my mind on whether women may be pastors, and why this matters so much to me.

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Predestination, Grace, and Free Will in the Thought of St. Prosper of Aquitaine and C.F.W. Walther: A Comparison and Evaluation

—By Jordan Cooper Throughout the history of the church, the doctrine of predestination has often been contentious. The name Augustine is usually associated with the doctrine of predestination in the Patristic period, and John Calvin during the sixteenth century Reformation. These theologians represent a strict form of predestinarianism. In contrast to this double predestinarian view, several theologians throughout the centuries have attempted to formulate a balanced view of predestination by affirming both that God's election of grace is unconditional and that God's grace is universal. This view, which can be labeled mild Augustinianism, was adopted as the orthodox position at the Second Council of Orange in 529. Various theologians throughout the church have represented this mild Augustinian position.

The Formula of Concord adopted the mild Augustinian position, whereas the Calvinistic Reformation adopted a strict form of predestinarianism. While Reformed writers have commonly utilized the writings of Augustine, most Lutherans have little knowledge of their mild Augustinian forebearers in the early church. Lutheranism must reclaim its catholic predestinarian tradition. This article will evaluate one such semi-Augustinian in the early church: Prosper of Aquitaine. After the death of Augustine, Prosper was the most outspoken and prolific defender of the preeminence of God’s grace. Following this is an evaluation of C.F.W. Walther, who, in my estimation, is the most articulate defender of the mild Augustinian position on grace in the post-Reformation Lutheran tradition. It will be demonstrated that the positions of both these writers are compatible with one another. The Lutheran Reformation is thoroughly Prosperian.

The Semi-Pelagian Debate

Though the Pelagian position lost influence after the Augustine/Pelagius debate was settled in favor of Augustine's contention for the necessity of divine grace,1 the church's doctrine of grace, predestination, and free will was far from uniform. In reaction to Augustine's strict predestinarian views, several schools of thought arose contending for their own approaches to the relationship between free will and sovereign grace. Several theologians adopted tenets of the Augustinian position while attempting to maintain the Pelagian emphasis on free will and the universality of the saving divine will.

The most competent and influential proponent of the mediating position later known as Semi-Pelagianism, was the monk John Cassian.2 Cassian admired Augustine, but feared his emphasis on grace at the expense of human free will would lead to sloth among the monastics. Cassian wrote his work Conlatio 13, in response to the Augustinian position on behalf of the ascetics of Gaul who opposed a strict understanding of absolute predestination.3 In this work, Cassian argues that grace is present and necessary for the salvation of anyone. This grace, however, is aided by human free will. God offers grace prior to, during, and consequent to, conversion. Salvation is a synergistic act. God offers grace initially that the human agent then has the ability to accept or reject. When the will assents to grace, this initiates the process of salvation, wherein both the human subject and divine activity cooperate. This cooperation continues until perfection is attained. Thus, according to Cassian, both God's grace and human free choice can be affirmed without damage to one another.4

In Cassian's approach, divine grace usually precedes conversion and thus has priority. Cassian is willing, however, to admit that grace does not always precede faith. Though humans are fallen creatures, the effect of depravity on man's will is not total. Enough goodness remains in humankind that human agency may initiate the process of salvation. This first step, taken solely by one's will, is then aided by grace. Cassian thus avoids the Pelagian claim that salvation is possible apart from grace, while rejecting Augustine's doctrine of irresistible grace.5 In Cassian's view, this synergistic approach to salvation avoided both extremes inherent in the fifth century predestinarian disputes.

Prosper of Aquitaine

The chief opponent of the Semi-Pelagian party was St. Prosper of Aquitaine. Not much is known of Prosper's origins. He was born sometime in the late fouth century in Gaul. He received a an education in Aquitaine and published his first book “On the Providence of God,” De providentia Dei in 416. Some time between 417 and 425, Prosper came into contact with the Pelagian controversy. During this period, in which he wrote nothing, Prosper became a student of Augustine, adopting the bishop of Hippo's teachings on grace and free will as the catholic position. Eventually, Prosper would become Augustine's most ardent and competent defender.

Prosper's doctrine of predestination can be divided into an early and later stage. In Prosper's early writings, he defends Augustinian double predestination. He teaches limited atonement, and limits grace to the elect. However, later in life, Prosper tempered his predestinarianism, arguing that grace is universal, yet that grace precedes faith. Thus Prosper later holds the important tension between divine monergism and the universality of the gospel.

Prosper's Early Writings

Prosper wrote various works in his early career defending Augustine's teaching on predestination and grace. These letters and treatises were primarily written against John Cassian and the theology of various Semi-Pelagian monastics from Gaul. In these writings, Prosper defends divine monergism against the Semi-Pelagian attacks on Augustinianism.

Prosper argues that Cassian's approach to free will allows for the possibility that human merit could precede grace in opposition to the New Testament insistence to the contrary. According to Prosper, no mediating view between the Augustinian and Pelagian position is possible.6 Ultimately, one either has to decide whether salvation is solely a divine work or a work of cooperation. Responding to the assertion that both man and grace can be the initiating cause of conversion, Prosper states, “The alliance between the two which your new system advocates does not reconcile them in any way; it unduly presents the Catholic position as wrong and the Pelagian one as correct.”7 For Cassian, some conversions are initiated by grace and others by human will; in Prosper's mind, this presents an incompatible system that ultimately leaves one with a Pelagian understanding of grace.

Like Augustine, Prosper argues for a robust doctrine of original sin: “But all have sinned in one: in punishment of Adam's sin the whole race was condemned. Therefore, all have lost what Adam lost. He lost faith in the first place; and if faith is the first gift we all lost, it is also the first gift we have to receive it again.”8 Humankind's solidarity with Adam necessitates the acquisition of Adamic sin. This includes unbelief. Thus, in Prosper's approach, the human will is bound. Faith is an impossibility apart from the grace of God. Thus, to admit, as does Cassian, that in some cases free will may take the first step toward conversion denies the reality of the fall.

The entire process of conversion and salvation is a divine work in Prosper's theology. This begins with an acknowledgment of the reality of one's sinful situation.

Until man receives from his Physician the very knowledge of his unhappy state, his soul delights in its misery, ever enamored of its errors and embracing falsehood for truth. The beginning of its cure lies in its conceiving dissatisfaction with itself and hatred of its inherited weakness. The next step is its desiring to get cured and knowing who it is that can cure it. Though all these acts are previous to its cure, yet it is He who will cure the soul that inspired them. Else, since they cannot arise in the soul without producing their effect, the soul would seem to have been cured by its own merit and not by grace.9

Prosper recognizes—as Luther later would—that an illness cannot be cured without an acknowledgment of that illness. In later Lutheran terminology, Law precedes Gospel. Yet even a recognition of one's sinful state is impossible apart from grace. The soul curved in on itself inherently loves its miserable state. Apart from divine intervention, this would never be realized. God's grace opens the eyes of a sinner to recognize the evil of sin. God both diagnoses the sickness and provides the cure. Because even recognition of sin is part of the cure for Prosper, the contention of the Gaul theologians that one could begin the process of conversion in any sense would rob God of his glory.

Prosper does not deny free will in a Manichean fashion. In Prosper's understanding, free will is damaged by the fall. Due to man's Adamic nature, rather than reaching out toward God, the will is captured by carnal desires. The will of man does not then need to be destroyed but repaired. Grace does not oppose human will but heals it.

This grace, sweeping aside the embers of worldly opinions and dead works, rekindles the dead log of his heart and sets it aflame with the desire of the truth; it does not bring man into subjection against his will but makes him desirous of that subjection; it does not draw him without his knowledge but shows him and leads the way. For his free will, which still exists, created as it was by God together with his human nature, does not of itself withdraw from the vain desires to which he turned when he neglected the law of God; it is the Creator that works this change. And so, the whole cure of fallen man is effected neither without his co-operation nor by anyone else than by his Physician.10

Like Augustine, Prosper provides a view of grace and freedom which both leaves the human will and person intact after the fall, while maintaining the Pauline concept that salvation is monergistic. God's grace does not work against will but changes the will to desire the good.11 Man directs his love and affection inward, and God's grace causes that love to be sent beyond the self, up toward the Holy Trinity.

This saving grace does not simply begin the conversion process only to be replaced by the renewed will but is operative continually in the Christian's life. Prosper views Paul's experience of struggle as outline in Romans 7 as the experience of a converted person: “He means to say that, when we have received the gift of desiring what is good, we are not at once able to do it but must ask and desire and knock and be given to do it by Him who inspired the desire. For these words, For to will is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not, are the words of one who was called and given grace already.”12 Throughout Christian existence, one is repeatedly confronted with the fact that sin is a continual reality. Though a desire to obey God's Law is inherent in the regenerated person, the ability to fulfill that desire is not always present. God does not immediately heal the Christian of all sin, because he desires his people to continually reach out for divine assistance. In Prosper's theology, grace is needed to aid the Christian's journey in life. It continues to heal the soul and offer forgiveness.

Prosper frames his theology of grace within the context of predestination.13 In a statement summarizing his position on the issue, Prosper states that “the predestination of the saints is nothing else but the foreknowledge and preparation of God's grace by which He saves them without fail.”14 Prosper follows Augustine's interpretation of foreknowledge, viewing the term as a reference to God's foreknowledge of his own future actions. This is in opposition to the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian approach, which argues that foreknowledge refers to foreseen future merits on behalf of elect individuals. The predestination of God is both unconditional and immutable. God predestines unto salvation unconditionally; merits are never the cause of predestination but its effect.15 The number of the elect are only those who are finally saved and will infallibly reach eternal salvation. Christ's death was only given for these select individuals.16

At this time in Prosper's career, double predestinarianism is affirmed, albeit in a moderated fashion. Prosper argues that it is “grace that distinguishes a believer from an unbeliever.”17 God's free decision of election involves choosing one person out of the mass of damnation over another. It is God who both “opens the hearts of the first and closes the hearts of the second.” Thus, God is active in both salvation and reprobation. Prosper holds a comprehensive view of God's sovereignty, claiming that “all things are ordained by God's decree.”18 This includes both salvation and reprobation, though both are accomplished in different manners. “Both God' mercy and His justice are operative in the very wills of men.”19 Even though Prosper adopts a strict predestinarian theology in line with Augustine, there are some important qualifications to be made. First, Prosper does not make a direct equation between salvation and reprobation. Predestination to life is always unconditional whereas predestination unto death is conditioned upon foreseen demerit.20 Second, Prosper is not willing to base assurance of one's salvation purely on election or to cause his readers to discover their election within God's hidden decree. In a pastoral manner, Prosper exhorts, “[T]rust that you are not excluded from the number of the predestined who are His people, because it is He Himself who gives you the grace to make this prayer. God forbid that you should despair of your salvation, for you are commanded to place your hope in Him, not in yourselves.”21 Prosper's predestinarian views are strict, but he still approaches them with a pastoral spirit.

The Later Prosper: The Call of All Nations

Prosper's magnum opus is his later writing, The Call of All Nations. This work portrays a moderated Augustinianism, wherein it is argued that salvation is due solely to grace and also that God's saving will is universal. It is particularly noteworthy that the sixteenth century Reformers often referenced this work. Luther recommended it as one of his favorite Patristic works,22 and it is cited in the Augsburg Confession.23 This work echoes the later position of the Formula of Concord regarding the preeminence and universality of grace. Prosper defines the purpose of this work with the following words:

A great and difficult problem has long been debated among the defenders of free will and the advocates of the grace of God. The point at issue is whether God wills all men to be saved; and since this cannot be denied, the question arises, why the will of the Almighty is not realized. When this is said to happen because of the will of men, grace seems to be ruled out; and if grace is a reward for merit, it is clearly not a gift but something due to men. But then the question again arises: why is this gift, without which no one can attain salvation, not conferred on all, by Him who wills all to be saved? Hence, there is no end to discussions in either camp so long as they make no distinction between what can be known and what remains hidden.24

Thus Prosper attempts to answer the question: why are some saved and others not? In contradistinction to his early writings, Prosper takes it as a given that the cause is God’s saving will. Yet, since he is still self-consciously monergistic, Prosper faces a dilemma. How can grace alone save, and yet not all are saved even though God earnestly desires that they be?

Prosper begins his discussion with the same conviction that salvation occurs sola gratia, arguing that original sin causes the will to be fallen.25 Good works never precede grace, but are a result of prevenient divine action. In the same manner, human reason is unable to approach God apart from grace: “We conclude that neither the learned nor the illiterate of whatever race or rank come to God led by human reason; but every man who is converted to God is first stirred by God's grace.”26 He defends the concept that the work of grace is thoroughgoing. Grace gives one the realization of sin, an understanding of the gospel, the desire for the gospel, conversion, and perseverance in the faith. He writes that “a man's merit from the beginning of faith to final perseverance is a gift and work of God.”27 Monergism describes the entire process of salvation in Prosper's approach.

In Prosper's theology, grace is not usually given through a spontaneous conversion experience—such as Augustine’s radical experience—but is primarily a sacramental reality. He confesses that “in baptism all sins are forgiven.”28 This is consistent with the sacramental approach that he discusses in his earlier writings. “This is why now, until man is cured of that deadly poison by eating the flesh of the Son of God and drinking His blood, his memory is weak, his judgment erring, his step staggering; nor is he at all capable of choosing and desiring the good gifts which he cast off of his own free will.”29 Election is not abstract, a mere ideal in the mind of God, but is realized through concrete events. Baptism converts, changing the will from a love of self to a love of God; the Eucharist continually brings grace to the recipients, giving forgiveness and the power to obey God's moral will.

In Book Two of his work, Prosper expounds upon the question of why some are saved and others are not. He writes,

First, we must confess that God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Secondly, there can be no doubt that all who actually come to the knowledge of the truth and to salvation, do so not in virtue of their own merits but of the efficacious help of divine grace. Thirdly, we must admit that human understanding is unable to fathom the depths of God's judgments, and we ought not to inquire why He who wishes all men to be saved does not in fact save all.30

Once again, Prosper confesses two clear Biblical truths. First, God's saving will is universal. God desires all to be saved indiscriminately. Second, all that are saved are converted by grace alone. Merit never precedes grace. But in some sense grace is irresistible; election is immutable. Because these two truths are seemingly incompatible, Prosper does not attempt to solve the dilemma but appeals to divine wisdom.

Prosper makes a clear and definite distinction between God's predestination and foreknowledge. Regarding the apostasy of Cain, for example, Prosper writes that God “worked to bring him back to his senses from that frenzy of impiety.”31 Though God gave grace to Cain, desiring his salvation, God also foreknew the outcome of the mercy shown. “God foreknew to what extremes his madness would drive him; yet, because of this infallible knowledge of God we may not conclude that his criminal will was urged on by any necessity to sin.”32 Not all that is foreknown by God is decreed, nor is it necessarily God's desire, but merely his allowance. Prosper urges that “this eternal and ever serene knowledge does not impose on us any necessity of sinning, and no iniquity can spring from the source of all justice.”33 The good accomplished by man is predestined, and the evil done is only foreknown so that God is not in any way the cause of evil.

Prosper expounds upon the nature of universal grace. He describes several different manners in which God's grace is universal. First, God has shown general kindness to the world: “He has given the life-giving air, regulated the alternations of day and night, granted fertility to the fields, growth to the seeds, and fecundity for the propagation of mankind.”34 This general kindness has been active since the foundation of the world and continues in all nations. Second, God's grace is universal in the sense that Christ's atonement is universal: “There can, therefore, be no reason to doubt that Jesus Christ our Lord died for the unbelievers and the sinners. If there had been any one who did not belong to these, then Christ would not have died for all. But He did die for all men without exception.”35 Prosper rejects his earlier position that the cross's intent is particular in nature.36 Third, God's grace is universal in that God's saving will is universal: “Whether, then, we look on these last centuries or on the first or on the ages between, we see that reason and religious sense alike make us believe that God wills and has always willed all men to be saved.”37 In this context, Prosper makes a distinction between general grace and special grace. General grace is given to all, whereas special grace is given only to some. It may at first appear that Prosper is utilizing the later Calvinistic distinction between common grace and efficacious grace,38 but his intent is different. He clearly qualifies this distinction by admitting that the only reason special grace is not given to all is due to human refusal to receive it. He writes that God, “wished to make it clear from both that He did not refuse to all mankind what He gave to some men, but that in some men grace prevailed and in others nature recoiled.”39 Prosper's position is that salvation is due solely to God's grace, which is universal, and that damnation is solely due to the rejection of grace on the part of sinners.

The later Prosper has a balanced view of the nature of divine grace. He retains the sola gratia principle, confessing that salvation is achieved by grace alone. Election is unconditional, preceding any good in the human person. Yet this election is also singular, encompassing only those who are saved; there is no predestination unto death. Prosper affirms the universal nature of grace. God intends all to be saved, leaving the cause of damnation in the disobedient human will rather than God's decree. Ultimately, Prosper leaves the answer to the question of why some are saved and not others as a paradox. He writes, “It is clear, then, that in a countless variety of ways God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. When they do come, then God's help is their guide; and when they do not, the fault of the refusal lies with their own obstinancy.”40 The reconciliation of these two ideas is a divine mystery.

Predestination in the Lutheran Tradition

Since Luther wrote his book On the Bondage of the Will against the famed humanist Erasmus in 1525, the subject of predestination, grace, and free will has been prevalent among the Lutheran branch of the Reformation. Luther took a strong predestinarian stance, arguing for the bondage of the human will, unconditional election, and the necessity of persevering grace. After Luther's death, a controversy arose among the Lutheran reformers over the cause of human conversion.41 For the Gnesio-Lutheran school, the word of God and the Spirit are the sole causes of conversion, the human will being purely passive. The Philippist school, under the leadership of Johann Pfeffinger and Viktorin Strigel, argued that the human will is active in conversion alongside of the word of God and the Spirit. Nikolaus Gallus, Matthias Flacius, and other Gnesio Lutherans fought against this perspective with a robust monergism, following Luther's Augustinianism.

The Formula of Concord ultimately followed the Gnesio Lutheran school in defending divine monergism, while rejecting the particularism of the rising Calvinist theology. The Formula of Concord states that “the eternal election of God, however, or praedestinatio (that is, God's preordination to salvation), does not apply to both the godly and the evil, but instead only to the children of God, who are chosen and predestined unto eternal life “before the foundation of the world was laid” (SD XI, 5). Thus in response to the double predestinarian views of Calvin, the Lutheran reformers confess that predestination is single, only referring to those who are saved, not the reprobate. God foreknows, foresees, the punishment which is to be given to unbelievers but is not active regarding sin and evil. Further, God's election is not based upon foreseen faith or merits but is gracious and unconditional. “God's eternal election not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect but is also a cause of our salvation and whatever pertains to it, on the basis of the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus” (SD XI, 8). Thus the Lutheran Confessions—with Prosper—confess both the unconditional nature of election and the universality of the divine saving will.

After the writing of the Formula of Concord and the rise of scholastic theology, the monergistic, confessional approach to election was gradually lost. It became commonplace among the seventeenth century scholastic writers to speak of election intuitu fidei. In the intuitu fidei approach, God's predestination unto salvation is in view of faith, thus making faith the cause of election rather than the conviction of the Lutheran reformers that election is the cause of faith. This approach was challenged by various confessional Lutherans in America during the nineteenth century, who sought to restore a theology consistent with the confessional documents rather than a strict adherence to seventeenth century scholastic categories. Chief among those seeking to revive the confessional approach to election was C. F. W. Walther.

Walther presented a number of addresses at the Synodical Conference of North America between 1877 and 1880 that dealt specifically with the doctrine of election. One of Walther's colleagues, F. A. Schmidt, quickly attacked Walther's position. According to Schmidt, Walther's view of unconditional predestination was not consistent with Scripture or the Lutheran tradition. To deny the intuitu fidei approach is to fall into crypto-Calvinism. A series of publications came from Schmidt and his supporters against the Waltherian party. Walther responded with several treatises and sermons on the subject. The controversy was never ultimately resolved within American Lutheranism. The Wisconsin and Missouri synods adopted the Waltherian view of unconditional predestination, whereas many other Lutheran synods followed the intuitu fidei language of Schmidt.

Walther's View of Election and Grace

In Walther's view, monergism is a necessary confession of any consistent Lutheran. Sola fide only exists within the context of sola gratia; these two concepts can never be divorced from one another. Walther opposed the intuitu fidei party because “they declare predestination to be nothing more than the following: in the first place, the foreknowledge of God that certain persons will receive the gospel in true faith and perseverance in this saving faith unto the end, and secondly the decree that He will actually save the persons that persevere in faith.”42 This reverses the biblical and confessional order that predestination is the cause of faith. Walther is willing to admit that it is only foreknowledge that pertains to reprobation, rather than a divine decree, but defends adamantly that salvation occurs through divine decree and assistance. He writes,

According to our Confession, therefore, predestination is not only a decree of God according to which He is willing to save men, provided that they persevere in faith unto the end, but it is rather such an ordination of God which is such a CAUSE of salvation of the elect as to, “procure, work, aid, and promote” at the same time “whatever pertains to it,” namely, to their surely obtaining salvation, consequently also, to their being led to repentance, conversion, and faith, and to their persevering unto the end.43

This decree effects the salvation of particular people—namely, those who will be finally saved—rather than a general plan of God that he desires the salvation of God through faith.

The intuitu fidei approach, in Walther's perspective, amounts to nothing short of Pelagianism. He warns, “But woe be unto you, if you take this glory from God and Christ, and attribute it to yourself, even in part! This is the most terrible idolatry which you can practice with yourself, and is the sure road to condemnation.”44 It is a denial of the gospel of grace to confess that any part of conversion is due to the human will. The synergistic Lutherans allow for a small movement of the human free will toward faith, making God's grace a response to human action. This is an iteration of the Pelagian heresy and nearly identical to the theology of the legalistic medieval church Luther fought against. To argue that faith is the cause of election denies the central truth of Luther's Reformation.

Walther carefully distances himself from a Calvinistic approach to predestination. “Whoever, therefore, tries to make you believe that we teach that horrible Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, grossly transgresses the eighth commandment, in bearing false witness against his neighbor and slandering us . . . for with heart and soul we condemn Calvin's doctrine of predestination, so help us God!”45 For Walther, the primary problem with the Calvinistic approach to predestination is its denial of gratia universalis. Grace is universal in its intent and application. Reformed theologians argue that the gospel call is universal. The gospel is truly offered to all men externally through the word.46 However, according to God's secret will, the internal call is only intended for the elect. Walther refers to this Reformed doctrine of the “external call” as “pretend and unreal.”47 Walther refutes this approach purporting that “through [the call] God reveals his will: namely, that in those whom he thus calls, he will operate through the Word, so that they may be enlightened, converted and saved.”48 Alongside of the truth of predestination, which is particular, stands the truth that God's grace is universal. Both the gospel call and the inward call of the Spirit are given indiscriminately through word and sacrament.

This distinction between a monergistic Lutheran perspective and a Reformed view of predestination is further defined through Walther's distinction between foreknowledge and predestination. He urges that “the difference between foreknowledge (praescientia) and eternal election (praedestinatio) of God ought to be accurately observed.”49 Foreknowledge is universal; God foresees every action and outcome of human beings before hey occur. But, “this is not to be understood as if it were God's gracious will that they should occur.”50 Evil actions of humans are thus not predestined according to the divine will but are simply foreseen and allowed. This is distinct from the Calvinistic view that the objects of foreknowledge and predestination are identical. For the Reformed, all actions are determined by decree. In Walther's view, predestination is only used in reference to the good and righteous actions of men.

In Walther's view, predestination does not involve peering into the secret will of God. Walther does not attempt to discuss or dissect God's eternal decrees according to their nature and order, as do some Calvinistic writers,51 but views election as a practical doctrine. He urges his readers to “meditate on it in the manner in which the counsel, the purpose, and the ordination of God, in Christ Jesus, who is the right and true book of life are REVEALED unto us through His word.”52 Election is not to be sought in God's secret will but in what God has revealed through Christ. God promises he will “justify all those who in true repentance embrace Christ in genuine faith, genuinely receive them, and adopt them as His children and heirs of eternal life.”53 Election is tied to this promise, so that assurance of one's salvation comes not through God's decree but through looking to the objective gospel promise through word and sacrament.

The importance of the word and sacraments cannot be overemphasized in Walther's doctrine of election. For Walther, election comes about through concrete means. He argues that the “merit of Christ and His benefits should be offered, administered, and distributed to us, through His Word and Sacraments.”54 This is not the concept of spontaneous regeneration promoted by Calvinistic theologians. Though Walther does admit that God appoints the exact date, time, and circumstance of conversion,55 only the external Word works conversions. “Now God does not call without means, but through the Word.”56 Not only is the word efficacious unto conversion, but God “also seals it with the Sacraments, which He has attached as seals of the promise, and thus He confirms it to each believer in particular.”57 The Waltherian doctrine of election is thoroughly sacramental.

Walther's view of election is also thoroughly Christocentric. There is no decree of election apart from the person and work of Christ.

[P]eople are taught that they must SEEK eternal election IN CHRIST and His holy GOSPEL, as in the book of life. For the Gospel excludes no penitent sinner, but calls and invites all poor, all troubled and afflicted sinners to repentance, to the acknowledgment of their sins, and to faith in Christ; it promises the Holy Spirit for their purification and renovation.58

The election of grace does not occur apart from Christ, and is not separate from the doctrine of justification, but serves as a reinforcement for the Reformation principle that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. “It confirms most forcibly the article, that we are justified and saved by pure grace for the sake of Christ alone, without any of our own works and merit.”59 Walther says, “This eternal election of God must be considered in Christ, and not apart from, or without Christ.”60 To gain assurance of election, one need not look at the eternal decree but at the universal redemption achieved by Christ's cross and resurrection. This is done primarily through the means of word and sacrament, which serve as instruments of assurance.

Those who are damned were not destined unto death, but willingly chose to reject God's grace. “The reason that all who hear the Word of God, do not believe, and, therefore, meet with a deeper condemnation, is not found in God's willingness to bestow salvation.”61 Walther rejects any notion of double predestination, whether the decree of reprobation is passive or active. In Walther's view sinners are at “fault, because they so hear the Word, not to learn, but only to scorn, to blaspheme, and to profane it, and because they resisted the Holy Spirit, who desires to operate in them through the word.”62 Thus, Walther leaves the question of why some are saved and others not in a paradox. Those who are saved are so because of divine action and election. They were chosen unconditionally in Christ. Those who are damned were not predestined to that fate but are solely damned due to their own fault and rejection of grace. Though these two truths appear incompatible, Walther trusts in the wisdom of God. He gives the wise advice to “leave the counsels of God unsearched and do not wonder that God knows more than you, and that He does not permit us poor-sighted mortals, yea, not even angels and archangels to look into His secret counsels, until the day of the revelation of His glory.”63 The question of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is solved by giving God all of the glory for salvation, and man all of the blame for damnation, while leaving the seeming contradiction between the two concepts as a divine mystery.

Conclusion: Comparing Prosper and Walther

Now that the views of both writers have been examined, some conclusions can be reached. There are many similarities between Prosper and Walther’s perspectives on predestination, grace, and free will.64 First, both writers adopt the concept of the bondage of the will. Through the fall, Adam lost spiritual freedom. The will must be healed by the Spirit for conversion to take place. In this construction, faith is a gift of God rather than a human possibility. Conversion is a divine act, wherein a sinner's heart is changed to understand sin, receive forgiveness, and begin to love God. Disobedience is changed into obedience.

Secondly, both agree with the central aspects of the doctrine of predestination. Both Prosper and Walther argue that predestination is an act of God wherein he elects individuals unto eternal life. It refers only to those who are actually saved and is an act which promotes and effects conversion and perseverance. There is no double predestination. There is a distinction between predestination and foreknowledge; predestination is only used in reference to the good that occurs in the world, whereas foreknowledge encompasses all acts, both good and evil. God causes good, but never causes evil actions. Predestination is not based upon any foreseen faith, repentance, or merits on the part of individuals, but it is unconditional. Works never precede grace but are a result of prevenient grace given.

Third, both writers place election within a sacramental context. Conversion in Prosper and Walther is not spontaneous. It comes through the act of baptism and the proclamation of the word. This grace is continually given, and one's spiritual life is sustained by the Eucharist. The word and sacraments are always connected to the Spirit, not merely for the elect. This assures that the grace of God is universal in intent. The atonement is also universal in its intention.

Finally, both writers answer the question, “Why are some saved and others not?” in the same manner. There is no precise equation to answer this dilemma. While Arminians and Semipelagians have typically answered “man” and strict Augustinians and Calvinists have answered “God,” both Prosper and Walther cannot answer both parts of the question with the same answer. The reason why some are saved is solely due to God's grace and election. There is no merit or faith that makes the elect any more worthy of grace than the damned. On the other side of the equation, those who are damned are so only because of their decision. Grace is given to them, as to the elect, but they reject that grace, and thus bring damnation upon themselves. This seeming paradox has no answer and must be left to divine mystery.


Rev. Jordan Cooper is pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, Brighton, Iowa. He blogs at justandsinner.blogspot.com.


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



  1. Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Carthage in 318 and again at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Though largely defeated, Pelagius’s disciple Julian of Eclanum—perhaps the most radical theologian of the Pelagian movement—taught his approach to free will and moral living throughout his life until his death in 455. After Julian's death, the Pelagian movement was virtually extinct.
  2. For further information on John Cassian see: Owen Chadwick, John Cassian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950), and Stewart Columba, Cassian the Monk (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
  3. In this work, Cassian does not directly quote Augustine's writings. He is possibly reacting to Augustinians he had dialogued with rather than Augustine himself. Or possibly Cassian refused to mention Augustine by name because of the fame Augustine had gathered by this time. Cassian might have lost credibility had he attacked such an eminent figure directly.
  4. Hwang defines this position saying, “According to the cooperative model, the grace of God initiates and inspires the free will toward the good, but the free will can choose to follow or resist the actions of grace at each stage in the process of perfection. Thus, grace and free will are compatible as long as grace is understood as resistable.” Alexander Y Hwang, Intrepid Lover of Perfect Grace: The Life and Thought of Prosper of Aquitaine. (Washington D.C.: CUA Press, 2009), 149.
  5. The difference between Cassian and Augustine's views on grace is likely due to their distinct environments. Augustine experienced a life of sin and a radical conversion to the Christian faith; Cassian was raised in a monastic lifestyle, consistently focusing on his pursuit of Christian perfection. Augustine “experienced grace” in a way that Cassian did not.
  6. “You have invented some hybrid third system, disagreeing with both parties, and so you neither find approval with our enemies nor keep in one mind with us. Moreover, how do you not see that, when you assert that men themselves take the initiative of their good works and because of that are given grace, you fall into an error that was condemned and willy-nilly appear to say that 'the grace of God is given in answer to our merits'?” Against Cassian, Chapter 3.
  7. Against Cassian, Chapter 5.
  8. Answers to the Extracts of Genoese, Answer to Excerpt 3.
  9. Against Cassian, Chapter 4.
  10. Against Cassian, Chapter 13.
  11. Another way to speak of this concept is that grace heals nature. As Prosper writes, “Therefore all that pertains to a life of godliness we receive not from nature, which fell in Adam, but from grace, which heals nature.” Against Cassian, 13.
  12. Against Cassian, Chapter 4.
  13. In one of his more extreme statements, Prosper concludes that “whosoever opposes the preaching of this doctrine is an open supporter of the Pelagian heresy.” Answer to Extracts of Genoese, Answer to Extract 9.
  14. Answers to Extracts of Genoese, Answer to Extract 8.
  15. “The divine election is based on grace, not on merits.” Answer to the Extracts of Genoese, Answer to Excerpt 4.
  16. “It may also be said that He was crucified only for those who were to profit by His death.” Answers to the Gauls, Article 9. Prosper seems to be the first writer to approach such a concept. Even though Augustine particularizes certain universalistic texts, he never states a clear doctrine of limited atonement. A teaching of limited atonement is relatively rare in church history prior to the Calvinistic Reformation.
  17. Answer to the Extracts of Genoese, Answer to Excerpt 4.
  18. Letter to Rufinus, 18.
  19. Answer to the Extracts of Genoese, Answer to Excerpt 4.
  20. In other words, Prosper is infralapsarian rather than supralapsarian.
  21. Answer to the Extracts of Genoese, Answer to Excerpt 9.
  22. Luther encourages Spalatin to read this work along with the anti-Pelagian treatises of Augustine. Luther astutely recognizes its non-Ambrosian authorship: “You might also add Saint Ambrose's work on the calling of all heathen; although this book appears from its style, contents, and chronology to have been written by someone other than Ambrose, it is nevertheless a very learned book.” Theodore Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955), 113.
  23. Discussing the relationship between faith and works in justification, Melanchthon writes, “So that no one may quibble that we have contrived a new interpretation of Paul, this entire approach is supported by the testimonies of the Fathers. In many writings Augustine defends grace and the righteousness of faith against the merit of works. Ambrose teaches similar things in Concerning the Calling of the Gentiles and elsewhere. For in Concerning the Calling of the Gentiles he says, 'Redemption by the blood of Christ would become worthless and the preference for human works would not give way to the mercy of God if justification, which takes place by grace, were due to antecedent merits. For then it would be the worker's wage rather than the donor's gift.'” AC XX, 12–14 (Latin, Kolb-Wengert).
  24. The Call of All Nations, Book One chapter 1.
  25. “For, although it lies in man's power to reject what is good, yet unless it is given him, he is unable by himself to choose this good. The power to do the former was contracted by our nature with original sin; but nature has to receive the ability to do the latter from grace.” The Call of All Nations, Book One chapter 25.
  26. The Call of All Nations, Book One chapter 8.
  27. The Call of All Nations, Book One chapter 23.
  28. The Call of All Nations, Book One, chapter 13.
  29. Against Cassian, 9:3.
  30. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 1.
  31. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 13.
  32. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 13.
  33. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 34.
  34. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 10.
  35. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 16.
  36. Hwang argues that this change is due to the influence of Rome on Prosper's thought, though I am not fully convinced of his thesis. Alexander Hwang, Intrepid Lover of Perfect Grace: The Life and Thought of Prosper of Aquitaine (Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America, 2009).
  37. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 25.
  38. The distinction is that God's general kindness is shown to every person, but saving grace is limited in both intent and effect to the elect.
  39. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 25.
  40. The Call of All Nations, Book Two, chapter 28.
  41. For more on this controversy see Charles P. Arand et al., The Lutheran Confessions: History and Theology of the Book of Concord, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 201–16.
  42. C. F. W. Walther, The Controversy Concerning Predestination in: Predestination in Lutheran Perspective (White Horse Inn, 2006), 4–5.
  43. Controversy, 6.
  44. C. F. W. Walther, The Doctrine of Election Presented in Questions and Answers in: Predestination in Lutheran Perspective (White Horse Inn, 2006), 44.
  45. Controversy, 7.
  46. The exception to this is the hyper-Calvinist movement in nineteenth century, particularly Baptist theology, such as in the writings of John Gill. In hyper-Calvinism there is no universal call or offer.
  47. Questions & Answers, 21.
  48. Questions & Answers, 21.
  49. Questions & Answers, 14.
  50. Questions & Answers, 15.
  51. As they did in the infralapsarian/supralapsarian debates.
  52. Questions & Answers, 19.
  53. Questions & Answers, 19.
  54. Questions & Answers, 18.
  55. “God knows without any doubt, and has appointed the season and time of each one's call and conversion; and when He will again raise him up after he has fallen.” Questions & Answers, 28.
  56. Questions & Answers, 20.
  57. Questions & Answers, 23.
  58. Questions & Answers, 36.
  59. Questions & Answers, 24.
  60. Questions & Answers, 30.
  61. Questions & Answers, 32.
  62. Questions & Answers, 32.
  63. Controversy, 13.
  64. Recognizing of course that Prosper did not use this exact terminology.

Theses on Infant/Toddler Communion

—by John T. Pless

1. The question of admission to the Lord’s Supper is addressed from the instituting words of the Lord, which also disclose the purpose and beneficial use of the sacrament.

Jesus’ words tell us what the sacrament is, his body and blood given Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of their sins. As Luther puts it: “We know, however, that it is the Lord’s Supper, and is called thus, not the Christians’ supper. For the Lord not only instituted it, but also prepares and administers it himself, and is himself cook, waiter, food and drink.”1 The sacrament is to be received in “remembrance” of the One who instituted it, that is, in faith trusting in his gracious words, “given and shed for you.” The sacrament itself is the preaching of the Gospel. It is misused when it turned into an enactment of inclusiveness or thought of as the impartation of a mystical energy through the act of eating and drinking. Arguments for the communion of infants and toddlers tend to drive a wedge between “take eat, take drink” and trust in “these words, given and shed for you.” It is not simply eating and drinking that constitute the salutary use of the sacrament but eating and drinking accompanied by trust in Christ’s words, that is, the explicit promise of his Supper.

2. The apostolic teaching that a man examine himself (I Corinthians 11:28) cannot reasonably be interpreted as to exclude the noetic dimension of which infants/toddlers are not capable.

Paul speaks of self-examination in verse 28 in conjunction with “discerning” (diakrino) the body in verse 29. Both BAGD and Kittel demonstrate that this term means to separate, arrange, make a distinction, differentiate, evaluate, judge.2 This text cannot be dismissed by limiting its application to the original context of the Corinthian congregation as Wolfhart Pannenberg does when he asserts, “The self-examination that I Corinthians 11:28 demands does not relate primarily to the individual moral state but to the breaches of fellowship that ought not exist between members of the body of Christ.”3 While the apostle is certainly addressing and correcting these breaches of fellowship enacted in the way the rich assert their priority over the poor, he does so on the basis that this is no ordinary meal but a communion in the body and blood of the Lord. Communicants are not to eat and drink without the discernment of this reality.4

3. Baptism is an absolute prerequisite for admission to the Lord’s Supper, but it does not follow that all the baptized are categorically to be admitted to the altar.

The slogan “Communion is the birthright of the baptized,” sometimes used to assert that all the baptized are entitled to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper, is not only problematic in making admission to the Lord’s Supper a “right” rather than a gift, but it also misses the point that for numerous reasons baptized Christians are excluded from the Lord’s Table. Those under church discipline are barred from the altar as are those do not share in the confession of a particular altar. Infants and toddlers who have not yet been taught the faith and examined on the basis of this teaching are not admitted to the Supper. As Werner Elert notes, “Even though a man must first be baptized before he may partake of the Holy Communion, this does not mean that all the baptized may without distinction partake of the Eucharist together.”5 The baptized are to be taught according to the Lord’s bidding (see Matt. 28:19–20). This teaching leads to the sacrament not vice versa.

4. 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.

In the New Testament and the Lutheran Confessions, Baptism is not an event in a series of “rites of initiation” that is left incomplete without participation in the sacrament. Instead Baptism bestows the “entire Christ” and encompasses the whole life of the believer. Not only is it foundational, but it is also enduring in the life of Christian. The teaching that our Lord attaches to Baptism (see Matt. 28:16–20) surely leads the baptized to eat and drink his body and blood as the Lord bestows his gifts in more than one way, but infants and young children are not deprived of Christ before this teaching has been accomplished. Here note Craig Koester: “The Lord’s Supper was instituted for ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ to be received with a discerning faith. Adults and children who recognize their sin and seek forgiveness should be encouraged to partake of the meal. Since infants are not capable of recognizing sin or desiring forgiveness, they should not participate in the Supper. The grace given in Baptism is sufficient for them at this early stage of their lives. It is when they reach the point where they recognize the need for forgiveness for their sins that they should be instructed and encouraged to take, eat, and drink of Christ’s body and blood at the Lord’s table.”6

Maxwell E. Johnson, himself an advocate of infant communion, notes that through a coupling of John 3:5 (unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom) and John 6:53 (Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man) into a single logion in the traditio fidei, both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are made necessary for membership in the Christian community.7 Unlike Cyprian (and Augustine for that matter), the Lutheran Confessions do not operate with what might be called a “unitive” understanding of the sacraments. Baptism is the rebirth into the body of Christ as in it sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit bestowed. The Lord’s Supper is not an additive to Baptism but serves instead to strengthen the Christian in the forgiveness of sins according to the word and promise of Christ to which faith clings.

5. Faith does not make the sacrament, but it is only by faith that the benefits of the sacrament are received. Faith is precisely trust in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (SC). In the Small Catechism, eating and drinking are joined together with trust in the spoken word, “given and shed for you.” The Lord’s Supper is given precisely to strengthen the faith of those who through the accusation of the Law recognize their sin and whose terrorized consciences acknowledge their need and desire the forgiveness of their sins. “For people are admitted only if they have first had an opportunity to be examined (explorati) and heard. The people are also reminded about the dignity and use of the sacrament—how it offers great consolation to anxious consciences—so that they may learn to believe in God and expect all that is good from God” (AC XXIV:6–7, Latin, K/W, 68).8

Eating and drinking the Lord’s body and blood worthily requires instruction. Admitting the uninstructed and therefore unexamined, whether they are adults or infants was out of the question for Luther. Already in 1522, Luther provides descriptive template for the structure of the Catechism: "Thus the commandments teach man to recognize his sickness, enabling him to perceive what he must do or refrain from doing, consent to or refuse, and so he will recognize himself a sinful and wicked person. The Creed will teach and show him where to find the medicine—grace—which will help him to become devout and keep the commandments. The Creed points him to God and his mercy, given and made plain to him in Christ. Finally, the Lord's Prayer teaches all this, namely, through the fulfillment of God's commandments everything will be given him. In these three are the essentials of the entire Bible.”9 Instruction in and confession of these essentials of the Christian faith are a prerequisite for admission to the Lord’s Supper. Four years after writing the Catechisms in 1533 in his “An Open Letter to Those in Frankfurt on the Main” Luther writes, “It is quite true that wherever the preacher administers only bread and wine for the sacrament, he is not very concerned about to whom he gives it, what they know or believe, or what they receive. . . . 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. For we do not want to make Christ’s church into a pig pen [Matthew 7:6], letting each one come unexamined to the sacrament as a pig to its trough. Such a church we leave to the Enthusiasts!”10

Often left out of the discussion of infant/toddler communion is the aspect of the terrorized conscience, which Luther includes as a dimension of the examination of communicants. Examination includes exploration of why it is that the body and blood are needed. Lutheran practice should be both catechetical (the communicant should have knowledge of the basic texts and how to use them) and diagnostic (the communicant should have an awareness of his/her sin). The communicant should know what the sacrament is and how the body and blood of the Lord are to be used against the conscience which is afflicted by sin.

6. The Lutheran Confessions assert that none are to be admitted to the sacrament who have not been instructed, examined, and absolved. See LC V:1–3, K/W, 467; AC XXV:1–3, K/W, 73.

Arthur Carl Piepkorn summarizes the position of the Lutheran Confessions: “Communicants are to know from memory at least the Decalog, the Creed, the Our Father, and the words of institution of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.”11 Evidence for Piepkorn’s assertion may be seen in the Large Catechism where Luther writes, “All this is established from the words Christ used to institute it [the Lord’s Supper]. So everyone who wishes to be a Christian and to go to the sacrament should know them. For we do not intend to admit to the sacrament and administer it to those who do not know what they seek or why they come” (LC V:1–2, K/W, 467). Near the end of this section of the Large Catechism, Luther does speak of children (not infants!) being instructed in the Catechism so that they may come to the Supper: “Therefore let all heads of a household remember that it is there duty, by God’s injunction and command, to teach their children or have them taught the things that they ought to know. Because they have been baptized and received into the people of Christ, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the sacrament so that they may serve us and be useful” (LC V:87, K/W, 87). Article XXV of the Augsburg Confession coheres with the Large Catechism: “For it is not our custom to administer the body of Christ except to those who have been previously examined and absolved” (AC XXV:1, K/W, 73).

7. Lutheran theology does not begin with a generic category of sacraments but works instead from the Lord’s mandates for Baptism and the Supper. Each has its own distinctive features. They are not interchangeable. It does not follow that arguments for the baptism of infants are to be applied for the communion of infants/toddlers.

Neither the New Testament nor the Lutheran Confessions operate with a generic definition of “sacrament” but instead begin with the Lord’s instituting words for Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution. What might qualify under the heading of “sacrament” is rather elastic, but it is clear that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not interchangeable. What applies to one does not necessarily apply to the other. Baptism is administered once for incorporation into the one body of Christ, while the Lord provides his Supper to be administered time after time to strengthen believers in the forgiveness of sins.

8. The Lord’s Supper is the new testament of the Lord, not the new Passover. Hence it does it does not follow that because infants/toddlers were included in the Passover meal that they are to be communed.

Paul G. Bretscher sees the inclusion of infants in the Passover seder as a grounds for their admission to the Lord’s Supper. In a paper first presented at the Institute of Liturgical Studies at Valparaiso University in 1963 and subsequently published in Una Sancta, Bretscher writes, “Little children, even infants, were never excluded from the history itself which worship is designed to relive and recover! In the case of Ancient Israel it is ridiculous even to imagine such a possibility. When that first Passover was celebrated in Egypt, and God commanded all Israel to keep it, did they leave the babies out of the house? Or, when they ate of the roasted lamb and unleavened bread, did they deny this food to their children? When they left the land and crossed the Red Sea and made their way through the wilderness, were the children left behind? It is interesting to note that Pharaoh at one point during the plagues offered to let the men go but not the children (Exodus 10:7–11, 24). The children must be participants in the saving history.”12 Bretscher’s desire for inclusivity presses the argument without regard to the obvious, namely, that an infant would choke on such food. On a deeper level, Bretscher operates with a faulty theology of worship as “reliving” a past event.

Following in the wake of Odo Casel, Louis Bouyer asserts in a discussion of Luke 22:19, “Far from needing or not needing to create a new rite for future use, Our Lord was only performing again a very ancient rite which, even without him, his disciples would have certainly gone on performing so long as they lived together. What our Lord intended by these words was to give new meaning to this old rite.”13 However, this approach fails to acknowledge the newness of the New Testament in what Christ bestows—his body and blood for disciples to eat and to drink. Norman Nagel would often point out that when we line up the Passover as described in Exodus with the narratives of the Lord’s Supper’s institution in the synoptics and I Corinthians, the first and crucial question is not how are they similar, but how are they different? This is also Luther’s approach in the Large Catechism. To paraphrase Sasse, the Lord’s Supper renders the old Passover obsolete.14 Likewise Mark Throntveit writes, “Jesus ‘fulfills’ the Old Testament Passover, but not by instituting the Lord’s Supper in ritual continuity with the Old Testament seder. By dying on the cross, Jesus ‘fulfills’ the Old Testament Passover in the sense of bringing it to an end, thereby becoming the last paschal lamb, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ ”15

The nature of the Passover does not establish a basis for communing infants and toddlers any more than it provides a basis for a yearly celebration of the Lord’s Supper or making the appropriate setting of the sacrament the family dining room rather than the church. Here also see Luther in the Large Catechism where he argues that the Sacrament of the Altar is not like the old Passover bound to a special time but frequently where there is “opportunity and need” and not like “the pope (who) perverted it and turned it back into a Jewish feast” (LC V:47–48, K/W, 471–472).

9. Evidence for the communion of infants/toddlers in the early and medieval church is there in some places, but it is not clear that the practice was universal or when it was first practiced. Lutheran liturgical practice is not based on historical precedent but on the Lord’s mandates. Not all practices of the early church are to be emulated. Infant/toddler communion is one of those practices.

That infants were communed in some places in ancient Christianity is not disputed, but to assert that it was a universal practice or that it is normative for historical reasons exceeds the evidence. Marc Kolden writes, “Infant communion was not widely practiced in the early church. Indeed, this practice only became more common later and then for questionable historical reasons. The first mention of it is by Cyprian in about AD 250, but it does not appear to have been well established. Origen, for example, notes that infants were not communed in his church.”16 Likewise, Justin and Cyril of Jerusalem cast doubt on the communing of infants.17

The Lutheran Confessions honor the church fathers. When their testimony is in agreement with Holy Scripture, they are gratefully cited as confessing the apostolic faith. However the Confessions also realize that the teachings of the patristic writers are fallible. They can and do disagree with one another. They certainly do not represent an unbroken continuity with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, which alone are the rule and norm for church teaching and practice. The fact that one or another or even the majority of patristic writers support the communion of infants does not establish the practice for Evangelical Lutherans. Unlike the Lutheran Confessions, which are received because they are in agreement with sacred Scriptures, the church fathers are received in so far as they concur with the biblical Word.

10. Arguments for infant/toddler reveal a problematic hermeneutic of the Lutheran Confessions, which undercut a quia understanding of confessional subscription.

Given the numerous references in the Book of Concord to the nature and benefit of the Lord’s Supper as well as the need for catechetical and diagnostic examination prior to admission to the Lord’s Supper, one cannot endorse the communion of infants/toddlers while maintaining an unqualified subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. To claim otherwise yields a completely ahistorical reading of the Confessions. Such a reading avoids both the meaning of the confessional texts and the actual practices of those who wrote them.

11. Luther may not be cited in support of infant/toddler communion. He knew of the practice among the Hussites and while he would not condemn them as heretics (those who deny the fundamental Christological and Trinitarian dogma), he did not accept their practice as correct.

On occasion, Luther’s comments recorded in a “table talk” in 1532 are cited in support of infant communion. Apart from the fact that these comments were made in rather “off the cuff” fashion and that it that they were recorded by auditors at the table, Luther’s words as we have them do not speak of the communing of infants but of children. In response to the question, whether the Lord’s Supper should be given to children, the Reformer replies that “there is no urgency about the sacrament of the altar” and then refers to I Corinthians 11: “When in I Corinthians [11:28] Paul said that a man should examine himself, he spoke only of adults because he was speaking about those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn’t here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to children.”18 Luther notes that contextually, the I Corinthians 11 pericope is not addressing children but adults. However, given the range of Luther’s other statements regarding the need for examination undergirded by teaching, it is quite a jump to conclude from this statement that he endorses the communion of infants. Children are capable of instruction and examination in a way that infants are not.

Luther was aware that the Bohemian Brethren (Hussites) admitted infants to the Holy Communion.19 While Luther did not condemn them as heretics for this practice, he clearly did not approve of the practice as in the same letter he speaks of communicants being examined and responding concerning their faith.

12. Infant/toddler communion is a novel practice in the Lutheran Church. In American Lutheranism, it gained traction only in the 1970’s as it was fueled by particular aspects of the liturgical and ecumenical movements.

Frank Senn has chronicled the move toward infant communion in the predecessor bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America noting the influence of these movements.20 In regard to the liturgical movement, the work of Eugene Brand, an architect of the Lutheran Book of Worship and chief drafter of its baptismal rite indicates the connection as can be seen in his essay, “Baptism and the Communion of Infants: A Lutheran View.”21 Ecumenically, the World Council of Churches consultation at Bad Segeberg in Germany concluded, “If children are incorporated into the body of Christ through baptism, then they belong to the whole body of Christ. As there is no partial belonging to the body of Christ, children must also have a part in the eucharist.”22 The dual trajectories of ritual participation derived from early church practices (liturgical movement) and inclusiveness in the one body of Christ (ecumenical movement) converged in providing a platform for a change in Lutheran practice.

13. The fact that children who have been instructed, examined, and absolved may be admitted to the sacrament at a younger age than has been the general custom in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is not to be confused with the admitting of infants/toddlers to the Altar. Churchly and pastoral concerns for unity in practice are important considerations. But the communion of infants/toddlers is not an adiaphoron to be left up to individual parents, pastors, or congregations.

The Lutheran Service Book Agenda makes provision for the admission of children to the Lord’s Supper prior to Confirmation with this stipulation: “Candidates for admission to the Lord’s Supper have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They have received careful instruction in the Gospel and sacraments. Confessing their sin and trusting in their Savior, they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of their faith in Christ and their love toward others,” and “Baptized Christians are admitted to the sacrament when they have been examined and absolved by their pastor in accordance with the practice outlined in the Augsburg Confession (Article XXV)” (LSBA, 25). Younger children who have learned these texts, know what the sacrament is and why they need it and have been examined by the pastor may be communed prior to the rite of confirmation. Concern for unity of practice especially as families move from one place to another would dictate that a common form of instruction and examination be used by pastors within our fellowship. The material in the Pastoral Care Companion under “Guidelines for Pastoral Examination of Catechumens—Before the Rite of First Communion” (PPC, 664–70) provides such an instrument. In congregations where children are admitted to the Lord’s Supper prior to Confirmation, it is the responsibility of the pastor to see to it that such instruction is given and candidates are examined accordingly.

Prof. John T. Pless teaches Pastoral Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.

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


  1. LW 37:129–30.
  2. See Walter Bauer, William Arndt, Fredrick Danker, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 231 and Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume III, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 946–49.
  3. Wolfhart Pannbenberg, Systematic Theology-Volume 3, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 327.
  4. For more here, see Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary: I Corinthians (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000), 405–8. Also see Jeffrey Gibbs, “An Exegetical Case for Close(d) Communion: I Corinthians 10:14–22, 11:17–34” Concordia Journal (April 1995), 148–63.
  5. Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, translated by Norman E. Nagel (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 80.
  6. Craig Koester, “Infant Communion in Light of the New Testament” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1996), 238.
  7. Maxwell Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: The Evolution and Interpretation (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 68–69.
  8. The Augsburg Confession continues the same trajectory set by Luther in 1523 in his “An Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg” where he outlines how those who would commune are to be examined: “But I think it enough for the applicants for communion to be examined or explored once a year. Indeed a man may be so understanding that he needs to be questioned only once in his lifetime or not at all. For, by this practice, we want to guard lest the worthy and unworthy alike rush to the Lord’s Supper, as we have hitherto seen done in the Roman church. There they seek only to communicate; but the faith, the comfort, the use and benefit of the Supper are not even mentioned or considered. Nay, they have taken pains to hide the Words of Institution, which are the bread of life itself, and have furiously tried to make the communicants perform a work, supposedly good in itself, instead of letting their faith be nourished and strengthened by the goodness of Christ. Those, therefore, who are not able to answer in the manner described above should be completely excluded and banished from the communion of the Supper, since they are without the wedding garment [Matt. 22:11–12]” LW 53:33. Just a bit later in the same work, Luther continues, “They should request in person to receive the Lord’s Supper so that he may be able to know both their names and manner of life. And let him not admit the applicants unless they can give a reason for their faith and can answer questions about what the Lord’s Supper is, what its benefits are, and what they expect to derive from it. In other words, they should be able to repeat the Words of Institution from memory and to explain that they are coming because they are troubled by the consciousness of their sin, the fear of death, or some other evil, such as temptation of the flesh, the world, or the devil, and now hunger and thirst to receive the word and sign of grace and salvation from the Lord himself through the ministry of the bishop, so that they may be consoled and comforted; this was Christ’s purpose, when he in priceless love gave and instituted this Supper, and said, ‘Take and eat,’ etc.” (34).
  9. Martin Luther, “Personal Prayer Book” LW 43:14.
  10. Martin Luther, “An Open Letter to Those in Frankfurt on the Main” Concordia Journal (October 1990), 343.
  11. Arthur Carl Piepkorn, What the Symbolic Books of the Lutheran Church Have to Say about Worship and the Sacraments (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1952), 37.
  12. Paul G. Bretscher, “First Things First: The Question of Infant Communion” Una Sancta (Advent 1963), 37.
  13. Bouyer, The Christian Mystery from Pagan Myth to Christian Mystery, translated by Illtyrd Trethowan, (Edinburgh; T & T Clark 1990), 122–23.
  14. Here see, Hermann Sasse, “The Lord’s Supper in the New Testament” in We Confess the Sacraments, translated by Norman E. Nagel (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985), 49–97. Sasse observes that “all the details of the traditional Passover ritual, which Jesus doubtless observed, was irrelevant for the Lord’s Supper itself” (64). And again since Jesus himself is the Passover Lamb who gives his body and blood to be eaten and drunk, Sasse argues that “there is no analogy to this fellowship, just as there are no parallels to this celebration. The Lord’s Supper received this character as something unique, something remarkable from the Words of Institution” (66). Also see Otto Procksch, “Passa und Abenmahl” in Vom Sakrament des Altars, (Leipzig: Dörffling and Franke, 1941), 11–25.
  15. Mark Throntveit, “The Lord’s Super as New Testament, Not New Passover” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1997), 284.
  16. Marc Kolden, “Infant Communion in Light of Theological and Pastoral Perspectives” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1996), 249–50.
  17. Mark Tranvik, “Should Infants be Communed? A Lutheran Perspective” Word & World (Winter 1995), 86.
  18. LW 54:58.
  19. Here see, Thomas A. Fudge, “Hussite Infant Communion” Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn 1996), 176–94.
  20. See Frank Senn, “Issues in ‘Infant Communion’ ” in A Stewardship of the Mysteries (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 155–70.
  21. Here see Eugene Brand, “Baptism and the Communion of Infants: A Lutheran View” in Living Water, Sealing Spirit: Readings on Christian Initiation, edited by Maxwell Johnson (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995), 350–64.
  22. Senn, 164.

Infant Communion Makes Strange Bedfellows

— James A. Lee II

I have witnessed arguments in favor of infant communion coming from camps that simultaneously practice open communion. While I formerly thought that a causal connection between these practices was illusionary, I'm not so convinced anymore.

It seems to me that a robust ecclesiology prevents the connection of infant communion and open communion. Take for example the Eastern Orthodox churches. These churches practice infant communion but reject open communion. How so? The reason for this is also identified in the fact that many Eastern Orthodox parishes require rebaptism of converts to the East: sacraments can only be administered by and within the Church.1 Therefore, why would the churches of the East-the church-engage in fellowship with those outside of the church? Infants are communed because they are baptized: it is all part of initiation into the church.

But we also see the practice of infant communion by the Episcopal church and voices within the ELCA. In church bodies that welcome all baptized Christians to the altar-even the non-baptized-infant communion is not an issue. Why? Again, the answer is connected to ecclesiology. The church has no confessional borders, the church is open, the church is not defined by propositional truths. Why then would the celebration of the sacrament not be administered to infants?2

The similarity of these two sides is in the immediacy between the administration of baptism and the reception of the Lord's Supper. All that is required of an individual for the reception of the sacrament of the altar is his or her individual participation in the church. The difference is that the Eastern churches do not operate with such a broad and open understanding of the church. The churches of the East are the church; those outside of this communion do not participate in the fullness of the church catholic and orthodox. Our Episcopal and ELCA examples operate with less rigid and defined boundaries. While the churches of the East do not practice open communion, in both instances initiation into the church entails and demands reception of the Supper.

How does a confessional Lutheran who favors infant communion fit into this landscape? It appears that there are three possible options: (1) Infants receive communion because they are baptized. That is to say, confession of faith doesn't matter. Faith is seen primarily in categories of relationship and participation rather than articles of faith and propositional truth. (2) Infants receive communion because they share in the faith of the communities to which they belong, familial and ecclesial; they are communed on account of this faith and in anticipation of their future confession. (3) Infants receive communion because they already have a perfect knowledge of the faith and all of its articles.

While there are issues with all three options, particularly problematic to (1) and (3) is the practice of open communion. Why would a Lutheran parish that practices infant communion not commune all baptized infants, regardless of church confession? While a position against open communion may still be tenable, I fail to see a means of avoiding open infant communion. How could one admit a Lutheran infant to the altar and not a Baptist or Pentecostal infant? It cannot be on account of an infant's confession of faith, for no such confession has been articulated. It appears the tenable options are to conclude (a) that there is something lacking, missing, or irregular in baptism practiced by other denominations, or (b) that while baptism brings an infant into the church, the particular community to which the infant belongs imparts something additional to the infant that is not given in the waters of baptism. Otherwise, how could one not admit to the altar any infant that has received Christian baptism?


James A. Lee II is a Ph.D. student at Saint Louis University and Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worden, Illinois and Zion Lutheran Church in Carpenter, Illinois.


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


  1. See John Klentos, “Rebaptizing Converts into the Orthodox Church: Old Perspectives on a New Problem,” Studia Liturgica 29 (1999): 216–34.
  2. This seems to follow the logic found in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, which then, in 1988, receives official support by the House of Bishops. See World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), 12.9; Ruth A. Meyers, "Rites of Initiation," in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey, eds. Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 484–99.

No Compromise for the Baptized Faithful

—Ryan J. Ogrodowicz

Late last June the Supreme Court handed down the ruling that legally recognized same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits. Thought the ruling fell short of declaring same-sex marriage constitutional-so states still have the right to define marriage-it is hardly a victory for proponents of traditional marriage. Instead, it has created jubilation amongst SS (same-sex) advocates and rightly so: the high court's decision is now serving as the impetus for judges to challenge state laws on this issue.

While the ruling does not exactly compare to the wide-sweeping 1973 Roe vs. Wade, which declared abortion a constitutional right virtually unrestricted by state law, it has created plenty of momentum indicating under present circumstances it's a matter of time before the constitution is invoked to establish same-sex marriage as a fundamental right.

Some churches are beginning to brace themselves for what seems inevitable. The Associated Press recently reported churches are changing their bylaws to explicitly state their position against SS marriage and performing SS wedding ceremonies.

The reason is precautionary. A written position could benefit a church if taken to court for denying service to practicing homosexuals. Not everyone is convinced this is necessary, including Justin Lee, the executor director of the Gay Christian Network, who says "they seem to be under the impression that there is this huge moment with the goal of forcing them to perform ceremonies that violate their freedom of religion . . . if anyone tried to force a church to perform a ceremony against their will, I would be the first person to stand up in that church's defense."

Justin will have the opportunity to back up his words, for little indicates the SS lobby will stop outside church walls. Already Christian consciences are being violated. Recently, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Elaine Hugenin, a photographer who had denied services to a lesbian couple. The couple then initially filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission with the accusation Elaine Hugenin was practicing discrimination based on sexual orientation. All five of the justices supported the ruling that she had no choice but to provide services for homosexual couples; denying them was a violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA).

In his concurring opinion, Justice Bosson wrote: "At its heart . . . this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others." The compromise expected is that people are to act in a manner socially tolerant even if it means violating their religious beliefs. For Mrs. Hugenin, it will take the Supreme Court to overturn the state's verdict, which seems unlikely.

RedState.com editor Erick Erickson posted an intriguing, insightful, and likely prophetic blog the day following the DOMA ruling. "You will be made to care about gay marriage. You may think it does not affect you or will not affect you or you can support it and leave well enough alone, but you cannot. The secular left and aggressive gay rights activists will not allow you to."

The blog ends with this: "There is one bright spot for Christians in America, though it will not appear so. Christianity has become soft. Persecution of the faithful will strengthen it as it has done for centuries. It will happen. We best prepare. You will be made to care."

Erickson's warning is hard to ignore.

So what does all this mean for the Christian?

Lost on Justice Bosson and others is that separating belief from conduct is an unbiblical concept. Christians are neither called to behave in a way contrary to their confession nor can they compromise even one letter of Jesus' teaching. Good trees bear good fruit, the city on the hill cannot be hidden, and burning lamps are not to be hidden under baskets. Being a baptized believer means confessing the same faith of Peter and the apostles, who before the Sanhedrin confessed: "We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). A similar incident occurs in Acts 5:29 where they respond: "We must obey God rather than men." When it comes to faith and salvation, there can be no compromise, for a little leaven leavens the whole lump (Gal. 5:9). Discipleship never excludes persecution and death, a teaching that deserves contemplation by everyone bearing the name of Christ, who says "You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt. 10:22).

God never promised our earthly lives would be a bed of roses. We will contend against the enemies of God, and the fight will require endurance until the end. But during the fight God promises many things. Salvation belongs to the baptized faithful. And as we endure, we have as our advocate Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. He will not permit the righteous to fall, and during persecution we can rejoice knowing the outcome-eternal life and glory secured for us by Jesus, our Lord and our God who knows all about ridicule and persecution, mockery and death.

Let us pray God gives us the endurance to persevere in this world of trouble, always looking forward to what lies ahead while clinging to his words, "Take heart, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).


The Rev. Ryan Ogrodowicz serves as pastor of Victory in Christ Lutheran Church in Newark, Texas.


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

How Do You Know? Διακρινω!

—Aaron T. Fenker

If someone wants to understand the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11 is a very important section in this endeavor. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul recounts Christ’s instituting of the Lord’s Supper. Yet Paul has a stern warning for those partaking of this blessed gift, given for our forgiveness: “He, who eats and drinks judgment upon himself, eats and drinks not discerning the body” (11:29). In the active διακρίνω means, “(1) separate, arrange; (2) make a distinction, differentiate; (3) evaluate, judge [by careful attention]; (4) judge, decide [legally].”1 Moreover, the TDNT speaks in a similar manner about the meaning of the word in the active.2 Most notably, the TDNT cites 1 Corinthians 11:29 under διακρίνω: “‘To distinguish’. . . 11:29: μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα, ‘because he does not distinguish the body of the Lord (from ordinary bread).’”3 A look at the context of 1 Corinthians helps us to understand what διακρίνω means in 11:29, and what that in turn means for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

The word, Διακρίνω, occurs five times in 1 Corinthians, and each of these occurrences is in the active voice.4 If one considers the definitions from BDAG and TDNT above, it is clear that διακρίνω involves functions of the reason. How the word is used in 1 Corinthians bears this out. “So is there no one wise among you who can discern between his brother?” (1 Corinthians 6:5) Here the context is one of judging a dispute for which one needs reason, a very similar use to that of 1 Corinthians 4:7.5 Moreover, 1 Corinthians 14:29,6 which revolves around judging what prophets say, also speaks similarly.

Finally, let us consider διακρίνω as it occurs around the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11. In context, τό σῶμα from 11:29 refers to the Lord’s body given in the Supper. This body of Christ must be discerned lest unworthy eating occur. Such discernment of Christ’s body is on Paul’s mind even in 11:31. It is our reason that distinguishes between the bread and body, the wine and blood—that both are present.

I will certainly be accused of being a rationalist for such a view, but the involvement of reason does not mean that it is reason alone. Clearly our reason has been darkened by sin, but it has also definitely been illumined by faith—faith that trusts the words of Jesus and receives them as he gives them to us. Our faith is not irrational. God, in Christ, has redeemed even our reason that now serves faith. Usus ministeralis7 is not denied. Reason gives voice to what faith believes. Reason confesses the ὅτι of the Lord’s Supper, but does not and ought not attempt to describe the πῶς. Reason serves faith, and so cannot be removed, after all, “That which He did not take up, He did not heal.”8


The Rev. Aaron T. Fenker is currently serving as Associate Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bossier City, Louisana.


  1. Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 231.
  2. Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. III: Θ–Κ, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 946–949. Space requirements for this article limit the discussion of διακρίνω only to the active voice.
  3. Ibid., 946.
  4. Cf., 1 Corinthians 4:7; 6:5; 11:29, 31; 14:29.
  5. “For who distinguishes you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received [it], why do you boast as not receiving?”
  6. "But two or three prophets shall speak, and the rest shall judge."
  7. Ministerial use, i.e., the ministerial use of reason.
  8. “τὸ ἀπρόσληπτον ἀθεράπευτον” Gregory of Nanzianzus in Martin Chemnitz, Two Natures in Christ, trans. J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1971), 60.

The Fire in your Midst

—Ryan J. Ogrodowicz

The English noun "cosmos" is a cognate of the Greek kosmeo, which means to "put in order so as to appear neat or well organized" (BDAG, 560). God "cosmosed" the universe from nothing in six days by his divine word. Animals, humanity, vegetation, and lights-all of creation reveals God's concern about order and structure.

With Genesis, other Mosaic books contain detailed instructions on a variety of topics including temple furnishings, offerings, feast days, childbirth, loving the neighbor, sexual ethics, mold, and leprosy. We don't need to get lost in the minutia to see amidst the precision and details surrounding the cultic lives of ancient Israel that God was no stranger to order and distinction among people, places and things, especially regarding worship. Order and distinction of divinely mandated categories abound in the Old Testament, particularly in the Mosaic books where one frequently encounters words like clean, unclean, holy, and profane.

One such holy object of grave importance was the meeting place of nomadic Israel, the tent of meeting. It was consecrated by God and so considered sacred ground (Exod 29:43-46). Grain, sin, and guilt offerings were holy foods consumed only by priests in the sacred tabernacle (Lev 6:26). They were holy by God's decree and reserved for men consecrated as his priests. Also, the ark of the testimony, the altar of incense and burnt offerings, along with other temple furnishings, were consecrated by God, and like certain foods they were instructed to be handled only by the sacred (holy) priests (cf. Exod 30:26-27).

Far from harmless descriptions, God took the holy and profaned serious enough to enact the death penalty when these lines were crossed (Num 18:32). The terms "clean" and "unclean" applied to people and things, such as the postpartum woman and leper, both of whom were unclean until declared clean by the priest. The peace offering was holy food for those outside the priesthood, but a penalty still ensued if it was eaten wrongly. Not only was the unclean person barred from eating the holy peace offering, but doing so warranted exclusion from the congregation (Lev 6:20), a punishment applying also to those touching anything unclean either an object, person or beast (Lev 6:21). The unfortunate case of Aaron's sons clearly demonstrates God's holy demand that man approach him correctly (Lev 10:1-3ff).

The above categories existed for the relationship between God and his people. Tangible holiness was in the midst of the congregation; a holy God dwelled amongst his people set apart to be his own. Since the fall, there is a problem for sinners regarding holiness, namely God is holy and man is not. Man is defiled by sin and in need of divine holiness and purity only God provides. The distinctions between clean and unclean, holy and profane, come from the God's overarching injunction in Scripture for holiness: "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev 19:2). Holiness needs separation from the unclean, as seen in the reason God gives for keeping his consecrated people apart from her neighbors: "You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine" (Lev 20:26). In addition, despite debate on why exactly some animals are deemed clean over and above others, Scripture is explicit on the reason for God's division between the clean and unclean in the animal world:

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore by holy, for I am holy" (Lev 11:44-45).

While the Mosaic cultic rites and practices are discontinued in the New Testament and fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17-20), the relationship between God and man expressed in these rites continues to the present. For ancient Israel, their problem was the same for us today: how do sinners become holy before a holy God? God's Word established ways in which they could worship in faith for the forgiveness of sins, just as Christians are called to worship by faith in Christ. In the Israelite system safeguards were in place to prevent inadvertent contact with God's holiness, such as the postpartum woman's ban from the holy place until she was clean, along with people afflicted with skin diseases (Lev 12-14). Lest we forget, a holy God was on the scene in the midst of sinful people. The distinctions and separation created by the divine word would've been a constant reminder for the people that God is a consuming fire of holiness demanding a proper interaction from sinners in need of his holiness and cleansing from sin.

The sacrificial system and many other things in the Mosaic books have found their terminus in the person of Christ. But the essence of God's holiness hasn't changed and neither has the sinner. God is as holy today as He was for ancient Israel, and humanity is just as sinful today as in the years BC. We must not forget the God we worship is a holy God, a "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). Christian worship involves gathering in the holy name of Jesus Christ; our holy God is in our midst as we serve him in faith receiving the holiness he imparts by his word. While not having holy relics, we have something far greater in that we have the holy word of God, the "most holy" of relics. Luther: "the Word of God is the true holy relic above all holy objects. Indeed, it is the only one we Christians know and have."1 When the word of God is on the scene, Christ and his holiness are present. In short, we still encounter a holy God when we worship, and we are still sinners gathered to receive the forgiveness and sanctification he promises to impart by his grace through faith in Jesus.

This needs to be kept in mind when discussing the worship life of the Church. The vacuous terms "contemporary" and "liturgical" are often flippantly tossed around in worship debates, complete with subjective understandings of each. If the organ is liturgical, then the electric guitar is contemporary. Vestments are traditional, so Abercrombie is modern. Candles are historic, and spotlights are hip. None of this receives explicit commands from Scripture. As for what instruments are worthy in the Divine Service, I remember a pastor quoting from Psalm 150 as his reason for including a variety of instruments in worship. The organ was not one of them.

A question that I believe does not get asked enough is whether or not the worship service conveys to sinners that in their midst is a holy God? Does reverence and awe flow not from ecstatic light shows and theatrics, but the truth of God graciously bestowing his forgiveness and holiness to faithful sinners? Does a worship service mark the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the clean and the unclean-in other words, the distinction between a sinful world and the holy Christ? A sanctuary needs to be just what the word itself implies: a holy place because the holy name of God is invoked at the beginning of service, not a room adorned with worldly trappings muddling distinctions between the sacred and profane. Architecture and worship styles can certainly help teach and appeal to the senses in a way that aids the hearer in believing when the holy name of God is invoked, there is the holy Christ, and you, O sinner, are forgiven and sanctified on account of his all-atoning sacrifice.

The Christian is not of the world. The holiness of God is not the kingdom of darkness, but something different, something distinct, just like his holy church. In the framework of biblical holiness, steeples, crosses, and stained glass mark distinction and difference very well, as do candles and vestments. So did a tent of meeting, altar, blood, robes, and gold-plated ark. They imply nonconformity to an ever-changing creation, and in the same way our holy God doesn't change before sinners (Mal 3:6). Just as the tent of meeting and worship life of ancient Israel was strictly demarcated from the surrounding cultures by divine decree, the church is also different from the world in that it is the place where the holy one meets his people to sanctify them by grace through faith. We keep the Sabbath holy by going to where holiness has promised to be found-in and through the person of Jesus Christ. This is as different from the world as light is from darkness. Erase these marks and distinctions by conforming to the world through architecture and the worship life, and one does little to express to sinners that the gathering place is where a holy God meets and consecrates his people. He is holy, and you are not. And that's why we come, to hear and receive what every sinner needs: holiness.


The Rev. Ryan Ogrodowicz serves as pastor of Victory in Christ Lutheran Church in Newark, Texas.


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

  1. LC I: 91.

Convention Notes from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

Editor's Note: This information has been compiled from official information and reports coming out of the WELS convention. The reporter was not on site to observe the convention.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) held its biennial convention on the week of July 29–August 1. The convention was held at Martin Luther College, the synod's pre-seminary and teacher training college in New Ulm, Minnesota. The convention establishes programs, fiscal policies and goals, and broadly directs the synod's ministry and outreach plans.

According to pre-convention memoranda and news, this convention has several major issues before it in addition to its regular business and duties, but by far the issue that has generated the most interest and discussion is on the matter of which English Bible translation—if any—should be adopted for use by the synod particularly in its publications and educational resources.

The NIV 1984, the official Bible translation currently used in WELS publications, is being phased out and replaced with a new version, the "NIV 2011." A WELS' "Translation Evaluation Committee" (TEV) was created to research the NIV 2011. The same committee has also researched many other versions, including the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

In the report it prepared for the convention, the TEV outlined two options that it sees for deciding which Bible translation to use in WELS publications going forward. Option 1: WELS adopts NIV 2011 for use in materials produced by Northwestern Publishing House. Option 2: WELS does not adopt a single Bible version for use in its publications at this time. NPH uses whichever version of these three (ESV, HCSB, NIV 2011) seems best for the passage cited and the publication in which the biblical text will appear ("eclectic approach").

The 2011 convention also resolved that, as a possible alternative, the synod should consider producing a new translation by Lutherans. A "Translation Feasibility Committee" (TFC) was created to research the legal, technical, and economic feasibility of WELS creating a confessional Lutheran translation of the Bible and/or producing a study Bible with notes to accompany the translation that WELS chooses to use in its publications.

The report that the TFC submitted for the 2013 convention concludes, "Perhaps the question should not be, 'Can we do it?' but, 'Must we do it?' If the people of our synod believe that there is no existing translation of the Bible that can serve our preaching, teaching, and publishing needs, then we'd trust that the Lord would help us find the resources and overcome the obstacles to carry out what is sure to be a very challenging project. But if an existing translation or translations can serve our needs, it would save the time and expense, not to mention the potential disruption to our ministerial education system, to use an existing translation."