Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lutherans and Scripture.

J wrote in the previous post:

Thank you very much. I've gotten differing positions from Lutherans with whom I've talked of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. Some hold that partaking of the LS forgives sins, while a others don't. Likewise
for Baptism, with most saying it is absolutely necessary for salvation, while other don't hold it as absolutely necessary.

All of a sudden I thought I might have seen a reason for the disagreement! Oh well, I guess not.

J, I can see a few reasons why there would be an inconsistency...

1. As with all Christians, there is a varying familiarity with Scripture and with doctrine.

2. And also as is going on in most Christian church bodies around the world, there are different church bodies using the same name that vary in their belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. It is a real time of struggling with the very idea of Pilate's question: "What is truth?"

I belong to a denomination - the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which does take a strong doctrinal stance on the inerrancy of Scripture, and also abides by the teachings found in the Book of Concord - which are defenses of the faith that were written in the 16th century, and are still proclaimed by us to be faithful expositions on the teachings of Scripture. But we have those struggles within our synod, too.

I also use the label "confessional" to apply to my beliefs, which also means that I believe that the Book of Concord is a faithful exposition of Scripture, and that I hold precious the faith that has been handed down from Luther and his fellow Lutheran reformers. There is a good description of that here.

If you were talking with someone from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a much more liberal church body, the answers that you get would probably be very different than mine. Then again, they might be the same.

3. The third reason that I can see for this "difference in opinion" is one that is particularly Lutheran in character.

We refuse to go beyond what Scripture tells us, especially if reason would put us in contradiction with Scripture. Reason is often a tool that helps us understand Scripture, but if our reason puts us in contradiction with Scripture, then our reason, corrupted by our sinful nature, is in error. This, I think is a very sound approach, but it can be confusing in a discussion.

A good example of that is the doctrine of election. We know from Scripture that some are chosen to be saved:

"and unless those days were shortened; no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened." Matthew 24:22

"And He ill send HIs angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matthew 24:31

"Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, bahta we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will," Ephesians 1:5-6

"But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." Acts 9:15-16

"And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Acts 13:48b

"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9

"But we are bound to give tanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from teh beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Sprit and belief in the truth." 2 Thessalonians 2:13

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified." Romans 8:28-30

"For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

So that leads Calvinists to proclaim that some are chosen to be damned. That seems logical, except for the fact that it never says that, and instead it says:

"For God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the should be saved through Him." John 3:16-17

"Therefore, as through one man's offense judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life." Romans 5:18

"...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:3b

"Turn to me to be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other." Isaiah 45:22

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men" Titus 2:11

So we hold to the doctrine of predestination, but refuse to say that God chose some to be damned (double predestination - or the "predestination" that is taught in our U.S. History textbooks when referring to the "harsh" religion of the Puritans). Instead, we believe that there is a piece that we are not given, and that we, in our limited, sinful reason, cannot understand.

Baptism is the same way. As I listed a plethora of verses here that show that baptism is necessary for salvation, I'm not going to re-post them. But I will focus on this one:

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16

It specifically says: "believe and be baptized," and with all of the other verses that tell us how important baptism is and the gifts received in baptism, we baptize, and we believe through baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins, and as Luther says "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is salvation." And this verse, along with other verses say that baptism is necessary.

Now, does not being baptized damn? Nowhere does it say that. "But whoever does not believe will be condemned."

"He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." John 3:18

Unbelief condemns. A baptized person will be condemned if they do not believe.

Everyone who argues against baptism being necessary points to the thief on the cross. Was he baptized? We have no idea. Did he have faith? Certainly. Was there an opportunity to be baptized? No. We have Jesus's promise that he would be saved.

But we don't use this as a rationalization for waiting to get baptized. I've rarely met a new believer who wasn't itching to get baptized and who wasn't passionate about learning God's Word. That's what the Holy Spirit does in us. Just because the thief on the cross didn't get baptized, doesn't mean that we, who have ample opportunity, can reject God's command and the blessings that it promises!

"You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." (Luke 4:12).

So if you and your agnostic pal are walking down the street, and he all of a sudden confesses faith in Christ, and then, out of the blue, he gets an axe to the chest -- I think there is the comfort there that he is saved. But if he decides to wait a few years to get baptized because it is unimportant -- that I think is concerning.

Lutherans hold firmly to all the assurances that believing and being baptized saves. But we also hold that the only thing that condemns is unbelief. Because we won't go any farther than Scripture takes us.

This is the stand we take on Holy Communion, too. We trust in Jesus's very words that it IS His body and blood, yet we don't worry about HOW it got there - such as the Catholics do with transubstantiation, or as the Calvinists do with saying that the gifts are there, but not really His body, because those are far from us in Heaven. We just say "God, I know that you fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, with plenty to spare. You mingled your divine nature with our humble flesh for eternity. You accomplished so many things that leave me in awe and that I don't understand. So if you say it is here with this bread and wine, then it is here with this bread and wine. And if you say I receive forgiveness of sins through the shedding of your flesh and blood that you are giving me (and that the life is in the blood), then I will trust that I am receiving the forgiveness of sins that you earned for me on the cross through this humble bread and wine.

In the end, when I am before God, I would rather be accused of taking His Word too seriously, than be accused of not taking it seriously enough, and asserting that real things are figurative.

I thought my husband had some good advice, if you haven't already started this...rather than discuss this with Lutherans, discuss it with Luther. Pick up a copy of the Small Catechism, or better yet, if you really want a clear exposition - the Book of Concord. You can find it here.


elephantschild said...

Woo-hoo! (Can you see me doing the Happy Dance in my ratty old office chair?) Good show, RPW. Thank you.

J said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but it sounds as if you are contradicting yourself, but I can't image that's truly the case, so I must be missing something. You said "...baptism is necessary for salvation," but then later say pretty definitely that baptism is not necessary for salvation - the thief on cross, and man who is killed soon after confessing faith.

I've checked out the Augs. Confession and it pretty clearly states "Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation"

If, as you said, the atheist who confesses but dies before being able to be baptized is saved to eternal life, then Baptism is NOT necesary to salvation.

Do you disagree with Luther's A.C. on this point?

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...


I do not disagree with Luther on this point, but I am looking for where he expounds on this more clearly. Augsburg Confession, beautifully put as it is, is a concise defense of the faith and trying to show where we differ from the Catholic teachings, but trying to show specifically how we are not heretics. Problem is, it has been a very busy weekend. I will respond within the next day or so.

Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

The necessity of Baptism may be understood by this, "Whoever rejects Baptism rejects God's word, faith, and Christ, who directs us and binds us to baptism." (Large Catechism) Those who stand condemned because they are not baptized are those who have rejected baptism, not those who could not be baptized due to circumstances outside of their control.