Reformation devotions, June 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 2 of 8)

Morning prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a passage from the schedule found below or a reading from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening prayer

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a passage from the schedule or one from WELS.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in June

Month Day Book Morning Evening

June

1

Psalms 4 3

June

2

Psalms 63 4

June

3

Psalms 103 8

June

4

Psalms 130 91

June

5

Colossians 1:1-12 1:13-29

June

6

Colossians 2:1-7 2:8-23

June

7

Colossians 3:1-11 3:12-25

June

8

Colossians 4:1-9 4:10-18

June

9

1 Thessalonians 1:1 1:2-10

June

10

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 2:13-20

June

11

1 Thessalonians 3:1-10 3:11-13

June

12

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 4:13-18

June

13

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 5:12-28

June

14

2 Thessalonians 1:1-5 1:6-12

June

15

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 2:13-17

June

16

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 3:6-18

June

17

1 Timothy 1:1-11 1:12-20

June

18

1 Timothy 2:1-8 2:9-15

June

19

1 Timothy 3:1-13 3:14-4:5

June

20

1 Timothy 4:6-11 4:12-16

June

21

1 Timothy 5:1-16 5:17-25

June

22

1 Timothy 6:1-10 6:11—21

June

23

2 Timothy 1:1-14 1:15-2:13

June

24

2 Timothy 2:14-19 2:20-26

June

25

2 Timothy 3:1-9 3:10-17

June

26

2 Timothy 4:1-8 4:9-22

June

27

Titus 1:1-4 1:5-16

June

28

Titus 2:1-10 2:11-15

June

29

Titus 3:1-11 3:12-15

June

30

Philemon 1:1-9 1:10-25

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone

Reformation devotions, May 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 1 of 8)

Morning devotions

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a Psalm or a passage from the schedule found below.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening devotions

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a Psalm or a passage from the schedule.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in May

Month Day Book Morning Evening

May

6

John 1:1-34 1:35-51

May

7

John 2:1-12 2:13-23

May

8

John 3:1-21 3:22-36

May

9

John 4:1-38 4:39-54

May

10

John 5:1-24 5:25-47

May

11

John 6:1-25 6:26-71

May

12

John 7:1-24 7:25-52

May

13

John 8:12-30 8:31-59

May

14

John 9:1-12 9:13-41

May

15

John 10:1-19 10:20-42

May

16

John 11:1-29 11:30-57

May

17

John 12:1-26 12:27-50

May

18

John 13:1-20 13:21-38

May

19

John 14:1-15 14:16-30

May

20

John 15:1-11 15:12-27

May

21

John 16:1-15 16:16-33

May

22

John 17:1-12 17:13-26

May

23

John 18:1-24 18:25-40

May

24

John 19:1-15 19:16-42

May

25

John 20:1-18 20:19-31

May

26

John 21:1-14 21:15-25

May

27

1 John 1:1-4 1:5-10

May

28

1 John 2:1-14 2:15-29

May

29

1 John 3:1-12 3:13-24

May

30

1 John 4:1-6 4:7-21

May

31

1 John 5:1-12 5:13-21

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone

Sharing in another’s teachings by expressing Christian unity

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
2 John 10-11, ESV

To express unity of faith with false teachers is to partake in their works—false teachings. In agreement with the Brief Statement once held by the LCMS, the theses on fellowship adopted by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod teaches that “Those who practice church fellowship with persistent errorists are partakers of their evil deeds. 2 Jn 11.”

  • Paul, in unity with John, warned that false teachers arise because they have the support of “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
  • That fellowship is a sharing of deeds is taught not only by the apostles but also by our Lord, who said whoever supports a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, etc. (Matthew 10:41).

In short, partaking in joint expressions of Christian unity by its nature is fellowship—sharing—in one another’s doctrine. A joint confession of faith is necessarily a confession of a joint faith.

The theses continue, “His clear injunction (also flowing out of love) to avoid those who adhere to false doctrine and practice and all who make themselves partakers of their evil deeds.”

  • Those sharing in the evil deed of causing division must be denied fellowship (Romans 16:17-18).

In other words, to condone sharing in that is to become a partaker. What about those who by their offerings, joint communion, church membership, and other expressions of a common faith take their stand with a leader making a common confession with false teachers in their name? They thereby take part in the leader’s work of false teaching:

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
2 John 10-11, ESV

Thy kingdom come

What foolishness, therefore, to be concerned about eating and drinking; to be full of hesitation and doubt, to look anxiously for help, like the mariner in a tempest-tossed vessel! These all are things which the people of the world, the heathen, make their prime concern; but as for you, the Father knows that ye need these things. Only one thing there is which should be the object of anxious search, that is the kingdom of God. To be a member of this kingdom, to have and keep true faith in the heart, through which such membership is [ensured], that is the one fact which should give every Christian his chief concern, on account of which he daily prays the Second Petition. All the other things that are necessary for the sustaining of life are added without worry or care, by the providence of God.

Paul E. Kretzmann, on Luke 12:27–31, hyperlink and “ensured” added

Fellowship with weak believers

The old LCMS and current WELS doctrine of fellowship is grounded in Scripture’s teaching that Christians must not worship with anyone who causes divisions contrary to what they have been taught (Romans 16:17). That verse does not forbid an individual Christian from praying with a weak believer who is not causing divisions and who is eager to learn and believe all of Scripture but who is led astray by false teaching. Rather, it refers to those who continue to support false doctrine even after the error is exposed to the light of God’s word.

Professor James Pope, at Martin Luther College, explained:

When Christians are joined together in faith and doctrine, they are able to express their unity by joint prayer and worship, cooperative educational endeavors and shared outreach efforts (Acts 1:14; 2:42; Hebrews 10:24-25; Psalm 78:4-7; 3 John 5-8).

When you and I interact with Christians whose faith differs from ours, we follow Scripture’s instructions and do not engage in those previously mentioned activities (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10-11).

By not worshiping or praying together with other Christians, you and I are not intending to say that we do not consider such people to be outside the faith. God alone can see what is in the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We readily and happily acknowledge that the kingdom of God is bigger than our synod. Refraining from prayer and worship with people who are not united with us in faith and doctrine is, as our Catechism points out from Scripture, a matter of showing love for the truth of God’s word (2 Corinthians 13:8), love for our own souls (Galatians 5:9) and love for those who are mixing error with truth (James 5:19-20).

. . .

Praying with family members involves the same principles and application. Then again, you might be dealing with an exceptional situation in which family members belong to a church outside our fellowship, but they are not supportive of their church’s false teachings. In fact, they recognize the errors of their church and are seeking to point others to the truth of God’s word. In a situation like that, their confession of faith may match your confession of faith, and joint prayer in a private setting would not be a cause of offense to others. Exceptional situations like this are spelled out more fully in a book you might find valuable to read: Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth . . .”

We rightly join in prayer with Christians who hear God’s word but do not yet understand some teaching of Scripture. On the other hand, it is wrong for a Christian to pray with those who oppose any Scriptural teaching:

If one spouse is a non-Christian, the Christian partner may pray for and in the presence of the non-Christian husband or wife. Obviously, they cannot pray together. If the other spouse is a member of a heterodox church and ridicules or rejects the beliefs of our member, joint prayer is hardly possible. If the other spouse’s membership in a heterodox church is seen as a matter of weakness in understanding, joint prayer may be possible in the privacy of the home.

(Brug, p. 149, as quoted on Pastor David Jay Webber’s Lutheran Theology Web Site)

The principles of church fellowship set forth in the Scriptures do not change. God’s Word always remains the same; however, the manner in which these principles are applied may vary as different circumstances arise. The principles of church fellowship are not legalistic rules but loving directives of the Lord for the good of his church. They must be applied in the spirit of the gracious Savior who loved us so much that he gave his life for us. There will be times when prayer together with other Lutheran Christians or even with Christians of other denominations may be proper, such as when it is apparent that their membership in the false church body is the result of a weak faith which does not fully understand the error of the church body, or it is clear that they actually do not share in the error at all. In such situations one must consider more than the confession of their church membership. There will be times when it will be necessary to attend the worship services of an erring church, such as at the wedding or funeral of a loved one. Here care must be taken so that such attendance is not understood as agreement with the doctrine of the erring church.

The highly individualistic spirit of the times and the abandonment in practice of formal confessions of faith by many church bodies have resulted in many individuals being put in a state of flux regarding their religious convictions and confessions. They do not necessarily hold to the teaching of the church body to which they belong. They may indeed be open to instruction from the Word and may be seeking direction. When such individuals come to us, we cannot always deal with them solely on the basis of their formal confession of faith which they make by their formal church membership. One has to also consider their informal confession of faith. However, this informal confession too must be considered on the basis of the true marks of the church.

(Schmeling, pp. 46-47, as quoted on Pastor David Jay Webber’s Lutheran Theology Web Site)

The article “Prayer fellowship,” by Pastor Nathaniel Biebert, has helpful illustrations and practical applications alongside the supporting passages of Scripture.

Continue reading

Stand on Scripture, not on an interpretation of Scripture

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Psalm 119:9-16 (ESV)

Was the original purpose of the Lutheran confessions to serve as the lens through which the Scriptures must be understood? Are the Scriptures so ambiguous that they require authoritative human interpretation? No, the Lutheran confessions were derived directly from the light of the Scriptures, not from previous confessions or from quotations of church fathers. In fact, the Lutheran confessions do not offer yet another interpretation of Scripture, as Franz Pieper pointed out (Christian Dogmatics, Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, Missouri, 1950, Vol. 1, p. 367):

The thought common in our day that all church bodies stand on Scripture and differ only in their interpretation of it is not in accordance with the facts. The Roman Catholic Church does not stand on Scripture, but on the papal interpretation of Scripture. The Reformed Churches, as far as they differ from the Lutheran Church, do not stand on Scripture, but on Zwingli’s, Calvin’s, etc. interpretation of Scripture. The Lutheran Church, however, does not stand on interpretation of Scripture, but on Scripture itself. This is not a mere assertion. It can be proved by induction in the face of universal contradiction.

The reason no human interpretation is needed is that Scripture interprets itself (ibid., pp. 363-364):

Luther is unalterably convinced that God gave Holy Scripture such a form that the entire Christian doctrine is revealed and submitted in passages which need no ‘exegesis’ (exegesis in the sense of removing obscurities). He who would determine the meaning of the clear passages through still other passages engages in a work of interminable adjustments, makes the entire Scriptures uncertain and obscure, and converts them into an inextricable chaos. Yes, there is the rule: ‘One passage must be explained by another,’ but, as Luther adds immediately: ‘Namely, a doubtful and obscure passage… must be explained by means of a clear and certain passage.

An author of the Formula of Concord similarly explained what it means for Scripture to interpret Scripture (Chemnitz, M., J. A. O. Preus, trans., The Lord’s Supper, Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, Missouri, 1979, pp. 68-69):

For Scripture, especially when it treats of dogmas, because it is not of private interpretation, interprets itself either in the same passage or in other passages were the same dogma is touched on. Because of this, the same dogma is fully treated and repeated in various passages of Scripture in such a way that no one can dream up his own personal interpretation but must derive it from Scripture itself. For the same dogma is repeated on the basis of either the same or similar words which have the same meaning and set forth the same teaching, so that the simple, proper, and natural meaning of the passage may be confirmed… Or if something in one passage is too brief or obscure because of the puzzling nature of the figures of speech, Scripture will explain and interpret it in other passages where the same doctrine is repeated more fully, clearly, and openly, using proper, clear, natural, and commonly understood words.

With confessions derived from the word of God alone, it might be thought that Lutherans would not cite human authorities as proof texts instead of clear passages of Scripture. However, these words of August Pieper are as true today as they were in the beginning of the twentieth century (Mark Braun, “The Wauwatosa Gospel,” in Lord Jesus Christ, Will You Not Stay: Essays in Honor of Ronald Feuerhahn on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, pp. 131-152, 2002, available from Concordia Publishing House, p. 24 of this Charis article):

This caused people to think that the point that was presented or discussed was sufficiently established by the quotations from Luther and the fathers without a study of Scripture itself.  It even led to this that later one did not stop with quoting Luther and the old fathers, but now one also quoted Walther and other celebrities for proof of the correct doctrine. The subject of study for new essays became not so much Scripture as the essays in the old synodical reports, and quotations from them were frequently used instead of proof from Scripture.

As August Pieper warned, implicit trust in any human authority for the correct interpretation of Scripture is idolatry leading to additional errors (ibid., p. 25):

We intend in the future to pursue scriptural study even more faithfully than before. . . . We submit in advance to the least word of Scripture that opposes us, no matter from whom it may come. But we submit to no man, be his name Luther or Walther, Chemnitz or Hoenecke, Gerhard or Stoeckhardt, so long as we have clear Scripture on our side. . . . We esteem the fathers highly, far higher than ourselves as far more learned and more devout than we are. Therefore, we want to use them, particularly Luther, as guides to Scripture, and to test their doctrines a hundred times before we reject them. But authorities equal to Scripture or opposed to Scripture they may never become for us, or we shall be practicing idolatry. . . . We renounce this authority-theology anew. It causes so much damage to the church. It is unfaithfulness to the Lord; slavery to men; it brings errors with it.

For extreme examples of inappropriate appeals to human authority, some say the Lutheran confessions require believing in the Perpetual Virginity and practicing communion weekly even though they cannot provide anything resembling Scriptural proof. They believe aspects of the confessions that are not expositions of any Scripture, on the direct authority of the confessions. That indicates severe misunderstanding of the historical context and purpose of the confessions as solemn affirmations of Scriptural teaching. A proper response is, “Where does the Bible say that?”

A less extreme but more common example is assuming the Lutheran fathers must have based their teaching about some topic on Scripture instead of carefully examining what the Scriptures actually say on the topic. Taking Luther’s or the synod’s word for it is never acceptable when it comes to doctrine, not even on a busy day.

The fathers should not be cited as final authorities, saying something like, “August Pieper said so, so you should believe it, too.” At the same time, they can be cited profitably, for instance, “See August Pieper for the exegetical details” or “I realized this thanks to Chemnitz’s insistence on the clear meaning of those Scriptures, which I had somehow overlooked.”

In discussions with other Lutherans, there is a time to appeal to the confessions as secondary authorities: when there is mutual agreement about their meaning. When there is not, it is usually counterproductive to spend much time arguing about what they really say, especially since we have no promise about their perspicuity. It is then time to say, “Look, the Teacher himself said so in clear language, so it’s not really up for interpretation.” He promises to enlighten us with his own words.

New LCMS doctrine regarding fellowship

The Ev. Lutheran Church is the total of all unreservedly confessing agreement with the pure Word of God,
of the teaching brought again to light through Luther’s reformation
and delivered summarily in writing to Kaiser and Reich at Augsburg in 1530
and repeated and expanded in the other so-called Lutheran symbols . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church is sure that the teaching contained in its Symbols is the pure God’s truth
because it agrees with the written Word of God in all points . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church rejects all fraternal and churchly fellowship
with those who reject its Confessions in whole or in part . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth
as they are found in no other known communion,
and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.

 

Following Luther and Walther, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) from its beginning rejected “all fraternal and churchly fellowship with those who reject its Confessions in whole or in part” because such rejection was a rejection of some truth taught by “the written Word of God.” The primary proof text for the termination of fellowship is Romans 16:17 (“watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”).

 

This does not justify refusing to pray with anyone outside of one’s own church body, which may have been a legalistic way the doctrine of church fellowship has been applied in the past. The doctrine itself is sound: do not have fellowship with those who cause divisions contrary to what you have been taught (Romans 16:17). That is not talking about a weak believer who is not causing divisions and who is willing to believe everything in Scripture but who, out of ignorance, is led astray by false teaching. It is talking about those who stubbornly persist in supporting false doctrine even after admonishments against it. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) makes that distinction clear in its Theses on Church Fellowship.

 

A change occurred in the LCMS doctrine of church fellowship in the first half of the twentieth century, culminating in the breakup of the Synodical Conference in 1963, as Mark E. Braun documented in A Tale of Two Synods: Events that Led to the Split between Wisconsin and Missouri. The change in the doctrine and practice of church fellowship is related to interpreting and applying Romans 16:17 and related texts of Scripture.

 

The Concordia Cyclopedia (Concordia Publishing House, 1927, “Unionism,” 774-775) explains the LCMS’s original doctrine in more detail:
Religious unionism consists in joint worship and work of those not united in doctrine. Its essence is an agreement to disagree. In effect, it denies the doctrine of the clearness of Scripture. It would treat certain doctrines as fundamental or essential and others as non-essential to Christian unity . . . A Christian who believes that God has clearly spoken through the prophets and apostles and through the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be a unionist. The indifferent and pacifist stand of the unionist is condemned in all those text which bid us beware of false prophets and to separate from those who deny the truth.
In the light of these texts all joint ecclesiastical efforts for religious work (missionary, educational, etc.) and particularly joint worship and mixed (promiscuous) prayer among those who confess the truth and those who deny any part of it, is sinful unionism. If we hold to the doctrine of the clearness of Scripture, such compromise of the truth cannot be tolerated, nor can it be defended by the plea that religious differences, after all, rest upon misunderstanding.
Thus, full doctrinal unity is required for all forms of fellowship, including not only sharing in communion (“altar fellowship”) and in preaching (“pulpit fellowship”) but also for prayer fellowship and joint ecclesiastical work. Indeed, Romans 16:17 and similar Scriptures do not distinguish between the different categories of fellowship.

 

By contrast, at least since the adoption of the report “Theology of Fellowship” in 1967, the LCMS has officially distinguished between altar/pulpit fellowship on one hand and prayer/work fellowship on the other hand. According to the report, the doctrinal agreement needed for altar and pulpit fellowship is not necessary for joint prayers:
Our Synod should understand that, in the case of doctrinal discussions carried on with a view to achieving doctrinal unity, Christians not only may but should join in fervent prayer that God would guide and bless the discussions, trusting in Christ’s promise Matt. 18:19: “Again, I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.”

 

Such joint prayers, however, are expressions of Christian fellowship according to the Scriptures. Christian prayer is fellowship with the triune God. All those in fellowship with the Father and the Son are necessarily and without exception in fellowship with each other (1 John 1:6). Thus, for Christians to confess fellowship with that God in joint prayer while denying fellowship with each another is to confess something that is impossible according to Scripture. Since there is no distinction between joint prayer and prayer fellowship, there can be no basis for denying pulpit or altar fellowship whenever joint prayer is warranted. By the same token, whenever altar/pulpit fellowship is not warranted because of persistent false teaching, joint prayer (prayer fellowship) is not warranted either (Romans 16:17).

 

Church fellowship takes place not only in teaching, communion, and prayer, but also when churches carry out their other work together. That is the teaching of Scripture, as explained in the Theses on Church Fellowship of the WELS.

 

Striking examples of fellowship in church work without true doctrinal unity involve relief organizations in North America. The LCMS, consistent with her adopted report quoted above but contrary to her original doctrine, participates in Lutheran World Relief, joint with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Similarly, the Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) works jointly with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) via Canadian Lutheran World Relief. The mission/values statements of these relief organizations make it evident that the joint work is not only corporation in non-ecclesiastical matters but is performed on the basis of a shared faith:
Many of the pervasive doctrinal errors of the ELCA and the ELCIC, some of which undermine the foundations of the Christian faith, have been known for decades.

 

In conclusion, the current fellowship doctrine and practices of the LCMS are substantial and long-standing departures from the original doctrine and practice of the synod. Worse, the teaching and practice of the LCMS and the LCC are contrary to what Scripture says about Christian fellowship and the termination of such fellowship when necessary (Romans 16:17).

 

What should Christians do if they have strayed into the LCMS, the LCC, or another church body that persists in teaching error in spite of patient admonitions? According to the LCMS’s Brief Statement (1932, Section 28), leaving a church body that causes doctrinal divisions contrary to the Holy Scriptures they have been taught is commanded in Romans 16:17: “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”:

Since God ordained that His Word only, without the admixture of human doctrine, be taught and believed in the Christian Church, 1 Pet. 4:11; John 8:31, 32; 1 Tim. 6:3, 4, all Christians are required by God to discriminate between orthodox and heterodox church-bodies, Matt. 7:15, to have church-fellowship only with orthodox church-bodies, and, in case they have strayed into heterodox church-bodies, to leave them, Rom. 16:17. We repudiate unionism, that is, church-fellowship with the adherents of false doctrine, as disobedience to God’s command, as causing divisions in the Church, Rom. 16:17; 2 John 9, 10, and involving the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely, 2 Ti. 2:17-21.

Sanctification by the gospel

Luther’s Large Catechism clearly places sanctification under the second and third articles of the Creed, which it presents as a statement of the gospel, not the law. (It instead presents the law in terms of the Ten Commandments.) In excluding the law from sanctification, Luther faithfully followed St. Paul (Galatians 3). 

To put it another way, the Spirit sanctifies and renews us through the gospel, not through any third use of the law. That does not deny the importance of the law in informing (third use), condemning, and compelling Christians who would otherwise sinfully follow man-made works as if they were good, as Article VI of the Formula of Concord says. 

Does a lack of sanctification directly result from a denial of the third use of the law or from a lack of exhortations in sermons to obey the law? No, sanctification comes only by the gospel, not also by the law.

That said, the law in its second use does work sanctification indirectly by bringing about repentance, that is, by preparing the Christian to return to baptism (gospel). That is the entire Christian life, as Luther said: “a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism” (Large Catechism). In other words,

For what is our prayer but a confession that we neither have nor do what we ought and a plea for grace and a happy conscience? This kind of confession should and must take place incessantly as long as we live. For this is the essence of a genuinely Christian life, to acknowledge that we are sinners and to pray for grace. [Martin Luther, Preface to the Large Catechism, 1529 revised edition. Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.]

Christian complaint

Job’s Lament – versified Job 3 raises the question of the role of complaint in the prayer life of the Christian.

Complaint, as opposed to apathetic resignation on one hand and unbelief on the other, comes from the apparent contradiction between the evil experienced and the promises of Christ. In complaint, the theologian of the cross clings to those promises until the attack abates (Psalm 119), not letting his opponent go until receiving the promised blessing.

Further reading: Living by Faith: Justfication and Sanctification by Oswald Bayer

The gospel written in good works

What did Melanchthon mean when he said a conscience terrified by the law can find comfort in a promise connected to good works (Ap. 3:151-155)? The answer is not immediately obvious. Following David Scaer in seeing a third use of the law that is distinct from its first two uses can help here. Since the same word “law” can mean different things even within the sixth article of the Formula of Concord, let me clarify. By “law,” I here mean the unchanging will of God. I will use the same word in a more narrow sense shortly.

Melanchthon said Christ often attaches promises to good works not only to destroy Epicurean delusions, but also to offer a variety of signs and testimonies for the terrified conscience. A key to seeing how Melanchthon could find comfort for terrified consciences in those promises lies in properly distinguishing the second and third uses of the law, that is, between the law in the narrow sense and the fruit of faith, “against which there is no law.”

The terrified conscience of Luther turned not only to the promise that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but also to the promise that those who forgive are forgiven:

But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. For just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. If, therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6:37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6:14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. This sign is therefore attached to this petition, that, when we pray, we remember the promise and reflect thus: Dear Father, for this reason I come and pray Thee to forgive me, not that I can make satisfaction, or can merit anything by my works, but because Thou hast promised and attached the seal thereto that I should be as sure as though I had absolution pronounced by Thyself. For as much as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, appointed as external signs, effect, so much also this sign can effect to confirm our consciences and cause them to rejoice. And it is especially given for this purpose, that we might use and practise it every hour, as a thing that we have with us at all times.

This is not Presbyterianism’s uncertain “inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made”, but the very certainty of the gospel: “…if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, … Thou hast promised and attached the seal thereto that I should be as sure as though I had absolution pronounced by Thyself.”

Luther indeed found comfort in the promise of Mark 16. He also found comfort in the promise of Luke 6:37 and Matt. 6:14. He needed manifold consolation. After all, he subscribed to Melanchthon’s statement that “we have need of external signs of so great a promise, because a conscience full of fear has need of manifold consolation. As, therefore, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs that continually admonish, cheer, and encourage desponding minds to believe the more firmly that their sins are forgiven, so the same promise is written and portrayed in good works, in order that these works may admonish us to believe the more firmly.”

heure [hour]