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The Reformed Church is Not the Completion of Luther’s Reformation

October 15th, 2013 11 comments

Here on this blog I recently again pointed out that there are church-dividing differences between Calvinism and Lutheranism, between the so-called “Reformed” Church and the Churches of the Augsburg Confession. Pointing this out always upsets Calvinists who do, wrong as it is, sincerely believe that the Reformed Church is a rightful and legitimate heir of Luther’s Reformation, in fact most believe it is the “completion” of Luther’s Reformation. But it is not. Reformed Christianity, that is, the churches that are heirs of the work of Zwingli, Bucer and Calvin, represent, not a Reformation of the Church, but rather, its deformation. Herman Sasse captured the truth of the situation well when he wrote:

The Reformed conception of an evangelical church embracing both Lutherans and Reformed has come to have considerable importance in the history of the church. It has determined the ecclesiastical policy which the Reformed Church has adopted in its dealings with Lutherans from the days of Zwingli and Calvin down to the present. This explains the persistent struggle of Calvin and his followers for recognition, in the Religious Peace of 1555, as adherents of the Augsburg Confession. This explains the opposition of the “Great Elector”to the distinction between the “Reformed” and the “adherents of the Augsburg Confession” in the Peace of Westphalia, and his advocacy of the term “Evangelical” as a common designation for both Lutheran and Reformed. This explains too, why none of the German Reformed princes had any conscientious scruples at all about converting, or merging, the Lutheran Church of their territory into a Calvinistic church…for every genuine Calvinist, the Lutherans do not form another church, but only a backward part of the one evangelical, reformed church, which needs help to finish what is still wanting to make it completely reformed.

Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, Nature and Character of the Lutheran Faith (trans T. Tappert), Augsburg Publishing House, 1946, rights later assigned to Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide. Thanks to Mark Henderson for this quote.

Brace Yourselves: Grace is Not Irresistible

December 12th, 2012 Comments off

resisistable

We are Christians not Faith-ians

November 20th, 2012 39 comments

I have, over the years, talked to many Calvinists, in person and over the Internet. I always ask them, “Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are among God’s elect and are saved?” There are generally two reactions to that question: (1) A long and rather painful pause after which they say, “I hope I am. I do believe in Christ.” or (2) A quick, “Yes, I believe in Christ.” Now, let’s be honest here and admit that many Lutherans would answer in somewhat the same way. But here is the problem.

[Unfortunately there are some cranks who roam the Internet claiming to be Lutherans who also fall into this error. You shall know them by their sixth grade-level photoshopping skills. <g>]

If our confidence that we are saved is based on our feeling that we have faith, we will flounder. The answer we must always give to the question of “Do you know you are saved?” is not, “Yes, because I have faith” but rather, “Yes, because Christ Jesus died for me” and of course, in my opinion, the very best answer of all is simply to point people to Luther’s explanation of the Creed and say, “Here, this puts it very well.”

Never look to your subjective feeling that there is faith in your heart. Always, always, always, look to Christ and what He has done for you and the whole world. Do not confuse faith in faith, with trust in Christ. There is a key difference. If you believe you are a child of God because you feel you have faith, this is no better than the Mormon who tells you about the “burning in his bosum” or the Muslim who tells you he feels the Koran is true, etc.

Salvation rests on objective realities that have absolutely nothing to do with feelings or emotions. Faith is merely and only the receiving hand God gives us and into which He pours His good gifts, it is not the cause of our salvation.

We are Christians, not Faith-ians.

Read, and memorize, Luther’s explanation to the Apostles’ Creed. It is clear. Simple, Easy to understand and…true!

 

Calvinism v. Lutheranism: Fisk’s Take on the Issues

September 3rd, 2010 6 comments

Trying to Plant Calvinism in Germany by Dishonest Means: Effort to Do So Exposed

August 29th, 2010 2 comments

The video I posted about yesterday is an effort by a small group of American Presbyterians to plant Calvinism into Germany. I see already they are going about it in a deceptive manner, in that they are trying to co-op the good name and history of Martin Luther to make themselves appear to be authentic heirs of Martin’s Luther’s theology. This was confirmed by a comment the post on the video received by one of the man involved in the effort, Sebastian Heck, who slanders the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany. Here is what he sent to me, which confirms my assessment of their effort.

Pastor McCain, when you say I should “bother to check my facts” concerning a true Lutheran presence, that is quite an insinuation and I do think it is you who are being misled. You might be part of something like a “confessional Lutheran stronghold” in the U.S., but the SELK (Idependent Lutheran Church) of Germany certainly is not – and hasn’t been in many decades. Saying that it is “a small, but thriving, Lutheran church independent of the state” reveals one of two things: either your own ignorance about the true state of the SELK in Germany, or (which would be worse) your own ignorance about the Gospel. The SELK is struggling with liberalism on many fronts (theology, ministry, ecclesiology). And while it might be a “confessional Lutheran church” on paper, in reality it is deconstructed Lutheranism and not a whole lot of “true Lutheran Gospel”. I find it funny that I am a German, live there, work there and know the lay of the land, but you lecture me on checking the facts. I truly hope the Lutheran church you belong to does not REALLY compare to the SELK, for your own sake and for the sake of the Gospel. If you believe there is a true Reformation church in Germany, the burden of proof is on you…sadly!

Refuting Calvinist Claims that Luther Taught Double-Predestination

December 16th, 2009 15 comments

predestination_tshirt-p235676991342392817u7by_400Whenever the question of why are some saved, and not others, comes up it is common for Calvinists who advocate for the view that God has predestined some to hell, and others to heaven, to try to drag Martin Luther into their argument and claim that they are actually being faithful to what Martin Luther taught. Let this much be clear: Martin Luther did not teach double-predestination. I’ve heard from a number of Calvinists who tell me that they don’t even think John Calvin taught it either, but, that’s for them to hash out. My interest here is in refuting the claim of the “Truly Reformed” or “classic Calvinists” or “T.U.L.I.P. Calvinists.” Here then are two critical points for Calvinists to keep in mind, which, unfortunately, they often do not.

(1) The doctrine of the Lutheran Church is not determined or normed by every writing of Luther. The proper understanding and interpretation of Martin Luther is reflected in the Book of Concord, which is the Lutheran Church’s normative standard of doctrine and practices that flow from this doctrine. This is hard for Calvinists to understand, since they are unable to point to one, unique, formal book of their confessions. They are somewhat scattered about, over time and place.

(2) Luther’s Bondage of the Will is not, and was not, his last and final word on the subject of the hidden will of God. When Calvinists appeal to this document in support of their doctrine of predestination, they do so most often taking this document in isolation from the rest of his writings and teachings. It is a common tactic among Calvinists, and sadly, a common belief that John Calvin and his heirs were actually the more faithful followers of Martin Luther than the Lutheran Church which followed Luther.

Here then is what Luther wanted people to know and understand about his position on the issue of predestination. This is from Luther’s last and final lecture series he gave during his life, his great Genesis lectures. Here is what he said while commenting on Genesis 29:9:

It pleases me to take from this passage the opportunity to discuss doubt, God, and the will of God; for I hear that here and there among the nobles and persons of importance vicious statements are being spread abroad concerning predestination or God’s foreknowledge. For this is what they say: “If I am predestined, I shall be saved, whether I do good or evil. If I am not predestined, I shall be condemned regardless of my works.” I would be glad to debate in detail against these wicked statements if the uncertain state of my health made it possible for me to do so. For if the statements are true, as they, of course, think, then the incarnation of the Son of God, His suffering and resurrection, and all that He did for the salvation of the world are done away with completely. What will the prophets and all Holy Scripture help? What will the sacraments help? Therefore let us reject all this and tread it underfoot.

These are devilish and poisoned darts and original sin itself, with which the devil led our first parents astray when he said (Gen. 3:5): “You will be like God.” They were not satisfied with the divinity that had been revealed and in the knowledge of which they were blessed, but they wanted to penetrate to the depth of the divinity. For they inferred that there was some secret reason why God had forbidden them to eat of the fruit of the tree which was in the middle of Paradise, and they wanted to know what this reason was, just as these people of our time say: “What God has determined beforehand must happen. Consequently, every concern about religion and about the salvation of souls is uncertain and useless.” Yet it has not been given to you to render a verdict that is inscrutable. Why do you doubt or thrust aside the faith that God has enjoined on you? For what end did it serve to send His Son to suffer and to be crucified for us? Of what use was it to institute the sacraments if they are uncertain or completely useless for our salvation? For otherwise, if someone had been predestined, he would have been saved without the Son and without the sacraments or Holy Scripture. Consequently, God, according to the blasphemy of these people, was horribly foolish when He sent His Son, promulgated the Law and the Gospel, and sent the apostles if the only thing He wanted was that we should be uncertain and in doubt whether we are to be saved or really to be damned.

But these are delusions of the devil with which he tries to cause us to doubt and disbelieve, although Christ came into this world to make us completely certain. For eventually either despair must follow or contempt for God, for the Holy Bible, for Baptism, and for all the blessings of God through which He wanted us to be strengthened over against uncertainty and doubt. For they will say with the Epicureans: “Let us live, eat, and drink; tomorrow we shall die” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:32). After the manner of the Turks they will rush rashly into the sword and fire, since the hour in which you either die or escape has been predetermined.

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The Less Decoration in Our Churches the Better: This is Most Certainly NOT True

December 14th, 2009 13 comments

2578478725_ff8d06eff1I was reading around on blog sites, as is my wont, [how often do you get to use that phrase? 'as is my wont'], but I digress. I bumped into some conversations about the kind of church art, decoration and ornamentation that American Lutherans learned to associate with the Lutheran Church. For some, perhaps many American Lutherans, a “Lutheran Church” is fairly plain and “stripped down.” But as much as Lutherans think that this is somehow the “gold standard” for Lutheran churches, the fact is, this is most certainly not true. Even those Lutherans who think that their church is “plain” would be surprised by the reaction from many other Reformed and Evangelical Christians. That there is an altar at all in Lutheran churches is absolutely shocking to the classic Calvinist type of American protestant. That tradition, in its more pure forms/strands, regards any image in a church to be a direct violation of the Second Commandment, as they so number the Commandments, “Thou shalt make no graven images.”

And so, if you happen to find yourself in a conservative Presbyterian Church, chances are it will be extremely plain, with no decorations at all. This “minimalism” impacted Lutheranism, already back in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and then to an ever increasing degree under the influence of Pietism, which tended to eschew outward symbolism, and emphasized the “interior life” more. The other influence of history on American Lutheran tastes is the simple fact that most Lutheran immigrants were dirt poor and so when they constructed their places of worship, they did as much as they could, but access to artists and sculptors was limited, and funding was equally limited, so as a result, any number of smaller churches were often very plain. There are many notable exceptions, to be sure. The end results of a combination of factors: the influence of Pietism, the influence of being surrounded by American Protestants of a Calvinist tradition, and simple economics, resulted in several generations of Lutherans becoming used to Lutheran churches that are fairly plain. Consequently, there are any number of Lutherans who recoil in shock when they see a richly decorated Lutheran church interior, such as one finds in spectacular grandeur at the older city churches in both Saint Louis and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Here I’m thinking of Holy Cross here in St. Louis, or St. Paul Lutheran Church or Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne. The same can be found elsewhere, in Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and so forth.

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Lutheranism and Calvinism: What and That v. How and Why

November 25th, 2009 36 comments

question-markI grant that generalizations can be unhelpful; namely, they tend to over-simplify what obviously are matters of great nuance and deserving of long and careful study and explanation. It does strike me as I consider much of the conversations I’ve read between Lutherans and Calvinists boils down to a critical distinction between our respective theological points of view, our Weltaunschaung, as it were. And, again, at the considerable risk of over-simplification, it seems to me that it comes down to this: Lutheranism tends to focus on the “what” and “that” of the God’s Word, whereas Calvinism tends to move more toward answers to “how?” and “why?” In a certain sense, Lutheranism is more about declaration and proclamation of what has been revealed by God’s Word, but Calvinism wants always to move into an explanation of the “how?” and “why?” of Scripture, from a metaphysical or philosophical point of view. It strikes me that often Calvinism appears to be more concerned with answering questions posed by finite human understanding, than in asserting the “what” and “that” of Scripture. Add to this a disturbing and disquieting focus more on the “sovereignty of God” and less on the man Christ Jesus, His grace and mercy and you have in place a “system” that appears to me to be more about resolving logical conundra than in asserting the Gospel of Christ. Many former Calvinists have mentioned this to me and all tell a very common story around these points.

Let me illustrate my point and provide some examples.

The doctrine of Election: Lutheranism holds in tension the Bible’s teaching that all who are saved are saved only by grace, alone, apart from any works of the law: no “decisions for Christ” no “acts of will” no “choosing to beleive.” We are saved only and completely by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. We are saved entirely as an act of the merciful God and only through the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all sin. Calvinism wants to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” And, historic/classic “five point” Calvinists answer that the “solution” to this “riddle” is that God, from all eternity, as a sovereign act, chooses some to go to hell and others to be saved and be in heaven. Arminianism, a reaction to Calvinism, went to the other extreme and teaches that God foresaw those who would choose to believe, and so those are they whom God saves. Lutheranism refused to solve the “riddle” and answer the question “Why some, not others.” It holds in tension God’s grace alone and also salvation by means of faith alone.

The doctrine of the Real Presence: Lutheranism asserts that the Word of Christ that “this [bread] is [is] my body [Christ's body]” is a statement of what and that. It is His Body, it is given for us to eat and to drink. Calvinism rejects this believe and predicates its position on trying to answer “how” and “why” type questions about the Lord’s Supper. It anchors its position finally in a philosophical/logical premise that the body of Christ can not be present under bread and wine, and therefore, Christ is not talking about an actual real, physical presence of His resurrection body in the Eucharist, under the elements of bread and wine.

I wonder what you think of this? Here is an older blog post I put up several years ago that speaks to these issues a bit further.

I found the quote that follows these remarks to be a helpful insight into Calvinist thinking on the Lord’s Supper. My quick response to their “how” question about our Lord’s human nature is simply this…how was it possible for the Risen Lord to suddenly “appear in the midst of them” among His disciples on Easter? What was  His human nature doing after the Resurrection? Was it omnipresent with Him? Or was Jesus hiding out until the Ascension? How did His human nature ascend? Or what about the Transfiguration? It seems that was a pretty amazing event for His human nature, a foretaste of what was to come during His glorification? How is God able to create everything out of nothing? How is a Virgin able to conceive? How is that some are saved, and not others? So man “how” questions! Finally, how is it that Christ fills all things, and yet, not, apparently, according to the Calvinists with also His human nature, which is forever joined to the divine nature, see Eph. 4.

A desire to provide a “logical” explanation to these “how” questions is really Calvinism’s downfall. Again, you notice how the “system” is all important for Calvinism. Whatever doesn’t square with it is out.  There is a reason old John Calvin said, “The finite is incapable of the infinite” and by saying that he thereby effectively, if they are going to be consistent, excludes the Incarnation to begin with!

My “exegetical warrant” for the Lutheran confession of the Supper, is, and remains the words that ever stand sure. The words of our dear Lord Christ, “This is my body.”

Link: Triablogue. Here is the quote. By the way, I let them know I’m not a “Dr.” but it is a nice thought. I informed them that I’m waiting for a honorary doctorate, the only really Christian one, received by grace alone, apart from any works:

Can Dr. McCain construct an explanation regarding how exactly the human nature of Christ is present “with, under the bread and wine” of the Lord’s Supper and still be His human nature and fully human? After the Resurrection Christ is depicted as being glorified, able to appear and reappear mysteriously, have an incorruptible body, etc., but there is still continuity with the original body. “Illocality” is not depicted of Him in Scripture. When He is present in the room in His incarnate, resurrected body, He is truly bodily present. Nobody orthodox has ever disputed the notion He is always present in His divinity anyway.

One would have to divinize the human nature in order for his assertion about the elements to be valid. Glorfication is not “divinization.” That is classic Apollinarianism and Monophysitism and Greek piety, not Scripture speaking.

Where does Scripture affirm that Christ’s human nature is present in such a manner? To say that Christ’s humanity is present in the elements divinizes His human nature and further restricts it to the elements at the Lord’s Table, so His humanity shares ubiquity with His divinity with respect to the elements at the Table, yet omnipresence (ubiquity) means God (in all 3 Persons) is present everywhere. Think about that for a moment. How can His human nature be in two places at once, specifically in the elements injested at the Lord’s Table, and Christ be fully human? Approaching this from the other direction, how can His human nature share in the divine ubiquity, which means God is everywhere, and be localized only in the bread and wine? You have to create a special category of ubiquity for Christ’s humanity and the communication of attributes in order to accomodate such a view. I’m sorry Dr. McCain, but you need an exegetical warrant for that.

Lutheran theology tries to get around this by saying His human nature is “illocal” in the Eucharist. The problem is this: It’s not really illocal in this view, it is clearly localized in the elements and in heaven; that’s two specific places at a single time, a fly trapped in amber across two levels of existence. Thus, not only is Christ with respect to His human nature in heaven, He is present on earth in the elements in time when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. That makes his human nature subject to time as well as spatial constraints on earth as well as heaven. That’s one reason why Calvin rejected the notion of ubiquity of Christ’s body in the elements; it involves too many equivocations on the nature of time and space and what and does and does not constitute localization that necessitate extra-biblical ideas and doesn’t appear to be supportable from Scripture. Calvin stakes out a position between that of Luther and Zwingli.