Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Justification by Faith, a Lutheran Phrase

Justification by Faith,
Why is it that all the sudden this phrase is being lampooned by supposed Confessional Lutherans? Twice in the last month I have either been chastised for using this phrase, or seeing someone have a hissy fit because someone has used this phrase. Somehow people have gotten it into their head that it is not Lutheran to use this phrase, because Article 4 of the Augsburg Confession says we are justified by Grace. True enough it does say we are justified by grace. It is as if I missed some memo from the headquarters of confessional Lutheran’s united, or something. I suspect that some bonehead out there recently wrote a paper in the blogosphere after reading Article 4 of the Augsburg confession, stating that it is wrong to use the phrase Justification by faith, and heaven forbid you tack on ALONE to the end of that phrase. And more boneheads read the paper, and then for the first time since seminary cracked open a pristine copy of Tappert and saw that he was right, Article 4 does say Justification by Grace.
You see but I get suspicious of these things. We Lutheran’s make fun of evangelicals for chasing every fad and wind of doctrine, but often we are no better. We’re so hell bent on being known as a Confessional Lutheran that we chase whatever fad is flying under that banner from week to week. Now you see, I grew up in a Lutheran pastor’s house. And my dad, for whatever else he was known, was known to be a confessional Lutheran, and suffered for it, because he refused to compromise. And it is amazing the pastors out there that I run into, who tell me things about how they wouldn’t be in the ministry today if it wasn’t for him. From a young age he taught me how to say “Kiss my @#s” when it came to some syndical bureau rat trying to get him to compromise. He taught me what it meant to be a Lutheran Pastor, long before I ever wanted to be one, and he taught me what being a Lutheran was about. So sometimes when these fads come about, I take a moment to think. When somehow “justification by Faith Alone” becomes a suspect phrase among some would be confessional Lutherans, I start shaking my head. If you haven’t noticed, guys, though Article 4 is the central article of the Lutheran Confessions, that by which the Church stands or falls, there is a bit more to the Lutheran Confessions then that article alone. Yes it does say by Grace. Here are a few things to consider.
Paul tells us in Romans that we are Justified by Grace: “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, “ (Romans 3:24 (ESV) He then turns around and says it is by faith: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28 (ESV) “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( Romans 5:1 (ESV) So you might want to commit a few Bible passages to memory with all that hard confessional study you have been doing.
Oh, but then if you actually had been studying the confessions and not just paling around with supposed confessional Lutherans on some blog, (a past time, I too enjoy) You might have found that the phrase is used by the confessions too. Take for instance the explanation to Article 4 of the Augustana, in the Apology: “They [the papists] condemen us both for denying that people receive the forgiveness of sins on account of their own merits and for affirming that people receive the forgiveness of sins by faith, and are JUSTIFIED BY FAITH in Christ. “(Kolb/Wengert pg. 120) “This article on JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH is the “most important of all Christian teachings,” “without which not poor conscience can have lasting comfort…. (Ibid. Pg. 563)
Those are just two samples I found this morning of that phrase being used in the Book of Concord, more could be found. A simple search engine search through “Luther’s works” brings up the phrase quite a bit. So why this is all the sudden being challenged as Not Lutheran is beyond me. Perhaps, though, it is because some don’t see a false dichotomy when it is slapping them in the face. Only if you have an un Lutheran, which is to say, un Biblical view of the nature of faith, could you see a contradiction between being justified by Grace and being Justified by faith. For faith is a gracious gift of God itself, and grabs hold of everything Christ has done for us, receiving the forgiveness of sins.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Ephes. 2:8 (ESV)


Bror Erickson said...

Well, I invited the guys from Cranach that wanted to criticize that phrase to come over here. I thought by now they would have something to say. Oh well, I hope the rest of you enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Bror, you have to realise that everyone is super sensitive nowadays. The "confessionals" tear each other apart. Which is why we won't get rid of JK and the Jesus last crowd. my 2 cents, Stu

Frank Sonnek said...

I think you are being way to sensitive and picky bror.

after all you are only talking about the ONE thing that keeps me with Jesus and give me hope.


they are all screwed up on sanctification too. how many LCMS pastors see no difference between their beliefs there and classic reformed views on sanctification?

you could spend all day on such things. oh. i forgot . You DO spend all day on such things because that is exactly and only what you are called to do. tell us that we are justified by faith alone.

please. dont. stop.

Bror Erickson said...

I think their sensitivity often comes from insecurity. Sometimes I get the impression that they are trying to intimidate others, to hide the fact that they don't know their own position. They are not sure themselves what confessional Lutheranism is, but have it confused with chancel prancing, or something. But you are right, we tear eachother up, and the others hold the reigns.

Bror Erickson said...

I don't know if I am being picky, but when someone calls me a piss poor theologian for using the phrase, I do have to wonder. Not that I debate that we are justified by Grace, but I think this is one of those both/and things, not an either/or.

Jonathan said...

It's the kind of stuff that gives the title "Confessional" a sour, bitter taste; as if you gotta say it exactly this way and do it exactly like this, or you're castigated as being "not confessional" maybe even "not Lutheran." We like to joke that it results from wearing their clerical collars too high and tight.

Bror Erickson said...

I started thinking about this earlier, I think I had ticked this man off sometime back. He has quite a temper, and I had called him on a couple things over the blog. So he called me to yell at me over the phone, and berate me for having a small congregation in Utah. Somehow that was supposed to be tell as to how good a pastor or theologian I am, and I should shut up and listen to this guy because he has a larger congregation in Minneapolis. I think it is the same guy.
Any way, I think anger was motivating this blunder as only anger can. I think this is one of those "I'll show you" who the more confessional guy, and better theologian is. Anger can make you do some stupid things. I know from experience.
But I am still convinced some bonehead wrote a paper against this phrase, has anyone seen that?