Monday, January 29, 2007

True or False -- Doctrinal Assertions

An assertion must be true or else it is false. If is true, it is always true. If an assertion is considered true some times and false at other times, then it is no longer an asertion.

Assertions are fundamental to Christian doctrine (such as, God created the heavens and the earth; Jesus was born of a virgin; Jesus rose from the dead; etc.). An example of a doctrinal assertion from the Lutheran Confessions is the Law always accuses (lex semper accusat). The phrase the Law always accuses is used nearly ten times in the Book of Concord (and only in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession).

While the phrase the Law always accuses is a doctrinal assertion, some people say that the law accuses only according to its second use (function), but not according to its first or third. With this exception, the statement the Law always accuses is no longer true. On several occasions, I have asked where this distinction comes from. However, no one has provided substantive documentation. So I remain at a loss as to the origin and necessity of this distinction.

If someone says "the law always accuses, except...," then he in essence denies the doctrinal assertion that the law always accuses. This is very confusing.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ow! That Hurts!

What do you do when you are hit in the face by a two by four? You react in pain because you cannot help but feel the hurt. Such is the case in regard to an on-going discussion concerning sanctification and the third use of the law.

I have sensed over the past few years a growing division within confessional Lutheranism and trying to figure out where it was coming from. At the 2005 Concordia Theological Seminary Symposium, I got my whack in the face and realized what the key divisive issue was. After hearing the presentations by Dr. David Scaer and Dr. Kurt Marquart, it was apparent that sanctification and the third use of the law were among the key divisive issues. As a Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, graduate, I was not aware that these two highly respected churchmen had such distinct opinions on the third use of the law.

Since then Ihave felt the pain, as I have seen men and women whom I greatly respect dividing themselves up between these two starkly contrasting positions. Some may argue that the differences are largely semantics, but I see essential differences which must be addressed.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What is a Confessional Lutheran? (Part 2 of 2)

In truth to be a Lutheran means also to be ‘confessional Lutheran,’ because a Lutheran is defined by the confession to which he holds. However, there are many people who call themselves ‘Lutheran,’ but at the same time reject all or portions of Book of Concord, such people are renouncing what it means to be Lutheran.

For an example, consider the interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-12 – And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Most every major English translation does not have a comma between “saints” and “for.” Thus, you will hear many preachers (including Lutherans) say that the ministers job is two fold: first, to equip the saints so the saints can do ministry, and second, to edify the body of Christ. But the problem is that the original language does not have any punctuation. Thus, our Lutheran Confessions understand the work of the pastors (from this passage) to be three-fold: first, to equip the saints; second, to do the work of the ministry; third, to edify the body of Christ. Any Lutheran pastor who insists on a two-fold understanding of Ephesians 4:12 is not teaching in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions (ie, he is not a ‘confessional Lutheran’).

The Lutheran Confessions are the lens by which we view and interpret God’s Word. When questions of doctrine and practice arise, we return to God’s Word; but what happens when there is a disagreement about what God’s Word means? As Lutherans, we turn to the Lutheran Confessions. The Word of God is not for private interpretation that is why we have confessions so that we have a common interpretation of God’s Word.

The Lutheran Confessions do address many issues which are facing modern Lutheranism: Which God is the true God? Are the gods of Judaism and Islam the same as the God of the Christians? Who may commune at a particular altar? How often should commune be offered? How often should I commune? Should we use the historic liturgy? Should we have vestments? Is it permitted to cross oneself? Is it permitted to kneel and genuflect? Is private confession and absolution required? Is confirmation necessary? Are there two or three or more sacraments? May pastors be called ‘Father’? Should we use a chalice or individual cups?

The answer to these questions will not determine if you are or are not a ‘confessional Lutheran,’ but how you get to your answer will? A confessional Lutheran will let Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions be heard.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What is a Confessional Lutheran? (Part 1 of 2)

The simple answer is: Depends on whom you ask!

Most every ‘Confessional Lutheran’ will have his own personal definition of what that term means. Some will say that it means conservative. Others may say it is redundant (i.e., if you are a Lutheran, of course you are confessional). Others will say that it means the ‘pastor is in charge.’ Others will say it means that you expect your pastor to wear a certain uniform (such as, a black shirt with a white tab or collar). Still others will say that it means adhering to the historic liturgy, every Sunday communion, private confession and absolution.

Try using the word “confessional” in other contexts. You cannot say ‘confessional Catholic’ or ‘confessional Methodist’ or ‘confessional Baptist,’ etc. If you place the word “confessional” before the name of any religion or Christian denomination, it will only be appropriate to Lutherans. Why is that? The word confessional implies “holding to a confession.” [Yes, the Roman Catholics use the term confessional in regards to a place or act of confessing one’s sins. But that is not the sense of the word we are considering.]

The phrase “confessional Lutheran” could be also stated as “a Lutheran who holds to a confession.” In this case it would refer to the body of documents known as “The Lutheran Confessions.” Every Evangelical-Lutheran pastor is asked at his ordination, if accepts and will teach in accordance with the three ecumenical creeds, the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the Large and Small Catechisms, the Smalcald Articles and Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord. These documents are gathered into one volume known as the Book of Concord. Likewise, many Lutheran congregations will include these documents in the confessional statement of their constitutions.