Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
"This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God, and then our God shapes us" (pg. 182).
We "shape our God"?
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy on you and has given his only Son to die for you, and for his sake forgives you all your sins. To all who believe in Jesus Christ he gives the power to become children of God and bestows on you his Holy Spirit. On the other hand, I declare to the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as you continue in your impenitence, God has not forgiven your sins, and will surely visit your iniquities upon you if you do not turn from your sinful ways and come to repentance and faith in Christ before the day of grace is ended."
"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us, and for the sake of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of his dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, forgiveth us all our sins. As a Minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you who do truly repent and believe in him, the entire forgiveness of all your sins: In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Rubrics then add: Here the Minister may also say: On theother hand, by the same authority, I declare unto the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as they continue in their impenitence, God hath not forgiven their sins, and will assuredly visit their iniquiteis upon them, if they turn not from their evil ways, and come to true repentance and faith in Christ, ere the day of grace be ended."
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
"The only prominent figure in the Lutheran Reformation who argued that an absolution had to be unconditional was Andreas Osiander. The historian Ronald Rittgers, who has a fine study on these matters from which I learned much, calls this point of view “extreme absolutionism.” But even Osiander would have not agreement with your position. For Osiander confession had to be private. Public confession and absolution was for him illegitimate."
First, every study that I've read on Osiander says the opposite. Also, if Osiander was advocating absolute and unconditional absolution, then why did he want confession to only be private? In other words, if one unconditionally absolves people, then why can't you do that in public? Furthermore, Luther's letters to the Nuremberg town councils say the very opposite thing: Osiander didn't believe in unconditional absolution- that's why he thought it could only be private!
"He was at odds with the city fathers of Nuremberg over this. They banned private confession because they believed, and experienced to an extent, that the exercise of the keys by an independent clergy in private over individuals had the potential to be seditious."
That's a possible motivation, I have no way to judge that. All I have is Luther and Melancthon's letters.
"So confession and absolution in preparation for communion was made part of the public act of worship, the liturgy being approved by the city council. In the public order, the absolution was conditional because they knew that the imperatives of repentance and faith could not be assured at a public gathering. The dispute went on for quite a while. Luther and Melanchthon weighed in in a jointly written letter, taking the side of the city council. Nuremberg was somewhat of an exception. 50 Lutheran territories mandated by law private confession; the forms of absolution being unconditional."
Notice that he doesn't give examples of what constitutes "conditional absolution." We'll see below that his evidence is not very strong. Again, my point was merely about what Luther says and not what the city council said or did. What Luther clearly says is that there should be public and unconditional absolution. Luther's point was that the Word was effective, even if many did not believe the public proclamation of forgiveness!
Also, saying that private confession and absolution were maintained in other cities is besides the point. First, it dosen't automatically make it a good practice or in keeping with what Luther wanted and believed. Secondly , it is a red herring. Advocating private confession and absolution is not the same as saying that we should have conditional public absolution. I think having private confession and absolution is a wonderful practice!!! I think it's rather unfortunate that it's fallen out of use and I greatly appreciate those Lutheran pastors in the LCMS and elsewhere who have revived it. The issue is: should we try to somehow scare people into faith or more repentant "feelings" by making public absolution conditional. The answer is no! If we believe in the bondage of the will, then scaring people with conditional absolution won't lead to real faith or repentance.
Furthermore, the exercise of the keys is necessary and should be advocated strongly. If you read Matthew 18 and read Luther's take on these things, the primary goal of the exercise of the keys is to let people who are abusing their Christian freedom know that God is not mocked and that living in mortal sin is faith-destroying. In other words, the goal is to bring people to repentance who are already in a state of mortal sin, yet remain in the Christian community.
Secondly, the binding of sin is not an act that should begin in public, and therefore should not be part of the public liturgy of the Word. As Jesus states in Matthew 18, this should occur on a one-on-one basis. Later, when the Church disciplines those who reject the private admonition to repent, it can become public. Hence, the Divine Service should not be the arena where the binding of sins is to be initiated and therefore the public absolution should not be used to do this by placing conditions on it. That should happen within private confession and absolution first, before it becomes a matter of public church discipline("then tell it to the Church" and all that).
"This begins [public conditional absolution] with Luther in 1524 when he rejects the radical worship practices introduced by Karlstadt. As public orders began to appear, the uniform Lutheran practice was to make the absolution conditional. Here is an example of a conditional absolution for a public order from Wittenberg in 1559:
Therefore to all such as are here present with a penitent and believing spirit, who turn themselves to God and fear his anger at their sins, who believe that their sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ, and who earnestly resolve to die unto sin, to all such I proclaim the forgiveness of their sins according to the word of the Lord: Whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them. Therefore, according to the command of Christ, I pronounce to you this forgiveness, that your sins are pardoned for the sake of Jesus Christ. And of this voice of the Gospel you ought to accept, and enjoy true comfort in Christ, and walk faithfully and obediently before God, having a good conscience."
But this isn't something what Luther wrote, so why is being quoted to prove his position? Again, what I was writing about was Luther's position and not Church-practice 13 years after he died. In fact, as far as I can tell (I am not a liturgical scholar, so someone can correct me if I'm wrong!), Luther's original German mass simply assumes the continuation of private absolution, so it lacks a public absolution- conditional or otherwise!
Secondly, I don't know if I would really characterize this as conditional absolution. Yes, it presupposes faith is necessary to receive the general absolution, but that's a little bit different from what I mean when I reject conditional absolution. What I mean is when the minister tells his congregation "if you believe, then you will have forgiveness" or when he says "although I just gave absolution, if you weren't really penitent or had faith in what I said, then it didn't work" (this is more or less what Norwegian Pietist liturgies say!). This is the transformation of gospel into law. Law of course should be proclaimed- but gospel should not be transformed into law! All this liturgy says when it mentions faith and penitence is "receivers now receive!"
"Even where private confession was mandated, the public service with communion uniformly included an exhortation to communicants, warning them about repentance and faith. Here is Luther’s own version from 1525. Remember now, this is official liturgical language:
Dearest Friends in Christ: You know that our Lord Jesus Christ, out of unspeakable love, instituted at the last this his Supper as a memorial and proclamation of his death suffered for our sins. This commemoration requires a firm faith to make the heart and conscience of everyone who wants to use and partake of this Supper sure and certain that Christ has suffered death for all his sins. But whoever doubts and does not in some manner feel such faith should know that the Supper is of no avail to him, but will rather be to his hurt, and he should stay away from it. And since we cannot see such faith, and it is known only to God, we leave it to the conscience of him who comes and admit him who requests and desires it. But those who cling to open sins, such as greed, hatred, envy, profiteering, unchastity, and the like and are not minded to renounce them, shall herewith be barred and be warned faithfully not to come lest they incur judgment and damnation for their souls as St. Paul says [I Cor. 11:29]. If however someone has fallen because of weakness and proves by his acts that he earnestly desires to better himself, this grace and communion of the body and blood of Christ shall not be denied to him. In this fashion each must judge himself and look out for himself. For God is not mocked [Gal. 6:7], nor will he give that which is holy unto the dogs or cast pearls before swine [Matt. 7:6]."
Again, a red herring- Holy Communion is very, very different than public absolution. But this is not a surprising red herring. ELCA folks typically do not understand the distinction between general absolution and Holy Communion. That's why they practice what might properly be referred to not as "open Communion" but "indiscriminate Communion." In other words, when I've brought up the issue of closed Communion to ELCA folks they typically get really, really angry and say: "well, you just think that we have to be holy to receive Christ! But Christ's forgiveness is for sinners!!!" When I was in seminary, I had classmates who in this spirit, actually advocated communing the unbaptized- because hey, they need forgiveness as well!!
This misses the function of Holy Communion within the Christian life and why it is different than absolution or baptism.
In a word, there is a single mystery of faith (Christ and his benefits), but our relationship to that mystery differs depending on our faith and baptism. Jesus and the New Testament authors are clear that baptism and the proclamation of the Word of absolution both give faith and sustain faith. This is different than the Lord's Supper. To summarize Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: the Lord's Supper sustains faith that already exists, it does not create it. Hence, Christ commands baptism and proclamation extend to "every living creature." Sometimes the Word will harden, sometimes it will create faith- but one need not have faith prior to baptism or the the hearing of the gospel for it to be effective. Both have the possibility of creating faith, and not merely sustaining it.
Nevertheless, Jesus only instituted the Lord's Supper after the Disciples had already had faith. Similarly, Paul states that those who come to the table without a faith to be sustained don't receive forgiveness, but are condemned. In other words, unlike baptism and proclamation, faith will simply not be worked in those who receive Communion without it. Instead, condemnation will result. Hence, it's important to keep those away from Communion who don't have faith.
It's also true that a person (let's say a non-Lutheran Christian) can have faith in Christ and be saved, and through what Pieper called "falicitious inconsistency" have a wrong understanding of Communion. Hence, they should be kept away since they do not believe the promises and will therefore be condemned. It doesn't mean that they're not justified and absolved or that the pastor should have placed conditions on their absolution when he spoke them earlier in the Divine Service. To benefit from Communion, one must trust not only in Jesus' promise of the forgiveness of sin, but that he is substantially present ("discerning the body and blood").
Therefore, a eucharistic exhortation has nothing to do with the question of public absolution. If people don't believe (either that they are sinners or that Jesus is present), they should be kept away for their own good. This does not mean that they haven't previously received the public absolution or that giving unconditional absolution was in some way dangerous.
(Here he strongly attacks his opponent and admits that his own position might be characterized as Pietistic. But that's not a bad thing, he seems to say. He then talks about older American hymnals, which I am not competant to discuss and asks if anyone can really counter his argument. He seems to think not).
In summation, the question cannot be a purely historical one. The early Lutheran fathers were not infallible, neither did they claim to be. In any case, I think I've shown that his historical arguments have some significant holes in them and that conditional absolution (at least as he is advocating it) is not supported by his historical citations he offers.
Ultimaely, this is a theological question and not a historical one. The theological qusetion is this: Do people benefit when the subject of the verb in absolution is changed from Christ to themselves? The answer is no, because it gives the impression that we are absolved because of something we do. Secondly, is there a danger in publically telling people that they are forgiven? No, because if people believe it, then it is so! No one will accidentally believe it!
There of course is the possibility that many will simply use it to justify their continued wicked behavior or will reject the Word outright. This is where the power of the keys and the binding of sins comes in. Nevertheless, the creation of conditions for absolution will not reverse or prevent this. God works through his Word as he chooses. It is not up to us to somehow make his Word have a better effect by transforming it from gospel into law. Similarly, by witholding the unconditionality of the public word of absolution, we risk destroying the possibility that living faith will be created and/or sustained. This is different from warning people about the Lord's Supper, where as we know, unbelief will automatically result in condemnation.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
"Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time, how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it … He who does not accept what the keys give receives, of course, nothing. But that is not the key’s fault. Many do not believe the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel is not true or effective. A king gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the king’s fault, nor is he guilty of a lie. But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it." (AE 40:366-7).
The occasion of this opinion was a controversy that broke out in the Church of Nuremberg where Andreas Osiander of later "mystical indwelling is justification" fame was pastor. Osiander insisted that unconditional public absolution shouldn't be given. Instead, he favored private absolution almost exclusively. Why? Because Osiander claimed that he couldn't be certain if he was wrongly absolving people. If people lacked the right mental attitude of repentance, then they wouldn't actually be receiving forgiveness and therefore when he absolved them, he would be saying something false. Most early Lutheran liturgies actually agreed in some sense with Osiander on this point. Likewise, later in Lutheran history, the Pietists actually took the same attitude and so many early (and some later) liturgies of North American Lutheranism only allow for a conditional public absolution.
For Osiander by contrast, God was not active through the preach Word and therefore the spiritual union that really justified the sinner was available for the sinner due to their internal attitude prior to or perhaps alongside the forensic word. Just as Christ two natures were divided, the forensic and effective nature of the gospel were as well. This too was also true in the case for Pietism, which talked about whipping one's self up into a repentant frenzy so that one might receive the Spirit apart from the Word and in fact be ready to rightly receive the Word.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
First, I liked the book's general approach to the sources and to understanding Luther. The difficulty with much Luther research has been the long hangover from the Luther Renaissance. The chief weakness of the Luther Renaissance (methodologically speaking) is the location of the origin of the Lutheran Reformation in a series of isolated psychological experiences that Luther had. This is a holdover from the Romantic theory of "Genius" and Schleiermacher's concept of religious experience. Rather, Posset seeks the origin of the Reformation in Luther's monastic-humanistic culture. Luther's concept of scriptural study is highly monastic (oratio, meditatio, tentatio). Similarly, the origin of the indulgence controversy is probably to be found in conflicts between the Dominicans and the Augustinians in religious practice (earlier Staupitz had prompted Luther to write against the rosary promoted by the Dominicans). He also helpfully observes that in entering the monastery, it is unlikely that Luther's only goal was the mortification of the flesh. The pursue of humanistic learning was also important. The Augustinians were known for humanistic learning. Luther brought books with him into the monastery. If mortification had been his sole purpose, there where were other groups of monks/friars in the area that were more into the mortification of the flesh.
I do nevertheless have some problems with some of Posset's methodological decisions. Posset isn't willing to put stock in the Table Talk at all unless verified by a citations from a authentic work of Luther. I think this is a little over the top. Hence, he wouldn't put any stock in the story Luther tells of getting caught in the storm and making a vow to St. Anne. I again, agree that the Table Talk isn't 100% reliable and at times it's very dishonest. Nonetheless, I think that his criterion is too strict. For one thing, it's hard to see why a later Lutheran would make this up and insert this story into Luther's mouth. Also, it's difficult to see why Luther would all of a sudden magically enter the monastery to his family's surprise without having an experience like this. Posset notes that there was a plague in Erfurt (which probably explains why Luther left and went to see his parents), but it doesn't totally explain the transformation. I personally think if you combine the two factors, and then observe that Luther was like many people in the later Middle Ages worried about the end of the world, then it's a coherent historical explanation.
Of course, discounting this story and generally downplaying the spiritual distress that Luther felt in favor of a model where Luther is really the champion of reviving an earlier monastic spiritulity is really part of a covert theological agenda. Ultimately Posset wants to smooth down the break between Luther and Medieval Catholicism so as to make room for ecumenical appreciation and reunification. In fact, it's not all that covert because he outright says that's part of his goal! Luther comes off in his study as strangely well adjusted (compared with his own reckoning years later!). Luther is Friar with a little bit of a bad conscience (sort of) and who loves humanistic learning and spiritual authors. Again, trying to avoid one ditch (Luther Renaissance) he's fallen into the other. Luther's spiritual experience cannot be isolated as the basis of the Reformation, but neither can it be discounted.
As part of this agenda, he (in my opinion) also overemphasizes the influence of Bernard of Clauirvaux on Luther. He claims that Bernard was even more influential than Augustine on the Reformer. Having both read some of his articles on the subject and his book, I'm not all that convinced. Much of the similarity he sees between Bernard and Luther are things they share from the common stream of monastic spirituality and Augustinianism. Similarity is not influence, which is terribly hard to demonstrate. The best he can really do is show similarity and make reference to Melanchthon's biography and a few references in Luther's works.
Even more, he doesn't get justification by faith and why it's different than justification by grace. His entire ecumenical pitch is in fact based on a confusion of the two and his lack of understanding as to why Luther is so utterly different than Bernard. For this reason, he seems to me to fall into the category of those Catholic Luther scholars who have a high view of Luther, but don't really understand him and therefore have a naive idea that they are showing how the difference between us and the Church of Rome are trivial- when they're not! In this category I would place Pesch, Wicks, and Bell.
In spite of this, overall, the book was fully of many fine insights and I highly recommend it.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Couple of thoughts.
First, wanting revenge is bad. Not only does Jesus says so, but I think it's fairly clear that the whole Bible is on his side (that's for those who think that Jesus came to give a new and nicer law!). David certainly doesn't take revenge against Saul, even though he has opportunity to do so. Even "eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth" has to do with the working of civil government. God properly speaking is the only one can engage in retribution ("vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay"). This is because violations of justice are violation of his person as the Lord of creation. He gives justice's execution over to human agents (as in Genesis 9, where civil government is established), but this isn't revenge, but rather justice.
Justice is different than revenge because it represents the maintenance of order and the balancing of accounts. When it's done best, it generally speaking has nothing to do with the vendetta of the person executing it. Revenge is bad because it assumes self-justification, which is in fact the original sin. That's why Jesus says it's out. Not because he was a pacifist (he himself used violence in the Temple- remember!), but because taking revenge assumes that you are righteous and therefore injury to your person is worthy of payback. In other words, taking revenge assumes that you're owed something (rather than the God's own order of justice), when you're not. Properly speaking, only God's justice is owed something and therefore thinking that we are makes us into God.
The distinction between justice and revenge is an extremely important one and one which is often overlooked in our society. Liberal Protestants (and some Catholics) often appeal to Jesus' call to forgive enemies. This generally precludes wars they don't like. Then they forget all about it when there are wars that they do like.
This brings us to my second point: there's nothing wrong therefore with people wanting justice to be done. So being happy that Bin Laden was finally hunted down so that he can't kill innocent people anymore isn't bad at all. Neither would it have been bad to pray for that. It would be wrong to wish revenge on him. I think some (by which I mean a lot!) people felt that way (I wasn't one of them) and that was wrong and sinful.
When we move from the civil order to the realm of the order of the Church, I think we find the same thing. If salvation happens, it has to happen with judgment. That's why we have imprecatory Psalms. David wishes salvation and prays for it. If salvation happens, God has to judge the evil reality or persons (Pharaoh, Satan, etc.) that are preventing that salvation from occurring. There are other examples of this in Scripture- for example the cry of the souls under the altar in Revelation that ask for divine justice for the martyrs. So, the when the Church prays for salvation, it must also pray for the judgment of its enemies. There's no getting around this. This happened with both Egypt and Babylon in the Old Testament, as it will happen at the end of time for Babylon the Great (that is, the universal human society of the unbelievers).
Furthermore, that God's salvation comes with judgment does not mean that we ourselves escape judgment. The Church is merely the place where judgment as already taken place and the new creation has emerged. This judgment occurred on the cross and we participate in that judgment when we die and rise with Christ in the waters of baptism. Through this we have already moved beyond judgment. But let us be clear: our salvation only came with judgment and we were bought with a price.