Friday, July 22, 2011

Sincerity of the Universal Call? Now Here's a Good One!

I'm still reading Heppe and have found some more interesting stuff.

This is truly amusing!  

Lutherans have typically argued that the universal call of the gospel cannot be a sincere one for the Reformed (this argument is present in the Formula of Concord).  Why?  Because it is falls on the ears those whom God predestines to damn in hell.  Calvin was therefore quite explicit that the presence of the Word could not actually be a gage of election because not everyone who hears the Word is saved.

What I found reading Heppe is interesting.  The later Reformed scholastics felt the force of this criticism.  Hence they argued that the universality of call was in fact sincere despite the fact that God secretly intended certain people's damnation.  How did they work that one?  Their claim is that the call is sincere insofar as it is truthful.  In other words, God says to everyone "if you repent and believe, then you will be saved."  Now that's true and sincere.  Nevertheless, God only works repentance and faith in the elect and so only they meet these conditions.  

What's more problematic about this claim (beyond it's pure sophistry) is that it basically makes faith into a kind of condition or law, rather than a receptive organ.  In fact the Reformed generally like the idea that the gospel is a sort bilateral covenant.  Calvin and Zwingli both agreed that the word of the gospel was not only a promise, but a command to repent and believe.  Though one does not of course merit salvation through doing these actions, the emphasis definitively falls on the obedience and activity of the human subject rather than the passivity.


  1. The damnable nature of this claim is what robs the reformed of the blessings given in the sacraments. They baptize because the Bible says so; they celebrate the Lord's Supper as a remembrance; as to Absolution - I really can not speak to their views. What's missing is the very reason for Christ's incarnation - He came for sinners to give us the forgiveness only He could earn on the cross. The gospel is not what we do but what He has done and continues to do for us. Kyrie Eleison.

  2. Just the other day I came across something in Muller's Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological terms that serves as a corollary of what you are saying. Both the Reformed and Lutherans in the era of Orthodoxy would speak of the Word and Sacraments as means of grace (despite the common Reformed predeliction for calling conversion an immediate act of God), but the Reformed used the phrase media gratiae, while the Lutherans used the words organa gratiae. The latter, of course, is a much more active concept than the former. For Lutherans, the Word is a tool or instrument of grace that God is actively using to call people to saving faith. Hence the universal call through the Word is always sincera et efficax. But for the Reformed the Word is more of a passive channel. Thus, among Lutherans the Word is active and faith passive (at least in its role in justification), while among the Reformed the reverse is true.

  3. James, very excellent insight! That was truly helpful!