As many of you probably know, Rev. Paul Rydecki was suspended by the WELS for his rejection of objective justification this last week. Generally I haven't commented on this because I thought that other people would do that for me. The fact of the matter is that that hasn't happened and so I feel a need as a theologian within the Church to do this.
Why? Specifically because I consider Rydecki to be dangerous theologically. He's dangerous because unlike someone like Gregory Jackson, Rydecki has a lot of ecclesiastical support. People who I know disagree with him theologically wouldn't say a word against him on Facebook or on other blogs. Unlike Jackson, who is generally viewed as a dishonest, self-serving, and quasi-comical figure, Rydecki is a serious and honest person, who has earned a lot of capital by opposing Church-growth and contemporary worship in WELS. Who could argue with that? Also, unlike Jackson, Rydecki states his theological position in a calm and intelligent manner, rather than by lying about the position of his opponents or by making up falsehoods about them personally. For this reason, he gives a greater credibility to the rejection OJ than a person who's idea of an argument is to cut-and-paste a million short and uncontextualized quotations from the Book of Concord onto a banner with the head of some synodical official or theologian photo-shopped onto the body of a baby, animal, clown, or character from Star Wars.
In order to respond to what Rydecki is specifically teaching, here is his own response to his suspension: http://www.intrepidlutherans.com/2012/10/suspended-from-wels-why.html
In response to his response, I have couple of observations:
1. Rydecki seems to be operating with the rather odd perspective that the language set down by the Formula of Concord is authoritative for all time. He also says something similar in the intro he wrote the the Samuel Huber book. The first question is: why? Obviously the Lutheran Confessions themselves show terminological evolution (justification in the Apology can mean either justification proper or sanctification, "sacrament" is defined differently in different documents- so the question of how many sacraments is answer different in different contexts- 4, the Apology; 3 the Catechisms; 2 the FC!). The Bible is the same way. Paul thinks of faith primary as something directed to the past (what Jesus did on the cross for us)- Hebrews has that aspect, but then also includes eschatological expectation in this as well- what Paul would probably call this "hope." Melanchthon and Calvin easily reconciled Paul with James by pointing out that what Paul means by "justification" is appearing righteous before God, whereas James is talking about appearing righteous (i.e. showing evidence of our faith) before other people! The early Reformers understood what a lot of people (especially in the WELS, it would seem!) don't seem to get: Doctrines are concepts. Concepts can be expressed in a lot of different ways. Just because a word isn't present, doesn't mean that a concept isn't present. Remember that Luther never uses the word "justification" in the Small Catechism. Nevertheless, he teaches the doctrine on every page.
2. Nevertheless, why should we use different words in different situations? Why doesn't the Church just decide on certain terms and keep with them forever? The fact of the matter is that theological terminology develops over time in order to deal with issues at hand. Someone who didn't say homoousia in the 2nd century wasn't a heretic, but after 324 AD they were. The same goes for objective justification. The terminology of OJ and SJ is intended to deal with problems that developed in the mid-17th century and afterwards. Pleads to maintain a certain primitive terminology are problematic, in that language only functions appropriately in a particular context. Once new controversies arise, the Church must generate new language to deal with the problem either 1. To clarify certain points (think "nature" vs. "person" by the Cappadocians after 324). 2. Heretics take over certain language- for example, the Reformed use "this is my body"- hence in order to keep the true meaning, we must say "this is the true body of Christ" etc. For this reason, what Rydecki fails to see is that innovation of theological terminology is necessary to maintain conceptual orthodoxy. Old terms in new contexts will not function and therefore promote heresy. If the Cappadocians had, for example, continued to insist that the anathema at the end of the original Nicene Creed had set down terminology for all time ("Let anyone who says that the Son is of a different hypostasis or ousia than the Father be anathema!") then in the new theological context of post-Nicene Christianity, they might have rightly been accused of Modalism. Neither would they have been able to make the clear conceptual distinction between "person" and "nature" which ultimately made Nicene orthodoxy conceptually coherent in the minds of many people.
3. What then was the situation that promoted the Church to use the terms OJ and SJ? The terms seem to develop somewhat later. Nevertheless, the sainted Kurt Marquart pointed out that the clear conceptual delineation of the terms came for the first time from Abraham Calov in response to the Catholic apologist Robert Bellarmine. Bellarmine pointed out that justification by faith was contradictory because the person was supposed to believe that they were justified when they in fact weren't actually justified until they had faith. Abraham Calov responded to this in his commentary on the Augsburg Confession by pointing out that the word of God's grace is objectively true and pre-exists our faith. Actually, since it causes it, logically it must be objectively prior to our subjective appropriation of it. Moreover, if one did not accept that it was objectively true in this way, faith wouldn't be a receptive organ , but a condition that somehow makes justification real. Hence, as Bellarmine pointed out, we wouldn't preach "your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus" but rather "if" you believe, then they will be. The gospel becomes a law!
4. Part of Rydecki's problem is that he does not understand that the word "justification" is being used differently when applied to OJ and SJ. When applied to OJ, the word merely means for God to pronounce a particular verdict on the human race. It does not mean for them to receive it. In the context of SJ, "justification" means to have receive that verdict. That is, to appropriate it. Because a check is written (OJ) does not mean that it is necessarily cashed (SJ). Because I have beer in my basement, doesn't make me drunk. His argument that having two justification doesn't make any sense because if the world was already justified at the cross and empty tomb why does it need to be justified again by faith (an old Jackson favorite as well!) is incoherent because it assumes that the word is being used the same way in both contexts. When one realizes that this argument rest on a very flat understanding of language (words mean the same things in every context) then the argument completely falls apart.
5. Lastly: Part of Rydecki's problem is that he tends to think about these issues in overly abstract terms. In other words, he thinks of OJ as an abstract and general relationship that God somehow has with all human beings, rather than a description of what God does under his various masks within creation and through the means of grace. For this reason, he finds it odd and incoherent to say that God in general and in some abstract sense is reconciled with the world when there's still wrath. Much of this I suspect could be remedied by a good reading of 20th century Luther scholarship, which I don't believe many of the anti-OJ advocate have done (Jackson once admitted that he hadn't even read standard works like Paul Althaus' The Theology of Martin Luther- quite shocking!). God doesn't interact with the world uniformly, but takes on different masks (larva Dei). In his mask of law and political order, he isn't a forgiving presence. When he wears the mask of the police officer and throws me against the hood of the car and hand cuffs me, that's not absolution. The point though is that when I come to the means of grace, God is a presence and a word that is already real and actual as forgiveness. God as he is present in the word of absolution that he gave the Church has already forgiven me objectively. When I leave the sphere of the law and enter into the sphere of the gospel (i.e. the means of grace) then I merely enter into that sphere where God is already real as grace. My faith doesn't actualize God as forgiving. If it did, then it would be a requirement and not a gift. Nevertheless, if I don't look for him in the means of grace, then I won't find his already forgiving presence. Rather, I will find him as wrath, law, and hiddenness outside of them. When it comes to grace and wrath, God in general, above the spheres of his dual activities (law and grace), cannot really be known. Hence God is "hidden" above his masks, as Luther repeatedly states.