Keep ‘the self’ out of it.

A Reformed Person’s Moment Of HonestyR.C. Sproul by james.thompson

Luther  warns time and time again against finding our assurance or ground on anything within ourselves, be it works or faith itself…all such is not only uncertain but idolatry and apostacy.  Key to this in identifying “works salvation” is not just the rank RC idea of justification or salvation by works, BUT finding one’s assurance and ground (i.e. election, rebirth, conversion, etc…) in works or even faith.  Yet, the Reformed even to this very day say, to quote one directly today about finding one’s assurance of divine election (from an interview on I & E), How does someone know they are elect, “IF you believe these things, THEN you are elect”.  But that denies the reality of Scripture.  As Luther told Erasumus (paraphrased), ‘it matters little, in the conscience where the battle occurs, how many scriptures you marshall in support of your position, I need only find one Word of God to fail it.”  Thus all law and all reason can be over thrown by the same and we have nothing but uncertainty.  Reducing such a “christianity” to false christianity and at length fallen religion with a façade named christianity.

 Then we find an honest but, ironically tragic moment in a open article by a modern Reformed teacher, one whom I dearly love and owe a lot of thanks to in my earlier years as a Christian, Dr. R.C. Sproul.  This I quote not to “pick on” but point out the fatal issue with Calvin and Reformed theology, it ultimately to the best brings nothing but doubt in honest moments when the head is down on the pillow at night.  From an article on, “Assurance of Salvation”, writes (Tabletalk, Nov 1989),

“A while back I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness… and suddenly the question hit me: ‘R.C., what if you are not one of the redeemed?  What if your destiny is not in heaven after all, but in hell?’ Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified.

“I tried to grab hold of myself. I thought, ‘Well, its a good sign that I’m worried about this. Only true Christians really care about salvation.’ But then I began to take stock of my life, and I looked at my performance. [How come you don’t just look to Christ and His promise in faith?] My sins came pouring into my mind, and the more I looked at myself, the worse I felt. I thought, ‘Maybe it’s really true. Maybe I’m not saved after all.’

“I went to my room and began to read the Bible. On my knees I said, ‘Well, here I am. I can’t point to my obedience…” 

Point of order:  This is odd because it is said that secondary proofs such as obedience and the detection of faith (IF you believe this, THEN you are elect) are foundational towers of Reformed assurance!!!

He finishes,  “…There’s nothing I can offer… I knew that some people only flee to the Cross to escape hell… I could not be sure about my own heart and motivation.  

Point of order:  Then how can one know one has faith, Luther’s POINT!  One can’t be sure of one’s own heart and motivation, but I thought “IF you believe these things, THEN you are elect…” to quote Reformed theologians verbatim.  Is that not the warp and wolf of Reformed theology and election, faith is “I believe” rather than “God cannot lie”.  I thought it was this in Reformed religion, “where there is life and salvation, there is forgiveness of sin”, not “where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation” (Luther).  See how the sacraments cannot help you here in the religion of Calvin and baptist, but then here’s a honest Reformed theologian in a moment of honesty saying, “…There’s nothing I can offer… I knew that some people only flee to the Cross to escape hell… I could not be sure about my own heart and motivation.”

 Yet Calvin in one of his more “Lutheran moments” states a very Lutheran sounding concept, “In short, no man is truly a believer, unless he be firmly persuaded, that God is a propitious and benevolent Father to him… unless he depend on the promises of the Divine benevolence to him, and feel an undoubted expectation of salvation” (Institutes III.II.16)

 A lot of “pro me” in that statement!  But according to Calvin and Calvinism at length I can’t rely on the general Gospel for only the elect are truly saved.  At this point a lot of modern Calvinist theologian apologize for Calvin saying some nonesense about him “being highly nuianced”, he’s not highly nuiacnced he is allowing the devil to dictate his theology.  Confusion is the signature of the devil, not God, and “highly nuianced” is just false cover.

 Again, at length I can’t rely on the general Gospel for only the elect are truly saved.  E.g. John 3:16 is of no help to me/one (benevolent TO HIM, pro me) since the “world” is the “elect” in such interpretations.  And we all know that the sacraments don’t actually effect or work regeneration (Reformed/baptist) and there is no real body and blood GIVEN that was shed for YOU FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN.  And again, according to Calvinism there must first be life and salvation before forgiveness of sin is had, not vice versa (IF you believe, THEN you are elect).  After all faith is “I believe” via this religion and not “God cannot lie”.  If “…There’s nothing I can offer… I knew that some people only flee to the Cross to escape hell… I could not be sure about my own heart and motivation…” and the general Gospel is ONLY effective for the elect and only sufficient but in the end nothing to the reprobate, and the sacraments do nothing at worse or await faith (at best) which is really the same thing…then there is nothing!

 There really are only two religions in the world, the cross is our theology, and all the others even that which parades itself around as Christian from the most buffoning to the most serious exegetical.

Thanks, Larry!
By the way, I absolutely love R.C. Sproul !
I wish he had more of a Lutheran  understanding of the Sacraments, then he’d have more of the peace that the Lord wants him to have.

26 Responses

  1. I left the following comment at his blog:

    “I wonder if it could all be simplified in the following manner (after all, if the kingdom is grasped only by those who become like little children, “simple” ought to be part of good Christian theology!):

    1. The only assurance we really need is that we’re loved and accepted by God apart from anything good or bad we’ve done.

    2. This assurance rests on 2 unchangeable truths: the eternal nature of God’s love and the demonstration of its depth on the cross.

    3. Faith is a God-given ability to see and embrace the fact that God already has reconciled us to Himself. It rests on the written and the living Word of God.”

    In other words: Our assurance rests in Christ alone, faith is nothing but the very act of resting on THIS foundation of truth. Neither its presence nor its absence changes God’s disposition towards us. We can have assurance because neither God changes nor does His gift to us change, not because we look inward to our own ability to fully grasp it or our inclination to believe or doubt it.

  2. Amen, Josh!

    Nic job explaining it!

    I think that the external nature of the Word is why we can have assurance.

    Some people (who internalize the gospel) just put their ‘faith in faith’ (I beleieve), rather than placing their faith in God (He has done, is doing, will yet do).

    The Sacraments are a way God uses to keep this Word of promise external, coming from outside ourselves, without our having to DO anything. Just recieve it. Just trust it.

    Thanks, Josh!

  3. I’m not sure I get the point.

    Is this post arguing:
    A) That Sproul experienced doubt *because* he was Calvinist? Is the assumption
    B) That Lutherans never experience similar doubts
    C) That lack of doubts is proof of the theology’s correctness

  4. As a Lutheran, I don’t have to ‘feel saved’ in order to know that I am saved.

    Calvinists and others (a lot of Lutherans included) do not trust in the work of Christ in His Word and Sacraments, for our sakes…so are left to other things for assurance. Those other things revolve around the self.

  5. Steve,

    I admire your moment of honesty in your reply to my post

    In that post I tried to be honest, that Luther and the BoC did say that works, at least partially, indicated genuine faith.

    There also you said that in un-equivocally that Luther and the Lutheran Confession – Book of Concord, heretical.

    So what my friend, makes one a Lutheran?

    Your fellow “Lutheran”,


  6. Not quite.

    Wherever they erred, they erred.

    One can read Luther at length and get whatever you want out of him. He was not a systematic theologian. He often shot from the hip. he said a lot of great things, and some things that were not so great.

    Being a Lutheran ought be about keeping people centered on what Christ has done, and not on what WE DO.

    That was the great impact of the Reformation. Where the Reformers, or where we fail to do that, we ought be corrected and brought back to the center…which is Christ Jesus Himself.

    Thanks, Extranosky.

    – Steve

  7. The point is really simple:

    For the Reformed (and by reformed we mean ALL arminian, cavlinist, baptist etc…) everything is upside down, due fallen human reason. Faith is thus defined, in its simplest expression:

    “I believe”

    For Luther/Lutheran faith is:

    “God does not lie” (taking from Paul in Romans)

    Thus firm assurance where the FOR ME is found TO THE MAN, you, me, Steve, Bob, Gretchen, etc… is found in the sacraments which are “God does not lie” and not in “I believe” which is overthrown entirely by Scripture, the later.

    One cannot know one believes and if one, even under self delusion thinks so, one thinks they find truly that “I believe” and thus their assurance (what gives them peace that “they are saved”) this is idolatry and an apostate Christian (Luther). For to take even ANY gift of God and find ground or assurance upon it is idolatry, plain and simple, even the best gifts including and up to faith itself or works or post conversion works. This is to find assurance NOT in the naked nude Word of God ALONE (you see Calvinism doesn’t really believe Scripture ALONE – not in the true since of that term). God’s Word alone binds, God’s Word alone frees. How do YOU know YOU YOURSELF are forgiven in particular of and by God? One answers, “well I believe” or “fruits of faith”. All over thrown by the Law however, your heart is wicked above all things and know one can know it. Not even yourself! If you say or believe you can you must realize you are already claiming to be God, it is the mark of antichristic religion to be like God and thus know the heart, even one’s own, even by secondary evidences. It is the fundamental of the fall of man, “to be like God”, even if I do that by measuring my heart indirectly and using reason to assess, “I believe”.

    That’s utterly opposite of “God does not lie” as the definition of faith. Thus the Lutheran under the same trial should never look inward to the self for “I believe”, for that’s the ground (assurance) shaken. In such the Lutheran simply says, “I find nothing except that I am baptized”, his/her confession is this in the “I am baptized”, “God cannot lie, no matter what I see or am being told”. THAT is a confession OF faith, “God cannot lie = I am baptized” (not “I believe”). Who cares what heterodoxies and mingled confessions think on this matter. Who cares that baptist laugh at this at us for this and sling doubt about this confession of faith, “I am baptized”. Who cares that their confessed doctrine rails against this! They laughed at the Cross they will laugh at this for it is from the Cross itself. Such false doctrines and railings and laughter merely PROVES it all the more!

    As Luther said that well learned men reject the Gospel only PROVES it’s TRUTH, and that other men on the other hand believe it PROVES its POWER.

  8. It’s ALL about the Word, “God does not lie”. See how easy and subtle it is to leave that Word via fallen human reason: In the external sacraments we have “God cannot lie”, yet we observe “many fall away”, and thus in order to assuage fallen reason say, “see the sacraments don’t work” and like good Papist, Calvinist and Mohamedians we go and search about for our “assurance” in other things. But NOTHING is further from the truth! That men do not believe the sacraments ONLY serves to PROVE their TRUTH, God cannot lie, and that some men do believe and are assured by them ONLY serves to PROVE their POWER. Thus, on one hand we have a religion that says via the Word and Sacraments “God cannot lie” and on the other via faith directly or indirectly “I believe”, yet Scripture clearly says, “all men are liars”. Thus we have in juxtaposition: “God cannot lie” and the sacraments versus “I believe” and “all men are liars”. One group finds assurances one way the other the other way, only one is truly true though.

    Becker writes of Luther, “Faith is something done to us rather than by us (magis passio quam actin). Luther warns earnestly against faith which is a work of man. That he calls a “manufactured faith” or a “fictional faith.” The true faith, he says, is a complete trust of the heart in Christ. Such faith is kindled alone by Christ. Whoever has it is blessed. Whoever does not have it is damned. Such faith also does not come out of our own preparation, but when God’s Word is preached openly and clearly, then such faith and hope, such a firm confidence in Christ begins to spring up.”

    And more: “Even if all the reason in the world were to be concentrated in one spot, it could not understand nor tolerate the Word, and the holier and sharper, the higher and more intelligent, reason is, the less it understands. If the words are to be understood and to enter the heart, someone higher than the intellect and heart must come. One must come into a different world and send reason off on a vacation and not ask it for advice. We must silence reason and tell it to drop dead and close our eyes if we want to understand this…. Therefore it is established that if a man wants to hear the word of Christ, he must leave that donkey [reason] at home. He should not deal with the Word or reckon with it according to his reason. But if he does this, he will stumble. So close your eyes and shut your mouth and open your ears and listen alone to the mouth and word of Christ. There is no greater danger in all the world than a highly gifted reason which seeks to deal with spiritual matters. It would be easier to teach a donkey to read than to set reason right; and while a poorly gifted man needs one teacher, a highly gifted one needs ten, as the German says “die gelerten die verkerten” (The greater the education, the greater the delusion). The more gifted a man’s reason, the poorer his understanding; and the poorer his reason, the better his understanding. Human reason can teach the hand and foot what to do, but only God can teach the heart of man to believe. We have enough to do in just listening to his Word, in which he speaks to us, and in praying diligently for help to understand it. Luther’s views on this matter are brought into the sharpest focus by his doctrine of the faith of infants. In a sermon on the eighth chapter of Matthew he deals at great length with the question of infant baptism. He rejects outright the papistic doctrine that baptism benefits without faith. He refuses just as vehemently to adopt the Waldensian view that infants are baptized on the basis of a future faith. Moreover, he renounces any kind of covenant theology in regard to this sacrament. 157 He says that if this is the best justification that we can discover for infant baptism, then we ought to baptize no baby. Infant baptism without confidence that these infants can believe he calls blasphemy. For his part, Luther asserts emphatically that babies can have faith. In answer to the argument that it is impossible for them to believe because they have not yet come to the age of reason he says, Friend, what does reason contribute to faith and God’s Word? Is it not reason that opposes faith and God’s Word in the highest degree, so that no one is able because of it to come to faith nor wants to let God’s Word hold sway unless it is blinded or put to shame, so that a man must die to reason and become like a fool and just as lacking in reason and understanding as a young child if he is to come to faith and receive God’s grace…. How often Christ urges us to become children and fools and damns reason! He goes on to say that children are much better qualified for faith than adults just on this account that in them reason is still weak and not yet fully developed. The “big head” of adults will not go through the narrow gate. Again in that connection he stresses that we should remember always that faith is God’s work and not the product of reason. Adults often hear the Word of God with their ears and with their reason but without faith. Children grasp it with their ears, without reason, but with faith. “The less there is of reason, the closer we are to faith,” he asserts. What faith does with God’s word is a far deeper thing than what reason does with it. For faith is solely God’s work, above all reason, and is as near to a child as to an adult, yes, much nearer, and as far from an adult as from a child, yes, much farther. The less there is of reason, he remarks in the Table Talk, the greater is the capacity for faith. When the gospel is preached to men it does not require a “rational decision and acceptance” but a “super-rational faith.” Indeed, reason fights against this faith, and faith cannot exist unless reason is blinded and made foolish. The gospel is to lead obstinate and blind reason away from its own light into the true light, which is perceived only by faith. Faith therefore is not the result of a rational decision on man’s part. Natural reason does not have the ability to see God, but it is the Spirit of God alone who enlightens the minds of men through the Word.”

    The simple thus come by faith alone to the sacraments were the naked Word is and KNOWS and is ASSURED of its salvation even when all the world and all the heterodoxies in and around the church question it. This faith will die a good death and simply fall asleep in the wounds of Christ – for it confesses “God cannot lie”. EVERY single article of faith is utterly invisible to reason, faith makes judgments on the invisible but given, ALONE, in the Word of God, reason makes judgments on what it sees and hears and feels via the senses but is deceived utterly (thinking it seeks after God it really flees from Him).

  9. Josh,

    That really is the simple difference. One religion is always trying to “get saved” the other is recognizing the already done deal didness fact of it all.

    The fact that the former, always trying to get saved, wars directly and immediately with the later, the recognizing the already done deal didness fact of it all; truly speaks to the, well, the issue at hand – one denies the other outright, they are not variations of the same thing and MOST of all just how impossible it is for man to really truly believe/naked trust the later. If we REALLY trusted the later, what shall we say that’s not already obvious, there would be NO debate/discussion whatsoever. We don’t debate the color of the sky because, well, we all believe it to be so.

  10. Thanks very much Larry. Your comments are always helpful. I actually wrote a post about the book you recommended to me some time ago. It’s one of the best books on theology I’ve read, and I’m grateful for the recommendation. I would appreciate any criticism if I got anything wrong in my use of the book to make my point.

    In fact, I wrote that post in response to a former Lutheran seminarian who experienced doubts about his salvation and left the faith to become a strident atheist. I’ve talked to a couple of similar Lutherans recently who have become fixated on fear of hell. Now, based on my interactions with you and theolodadam, I am predisposed to regard Lutheranism as being perhaps the truest form of Christianity. So I don’t take the evidence of these “doubting Lutherans” as evidence that Lutherans are wrong.

    Calvin in his sermon on Ephesians, said: “Now faith is not an opinion conceived by man in his own brain, but a settled belief that God cannot lie or deceive us, and that it is not to be feared that our hope shall not finally be well satisfied, if we wait upon him.” So it seems that Calvin is teaching that “saving faith” is the belief that “God cannot lie”, and I have definitely been told the same by my pastors before.

  11. JS,

    Thanks for the kind words and I look forward to reading your post on that book.

    One has to be very careful with the generic “God cannot lie or deceive us”, ANY heterodoxy will say that even baptist. Taken another way, who is really going to say, “God lies to us and deceives us.” See what I mean? Whose actually going to really say that. That, Calvin’s generic “God cannot lie or deceive us” is not what Luther meant. Faith for Calvinism is truly “I believe” and not “God cannot lie” and the sacraments cause this to present itself rather starkly and overtly. Calvin means it thus: “an offer of forgiveness is given (in the sacraments) that awaits faith to be had and to BE actual forgiveness”. Thus “God cannot lie or deceive us” in Calvin’s paradigm is thus, “Where there is life and salvation, (THEN) there is forgiveness of sin.” But Luther is explicit on this and this is directly quoted from his catechism on the LS, “…where there is forgiveness of sins (ALREADY SANS FAITH), there is (IN FACT) life and salvation”. That paradigm is where the Lutheran “God cannot lie” = faith exists. That Calvinistic inversion makes all the difference in the world and really separates two fundamentally different and diametrically opposed religions.

    Yes Calvin seems to have wrestled with this mightily but in the end he let his reasoning usurp the scriptures. Because it’s very ironic to hear him say on the one hand “God cannot lie or deceive us” then when God actually speaks (Christ) saying “this is my body…this is my blood…given/shed…for you…for the forgiveness of sin”. Calvin says “God cannot lie or deceive us in places, yet, in Calvin’s end all theology faith is required before anything is given. E.g. “how do you know you are elect?” The Reformed say, and I quote directly, “If you believe these things, then you are elect?” The faith issue shows up again regarding the sacrament, “IF you believe, THEN the holy spirit takes you into the fiery heaven to spiritually partake of the body and blood of Christ (in a nebulous way)”. That is for the non-Zwinglian Calvinist. The unbeliever, he/she, without faith receives ??? in the supper next to his/her believing friend. Yet for Lutherans the unbelieving friend right next to them still receives the very and true flesh and blood of Christ that was really given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. In terms of the sacrament, faith is irrelevant to its existence and reality. It’s there whether one believes it or not, for Calvin this is not so. Hence for Calvinism faith = “I believe” and not really “God cannot lie”, for the sacrament of the LS is only the sacrament IF faith is there, and hence the believing one is ushered into heaven via the Holy Spirit (a doctrine Calvin never proved from Scripture but assumed via reason, odd for an article of faith). Ironically the baptist run into the same problem over baptism, baptism is only baptism or real or actual IF faith is present and not baptism if not, hence rebaptism. The problem in both lay in the faith = “I believe”, the shaky sandy ground of inward turning. If the sacrament is only the sacrament for you IF faith is true, which cannot be determined by anyone (no man can read hearts directly or indirectly, this is the providence of God alone and to pretend to do so is original sin = being like God), then one can never really know if they’ve partaken in the sacrament LS or baptism. Faith not truly being “God cannot lie” the utter objective reality is removed (the sacrament is so sans faith period). One begins to see the inherent Gnosticism in Zwingli and Calvin here via reason.

    The key to understanding Calvin’s version of “God cannot lie” is in his qualifier (there’s always a qualifier to fallen religions) “if we wait upon him”. Therein, as Luther would say, is the hidden poison. Because it looks so very close to the truth, save this one drop of sulfur. No, it is as Luther said if God had meant for us to know another way our salvation he did not need to send His son in the flesh and give us the sacraments. The problem is not in the waiting but that fallen human reason is warring against the plain and simple words of God and in doing so even though one does not overtly say, “God is lying”, via reason one is saying exactly that, in the more subtle form of the serpent, “hath God really said”. E.g. “hath God really said”…”this is My blood”, surely not.

    In Calvinism nothing is ever actually GIVEN. The gospel remains only news at a distance, the sacraments don’t actually DELIVER forgiveness of sins to you, whether you believe it or not. And thus faith is not really preached INTO the heart as Paul says it must be done and the sewer of the seed shows us. Rather it’s the “IF you believe, THEN you are…(elect/reborn/saved…etc…)” which begets the fallen religious paradigm of “where there is life and salvation there is forgiveness of sin”. Which is really Satanic love and Satanic religion, God loving objects made first lovable. In opposition to God loving the unlovable, the true love of God. Fallen religion ALWAYS inverts this love (Luther’s HD).

    A point that may also help. Calvinist will say, “yes but Luther and Lutheranism too requires faith”. This is true but not the inverted way Calvin/Calvinist do. Recall for Luther “Where THERE IS forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation”. That’s a literal statement in the order stated. Do you see where that statement is an affirmation of original sin, the fall of all mankind via Adam and a reversal of it via the Second Adam Christ. Death came through sin, now sin is forgiven in reality objectively IN THE HEART OF GOD BEFORE ANY FAITH WHATSOEVER, and where that forgiveness is forgiven the GREAT reversal has occurred and life is literally given (REALLY GIVEN whether you believe it or not), we just cannot see it (recall Becker on the problem of reason versus faith how each one sees and makes judgments, faith the things unseen). For Calvin “faith” is really reason called faith, because reason is a sensory judgment making thing and hence ultimately an “IF/THEN” quid pro quo religion. ALL fallen religions are quid pro quo. ALL fallen religions would say, “God does not lie”, formerly. But for Luther faith is not “required” to make the mind and heart of God so, but the given and created instrument that can ONLY receive the unseen thing that is only “heard” via the Word…e.g. “shed for you…FOR the forgiveness of sin, the blood you are drinking is the same blood shed for you 2000 years ago. Where there IS forgiveness, there is life and salvation! Life, literally is in the blood, the blood of God, forgiveness of sins is in the very blood of God (where there IS forgiveness, there is life and salvation). The forgiveness of sins, LIFE (the great reversal) IS in the blood of God, THIS God, the Christ, the incarnate God, HIS blood for real, the blood that bled and is drank. Life is in the blood of God = life is in the Word of God = life is in the Word this Word incarnate that shed His blood (where there IS forgiveness, there is life and salvation). Thus, God cannot lie. Even if all men are liars because they deny this.

    When God told Noah to build the boat, reason laughed at Noah (probably even his own reason). But the boat, salvation, WAS real objectively with or without a single believer and in it was life and outside of it was death. It is the same with the sacraments, in fact Peter makes this very comparison regarding baptism. Though reason saw no rain nor flood nor could imagine a flooded world entirely killing everyone, faith saw the unseen thing in the Word. The Ark looked foolish to reason, but the Ark was life to faith. Thus faith is required but not in a quid pro quo religion such as Calvin’s but as the “sense” if you will to “see” what is otherwise invisible, and the seeing is not just pie in the sky guess work but based on the very Word of God actually given that cause and creates what it says (e.g. this is my body/blood). Hence, and we are back full circle, the true “God cannot lie”, and not a quid pro quo “God cannot lie” that is really a hidden “I believe”.

    In the simplest form, for a Reformed person, one must ask one’s self this question: (keeping in mind the reformed idea on election) “How do I know that God Himself has forgiven ME in particular all MY sins?” How is that given to YOU in particular and thus you really HAVE not just heard the Gospel?



  12. Again, a shorter way for me of summing it up, is simply understanding: if we turn “faith” into a work of man, we can never have a solid foundation of assurance nor experience the actual joy and freedom of the Gospel message.

  13. Thanks, Larry.

    What is the best book I could read that discusses Calvinism’s faults from a Lutheran perspective? Also, anywhere I can learn about the history of the dispute? For example, did Calvin consider himself to be purposely deviating from Luther, or did it happen unknowingly? At what point were there Lutherans who eventually started calling the Calvinists apostate, and so on?

  14. JS.

    I suggest you read the Book of Concord. That way you get a true representation of what Lutherans truly confess. in the latter part of the BoC, you will find the Formula of Concord, this section deals with the errors of Calvinism as well as other Lutheran errors.

    Please read the text of the BoC and not someone’s interpretation of it. Read it with the Bible on your hands. Examine it for yourself. That is what I did and continue to do. Even H O J Brown, the late Reformed Theologian was impressed with it, how 8000 theologians and pastors of 1580 signed their names on it.

    You will be surprised as what the BoC states, you will also be surprised how it is so exegetically sound and brutally hones with the Scripture.


  15. @extranosky – Do you mean, “The Formula of Concord”? As I understand, the Book of Concord collects many important works, such as the 95 theses and Heidelberg Disputation, which are not relevant to the question I asked.

    I don’t think it’s very good advice to tell someone to read the text of something like HD, without any expert commentary. I tried to read HD years ago, and it seemed like sophistry. I doubt that I’m alone in that first impression; it is structured in these antitheses that read like Zen koans.

    It wasn’t until Larry recommended Forde’s book about the HD that I was able to see how amazingly relevant and profound HD is. Perhaps that qualifies me to read the rest of BoC now, without any commentary, and draw the right conclusions, but I doubt it.

  16. JS,

    No disrespect to Forde, I do not recall him being around when the 8000 pastors/theologians signed the BoC! Lutheranism does not need another magisterium to interpret its documents. That is Romanism.

    Lutheranism believes in the perspecuity of Scripture. If they believe that for the Scripture certainly they believe it for their BoC


  17. @extranosky – Well, I don’t think anyone should be reading HD without at a minimum Luther’s associated commentary. That’s just crazy.

    But you’re right that the Formula of Concord is more readable, although I didn’t find it terribly relevant to the question I asked. There was a bunch of stuff in there that was standard Calvinist doctrine, and a bunch of refutation of heresies that have nothing to do with Calvinism.

    I finally found a document in BoC that is exactly on point: The Visitation Articles For the Electorate and Provinces of Upper Saxony, published A.D. 1592. That plus the associated editor’s not (an editor or commentary is not a Pope, I hope!) is exactly what I needed to get pointed in the right direction.

  18. JS,

    If you are steep in Calvinism and you are reading the Formula of Concord and Solid Declaration part of the BoC, you will know it is correcting you specially when it came to Election and the Sacraments.

    The FC and SD came due to the controversis of crypto-Calvinist that imbedded themselves like sleeper cells within Lutheranism, this is called by historians as the Interim.

    I disagree with you regarding the HD. Maybe because I was an ex-Romanists that is why I get Luther right away.


  19. @LPC – Yes, I think I was confused because I am generally dismissive of disputes about election between calvinist and *classical* arminian, since neither side regards it an *apostasy* issue. So I read it, and thought, “Yeah, that’s a perfectly reasonable way to put it”.

    It’s enlightening to me that Lutherans consider it an apostasy issue. I had no idea.

    And regarding the “real presence”, I also brushed over it, although I suppose that’s more difficult for a proper Calvinist. I was baptized Roman Catholic at 18 and studied under a pre-Vatican II priest, so I was comfortable with Luther’s statement of belief about communion. I don’t really understand why other denominations feel it’s so important to say the bread and wine are merely symbolic.

  20. Couple of problems with this article:

    (1) Reformed theology does not teach that we simply and only look to our own works or obedience for assurance. That would be an over-simplification of Reformed theology and an over-simplification of what the bible teaches. Reformed theology does teach, that when God saves a sinner, he also changes the sinner. We are given a new nature with new affections and a new direction in life. The bible calls us to watch our lives closely and examine our faith. It calls us to make our calling and election sure. It tells us that genuinely following Christ comes at a price. You cannot have assurance of salvation if your living like the world. The bible doesn’t allow for it. But an evidence of genuine faith is your direction in life. This direction of life is the work of God in a believers life, and therefore one evidence for assurance. This is often called “progressive sanctification”.

    But Reform theology as well as biblical theology knows that ultimate assurance is grounded in the promises of God (not our works). We simply rest in the promises of God to save anyone who comes to Him. We need the church and we need the sacraments to continually point us to Christ and rest in His promises. These are the means God has given to us…

    (2) Reformed theology does not translate “world” in John 3:16 to mean the “elect”. That’s hyper Calvinism. A position very few would hold.

    (3) Reformed theology also holds the gospel out to every person. The gospel is free for anyone who wants it. It’s a sincere offer for the entire world. And nothing prevents a person from coming to Christ except for the free choice of the person.

    (4) Not all Reformed or Baptist theologians reduce the sacraments to mere symbols. I could provide a long list of names of Reformed & Baptist teachers who hold a very high and biblical view of the sacraments

  21. Barb,

    You cannot have assurance of salvation if your living like the world. The bible doesn’t allow for it.

    You can if you are an antinomian or a universalist.

    But an evidence of genuine faith is your direction in life

    The BoC will agree with you.

    This is often called “progressive sanctification”.

    I as a Lutheran, will disagree with the mechanics of this because, you cannot quantify your sanctification. However, there is a qualitative change that the believer experiences because a true beliver lives in the state of repentance. That alone is a change.

    Not all Reformed or Baptist theologians reduce the sacraments to mere symbols. I could provide a long list of names of Reformed & Baptist teachers who hold a very high and biblical view of the sacraments

    I am sure you can, because your confession of faith is so abreviated that you can take two Reformed/Baptist folk and they can come up with 3 views on the Sacraments.

    Overall in experience, this does not happen in usual practice. It is because the anchor on which the theology stands is not part of the confession of faith and one is left to implement that confession.

    This does not happen in Lutheranism. We do not have regional confessions. For example in Reforemed you can have Heidelberg, Belgic, Helvetic, Westminster, Savoy confessions etc. You can even chuck in there the Philadelphia and London Baptist confessions.

    Lutheranism does not allow for this and rightly so. Our doctrine of what a Church is a bit different.


  22. Josh,

    That is correct and a nice summary, the problem is in recognizing just how subtly we do this. We don’t just one day say, I know of NO Christian that does this when pressed on the issue, “I believe faith is a work”. Or “Faith is the quid pro quo coin that purchases salvation.”

    NOBODY says that. But you will find Reformed, the best of them and I quote, “IF you believe these things, THEN you are elect”, in asking the question to the self, “how do I know I’m elect”. It is there, sans the sacraments, that faith is made a work without becoming called a work. It’s called speaking out of both sides of your mouth. If the pro me is taken out of the sacraments, via fallen human reason, and if Christ’s death didn’t effect forgiveness for all but only the philosophical “efficient/sufficient” argument. Faith must necessarily become a quid pro quo de facto work, even if otherwise it is denied being a work on paper.


  23. JS,

    I would agree with LP on the BOC whole entirely. The only reason I recommend Forde and the other is that it tends to speak to the modern Calvinist struggling more and without 500 year old issues that are not so much addressing things they did not see themselves. For example Owenian Calvinism, Baptist (as opposed to Anabaptist) and Methodism, etc… The BOC does “speak” to it indirectly out of logical extension, but not directly and explicitly so that the modern Calvinist will immediately grasp its points. For example it does not condemn so directly John Calvin per se as it may the Anabaptist so explicitly. This has led many Lutherans, I think, to fall into a very friendly trap with Calvinism. Yet, if you really read the BOC it most surely does condemn Calvinism in an indirect way. It won’t say, for example, “we condemn the Southern Baptist or Puritanism (they didn’t exist under those names at the time) but it does say, “we condemn the teachings of the Anabaptist/enthusiast. A “surface reader” says, “see not condemnation of the baptist just Anabaptist, we can be friends.” Thus, one could miss the points that it matters not so much the label condemned but the essential nature of the heresy or to put it rather straight forward, “A rose is a rose by any other name”. Also there is the dangerous reality of modern crypto-calvinist within Lutheran ranks that “re-interpret” the BOC. It’s just as Luther warned when he said that if they can twist Scripture then how much more my own words, same thing. The other dangerous reality, you see among too many so called confessing Lutherans is that it is so very easy to invert everything, keep it Lutheran sounding, but have entirely overthrown the Gospel in the inversion process. E.g. Calvin agrees that justification is by faith alone, but he inverts it thus, “where there is life and salvation, there is forgiveness of sin”. Luther on the other hand, which is in the BOC says, “where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation.” Same words, sound the same, very close but two different religions, one of hell one of heaven period! The same thing with good works, the great inversion that goes on most of the time is to set all this upside down, which Luther warned of. Thus there is a difference in a religion that says “grace alone, the Gospel is the power for good works.” And a religion that says, “grace alone, the Gospel FREES us to do good works.” Very close, but Satan is very tricky. One being Satan’s religion disguised in light, the other Christ’s Cross! See the subtle but crafty work of the serpant!

    So you will find EASILY two confessing Lutherans saying two separate things from the Book of Concord sometimes. Does this make the confession bad or confusing? Not at all it simply the principle Luther warned of, if men make Scripture unclear to deceive, so much easier is it to do so in the BOC. This is why cryptocalvinism marches onward into Lutheranism. Sometimes by the way on the left from more open communion directions, and then on the right from the more Calvinistic rendering of the third use of the Law or secondary proves of faith via works (Luther is MOST misunderstood on this).

    So, it depends on what you are looking for. For me the history is helpful but I wanted to know “why” the difference and is it essential. To me that’s the critical point. I think the two best in the light are a combo of Forde’s “On Being A Theologian of the Cross” coupled with Siegbert Becker’s “On The Foolishness Of God”. Both of these speak to the problem of a theology of glory/reason on one hand and a theologian of the Cross/faith on the other hand.

    If you are just looking for a more compiled discussion on the issues I’d highly advise getting a copy of the Book of Concord as it deals directly with this and more. A Lutheran pastor, Fisk, points out that all the discussion in there follow the general pattern of 1. What’s the issue, 2. What the issue does to the Gospel, 3. What’s scriptures say about it, 4. What’s the church father’s say about it, 5. (in some cases) what Luther said about it.

    Really it boils down to really and truly sticking with the words of Scripture making reason subservant to Christ or reason master over Scripture. In that light the simple question on one issue is the LS, why, fundamentally depart from the clear words? I mean that’s a REAL question to be answered. If the answer boils down to some form of “the finite cannot contain the infinite” or “it is absurd to all reason” (Calvin directly stated this), then you HAVE to consider is reason here serving Christ or attempting to be Christ’s master. Technically speaking those two principles can be said of the Trinity, foregivness of sins and ALL articles of faith including the two natures. Then you begin to see just why Luther said, “This is another spirit (meaning of the devil) and why this denial in the LS is not only on the same level as say a denial of the Trinity or two natures but ultimately the same thing. When the Muslem says, “the Trinity doesn’t make sense, it offends reason”, the Orthodox confession is, “I agree, its an article of faith…ALONE.” When the Baptist says, “Baptizing infants doesn’t make sense, it offends reason”, the Orthodox confession is, “I agree, its an article of faith…ALONE.” When the RC says, “justification by faith alone doesn’t make sense, it offends reason”, the Orthodox confession is, “I agree, its an article of faith…ALONE.” When the Reformed says, “the true flesh and blood of Christ in the LS doesn’t make sense, it offends reason”, the Orthodox confession is, “I agree, its an article of faith…ALONE.”

    But here we learn in these sacraments how true faith is TO BE and how the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of men. For as Luther points out one of the benefits given in the LS, the true body and blood of Christ is this; that so we may learn and be strengthen and accustomed to following our Lord’s voice (alone) by faith alone, and thus KNOW where salvation, forgiveness, eternal life IS and become accustomed to an invisible thing/reality, namely forgiveness of sins, he, Christ gives us another unseen thing, his very body and blood. In this way faith is strengthened to follow the nude Word and unseen thing!

    And THAT is the brilliance of the unspeakable wisdom of God that Paul lauds in Romans, it is beyond BRILLIANT and all JOY.

    So I’d read the BOC with some of these others in hand. For bigger treatments look at Sasse’s book on the issue at Marburg and the LS, then Chemnitz’s more meaty treaty of the LS. Sasse didn’t write in the BOC but out of it and Scripture was well equipped to bring out the modern subtle errors that are not so obvious from the BOC today. The fact of the matter is we still have truly called pastor’s who teach to. To loose site of this is to eventually loose site of the office of the pastor and the reality that when he absolves you, it is Christ absolving you and when he gives the sacraments it is Christ doing it.

    I hope that helps,


  24. Not all Reformed or Baptist theologians reduce the sacraments to mere symbols. I could provide a long list of names of Reformed & Baptist teachers who hold a very high and biblical view of the sacraments

    High view or low view does not constitute the reality of mere sign or symbol, its apples and oranges. I have a very high view of prayer, but prayer is not a sacrament. The mere sign/symbol concept comes from the direction of the arrows in the sacrament. This is why in our day and age the term “sacrament” ought to be used less in conversation because it does not in the modern English language hold the innate and intrinsic understanding it did back in the day when the Latin language was more apropos. In our day in age the Greek term carries with it, better, the innate and intrinsic understanding better over into the English translation. That term, “mystery”. That at least intrinsically more immediately sets up the discussion better. Because the real flesh and blood of Christ in the sacrament is a mystery to reason but are clear reality to faith, and that’s where the Lutheran confessions leave it. The Roman’s on one hand attempt to remove the rational problem by removing the finite part, like gnostic doceticism, and the Reformed/Baptist etc… on the other hand attempt to remove the rational problem by removing the infinite part, like gnostic arianism. “Mystery” goes a long way almost immediately in providing the answer to the question, “how does this happen”. Well sir reason, the devil’s mistress, its none of your business, it’s a mystery. The same way the two natures are a mystery and the Trinity

    Ultimately they do. Why? Even the HIGHEST reformed view of the sacraments, most pure John Calvin and not “calvinism” (which NO Baptist adheres to whatsoever and remains a baptist), is the view that the Holy Spirit takes the believing one up into heaven to commune.

    That’s the HIGHEST Calvinistic view out there, Calvin himself. But it IS in the end a mere symbol. Calvin adhered to the strict philosophical definition that “a sign is a thing that points to the greater reality”. Or the oft quoted reformed quip (again NO baptist says this), one cannot confuse the sign with the thing signified. ALL of them state this, RC, Michael Horton, etc…

    The substance is thus this: two men are communing, same day, same church, same pew right next to each other. Both partake of the cracker/wafer and the wine/grape juice given them during the same worship service, same words spoken etc… Yet one guy is an unbeliever. The guy that is the believer partakes, under Calvin’s high view, being whisked away by the Holy Spirit (a doctrine to this date NEVER found in Scripture) into the high heaven where Jesus is bound up (also required under Calvin) and spiritually partakes of His body and blood. The other guy, the unbeliever, receives…what? Only bread/cracker and wine/grape juice, THE SIGN/SYMBOL ONLY.

    Ultimately, when all is said and done this differs nothing from Zwingli, the LOWER sacramental view in the Reformed camp and the ONLY view in the Baptist camp (ALL confessions, LBCF, SB F&M, Chicago, etc… state this explicitly). Zwingli simple dispenses with the spiritual up take of the believer via the sign pointing to the thing signified (that is somehow looked for elsewhere) versus the sign/symbol only of the unbeliever. Zwingli says that its simply a pure memorial whereby we remember what Christ did for us and show our allegiance to Him.

    Rome makes the sacrifice a sacrifice offered up to God.

    The sum is this: All three Rome, Reformed and Baptist in various ways reverse everything and make the sacrament a means by which WE approach God. Either a work via the sacrifice of the Mass, the work of and power of human memory, or the working of faith to get into heaven.

    Luthernism (and the church orthodox) has always confessed it NOT to be a means by which we approach God but the means by which God, literally approaches us.

    Agree or disagree with the Lutheran view: What is absolutely certain is that arrows are reversed between the three versus Luther, and at the end of the day in sum total two separate religions at the most fundamental level.

    Which brings up open communion. Reformed today are not like Reformed of old, neither are the baptist. If one holds to ones confession which ever it is, one should NEVER desire to commune at Lutheran table period. I NEVER, though was present at some funerals and weddings, would as a calvinistic baptist commune with RC for example, nor would I have Lutherans either. Because IF you REALLY hold to your confession and say and REALLY believe your confession (which is what you are suppose to do and required to do) then you MUST realized and consider from your confessions point of view that the Lutheran communion is both a heresy and blasphemy.

  25. A real connecting point is the point of how fallen human reason cannot understand, but rather hinders faith, in all articles of faith. Reason ALWAYS goes one of two Gnostic directions to make it work for it, but when it does, it looses faith’s article and thus Christ, the Gospel and everything. Reason ALWAYS hast to remove either the infinite part or the finite part due to philosophies basic principle “the finite cannot contain the infinite” which simply a restatement of the first laws of logic regarding either true or false and excluded middle.

    Reason, thus, cannot understand the incarnation (God/man) and thus we find we have either docetism to relieve the problem by removing the finite, or arianism by removing the infinite. In this way there is nothing unseen for faith to have, which is the ONLY thing faith can have, but things seen which fallen human reason can detect using the senses. Thus, no article of faith whatsoever. The result is the removal of Christ and the Gospel altogether. For what then bridges in either case the infinite chasm between fallen man and a holy God in either of these? Answer: Some form of works by man even if it’s called grace or by grace or faith or by faith. The same occurs in the sacraments. Either, via fallen reason, the finite or infinite is removed, the doctrine of transubstantiation (Rome) or the various but similar sign/symbol doctrines (Calvin/Zwingli/anabaptist/baptist). God does not bridge the gap and come to us be we to him. But, it is said in high Calvinism that the HS does this and thus God. But that is no difference whatsoever from rank Pentecostalism and the signature of all enthusiasm in which Luther warned, “where the Holy Spirit is being proclaimed without this Word (the external Word) or the sacraments, there is the devil”. Futhermore this denies Christ as being the one who actually bridges the infinite gap, the ONLY mediator between a holy God and sinful man. Thus, these two forms of docetism and arianism lead to the same thing as their more rank forms do to bridge the gap via some kind of human work even if it is called by grace by faith, etc… But that is not grace (which is the forgiveness of sin, not a power) and not faith (which alone deals with things unseen), but rather false faith which is really reason parading around as “faith” (theologian of glory). Fallen reason and TOG go hand in hand are the same exact thing. Both detect God working, so they thing, in the things that are, experiences, etc…Reason, not faith, makes judgments based on its experiences and emotions via the use of the senses. It judges by what it SEES. Faith has to deal with, alone we say, things unseen…PERIOD! Thus articles of faith are utterly absurd to reason which judges a different way (the by the way is the true meaning of the idea of worldliness and not the asinine pietistic understanding of that term that basically reduces it to “the bad sin list”. This is the fallen wisdom of the world and true worldliness, true flesh and to do things ACCORDING TO the flesh! Not “just” the bad sin list of the false teachers.)

  26. “A real connecting point is the point of how fallen human reason cannot understand, but rather hinders faith, in all articles of faith. Reason ALWAYS goes one of two Gnostic directions to make it work for it, but when it does, it looses faith’s article and thus Christ, the Gospel and everything. Reason ALWAYS hast to remove either the infinite part or the finite part due to philosophies basic principle “the finite cannot contain the infinite” which simply a restatement of the first laws of logic regarding either true or false and excluded middle.”

    This is a really good way of putting it, I think

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