Theses on the Article of Justification: A Refutation of the aclc’s Critique: Part One
Part One: Their Preamble and Our Preface
The ACLC’s critique of our “Theses on the Article of Justification” (herein, “Theses”) demonstrates a mixture of faulty logic, inapplicable quotation, and construal of words and events in the worst possible way. Considering the enmity and inaccurate account presented in the ACLC’s critique, we find it necessary to give an accurate accounting of the facts.
The pastors of our diocese and others in attendance recall the conduct of the two representatives of the ACLC before, during, and after the 2013 Synod and Colloquium of the ELDoNA quite differently from what the ACLC as a whole has indicated in the Preamble of their published document. Things in this vein that bear noting:
- Bishop Heiser’s statement before Pastor Rydecki’s colloquy interview did not indicate that no questions on “Objective Justification” would be entertained, but that the interview was not to have that as its exclusive topic. The pastors of the ACLC, for whatever reason, chose not to ask Pr. Rydecki any questions during his interview, although they were free to do so. As for the pastors of the diocese, we believed we knew where Pr. Rydecki stood on this issue, but he had nothing in writing as to where we stood. Once our document was completed, his agreement with our “Theses” (as with his agreement with our previous Niles Theses and Malone Theses), would provide clear testimony verifying that unanimity in doctrine existed between us.
- The maligning of Pr. Rydecki by the ACLC—including the attempt to separate him and what he teaches from the ELDoNA and what we unanimously teach—has been and remains unseemly and unchristian. Beginning with the Preamble’s mock incredulity at Pr. Rydecki’s truthful statement that no rostered member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod made an objection to the action or statements of the WELS in condemning Pr. Rydecki for speaking the Gospel precisely as Lutherans during and after the Reformation did, such ad hominem and appeal to emotion based argumentation ought to be given the proper treatment by any fair reader.
We further note that in their Preamble, the ACLC pastors already begin using equivocal wordings that make an attempt at meaningful discussion of this topic frustrating, if not impossible. Before they even get into their critique, they begin to avoid the term “Objective Justification,” instead speaking of Justification’s “objective aspect.” Such changing of the terms, however, is patently misleading, as it paints those who reject the Walther/Pieper/Synodical Conference language as those who teach a “Justification” apart from the objective facts of redemption—the accusation of teaching “faith in faith”—in spite of the abundantly clear fact that our pastors point to the objective work of Jesus in atoning for the sins of all mankind, the objective and unilateral promise of salvation, and the delivery of the same by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace that He has established. We by no means teach “faith in faith.” Rather, we clearly teach that faith in the work of Christ and the promise attached thereto as recorded in Holy Scripture is the God-given means (and the gift of God!) through which alone forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are received. We simply point to God’s Word, while those teaching “Objective Justification” are not satisfied to do the same, but point hearts to a declaration not recorded in Scripture, but that they assert (based on questionable exegesis that would be foreign to the early Lutherans) was made in the heart of God on Good Friday (or Easter).
When commenting further on the Preface to our “Theses,” the ACLC speaks falsely when it says that Pastor Rydecki “refused to teach the objective aspect of the doctrine of Justification.” He did no such thing; he refused to teach the false doctrine known as “Objective Justification.”
When the pastors of the ACLC wish to be sure that “Objective Justification” “is never to be taken in opposition to, or apart from, the subjective aspect of Justification,” and say that they “recognize that the teaching is stretched by some beyond what it encompasses,” we reckon that they do not intend these statements for the benefit of the ELDoNA, but of the general public, since we have never accused them of either error.
However, when they seek to define Justification in the same paragraph, they obfuscate. They write: “The doctrine of Justification is understood by us to be that an individual is subjectively (i.e. personally) declared righteous before God when he believes in the objective righteousness that is provided in Christ for the whole world.” If that is the case, they cannot condemn us, because that is exactly what we teach! The problem is that what they have written as their definition is not what an “Objective Justification” model actually teaches: it is not “ the objective righteousness that is provided in Christ for the whole world” that is to be believed, but (as far as Franz Pieper and other teachers of “Objective Justification” are concerned) that God has already declared the whole world righteous.
It is highly problematic for those who wish to understand what is at issue that the pastors of the ACLC (and many others) shift in and out of definitions in this way. Such ambiguity makes the reader wonder just who is and is not condemned—or why they are condemned when they agree with what the ACLC states is “the” definition of “Objective Justification,” when it is the ACLC that will elsewhere add to that definition. That is at the root of the problem: they only phrase things in the real “dictionary definition” way of “Objective Justification” when forced to; the rest of the time, they end up wording things in the orthodox confessional and scriptural way, instead.
The ACLC further objects to the Preface to our “Theses,” saying “the preface is already the conclusion of the matter even before it has begun.” This is, however, a “bad faith” objection. The pastors of the ACLC are well aware that this preface is not the one under which the “Theses” were presented for discussion, but for publication once the matter was approved; thus, there is nothing any more wrong in mentioning a concluded fact in the Preface than there is mentioning the Gospel in the introduction to a sermon. The theses examine what they say they will; the Preface has elements that reflect our conclusion because the published form is not some groping exploration, but the report of that in which such exploration resulted.
The ACLC pastors next object to our first footnote and then engage in speculation as to our reasoning for restricting our consideration of the orthodox Lutheran fathers to the end of Gerhard’s life. The reasoning is quite simple: we used what Robert Preus refers to as “The Golden Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy” in his two volume set, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism. We were interested in the early part of the age because it is the early part of the age—origins, not development. When the ACLC makes its speculation—which, whether they intended it or not, serves to make the reader suspicious of us, just as the ad hominem and appeal to emotion regarding Pr. Rydecki’s statement previously mentioned does—it would be more fitting for them to point us to a father from 1637 through 1713 that actually taught “Objective Justification” (and not simply a supposed greater emphasis on the “objective aspect” of Justification). Failing that, their criticism fails altogether.
To be continued on Thursday.