Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America

Theses on the Article of Justification: A Refutation of the aclc’s Critique: Part Two

Posted on March 14, 2014 by Rev. Stefanski under Blog, Justification
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Part Two: A Matter of Definition

The ACLC’s critique concerning “First, a Matter of Definition” continues by introducing another red herring: there is no point in bringing up one’s supposed confusion over something said in a previous (unpublished) draft of a document, other than to paint the authors in a bad light. Thus, in the first two paragraphs (and four numbered points) the only thing to which to respond is the accusation “that a significant roadblock to unity in this doctrine is an inability on the part of the ELDoNA to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel, or at a minimum, a failure to recognize the proper distinction between Law and Gospel in various statements made by others including the Fathers of Lutheran Orthodoxy.” No evidence of this is given, but the accusation is made. While we know well the argumentation that usually accompanies such a claim, we will not address that at this point, lest it seem that we are accusing the ACLC pastors of agreeing with that faulty argument and, thus, be subject to claims that we are setting up a “straw man.” Since no evidence is given, there is nothing substantive to which we can respond.

The ACLC next brings up the Loci Theologici of Martin Chemnitz (as translated by J. A. O. Preus II and published by Concordia Publishing House in 1989), saying that Chemnitz “equates remission of sins, reconciliation, Justification, acceptance, and other terms as synonyms” “for example in Volume II on page 445.” To be more precise, on that page is simply the quotation from Melanchthon that Chemnitz expands upon over the next seven-and-a-half pages or so. It is true that Melanchthon says that the Gospel (which is the locus under discussion) is a matter of “the second kind of promise”—of that which is trusted in without the believer having to fulfill a condition to earn what is promised—through which one receives “the remission of sins or reconciliation or justification.” Melanchthon references Romans 4:16 to show how these things come to us: “Therefore it is freely by faith, that the promise might be sure.” The thing is, Melanchthon does not say that Man is (in any way) justified apart from faith, before faith, or any such thing. We have often seen others bring up these terms as synonyms because of a misinterpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:18–19 (namely, that the text there should be taken as if it said, “God reconciled the world in Christ,” instead of what it actually says). The earlier Lutheran exegetes understood 2 Corinthians 5:18–19 to be making a careful distinction between the believer and the world.

It is a little surprising that p. 483 in this volume of Chemnitz’s Loci is not mentioned, where he actually speaks of “justification,” “reconciliation,” and other terms as being synonymous. However, when he does so, Chemnitz notes especially the use of synonymous terms by Sts. Peter and John as helping to prevent distortion of the term “justification” (and thereby the article of Justification), and shows by St. John’s use the same thing that he says about St. Paul’s use of “justification”: it always has to do with those who believe. There is no inconsistency here.

Thus, when the ACLC pastors state, “It is not possible to come to a meeting of minds in this matter unless one first understands that the fathers understood these terms to be interchangeable,” we must respond that it is not possible to come to a meeting of the minds unless one first understands the context in which there is interchangeability. Contrary to modern (i.e., from the rise of Pietism on) exegetes, the fathers did not take “atonement” and “reconciliation” as synonyms and then transfer that on to “justification,” as well, which is what “Objective Justification” does.

We could suggest that if the ACLC wants to speak beneficially about synonyms of justification, they should take note that the Book of Concord uses the word “regeneration” as a synonym of justification. Certainly, the Confessions do not suggest that God has, in His heart, objectively regenerated all sinners—nor do the pastors of the ACLC. Recognizing, therefore, that no Confessional definition of Justification embraces the entire world as those who have been justified by God, as well as that there is both strict synonymy and loose synonymy, we would already warn against forcing any loose synonymy into a dogmatic argument—but all the more so when, as we have shown in our “Theses,” the next generation specifically stated that it was wrong to apply either the term or concept of Justification to the whole world. (On the Confessional synonymy of “Justification” and “Regeneration,” cf. Ap: art. iii, par. 4; Ap: art. iii, par. 60; Ap: art. iii, par. 171; Ap: art. iii, par. 192; Ap: art. iii, par. 265; Ap: art. iv, par. 117; Ap: art. xii, par. 60; Formula: SD, art. iii, par. 18.)

The ACLC, curiously, takes issue with our making it clear to what we object when we reject, e.g., the “Brief Statement’s” assertion: “Scripture teaches that God has already declared the whole world to be righteous in Christ.” They note “that the theses define Objective Justification not according to any church body’s officially adopted statements, but ‘precisely and solely’ according to what is written in Pieper’s Dogmatics. We are unaware of anyone who has been held to Dr. Pieper’s precise and sole formulation as a requisite for ordination or continued listing on a clergy roster. In this way we are asked at the outset to accept a questionable premise.”

This is a nonsensical objection. First, there is no difference between what Pieper (chief architect of the “Brief Statement”) writes in his Christian Dogmatics and the position of the “Brief Statement.” Second, Pieper’s Dogmatics not only passed its initial doctrinal review by Concordia Publishing House, but remains the unchallenged dogmatics text book of, at least, the LCMS. We cite Pieper’s wording for its clarity and completeness; if the ACLC wishes to disown what Pieper teaches, there may be grounds for us to revisit this issue with them, but Pieper presents the LCMS position in its fulness, while the “Brief Statement” presents it in (as one would expect) brevity.

Furthermore, the ACLC itself cites (through their inclusion of comments by Rolf Preus in their fourth appendix) an official document of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod that says the same thing as Pieper, the LCMS’s 1983 CTCR “Theses on Justification,” commended by their 1986 convention:

By “objective” or “universal” justification one means that God has declared the whole world to be righteous for Christ’s sake and that righteousness has thus been procured for all people. It is objective because this was God’s unilateral act prior to and in no way dependent upon man’s response to it, and universal because all human beings are embraced by this verdict. God has acquired the forgiveness of sins for all people by declaring that the world for Christ’s sake has been forgiven. The acquiring of forgiveness is the pronouncement of forgiveness.        (Commission on Theology and Church Relations Thesis 23)

Again, the “Brief Statement” says, “Scripture teaches that God has already declared the whole world to be righteous in Christ”; that is enough to show that the Missourian position is, indeed, the same incorrect one espoused by Pieper in his Dogmatics, against which our “Theses” speak—and that it serves as a rejection of the ACLC’s shifting and obfuscatory non-definitions as much as our words do.

The ACLC next considers the definitions of “Objective Justification” which we presented and declared lacking—definitions that contradict the “Brief Statement,” but which were gathered from the agencies, auxiliaries, parishes, and official publications of the old Synodical Conference bodies. The ACLC states that, other than the first of them, they “have no particular issue with” them. Specifically, when we list the view that “Objective Justification” is seen by some as Justification being the object of faith, the ACLC pastors quote Chemnitz: “When ‘faith’ is concerned with external objects, it obviously signifies ‘desire,’ ‘trust,’ ‘expectation,’ and ‘petition’ for a mitigation or for aid or deliverance. The same will be the nature and meaning of ‘faith’ when it has to do with justification as its object.” Certainly…but that is not what “Objective Justification” means…and, in fact, this quote from Chemnitz and its context speak directly against what proponents of “Objective Justification” claim: page 494 (again in the two volume CPH edition of his Loci Theologici, translated by J. A. O. Preus II), “the papists try to force us to the conclusion that the promise of mercy for the sake of the Mediator is not the proper or principal object of justifying faith.” Note, not “the already-existing justification of the whole world,” but, as we have said, “the promise of mercy for the sake of the Mediator.”

On page four, having quoted a section from Johann Gerhard, the ACLC says, “Gerhard calls the justification of Christ as the absolution of the sins of the whole world the ‘apostolic teaching.’” Reading the quote, one can only be struck by how hard they are trying to make this teach “Objective Justification.” Gerhard does, indeed, say that Christ was absolved of the sins of the whole world; but he does not say that the whole world now stands absolved. Yet, the ACLC pastors hold to this false reading so tenaciously that they make the bizarre statement, “Regardless of what Gerhard may say there or elsewhere, however, in the quotation above he does not question the validity and nature of the apostolic teaching of Christ’s justification as an actual absolution of all for whom He died and for whom He was raised from the dead, as taught in 1 Timothy 3:16.” Speaking of logical fallacies, the pasting of presuppositions onto a text can hardly be worse than in this abuse of 1 Timothy 3:16, and the idea that a speaker or author’s own statements against what is put forth by others as “his position” are unable to be used to demonstrate that his position is or was, in fact, something else defies all logic.

We will speak more fully to this practice of selective quotation and misquotation that is so prevalent in defenses of “Objective Justification” in our next post, scheduled for this coming Monday.

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