Theses on the Article of Justification: A Refutation of the aclc’s Critique: Part Nine
Part Nine: What’s the Point of Stating Things with Which Everyone Agrees?
Regarding Thesis 7, the ACLC asks, “What is the point of this thesis?”
One of the failures of the ACLC throughout this process has been their thought that each thesis must point directly to a concrete exemplar and then prove or disprove something with regard to it. The fact is—and one can readily see this in the various sets of theses that Luther wrote—a thesis can simply put forth a foundational principle, even (or especially!) one with which those who oppose your position will agree. Thus, when the ACLC continues, “Of course a church body may not adopt an official doctrinal statement ‘owned’ by another church body and then subsequently change the parts it disagrees with,” we are glad to see that there is formal agreement in this principle. However, when one considers the ACLC’s constitution, in which numerous such statements are cited, but considered non-binding, we become those who say, “What is the point?” Why cite something in a foundational or governing document that is not actually a standard of judgment? Thus, while in all likelihood we would have written Thesis 7 anyway—because not all who read the Theses would have considered this point previously and it does need to be met with an “of course” for us to proceed—such actions by the ACLC make it essential for clear communication to have their agreement in principle.
Such is now seen to be even more the case, as their next paragraph seeks to hold up the “Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod” as a standard by which judgment is made, even while it is technically non-binding for them. There can be absolutely no doubt that the ACLC was aware of the fact that the ELDoNA rejected the “Brief Statement” before they agreed that they were in fellowship with us: they specifically asked about our position on Ordination and we answered clearly what it was and is. (See our 2007 Response to the ACLC.)
More specifically, with regard to “Objective Justification” and its being “so pervasively taught, so clear, that it could not possibly be an issue with anyone coming out of any of those Lutheran bodies,” we need only recall that this teaching was in controversy at the Ft. Wayne seminary of the LCMS from the late 1970s through the mid 1980s. The resolution of that controversy was a faculty document that said it was all a matter of semantics and that both “sides” were right—for which reason the professor at the center of the controversy remains on the faculty to this day, having never recanted what he taught.
From that point on, at least, those who defended “Objective Justification” (e.g., Kurt Marquart) did so while disclaiming the terminology, etc., and the next decade’s graduates (as well as those from the St. Louis seminary) seem to have learned what we have confessed in our Theses, thinking that what they were confessing was “Objective Justification,” because no one was actively pushing the “Brief Statement’s” teaching that “God has already declared the whole world to be righteous.” Thus, the complaint against our Theses by those few Missourians who have taken to the Internet to disapprove of them has mainly been one of reflexive condemnation, instead of reflective condemnation; that is, having been painted as those who teach differently from what they have believed “Lutherans have always taught,” we are simply condemned without their doing enough reading to understand what we have confessed (as is shown by their misstating the case) and to see whether or not our teaching is actually the same as or different from what they have thought “Objective Justification” means—much less, whether our teaching or that of the Synodical Conference is “what Lutherans have always taught,” or, specifically, is or is not in agreement with Scripture and the Confessions.
After seeking to tar us with whatever failings they have seen in others (“We have known rejection of Objective Justification only among a very vocal fringe element”), the ACLC pastors say that they did not “detect any issue in this matter at all in our dealings with the ELDoNA.” Indeed; until the issue was pressed, we reckoned the reasoning of Dr. Marquart and the Ft. Wayne faculty to be sound, that there was just an issue of bad terminology that could be overcome by simply refraining from using terms beyond those of Scripture and the Confessions. Thus it was wondered on the Internet’s “Ichabod, the Glory Has Departed” blog how one of us, labeled there at one time as a “Universal Objective Justification fanatic,” could be in fellowship with those who did not wear that label. The answer is that such an insistence that we not speak beyond Scripture and the Confessions—not only with regard to terminology, but doctrinal content—is both what allowed us to receive one another as committed to the teaching of the Word and Symbols and what is at the very root of what our Theses present: a stripping away of false philosophical propositions, so that the clarity of Scripture, the Confessions, and the Fathers is preserved.
Next up: A Brief Word About ‘Comments.’