Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America

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

Posted on May 21, 2014 by Rev. Stefanski under Blog, Justification
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Part Ten: Picking Cherries Is a Fine Pursuit, but Not Very Useful for Theology

Concerning Thesis 8, the ACLC says, “This particular thesis again fails to identify a difference in teaching. In fact, it appears to assert that there is no substantive difference: ‘has the same effect…’”

At this point one sees clearly that the pastors of the ACLC are not to be taken seriously, as they grossly cherry pick what we have written and then claim that it is the ELDoNA that is setting up a straw man! The “has the same effect” statement is directly in relationship to one of the (false) philosophical principles consistently demanded by teachers of “Objective Justification,” namely, that there must be some pre-existing ‘thing’—some action or event, rather than, simply, a promise (though we in the diocese hold that God’s promise is as ‘solid’ as any person, action, event, or institution could be). Thus, the sentence reads, “The creation of such an alternate place of judgment in Christ has the same effect for the sinner (in terms of providing an already-established reality to which one can look and which can be given through the Means of Grace).”

When the ACLC further writes,

Thesis 8 states, “‘Objective Justification’ may charitably be seen as a development from what Lutheran orthodoxy confessed concerning the Throne of Grace.” If the ELDoNA holds that it may from their point of view charitably be seen as a development, etc., we fail to see why they so unequivocally reject the teaching and term.

we have to ask whether it is the term “charitably” that they don’t understand or the term “development.” The diocese charitably reasons that “Objective Justification” may not have been put forth as a means of obscuring the Gospel, but as an attempt to protect it from synergistic tendencies. We consider it a development because it is not the same as the Scriptural “Throne of Grace/Mercy Seat” teaching, but something that goes farther. Scripture’s teaching of Christ as Mercy Seat makes Him the ‘location’ of mercy and forgiveness unto salvation—something that he is, and His already being such should satisfy the philosophical demand for “an already-established reality”—though we do not agree with that philosophical presupposition ourselves, anyway. We “unequivocally reject the teaching and the term” because these go beyond and contrary to Scripture and the Confessions—and they do so unnecessarily, because, again, they actually add nothing positive to what is already there in the Holy Spirit’s depiction of Jesus as the “Mercy Seat” and the fathers’ rendering of the same as the “Throne of Grace.”

The ACLC’s next paragraph simply states that they disagree with our calling “Objective Justification” a “gross overstatement of [the Throne of Grace] concept” and then goes on about objective and subjective things in a way that has nothing to do with the issue. That is, they don’t address “Objective Justification” at all, but list historical actions and what they accomplished that our Theses affirm completely, such as, “The core understanding of any illustration of salvation is that it is God who works out our salvation from beginning to end, and that Christ made a sacrifice for us that has been accepted by the Father for the sins of all, including those who do not believe.” Thus, they again make it unclear to the reader against just what they are objecting—but, worse, they make it seem to the reader as if the diocese did not teach this. They know better; there is no excuse.

The ACLC Pastors next take up our statement that the term “Objective Justification” carries “unfortunate baggage,” saying, “all terms are subject to misuse, misunderstanding, and ‘baggage.’” Unfortunately, their critique fails again to quote the explanatory comment, “the baggage of asserting a justification apart from faith, which the fathers expressly rejected.” “Objective Justification” carries the unfortunate baggage of being a term that is better when misused or misunderstood; when used in accord with its true definition, it is a concept explicitly spoken against by the fathers, as shown in the quotes in footnote 13.

Of course, the ACLC refuses to stick to discussing “Objective Justification,” so they look at footnote 13 and say it “actually support[s] the objective/subjective distinction within Justification by faith.” Once more, “the objective/subjective distinction within Justification by faith” is not “Objective Justification.”

Their statement—“The comment regarding justification apart from faith is a straw man argument. No sinner is justified apart from faith.”—is contrary to “Objective Justification.” The point—the definition of “Objective Justification” is that the whole world has been justified, has been declared righteous. Thus, we build no straw man; the ACLC simply claims a doctrine to which they do not consistently hold. To be consistent, they would have had to write, “while all sinners are objectively justified apart from faith, no sinner is subjectively justified apart from faith.” They should either give up on “Objective Justification” or stop trying to redefine it.

They think that we have unfairly quoted Hunnius because while his sixth thesis says that there is no justification apart from faith, his fifth states what they want to call “the objective aspects.” They conclude: “Hunnius states both aspects of justification in his thesis 5. Universal righteousness has been gained and acquired through Christ. No individual benefits from it apart from faith.” Certainly, Hunnius teaches the objective realities of what Jesus did and won; so do we. That is not however, “Objective Justification.”

As the ACLC points out, Hunnius wrote:

We most willingly grant that there is a righteousness that avails before God for the entire human race, a righteousness that has been gained and acquired through Christ, so that if the whole world were to believe in Christ, then the whole world would be justified…Nevertheless, no one is justified nor does anyone obtain remission of sins from this acquired universal righteousness without the imputation of this acquired righteousness of Christ.

That is, of course, exactly what we have taught. For the ACLC to say, “Quoting from theses 6 rather than thesis 5 gives a false impression of the argument being made by Hunnius,” is absolutely false, showing that they neither understand what Hunnius wrote, what we have written, nor what their own claimed position is.

They continue with, “More importantly, the Huberian controversy doesn’t apply, since Pieper’s Dogmatics does not teach what Huber taught. This thesis again presents a fallacy of equivocation.”

Again, when one seeks to accuse of a fallacy of equivocation, he ought to realize that he is prevented from making such a charge against those who have specifically stated that the positions are not the same. The words of Hunnius still apply, because the words are right in and of themselves; yet we have taken care not to accuse Pieper and his disciples of teaching identically with Huber, because they neither are, nor do we “need them to be” in order for our thesis to be correct. The accusation is patently false.

The ACLC then returns to their theme of advocating “Objective Justification” by renouncing “Objective Justification”:

The excerpt of Gerhard in the footnote turns on the word, “propagated.” The first and last paragraphs cited from Gerhard make that even clearer: “The Apostle is not talking about the application of the benefit, but about the acquisition of the benefit,” and, “A distinction must fully be made between the acquisition and the application of the merit of Christ; or between the benefit itself and participation in the benefit.” Of course it is absurd to say that Justification is propagated to all men together without regard to faith or unbelief. The use of this passage sets up the false idea that the Objective/Subjective distinction teaches that Justification is propagated, applied, or imparted to all men without regard to faith or unbelief. That is clearly false, and to argue against it is a fallacy.

What this “Objective/Subjective distinction” they refer to is, we cannot say, as no church body or dogmatician has ever defined such a creature; “Objective Justification,” on the other hand, is well-attested and defined not as “the benefit having been acquired,” but as “all men being already righteous in the eyes of God” due to a declaration He is alleged to have made either on Good Friday or on Easter. If all men are considered righteous, the benefit has already been applied, regardless of the desire of proponents of “Objective Justification” to deny this and to require an(other) application. Thus, again, we argue against no straw man, but the ACLC attempts to lay claim to “Objective Justification” while actually denying it and then mischaracterizes our “Theses.” If the ACLC truly agrees with Gerhard’s statement, then the ACLC stands with us in rejecting the false doctrine known as “Objective Justification,” and only wishes to put forth the objective facts of the atonement. Both their vehemence and their other statements, however, lead one to conclude that they selectively blind themselves—once to what “Objective Justification” is, then to what their own position is, then to what our position is—without any real rhyme or reason, other than to look like they are faithful to the Synodical Conference heritage, even though Scripture and the Confessions (and the orthodox fathers) keep tripping them up so that they actually deny and reject the Synodical Conference’s teaching.

Finally, they object to Footnote 14, listing it as yet another logical fallacy—that of an emotional appeal—claiming, they say, “that a ‘staunch defender’ of the objective/subjective distinction reversed his position.” While they put “staunch defender” in quotes, we note that this term does not appear in our footnote. Moreover, the point of the footnote is not that Robert Preus reversed his position, but that he recognized (regardless of his own position) that the fathers he was citing spoke contrary to the doctrine of “Objective Justification.” No appeal to emotion; if anything, the bringing forth of a “hostile witness,” valuable for showing that we are not misreading the texts cited.

They continue, “It is also the fallacy of appeal to an expert, rather than facts.” If we were saying, “This was Robert Preus’s position, therefore it is true,” one could so argue. We do not, however, say anything of the sort. Rather, we say that Robert Preus—who, by the way, was an expert in the theology of post-Reformation Lutheranism and, therefore, valid to bring to the stand as an expert witness—also recognized in the fathers what we claim. With regard to their “rather than the facts,” the facts are presented in the footnote: this is what the fathers said and Robert Preus agrees that we have read them correctly, whereas the ACLC claims that we have not.

When the ACLC, however, says, “Finally, we verified Dr. Preus’ position with his sons, Daniel and Rolf. They wrote the foreword to the book and surely know their father’s theology better than anyone,” that is an appeal to authority that will speak contrary to the established facts by means of speaking to an issue other than the one actually at hand. That is, they will speak to Robert Preus’s personal belief as expressed to them in private, and then this will be forced upon his written words to attempt to make them say something other than what they actually do say. Our “Theses” are not at all concerned with what Dr. Preus personally held—whether publicly or privately—but only what he wrote in citing the fathers that he did.

That said, we will offer one correction to this footnote: it was not as late in his life that Dr. Preus came to this conclusion as we asserted in the footnote. Rather, he was already speaking this way at least a decade earlier; in the first footnote to his chart, “The Terminology of the Lutheran Fathers as It Pertains to Christ’s Work in Relation to the Sinner’s Justification” on p. 2 of his Justification as Taught by Post-Reformation Lutheran Theologians, Dr. Preus asserts “The term justification is never used as taking place prior to faith except in a few passing statements or by implication in the exegesis of certain passages. Rather it is said that justification was procured, obtained, acquired, and brought about.” (In the same way, while Dr. Preus lists “Justification” in the second column of his chart—“The Results of Christ’s Work”—he does not group it there with “Redemption” and “Propitiation,” of which he clearly states that these occur “for all men prior to faith and apart from it.”) Perhaps this understanding had an impact on his inability to carry out his brother’s instructions (when Jack was president of the LCMS and Robert was president of Concordia Theological Seminary) to remove Walter A. Maier II from his professorship—at least, one would hope that the testimony of the fathers in this regard would cause one an insurmountable ethical problem with the removal of a professor for insisting on presenting Justification as Scripture, the Confessions, and the fathers did, instead of in the novel way that Walther learned at the feet of the Pietists and brought with him (as did Stephan) into what would become the Missouri Synod.

“The term justification is never used as taking place prior to faith except in a few passing statements or by implication in the exegesis of certain passages. Rather it is said that justification was procured, obtained, acquired, and brought about.”

Rev. Dr. Robert D. Preus
Justification as Taught by Post-Reformation Lutheran Theologians
Concordia Theological Seminary Printshop, Fort Wayne, 1983

Because of the above, it will be proposed at the 2014 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America that we revise Footnote 14 to begin as follows:

Even the Rev. Dr. Robert Preus, who was (according to his sons) a lifelong proponent of “Objective Justification,” consistently acknowledges that “Objective Justification’s” claim of any sort of justification before faith was unknown to the Lutheran fathers. As he wrote in his Justification as Taught by Post-Reformation Lutheran Theologians (Concordia Theological Seminary Printshop, Fort Wayne, 1983), “The term justification is never used as taking place prior to faith except in a few passing statements or by implication in the exegesis of certain passages. Rather it is said that justification was procured, obtained, acquired, and brought about.” So also, in his posthumously-published Justification and Rome (Concordia Academic Press, St. Louis, 1997), Dr. Preus writes:

We thank the pastors of the ACLC for this opportunity to clarify the record, as all such clarification makes the correctness of our doctrine all the more apparent.

As to the repeated charge that our “Theses” are not an exegetical treatise on Justification, we simply repeat that they neither are nor should be, as the presuppositions that have driven so much false exegesis to favor “Objective Justification” had to be dealt with first. Nonetheless, more than sufficient consideration of the key texts in our quotes of the fathers within the “Theses” themselves and in the appended essay by Pastor Rydecki would bring anyone not determined to defend a position regardless of the evidence to conclude—as Dr. Preus did—that no “Justification” apart from faith was known to the fathers, though they confessed (as does our diocese) the objective reality of what Christ did and won, that which is given to us through faith in Him.

We would be remiss if we did not also point to the beginning of exegetical works to be presented/published on this topic, now that the prolegomena is well in hand, and invite all who read to the Colloquium of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America, June 25–26, 2014, where the schedule includes on Wednesday at 1:15, “The Doctrine of Justification in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” as well as essays on Holy Absolution (with its tie-in to this article‚) and on Thursday at 9:30, “An Evaluation of H.A. Preus’ Doctrine of Objection Justification.” More details will appear on our web site presently.

Gerald Parker on January 4, 2021

It is such a relief to know that the ELDoNA does NOT promote the false paradigm of Universal Objective Justification. It bewilders me why so many off-shoots of the old Synnodical Conference still cling to U.O.J. (or simply O.J.). The doctrine of U.O.J. is like dumplings, unnutricious and heavy, having no direct relevance to the Gospel. I so wish that I could be a member of the ELDoNA, but there is no Lutheran presence of ANY kind in the region where I live. In fact, I know only of one other person raised as Lutheran in my city (Rouyn-Noranda, in the Abitibi of Québec), and that Swiss lady has become atheist! Very frustrating! There is no Lutheran fellowship here for hundreds of miles around, at least not on the Québec side of the border with Ontario.

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