27 July 2009

Correcting a Misperception

Some former Lutherans persist in slandering our faith by saying that it is spiritually damaging - pointing especially to the teaching that we are simultaneously just and sinner. Thus, to their way of thinking, Lutherans teach that one may intentionally and willfully persist in sin and rejoice in forgiveness. But this is a complete falsification of our teaching.

Lutherans state unequivocally:

Nor indeed is this faith idle knowledge, nor can it coexist with mortal sin. Ap. IV.115

For through one's entire life, repentance contends with the sin remaining in the flesh. Paul testifies that he wars with the law in his members, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit that follows the forgiveness of sins. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy...The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so that it is carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. SA III, 3, 40, 44.

The person who dares to say "God loves to forgive; I love to sin; what a deal!" is no Lutheran and no Christian.

What simul justus et peccator is rather seeking to confess is that to be a Christian is to be in a life-long struggle against the flesh and its lusts. You will never advance to a point where the struggle is ended. It goes on to the very end. The fact of the struggle doesn't mean one isn't a Christian (the absence of the struggle does!). As St. Paul wrote of himself to the Romans: "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh, for I have the desire to do what it right, but not the ability to carry it out." (7:18)

Such is the sad experience of every Christian: we can and do make progress in following our Savior, and yet we find that there is inside of us a wretched fountain of corruption that continues to pollute us. It drives us to the joy of grace. The joy of simul justus et peccator is that we are not condemned before God for this fountain of corruption in our flesh; we fight it with every weapon of the Spirit and resist it to the grave, and we rejoice that it will finally be extinguished and removed from us on the day of our death, when our Baptism into Christ is completed, and we put off this body of death. When we are resurrected, this fountain of corruption will not be resurrected within us. And for that all glory to God!

To confess simul justus et peccator is thus the exact opposite of saying "don't worry; do what you want; you're forgiven." It's rather saying: "Since you are forgiven, you have the Spirit to fight tooth and nail to the bitter end against this sin which inheres in your flesh and to be assured as you battle that you will win the final victory if only you remain under the forgiving blood of the Lamb of God."

Such a teaching is anything but spiritually damaging; it is in fact the only comfort and source of peace you can find when confronted with the ongoing wretched flood of filth from the flesh. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

35 comments:

William Tighe said...

"Nor indeed is this faith idle knowledge, nor can it coexist with mortal sin. Ap. IV.115"

I thought that Lutherans rejected the concept of "mortal sin." Indeed, when I visited Latvia in 2000 Archbishop Vanags, discussing the attitude of the Latvian Lutheran Church towards homosexuality and homosexual practice, told me about a then recent incident in which a journalist visiting the Church Office picked up and carried away a draft of a church document on that issue, in which it was stated that, as homosexual "sex" is always a mortal sin, those who unrepentantly persist in such practices, or who defend them as acceptably Christian, cannot be ordained or admitted to communion.

There was a media uproar, and liberal commentators found Lutherans who were willing to stigmatize the draft as being "too Roman Catholic" in its approach, "as Lutherans cannot acceopt the distinction between mortal sins and other sorts of sins." Archbishop Vanags seemed to accept the critique, as he told me that the document was being redrafted to eliminate any use of the phrase "mortal sins."

William Weedon said...

I don't see how any Lutheran can dispense with a term such as that used in our Symbols. Lutherans do have a different approach to mortal sin than Roman Catholics. We don't have a list. We hold rather that any sin that we regard AS venial IS mortal; i.e., any sin that we seek to excuse rather than repent of - no matter what it is - is a sin that will bring one under condemnation.

Chemnitz:

"What if we indulge and delight in evil lusts and seek occasion to give them free rein?"

"Then they become mortal sins, because there surely is no room for true repentance and faith where the lusts of the flesh are served and given rein, so that they break out into action. It is the nature and particular character of true faith that it does not seek to commit, continue, and heap up sins freely, but rather hungers and thirsts after the righteousness that releases and frees from sins." (Enchiridion, par. 208)

William Weedon said...

P.S. There is a whole section on the Difference between Mortal and Venial Sin in the Regenerate in Chemnitz' Loci Theologici (p. 671ff)

William Weedon said...

Pieper (still the basic dogmatics text of the LCMS) has a section on mortal and venial sins too:

"In the case of the believers those sins are called mortal which force the Holy Spirit to depart from one's heart, which destroy faith. Venial sins are sins which, though they in themselves merit eternal death, are daily forgiven to the believer. They are also called sins of weakness. They do not drive the Holy Spirit from the heart or extinguish faith." Pieper I:568

Phil said...

For what it's worth, I've been reading Luther's Antinomian Disputations, which are very helpful in clearing this up, especially because Luther himself is dealing with these very arguments. I was especially struck by his statement that the Decalogue itself will last forever, even into the next life, with the only difference that its office of condemning will cease because there will be nothing left to condemn. He also talks about how the Law does not terrify the Christians, but that they patiently listen to it as to a kind instructor and gladly do what it says.

I'm not sure that theologians like Elert have engaged Luther on this point.

Jon Townsend said...

There is some truth to the slander: Simul justus et peccator is very poorly taught.
It is quite easy for many to go around after years of Lutheran school and mistake faith for knowledge. "Oh, I know all about what Jesus did for me."
To complicate things, children are taught the Commandments and are further more told to do good, but they are not encouraged to flee from their sins in the only true escapes from them, Confession and Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar.
Then comes the confusion: All these things are sins, but no one is telling me what God has given me to be absolved of them and someone said "We are both saint and sinner", so I guess it is just normal to walk around living comfortably with this sin.

Based on my life, I believe that this is quite a normal condition for Lutherans to find themselves in.

William Weedon said...

Jon,

When it comes to the teachings of the BOC I'm afraid that MUCH is poorly taught among us (or, more frankly, not taught at all!) - and simul justus et peccator is included in that. But the problem then is the incorrect or poorly articulated expression of our doctrine, not the doctrine itself, which simply reflects a profound truth taught by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and experienced by Christians in their walk with the Lord.

Jon Townsend said...

Pr. Weedon:
You are right - the doctrine is correct. But you know the one of the favorite sayings of some of our mutual friends, "Show me where the doctine professed in the Lutheran Confessions is truly practiced."
For the most part, they got us on that one.
Reflecting back 20 years, I am constantly astounded at how poorly I was taught. One of the scary realizations is to go through a portion of your life thinking you are good Christian, in right standing with God, only to stumble, look at your life and realize that if I died in this state I would certainly have not died with a true reliance on Christ and his divine mercy.
I don't think the poor teens I teach in Sunday School escape my turn at teaching without at least one, if not more, encouragements to go to Confession and Absolution and to make sure they attend the Sacrament frequently, especially when they go to college.

WM Cwirla said...

"In Adam / in Christ" and it all makes sense.

christl242 said...

But you know the one of the favorite sayings of some of our mutual friends, "Show me where the doctine professed in the Lutheran Confessions is truly practiced."
For the most part, they got us on that one.


Hmmm. And surely those "mutual friends" don't have their share of parishioners who don't practice what their church teaches. Uhuh.

It's amazing that this kind of stuff comes mainly from converts. I've had some very interesting discussions with the young Orthodox priest (cradle Russian Orthodox in the OCA) in my neighborhood who speaks with nothing but respect of Western Christians, including Lutherans. Not that he glosses over our theological differences, far from it but he recognizes that he has the same struggles in getting people to church and living authentic Christian lives as other bodies. There has been a lot of confusion everywhere over the last couple of decades.

As far as Confession and Absolution go, it's no secret that in the RC it has plummeted dramatically since VII. For Lutherans, I'm glad that we teach the value of individual Confession and Absolution but it is not mandatory and to rely on it in that sense sounds a bit Pelagian to me.

I think Pastor Cwirla has it defined superbly:

In Adam / in Christ" and it all makes sense.

Life is a wonderful teacher of the truthfulness of that statement.

Christine

Jon Townsend said...

I don't mean to sound Pelagian about Confession and Absolution - but I would be so bold as to write this - I guarantee our children will see their joy in times of suffering increased if we instruct them on it and encourage them to make use of it.
We live as saint and sinner, but one must never feel comfortable about the sinner part. Unless we teach people on the means - and in this sense Absolution is a Sacrament - we have available to drown such sin, what good is it to teach anyone the doctrine of simul justus et peccator? Knowing the truth of your sickeness does nothing for you, unless the person who tells you directs you to the cure. The cure lies in the extra nos aspect of the Absolution - one can't absolve onesself.
There's nothing pelagian about it.

William Weedon said...

I can only speak for myself: I can't imagine living the Christian life without the help of private confession and absolution; to me, it's become as vital as the weekly Eucharist.

christl242 said...

I can only speak for myself: I can't imagine living the Christian life without the help of private confession and absolution; to me, it's become as vital as the weekly Eucharist.

I fully respect that, Pastor Weedon. I'm still recovering from my ten years in the RC where my "penance" of three Hail Mary's and Two Our Father's just didn't quite cut it.

I have no problem with Lutherans who want to avail themselves of private Confession and Absolution -- as long as it doesn't become a legalism.

Christine

christl242 said...

I find myself in agreement with Dr. Luther:

Although we hold private absolution to be very Christian and comforting, and that it should be maintained in the church (for the reasons that we have written to you before), nevertheless we cannot and do not wish to burden consciences so harshly as if there can be no forgiveness of sins except through private absolution. . . . And in summary, since the common Gospel is God's Word, which we are bound to believe by God's mandate and command—where such faith is, there indeed must forgiveness and salvation be. Thus, the Gospel itself is a general absolution; for it is a promise that each and everyone must individually receive, by God's mandate and command. Therefore we cannot forbid and condemn the general absolution as unchristian, as long as it serves this purpose: to remind the hearers that each individual must receive the Gospel as an absolution, and that it applies also to him . . . .

Christine

William Weedon said...

Christine,

I think Jon's and my comments were more along the lines of: this is a priceless gift you don't want to deprive yourself of in the battle against sin. It's not that someone HAS to use it; but when you know what a blessing it is, you want everyone to taste the joy of it. As I like to put it, I come back DRENCHED from absolution - plopped back into my Baptism. "Don't let anyone lure you from the water, little fishies" (Tertullian)

christl242 said...

Pastor Weedon, acknowledged.

For what it's worth in the Lutheran environment I knew in Germany private confession was not heavily emphasized because of its connation with RC practice, which had a very different nuance at the time.

I readily acknowledge the comfort that private Confession and Absolution can bring. As a Catholic I moved in a spiritual world that involved at least weekly Communion and Confession of "mortal" sin, at a minimum.

For my own reasons and personal experiences I no longer view either through those timelines. I don't have a problem with Lutheran parishes that don't celebrate Communion every Sunday.

Christine

christl242 said...

You are also aware, I am sure, that current Catholic practice is that "venial" sins are forgiven in the Mass and technically only "mortal" signs require sacramental confession, although yearly confession before the "Easter Duty" is encouraged.

And the lines to the confessionals have grown mysteriously shorter (-:

Christine

Past Elder said...

I think this is one of those things where our difference with Rome is not so much in what we do but why we do it.

Somewhere in the 1520 essays Luther wrote that if we really understood confession for what it is, we would run 100 miles to have it. Nobody shows up at church or the parsonage out of breath though.

The preface to the LC says much the same re Communion, that a properly taught laity should press their pastors for it, not out of a command but their own desire for this gift of Christ. Yet we debate whether we even need a liturgy at all services.

I'm trying to get through this without using the term auricular confession -- next thing you know, I'll be publishing articles and looking for a professorship again.

But I think we can teach our faith, which it's true both that we often don't do well and that other denoms don't either, and at the same time not legislate burdens the fulfillment of which replaces faith itself.

And if that works, tell me we won't start calling confessionals Reconciliation Rooms. Or start calling the cans in neighbourhood bars confessionals. Now THAT'S too Catholic!

Paul McCain said...

Lutheranism most certainly does embrace the Biblical notion that there are sins, and they can be any sins mind you, that are so deliberately thought of, planned and then done, entered into with such knowing disregard for one's conscience, that they drive out the Holy Spirit and on a reconversion can heal the great spiritual damage done. Witness King David's deliberate taking of Uriah's wife into his bed, and then the well thought through arranged death of Uriah himself.

christl242 said...

sins mind you, that are so deliberately thought of, planned and then done, entered into with such knowing disregard for one's conscience, that they drive out the Holy Spirit

Pretty much the Roman view of mortal sin.

For which one must make "satisfaction" after sacramental forgiveness.

But then the difference between "penance" and Biblical "repentance" could result in a whole 'nuther conversation (-:

Christine

William Weedon said...

Phil,

YES, Luther's anti-antinomian writings are fabulous for correcting this horrific misconception - though it's also perfectly clear in the Symbols.

Past Elder said...

Here's a little homespun example.

If you steal $1000, and repent of it, God forgives you, but you don't get to keep the 1K, you have to give it back.

If you steal $1000, and repent of it, God forgives you, and because you are forgiven, not in order to be forgiven, you will of course give it back, that's part of the repentance, not wanting to keep what you stole that isn't yours.

Likewise, anyone truly penitent will want to "amend his life" -- not do it again, or place himself in conditions where he may likely do it again.

If anything else is laid on that -- prayers or other good works -- as part of the forgiveness conditional on their performance, that's where the problems begin.

The satisfaction for sin won by Christ is complete and unconditional. It's another example of, we do good works not to be saved, but because we are saved.

christl242 said...

Lutherans do have a different approach to mortal sin than Roman Catholics.

Of course they do! (-:

They need to take to heart Herr Doktor Luther's teaching:

What does Baptism mean for daily living?

It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.


Christine

Paul McCain said...

Christine, do you realize you type emoticons entirely backwards?

It is not a mortal sin, though.

Matthias Flacius said...

In relation to this topic check out Martin Luther, Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, Luther's House Postils, vol. 3, p. 130-45. Text = Matt. 18-21-35

"Every day I still feel that I lack a proper fear of God and also lack in faith. I'm plagued by laziness, by the 'old Adam' who tell me nothing but evil. I don't love God with all my heart or my neighbor as myself, and so I am filled with sin. Yet I'm to believe that I have no sin at all. I must confess, it's hard for me to believe this article." pp. 136-37

Matt

Past Elder said...

We ain't got no 22nd Sunday after Trinity in most LCMS churches.

matthias said...

I currently attend a Baptist Church and there is talk around people to sign up to a WAY OF LIFE, which includes meeting with other members to what amounts to accountability-what have we done to advance the Kingdom, what have we done that may hinder the kingdom. I am very reticent,as i feel that if I was to do such 'confessing" it would be to my pastor-either at the beginning of the Sunday service,as is the practice in the LCA ,or in confessing to privately.
I was asked would i join a friend in coffee ,cake and confession and I have so far declined. i think i will find my way to a Catholic Church of the Reformation Confessions ie the Lutheran church of australia.

christl242 said...

Christine, do you realize you type emoticons entirely backwards?

Pastor McCain, I most certainly do not! It's my keyboard, plain and simple :-)

It is not a mortal sin, though.

Deo gratias, because I'm not sure I would like the penance you would assign!

Christine

Matthias Flacius said...

@PastElder...but somewhere in the 3 year lectionary Matt. 18:21-35 shows up.

Later in the same sermon:

"Some keep right no sinning after receiving forgiveness, believing that the gospel allows everyone to do just as he pleases. But the gospel is a message for the depressed, for people with a guilty conscience, not for those who keep on defending their sins, nor is it for those who deliberately sin against a gracious God." Luther's House Postils, vol. 3, p. 141.

Past Elder said...

Hey Christine, I'm thinking 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys, 3 Glory Bes and to get you on the right track make Mike his favourite dinner ought to do it.

christl242 said...

Hey Christine, I'm thinking 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys, 3 Glory Bes and to get you on the right track make Mike his favourite dinner ought to do it.

Oh shoot, PE -- you're being too easy on me! How about if I do the Camino de Santiago de Compostela --on my knees -- that way I can get out of making the husband's dinner -- I'll be much too sore!

Christine

Past Elder said...

I ain't budgin. Santiago (St James the Apostle, for you Anglos) doesn't need dinner, Mike does.

Now any more of this crap and I'm changing it to a SPANISH dinner (St James is the patron saint of Spain, for you Anglos) and you have to invite me over, with The Old Man and the Sea for lectio divina (that's in English so you Anglos will have to catch the reference for yourselves).

christl242 said...

I ain't budgin. Santiago (St James the Apostle, for you Anglos) doesn't need dinner, Mike does.

Ouch! Ya got me on that one!

Now any more of this crap and I'm changing it to a SPANISH dinner

Gulp – A Spanish dinner? ¿Que quieres comer?

(St James is the patron saint of Spain, for you Anglos) and you have to invite me over, with The Old Man and the Sea for lectio divina (that's in English so you Anglos will have to catch the reference for yourselves).

Oh what a lectio divina that would be!

Christine

matthias said...

PAST Elder,I miss your cumudgeonness on Schutz's blog.Glad i ahve bookmarked this one

Past Elder said...

Hi matthias -- always good to "see" you, and you know you're always welcome over at Past Elder.

But I'm glad you come here too -- I am the least of the good things to be found on this blog.

Some might say I'm not on that list at all!