13 January 2012

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

Christ and the Holy Spirit are unsurpassable divine Persons of infinite perfection, but the Christian's hold on Christ is apt to be shaky, and his communion with the Holy Spirit fitful and imperfect.  God's reign in His people on earth, while gloriously inaugurated in baptism, stands in constant danger of tragic termination through the the redeemed creature's falling from grace (1 Cor. 10:12).  The apostle's biting sarcasm is needed to rescue Christians from the presumptuous illusion of having already achieved perfect maturity in Christ (1 Cor. 4:8-13). -- Dr. John R. Stephenson, Eschatology, p. 29.

9 comments:

Unknown said...

“Falling” and “falling from grace” are two different things, as far from each other as the East is from the West. Why is it that some preachers and theologians have to frighten people with their imminent eternal damnation at every opportunity? St. Paul is not proclaiming damnation; he is exhorting. The text surrounding 1 Cor. 10:12 has nothing to do with “falling from grace”. Does he not write in the verse immediately following, “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it”?

Where is this mass of Christians who live in the “presumptuous illusion of having already achieved perfect maturity in Christ”? I have yet to meet one. They are straw men who are created by those who resent the free grace of God, given to those whom they consider unworthy, just like the workers who grumbled in that well-know parable.

No, there is no excuse for anyone in authority in the Church of Christ to write this kind of stuff. The professors and theologians can nod sagely, knowing that it doesn’t really mean what it seems to mean. But what about lay people, the majority of whom are not under the illusion of perfection, but wonder whether God can really love them in spite of their sin?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Marinus Veenman said...

This is one of the reasons I left the reformed church and joined the LCC. The reformed confessions are confused on this issue: the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that God only gives his Holy Spirit and grace to those who constantly "and with heartfelt longing" pray for it, but the Canons of Dort teach that the elect, even when they stop praying and by all appearances are reprobate, can neither fall from Grace nor totally lose the Holy Spirit. It always struck me that they're wrong on both accounts. For better or worse, Dr. Stephenson captures my sentiments, and what I thought were those of the BoC, precisely.

William Weedon said...

Marinus Veenman,

My understanding of the Book of Concord also. Dr. Stephenson is always precise in his speaking and this is an example of the refusal to resolve the tension between Law and Gospel, and it is actually very much the genius of his entire work on Eschatology.

Marinus Veenman said...

Yes. I've had the pleasure of meeting him a few times at various festivals, Higher Things events, etc..., up here in Ontario. He's got a memory like a steel trap, recalling names and events, is witty and intelligent. His book from the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics volume 12 (Lord's Supper) took my breath away. I could hardly put it down. We're very blessed to have him at our seminary in St. Catherines.

Unknown said...

So, it is your understanding of the Book of Concord that a member of the Elect can fall from grace or totally lose the Holy Spirit? I would very much like to see any such passage. Here is what it does teach:
The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord
XI. Election
8] The eternal election of God, however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what pertains thereto; and upon this [divine predestination] our salvation is so founded that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, Matt. 16:18, as is written John 10:28: Neither shall any man pluck My sheep out of My hand. And again, Acts 13:48: And as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.”

The Book of Concord clearly teaches that anyone who falls from grace or totally loses the Holy Spirit was never a member of the Elect to begin with. Furthermore, it is one thing willfully reject the grace of God and the Holy Spirit; it is totally different to relegate someone to hell because “the Christian's hold on Christ is apt to be shaky, and his communion with the Holy Spirit fitful and imperfect.” Whose isn’t? It is God’s hold on us that counts, Romans 8:32, “He who did not withhold His own Son but gave Him up for all of us, will He not with Him give us everything else?”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

Of course the Formula teaches that. But you know also, George, what the SA teaches in III, III, 43-45; LC V:65-70. It always sounds to my ear as if you are saying that the Law isn't the Gospel and the Gospel isn't the Law; and on that we don't disagree at all. Part of the Gospel is the promise of preservation; part of the Law is the warning against carnal security. God speaks both words to us; the Confessions witness both words; and the Lutheran theologians of every time and every place have always faithfully spoken both as well. The way you seem to understand it, George, is that St. Paul should have written: "Let him who stands not worry about falling because God has it covered." But, as Dr. Stephenson noted, that's not what God says. Rather, he warns those who stand that they should take heed LEST THEY FALL. It is entirely possible to fall away from grace - "these are they who believe for a time..." our Lord said.

Unknown said...

You are right, SA III, III, 43-45 teaches that that a member of the Elect can fall from grace or totally lose the Holy Spirit. I had forgotten that. But I have not forgotten that I believe Luther was wrong in this case. In Ps. 51, David writes, “Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” If God would have cast David away from His presence and taken His Holy Spirit from him, God would have done it before Nathan came to him with his accusation. But David was convinced God had heard his prayer, because immediately the prophet told him “Now the Lord has put away your sin.” Yes, Nathan confronted David with the Law, but David could not have repented without God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, even as any of us cannot. If Luther were right, we would have to make a “new Law” which would list all of the sins for which the Holy Spirit would leave one, and those for which one can get forgiveness with the Holy Spirit remaining in place. I can see it, “murder with adultery” in one column, but “murder” and “adultery” separately in the other, meaning it’s OK, as long as we don’t do them at the same time. Now, I ask you, which sin is worse, the one David committed, or denying your faith? I suspect the answer is not an easy one, involving the question of whether there is a difference between sins at all. But the Church decided early on that those who had denied their faith could repent and be accepted into the Church again without needing to be baptized again. Therefore the Church recognized that, in spite of their apostasy, the Holy Spirit had not left them.

I don’t seem to understand the relevance of ; LC V:65-70, because it deals with Christians and non-Christians separately, without either popping from one to the other.

As to what I seem to be saying, I think St. Paul is genuinely warning people not to sin. “To fall” can mean to sin without committing the sin against the Holy Spirit. I don’t mean to sound as if I belittle that, but I object to every sin being used as an excuse to threaten people with eternal damnation. Does not the verse following the “falling” show that God is still working in these people and has not abandoned them, and does not intend to?

As to the Law and Gospel thing, you are right, and as you know from C.F.W. Walther, often theologians do not do it right. Within the Kingdom; that is, within the Church, it is always “Third Use”, because the other uses are for those who are under the Law, and St. Paul clearly says that we are not. We pay lip service to that on Reformation Day, but the rest of the time we think that is not meant for the real world.

When our Lord said, “"these are they who believe for a time..." did He say anything about how they could have prolonged their believing. Did He say anything about our having to see to it that we live in the good soil, or that we should improve the soil? No, He simply said that this it how it is; some believe to the end (the Elect), and some do not. Indeed it is possible and awful to fall from grace, but if we claim that “we fall from grace” every time we sin, then we do not understand the Gospel. Actually that is a Roman Catholic teaching. They say we lose the grace of God and separate ourselves from Him every time we sin, and we have to claw our way back to being good, so that God will love us again. But we have not so learned Christ.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Larry Luder said...

Beautifully penned by Rev Dr Stevenson and expounding by you. If I may, what I think I’m seeing is, the Word of God clear teaches that falling away possible for the true believer and also teaches that God has promise to preserve our faith for beginning to end. I am concern some Christians don’t think it is possible fall from grace and become easy targets for Satan’s attack. Of Course both teachings are the true word of God. The first teaching is directed at the old Adam who is secure in his presumptuous illusion of already achieving perfect maturity in Christ and the second teaching toward the New Man who struggles with sin and knows his worth, his state of grace and forgiveness.

Larry Luder said...

Oops, my apologies, meant Rev Dr Stephenson