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November 15, 2005

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JS Bangs

Good posting, Chris, but I can't help but wonder how many Lutherans would actually accept what you have written here. My experience has been that Lutherans and serious Reformed types are determined to separate justification and sanctification, to the point of denying that sanctification can even happen in any real sense.

When relating to Protestants that are ignorant of or hostile to the doctrine of theosis, I have often called it "imputation plus". Rather than simply having the righteousness of Christ transferred to us (as if a single abstract quality could be separated out this way), we are united with Christ's entire risen nature. Imputed righteousness is great, but there's so much more than that.

Chris Jones

I can't help but wonder how many Lutherans would actually accept what you have written here.

I wonder that, too, which is part of why I transferred it from the Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue to the weblog where Lutherans (and anybody else who cares to) can take their shots at it.

My hunch is that confessional Lutherans who don't care what other Protestants think of them will be fine with it. But I really don't know.

Pr. Joel Humann

Chris,

Thanks for this. I can't offer much in the way of comment at the moment (my synapses fire very slowly) - other than that one can certainly (and certainly ought to) cobble something along these lines out of St. Paul, which remains the clincher for me at the end of the day.

Thus:
Even though we distinguish justification and sanctification, we never separate them. Justification is salvation; sanctification is salvation.

I think Koeberle's "Quest for Holiness" speaks to this issue. (AFC Vilmar was formative for Koeberle).

One can perhaps also consider Paul's presentation of salvation as an eschatological reality, both "now" and "not yet." In this it is never contingent upon sanctification, which is only ever the fruit of justification (God's declarative verdict on account of Christ) as is sacramentally conveyed and delivered through Word and Sacrament in temporal process of the Christian life. Although it is commonly assumed that Lutherans and Protestants are in general "agreement" on "Justification", that Protestants can even conceive of justification apart from the sacramental instrumentality of the Church undermines this assumption. This straw-man "Lutheran" doctrine of justification is what is currently under fire by the so-called "New Perspective" Pauline scholars. It's just that, however - a straw man.

What jumps out at me, though, is the following:

Orthodox do not deny the forensic aspect. Vladimir Lossky (whom my friend referred to), in his outstanding essay Redemption and Deification...

I'm all ears on this one! Can you direct me to the volume in question, so that I can come to grips with Lossky's presentation?

Chris Jones

that Protestants can even conceive of justification apart from the sacramental instrumentality of the Church

Sadly, many Lutherans are effectively Protestant in this regard. However, we must remember that the Confessions are not.

Can you direct me to the volume in question

Certainly. The essay I referred to can be found in Dr Lossky's collection In the Image and Likeness of God, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974 (ISBN 0-913836-13-3). If you have difficulty finding it, but have access to a seminary library with a deep collection of journals, it can be found in the journal of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, Sobornost, series 3 number 2 (Winter 1947).

Eric Phillips

Chris,

This Lutheran agrees with your post 100%.

A great deal of harm is done to Eastern Orthodox theology by EOs who decry every Western influence on theology, and an equally great deal of harm is done to Western theology (of which Lutheran theology is the best expression, I assert) by the equal and opposite attitude.

I do think, though, that the depths into which Western soteriology fell before Luther gives us Lutherans an appreciation of the importance of distinguishing between justification and sanctification that is much greater than most EOs have. Yes, some Lutherans overreact, but short of the overreaction, I think our awareness of the seriousness of the problem puts us in a better position than the standard Eastern placidity on the subject allows.

...and the EO position isn't at all strengthened by the inclusion of ex-Westerners who have been drawn to the East through the anti-all-things-Western polemics of certain EO apologists. THOSE people WILL deny the distinction between justification and sanctification--and the substitutionary atonement to boot.

Thomas

Most bon, most tov, I must say. I should do something with this as well - it's too easy for folks to forget just how unique is the integration of Justification sola fide/gratia and sacramental realism found in the Confessions and even a few Luderans of later vintage. That Luther could say the Eucharist 'is the Gospel', and that such a bold view could find its way into the official confession of a church body, is quite amazing if you think about it. Anyhoo, must do some more thinkin'. Peace.

CPA

Although it is commonly assumed that Lutherans and Protestants are in general "agreement" on "Justification", that Protestants can even conceive of justification apart from the sacramental instrumentality of the Church undermines this assumption.

I know what you mean, but it is also important to emphasize what Luther emphasized in his "Babylonian Captivity of the Church", that the sacraments are worthless without faith, that they cannot and do not work ex opere operato. That is the only way in which the essential plank of "justification by faith alone" can be squared with the equally essential plank of "baptismal regeneration."

Or to put it differently, the Christian life is fundamentally God giving us promises and us believing them -- and by simply believing them we are really transformed.

And finally this necessitates that saving faith be distinguished from mere historical assent (the kind of belief that says "Yes, these things happened in AD 30, just as Caesar was killed in 44 BC").

It was these three assertions -- that baptism, communion, and absolution are promises, that faith is necessary for their beneficial reception, and that such faith is a resting on and a confidence in the truth of the promise us-ward, and not just a historical faith -- that make the core of Luther's objection to the sacramental theology he encountered.

Chris, from your knowledge of Orthodoxy, what would they say about these three convictions? Is faith seen as necessary to receiving the benefits of baptism and communion? Are baptism and communion also seen as being in the nature of promises? And is faith seen as belief in a promise, not just assent to a historical fact? Or are the issues never presented this way in Orthodoxy? (I'm asking these questions out of genuine curiousity, not in some "gotcha!" spirit).

Chris Jones

Chris, I find it quite difficult to wrap my mind around your questions. I suppose that after all of these years I still "think like an Orthodox" enough that sometimes the categories of Western theology just don't compute.

To an Orthodox, the assertion that "the sacraments are worthless without faith" is nonsense. Literally, I mean: not that it is false, but that it makes no sense. On the one hand, even to conceive of "the sacraments without faith" is not possible. "To have faith" and "to be in Christ" amount to the same thing. So to say "the sacraments without faith" is to say "the sacraments outside of Christ". It is a contradiction in terms.

On the other hand, to suggest that the value of the sacraments is in any way dependent on the subjective state of the participants is not right either. The power of the sacraments - indeed, even their existence - is dependent only on Christ, His power, and His word, not on us. So to talk about the sacraments being "worthless" under any circumstances is to say that the word of Christ - which gives the sacraments their "worth" - is of no effect.

I think the answer to your first question (Is faith seen as necessary to receiving the benefits of baptism and communion?) is, yes it is; but the question is a tautology. The question translates to, is it necessary to be in Christ to receive the benefits of being in Christ?

The second question is a bit easier; there is less of a "category shock". A common Orthodox phrase for referring to the sacraments is "God's covenanted mysteries," which means those ways in which He has promised, as terms of the New Covenant, to deliver the forgiveness of sins and the divine life to us. He has promised to give us life and salvation through His mysteries, so we may, and do, utterly rely upon them.

The answer to the last question (is faith seen as belief in a promise, not just assent to a historical fact?) is, Yes and more. There are (at least) four dimensions to faith: assent to dogmatic facts (both historical and theological); belief in the promises (including the "promises" that are the sacraments); trust in the Person Who has made the promises; and uniting oneself completely to Him Who has promised, as the only source of life and salvation. This last is important: as I said, "to have faith" and "to be in Christ" amount to the same thing. He is our Life. To look to the life that one has oneself by nature, to look to our own strength of soul or body, even for this life, to say nothing of our salvation and the kingdom that is to come, is not to have faith, because it is not to be in Christ.

I hope that goes some way to answering your questions, but as I say, I have trouble making sense of the questions themselves. Perhaps one of my Orthodox readers (if I still have any) would be able to give you a better answer.

Thomas

Perhaps part of the problem is that, to the Orthodox, when a Lutheran says 'faith' it sounds like 'a subjective state' or, even worse, 'an intellectual assent'. To see faith as a real, ontological bond with Christ formed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and the preaching of the Gospel is to reorient the discussion in a radical way. (I've been looking for an excuse to use the word 'radical'.) I would also suggest that the 'forensic justification' debate would be upended if we realize that the declaration of justification DOES what it SAYS - you are recreated, killed and made alive again in baptism and the preaching of the word. You are, literally, a new creation. This new creation is hidden, and sanctification is the 'process' of 'becoming what you are.' Hope that helps.

CPA

I was speaking clumsily when I said "the sacraments are worthless without faith". As Luther constantly emphasizes, a baptism is a baptism and hence the gate to eternal life, regardless of whether the one baptized accepts it or not. Its validity is objective and based solely on the words. So I accept your correction:

The power of the sacraments - indeed, even their existence - is dependent only on Christ, His power, and His word, not on us. So to talk about the sacraments being "worthless" under any circumstances is to say that the word of Christ - which gives the sacraments their "worth" - is of no effect.

But as a promise -- objective and valid -- does not benefit the hearer unless it is believed, so too baptism does not benefit the baptized unless it is believed in.

It seems that Orthodoxy and (Augsburg) Evangelicalism are two communions that can get along, because neither can understand the language of the other!

Pr. Joel Humann

if we realize that the declaration of justification DOES what it SAYS

Yes. That's it. The proclamation of Gospel is performative language. Word and Sacrament create and sustain the very faith which recieves them as promissory. This is, of course, tautologous, as Chris notes.

CPA, your concern to avoid an ex opere operato view of the Sacraments is well taken, however.

Chris Jones

Pr Humann

I think I understand (and if I understand rightly I agree with) what you and Thomas are saying about "performative language". But I am still unclear about what ex opere operato means, and why it is objectionable.

I always thought ex opere operato was simply a way of affirming the objectivity of the sacraments and quieting the conscience of the believer by assuring him that his own doubt, fear, sin, and error do nothing to rob the mysteries of their power. Can you explain to me what the teaching of ex opere operato means, and why we Lutherans believe it to be in error?

In particular, does ex opere operato say that the sacraments are effective even for someone who is not, in fact, united to Jesus Christ through faith? If that is what it says, then I can see that there is a big problem with it. If, on the other hand, it merely says that the sacraments are effective in the absence of our subjective feelings of faith, then I think it is unobjectionable (and, in fact, a necessary guard against pietism).

Chris Jones

Thomas,

To see faith as a real, ontological bond with Christ formed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and the preaching of the Gospel is to reorient the discussion in a radical way.

This is so true, and so important. Unfortunately, the individualism (frankly, the self-centeredness) of our culture is so deep in us that we really can't "re-orient the discussion". We can't really understand "faith" in any other way than "what I, personally, believe and 'feel good about'". Biblically, faith is indeed "a real, ontological bond with Christ"; but we have to consciously force ourselves to think of it in that way.

Once you do think of it in that way, it seems to me that all objections to "faith alone" melt away. Fr Florovsky famously said, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus: all the power and categorical strength of this aphorism is in its tautology; outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church. Similarly, we are justified by faith alone because to be justified is to be in Christ and to have faith is to be in Christ. And the three Reformational slogans, faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone, are simply three ways of saying exactly the same thing. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; and if he is not in Christ, how can he be a new creation?

Pr. Joel Humann

The immediate context for rejecting an ex opere operato is the sacrifice of the mass made by the priest to propitiate the wrath of God, whose indelible character enables him to confect the mass for the benefit of the living and the dead. (I'm frankly rehashing seminary A.C. class here - I'd like to hear if others find it off the mark since, as you allude, it seems to mean many things to many people). In other word's the priest's *doing* of this ceremony of the mass is what is necessary, irrespective of what an onlooker believes (if indeed there even are any - since Luther's attacks also have private masses of the priest alone in view - i.e. pay some money to have some masses said for you or uncle Joe). It pertains, then, principally to the Western medieval sacrifice of the mass.

Clearly it is not, for Lutherans, a rejection of the objectivity of the Sacraments per se. This is why the manducatio impiorum is a Lutheran non-negotiable. One recieves the true Body and Blood of Christ, whether or not faith is present, though perhaps not to one's benefit.

...a way of affirming the objectivity of the sacraments and quieting the conscience of the believer by assuring him that his own doubt, fear, sin, and error do nothing to rob the mysteries of their power.

You are quite right that this needs affirming, repeatedly and always. After all every Christian who approaches the altar is simil justus et peccator. "Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief" is a prayer of faith.

Eric Phillips

If "ex opere operato" is rejected specifically as a response to the idea that the sacrifice of the Mass benefits both the living and the dead, that makes a lot of sense. I've never understood it when fellow Lutherans rejected the term, because of _course_ someone who receives it won't benefit from it unless he believes! The Roman Church has never said otherwise. But in this context, it is the Mass's utility for the dead that is being rejected when "ex opere operato" is called into question. Since they do not receive it at all, we never even get to the question of whether or not they receive it with faith.

It seems to me, though, that we would be better off simply opposing the saving efficacy of the Mass _qua_ re-enacted sacrifice, without unnecessarily rejecting "ex opere operato," because in contrast to most Protestants, Lutherans actually _do_ believe that the sacrament is and does what the words of Christ say it is and does, regardless of who believes it. The _utility_ of the sacrament depends on faith, but its _validity_ is in fact entirely "ex opere operato." Any Roman attempt to use this phrase to prove that the Eucharist provides justification even to the dead, and to living attendees who merely observe but do not partake, is just an abuse of the principle. We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

CPA

I don't know if the Roman Church now rejects ex opere operato with regard to the living, but Luther was arguing the position that the sacraments benefit unless an impediment is placed in their way. In other words, while Lutheran doctrine on infant baptism taught that baptism generates faith in the infant, the doctrine he was arguing against said, as long as there is not an actual will to resist the baptism, it works without the necessity of faith in the infant. Ditto for masses said for the (absent) living or dead. (I would not be surprised if there's been row-back on this since then).

CPA

BTW, if you read Melanchthon on the Mass in the Apology, ex opere operato is repeatedly excoriated. Reviving this term in a Lutheran context is a completely hopeless venture. Nor do I think the viewpoint it represents ("I know Joe has lived a completely godless life since then, but he was BAPTISED, so he MUST be a Christian") is sufficiently dead that we can simply give up the term we have for it.

Eric Phillips

I guess I should read that section and see if I can figure out what old Philip had against it. I don't really see any difference between saying that baptism generates faith, which then receives salvation, and simply saying that baptism saves the infant without faith. The word "faith" is just being used differently in the two cases. Of course, there is a significant difference between the prevailing RC concept of faith as a meritorious act and faith as a monergistic divine implantation, and that gets tied up in the discussion, but it's really peripheral to the question of whether sacraments work "ex opere operato."

As for the idea that the mass can benefit the absent living, and even the dead, that's got nothing to do with "ex opere operato," properly speaking. It's all about whether the mass promotes our salvation as a corporate performance as well as a meal, or just as a meal.

CPA

Justification by faith alone -- does it apply to infants who die after baptism, or not?

That's the difference between baptism creating faith infants or saving without faith in infants

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