Revoco, Retraction, and Withdrawal

Here are a few thoughts about the ongoing suspension controversy in the ELS.

(For those who have not heard, we now have two controversies: one on the doctrine of the ministry, and one about the irregular suspension of a pastor. They follow the same pattern: an inadvisable decision is made on some official level, and other people are chastised or even threatened for taking firm opposition. Either controversy has a reasonable probability of bringing permanent division to the ELS.)

Before the suspension, Pastor Preus was told that the only way to avoid it was to retract his paper, Clarifying the Issues. (Mirrored on

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Walther on Predestination

This is from

The Controversy Concerning Predestination

by C.F. W. Walther

This essay was originally published in 1881 by Concordia Publishing House (St. Louis, MO). It was translated into English by Aug. Crull, and was presented with the original subtitle: Trustworthy advice for pious Christians that would like to know whose doctrine in the present controversy concerning predestination is Lutheran, and whose is not. This tract is now in the public domain.

Dear Reader: If in a doctrinal controversy we wish to find out which side contends for the truth, and which side contends for error, it is necessary above all things to understand thoroughly, which is the actual controverted point in question.

For this reason false teachers have at all times endeavored to shift and misstate the actual controverted point in the doctrinal controversies stirred up by them. Some Zwinglians of old, for instance, acted upon this principle. The chief controverted point in the dispute between them and Luther was this: whether the true body and the true blood of Christ is present in, with, and under the blessed bread and wine, is distributed by the ministers and therefore also taken and partaken of with the mouth by all communicants. This Luther had affirmed, but the Zwinglians had denied it. However, when Luther proved his doctrine so clearly from the Word of God and confuted the Zwinglian doctrine so powerfully, that everybody saw and the Zwinglians themselves perceived, that they had been defeated: some of the latter shifted the controverted point, asserting that they had only contested the doctrine, that the body of Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper like an ordinary body and is crushed by the teeth of the communicants. Luther, it is true, had really used this expression once; but he had added at the same time, how he meant it, namely not in that gross manner which the Capernaites of old had imputed to Christ (John 6:52-60), but in this sense that the essential body of Christ is really and truly present and is really and truly eaten with the bodily mouth.

The teachers of the pure doctrine, however, have always above all things stated precisely the actual controverted point in question, whenever controversies had arisen. A plain proof of this, among other things, is our dear Formula of Concord. For when after Luther’s death serious controversies concerning certain points of doctrine had arisen within our Lutheran church, which controversies were to be adjusted by means of the Formula of Concord, the latter in the first place always stated the actual controverted point in every one of these articles. If we look into the Formula of Concord, we find that the first ten articles of this book always begin with the words: “Status controversiae. The chief question in this controversy.” However by the word: “The chief question” nothing else is understood but: “The chief controverted point.” Only the eleventh article, treating of predestination, does not begin thus; and why not? For no other reason but because (as the first Part of the Formula of Concord expressly states in the very beginning) at that time “no public controversy had arisen (yet) among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession.” (Compare the new Jubilee edition of the Book of Concord, page 378. New Market edition page 353.)

But because now, within the American-Lutheran church, a “public controversy has arisen” concerning the doctrine of predestination, it is of course necessary, in order that no one may “fish in troubled waters”, and that all pious Christians, even the most simple, may see their way clearly in this “controversy” that has arisen, to state in the first place and above all things the actual controverted point in the present controversy. What, then, is the actual, and at the same time the chief controverted point?

It consists simply in the following twofold question: 1st, whether God from eternity, before the foundations of the world were laid, out of pure mercy and only for the sake of the most holy merit of Christ, elected and ordained the chosen children of God to salvation and whatever pertains to it, consequently also to faith, repentance, and conversion; or 2nd, whether in His election God took into consideration anything good in man, namely the foreseen conduct of man, the foreseen non-resistance, and the foreseen persevering faith, and thus elected certain persons to salvation in consideration of, with respect to, on account of, or in consequence of their conduct, their non-resistance, and their faith. The first of these questions we affirm, while our opponents deny it, but the second question we deny, while our opponents affirm it.

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Connectivity problems

Last Friday, our Internet connection was inexplicably down. Ironically, this happened just after we received our ISP bill. Well, that kind of thing, though rare, is unavoidable, so I waited to see if it would get fixed. Saturday morning, it was running again… until 10:00. From that time until this morning, the Plucked Chicken was locked in the coop. For the thousands of people (heh) who were disappointed at not finding the PC online, I apologize. For those who are on various mailing lists I’m hosting, I really hope it doesn’t happen again.

It turned out that something fried on the other end of our DSL link. It’s nice when it wasn’t really my fault, but unfortunate when it happens at the beginning of the weekend, and I can’t prove it to the ISP’s weekend skeleton crew on tech support.

Well, the bird is out of the coop. Maybe I’ll find something interesting to post.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Some time ago, I conducted a funeral for someone who wanted us to sing the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” at the service. I thought I knew what hymn this was, but it turned out to be something I had never seen or heard before. Maybe I should be embarassed at that, since it seems to be a well-known American spiritual song, but I’m not. Though it has not been included in any Lutheran hymn books, it’s not really a terrible hymn. It is written in the form of a prayer, based loosely on James 1:17. Its main weakness is that it has little mention of justification or forgiveness in its three verses. The only place where the subject comes up is in the first line of the last verse: “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth.” So I wrote the following as a final verse to bring the comfort of Christ home to those who needed to hear it:

Lord, Thou hast spoken, and I trust Thy Promise:
Joy everlasting, forgiveness of sin.
Cleanse me from guilt through Thy Son’s holy off’ring,
Seal my inheritance, usher me in.

I hereby give permission for anyone to use this verse in any way that hallows God’s name and lets His kingdom come.

The importance of context.

One of my professors years ago recounted a particular conversation with certain Jehovah’s Witnesses. He became frustrated with their frequent appeals to the authority of scripture that had been taken out of context. So, he demonstrated for them how important context can be. Asking for their Bible, he looked up Matthew 27:5, which is summarized: “Judas … went and hanged himself.” Continuing the citation, he then looked up Jesus’ response in Luke 10:37, “Go and do likewise.” Finally, he looked up Jesus’ words in John 13:27, “What you do, do quickly.” I doubt that these JWs obeyed this collection of scripture passages literally, and they may not have even gotten the point: the context of the Bible passages we cite can be very important.