Third Adjustment to the PMW

While the first two changes were relatively easy to understand, this one you might have to ponder for a while, and I would fully expect some brotherly debate about it.

The Bible uses some words in a way that makes their definition rather important. “Justification” and its cognates are an example, as well as “sanctification” and its cognates. We’re careful about how we use these words, so that we don’t cause unnecessary confusion.

Other words can be just as important, though their special meaning comes from the way we use them, rather than the way they are used in the Bible. “Trinity” is a good example of that. In the PMW, the words “public,” “private,” “official,” and “unofficial” are other examples.

Those four words are really two pairs of opposites, and they are not defined in the Bible. AC XIV uses the word “public” to describe the sort of preaching, teaching, and administration of the sacraments that requires a regular call. My own observation has noted that the Confessions usually mean “with many people” when they use the word “public,” and they usually mean “with few people” when they use the word “private.” While we are not bound to this usage, it is still noteworthy.

Meanwhile, the word “official” usually means “with authority pertaining to an office,” while “unofficial” usually means “without the authority of any office.”

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Justification and the Condemnation of the Lost

There have been rumblings out and about among Lutherans concerning the chief article (and material principle) of the Christian faith: the biblical teaching we call “justification.”

While we never complete the process of sanctification in this life, justification is what computer programmers might call an “atomic operation.” That is, it begins and ends in an unmeasured instant, being completely received to the benefit of a penitent sinner when he believes that for Christ’s sake, his sins are forgiven.

Notice also that sanctification is done with human cooperation, but justification is entirely a divine gift, without any human cooperation. If there were any human cooperation, then not only was the entire Lutheran Reformation woefully and tragically misguided, but we also are left without the certainty that we are actually justified before God.

So say the scriptures. So says the Augsburg Confession. So say we all. The somewhat insular controversy, however, centers upon another aspect of justification. It may be framed in several ways. Here’s how I choose to frame it, at the moment.

What is the condemnation of the lost? In other words, what does God say actually condemns those who are finally damned? Let’s look at John 3, verse 18, following close on the heels of the more well-known 3:16 and 17.
It refers to the Son of God.

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

There are two things to notice here. First, faith in the Son of God is required to be saved. Second, the condemnation for those who do not believe is their lack of faith, not the guilt of their accumulated sinfulness. This should be surprising for some. What happened to all that guilt? Why doesn’t it condemn them? Answer: because someone else was destined to be condemned for it (and now has been), who paid the full propitiation. The proof of that payment was His resurrection.

Someone may ask if this is the only passage of scripture that teaches that the condemnation of the lost is precisely their lack of faith. First, I answer: who cares? There is no doubt that this passage teaches it, because it’s such a clear passage. To teach otherwise would contradict this clear passage of scripture.

But yes, there are other passages that teach the same thing. One of them also appears in the historic lectionary: John 16:8-11. There, Jesus refers to the promised Holy Spirit.

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

This passage is a bit more obscure than the last, because of Jesus’ unusual use of the word “convict.” We usually apply it only to those whose evil deeds have resulted in the public proclamation of their guilt. However, it is possible to have other forensic or legal proclamations, as Jesus says here. Of interest to us are the first two.

Jesus says first that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin. Why is that? Not because of the guilt of their accumulated sinfulness, but “because they do not believe in Me [i.e. Jesus].” Suprised? You shouldn’t be, because it’s the same thing Jesus said in John 3:18. The condemnation of the lost is precisely their lack of faith. (The evidence of that is their lack of genuine good works, as we see in Matthew 25.)

Jesus also says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness. It’s an unusual way of speaking, but it means simply that the Holy Spirit will make the forensic or legal declaration that someone is righteous. Why is that? Jesus surprises us again. This declaration does not come because someone believes in the Son of God, but “because I go to the Father and you see Me no more.” That does not omit the necessity of faith, but it does show that there is a different reason for the announcement of justification.

Some time when I was working on this as a sermon text, I think I was reading some of Luther’s sermons. This sermon had the best explanation I could find of the words “because I go to the Father.” It’s a way of saying “because My assigned task on earth as the Lamb of God will be completed, so the proper thing will be to ascend to heaven.” If you want to know what the task of the Lamb of God is, just ask John the Baptizer: to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). So the reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness (i.e. proclaims justification) is because the Lamb of God has made complete atonement for the sins of the world.

It shouldn’t surprise us, but those two points harmonize and reinforce each other rather well:

  1. The lost are condemned not because of the guilt of their accumulated sin, but because they do not believe in Christ.

  2. The Holy Spirit proclaims righteousness upon the world because the Lamb of God has made atonement for all of its guilt.

Someone may object to this terminology for some reason, but at this point I see no problem with calling the unlimited atonement made by Christ “objective justification,” especially because His resurrection proves that it was accepted by the Father.

As always, I am open to criticism, though God’s Word really isn’t.

Change 2 for the PMW

Here’s what the PMW says under the heading “The Office of the Keys”, with a block of citations omitted to make it easier to see the problem:

God has given to His church on earth the Office of the Keys [citations here]. “The Office of the Keys is the special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth …”

This is not quite as important a point as the grammar problem I noted last time. It’s a matter of tightening up the PMW so that it says what’s needed as directly and clearly as possible. This particular problem comes from the department of redundancy department. Unless someone can explain to me the benefit of saying the same thing twice twice, I strongly suggest not doing so. I would recommend that the first sentence be omitted altogether. If any of its citations are too precious to omit, they can be placed after the quotation ends, as references to what’s said in the quotation from the Catechism.

I hope that’s clear enough. Hopefully, what I wrote is understandable.

Topics, and improvements for the PMW

Both of the Plucked Chicken’s readers know that it tends to focus on matters of importance only within the ELS. In fact, a good bit of what I write about would be called “unimportant” by at least a few within the ELS. That’s why I write about such things. It’s why the Plucked Chicken exists. This is not a general-purpose blog, at least so far. I don’t have time for recounting much from my own life, nor do I really think anyone would want to read it. Most of my personal interests are rather esoteric, and would therefore not be of interest to the general populace (any more than ELS matters are). But every group of people has a tendency to bury some topics that should be discussed, possibly in the vain hope that ignoring something will heal it. That doesn’t work so well with infectious diseases or grave wounds in the body, and it doesn’t work so well either in a body like the ELS. Healing requires attention, just as adopting a doctrinal statement requires complete, careful, and mutual deliberation. Such attention and deliberation have been wanting in the ELS. Hence, the Plucked Chicken.

As I have the opportunity, I will note some improvements that could be made to the PMW. Here’s the first. It says (verbatim):

We reject the teaching that the Holy Spirit comes without the external Word but through their own preparations and works (AC V, Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, 9).

That’s not really a quote from AC V. It’s a paraphrase. Do you see the problem? It says “but through their own preparations and works.” To whom does that pronoun refer? Hmmm. I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

Remember, this is the actual quasi-sacred text of the PMW adopted by the ELS in 2005, the same text that, if challenged, can excite such written exclamations as, “What further need do we have of witnesses?”
If you give up, and would like me to reveal the antecedent of the pronoun, read on.

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Baier-Walther on the Ecclesiastical Ministry

The doctrine of the ministry as taught in this part of Baier-Walther does not consider the “wider sense” to be a part of the Ecclesiastical Ministry.

The ecclesiastical ministry is defined thus: that it is a public office, ordained by God, in which certain persons, legitimately called and ordained, teach the Word of God, administer the sacraments, forgive and retain sins, and they care for and direct other things, which pertain to the church, and to the conversion, sanctification and eternal salvation of humans.

You can read it for yourself.

Was Walther’s doctrine incomplete as it was expressed here? (Why?)

Or, has the semantic and conceptual domain of “ecclesiastical ministry” been enlarged since then to include not only the office (position) that exists by our Lord’s command and institution, but also any activity that accomplishes the teaching of God’s Word?