Thesis Thursday

Last time, we sped through an entire lecture in just one post! As we start the fourth lecture, we slow down again to consider Walther’s introductory comments (next time, finally, we will reach Thesis II!):

When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church, but refuses to do so even in a single point of doctrine, such an action looks to human reason like intolerable stubbornness, yea, like downright malice. That is the reason why such theologians are loved and praised by few men during their lifetime. Most men rather revile them as disturbers of the peace, yea, as destroyers of the kingdom of God . They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But in the end it becomes manifest that this very determined, inexorable tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church; on the contrary, it is just this which, in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace. Therefore, woe to the Church which has no men of this stripe, men who stand as watchmen on the walls of Zion, sound the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, and rally to the banner of Jesus Christ for a holy war!

Try and picture to yourselves what would have happened if Athanasius had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the deity of Christ. He could have made a compromise with the Arians and put his conscience at ease; for the Arians declared that they, too, believed Christ to be God, only not from eternity. They said: ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν (there was a time when He did not exist), meaning, He had become God. But they added: “Nevertheless He is to be worshiped, for He is God.” Even at that remote time, had Athanasius yielded, the Church would have been hurled from the one Rock on which it is founded, which is none other than Jesus Christ.

Again, imagine what would have happened if Augustine had made a slight concession in the doctrine of man’s free will, or rather of the utter incapacity of man for matters spiritual. He, too, could have made a compromise with the Pelagians and put his conscience at ease because the Pelagians declared: “Yes, indeed; without the aid of God’s grace no man can be saved.” But by the grace of God they meant the divine gift which is imparted to every man. Even at that time, had Augustine yielded, the Church would have lost the core of the Gospel. There would have been nothing left of it but the empty, hollow shell. Aye, the Church would have retained nothing but the name of the Gospel. For the doctrine of the Gospel that man is made righteous in the sight of God and saved by nothing but the pure grace of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, is, as everybody knows, the most important doctrine, the marrow and substance of Christian teaching. Wherever this doctrine is not proclaimed, there is no Christ, no Gospel, no salvation; there men perish, and for such people it has been in vain that the Son of God has come into the world.

Lastly, picture to yourselves what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession in the doctrine of…

OK, so you see the pattern building here, right? Lutheran to the core, and preeminently concerned with Law and Gospel, Walther is laser-locked onto the doctrine of Justification, the article on which the church stands or falls, right? Keep reading…

Lastly, picture to yourselves what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the Holy Supper. At the time of the Margburg Colloquy he could have made a compromise with Zwingli and put his conscience at ease, because the Zwinglians said: “We, too, believe in a certain presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but not in the presence of Christ’s corporeal substance, because God does not set up such sublime, incomprehensible things for us to believe.” By this claim Zwingli made Christianity in its entirety a questionable matter, and even Melanchthon, who was usually greatly inclined to make concessions, declared that Zwingli had relapsed into paganism. Had Luther yielded, the Church would have become a prey to rationalism, which places man’s reason above the plain Word of God.

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15 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. Randall van der Sterren says:

    “Zwingli made Christianity in its entirety a questionable matter…. Zwingli had relapsed into paganism…Had Luther yielded, the Church would have become a prey to rationalism…”

    As a Lutheran continues talking about theology, the probability of him saying something silly and wrong about the Reformed approaches 1. It isn’t just ignorance of laymen or ministers here and there. Lutheranism’s greatest minds attack Calvinist straw men time and again over the course of centuries.

    The best thing to do is to remind the Lutheran of what Calvin said of their patriarch: “Even if he should call me a devil, I would accord him the honor of acknowledging him to be an eminent servant of God.” If he continues slandering us, we treat him as a slanderer.

    But this idea of meaningful dialog between Lutherans and Reformed died at Margburg.

  2. RubeRad says:

    I’m confused, “treat him as a slanderer” sounds opposite from Calvin’s desire to “acknowledge him to be an eminent servant of God.” I’ve run across something like that before. Isn’t that the quote where Calvin labels Luther as a “prophet”?

    As for Lutherans attacking Calvinism, when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, isn’t the straw man Zwingli himself? We proper Calvinists would join hands and rebuke Zwingli for his mere memorialism.

  3. Randall van der Sterren says:


    1.) We can admire Luther as we may admire Augustus Toplady or even George Whitefield, while firmly rejecting their anti-Presbyterianism.
    2.) As for Zwingli, Lutheran apologists say the views of Calvin, Knox, Beza and the Confessions are just his views stated in a more moderate form. Also, there is reason to doubt that Zwingli taught a “bare” or “mere memorial” anyway.

  4. RubeRad says:

    I can’t really argue with any of that!

  5. Randall van der Sterren says:

    Further, not only did Walther say Christ died for all humanity, he also believed that EVERY HUMAN BEING is JUSTIFIED in Christ:

    “Jesus, when He was raised from the dead, was absolved for all sin, but since it was not for Himself but for all people that Christ died, who was it really that was set free, >>>who was it really that was absolved when Jesus rose from the dead? It was all people!<<>>His justification the justification of all mankind, His absolution the absolution of all mankind<<<." (emphasis mine)

    This is quackodox. Many of the R2K's "Law/Gospel" LCMS/WELS heroes believe the same thing. Luther would never have accepted these "Lutherans."

  6. Zrim says:

    Randall, isn’t is possible (to say nothing of more charitable) that Walther reads with the same hermeneutic that the Reformed do and when he says “all” he means “all without distinction” and not “all without exception”?

  7. RubeRad says:

    That’s a long paper that I don’t have time to read, but yes Walther is a Lutheran, and yes, Lutherans (I don’t know how they trace it to Luther himself) believe in Universal atonement. I think the distinction they make is between objective and subjective, one of those terms is used for people who resist the forgiveness that God is trying to give to them.

    So yes, I realize that Lutherans are different than Calvinists, and I’m not trying to “make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church” (see, Walther said something right there!), but only to appreciate the good where it can be found, and understand the bad where we differ. On the topic of Law&Gospel, I expect to find almost all good, which is why I am blogging through the theses.

  8. RubeRad says:

    A little further down in the paper you link:

    Walther believed in universal, objective justification, but Walther was no universalist. There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. That which Christ has purchased through His substitutionary suffering, death and resurrection must be conveyed to the sinner in such a way that it becomes his own (subjective justification). In other words, the sinner needs to believe that all that Christ has accomplished for him is truly his. And so God has provided His means of grace to bring the benefits of Christ’s life, work and death to the sinner and to create that faith. These are the Gospel and the Sacraments. Only the Gospel and the Sacraments mediate Christ’s benefits.

    As I understand it, the Lutherans cannot abide the concept of Limited Atonement. So instead of the Calvinist distinction of universal/general vs. effectual call, they have instead objective vs. subjective justification. It seems like it could be well described in Calvinist categories as: Accomplished for all, Applied to some. I’m not sure how they manage to distinguish themselves from Arminian Unlimited Atonement on that one.

  9. Randall van der Sterren says:

    “For God has already forgiven you your sins 1800 years ago when He in Christ absolved all men by raising Him after He first had gone into bitter death for them. Only one thing remains on your part so that you also possess the gift. This one thing is–faith. And this brings me to the second part of today’s Easter message, in which I now would show you that every man who wants to be saved must accept by faith the general absolution, pronounced 1800 years ago, as an absolution spoken individually to him.”
    C. F. W. Walther, The Word of His Grace, Sermon Selections, “Christ’s Resurrection–The World’s Absolution” Lake Mills: Graphic Publishing Company, 1978 p. 233. Brosamen, p. 138. Mark 16:1-8.

  10. Randall van der Sterren says:

    Robert Preus:
    “Objective justification which is God’s verdict of acquittal over the whole world is not identical with the atonement, it is not another way of expressing the fact that Christ has redeemed the world. Rather it is based upon the substitutionary work of Christ, or better, it is a part of the atonement itself. It is God’s response to all that Christ died to save us, God’s verdict that Christ’s work is finished, that He has been indeed reconciled, propitiated; His anger has been stilled and He is at peace with the world, and therefore He has declared the entire world in Christ to be righteous.”

    See the whole discussion here:

  11. RubeRad says:

    Congratulations. You have discovered that Lutherans are not Calvinists.

  12. RubeRad says:

    Many of the R2K’s “Law/Gospel” LCMS/WELS heroes

    BTW, what are you talking about? I discovered Walther from the Lutherans that do Table Talk Radio, which I was turned onto by friends from church. I have never heard any WSCAL/W2K/WHI person talk about any Lutheran except for Luther (and Rod Rosenblatt, and I guess Riddlebarger goes on Issues, Etc. a lot).

  13. Pingback: Thesis Thursday | The Confessional Outhouse

  14. Randall van der Sterren says:

    “Congratulations. You have discovered that Lutherans are not Calvinists.”

    In practical terms, this teaching is indistinguishable from the “You are more sinful than you ever dared believe, yet more loved than you ever dared hope!” theology of the Evangelicals you don’t admire. But put a collar on the minister, change the church furniture, and there’s the Lutherans that you DO admire.

  15. Pingback: Thesis Thursday | The Confessional Outhouse

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