Thesis Thursday

Passing on now to lecture 15, we see Walther’s attention thankfully turning from the Reformed, to Lutheran Pietism. The quotes below are taken here and there from a much longer narrative. I omit “…” everywhere for the sake of flow.


A week ago we learned that it is a false method to prescribe to an alarmed sinner all manner of rules for his conduct, telling him what he has to do, how earnestly and how long he must pray, and wrestle and struggle until he hears a mysterious voice whispering in his heart: “Your sins are forgiven; you are a child of God; you are converted,” or until he feels that the grace of God has been poured out in his heart. That is the method adopted for conversion by all the Reformed sects and their adherents.

Would that this method of conversion were not found in the Lutheran Church! But, alas! such is the case. At first the Pietists tried to convert people by this method. In some points they were quite right. The Lutheran Church in those days had gone to sleep; it lay shrouded in spiritual death. The Pietists desired to come to the rescue. However, instead of going back to the purity of teaching of the Church of the Reformation and learning from that age how to quicken the spiritually dead, they adopted the method of the Reformed.

Let me illustrate this by the example of Dr. John Philip Fresenius. One of his most popular books is his Book on Confession and Communion. My reason for illustrating by this very book how even Lutherans mingle the Law with the Gospel is because I had some very sad personal experience with this book. [At university,] there began for me a period of the severest spiritual afflictions. I went to [a pietist acquaintance] and asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” He prescribed a number of things that I was to do and gave me several books to read, among them Fresenius’s Book on Confession and Communion. The farther I got in reading the book, the more uncertain I became whether I was a Christian.

Fresenius writes: “If sinners of this type are to be enabled to obtain the forgiveness of sins and to receive the body and blood of Christ worthily, everything depends on their conversion. Accordingly, I shall here offer a faithful instruction regarding the points that have to be observed on their part in order that they may be thoroughly converted in a short time.” (The remark “in a short time” sounded like Gospel to me, and I wished that it might be so in my case.) “I have tested the good quality of this instruction on many sinners in the past and found that it resulted in the certain salvation of every one who faithfully followed it.

“All depends on three rules which the sinner must observe. They are derived from the inmost nature of the divine order of salvation and are such that, if faithfully applied, the worst slaves of the devil are helped by them. If any one is not helped, he must blame his own unfaithfulness for it, and not the rules.” (I resolved gladly to obey all rules.) “The first rule is: Pray for grace. The second: Be watchful lest you lose grace. The third: Meditate upon the Word of God in a proper manner. Since a sinner cannot convert himself, he must pray for the grace of conversion. Since the grace which he has obtained in answer to his prayer can easily be lost, he must be watchful. Since the Word of God is the means of grace by which we are enlightened and regeneration, or the change of heart, is accomplished in adults, he must meditate upon it in a proper manner. This shows that these three rules have been derived from the inmost nature of the divine order of salvation.”

Fresenius concludes his explanation of the three rules for “such as are not yet converted, but would like to be” with these remarks: “Any one putting these three rules to practise with all possible fidelity will in a short time become a different person, and the grace of God will work in him so effectively that he will discover in himself with growing distinctness the marks of a new creature in Christ.”

I ask you now: Where do we find an advice of this kind in the Bible? Whenever the apostles preached and their hearers asked them, “What must we do to be saved?” they returned no other answer than this: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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This entry was posted in Christian life, Compare and Confess, Education, Gospel, Law/Gospel Distinction, Legalism, Liberty, Lutheranism, Pietism, Protestant preaching, Quotes, Reformed Confessionalism, The Protestant Reformation, Thesis Thursday. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. Echo_ohcE says:

    Ugh. There is so much that COULD be said that the task of figuring out what to say first is overwhelming.

    I’ll simply summarize by saying: this is a crock.

  2. Echo_ohcE says:

    False dilemma: either Romish faith and works synergism, OR “only believe”.

    The problem is, Jesus said, “Repent and believe”.

    It’s true that we’re justified by faith alone, but justification, as important as it is, is not the entirety of the Christian life. We are called to obedience by the very apostles said to have said “only believe” on literally every page of the New Testament. While “only believe” is sufficient for justification, it’s not sufficient to answer the call to which Christ calls us. “only believe” is merely the beginning, the door into the Christian life, not the entirety of it.

  3. Echo_ohcE says:

    The very notion that the Reformed are responsible for pietism is historically laughable. Seriously, the pietists were LUTHERANS and they were responding to rampant antinomianism in the Lutheran church.

  4. Echo_ohcE says:

    How can he criticize the Reformed for being pietists by quoting from a Lutheran, John Fresenius? This guy was not Reformed, but a Lutheran.

    I wonder if he’ll ever quote a Reformed theologian in order to make his case that the Reformed believe such and such.

    And what Fresenius says is not AT ALL Reformed. Just ask Fresenius if he agrees with the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Belgic Confession. Oh, wait, we don’t have to ask him to know his answer. He was a Lutheran! Of course he didn’t agree with the Reformed system of theology.

  5. RubeRad says:

    OK, I see I should have started my quote at “Let me illustrate this example…”

    My point here is not to gather the pitchfork and torch crowd to rally against Walther’s mischaracterization of the Reformed. I just wanted to summarize Walther’s interaction with this Lutheran Pietism and this book.

    To my knowledge, Walther has not quoted an actual Reformed person yet (except Spurgeon who he claims as an exception that proves his rule), and I doubt he will.

  6. Zrim says:

    Somebody toss the right reverend Walther a copy of Nevin’s “The Anxious Bench.” I mean, if he wants actual Reformed exceptions to rules and all.

  7. Echo_ohcE says:

    Walther: “A week ago we learned that it is a false method to prescribe to an alarmed sinner all manner of rules for his conduct, telling him what he has to do, how earnestly and how long he must pray, and wrestle and struggle until he hears a mysterious voice whispering in his heart: “Your sins are forgiven; you are a child of God; you are converted,” or until he feels that the grace of God has been poured out in his heart. That is the method adopted for conversion by all the Reformed sects and their adherents.”

    Echo:
    I agree with the first sentence completely. And I’m Reformed.

    The second sentence is complete bunk. It is not the “method adopted for conversion by ALL the Reformed sects and their adherents.”

    First, the Reformed do not believe in ANY method of conversion. If you want to know about methods of conversion, you’ll have to speak to Charles Finney and his ilk. And Finney prided himself on his lack of seminary education and his rejection of the Westminster Confession of Faith (a Reformed document).

    By the way, how can you lump people together who both confess the Westminster Confession and reject it? It seems their beliefs are contradictory. So how can it be said that they say the same thing?

    Wait, I take it back. The Reformed DO believe in a method of conversion. We agree with Jesus when he was asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, essentially, “obey the law”. There is your “method” of conversion. Obey the law perfectly your entire life and you will be saved by your own efforts. Of course, no one can do that (except for Christ), so we’re left with Christ obtaining salvation for us.

    Anyone who tells you today how long and earnestly you must pray, wrestling and struggling until you hear voices is most likely a Pentecostal.

    But to be fair to Walther, there WERE people who CALLED themselves Reformed who DID teach this kind of thing. Revivalism began among presbyterians. But it’s important to understand that this was a SECT of presbyterianism which DEPARTED from classic Reformed theology. And by the way, they were strongly influenced by congregationalists, methodists and other wackos.

    Today the lines are clearer. Today these people have become a whole separate branch of Christianity, namely the Pentecostals. But that only proves the point that those who taught such things were swimming against the current of Reformed theology, so much so that they eventually had to leave and form their own church with completely different teachings about just about everything.

    To blame Reformed theology for giving birth to beliefs that disagreed with Reformed theology is truly bizarre. We might as well blame the New Testament for giving birth to Gnosticism and the other heresies of the first several centuries of Christianity.

    But I know what someone must be thinking. Echo, how can you blame the Lutherans for giving us pietism? It’s simple. Lutheran theology gets it wrong. Pietism was the attempt of some Lutherans to correct one of their errors. Unfortunately, being under the influence of many other errors, they over corrected, swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction.

    What errors? First, the error of reducing the gospel to justification by faith alone. This is not the gospel, but only part of it. This is a serious error with serious consequences, not the least of which is a strong tendency toward antinomianism. How? Because if the gospel is that justification is by faith alone, and this is sharply contrasted with the law, and if we say that all we need to do is believe in the gospel, then we’ve reduced the Christian life to believing and affirming that justification is by faith alone, which has now been raised to the level of a central dogma. Which is why Luther called James an epistle of straw. Typically, when someone wants to cut out a book of the Bible, it’s a sign that their thinking has gone wrong somewhere. Reductionism is always dangerous.

    Another error is their error regarding the resistibility of grace, which has been argued to death on other pages of this blog. Another error is their understanding of Christ after the ascension. For Lutherans, Christ ascended and then became omnipresent. This is wrong. This is his divinity swallowing up his humanity. This is a Christological HERESY. In more ancient times, this heresy is called Monophysitism, which denies that Jesus has a human nature. True, Lutherans affirm that Jesus has a human nature, but what they give with one hand they take with the other, and the result is de facto monophysitism in all but name. Coupled with this is their error regarding the sacraments. And all of this is but a summary of the errors of the Lutherans.

    So…ppppbbbbbbttt to your comments, Walther. 🙂

  8. John Yeazel says:

    Take it easy Echo, we have already established that Walther was wrong in his assessment of the “Reformed.” It is more likely he was talking about the “Reformed” who were into revivalism. Even Darryl Hart established that many Presbyterians and other Reformed offshoots were sidetracked into supping with the revivalists. And, no doubt, there were many Lutherans who drank deeply from revivalism too. It was running rampant in America during Walther’s time. We all know that confessional Calvinism and confessional Lutheranism is a lot different than revivalism. So, let’s stick with the issues that divide confessional Lutherans and the confessionally Reformed. The debate would be more fruitful if we could stick with each others confessional statements. And then, of course, on the Reformed side, you have the neo’s and theo’s, as Zrim calls them. They have problems with basing Christianity on the confessional statements. There are ways and means of changing and revising confessional statements, so, lets try to get more clarity in what divides us and determine how critical the issues are that do divide us.

    Methodology is probably another important issue in trying to bring clarity to doctrinal debates. Do we have to revert to logic and philosophy when debating doctrinal differences? Does that confuse matters more than help? I know there will be a lot of disagreement here and probably few of us are sufficiently trained in logic and philosophy for us to get very far in that regard anyways. Is comparing and contrasting confessional statements and then going to major historical theologians, biblical theologians and sytematic theologians to determine why confessional statements were written as they were an alternative method that can possibly bring more clarity, or, are there also inherent problems with this method too?

    What exactly have we establised so far as the major dividing points between the confessional Lutherans and the confessional Calvinists? And how and why do those who are not strict confessionalists differ from both of us too? Those are the questions that may help us sort this out better.

    I don’t have time now but I will try to write something out later which I see as the major dividing points at this time. It is always good to summarize as we proceed on in these debates. And lets try to make an effort to keep the comments away from mud-slinging and try to maintain a semblance of clear, and dare I say, rational debate. Please no laughter- I know you guys think us Lutherans are fideists. Us Lutherans? I think I am the only Lutheran commenting here.

  9. John Yeazel says:

    In regards to my Lutherans are fideists remark, I tend to look at it in this way, Lutherans are less prone to try to connect the dots of seemingly contradictory scriptural passages with logic and reason. They let them stand as is and are more comfortable with paradox and mystery in some of the more confusing doctrinal issues. I happen to enjoy reading Horton’s interpretations of covenant theology and am working through his 4 book covenant drama series as we speak. I think his system of interpreting the covenant of Abraham (as royal grant) and the covenant with Moses lends itself to a helpful distinction between the Law and the Gospel without mixing the two and keeping both Law and Gospel in their proper perspective. I personally think the Reformed worked out the distinctions between Law and Gospel, in their covenant theology, better than Lutherans did, I also think that Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, had the same idea going on which the Reformed Calvinistis expanded on and made more clear.

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