Thursday, August 25, 2011

Attempts to make the Gospel Reasonable/ Sacramentarians

Becker, p. 153-161, quotes

Since we have ourselves not become believers as a consequence of rational argument or by means of a rational decision on our part, we should not expect to persuade other men by lengthy and learned disputations.  In 1541 in connection with the controversies over the Lord's supper Luther remarked,

It is not necessary that we should dispute sharply on this matter, since it is seldom that a man can be sufficiently instructed and satisfied by long disputations, even if we meet once or twice.  It requires a good long time to remove such erring opinions and delusions from the heart.  For this we require good, friendly discussions and polite, sensible people.

As we would expect from a man who took such a position, Luther resisted all attempts at making the gospel reasonable.  Christian theologians are often tempted to do this, and questions like "Isn't it reasonable?"  are sometimes asked in an attempt to persuade others of the truths of the christian religion.  Luther considered such efforts to be not only a waste of time, but even positively dangerous and destructive of the Christian faith.

... Faith has to do with unseen things.  This is a commonly repeated emphasis in Luther's lectures and sermons. He asks, "What kind of faith is this to which reason can attain?"  There would be no need of faith, he says in the Table Talk, if the truths were rational.  Of the doctrine of the person of Christ he says that if it could be understood by reason, there would be no faith involved in its acceptance.  The sacramentarians, who denied the real  presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper, argued that since Christ was now sitting at the right hand of God, he could not be present in the sacrament.  But Luther says that we know (and do not need to believe) that in the sacrament there is bread and wine.  We can recognize it for what it is when we see it with our eyes.  But by faith alone we furthermore insist that Christ is both at the right hand of God and also truly present in the sacrament.  This does not make sense to us.  But we must remember that if our Lord God had given us articles of faith which our understanding could grasp, none of us would be saved.  

...More than this, faith cannot be maintained even in a Christian by arguments from reason.  All the articles of the true faith are so difficult and so far beyond our reach that no man can hold fast to them without the grace of the Holy Spirit.

...Luther held that it is only man's damnable pride that keeps him from seeing that the way out of this conflict between reason and the Word is not to be sought in a modification of the Scriptures but in a change in reason.  Since scripture cannot be broken, it is reason that must break.  It is not difficult, according to Luther, for men to change the truths of Scripture to make them reasonable.  It takes no great skill to philosophize about these things.  When unbelievers point out that there are difficulties in Christian doctrines, they ought not to imagine that these same thoughts have not occurred to believing children of God.  But if a Christian apologete reacts to this accusation by trying to make the message more consistent with the dictates of reason, he is courting disaster.

...He said that if we would insist on comprehending the articles of faith with our reason, we would very quickly lose baptism, the sacrament of the altar, the Word, grace, original sin, and all things, for not one of these is understood by reason.  Of the arguments which the sacramentarians used against the real presence of the body and blood of the Savior in the Lord's Supper, Luther said that they want to measure and master this whole matter with their sophistic reason and clever subtleties, and he predicted that eventually it would come to this that they would also deny that Christ is God, for the same arguments which overthrow the first (the real presence), also cast doubt on the second (the personal union in Christ).  Luther's prophecy in this matter has been fulfilled in modern Protestantism, where the denial of the real presence has borne this fruit.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House ( All rights reserved. Reprinted with


Andrew said...

A very interesting post, Brigette. I am trying to get my head around the Lutheran way of looking at things. My family and I are done taking instruction from the local LCMS pastor and I told the pastor "before we become members I have to make sure I'm not a Calvinist". It's tough because it really is an entirely different way of thinking about things. Of course, there are similarities; but the difference in approach is a big adjustment.

Brigitte said...

Hi Andrew. Thanks for comment and thanks for visit. I think we've met on Beggars. What issues are you still working on in your mind?

Have you had a chance to look through the Book of Concord (if you like to read). The new Reader's Edition is an excellent resource. I would recommend buying your own copy, if you don't have one. (Concordia Publishing House)

You might also check out "The Sacrament is the Gospel" blog on the bloglist side.

Andrew said...

"What issues are you still working on in your mind?"

I'm being asked to believe that a saved, regenerated Christian can lose his faith and salvation in spite of the biblical promises to the contrary. And I am being asked to believe mutually contradictory propositions in regard to that issue.

Brigitte said...

I see, this is what really bothers some others also,like Carrie.

Wait til we get to this in the Becker. He explains well how RC, Lutheran and Calvin deal with the same issue, which we all realize: not everyone who starts out in the faith stays there.

There is the tension of daily life until we get home. We never, in this life outlive the daily battle with the Old Adam. We do "work out" with fear and trembling our salvation as the RC like to point out to us. What does this mean? Especially, as our hope is in the free grace of Jesus Christ. There is something that needs to be said in the right way.

I am thinking Pastor Fiene dealt with this, too. Let me check for that link.

Brigitte said...

I see that you raised your concerns there already, but I don't have a chance to read that exchange carefully anymore tonight. That is a long thread.

Did you read up on election in the Formula of Concord? Most likely, none of us could explain it much better.

Andrew said...

Yeah I read the section in the solid declaration. It's just aggravating.

Brigitte said...

Andrew, I am thinking that if you were really looking for answers you would not find the Formula of Concord aggravating.

Brigitte said...

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today:

...even though you know God's Word perfectly and are already a master in all things: you are daily in the devil's kingdom. He ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three commandments and all the commandments. Therefore, you must always have God's Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. [BOC, LC, I, 100]

Andrew said...

Briggite, You said "Andrew, I am thinking that if you were really looking for answers you would not find the Formula of Concord aggravating."

Forgive me for saying so; but this seems an arrogant assumption. I don't normally detect arrogance in what you write (in fact I never have before) so it is a little surprising to me. I have read where others have treated you that way; but I find it distasteful. Maybe I am misreading you though. If I am then please excuse my own assumption. I have a question:
Would you mind explaining to me why it is you think a person could not at the same time "really look for answers" and quibble with or question what he finds in the BoC?

Brigitte said...

I really am sorry, Andrew.

Sometimes, I get tired of all the arguing. It seemed to me you have already discussed it with a pastor, you have followed a lot of discussions elsewhere, there is the BOC and you haven't told me what part of it is frustrating, only in general that it is "aggrevating." For a day or two I took you for just wanting to irritate me. Sorry.

Forgive me, if I'm wrong. XO. It's Sunday, and in Christ we are all one Church; thanks be to God.

Andrew said...

Brigitte, as they say, we're cool. My resistance to Lutheran theology is beginning to soften. What has been frustrating to me is the BoC's penchant for stating something that sounds true, then stating what seems to be the opposite of what it just said, and then going on like those of us who have a problem with contradiction are the silly ones. What I told my pastor (Lutheran) this morning is that I am trying to find where the Lutherans are standing. In other words, I am seeing things from a pretty reformed perspective, and I can't seem to find the right place to "stand" in order to see the bible and what it teaches from your perspective. If I am going to finally reject Lutheranism then I want to reject it for what it really is on it's own terms. If I am going to believe as y'all do then I want to be a Lutheran and not a crypto-calvinist. I can be a Calvinist some place else. Thanks for clearing up my misunderstanding; and for future reference, I wont ever leave a comment just to irritate you. You seem a kind, reasonable, sister in Christ.

Pax Christi

Brigitte said...

Pax, indeed. Thanks for kind words.

For me the key difference would be that salvation and entry into the kingdom and the church is simply offered to us through the external means. I am not going to look at my own works in justification (pride or despair are the options), not my own "faith" or conversion experience, or variations on the theme (pride or despair.)

I will only look to the cross of Christ, which is for ALL (contra
Calvin). Thus I can believe the unqualified proclamation of the good news and I can offer it also unqualified to all I meet.

I am a sinner, my heart is a mess. My heart, though renewed, still remains a mess. Therefore, I do daily battle with sin, death and the devil and my evil nature. This battle will remain, and I will live, God willing and helping (and he is), in this repentance and humility of complete dependence on his word.

The sacraments are just another way of hearing the word of forgiveness of my sins, and they are real, so that I know that forgiveness is real, too.

Thanks be to God, and now a light lunch. Yours.