Monday, June 30, 2003

Losing the Holy Ghost

This article (CA XII) raises a serious question. The Reformers have made it almost into a mantra: you are justified by your faith in Christ, not in your works. Here the Augsburg Confession rejects the idea, held then by the anabaptists, that one would remain in the Spirit no matter what. This is an important question to always bring forward when the certainity the Reformers claim erodes to enforce docility and mere security. The Spirit can be lost. How, we do not specify, just as blaspheming the Spirit remains a mysterious unforgiveable sin.

It is important to note that this is balanced immediatly by the other ecclesial extreme, those early churches who would not readmit those who had fallen. Somewhere between the ancient church laid its stakes and here the Reformers stay with them.

So, we are left wondering, are there limits, and if so how many times does one forgive? This is a dangerous question, as is the graciousness by which our Lord answered this a much earlier time it was asked (Mt 18). That there are limits, we should know for sure. But is it agnosticism or self-defeating such a discovery to refuse to delinate such limits? Not necessarily.

The answers to these questions are even less obvious to those who live without either public repentance and forgiveness and private confession and absolution. Without either functions, reliance on baptism in seeking forgiveness and carrying out our Lord's command to repent (Luther's 1st thesis of the 95 Theses), remains purely a wish and dream.

Here we run up against a problem of Christianity in the United States. The early Puritan communities lived by contract and covenant. Only a few generations passed and the half-way covenant created "mixed bodies" complicating repentance, membership in the Reign of God, and all that. Other communities have aimed to maintain purity of thought in common-thinking, never mind the heart or institution. Attempts to "purify" or maintain communities without public scandal stir up the images of Puritan failure and the shortcomings of other communities and renewal-projects in the American mind. And anyway, attempts to so purify often are attempts to wrest the law from God and fill out its tenants and dictates with one's one hardened heart..

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Defining Repentance and Re-Numbering the Sacraments

Article XII: Of Repentance.

Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism
there is remission of sins whenever they are converted and that
the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to
repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts:
One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through
the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the
Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ's sake,
sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from
terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits
of repentance.

They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified
can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may
attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin.

The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve such as had
fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.

They also are rejected who do not teach that remission of sins comes
through faith but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of
our own.

Here is some help in our deepening understanding of the distinction between Law & Gospel. The results of repentance are two-fold: contrition (related to terror), which is a function of the Law. And faith, which hears the absolution as it is spoken. Since the Gospel is this very announcement of the forgiveness of sins, we can rightly say that the preaching of the Law produces contrition (2nd use), and the gospel produces faith (not a use at all, but a new thing ".

We can note that this definition of repentance walks a middle line between any model of confession and absolution that requires further deeds of penance after the confession of sin and contrition of heart, and those who understand true repentance and faith as the end of the matter, a state of perfection one can then only fall away from.

In the modern setting, these two confessional positions would be represented, on the one side, by Roman Catholicism, and on the other, by Baptist theology. This may or may not be a fair characterization today, but I'd love to hear from people in those communities how they would define repentance over-against the one quoted above from Article XI. of the Augsburg Confessions.

To summarize in my own words, repentance is the place where one, through terror at one's sinful condition, dies to their sin, and in faith at the hearing of the absolution, comes to new life in Christ as a forgiven sinner. It is why confession & absolution can and should still be called a 3rd sacrament within the Lutheran tradition (along with the other three, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and preaching). To add fuel to the fire, I have re-defined the Lutheran sacraments as being these four. Anyone want to bite?

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Referring again to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd uses of the law. Although I've seen 3rd use referred to as either exhortatory or didactic, I'm not sure what the difference is. To say that something teaches without exhorting is a false distinction.

Nevertheless, I've traditionally argued that the 3rd use IS the 1st use. The civil use teaches and exhorts all on its own, and the Christian, after hearing the gospel (3rd use is always the use for those who have already heard the gospel), is thrown immediately back into the world of vocation and life in the world. Therefore subject to the 1st use the same as everybody else.

The gospel, on the other hand, never exhorts. It is not didactic. Instead, it sets free. It says, "You are free indeed, for Christ's sake."

Friday, June 27, 2003

Getting Your Schrift Out There

Sometimes the law can really kick you in the pants. Although this is a small digression from the normal format of commenting directly on the articles of the AC, I believe it is also a worthwhile expansion of the format. Intention- to intersperse other reflections between commentary pieces on the AC.

Getting back to the law. Today I received an e-mail from another member of the web community who is equally concerned about increasing awareness and study of the Lutheran confessional documents. Interestingly, though, the e-mail did not concern the content of the site (discussion of theology, etc.) but was rather a close examination of the design of the site. So, although I was initially taken aback by the very directive and evaluative nature of the e-mail, especially from someone I don't even know, it was also a goad into action. I found myself this afternoon fixing some of the blog formatting flaws, adding commenting to the posts, that type of thing. And now this evening I've been browsing the web learning about other Lutheran and Christian blogs. I've discovered, for example, that if you Google "Lutheran confessions blog", our site comes up first on the list. But if you enter simply "Lutheran confessions" it doesn't come up at least in the first few pages. I thus have tried to find ways to raise the readership of the site by increasing its presence on blog lists, etc. One really helpful site that does this is call blogs4god.

I think I'm also supposed to make the blog look more appealing with links to books and music and such on the side, but apparently the law has not as of yet goaded me that hard.

But herein lies the contradiction, and therefore the connection to my Lutheran confessing. I value the confessional understanding of the uses of the law, but since I tend to argue against a distinctive third use of the law, what use of the law is occuring when I'm goaded to fix my web log (this is only slightly tongue in cheek- certainly part of the failure to uphold the law has to do with doing shoddy work, being lazy, I'm sure I can find some law I've broken). Is it the civil use (first use)? The theological use (2nd use, to convict of sin, to show to the sinner their depravity and the impossiblity of their doing the good)? Or the exhortatory (3rd use) which has traditionally been understood to operate only in the life of the believer?

In other words, did I jump up and fix my web site because of the law's civil function in my life, or because, as a believer, the reminder functioned in an exhortatory fashion, thus saying to me to live more fully into the Christian life guided by the law?

Am I even framing these questions correctly? Therefore the query that will hopefully garner some reflection. What is the relationship, if any, between the law and the will, and especially what insights do we have regarding this as they come to us through the confessional writings? Another way of saying this, "What does my bound will have to do with my fixing this web site at the proddings of an e-mail from a complete stranger?"

Monday, June 23, 2003

I'm not sure I'm qualified to explain why private confession and absolution has come into disuse in the Lutheran church. Below I've copied a portion of the rule of the Society of the Holy Trinity that lays out some practical pastoral guidelines re: how to re-establish private confession in our churches. They are as good as any I know. A short list of why private confession has gone into disuse would include at least these:

1. The triumph of the therapeutic. We don't got before the pastor to confess sin but to work through issues. Thus we tend not to go to pastors anymore but rather to therapists. This is not all bad. Therapy is incredibly helpful for millions of people. But in our context the rise of therapy and the decline of individual confession go hand in hand. The fact that therapists in the context of their work cannot or do not offer the absolution is more problematic.

2. Meaning-making rather than repentance. It is often claimed that our is a culture that is asking, "How can I make sense out of life?", not, as before, "How can I get out of the hands of any angry God?" I don't know about this one.

3. Individual confession was divorced from the preparatory rites of people who would be receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion. Weekly reception of the Lord's Supper meant the impracticability of hearing confession of all penitents each week.

4. We just don't believe sin is that big of a deal anymore.

5. We don't believe that the pastor in his/her office truly speaks as if from God Himself.

These are the major reasons, I imagine. I'm sure there are more. Not that private confession has gone into disuse, it is hard to imagine how congregations would introduce it again. We need more pastors and theologians thinking through these things. The Society of the Holy Trinity is a good place to start.


Individual or personal confession of sins is to be kept and used by us for the sake of the absolution, which is the word of forgiveness spoken by a fellow pastor as from God himself. Therefore, members will:

Learn and adopt the understanding and practice of Confession and Absolution as described in the Augsburg Confession (Article XI, XII, XXV), and the Small Catechism.

Seek out a trustworthy pastor who will be willing to serve as a confessor and who will be able to be available for one's individual confession regularly and frequently.

Prepare to make individual confession by examining one's personal life and relationship with God and others in the light of the Ten Commandments. Also helpful are the penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) and the Prayer of Manasseh in the Apocrypha.

In preparation for hearing the confession of others, make regular and frequent use of Confession and Absolution, keep confidences, so as to be worthy of the trust of others, read and reflect on the Holy Scriptures so as to provide a reservoir of passages with which to comfort consciences and strengthen the faith of penitents (see FC, SD XI.28-32).

Both as penitent and confessor, refrain from extraneous conversation so that attention is centered on the penitent's confession of sins, the Absolution or forgiveness of sins, and the confessor's use of Scripture passages which comfort the conscience and encourage faith in the Word of God which absolves; refrain from challenging or evaluating the confession; use the order of Confession and Absolution of the Small Catechism or that of the service books of the Church.

As absolved penitents, expect to be held accountable by the confessor for reconciliation with those whom we have offended and restoration of what we have taken or broken.

Confession and Absolution is a sacramental rite of the Church (AP XII.4) and therefore is normally conducted in church buildings where provision can be made for privacy and confidentiality.

Since Confession and Absolution has fallen into disuse among many of us, its restoration demands utmost care and concern for both penitent and confessor. Introduction to and initial use of Confession and Absolution may call for simply following the order of Confession and Absolution lest the penitent worry about a full enumeration of sins or the confessor about comforting and encouraging with passages of Scripture.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Article XI: Concerning Confession

Concerning confession they teach that private absolution should be retained in the churches, although an enumeration of all faults in confession is not necessary. For this is impossible according to the psalm [19:12]: "But who can detect their errors?"

Understanding this article requires the observation on our side of history. Very few congregations have retained private absolution. It shows up now and again and I cannot account for its dissolution. Perhaps my commentary partner could enlighten us on this problem?

As such, my contribution to this article must reside in systematic-theological imperatives and anecdotes. My father tells stories of private confession on the prairie in a small German-speaking LC-MS congregation. It's a rare business. I took a course in it at Seminary and was fortunate enough to be friends with some guys preparing for the priesthood and, boy, was their training serious. They would joke about general confessions, like the LBW has as an optional entry rite at the beginning of the service, as being suitable only on the border line cases, like when a plane is going down and the priest would yell out a general absolution before the final destination (pun intended).

The imperatives must aim for the recovery of this practice and will await another entry.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003


Traditionally when I hear arguments for maintaining the doctrine of Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper, the foundational argument is based on the promise, the direct testimony of Christ that “this IS my body”, “this IS my blood.” In effect, to say that Christ is not present bodily in, with, and under the bread and the wine is to call Christ a liar. The little word “is” wins the day, because if Christ had wanted to say “symbolized” or “represents” he could have done so. Instead, Christ distributes the bread and the wine to his disciples and says, “This is my body, given for you.” He then goes on to say, “This do in remembrance of me.” Another inescapable commission, that we are to do what he does, that is, to distribute bread and wine while saying and believing it is truly his body and blood. All because of the testimony of Christ.

Interestingly, Melanchthon in the Apology takes a slightly different tack. First, he argues from tradition. The Roman church as well as the Greek church have always maintained the same position, namely, the bodily presence of Christ in the the Supper. But then he continues the argument in a way that is profound and challenging. He admits, of course, that we have a close spiritual connection to Christ by true faith and sincere love (who’s, his or ours, is not mentioned). But he goes on to indicate the importance of the bodily presence because we are all one body in Christ because we partake of the one bread. Or later, citing approvingly Cyril of Alexandria, “Since this is in us, does it not also, by the communication of Christ’s flesh, cause Christ to dwell in us bodily?”

So the truth of the real presence is not just one of words and promises, which themselves are bodily and mighty and essential to our faith, but also because in our reception of Christ’s body, we participate in his body, that is, the body of Christ, which is not a spiritual body but a resurrected and living body. That is to say, our confession of the real presence of Christ in the Supper is connected to our confession that Christ came “in the flesh”, that Christ truly had a body, and if we are members of that body, we are partakers not just of a spiritual unity, but of an actual body. The doctrine of the real presence of Christ is connected in a profound way with our belief that Christ came in human form, that Christ is the body over which death has no dominion.
Becoming the Body and Blood

We have not noted it much in our analysis of the Lutheran Confessions, but there are significant differences sometimes between the German and Latin versions of the Augsburg Confession. The Latin version is what was read at the Diet of Augsburg. The differences matter in Article X because the German utilizes the language that the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) to define the sort of presence the body and blood of Christ enjoin in the Supper. This language is "the true body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of the bread and wine." This deserves consideration.

The Reformers took many different paths to the practice and understanding of the Supper, paths that differed so much that there was no way in which the Lutherans and others could confess together on this view. The Marburg articles, for instance, lie in the history before the Augsburg Confession, and there was attempted a meeting to reconcile all the parties and concerns. We will have to wait until we get to the Formula of Concord to discuss inter-Reformation disputes and the way in which a consensus has been formed since the time of the Reformation.

Luther's most notorious statements (and probably his most fair statements) on Transsubstantiation occur in the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1521). There are three forms of captivity facing the Sacrament of the Altar and one of them is the dogmatic necessity of a) the theory of transsubstantiation and b) calling it that. Luther at that time understood the main offense to be the necessity of believing one particular theory over all the rest. Later, he would find other objections to add.

Transsubstantiation sometimes is understood as a crude set of beliefs. Rather, it was a very sophisticated response developed to counter very crass sorts of language about the Supper that were popular and widespread in the church. This view was expressed by a confession known as I, Berengar. Berengar was a monk who was investigating theories of presence and countered the common belief. He was forced to recant his views and instead express that "...the body of Christ is truly crushed by the teeth [of the communicant]... ." A few generations later, theologians saw much danger in these views and their work helped to convene the Fourth Lateran Council at which transsubstantiation was defined. However, at this time, transsubstantiation was understood in a variety of ways. The view known as conssubstantiation, that the bread and wine coextend with Christ's body and blood, also was a legitimate interpretation of the dogma.

That all changed when Thomas Aquinas came onto the scene. His polemics worked to delimite the scope of legitimate understandings of the dogma and thereby secured the theory that we know as transsubstantiation. He considers other theories heretical.

It is the great merit of Article X of the Augsburg Confession that it can contain within it interpretation of Christ's presence such as that of Thomas' or the variety of views that existed at the time of the Fourth Lateran Council. This article remains silent about the true 'how' of it all, namely the manner of the change. It is to be lamented that Trent asserts the necessity of an understanding of this change with the force of an anathema.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

experimenting with a new logging systemso what is the relationship of technology to theology, you ask? In this case, it's the relative ease of publishing to a given system and format. I can "confess" on-line now with Kung-Log, We'll see how it goes