The Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America 2013 Synod and Colloquium, Part 1
Early Monday morning, fellow Ecclesia Augustana contributor Christian Schulz and I began a 14-hour trek to the great state of Texas with the intention of attending the Colloquium portion of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA)‘s 2013 Colloquium and Synod. Those of us in the Lutheran world are familiar with such acronyms as LCMS, WELS, ELS, ELCA, and even some smaller groups like CLC. Some of these groups claim to be "Confessional Lutheran" and theologically orthodox institutions, but many of us are all too familiar with the horror stories stemming from each. Playing on this theme, the ELDoNA writes on their website:
In the Lutheran Church, one encounters a great deal of talk about ‘confessional Lutheran’ doctrine and practice; sadly, the substance has been something quite different. The various ‘synods’ often appear more interested in a ‘theology of glory’ (focusing on worldly prestige, money, and ‘numbers’) than a ‘theology of the cross’ which recognizes that the Church is despised by the world, because she is the Bride of Christ.
The Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America is committed to the restoration and advancement of consistently Evangelical Lutheran doctrine and practice in harmony with the Sacred Scriptures and the Book of Concord (1580).
It is in this context that the ELDoNA piqued our interest; after all, it is hard to deny their claims concerning the synods, my own Wisconsin Synod included. While rush hour traffic in Fort Worth prevented us from making it to the opening Vespers and fellowship dinner last night, we got up bright and early this morning to attend Matins and the first day of Colloquium presentations.
There were a number of insightful papers presented today. The first of these was by Dr. Kent A. Heimbigner, whose topic was “Nietzsche on Christianity: A Baptismally Informed Analysis.” The paper demonstrated the impasse that exists between Nietzsche (and his ideological ilk) and those belonging to the orthodox (Lutheran) Christian confession, specifically in terms of the person of Christ Himself (Nietzsche’s Jesus verses the Biblical Christ), the use of language (Nietzche viewed language as imprecise and even dubious, whereas Christians view the language or Word of God as powerful and effective, with the ability to create and restore), and disparaging concepts of morality and humanity (Nietzsche sees man as born as “fully or ideally human,” whereas Christians see man born into death as fallen creatures in need of restoration through Holy Baptism). In short, the paper was enlightening on both philosophical and theological levels.
The next paper, entitled “Social Identity in the New Testament and Today: Does Christianity Negate All Other Identity?”, was presented by the Reverend John S. Rutowicz. He touched on a number of themes related to the Social Identity Theory developed by Henri Tajfel, which posits that there are varying levels of group membership that effect human identity to greater and lesser degrees. In particular, the paper demonstrated that the New Testament does not disparage social identities such as race and ethnicity, but rather embraces them - even in some contexts that might be viewed as “racist” by individualistic, postmodern Western society. He specifically highlighted the example of Christ Himself in St. Matthew 15, where the Lord calls a Canaanite woman a “dog” in solidarity with His own Jewish heritage, as well as the example of St. Paul in Titus 1:12-13, where the Blessed Apostle generalizes an entire people in stereotypical, negative terms ("All Cretans are liars"), while elsewhere (2 Corinthians 11:22) he lauds his social identity as a Hebrew. In short, Rev. Rutowicz contended that these examples serve to show that one can maintain social identities outside of the Christian identity. While the Christian “social identity” should be what the author calls our “terminal identity,” thus governing our other identities, it should not negate them, if we take the Lord and His Apostles as our examples.
Another presentation was Rev. Joshua W. Sullivan’s paper entitled “The Use of Genesis in the Old Testament Apocrypha.” Rev. Sullivan provided a number of examples demonstrating the fact that the O.T. Apocrypha rely heavily on the types set forth in the canonical Book of Genesis. While the Apocrypha contain some dubious material, they provide what the author called “sermon illustrations” or stories that are of immense value to laypeople and pastors alike. One such instance was the story of Tobit, which provides in the persons of Tobit and his betrothed Sarah provide a beautiful picture of what the Christian marriage is supposed to be (in fact, the early Church adopted a citation from the book of Tobit as the Introit for its Nuptial Services!). But more than this, the Apocryphal texts are especially fitting given the similarity between their immediate context (a time in which the Jews were faced with the immense pressure of Hellinization to forfeit their culture and beliefs) and that of our own day, in which Christian values and mores are being trivialized and ridiculed more and more.
The last paper yet to be mentioned from today's session was presented by Pr. Paul Rydecki and entitled “The Forensic Appeal to the Throne of Grace in the Theology of the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy: A Reflection on Atonement and Its Relationship to Justification.” In it, Pr. Rydecki provided citation after citation from the era of Lutheran Orthodoxy highlighting the traditional analogy of forensic justification in the Divine Tribunal of God. In so doing, he demonstrated that the Christian’s justification occurs not at the Cross or from eternity, but rather in time when the Christian - by God-given faith - clings to the “Throne of Grace,” an "alternate tribunal" from that of the Law and established by the Cross for all people. To quote pages 4-6 of the paper [the citation is long, but worth the read]:
Chemnitz offers this analogy [it is essentially an expansion of Romans 3:22-26] in its most extended form, depicting the various aspects of this courtroom setting. [...] It is presented here at length, because it expresses so clearly the Lutheran concept of justification in relation to the atonement.
‘Thus, the use of the legal term 'justification' refutes the ideas of the Epicureans. For it shows that the justification of the sinner is not some insignificant or perfunctory thing, but that the whole human being stands before the judgment of God and is examined both with respect to his nature as well as his works, and this according to the norm of divine law. But because after the entrance of sin a human being in this life does not have true and perfect conformity with the law of God, nothing is found in this examination, whether in the person's nature or in his works, that he can use to justify himself before God; rather the Law pronounces the sentence of condemnation, written by the very finger of God Himself.
Now God does not justify the ungodly by some kind of mistake, as a judge often makes a faulty decision by failure to examine the evidence sufficiently or by wrong thinking; nor through indifference, as if He did not care about the transgression of His law; nor through wickedness, as if He approved of our iniquity, connived with it, or were in collusion with the impious. A justification of this kind God Himself pronounces to be an abomination, Ex. 23:1; Is. 5:23; Prov. 17:15. God cannot retract this sentence of condemnation revealed in the Law, unless it is perfectly satisfied or fulfilled, Matt. 5:18.
Thus righteousness and satisfaction are required where God is to justify. Luther is correct when he says that God remits no sin unless the Law has been satisfied with regard to it. In the case of human judgment, to be sure, guilt is absolved either because of some preceding merit (for they are accounted worthy who deserve to be forgiven), or with respect to present righteousness and innocence either of the cause or of the person, or with respect to a satisfaction which the guilty party promises to make either to the judge or to his opponent in the case. But before God's judgment man can put up nothing in his own defense in order that he might be justified, as many very clear Scripture passages declare.
Therefore, because God does not justify out of frivolity, unconcern, error, or iniquity, nor because He finds anything in man whereby he might be justified before God; and yet the just requirement of the Law must be fulfilled in those who are to be justified, Rom. 8:4, therefore a feign righteousness must intervene-the kind of righteousness which not only with payment of penalties but also with perfect obedience to the divine law made satisfaction in such a way that it could be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
To this the terrified sinner, condemned by the voice of the Law, flees in true faith. This he desires, begs for, lays hold of; to this he submits himself; this he uses as his defense before the judgment seat of God and against the accusation of the Law. By regard for this and by its imputation he is justified, that is, he is absolved from the comprehensive sentence of condemnation and receives the promise of eternal life. This is what Paul is saying Rom. 3:31: "The doctrine of the righteousness of faith does not destroy the Law but upholds it."
Paul clearly describes the act of justification in this way in Romans 3:
1. The conscience of the sinner is through the Law placed before the judgment tribunal of God (who is a consuming fire and in whose sight not even the stars are pure), is accused, convicted, and condemned, so that it is afflicted and pressed down by a terrifying sense of the wrath of God, Rom. 3:19: "...that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God" (KJV).
2. The heart thus contrite does not entertain Epicurean thoughts but anxiously seeks whether and how it can be freed from the comprehensive sentence of condemnation. From such thoughts come such passages as Ps. 130:3: "If You should mark iniquities...."; Ps. 143:2: "Enter not into judgment..."; Rom. 7:24: "Who shall deliver me...?"...
3. Therefore God, "who is rich in mercy" [Eph. 2:4], has had mercy upon us and has set forth a propitiation through faith in the blood of Christ, and those who flee as suppliants to this throne of grace He absolves from the comprehensive sentence of condemnation, and by the imputation of the righteousness of His Son, which they grasp in faith, He pronounces them righteous, receives them into grace, and adjudges them to be heirs of eternal life.
This is certainly the judicial meaning of the word 'justification,' in almost the same way that a guilty man who has been sentenced before the bar of justice is acquitted.
It is manifest how much clarity this gives to the discussion of justification. The fathers in disputing this matter often spoke inadequately about justification. But in their devotional writings, when they were looking at the picture of the divine judgment or the divine judicial process, they handled the doctrine of this article very well.
The example of Bernard [of Clairvaux, 1091-1153] shows this clearly, because he was not involved in idle speculations but was exercising himself in the serious matter of repentance based on the doctrine and testimony of Paul. Gerson has some wonderful thoughts about the tribunal of God's justice and the throne of His grace. For if we are discussing our common position before the tribunal of God, we are all subject to the tribunal of His justice; and because before him no living person can be justified but all are condemned, therefore God has also set up another tribunal, the throne of grace. And the Son of God pleads for us the benefit of being called away from the tribunal of justice to the throne of grace. Therefore the Pharisee, because he was not willing to use the benefit of this calling, but wanted to enter into judgment before the tribunal of justice, was condemned. But the publican, who was first accused at the tribunal of justice, convicted and condemned there later by faith called out to the throne of grace and was justified [Luke 18:9-14]. (Loci Theologici, p. 481-482)
And this is the process or act of the justification of a sinner before the judgment seat of God, so that he appeals from the throne of the strict justice of God to the throne of grace in the blood of the Son of God, as Gerson describes the matter of justification by the apt simile of forensic appeal. (Enchiridion, Q. 146)
All these points so beautifully illustrating the doctrine of justification come from the correct linguistic understanding of the word "justification." (Loci Theologici, p. 482)'
Several things must be noted here. First, that, on account of the satisfaction Christ made to the divine law, there exists, objectively, a Throne of Grace to which all sinners are invited (in the Gospel) to flee, an alternate place of judgment opened up as a result of God's grace and the obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is "another tribunal," apart form the Law, where God is propitious, where absolution is pronounced, justification is declared, and eternal life is bestowed for the sake of Christ. The "atonement" made by Christ has opened up this Throne of Grace, which is actually Christ Himself, the "atonement cover" or "Mercy Seat," sprinkled with His own blood, the "Atoner" or "Reconciler."
Second, that justification occurs in the divine courtroom, not without the accused fleeing in faith to the Throne of Grace, not before the accused flees in faith to the Throne of Grace, but simultaneously with this 'fleeing' or this 'forensic appeal.' This present-tense (that is, concurrent with faith) absolution and justification is perfectly in keeping with the language of the Augsburg Confession:
Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. (AC:IV)
...in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake (AC:V).
Scripture teaches that we are justified before God, through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake (AC:XXIV:28).
Third, that, although the foreign righteousness of Christ has made satisfaction to the divine law so that it is a 'propitiation for the sins of the whole world,' only those who appeal to this Propitiator actually escape condemnation under the divine law and are justified. The act of justification is not simultaneous with the atonement made by Christ.
Fourth, since 'the just requirement of the Law must be fulfilled in those who are to be justified,' and since the only way in which that just requirement can be fulfilled for any sinner is if the accused pleads the 'foreign righteousness' of Christ as his defense, then it would actually be contrary to God's justice for Him to absolve or acquit the guilty man who is not using the 'foreign righteousness' of Christ as his defense before the judgment seat of God.
Fifth, Chemnitz says that his analogy presents the article of justification as clearly expressed by St. Paul in Romans 3. The burden is on those who wish to read an already-pronounced justification of all unbelievers into Romans 3:24 either to demonstrate how such an interpretation is compatible with Chemnitz' analogy, or admit that their own interpretation is at odds with Lutheran orthodoxy.
Sixth, note that Chemnitz refers this analogy to the 'correct linguistic understanding of the word 'justification.'" He is not seeking to offer an arbitrary, partial or ad hoc definition of the word, but to faithfully convey the meaning of the word as used throughout the Holy Scripture. As he says elsewhere, 'Our question is in what sense the Holy Spirit employs the word "Justify" in those passages of the Scripture in which He treats and teaches the doctrine of justification, as we have already shown it most clearly.'
Chemnitz' analogy illustrates that the concept of forensic justification, as described by the Lutheran Fathers, is not a piecemeal justification that already 'happened' for all sinners, and then 'happens' again through the Word and faith. Instead, it is the culmination of the four 'causes' that comprise the article of justification, each of which is a sine qua non in forensic justification. There can be no forensic justification of the sinner without God's grace, or without the merit of Christ, or without the sinner being clothed by faith in the foreign righteousness of Christ, or without the promise of the Gospel that kindles faith.
The Lutheran Fathers have much to say about the unique role that each of these four components plays in forensic justification....”
Pr. Rydecki went on to delineate the “four comonents” of justification, which I myself have elaborated onin priorposts on this blog. In short, Rydecki irrefutably demonstrated that “this common outline, this ‘justification by faith alone in Christ’ was the only concept of justification espoused by the Lutherans” - that is, “until Samuel Huber (1547-1624) arrived on the scene” (p. 17). Contrary to misguided and unscholarly notions, Rydecki showed that "Huber's problem was not that he was a Universalist. It was that he strayed from proper Biblical exegesis of certain passages, including Romans 5:12-20. It was that he strayed from the common outline of forensic justification that requires the imputation, by faith, of Christ's righteousness in order for the sinner to be justified. It was that he strayed from the Lutheran teaching that 'restricts justification to believers only, as prescribed by all prophetic and apostolic Scriptures'" (p. 19).
All of the Colloquium presentations were well received by those in attendance. Each paper sparked interesting discussion and prompted unique insights. Pr. Rydecki’s paper on “Forensic Justification” elicited what seemed like distractions to this observer (comments about “objective/subjective” terminology and Synodical Conference theologians, which were nowhere to be found in the paper itself), but the feedback seemed to be generally positive from actual members of the diocese.
All in all, I have been impressed by the ELDoNA so far. I look forward to the rest of the Colloquium tomorrow and learning about how the rest of the Synod unfolds. Stay tuned for more information in the coming days.