Thursday, December 29, 2005

Antinomianism and the Warfield Yahoo! Groups list

A thread on the Warfield Yahoo! Groups list concerned Calvin's doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and Luther's rejection of that teaching. I reproduce my posts below, including the one apparently suppressed by the moderators.

Sent 12/17/05:
When you say, "if you believe that justification may be lost, you are effectively preaching another gospel," you effectively apply the anathema of Galatians 1:8-9 to Martin Luther. Among other things, that suffers from these problems:
1. That breaks with centuries of the Reformed tradition of claiming to preach the same gospel as Luther and seeking fellowship with the Lutheran Church on that basis. Are you prepared to say the Reformed, from Zwingli and Calvin to the present time, have taken the wrong approach toward the Lutherans? If it is true that the Reformed and Lutheran churches have different gospels, then that would certainly vindicate the historic Lutheran refusal to have altar fellowship with the Reformed.
2. Your statement anathematizes not only Luther, but also Augustine with the entire orthodox church from the second century until the time of John Calvin. For no one before him found the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints in the Scriptures. I trust that if my understanding of church history is wrong on this point, you or someone else on this list will provide a verifiable citation demonstrating that the doctrine was taught prior to Calvin. If I'm correct, then where was the church between the second and fifteenth centuries?

Sent 12/21/05:
Luther's Bondage of the Will shows the gospel he proclaimed is not the false gospel of Arminianism or any other synergism. The monergism of the Formula of Concord demonstrates that confessional Lutherans teach the same gospel as Luther did.

Sent 12/22/05:
Your quotations make it sound as if Calvinists teach the true assurance of justification and election, whereas Lutherans live in constant fear of losing their justification. The Formula of Concord (article on election) shows that is simply not the case.
Your quotations also make it sound as if Luther based his denial of Calvin's perseverance doctrine on reasoning from the relationship of justification and the need for daily forgiveness. Rather, Luther based the traditional position on the writings of the apostle John:
"42] On the other hand, if certain sectarists would arise, some of whom are perhaps already extant, and in the time of the insurrection [of the peasants] came to my own view, holding that all those who had once received the Spirit or the forgiveness of sins, or had become believers, even though they should afterwards sin, would still remain in the faith, and such sin would not harm them, and [hence] crying thus: "Do whatever you please; if you believe, it all amounts to nothing; faith blots out all sins," etc.—they say, besides, that if any one sins after he has received faith and the Spirit, he never truly had the Spirit and faith: I have had before me [seen and heard] many such insane men, and I fear that in some such a devil is still remaining [hiding and dwelling].
43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3, 9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, ... and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1, 8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

This one, sent 12/26/05, never made it to the list:
Calvinism indeed rejects antinomianism in theory, but cannot do so in practice:
It might be is more precise to say Calvinism rejects some forms of antinomianism while in effect affirming its own form of it. For example, Paul tells us not to keep company with any so-called brother who is sexually immoral, covetous, an idolater, a reviler, a drunkard, or an extortioner (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Calvinists would have to agree, but would at the same time believe that such people will inherit the kingdom of God if they had at some point been justified.* Do not be deceived, such people will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:9-11). This has always been confessed not only by Lutherans but also by the orthodox before Luther's day.
* e.g., Canons of Dordt, Westminster Confession

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Order of salvation: Roman, Lutheran, or Reformed?

Formatted version with hyperlinks

Geerhardus Vos eloquently confessed this problematic order of salvation in 1891:
“According to the Lutheran, the Holy Spirit first generates faith in the sinner who temporarily stillremains outside of union with Christ; then justification follows faith and only then, in turn, does themystical union with the Mediator take place. Everything depends on this justification, which is losable, sothat the believer only gets to see a little of the glory of grace and lives for the day, so to speak. The [Reformed] covenantal outlook is the reverse. One is first united to Christ, the Mediator of the covenant,by a mystical union, which finds its conscious recognition in faith. By this union with Christ all that is inChrist is simultaneously given. Faith embraces all this too; it not only grasps the instantaneousjustification, but lays hold of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, as his rich and full Messiah.” 1, p. 256
Taken at face value, that sounds very much like the error of Osiander and Nevin. In the order ofsalvation, Vos put union with Christ before faith, in spite of John 1:12-13 and Gal. 3:26-27. He seems tomake justification simultaneous with union, but that would then put justification before faith, contrary tothe Westminster Confession, and, more importantly, contrary to Paul's doctrine of justification by faith(not faith by justification). Perhaps, however, when Vos spoke of a faith that reflects on a priorjustification, he did not mean to deny a prior faith that was the instrument of that justification, but in thatcase much of the distinction he saw between Lutheranism and “covenantal” Calvinism would be lost.
In a 1903 paper, Vos expressed an ordo salutis much more in line with Pauline (and Lutheran)soteriology:
“Paul’s mind was to such an extent forensically oriented that he regarded the entire complex of subjectivespiritual changes that take place in the believer and of subjective spiritual blessings enjoyed by thebeliever as the direct outcome of the forensic work of Christ applied in justification.” 2, p. 384
Did Vos later move toward Protestant orthodoxy, or are the 1891 and 1903 statements somehowcompatible? If they are compatible, then what aspect of Luther’s soteriology was Vos criticizing?

(1) Vos, G. In Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation; Gaffin, R.B., Eds.; Presbyterian andReformed Publishing Co.: Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1980; PDF.
(2) Vos, G. In Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation; Gaffin, R.B., Eds.; Presbyterian andReformed Publishing Co.: Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1980; PDF.