Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 11, Number 1
In this Issue:
An Open Letter to Bill
|It has become an all too common thing of late to find people abandoning the faith of their youth (fathers). For one reason or another, they have become disillusioned, or hurt, or whatever. In some cases their faith is being compromised and the move is justified, in other cases, it has far too much to do with mere "feelings." The following is an open letter written to one who recently made "the move," but in so doing left the Lutheran Church and joined a church in the Calvinist tradition. The writer of the letter also left his church some years ago, but chose to remain in the Lutheran Church.|
Bill, on the one hand, I was quite surprised at your recent letter. On the other hand, I was not. I know you have been struggling with your involvement in your church for quite some time... for at least sixteen or seventeen years. So it does not surprise me at all that you have made the decision to leave your church and seek a worshiping community and fellowship elsewhere. Let me be clear on this, I do know why you left the congregation, and I commend you on it. On the other hand, I was very surprised, even shocked, at the choice you made for your new church home.
We have been studying the book of Galatians in our Adult Bible Study now for some months. I could not help but think of those words of Paul which he addressed to his friends back in Galatia. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Gal. 1:6-7 NIV).
You may think that my reaction to all this is a little extreme. I can hear you saying, "I have not deserted Christ. I still hold to the fact that I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ." I share my reaction with you, because I am concerned.
You came out of a faith tradition which confessed that the Bible was the Divinely inspired Word of God, completely free of error, and that the Lutheran Confessions were (are) held to, because they are the only true exposition of Scripture.
Now I have to ask, was that all a lie? You as a young man, studied the teachings of the Bible and of the Church, and you publicly and before God, promised faithfulness to those teachings. You grew into adulthood and continued firm in those teachings. You raised your family with concern that those teachings and practices became central to their lives. So, how is it that you have now deserted this 'gospel' for another 'gospel'?
I can hear you asking - "What do you mean... for another gospel?" Well, let's look at what Paul speaks of as another gospel in his letter to the Galatians. The Galatians came to faith by accepting the message of salvation which Paul shared with them of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation made possible for us through Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Now, they had not deserted that 'gospel.' Not at all. They still held to it. The problem was, however, that they had come to believe something in addition to what Paul had shared with them. They had begun to accept the teaching of those who said that as Gentiles, they first had to become Jews before they could become true Christians.
Let me put it this way. It isn't just to say, "we believe." That could mean most anything. Biblical faith is very specific. Our understanding of how the grace of God comes to us, how it works in us, and what it works in us, these things make a difference. The Bible is very clear on all of this. If we want to know and experience the working of God's grace in our lives, we must be willing and open to allow that work to take place as God chooses, and not think that His working in us should in any way be on our terms.
It is all this that is unique to the Lutheran faith. "It is a pronounced feature of the Lutheran theology that it teaches that God's Holy Spirit works through certain means. The Means of Grace, as commonly defined, are said to be the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. These means are sometimes called primary. It is then customary to list as secondary means the Church, the ministry in the Church, the state, the home, and the family. . . . The chief Means of Grace is the Word of God. Indeed Luther looked upon the Word as the chief sacrament, which in reality it is. The sacrament of the Word! In the Word God speaks to us. In the sacraments God acts upon us." [Huggenvik, We Believe, Augsburg, 1950, p. 45-46].
I don't feel I need to go into this with you. You have studied this. You practiced this. But allow me to remind you - The Bible speaks of Scripture as a Means of Grace in Romans 10:17 - "...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." It speaks of Baptism as a means of grace - "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" ( Acts 2:38). And, it speaks also of the Lord's Supper as a means of Grace - "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:27-28). And, it is Luther who, when putting all this together comments that where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Scripture is clear, God has chosen certain means through which to work his grace in our lives. Our salvation is all of grace. It has nothing to do with what we do (Eph. 2:8-9). Although we as Lutherans say that God works with us solely through Word and Sacrament, I have found it helpful to understand this statement in this way. God can, and on occasion may work his grace in our lives in some other way, but the only way we can know for sure, that what is being worked in us is in fact God's working, and not something else, is if that 'grace' has come to us through Word and Sacrament. There is so much today that people consider to be "God's doing" or "God's working," but is it really of God? How can we know it is not counterfeit, and traceable back to the "great deceiver."
What troubles me in all this, Bill, or as Paul has it, what "astonishes" me, is that you, who knows all this, and who, I am convinced, actually believed all this [We discussed theology, you were not blind to what it ment to be a Lutheran] you have now thrown all this out the window. Or at the least, you have thrown much of it out the window.
Think about the Sacraments. You have now joined a church that does not believe in Sacramental grace. There is no understanding of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as means through which God works his grace in our lives. They merely "symbolize."
When Luther found himself deeply troubled with doubts, he would look back on his baptism and say, "I have been baptized." That was the "Means" through which God had made him his child. God was his Father, Christ was his Savior and brother. No matter that things might look contrary - that was an objective fact - God had acted, and it was so - he was a child of God!
Now if Baptism does not accomplish that, if it is merely a "symbol" of something, then in my times of doubt, I have to wonder... was I really sincere when I chose to do what I did? Did I do it right? The questions focus on me, a weak and sinful human being and on what I might or might not have done.
With regard to the Lord's Supper. Yes, I know you still participate in the Lord's Supper. But what blessings do you enjoy? For you now, it is a remembrance feast. Yes, there is blessing in remembering all our Lord did for us in his sacrifice on the Cross. There is the blessing of the fellowship around the table. But there is nothing of the blessing of the forgiveness of sins. Not a mere "thinking" about forgiveness... not a mere reflection on the joy of being forgiven... but the blessing that is a direct result of sins being, or having been, forgiven. "...For the forgiveness of sin." By God's grace and through faith, forgiveness is ours in the Sacrament. And with that forgiveness, there is also life (eternal life now) and salvation (by which we understand that God works with us to save daily so that the devil, the world, and our own sinful self can not have power over us).
Bill, do you see what I am getting at? Why, if I could have all these spiritual blessings of soul, would I want to be content with anything less, wonderful as they might be.
You might be "fed up" with the Lutheran congregation of which you were a part, but before 'jumping ship' to another 'gospel,' did you consider another Lutheran body? Did you know there are more than 20 other Lutheran bodies than the one you chose to leave? You may not find all that you remember as being so "special" in the church you once held dear. Things might be done a little differently in some of these "other" Lutheran bodies. But, if it is a Lutheran body, there are those things that set it apart from the various church bodies outside the Lutheran family, and one of the most important of "those things" is the biblical - and Lutheran - understanding of the Means of Grace. Most importantly, although they might use different words to describe it, I think you will find that every Lutheran church body except for one, holds to a high view of Scripture (Divinely inspired, inerrant, and infallible).
Bill, please, don't be too quick to abandon the Lutheran Faith. It is biblical faith.
Your former Pastor
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Should We... or When Should We...
Abandon the Church?
by Rev. John Erickson
With all that is going on in the church today, multitudes of Christians are faced with questions as to how much they should put up with, or with how little of that which has been special and meaningful to them in the church of past years should they insist be necessary, before they abandon ship.
First of all, let it be said, we must never abandon the Church. It may become necessary at some point in time to abandon a congregation. It may become necessary to abandon a church body, or a denomination. But for a true Christian to abandon the Church, is an oxymoron.
The Christian is a person who has been made a member of the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; Col. 1:18). The body of Christ and the Church of Christ are one and the same thing. One cannot be a Christian apart from the body of Christ. Our Lord's picture of the Vine and the Branches (see John 15), speaks volumes in this regard. "Abide in me" Jesus says, for "If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned."
The Church has been called the Holy Spirit's workshop. It is in this workshop that the Holy Scriptures (the inspiried Word of God) teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness, "so the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is there where through the Sacraments, God works his grace, forgiving sins, and giving life and salvation. It is there where believers come together to share one another's burdens, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, encouraging one another.
The writer of Hebrews makes an issue of the absolute importance of this coming together as a Church, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). If this was thought necessary in the first century of the Church, how not even more so now 20 centuries later?
So we need the Church. The Church is absolutely essential to the life of the Christian. But what about a particular congregation, and/or, a particular church body?
That is a different matter indeed. The working of God's grace is not limited to one particular congregation and/or church family. To think otherwise places that congregation or church family in the catagory of a cult. In so far as a denomination is concerned, the same is true. However, for many of us who are Lutherans, denomination is also important, extremely important [see the article Can We Be Sure That The Lutheran Church Has the Truth?]. On the other hand, just because a Church body calls itself Lutheran, is no guarantee that it is Lutheran, any more than just because one calls "Lord, Lord" is a guarantee that one is a true believer (see Matt. 7:21-22). Quite the contrary, a true church, as is true of a true tree, will be "known by its fruits" (Matt. 7:16).
So, once again the question, is there a time when one ought to abandon ship (i.e., a particular congregation)?
There is a most helpful paper that was written by K. O. Lundeberg in 1911. J. Elmo Agrimson, president of the Western North Dakota District of the American Lutheran Church, wrote to the pastors of his distict back in 1963, sharing with them a copy of the Lundeberg paper. He did so because it "contained an excellent exposition on the doctrine of the church."
I won't go into the issue that was the basis for the paper, that is not necessary here. What I will make reference to is what ties into the subject at hand. Is there a time when one should "abandon ship" in so far as the church is concerned? Lundeberg, who himself with other Lutherans did leave one church body for another, puts it this way, "Was it actually God's will that the believers should leave the congregations? Does this agree with God's Word? Was this beneficial for the Lord's cause?"
Lundeberg admits that it was "under distress of conscience, struggle, and soul suffering" that he left one Lutheran church body and was involved in the formation of another. However, some time after making the change, he began to see the church question in new light. He came to understand that the "visible and invisible church is not entirely identical. Man can not substitute the one entirely for the other in every respect. What can be said for one can not always be said for the other."
The Lutheran Confessions teach, "whereas the Church properly is the saints and truly the believers assembly, still in this life there are many hypocrites and evil ones mixed in." Therefore "God's congregation in this life is and must be a mixed congregation. . . . The greater or lesser number of believers that you always find at each location, where the Lord works through His Word and Spirit, these the Lord recognizes as His congregation at that location, even if many evil ones are intermingled in the visible congregation gathering." In this regard one should study various of Jesus' parables of the kingdom (see Matt. 13:24-43; 47-50; Matt. 22) or look at the congregations we find in Paul's letters. From these it is clearly evident that in this world there will be, in the church, a mix, i.e., wheat and weeds, good and bad fish, worthy and unworthy guests. There will be a separation. But that will take place at the end of time.
So, as to the question at hand? Lundeberg's point is that as believers, we should not be so quick to leave a congregation. Rather, true believers are the ones the Lord calls to be the light, salt, and leavening among those we might consider hypocites.
Lundeberg quotes Rosenius, "...our church, even though there are many ungody members, even among the teachers, and with awareness concerning the purity of the teaching, even when deplorable states of decay exist, still has the outward sign of Christ, namely His teachings and sacraments as instituted by Him; that, thus, man can within its earthly form be a Christian, can be nurtured with the true Word of God, receive the sacraments, can confess the Truth in both word and deed. . . and as a consequence of all this, it is clear that it is not necessary to leave the earthly, visible congregation."
However... and back to Lundeberg now, "Another matter is this, that when an established church loses that which identifies it as a church -- the pure Word of God and the Sacraments -- it is then time for the Christians to flee! But then we don't leave because there are unbelievers in our midst, but because the very lifeline is muddled. As long as the Word and the Sacraments remain unperverted there is no Biblical ground for a Christian to leave the congregation."
This is the crux of the matter. I believe the Lutheran Church is the true church. Her confessions are a true exposition of Holy Scripture. But at the same time I must acknowledge that there may well be expressions of the Lutheran Church where the Bible is not longer considered to be the Word of God in all that which it contains, and/or where an understanding of the Sacraments has been adulterated with Reformed, and/or Roman understandings.
The Augsburg Confession has it that the Church is "the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the gospel be preached in conformity with a pure undestanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word." However, if this cannot be said for the congregation or for the church body, Lutheran or otherwise, to which one belongs, then it is time to abandon one ship for another!
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|Some years ago Casper B. Nervig wrote a volume titled, Christian Truth and Religious Delusions. The following is an edited version of a chapter from this book. The entire chapter can be found in our Table Talk archives [the August 1998 and November 1998 issues]|
Can We Be Sure That The Lutheran Church Has The Truth?
There are some Lutherans who do not have the background necessary to approach this question. Because they do not study their Bible they do not know the doctrines of their own church. Without such basic knowledge the answer that will be given in this chapter will not be satisfying.
Before we can know that what our church believes is the truth we must know what our church teaches and believes. That should be obvious. Otherwise we start at the wrong end-like a carpenter trying to build the house roof before the walls are up. If our confirmation was a graduation from religious study instead of a confirmation in the faith, we may have forgotten what our church believes. Perhaps we were careless in our studying then; perhaps we only memorized some words without getting the meaning; perhaps we have forgotten most of what we learned; even if we were star students then and were very much in earnest on confirmation day, it would still be too much to expect that we then had a full understanding of Christian faith, the deepest subject in the world.
We are not suggesting that it requires a great deal of education to understand this; but it does take some honest study of God's Word and sincere prayer for the Holy Spirit's enlightenment.
PROOF OF THE TRUTH
It is true that other denominations and sects make the claim that they are right. We shall, therefore, give the reasons why the Lutheran Church has a better claim.
1. Historical Proof
The history of Christian belief supports the Lutheran doctrine in every point. Historically, we have known no authority but the Word of God. The Lutheran Church does not teach anything that was not taught in the Apostolic Church. . . .every point of Lutheran doctrine has its support in the plain teachings of the Apostolic Christian Church and the writings of the church fathers during the first centuries after Christ.
2. Biblical Proof
Other churches also use the Bible and support in it for their teachings. This fact confuses many who ask the question we have before us. It seems as though the Bible can be used to prove almost anything. Most of the religions that we know, use the Bible. Many of them misuse it; some positively abuse it. Those who use the Bible properly will inevitably arrive at the same doctrinal position as is held by the Lutheran Church. We shall examine the different ways in which the Bible is used.
The Bible as authority
While many churches use the Bible, it is not in the same way. The authority of the Bible is modified in one manner or another. Only in the Lutheran Church is the Word of God the sole authority in all matters of faith and life.
The Word Alone is a motto in the Lutheran Church
Truth is not what we would like to believe but what the Bible reveals. "We receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only standard by which all teachings and doctrines are to be judged." (Formula of Concord, Th. D., Compr. Sum. 3.)
The Lutheran Church eliminates all human authority whether it be tradition, reason, or special revelation. Even the enlightened mind of the believer is not a safe guide, because the Old Adam is present to make his suggestions. "We concede neither to the pope nor to the church the power to make decrees against the consensus of the prophets" (Apology XII, 66).
"We are certainly in duty bound to receive the words as they read and allow ourselves to be diverted therefrom by no objections or human contradictions spun from human reason" (Formula of Concord, Th.D., VII, 45). The authority of the Word Alone is spoken of as the formal principle of Lutheran theology.
The Word and Reason
The use of reason in the Reformed churches. . . has been frankly advocated as a measure of the truth ever since the days of Zwingli and Calvin. A Reformed theologian writes that his purpose is "to give a restatement to that great system which is known as the Reformed faith of Calvinism and to show that this is beyond all doubt the teaching of the Bible and reason," (L. Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.) Unitarians and others go so far as to accept only as much of the Bible as they find agrees with reason. Of course, as has been said before, human reason is used in the Lutheran Church in searching the Scripture to discover the truth, but never in judging what should be accepted as true or ruled out as false.
The Word and Church
The Roman Catholic Church holds to the idea of an authoritative church rather than an authoritative Word. In addition to the Scriptures, tradition, church councils, and ex-cathedra statements of the Pope constitute its authority. In fact the Roman Church says definitely, "The Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith" (Gibbons, p. 85). "The Catholic Church existed before the Bible; it is possible for the Catholic Church to exist without the Bible, for the Catholic Church is altogether independent of the Bible" (T. F. Coakley, Inside Facts About the Catholic Church, p. 2l, Catholic Truth Society pamphlet).
The Word and the "Inner Light"
Quakers, Mennonites, and many others in modified forms, hold to the authority of the "Inner Light." "The Society of Friends holds as the basis of its belief that God endows every human being with a measure of His own divine spirit, which no outward authority can replace" (Hecksite Manual, pp. 7, 27). This "Inner Light" is used as the real source of religious knowledge.
The Word and Special Revelation
In our discussion of various sects we have pointed out a number of claims to special direct revelation. This principle is spoken of as "Enthusiasm" and makes it possible for its advocates to hold almost any doctrine which is in direct opposition to the Word of God.
Principles of Interpretation
Among the many religions which use the Bible there are such a variety of uses, misuses, and abuses that many sincere inquirers are puzzled and confused. The Lutheran Church follows sound and consistent principles of Biblical interpretation.
The Lutheran Church interprets the whole Word of God in the light of one central unifying message - Justification by Faith. Christ is the essential content of the Word; Justification by Faith is its message. The very heart of the Bible is the Gospel, and the Gospel is the good news to the sinner that he is justified by the grace of God through faith for the sake of Christ's vicarious atonement. Because this theology of grace is the very Gospel itself, the Lutheran Church is determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the justification of the sinner. "The doctrine of grace and the righteousness of faith... is the chief part of the Gospel" (Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVI). "Of this article nothing can be surrendered, even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin" (Smalcald Articles, Pt. II, 5). This is spoken of as the material principle of Lutheran theology. That is the golden thread from Genesis to Revelation. It ties into one unified whole its sixty-six books which were written over a period of over 1600 years. This Gospel message is the spotlight which illumines the various parts and. the obscure passages in the Word.
We have already pointed out that the Reformed theology does not follow this principle. For Calvin the guiding principle was the sovereignty of God. The Word was always understood in such a way as to keep God in His exalted position far above, and almost out of reach of man. In various churches different pet doctrines, which are often unimportant, are made the guiding light. Sometimes it concerns church government, sometimes it is about prophecy, or holiness, or else some other similar special emphasis.
The Lutheran Church insists on a grammatical interpretation
It is the texts in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, which are the inspired and authoritative text. Translations can never express as clearly as the original the finer shades of meaning. For this reason the Lutheran Church trains a qualified ministry with an education adequate to use these texts. A third-rate education is acceptable for the ministry in many churches. In some of the more radical sects, ignorance and mental instability are apparently the chief qualifications. The examples of Miller, Russell, Smith and Eddy are sufficient evidence of this fact. Even these were aware of their total lack of qualifications and so made the fantastic pretenses to learning which have previously been described.
The Lutheran Church interprets every passage in the Bible in the light of its context
If a passage or half of one, is torn from its context, it can be made to mean strange things. The devil used two Bible passages to tempt Jesus but he shamefully abused them.
The Lutheran Church insists that the Bible must interpret itself
It does not start with preconceived notions and then look through the Bible for "proof" of what has first been figured out. It approaches the Bible with a humble prayer for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Then it starts with the plain and clear teachings of the Word. If some part is obscure or hard to interpret, it is understood in the light of what is clear.
3. Doctrinal Proof
Another proof that the Lutheran Church is right is found in the very character of its doctrines. It has no peculiar "pet doctrines." Its evangelical position is its characteristic. Its distinctive doctrine is the Gospel itself. It is indeed the "Justification by Faith" church, as one of its branches in China is named.
There is one disadvantage in not having pet doctrines. Peculiar doctrines make good publicity. They attract attention; they appeal to sensation hunters who, like the Athenians, are always ready for "some new thing." The Lutheran Church has no bizarre appeal and sometimes finds strong competition from churches with "fad" teachings which make good propaganda.
However the truth does not. depend upon sensation. It is able to stand on its own feet without. giving up its position. The Lutheran Church has not found it necessary to modify its confession nor to tone down its distinctive emphasis.
The characteristic doctrines of the Lutheran Church are the essential belief of true Christians in every church. All Christians. are not members of the Lutheran Church. But all true Christians believe the distinctive teachings of the Lutheran Church. A true Christian believes that he is justified by faith in the atonement of Christ without depending on the deeds of the law. If that is not his faith, he is not a Christian and cannot be saved.
THE BURDEN OF PROOF
After the discussion of the proof of truth, there is one very important thought to add. It is really not up to the Lutheran Church to prove that it is right rather than others. The burden of proof rests upon all those who have introduced innovations into and departures from the Scriptural and Apostolic truth. It seems that they have sensed the need of finding support outside of the Word, and therefore they have resorted to the various extra-Biblical authorities to prove their respective errors. Until they can demonstrate, without the aid of tradition, reason, or special revelation, the truth of the Lutheran Church remains unchanged, resting on the Word alone.
ASSURANCE OF THE TRUTH
We have now come to the final and most important answer to the question, "How do we know that the Lutheran Church is right?" Logic is helpful but in spiritual matters particularly it lacks finality. Human conviction must needs have a divine assurance to make it really certain. Therefore this much of the question is still before us, "How can I be really sure?" There still is need of that unshakable conviction that only a divine assurance can give. Proof of the truth runs interference, but assurance of the truth carries the ball.
We have already shown that the Lutheran faith is but the universal Christian faith. So, too, the Lutheran faith is certified in the same way as the universal Christian faith. Since Justification by Faith is the dominating and directing thought in the whole body of Lutheran teachings, our certainty rests upon the very same foundation as does assurance of the truth of the Gospel itself. The question, "How do I know that we are right?" merges then into a larger question with which in fact it is identical: "How do I know that the Bible is true? How do I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true?"
1. Assurance and Faith
Assurance is, by some, thought of as scientific proof; by others, as a special experience or a gift of the Holy Spirit apart from faith. It is neither; assurance is faith. If we look for some scientific or mathematical basis for assurance, we will not be satisfied. If we expect to depend on some type of religious experience we will be disappointed. Assurance is faith, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" ( Heb. 11:1). Faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit which consists not only of a knowledge of Christ, not only of acceptance of Christ, but of trust and complete confidence.
Assurance of the truth is something more than scientific proof. It is a spiritual reality which rests upon a spiritual foundation and is drawn from spiritual sources. Confidence in the truth of the Word of God is not dependent upon scientific proof. Thomas wanted scientific proof of the fact of Christ's resurrection when he said, "Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). A week later he was given the scientific proof which he had demanded, but with it Jesus gave him a lesson showing that faith is independent of such proof as appeals to human senses and reason. "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
Because the Word of God is independent of human wisdom, it will always be true that "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (I Cor. 1:18). But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (v.25) and "it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (vv. 19-21). Therefore, without dependence upon the wisdom, as the world judges wisdom, "we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (v.23).
It follows then that only a believer can attain to this assurance of the truth, by the grace of the Holy Spirit and rejoice therein. The unconverted, the hypocrites, and the unbelievers cannot have assurance that the Word of God is true any more than they can have assurance of their soul's salvation. This is the reason why arguments between believer and unbeliever about the truth of the Gospel usually are fruitless.
2. The Foundation of Assurance
Christian assurance of the truth, as well as assurance of his personal salvation, rests upon a twofold testimony, or a double witness: one of them within us and the other without. This double testimony is spoken of in Rom. 8:16: "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." The one within us is secondary, it is imperfect and incomplete; the one without is primary, it is perfect and complete.
a. The Testimony of the Regenerated Spirit of the Child of God
There is an assurance which the regenerated Christian finds within his own mind and heart. He is able to say, "I know the Word of God is true because I have tried it out, I am sure because of my own experience with it." This assurance is brought out in one of the first questions in our Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism: "What must we do to experience for ourselves that their words are God's Word?" to which the answer is, "We must try to obey the Word and give it a place in our hearts." In support of this we have the words of Christ in John 7:17, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself."
At the same time there is always something incomplete about this human assurance because even the child of God has to contend with his Old Adam who raises a contradictory voice to disturb the peace of the believer. Through him Satan would drive the believer back to the brink of doubt and then into the pit of despair. Because of him the Christian experiences conflicts within himself and finds his confidence disturbed by a voice of uncertainty.
We find, then, that there is an element of assurance which the believer may seek within his own human spirit. It may serve substantially in giving him confidence that the Word of God is true. Nevertheless, this assurance is secondary and needs something more reliable to give it finality.
b. The Testimony of the Holy Spirit in the Word
The only authoritative foundation for assurance of the truth is the Word of God itself. Through it the Holy Spirit is able to convince the one who searches. This is the testimony of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. This assurance is entirely independent of the human spirit, it is directly given by God through His Word. It is sovereign, final, and complete. Our final assurance of the truth of the Gospel rests only in the Word of God and nothing else. It is self-assuring about itself. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that his "speech and his preaching was in demonstration of the Spirit and power" (1 Cor. 2:4-5). To the Thessalonians he wrote that they received his word as the Word of God because the divine word "effectually worketh in you that believe" (I Thess. 2:13-14).
In its last analysis assurance of the truth depends on the Word of God itself: sovereign, autonomous, and independent of any other source to prove its authority. Quenstedt, one of the early Lutheran theologians, wrote concerning this, "The ultimate reason by and through which we are led to believe with a divine and unshaken faith that God's Word is God's Word is the intrinsic power and efficacy of that Word itself, or the testimony and seal of the Holy Spirit, who speaks in and through Scripture, because the bestowal of faith... is a work that emanates from the Holy Spirit." The Word of God, by the testimony of the Holy Spirit working through itself, gives the assurance that it is true. This is, as it were, the "declaration of independence" of the Scripture in which it accepts no superior and not even a peer. It is sovereign, autonomous, containing within itself the assurance of its authority. As a sovereign nation asks no one to give it authority, so the Word of God is sovereign in spiritual matters and needs no other proof to add to its strength. This principle of Scriptural authority was expressed by John Gerhard, one of the Lutheran theologians in the period of early orthodoxy, as "a certain principle, self-evident - or self-persuading - and independent of proof, most sure and beyond proof, which is not dependent on others but which others depend upon."
This assured testimony of the Holy Spirit is realty faith itself. Luther said, "We do not distinguish the Holy Spirit from faith, nor is He contrary to faith; for He is Himself the assurance in the Word, who makes us certain of the Word, so that we do not doubt, but believe most certainly and beyond all doubt that it is just so and in no respect whatever different from that which God in His Word declares and tells us" (Erlan-gen Edition, VoI. 58, p. 153). Therefore when we are asked, "How do we know that the Word of God is true?" we can really answer, "I know it is true because I believe it is true." But it must be clear that "I believe" does not mean "It is my opinion," or "It is my feeling." It is an assurance which the Holy Spirit has given us through the Word of God itself.
Since the Lutheran Church has taken its teachings from the Word alone, and preaches one central message of Justification by Faith, assurance that the Lutheran has the truth is the same as assurance of the truth of the Word of God. The Lutheran Church has a high and holy confidence that its teachings are pure and true. "Being instructed from the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures, we are sure concerning our doctrine and confession.... We also have determined not to depart even a finger's breadth from the subjects themselves or from the phrases which are found in them (the confessions)" (Book of Concord, Intro.).
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