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Saturday, May 26, 2012

What Is Christianity? And Other Essays (by Pieper)

I have stated before that the most complete books the world has ever seen on pure Christian doctrine are the 4-volume set of Franz Pieper's Christian Dogmatics. But there is another book by Pieper that is still available and needs to be mentioned.  It is the book What Is Christianity? And Other Essays which is English translations by J.T. Mueller of the following essays delivered by Pieper during his lifetime:
  1. What Is Christianity? (1902, Synod)
  2. The Christian World View. (1923, Synod)
  3. The Reconciliation of Man With God. (1916, Southern Illinois District)
  4. The Laymen's Movement in the Light of God's Word. (1913, Southern Ill. District)
  5. The Holy Bible. (1921, Southern. Illinois District)
  6. The Open Heaven. (1929, Synod)
All these titles will arouse the interest of Christians... what does Pieper have to say on these subjects?  I will now highlight just the first essay What Is Christianity?  It was delivered as a response to the essay of the same name by the great Adolph von Harnack of Germany about the year 1900.  To give a quick answer to the question of the title, I'm will provide the first few paragraphs of Pieper's essay:
(Paper read at the Tenth Delegate Synod, 1902.)
This question is one which during the past two years has been discussed practically throughout the Christian Church.  Inquiries have been conducted as to what Christianity really is and what distinguishes it from all other religions.  These investigations were occasioned by lectures which Professor Harnack of Berlin delivered on this subject. What Harnack said regarding this matter and soon put into print certainly does not merit the wide-spread attention which his statements aroused. The Berlin professor merely repeated certain claims which have long been known.  Briefly stated, his doctrine is this: Christ is not God, but a man of unique wisdom and virtue. Hence He did not fulfil the divine Law in man's stead, nor did He bear the penalty of man's transgressions of the Law.  Consequently Christianity is not faith in Christ. but consists in man's own ethical conduct, which is prompted and actuated by Christ's unique personality.  This doctrine is nothing new.  Unitarians and rationalists, in fact. all anti-Trinitarians and freethinkers, have taught this error at all times.  Nevertheless it cannot be denied that Harnack's lectures have given rise to a practically world-wide discussion of the nature of Christianity.
And the result?  Certainly no agreement among those who call themselves Christians. We must actually face the situation that those who style themselves Christians do not agree as to what Christianity is.
This indeed is most amazing.  Christianity has been in existence for nearly two thousand years, - indeed, for almost six thousand years, if we take into account the first Messianic promise.  Can it be true, then, that Christians still disagree as to what Christianity really is?  Is the nature of Christianity still a debatable question among its adherents?
To this we reply: Christians indeed fully agree as to the nature of Christianity.  All those who are really members of the Christian Church truly believe that through faith in Christ, the Savior of sinners, they have forgiveness of sins and salvation, not through their own merits, or works.  Because of this faith, and solely because of it, they are members of the Christian Church.  Whoever has this faith belongs to the Christian Church; whoever has not this faith does not belong to the Christian Church.  Even those who belong to the Christian Church under the Papacy and within the sectarian bodies believe that they have forgiveness of sins through Christ and not through their own works or their moral conduct.  This is the one faith which St. Paul ascribes to the Christian Church when he writes: "One Lord, one faith," Eph. 4, 5. 
Prof. Harnack was a "German Lutheran theologian"considered important enough to be included in the "Christian Classics Ethereal Library" of Calvin College... but not Franz Pieper or C.F.W. Walther.  That is too bad because the author they chose to publish did not know the answer to this basic question of "What Is Christianity?" and so readers will have to go elsewhere.  This blog post quote from Franz Pieper, a contemporary of Adolph von Harnack, gives the true answer to this important question.  We see how today's modern world honors "The 20th Century Luther".

And the reader will note that Pieper does not say that one has to be a Lutheran to be a Christian.  He even includes anyone under the Papacy or "sectarian" bodies (such as Calvin College) who truly believe that through faith in Christ they have forgiveness of sins and salvation, not through their own merits or works.

In another section of this essay, Pieper hammers home the fallacy of Harnack and the modern world (page 16):
    Professor Harnack, it is true, believes that he can calm a troubled conscience without Christ's blood.  He advises the sinner to regard God as his Father in the same way that Christ regarded Him as His Father.  According to Harnack every single person should lift up his head with boldness and confidence and look upon God as his Father irrespective of Christ's person and work as set forth in the Gospel, in other words, without faith in Christ Crucified.  But let Professor Harnack prate of such assurance and recommend it as much as he desires; such confidence, as Luther says, will only stick to the words and remain upon the lips, but never enter the heart. Hence, even if all the world should join hands and shout for a whole decade, yes, even for a lifetime: "We do not believe that Christ's blood was shed for our sins, but we regard God as gracious nevertheless," they would be condemned by their own heart and conscience and would go down into the grave overwhelmed with guilt.
    The fact is this: God is known, apprehended, and perceived as a gracious Father only in Christ. never without Christ. The Jews also wanted to call God their Father, although they rejected Jesus as their Savior.  Like Professor Harnack, they refused to allow Christ's person and work a place in the Gospel. But our Lord reproved them: "If ye believe not that I am He." your Savior and Sin-offering. "ye shall die in your sins," John 8. 24. No creature can give a stricken conscience peace and rest; that is God's work, not man's; for if man is to enjoy peace of soul, the Holy Spirit must inscribe in his heart the verdict of pardon in place of the sentence of condemnation. The Holy Ghost, however, is the Spirit who glorifies Christ, John 16, 24; and He glorifies Him as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," John 1, 29.  But as He thus glorifies Christ in the heart of the believer, He cancels the decree of condemnation, which burdens the conscience. and substitutes for it the verdict of forgiveness, together with the assurance that he has a gracious God.
Dear reader, get this book by Franz Pieper and be filled with true Christian teaching by the last great Christian teacher in this world.  He was in St. Louis, America...  not in Germany.  The English translation is easy reading and you can possibly pick up a used copy from the 1933 CPH edition for a cheaper rate than CPH's Print-On-Demand version.

I will summarize Pieper's essay The Open Heaven in a later post.

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