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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pieper: The Open Heaven, Part 7 (American Lutheran closers)

In Part 6 (Table of Contents in Part 1), Pieper reveals "the most deplorable event in modern history", Lutherans who deny "by grace alone" or sola gratia.  After covering the error of Melanchthon and 19th century German theologians, he moves on to his last group (pgs 276-277):
Also within the Lutheran Church of America Luther's sola-gratia doctrine has been vigorously disputed and disavowed. The Lutheran theologians here have gone much farther than simply to declare that man's conversion and salvation depend also on his right conduct; they have actually asserted that any one who does not espouse this synergistic view, but ascribes man's conversion and salvation solely to divine grace, subverts the foundation of the Christian religion and must therefore he regarded as a false prophet, a wolf in sheep's clothing, a Calvinist, and the like. ... But all those in our country who thus so strenuously oppose the Scriptural doctrine of conversion and election really set themselves in front of the open gate of heaven with the arrogant demand which we may correctly render thus: "No admittance except on good behavior." Of course, they added to their claim the qualification that they did not imply right conduct in the absolute, but only in a relative sense; that is, those who would be saved must show a lesser degree of resistance and of guilt as compared with those who are not converted and saved. But if we argue after this fashion, it becomes all the more obvious that we close heaven: for with our comparatively better conduct and our comparatively smaller guilt we join the ancient order of Pharisees, who return to their houses without being justified, Luke 18: 14, or to state it directly, as Pharisees we exclude ourselves from heaven.
Pieper then hammers home the account of the Pharisee in the Temple from Luke 18:11.  Then he slams it home again with Luther's take on this subject:

Luther, when speaking of this "comparatively better conduct" of men, uses very strong language, language that is apt to grate somewhat harshly upon our refined ears. He calls it an "insidious" and "horrible fraud" of Satan whenever a person exalts himself in the sight of God even over a harlot. His exact words are: "God forbids you to exalt yourself even over a prostitute, though you were Abraham, David, Peter, or Paul." (St. L. Ed., XI, 515.)
That illustrious oracle of scientific theology at Luther's time Erasmus of Rotterdam tried to persuade Luther in his diatribe Concerning the Free Will, published in 1524, not to ascribe salvation entirely to divine grace, but to accept a compromise and to recognize in the divine plan of salvation not only God's grace, but also man's own good conduct, or the so-called "faculty of applying oneself to divine grace"... But in his treatise of refutation, Concerning the Enslaved Will (De Servo Arbitrio), Luther replied: "Iugulum petisti," that is, "You have seized me by the throat," (Cf. Opp. v. a., St. L. Ed., VII, 367. ) Luther meant to tell Erasmus: "All you want is to deprive me of the fundamental doctrine of salvation by grace alone, and by your error you aim to close for me the heaven which Christ has opened."
Dear Christian!  Don't let any teaching close The Open Heaven for you!  There is nothing we can do to earn Heaven, no comparatively better conduct or good behavior that can save us.  How this goes against our nature for our old nature screams "look at me God", I've done this or that good thing or at least I'm not as bad as so-and-so.  No!  It is only and alone by God's free grace.

Pieper finishes this section with hymn verses that included this familiar one, a striking one for me:
Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Why is this familiar hymn striking for me?  Because it is the hymn sung during Billy Graham's televised crusades, at the end where the audience was bid to "accept Christ" or "make a decision for Christ".  This hymn verse shows how synergistic preaching or "decision theology" has to forget itself and bow to pure grace alone.  My mother, who was a strong follower of Walter A. Maier and The Lutheran Hour radio program, would not miss any of Graham's television broadcasts.  But Graham's decision theology was not Lutheran and confused my Christian faith in my youth.

Who were these Lutherans in America who were confused on the doctrine of "by grace alone" or sola gratia?  The Ohio and Iowa Synods, the forerunners of the ALC and LCA synods which were the forerunners of today's ELCA.  So instead of Prof. David Scaer's reason for the downfall of the ELCA which is the Law, it is rather Pieper's reason: the fall on the Doctrine of Grace.  And this shows the continuing fallout of Pieper's "deplorable event" in all of modern history – the Downfall of the LC-MS.

Pieper goes on in his essay The Open Heaven to continue to drive this last point home – how the doctrine of sola gratia is to be defended, in my next post Part 8.

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