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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Berthold von Schenk – confusion, Part 10a (Justification)

This continues from Part 9 (10 part series, Table of Contents on Part 1) presenting quotes from the autobiography Lively Stones of Pastor Berthold von Schenk.
We will now reach bottom of the abyss in this Part 10a – I will conclude this series with the portion of the book dealing the the Doctrine of Justification.  I first present the entire section where von Schenk dealt specifically with this doctrine, then I will extract portions for comments.

In this last part, I use the following notations:
  • highlight the questionable portions in yellow
  • the portions with some merit in green
------   Quotes from Lively Stones by Berthold von Schenk, comments by BackToLuther   ------
Page 93 – 94:
One must see beyond words, beyond material concepts.
We can also apply this principle to the central dogma of justifica­tion. There is also in our teaching the dangerous misunderstanding of the concept of justification by faith. The original meaning of the word "justification" was "condemnation." It is stated in ancient history that a certain judge justified 20,000 people-this meant that he had 20,000 people executed. This is really what happens when one accepts Christ -being baptized into Christ's life, suffering, and death. When I baptize a child, I condemn that child to die with Christ and also to rise with Christ. Justification means that when I accept Christ I am willing to live His life, die with Him, suffer with Him, and rise with Him-that is what repentance is. St. Paul said, "I die daily" (I Corinthians 15:31). Jesus said, "If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). That is justification. Of course, the merit is there before my baptism, before my surrender to Christ. This happened on Mt. Cal­vary and Easter morning. I appropriate this by faith. How wonder­fully Luther describes this in his "Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans," a description superior even to his commentary: "Es ist also der Glaube ein mächtig, kräftig Ding.  [So it is also that faith is a mighty, powerful thing.]  He does not ask what is to be done, but before the asking, the faithful have done it already.  Justification has developed into "cheap grace." When I was a youngster, we were given the notion that it is almost [?] sinful to do good works and feel good about it. A catechumen asked one of the fathers of the Missouri Synod if there was any doctrinal difference between the Lutherans of another synod and the Missouri Synod – he answered, "They believe in good works." This incomplete formula of justifica­tion has often amused me to tears. It took me a long time to define my attitude toward traditional Missourianism, or Waltherianism. After I had my "spiritual measles" and came to the realization of the signifi­cance of mysterion, I finally found peace theologically. At the same time, however, I came to realize why the Missouri theologians have so opposed liturgical theology. Many Missourians were quite angry with me when I tried to tell them that Missouri theology is most ratio­nalistic. I found their Lehrgerechtigkeit ("doctrine- righteousness") just as obnoxious as Werkgerechtigkeit ("works-righteousness"), perhaps more so. An observer who wrote a thesis on the Missouri Synod stated that Missouri stresses sola gratia ("grace alone") – I wish they were as concerned about pure love and had patience with those of us who have not had this kind of teaching.
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Berthold von Schenk wrote a mouthful in this section of his book.  He spoke rather plainly of much confusion of Christianity.  Far beyond his criticism of "Missourianism" and "Waltherianism" is his confusion of the doctrine of Justification.  Here are some extracts:

1) Good works -- "almost sinful"
Page 94:  When I was a youngster, we were given the notion that it is almost sinful to do good works and feel good about it.
A recent correspondent told me that he likes to contemplate Luke 17:10 for his faith:
Luke 17:10 – So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
Now compare the above words of our Saviour to the words of Berthold von Schenk.  Jesus is saying that it is unprofitable for us to look at our works as meriting our salvation.  Who is right?  Von Schenk has twisted true teaching into a caricature.  I doubt the teachers of his youth were responsible for his confusion.

2) Justification = "willing to die with Him"
Page 94:  Justification means that when I accept Christ I am willing to live His life, die with Him, suffer with Him, and rise with Him-that is what repentance is.
I'm not a great theologian.  I'm just a simple Christian.  I believe any good faithful Lutheran theologian would be able to point out the fallacies in this statement.  But perhaps a good starting point for understanding is contained in the teaching concerning the lawyer in the story of the Good Samaritan.  Here is the verse (see my blog post here):
Luke 10:25 – But he, willing to justify himself,...
There is that word "justify".   He (a lawyer) wanted to justify himself before the Lord Jesus.  Von Schenk muddies the waters on what the meaning of "justify" or "justification" actually means.  Isn't the meaning of the word "justify" absolutely clear in the story of the Good Samaritan?  It appears von Schenk is confused on the basic doctrine of Christianity.

3) "Cheap grace"

Page 94:  Justification has developed into "cheap grace."
No, von Schenk, your caricature of "Justification" has horribly confused Law and Gospel.  Weren't you awake in class when the dear Prof. Franz Pieper hammered home to you continually the beautiful doctrines of sola gratia, gratia universalis, general justification, objective justification?  The Bible speaks of "grace", especially clearly in this passage:
Romans 11:6 – And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.
The term "cheap grace" has also unfortunately been championed by another – Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
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In Part 10b, I will review more of von Schenk, and return to the comments of Prof. David P. Scaer regarding him.

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