Defining Christianity: Why Be a Christian? Part III

In Part I, we saw that the Apostles’ primary evangelistic message was of the need for all men to repent of their sins and to turn to Christ in faith. In Part II, we explored some of the biblical testimony that all men are sinners, and therefore in need of salvation. Let us now see how that salvation proceeds.



God declares clearly throughout the entire Bible that the only way for an individual to be saved from divine wrath is to repent of his sins and have faith in (i.e., trust) God.  In the New Testament, the explicit mechanism of God’s salvation of man is revealed to be the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

God also declares throughout Scripture that only the righteous will be saved. This does not contradict the necessity of repentance and faith, because faith confers righteousness. See, for example, Genesis 15:6:

Then he [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Note that “reckoned” means “credited” or “imputed.” The Lord credited Abraham with righteousness on account of Abraham’s believing in, that is, having faith in, the Lord.

And see also Romans 4:5:

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…



Salvation begins with repentance. To repent of sins is not to stop sinning. Instead, it is to turn one’s inner orientation away from the desire to sin and toward the God who saves. It is the very beginning of salvation. The necessity of repentance is expressed, for example, in Luke 24:45—47:

Then He [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

And note that when Christ said “it is written…,” it was written in the Old Testament. Jesus himself affirms that the Old Testament speaks of him, and of how he saves people through repentance and faith. For example, Luke 24:27 reads “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

Consider also Acts 3:19, quoted above, where the Apostle Peter is speaking:

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;



Salvation also requires faith (also called “belief” or “trust”) in Christ.

Right away, we must confront the fact that the word “faith” has many current meanings, and only one of them expresses the type of faith necessary for salvation.

There are several widely-used incorrect meanings of “faith.”  One of them is sometimes called “blind faith.” Whereas true faith is always a trust based on accurate knowledge of a trustworthy object of faith, “blind” faith is a trust based on little more than the desire to trust. “Blind” faith does not have good reasons to trust.

Another, more exotic, false meaning of faith arises from the so-called “word-faith” heresy. In this corruption of Christianity, “faith” is a force of nature, and words are its carrier. Word-faith heretics believe they can create blessings for themselves by speaking as if they have confidence that the blessings will come true. They even believe that God Himself works miracles by manipulating the force of faith with the words He speaks. This, of course, is absurd. God does not need faith, either as trust or as a force external to Himself. He is the Force, and He is the One to be trusted.

A final false definition of faith must be mentioned. For some, especially within Protestantism, biblical faith is nothing more than intellectual assent to the facts about God, especially Jesus, who is God the Son. This view has deservedly earned the nickname “easy believism,” for it oversimplifies faith into something that does not save. According to this point of view, if a person at any time in his life has expressed a belief that Jesus is the son of God who died to atone for his sins, then he is saved for all time, regardless of his subsequent behavior. But this view is not biblical, and it gives many people a false confidence that they are saved when, in reality, they are still unbelievers. True saving faith is more than intellectual assent.

None of these false definitions express what the biblical authors mean by faith. Biblical faith, as expanded on below, is accurate knowledge of Christ, assent to this knowledge, and trust in God.


Some of the verses that express the need for faith are:

John 3:16:  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.


Hebrews 10:39:  But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.


Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

And, perhaps most decisively, John 6:28, 29:

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

These verses establish that those who trust in Christ will be saved. Other verses, such as Acts 4:12 quoted above, establish that those who lack this trust will not be saved


This saving trust is commonly called “faith,” and it has three components: knowledge of Christ and what he did and taught, agreement with these truths, and a trust that those who ask for forgiveness of their sins in true faith will be forgiven by and through Jesus.

Faith as knowledge and assent is expressed in, for example, John 17, which quotes Jesus praying to God the Father on behalf of believers:

John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”


John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”

Faith as trust is expressed in, for example, Hebrews 4:16:

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

It is also expressed in Romans 4:19—21, in which the Apostle Paul speaks of Abraham’s trust in God’s promise to him that he would have a son and heir despite his old age:

Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

Note that Abraham had “full assurance” that God’s promises would be fulfilled. This is faith.

Faith as trust is also expressed by the very language in which the New Testament was written. Where our English translations read “faith,” the original Greek word (in noun form) is pistis, a word which primarily denotes trust, confidence in, or assurance.

As a part of this trust, a Christian will believe what God teaches in the Bible, and will generally do what God wants him to do, including repent of his sins, that is, be sorry for them and turn away from them. Christians, like non-Christians, are sinners, so they will not live perfect lives. But the Bible teaches that those who have trusted in Christ will be “indwelled” by God the Holy Spirit. See I Corinthians 6:19:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

This indwelling of God will begin to change the Christian’s life, making him a better person; this is one of the benefits of being a Christian. See II Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

The basic meaning of “Christian,” then, is one who trusts in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. The Bible asserts that trusting in Christ confers other benefits, although nowhere does God guarantee that Christians will avoid hardship. Some Christians, in fact, have suffered horribly in this life. But all who trust in Christ will be saved and go to Heaven.


And this is the part of Christianity that arouses the most disagreement: You do not get saved by doing good deeds, or by refraining from doing bad deeds. Being a morally good person is the result of being saved, not the cause. The cause of salvation is only trusting Christ. This doctrine is called “justification by faith alone,” and it is expressed directly in Ephesians 2:8, 9:

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

See also Romans 3:28:

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

[“Justified” means “declared to be righteous.”]

The context of this verse, and also Paul’s more extended discussion in the Epistle to the Galatians, makes it clear that the “works of the law” to which he is contrasting faith are not just the Old Testament Jewish ceremonial laws. They are all of the moral law. Being moral does not contribute to our salvation, it is a result of our salvation.


A side note: The ultimate reason anyone trusts in Christ is because God caused him to do so. Faith and repentance are gifts of God. God does this in a way that does not override man’s free will as the term “free will” is commonly understood: the ability to choose what you want. People trust or reject Christ according to their desires, but behind the scenes, in a way that cannot be understood by man, God makes some people want to trust in Christ. This is called “election,” but it is a subsidiary point here. See. e.g, Ephesians 1:3—6.


Aside from the fact that it is a gift of God, how in the ordinary sense does one obtain faith? Repentance is something you do, but faith is something you have. How do we get faith in Christ?  Do we simply have to wait for God to give us this gift? Or is there another way?

The clearest biblical discussion of this question occurs in Romans 10:11—17:

 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

The key sentence here is the last one. “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”  Faith comes from hearing the “word of Christ,” which is Scripture.

But not all who hear (or read) the words of the Bible come to faith in Christ. Faith comes only to those who have been given the gift of faith, on the occasion of their hearing the word.

[Some people need to hear the word many times before coming to faith. No rejection of Christ is final until you die.]



Justification by faith often arouses opposition because it seems wrong. The rest of the world, including all the other religions, does not operate this way.  Everywhere else, you get what you pay for. In salvation, though, you get what Christ paid for, and what you cannot possibly pay for. That’s why the gospel is good news.

Within Christendom, justification by faith is not controversial. Justification by faith alone is, unfortunately, only held by Protestants.  But since it is, in my view, a biblical doctrine, all Christians ought to believe it.

Those who deny justification by faith alone will often cite James 2:24:

You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.

Aside from the fact that one verse cannot override the clear testimony of many other passages of Scripture, observe that the word “justified” has at least two meanings. In the concept of “justification by faith,” the word “justified” means “declared [by God] to be righteous,” but in James 2:24, it means “proved to be righteous,” as is clear from the context of the verse. James 2:24 does not contradict justification by faith alone.

There are other verses that, taken in isolation, could reasonably be taken to mean that our efforts contribute to our salvation. But these verses are ambiguous in the sense that their meaning is not necessarily that our works contribute to our salvation, whereas there are many verses (some of which have been quoted above) which maintain unambiguously that salvation is by faith and not works. According to a basic principle of hermeneutics (the interpretation of texts), we judge the unclear passages in light of the clear ones.


Part of the controversy arises because of the concepts and terminology used. We Protestants maintain that the Bible makes a distinction between justification and sanctification. “Justification” is God’s declaration that we are righteous, on account of Christ’s having atoned for our sins and of God the Father imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness to us. Recall Romans 4:5:

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…

The phrase “Him who justifies the ungodly” indicates that justification is what God does, not what we do. This verse also shows that we receive credit for being righteous, even though we are not actually perfectly righteous, if we have faith.

God’s declaration of righteousness is a one-time act that instantly gives the Christian a proper standing before God, meaning that he is fit to be adopted as a son or daughter of God, to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and to go to heaven when he dies, among other benefits. Since the Christian is already credited with being perfectly righteous (although he is not actually perfectly righteous), he has no need to receive “infusions” of grace or righteousness, as the Catholic system describes.

“Sanctification,” though, is the life-long process of the justified Christian becoming more holy. When Christians receive the sacraments, when they do acts of charity, when they hear God’s Word preached to them, when they resist the temptation to sin, they become more holy. They increase in sanctification. But we cannot contribute to our justification, for that is a “forensic declaration” by God. In justification, God the Father acts as a judge, pronouncing a defendant to be “not guilty” solely on account of the work of Christ and of the defendant’s repentance and faith. The Christian’s state of sanctification does not play a role in his justification.

But we most certainly can contribute to our sanctification through our deeds. And it is, in part, by conflating justification and sanctification that the Catholic Church weakens the biblical doctrine of justification—and therefore salvation—by faith alone. For example, Rome has declared that good works are necessary to “increase our merit” in God’s eyes. [See, e.g., the Council of Trent, Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 24.] The best that could be said here is that they are confusing justification with sanctification.

This is the end of part III of this series. In part IV (click here), we will see the biblical mechanism of how Jesus saves us from our sins.

86 thoughts on “Defining Christianity: Why Be a Christian? Part III

  1. “We Protestants maintain that the Bible makes a distinction between justification and sanctification.”
    Alan, I may be mistaken but I think that’s a specifically Reformed position. I don’t think Lutherans see justification and sanctification as distinct. This is based on my memory of a comment I saw a Lutheran make many years ago and my memory could be faulty. Dale Nelson could probably talk to this.

    • Lutherans distinguish justification and sanctification, believing that the apostles do so.

      Some Christians tense up a little over the word “justification,” especially in phrases such as “justification by faith.” I’ve found it helpful over the years to realize that often, when Lutherans talk about justification (and they sure do talk about justification), they are talking about forgiveness. If you don’t like the phrase “justification by faith,” think thus, that Lutherans are trying to say that the cause of our forgiveness is entirely something in God, not something in us. Much of the time when Lutherans argue for “justification by faith,” that is really the main thing they are trying to protect. We are saying that forgiveness is something God truly extends freely and not on account of our deserving it or our making some first move.

      When a Lutheran contends for “justification by faith” his concern is not primarily with something subjective (his faith) but a very precious objective something: that the Father really has given the Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us our sins, and truly sends the Holy Spirit to use means (preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments), which we find in Holy Church, to create and sustain faith in us. Apart from such mercy we have no hope and no ability to choose God. Here we are talking about a “monergistic” action, that of God alone, Who must create faith. We can no more produce such faith in ourselves, apart from God, than a dead man can make a decision to start coming to life.

      Sanctification is where synergism comes in, where we co-operate with God as we show the works of faith. But we never look at our works and regard them as justifying us, no, not in any slightest degree. They are fruits of faith that God prepared for us to do. Here the doctrine of vocation comes in. As parent and/or child, as employer or employee, as neighbor, etc. — in all the things in which you find yourself right now, you have responsibilities of love. There is no question about whether a Christian “has a vocation” — each does, in some degree, or at least anyone of some degree of competence; even quite young children. (Parents fail their children terribly when they do not discipline them, because this will make it much harder for children to live out their own vocations throughout life.)

      That’s basically this Lutheran’s understanding of justification and sanctification. When synergism gets mixed in with justification, forgiveness is apt to be compromised and God becomes a forbidding and distant holiness who needs to be placated by interior gestures and perhaps approached by means of mediating saints. When justification and sanctification are biblically distinguished, we can have boldness to approach the throne of grace …. sinners that we are (Hebrews 4:16).

  2. “When Christians receive the sacraments, when they do acts of charity, when they hear God’s Word preached to them, when they resist the temptation to sin, they become more holy.”

    Jesus said that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life. He didn’t say that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will be sanctified or made more holy.
    In Anglican theology, the sacrament quickens, strengthens and confirms one’s faith. Quicken means to make alive.

    • Jesus didn’t use the word “sanctify,” but holy communion is not something that justifies, so my terminology is adequate.

      • I think Alan is right about this. The Eucharist is a participation in the liturgy of Heaven. If you have not been washed of your sin, you aren’t fit for the occasion. If you approach the table of the wedding banquet improperly clothed in a body stained with sin, the host will throw you into the outer darkness. So you need to get right with God before you partake. This is why the reiteration of the Baptismal Credo and the confession and absolution precede the beginning of the Mass proper. It is also the reason that the Mass is allowed only to baptized Christians. So the justification has to precede the participation. This means that if not for the Atonement, none of us would have been fit for heavenly service.

        That said, the Mass both in Heaven and on Earth just is the Atonement.

      • To Kristor: The Prayer of Humble Access (I pray it every week and I think you do as well) says:

        “So to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body and our souls washed through His most precious blood”

        We pray that before we approach the Lord’s table.

      • Yes: love that prayer; it is my absolute favorite: “We thine unworthy servants are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under thy table, but thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.” And how!

        But the fact that the Body and Blood are doing the washing that makes us fit to approach the table where we shall eat them was what I was alluding to when I wrote that, “the Mass … just is the Atonement.” The Mass is the everlasting participation, offered to all creation, in the eternally effectuated Atonement that happened in time at Calvary. If there had been no Passion, there would be no Mass, either in Heaven or on Earth. So our washing at Mass is effectual by virtue of God’s prior motion in the Atonement, as Dale has said. When we are become justified by faith, there has been no change to the objective circumstance that by Christ we are saved. The only thing that changes is our recognition of our salvation. That recognition does indeed have concrete effects in creaturely history, for among other things it opens causal room in us for sanctification.

        It’s tricky. We have to be washed clean before we are fit for the table. But it is the sacrifice offered and consumed at that table that does the washing. Yet the sacrifice offerred and consumed at any particular table in any particular temple is but a participation in a sacrifice that occurs eternally. The motions we go through in confession, absolution, and the Prayer of Humble Access, constitute our recognition of, our agreement and conformity to, this prior fact: that thanks to the blood of the Lamb offered up once for all worlds from before all worlds we are always already welcome at the table, as fitted already thereto – as, i.e., already redeemed.

        Insofar as we exist at all, we participate ipso facto in the redemption of the world. This participation is prevenient grace. To refuse it altogether is to refuse to exist. “The strife is over, the battle done, the victory of life is won.” When we have faith, we realize that this is so, that we are already justified, and that we may therefore relax. In that relaxation is the causal openness to practical sanctification – to the consecration of our lives to God.

        But NB that the motion of faith is necessary if our justification is to be effectual in us. If we use our prevenient grace to refuse our redemption, well, we are then no longer redeemed. Properly speaking, then, we *cast ourselves* out of the wedding feast and into the outer darkness. The first motion of faith is our repentance of our previous rejection of redemption. Thus it is that just before we confess our sins so that we may be absolved and enter the sanctuary where no sin may come, we hear:

        Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort …

        Repentance, and faith; sine qua, non.

      • Here is my preliminary response to the essay you linked above.

        Hutchens begins his essay by asserting that if Rome is wrong about justification by faith alone, then there must be hostility between Rome and Protestantism. By putting this first, he appears to be placing a first emphasis on unity above truth, which is a mistake. At least that is the impression that he makes, whether intentional or not.

        He also fails to identify that he has a Lutheran background. Those who claim to be speaking from a neutral corner must be viewed, in my opinion, with greater suspicion. Such people often view themselves as the highest authority.

        Hutchens says:

        The substance of the issue has been cleanly put: “Is our justification based on the righteousness of Christ in us or the righteousness of Christ for us?” My answer would be that the Scriptures teach it is most certainly both, and I would ask why we should be forced to choose one and reject the other.

        The Protestant position is that justification is based only on the righteousness of Christ for us [i.e, imputed righteousness.] Any righteousness in us is caused by Christ’s righteousness for us, which is the basis of any righteousness in us. But the Catholic position is that justification is not based only on the righteousness of Christ for us. And these two positions, by definition, cannot both be true.

        Furthermore, Hutchens is missing the obvious: Once, according to Protestantism, you have the righteousness of Christ for you, then you begin the process of sanctification. Christ’s righteousness for you at the beginning produces righteousness in you.

        Hutchens’s basic problem is failing to distinguish justification (God’s declaration of righteousness) and sanctification (our possession of a limited, non-perfect, righteousness.) Scripture makes clear that man remains a sinner even after salvation, so our sanctification never produces the perfect righteousness of Christ. But the saved do possess a measure of righteousness.

        So the righteousness that is imputed to us is the perfect righteousness of Christ. And the righteousness of sanctification, the righteousness that is in us, is imperfect.

        Hutchens says:

        The sinner is not justified externally and then improved internally by sanctification.

        But the Bible constantly says that we are justified “externally.” See, e.g., Romans 4:5 “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

        The basic problem with this essay is its sloppiness, a sloppiness that seems to stem from a desire to minimize conflict rather than understand the biblical message.

      • Kristor, God bless you, you write at a level that’s usually way over my head. Not your fault, but mine.

        Anglicanism teaches that the sacraments quicken, strengthen and confirm our faith. I think that’s what I’m trying to suggest in criticizing Alan’s article. It seems to me that true, saving faith is very deep and abiding. It’s not binary as in one has no faith or all faith. If we had either no faith or all faith then everyone would be either damned or routinely going about casting mountains into the sea and raising the dead. The sacraments are one of the things we use to cultivate saving faith. Do you never doubt?

      • I find myself doubting less and less, as my understanding of what we are called to believe grows.

        The continuum of sanctity you notice is indeed real. But remember Alan’s distinction between justification and sanctification. I may be the rottenest sinner in the world, but so long as I have repented and put my trust in Christ so far as I am now able (however poorly that may be), I am washed, justified, fit to attend the wedding feast in Heaven and on Earth – even though, not being at all holy, I might at first find myself seated at the bottom of the rearmost table!

        Partaking of that meal does indeed increase faith. So does study of the Scriptures, prayer and fasting, &c. But the result is an increase in the power and depth and causal efficacy of the motion of faith. Such work is like that of the recruit who has enlisted and is training at boot camp. Think of the difference between a weak and unhealthy novice who has just picked up a sword for the first time and a fit and seasoned samurai. Either man may deal a killing blow – say, to the body of death. But the samurai will do it far better, and at less risk of being himself vanquished in the fight.

      • I don’t refer to a continuum of sanctity but to a continuum of faith. In particular, there’s a continuum of faith when faith is defined as more than assent to a set of orthodox religious propositions.

      • I believe the paragraph I added to my last comment addresses this concern. As to the spiritual efficacy of an intellectual assent to a set of propositions, I would argue that an intellectual assent is ipso facto a moral assent, however weak or attenuated it might be. Returning to the analogy of the raw recruit in boot camp, he started on his path to eventual mastery of the martial arts by way of an ignorant decision to enlist, that entailed only one immediate act: the signing of his name. But by that signature, he enacted an irrevocable commitment.

        His military career is of course more than that signature. When he signed, he had no very good idea what he was getting into. Furthermore, his decision might have been motivated by the wrong reasons (e.g., to impress a girl), or been quite diffident or ambivalent. If that signature had been the end of the story – if it was the beginning and the end of his military career – why there wouldn’t be much of a point to the whole exercise of signing, would there?

        So with the first intellectual assent to the truth of Christian doctrine. If you agree that the doctrine is true, that has all sorts of uncomfortable, difficult, challenging consequences for your practical life. Every one of those consequences, when it comes around, is going to test your faith.

        Once you sign up as a Christian, you’re in. Only as you go do you learn exactly what you have signed up for. Christianity is no different, in this respect, than any commitment in life. Think of marriage, or fatherhood. These are terrifying commitments! How many young men fully realize when they get engaged or consummate a marriage that they are making an irrevocable commitment to sacrifice their lives for their wives and children, at a moment’s notice? But that’s the deal.

      • Regarding your statements on Hutchens’ desire for unity, pretense to neutrality, and avoidance of conflict, I note that Touchstone’s (it’s listed on the Orthosphere’s links so I thought you might be familiar with it) entire purpose is to be a journal of Mere Christianity, that is, finding common ground without expecting Baptists to suddenly become Catholics or Catholics to suddenly become Baptists. I’ve seen him express his personal and denominational convictions more directly in the comments section to articles (sometimes as a first comment after the article!).

        If Hutchens (and also Fr. Kirby in the other article I linked) are correct, then Rome does teach imputation AND infusion. You CAN have both if there is a first justification (initial justification) and subsequent justification (which you can call sanctification and which I’m asserting is a necessary part of salvation).

      • OK, Touchstone is ecumenical. But Hutchens still goes too far. His essay is muddled.

        I don’t think Rome teaches imputation, but Catholicism is so vast a phenomenon that there are Catholics who hold just about any position you can think of.

        Yes, salvation is a necessary part of salvation. Not because it’s the third thing you have to do (after repent and have faith), but because it necessarily occurs once one is justified.

      • Protestantism is amazingly vast and broad. Confessional Reformed isn’t but Confessional Protestantism is.

        Initial faith might come first but can’t subsequent faith (retaining faith) be damaged by bad works?

      • Yes, faith can be weakened by sins.

        But remember the words of Jesus Christ in John 6:

        Verse 37: All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

        Verse 39: And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

        Therefore those who have saving faith will never be lost.

  3. Kristor, where does fasting fit in with faith and holiness, justification and sanctification? The Lord recommended fasting. Does it increase faith or holiness? Does it help with justification or sanctification?

    • One of your questions is easy to answer: Since justification is a declaration by God that you are not guilty, our actions, other than faith, do not contribute to justification. Justification is what God does.

      • What Alan said. Fasting can help or hurt with sanctification. As with bulimia, it can be overdone. Ascesis in general is effectual in training us away from idolatry of creaturely goods, but is after all itself a creaturely good. Overdone, it can result in acedia or pride, or both.

    • Thank you Alan. BTW I did not mean to rudely address only Kristor when it is your post. I am very interested in what you have to say. I am not posting disagreement in your pieces to be an obnoxious heckler. I am probably going to leave Anglicanism soon for practical reasons (there are literally almost no families in Continuuing Anglican churches as it will be extinct in a generation). I have to decide if I am going up (Rome) or down (Luther). I am trying to understand the differences.

      • If you are willing to invest some time and perhaps money in the matter, a good way to learn about Lutheran-Roman Catholic differences is by reading some of the topics in Martin Chemnitz’s four-volume Examination of the Council of Trent. For all its massiveness, it is quite readable. Here the discussion is theological, patristic, and biblical. The Catholicism on view here would appeal to Orthospherean reactionaries, as it is a long way from today’s big-tent American Catholicism that has plenty of room for pro-abortion politicians, Jungian nuns, etc. If you choose to become Roman Catholic, your time with these books will be well spent, because Catholicism after Trent was defined in a way it had not been before then, closing itself off from concepts that had formerly been discussed within the church’s bounds. (See the discussion in Arthur Carl Piepkorn et al.’s Profiles in Belief, I think volume 2, from about 1973.) Of course I’m recommending the set as a Lutheran; it helped immensely with the usual canard about the Lutheran church being something that dates back to Luther.

        I’ll refrain here from recommending other Lutheran books, since I see this set as in a class by itself (I’ve had the set for 20 years and it’s a good reference book too, just for what Lutherans believe and why), but let me recommend a good online source for Lutheran topics:

        The site is presided over by Pr. David Jay Webber, formerly rector of St Sophia Lutheran Seminary in Ternopil’, Ukraine, now a pastor in Arizona. Over the years I have had some good theological discussions with him.

      • No offense taken, Bruce.

        I’m interested to know that you are thinking of leaving your Anglicanism. Dale has given some good advice; here’s mine, kept relatively brief:

        Rome claims to have the authority to decide religious question, and she has an impressive deposit of thought and practice. This makes her very appealing to the typical reader of The Orthosphere.

        Protestant churches faithful to the Reformation can’t beat Rome’s ritual, its ancient pedigree, or the size of its deposit of writings on religious subjects. So what do they have to offer?

        Fidelity to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. Man naturally tends to innovate, and over the centuries, an organization is guaranteed to innovate, unless, like the Reformation, it is explicitly founded on fidelity to the written Revelation of God.

        And that Revelation is not difficult to interpret, at least in general, if you have good teachers. And how can you tell a good Bible teacher? If he always refers to Scripture, and if he explicitly affirms that Scripture is the highest religious authority.

        Of course, I would hope you end up in a Calvinistic church. But if you won’t be Reformed, then at least you should become Lutheran.

      • Alan,

        While reading Hebrews yesterday I came across this verse:

        ” Follow peace with all men, and holiness (sanctification), without which no man shall see the Lord” Hebrews 12:14.

        It seems easier for me to believe that the simplistic passages that say we are saved by “belief” or “faith” imply things that they don’t explicitly mention (e.g. works done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) than it is to believe that the simplistic “works” passages don’t mean what they seem to mean.

      • Indeed, “faith” is a concept much richer than just deeds. The passages of Scripture that tell us God wants us to do good deeds are true, but that does not necessarily mean that good deeds can confer or even support salvation.

        A basic concept here is “law and gospel.” “Law” means everything we must do for God; “Gospel” means everything God does for us. Law is true, but it does not save. This is discussed further in my Orthosphere essay “Law and Gospel.”

      • If the Law/Gospel distinction places works of the Spirit under “Law” then I reject it as a teaching.
        The Law/Gospel distinction seems to render many passages in the NT as mere rhetoric, designed to drive us to the Gospel rather than something that the speaker and/or writer really meant.
        Don’t mean to be pushy but I don’t see how you addressed the verse that I quoted. Paul wrote that no man will see the Lord without sanctification/holiness. Are you saying that the verse is to be classified as part of the Law designed to drive us to the Gospel?

      • I thought I had expressed myself clearly in the “Law and Gospel” essay. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. To answer your questions:

        Since “law” means everything God demands that we do, and “gospel” is everything God does for us, “works of the Spirit” are definitely gospel, not law. And the law passages in the NT are not just designed to drive us to the gospel. Driving us to the gospel is just one of the three valid uses of the law. When the NT says that you should do this and not do that, it really means what it says.

        But “doing this and not doing that” do not save us. Repentance and true faith in Christ save us.

        About Hebrews 12:14: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:”

        Not every biblical verse fits into the exact categories of law or gospel. To know the meaning of any verse (or any other words), you must generally judge it by its context. Hebrews 12 is exhortation more than commandment, so I would not classify it as law. In exhortation, the speaker reminds his hearers of certain basic truths, and then urges them to act in a certain way. Exhortation presupposes that law and gospel have been understood already by the hearer.

        So when it says “without [holiness] no man shall see God,” you must remember what the rest of the Bible teaches about holiness: True holiness is not just the result of our striving to behave rightly, it requires first repentance and faith, and then striving.

  4. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia is a good starting place for understanding the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and where they differ with the main Protestant churches. You can find it online, it has a wealth of articles on theological and historical subjects, along with handy onsite references to Scripture and various works of note like the Summa. It was a great help to me during my conversion, and I’d recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.

  5. I’ll disagree with Alan Roebuck, where he says “Protestant churches faithful to the Reformation can’t beat Rome’s ritual, its ancient pedigree,” insofar as the statement would be taken to apply to Lutherans. The heart of Christian “ritual” is the orderly Eucharist, including the prayers of the people and, especially, the offering and reception of the Sacrament. As the Lutheran Confessions state, the norm for Lutherans is Lord’s Supper every Sunday and feast days. In practical terms we often fall short of this, although every-Sunday Eucharist is, in fact, the practice of my own congregation (you know, the one where women don’t vote and where the pastor and his wife have twelve children). But certainly the Sacrament of the Altar is central for Lutheran worship. And “ancient pedigree” is largely what Chemnitz is about in the Examination of the Council of Trent. For example, anyone interested in such things really ought to read his discussion, in vol. 1, of Tradition — something that could be issued as a short book of its own.

    Chemnitz shows that the church of the Lutheran Confessions aligns not simply with someone’s idea of what the Scriptures say but with the testimonies of the ancient Fathers. “This also is certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: “The Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation.” And whoever twists the Holy Scripture so that it is understood according to his preconceived opinions does this to his own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). The best reader of the Scripture, according to Hilary, is one who does not bring the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church.” (Examination, V. 1, pp. 208-9) And so on. Chemnitz’s four volumes are largely one documentation of this claim.

    In other words, Confessional Lutherans would not be prepared to grant what Alan suggests about “ancient pedigree.”

    Btw, it’s interesting that an Orthodox theological school used one of Chemnitz’s other books, On the Two Natures in Christ, as its Christology textbook. Chemnitz deserves to be much better known outside Confessional Lutheran circles.

    On the topic of the Church, I can recommend John Stephenson’s volume in the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series. On selected topics, the three books of Hermann Sasse’s We Confess series are very good reading, as is his book This Is My Body, about Luther’s contention for the Real Presence. For those who boggle at the alleged “consubstantiation” of Lutheran sacramental doctrine, a helpful book setting forth authentic Lutheran teaching, available online, is Tom Hardt’s fine short book, available here:

    I also recommend Teigen’s The Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz.

    The journal Logia deals with various interesting topics. Here’s an article I liked on the Harrowing of Hell.

    Again, I thought Piepkorn et al. had a quite absorbing discussion of the Roman church here: Profiles in Belief Volume I: Roman Catholic, Old Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (1977).

    Finally, for Lutheran – Reformed (Calvinist) differences, I would recommend Here We Stand. An Amazon reviewer comments, “One of the most salient distinctions between the Lutheran and Reformed faiths is the Lutheran understanding of the Law/Gospel polarity as well as the sacraments as means of salvation (media salutis) and not merely means of grace (media gratiae).”

    • Here We Stand is, again, by Sasse. I could mention various other old and recent Lutheran authors, but Chemnitz and Sasse were especially helpful to me as (simplifying) someone coming from a Wesleyan-Arminian-revivalist background with the Episcopal Church (thanks to influence of C. S. Lewis) as a place along the way. I studied Orthodoxy quite a bit (my sister is a convert), but have been pretty well settled in as a Lutheran (in the tradition of the Confessions — not a mainline “Lutheran”) for 15+ years. I got a lot of help about 20 years ago when I wrote a letter to a professor at an LCMS seminary (William Weinrich). God bless the man — he not only took time to write a good letter, but (boy, did he hit me where I lived) a 20-item select bibliography written up just for me. I still haven’t read everything on it.

      I should say that anyone halfway interested in what Lutherans really believe (as opposed to common notions thereof, e.g. “consubstantiation”), should get a copy of The Book of Concord, which gathers the Lutheran Confessions. There’s a standard edition ed. by Tappert that you can pick up used at abebooks for a few bucks.

    • I read some of the document on Lutherans and the Sacrament of the Altar. What seems to bother me is the following: if it is the Words that make the consecration valid then why isn’t it valid if a women does the consecration? And yet I cannot accept women on the altar.

      • Let me recommend, by the way, Pr. Heimbigner’s study In the Stead of Christ, available from Bethany Lutheran Bookstore.

        “Who may celebrate the Lord’s Supper? In recent years, ‘offices’ such as ‘lay minister’ have begun to appear, and such ‘lay ministers’ have been permitted to officiate at celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. Are such celebrations actually the sacrament which Christ instituted? Are they God-pleasing? Do they offer the forgiveness of sins?
        In this important book, Pastor Heimbigner examines Holy Scripture and the writings of the early church fathers, church orders and liturgies in order to find an answer to these questions. Heimbigner’s research reveals that the Church has always understood that Christ entrusted the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to the Office of the Holy Ministry. The Church acknowledges that the Office was instituted by Christ to convey the forgiveness of sins to God’s people. The Office of the Holy Ministry, therefore, is occupied by men who have been called by Christ through the Church and ordained into the Office by men who already occupy the Office.”

      • Bruce B, if you go here

        you will find a brief and pretty forceful statement about “validity” of women’s Eucharistic consecration. Scroll down to the 1998 unpublished paper “The Validity of Consecration by a Female Pastor.” I think I have now answered your question.

        I commend Pastor Kleinig’s papers on other topics also to the attention of Orthosphereans with any interest in Lutheran practice and theology.

      • Thank you Mr. Nelson. I need brief and forceful! I am not an academic and probably much less intelligent and learned than most readers here.

  6. PS I should have said that John Stephenson wrote the Eschatology volume in the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series. I recommend this book.

    Anyone wanting to understand quote “Lutheranism” should listen to some of Bach’s cantatas. A good book on Bach is Gaines’ Evening in the Palace of Reason. Reactionaries and conservatives ought to relish this book, as Bach is presented as a representative of the old, patriarchal, devout, even “mystical” civilization that was opposed by the Enlightenment values of Frederick.

    Finally, another Lutheran blog that might interest Orthosphereans is Paul McCain’s Cyberbrethren, which combines theology, corny advertisements for Concordia Publishing House books, and gun-nut fare.

    • Dale,

      I’ve been to a couple different WELS services and several LCMS services. I know I’m nit-picking but here’s something I don’t like about their practice. They give communion out of little plastic cups (the WELS church I’ve attended has a chalice which a few members use but most use Dixie cups). If the sacrament is the Body and Blood of Christ, then it seems almost disrespectful to put it in a disposable plastic cup because we’re afraid of catching kooties.

      • I completely agree, and nothing has been a more troubling issue for me as a convert to Confessional Lutheran Christianity than this practice (At my church about half of the people receive from the chalice, with me.) and the related issue of the reliquiae. The use of the individual cups is, in my circles, a relatively recent development; it isn’t part of the tradition, and many pastors regard it as a regrettable concession that they would drop if they could do so without offense.

        I do sometimes wonder if there is a strange underground connection between the use of individual cups (where the Words of Institution say “the cup”) and women as preachers. In both cases the argument may be made that the “content” is what matters and not the “container.” I have never heard this argument made, but what I wonder is whether the practice of the one departure from Scripture’s letter doesn’t subtly suggest the other. On the other hand, I am not prepared to say that the use of a chalice is a sine qua non. So I hope for better practice eventually.

  7. Mr. Roebuck, I have a question concerning Reformed theology. Calvin taught of ‘unconditional election’. How is that reconciled with the events which unfolded in the Garden of Eden? Were Adam and Eve not elected by God? I am just trying to understand the Reformed faith better because it truly interests me.

    • First, here is the Reformed position on election taken from the Canons of the [Reformed synod of] Dordt, Article 7. The most important part of this document is at the end, where they quote two passages of Scripture to back up their claims:

      Election [or choosing] is God’s unchangeable purpose by which he did the following:

      Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, he chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race, which had fallen by its own fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin. Those chosen were neither better nor more deserving than the others, but lay with them in the common misery. He did this in Christ, whom he also appointed from eternity to be the mediator, the head of all those chosen, and the foundation of their salvation. And so he decided to give the chosen ones to Christ to be saved, and to call and draw them effectively into Christ’s fellowship through his Word and Spirit. In other words, he decided to grant them true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally, after powerfully preserving them in the fellowship of his Son, to glorify them.

      God did all this in order to demonstrate his mercy, to the praise of the riches of his glorious grace.

      As Scripture says, God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, so that we should be holy and blameless before him with love; he predestined us whom he adopted as his children through Jesus Christ, in himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, by which he freely made us pleasing to himself in his beloved (Eph. 1:4-6). And elsewhere, Those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:30).

      So election is unconditional in the sense that it occurred before any of us existed, and therefore it is unconditional in the sense that it was not made on the basis of anything we did. On the other hand, all those who were elected by God will come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. God brings it about in such a way that we feel like we are not predetermined, but rather choose freely. We do choose freely, but when we freely choose repentance and faith in Christ, it is only because God, operating on us in an unknowable way, makes it happen.

      Scripture does not tell us whether Adam and Eve were elected, that is, chosen to be saved. The fact that they sinned does not rule out the possibility that they later had faith in God.

      • Thank you Mr. Roebuck. I already knew the theology of TULIP but was just curious as to how that related to Adam and Eve. A Catholic article I had read recently was saying that by Calvinist logic God had destined Adam and Eve to commit sin; which I believed to be false. Being an aspiring Catholic, learning the faith for several years, the Reformed doctrine has also interested me; the only thing that really turned me away is how “low church” it is. Theologically I am closer to “low church” while feeling more comfortable in a “high church” environment.

      • Alan, could you please clarify something for me? You write:

        We do choose freely, but when we freely choose repentance and faith in Christ, it is only because God, operating on us in an unknowable way, makes it happen.

        By this, do you mean that God makes us choose freely, or that he makes us choose salvation freely? If the former, then that would seem to be a doctrine as it were of *active* prevenient grace, which is not at all troublesome to our common sense understanding of what it is to be free. But if the latter, then I can’t see how contradiction is avoided, between choosing x freely and being made to choose x. How can an act be characterized both as free and as forced? In fact, how can an act of agent x that x is unable by any means to contravene be characterized as really the act of agent x? To experience such an irresistible act would not be like what we experience when, e.g., *we* reach out for a cup of coffee. It would be, rather, like what we experience when we feel something happening in the world, like an earthquake: we would see the stretching out of our hand as the act of the world, rather than just our own. It would be like, “this is happening now and there is nothing you can do about it.”

        That I can’t see how to avoid contradiction with this doctrine does not, of course, mean that there is definitely contradiction in it.

        This particular question has been of pressing concern to me lately, as I have been groping my way deeper into the notion of eternity. In that notion, I am betting, is the way to unfold this complexity. Thus: if temporal events are in the truest sense (i.e., so far as God is concerned) procedures of eternity, as I have argued, then is there not a sense in which temporal events, being so far as God is concerned firstly eternal, and only thereby attaining to temporality, are, not just actual from before all worlds (worlds being congeries of concrete actualities), but also, and therefore, necessary? In that case, while creaturely acts would be contingent, they would be contingent only upon God’s free act; and since God’s free act is eternal and therefore necessary, so that since creaturely events continge upon another Divine event that is nowise contingent, therefore creaturely acts would “inherit” a certain inevitability from the eternality of the Divine event. They would then be free, as God’s act is free; but they would happen in the truest sense before all worlds.

        Feeling my way here.

      • You ask about the paradox of divine election (God choosing, before the creation of the world, those who will be Christians) and human free will. Here’s a short answer:

        It depends on what you mean by “man has free will.” If it means that not even God knows what a man will choose, then man does not have free will. But if it means that man can choose what he wants, and is neither forced to choose what he does not want nor prevented from choosing what he wants, then man does have free will.

        [The Bible also implies that man has free will when it holds him accountable for his choices.]

        In his natural state, before God makes him spiritually alive, no man wants to repent and have faith in Christ. But instead of carrying out a “divine kidnapping,” God operates on our will, making us receptive to the gospel. A hungry man cannot refuse a meal placed before him. And in the same way, man who was chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be a Christian, and who has been given a new heart by God, a heart able to hear and believe the gospel, cannot refuse the invitation to come to Christ.

        Also, notice that the biblical passages which appear to contradict election (e.g., “God wants all to be saved”) are ambiguous, whereas the biblical passages that refer to divine election (e.g., “He chose us…” “All that the Father gives me will come to me”) are not ambiguous. “God wants all to be saved” could mean that if God were strong enough to get what He wanted, then all would be saved, but He is not that strong. Or it could mean that “Thou shalt believe in Christ and be saved” is something like the eleventh commandment, a commandment that some people violate. Or it could mean something else entirely. But “He chose us” is not ambiguous.

        I also want to remind you of what Bill Lewis said in a comment here:

        It’s not so much that God chose some to go to hell—everyone deserves that punishment—but that He, in is infinite mercy, has sovereignly chosen some for redemption.

        Bruce B. also makes a good point:

        The doctrine of election should be preached to those who are showing the fruits of the spirit but should not be used to drive those who are not showing the fruits of the spirit into a state of hopeless wretchedness.

        The doctrine of divine election describes what occurs “behind the scenes,” in a way that is inaccessible to us. God only announces that some are elected to eternal life. He does not reveal who they are, or how exactly He can elect them while at the same time them appear, to us and to themselves, to be making a free choice. It is written in Scripture, so we should believe it.

      • The same issue is addressed by the Westminster Confession of Faith and the catechisms, specifically Q&A 20 from the Shorter Catechism and Q&A 30 from the Larger Catechism.

        Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
        A. God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life (Ephesians 1:4), did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer. (Romans 3:21–22)

        This is from a version “with Scripture proofs,” showing how the Bible—the ultimate authority—supports what the catechism teaches.

        Ephesians 1:4:
        “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love”

        Romans 3:21–22:
        “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference”

        Catechisms are an important teaching/learning tool for Reformed church theology, but they are not authoritative themselves: they are means for understanding the Bible, which was “inspired by God, [and] is entirely trustworthy and without error. Therefore, we are to believe and obey its teachings. The Bible is the only source of special revelation for the church today”.

        All quotes from

      • It depends on what you mean by “man has free will.” If it means that not even God knows what a man will choose, then man does not have free will. But if it means that man can choose what he wants, and is neither forced to choose what he does not want nor prevented from choosing what he wants, then man does have free will.

        It seems clear to me that God does not know what a man “will” choose; for, being eternal, there is for him no point in his life that is “before” the completion of any choice of any man, and nor is there any point in his life that is “after” any such completion. All such completed choices are for him simultaneous with his life. And this means that the temporal moments subsequent in the order of time to the moment of any choice of any man are also likewise simultaneously present to him. But this means that in his eternal now he knows what the outcome of each choice is – not “before” it happens, nor “after” it happens, but simultaneously with it. So, he knows from before all worlds what each man *does* choose.

        Creaturely choices, then, all take place within the context of, and as procedures of, the eternal now of God’s life. The divine now being an act, a living event, we may say that creaturely choices proceed with and from the divine choice. It is in this sense that we must say that God creates them: provides them, and provides for them.

        And because God’s now is simultaneous with every moment of every temporal order – is, i.e., neither “before” nor “after” it – no such moment is “pre”-determined. They are all therefore free.

        If they were not thus free, we should have to conclude that God determined that Lucifer, Adam and Eve played no active role in their own fall, but rather that God determined that his cosmos should certainly fall, and suffer, and that countless billions of his creatures should end up everlastingly in Hell. Creaturely freedom would seem to be essential to any efficacious theodicy. It is a very happy thing, then, that the logic of eternity is such that no occasion is predetermined!

    • Lutherans believe — if I may stick an oar in — that the doctrine of election is mistaught when it is taught apart from the Gospel. When that is done one gets away (it is held) from Scripture and into speculations and logic that are bound to lead one astray. Election is taught aright when I say, “Thanks be to God! I, a sinner, am destined for eternal life because of the sheer grace of God shown me in Christ, His Cross, and His saving means. This I know not because of having had a conversion experience, or having made a decision for Christ, or because I feel saved, but because of God’s promises.” Election is taught wrongly when it is taught in the context of the final fate of the impenitent, as if God were willing, indeed bound and determined, that some should be lost and must not come to eternal life (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). On behalf of Lutherans, I freely grant that the Reformed have a more obviously tight argument as far as logic: if those who are saved are saved as chosen by God, then those who are lost must be lost as determined by God. –But that is something Lutherans refuse to say, since we don’t believe it is what Scripture says.

      • Mr. Nelson, it is always good to hear varying Christian points of view. 2 Peter 3:9 certainly seems to make the doctrine of God’s sovereign destining some men to hell to be an error. If He wants “nobody to be lost and everybody brought to repentance” then how could He make it that some would never find Him nor be brought to repentance? That would be logically inconsistent, which God never is, so then either I am misunderstanding something or there is an error in Reformed doctrine. Of course one could say God wants none of His elect to be lost but if the elect were destined to be drawn to Him that would be unnecessary to state.

        I know you are of the Lutheran faith, as is my family. I considered Lutheranism when turning to Christianity but it was far too liberal for me. The doctrine is pretty good and you still hold to the traditional ceremonies but rationalism really did a number on what could otherwise be a very strong church.

      • Messrs. Nelson & Poe,

        If I am reading you correctly, you are saying that salvation is for everyone. Please forgive me if I am mistaken.

        However, if that what you are saying, then what are we to make of Jesus’ words in Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned”? What are we to make of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:41–42: “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left”?

        I don’t see how these passages can be reconciled with the notion that everybody is saved.

        Perhaps I am misreading you, and you are not saying that everyone is saved, but that God has destined some men to hell. As I understand it, it’s not that God destined us to hell; it’s that we, as descendants of Adam and Eve, are tainted by their sin, and must be punished for our transgressions of God’s law. It’s not so much that God chose some to go to hell—everyone deserves that punishment—but that He, in is infinite mercy, has sovereignly chosen some for redemption.

        Calvinism teaches that we who have been chosen for redemption must choose to follow Christ, yet that God has destined us to make that choice. (No doubt my paraphase can be improved.) This is another heavenly mystery: how can we be destined for choice? It is an insoluble dilemma, similar to how God is one, but in three Persons: revealed, but not explained.

        Incidentally, Wikipedia has some surprisingly good articles on various Christian denominations. This chart, appearing on several different pages, is a nice summary of the various Protestant beliefs about salvation:

      • This is more or less what Anglicanism does – goes up to the line of what scripture says without crossing it. The doctrine of election should be preached to those who are showing the fruits of the spirit but should not be used to drive those who are not showing the fruits of the spirit into a state of hopeless wretchedness.

      • @ BillLewis,

        “If I am reading you correctly, you are saying that salvation is for everyone. Please forgive me if I am mistaken.” I was not saying everyone is saved but rather that it seems everyone is able to be saved. Not saved by God predestining them for salvation but through their choosing to believe in Christ as Lord. But, recall, I was basing that on 2 Peter 3:9 which seemed to disprove the notion of predestination. My knowledge of theology is certainly not on par with most others here so I acknowledge a good possibility of being wrong.

      • Mr. Poe,

        2 Peter 3:9 reads as follows:

        The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (KJV)

        or, in modernese,

        The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (ESV)

        The question then becomes, what is the antecedent of “all”? While the authorship of 2 Peter is debated, its content is clear enough: it is addressed to believers. Unlike many of the Pauline epistles, 2 Peter does not seem to be directed at one specific church. So, we could take “all” to refer to “all believers.”

        Now that I know more about Calvinism, as I read the Bible, I can see better those passages that support it. One of those tenets is that salvation is not for everyone, but only for the elect, those whom God chose, not because they are in any way more deserving, but because of His goodness and mercy.

        The Bible is a large and challenging book. Although it is the word of God, in our imperfection, we will not always understand it as He intended it. This is why we have different denominations and different interpretations. Having said that, based on what I said above about 2 Peter 3:9, and the numerous passages elsewhere that say some are chosen and some are not (e.g., Mark 16:16; Ephesians 1:4), I believe the Calvinist position to be correct: all are condemned by sin, but God has chosen to save some even though they deserve the same punishment as the rest.

      • @ BillLewis,

        Thank you for your input on 2 Peter 3:9. The Bible certainly is not perfectly clear for us, fallen men. Because, in this life, we can never know for 100% certainty that the interpretation of the Bible we believe is the actual one I look instead to the fruits of a particular faith. This includes the ability to maintain orthodox doctrine and maintain a traditional society in which your faith exists. None are perfect in either case but when you narrow it down Reformed and Catholicism are the most sound. It is for this reason that Reformed theology interests me so after having spent the last few years learning Catholicism.

      • Mr. Poe,

        You are most welcome. I thank you for making me think more about these issues, and for helping me understand the Bible better.

        The website for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church ( has numerous resources for learning more about Reformed theology.

        Catholicism has much to recommend it, but I’m afraid that Vatican II was to the Catholic Church what the coup at Princeton in the 1920s was to Presbyterianism: the moment that liberalism officially took precedence over tradition and, ultimately, Christianity.

  8. ChesterPoe, you wrote, “I know you are of the Lutheran faith, as is my family. I considered Lutheranism when turning to Christianity but it was far too liberal for me. The doctrine is pretty good and you still hold to the traditional ceremonies but rationalism really did a number on what could otherwise be a very strong church.”

    I don’t know what variety of “Lutheranism” you have encountered. From my point of view, most of what’s offered as such (ELCA and, sadly, some LCMS) is tainted by or indeed controlled by “mainline” heresies, while another “Lutheran” variety is excessively influenced by American evangelicalism. Mine is not a “paper church,” it’s just the faith of the Lutheran reformers, which they believed to be the catholic faith purged of errors in doctrine and practice. Touchstones for it, in books, would be the Book of Concord and Chemnitz’s writings. He belonged to the next generation after Luther and Melanchthon.

    However, this forum might not be a good place for an extended discussion of Lutheran issues. We might take it a little farther, though.

    • From what I have seen WELS and ELS are solid confessional Lutherans as is the CLC. I don’t know much about the Lutheran Brethren, the Free Lutheran Congregations or the Apostolic Lutherans.

  9. Bill Lewis, you said “Perhaps I am misreading you, and you are not saying that everyone is saved,” etc.

    Here I will comment with some trepidation as I’m not really that well read in theology in the strict sense. I think my mind of Lutheran would say that everyone is, objectively, justified. Christ’s atoning sacrifice is for the sins of the whole world. Believe the Gospel! Appropriate subjectively that forgiveness, which you know is applied to you in Baptism, when you receive the preaching of Christ and the Cross, when you corporately confess your sins and receive the general absolution, and when you receive the Sacrament of the Altar. Look to these gifts for assurance that you are forgiven and are God’s dear child; don’t look to your pitiful works or your wavering feelings of devotion; don’t seek God within (enthusiasm, theology of glory) but in these gifts all of which were won for you at the Cross (theology of the Cross, theologia crucis).

    All are justified, but since not all die in this faith, not all are saved.

    • Mr. Nelson,

      John 10 is apposite here. Jesus called himself “The Good Shepherd,” and said (10:14):

      I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.

      This refers to the practice of grazing different flocks of sheep together. When it was time to return home, the sheep would follow the voice of their shepherd, and not that of a stranger. Jesus is saying that His people know him, and He knows His people, but there are also those who are not His.

      There is also John 10:26–29:

      But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

      So there are those who belong to Jesus because His Father gave them to Him, and Jesus will not lose them. In contrast, there are also those who are not His and do not believe; they will not be saved.

      John 17:9 also speaks to this:

      I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

      So Jesus prayed not for “the world,” i.e., everyone, but only for those whom the Father had given him. I don’t see how can Jesus have died to atone for the sins of those who will not be forgiven. This is not to say that His sacrifice was insufficient; it is that it was for the elect.

      I am happy to be corrected if I have misrepresented Calvinism here.

      • One problem that I have with Calvinism’s understanding of election (if I understand it!) is that even if you affirm election as a true principle, it is presumptuous to assume that you know for sure you are among the elect. This is why we should examine ourselves and the fruits of our faith. As the Bible tells us, we should confirm our election/make our election sure.

      • No doubt there are those who are certain they are among the elect, but that is not what is taught where I go to church. We hope and pray we are, but no one takes it for granted. We pray for those whom we thought were with us but have strayed. We pray for unbelievers, that God may do His work in them and call them to faith.

        Actually, it seems to me that the fact that we don’t know we are among the elect is part of why we continue to attend church and try to grow in our faith.

        I don’t claim to be a knowledgeable Calvinist, and I acknowledge that it’s possible to assume one’s own election, but I don’t think that’s an official position taught in seminaries.

  10. Bruce B. writes, “One problem that I have with Calvinism’s understanding of election (if I understand it!) is that even if you affirm election as a true principle, it is presumptuous to assume that you know for sure you are among the elect.”

    This is a point I think I made many years ago when discussing things with a Calvinist friend. It would seem that Calvinism’s take on election would often give rise either to an unwholesome presumption or to despair, like that of poor Cowper — see his poem “The Castaway” here:

    Lutherans accept what the Bible teaches about election, but they reject that practice of looking within oneself or at one’s personal history or one’s actions, etc. for the signs of one’s election. Rather they ground one’s confidence in the “external word” of the preached Gospel and the sacraments. Luther said that, when beset by temptation (including temptation to fear that one is not saved) one should look to one’s Baptism, to the Cross, etc. These endure while feelings come and go. Assured of Christ’s saving work therein, one can humbly recognize that one is a sinner and that it is for sinners that Christ went to the Cross, and it is sinners who die and are buried and are raised with Christ in Baptism; and it is for people needing forgiveness that the Sacrament is given — the Body and Blood of Christ, given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

    • Bruce B says

      One problem that I have with Calvinism’s understanding of election (if I understand it!) is that even if you affirm election as a true principle, it is presumptuous to assume that you know for sure you are among the elect. This is why we should examine ourselves and the fruits of our faith. As the Bible tells us, we should confirm our election/make our election sure.

      1 Corinthians 13:5 does say “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith,” but assurance of salvation can indeed become a problem. Morbid introspection.

      But every system has similar problems. If you place too much stock in the externals, you can become presumptuous of your salvation.

      The bottom line about election is that only God knows for sure. In our realm, you know you are saved not by knowing whether you are on God’s list of the elect, but by knowing that you have repented and have faith in Christ. Scripture and sacraments support you, but repentance and faith are the bottom line.

    • Dale, if Luther was right then 2 Peter 1:10 and combined with the preceding verses make no sense to me.

      If I remember my reformation history correctly, the early Luther was utterly terrified of damnation (we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling but his fear was extreme). Did this extreme terror drive him to the other extreme?

      • I must have stated what Lutherans think awkwardly if what I said seems to conflict with the passage that you cite.

        But I think it is supposed to work like this: that the Law — God’s demands on what we are to do — is what is supposed to make us fear God’s wrath. We are then ready for the Gospel as real Good News, about Christ for us.

        It seems to me that the Reformed make the Gospel the ultimate source of fear for many, in that it can be preached and yet some poor sod has no idea if it applies to *him*. This isn’t supposed to happen. The Gospel is supposed to be pure good news, and I mean, good news for sinners condemned by God’s Law. But heavens — not condemned by some inscrutable divine decree!

      • It’s interesting that you should bring up the Good News of the Gospel, Mr. Nelson. At my reformed church (part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), the pastor has preached on this point. Modern Americans are often so ignorant of the Gospel that they have no frame of reference for understanding John 3:16, or why that has any relation to them. Since people’s knowledge of the Bible is so limited, proselytizing must take a different approach than that used in the past.

        I’ve always thought that the street corner preacher, haranguing the passers-by that they are sinners, does more harm than good. WIthout the listener understanding that everyone, including the preacher, is a sinner, without understanding the nature of sin and its consequences, without some Bible basics, all the preacher on the corner is doing is alienating his audience.

        “condemned by some inscrutable divine decree”

        I don’t believe it to be inscrutable, and yes, those who are not saved are condemned. The “divine decree” is simply that God is just, and gives people—sinners—what they deserve: punishment for breaking His laws. (What kind of a god would not punish those who failed to keep his laws?) Fortunately for us, God is not only just, but also merciful, so, for His own sovereign reasons, He has chosen some of us for salvation.

        So yes, absolutely, the Gospel is Good News, but I think there are good reasons why our ancestors talked about “the fear of God.” It’s hard for us, wrapped as we are in our touchy-feelie feel-good world, to understand why we should both love and fear God, but we need look no farther than the family. Traditionally, a father was to be loved and feared as well, just as we love and fear our Father in heaven. Both the heavenly Father and our earthly fathers gave us life, nurtured and cared for us, and disciplined us when we went astray.

        Well, I’m afraid I may be rambling now. I shall call it a night. Incidentally, I have no problem with what you consider “carried away”—I like your enthusiasm!

    • I have a suggestion, Bruce.

      I’m moderately knowledgeable about Reformed theology and the deficiencies of Rome, but to make an informed decision, there’s no substitute for consulting an expert. Study the teachings of the churches you are considering. In the case of Calvinism, there are a wealth of good resources. You should read R. C. Sproul’s book “Getting the Gospel Right.” If you have the time, you could listen to sermons by good Calvinistic pastors whom I could recommend.

      Then listen to the other side and ask yourself, Who makes the best case? Who gives the most plausible interpretation of the Bible, without having to refer to vague extra-biblical sources?

      That’s how I became Reformed: the Calvinists presented by far the best biblical case.

      But I wouldn’t mind if you became Lutheran 🙂

  11. Bill Lewis — I meant that, if I understand Reformed predestination correctly, there are those whom God wants to save, and those whom He wants to damn. The Gospel, then, cannot really be preached as the Good News. It is Good News for those whom God has chosen. But someone may be sitting there (cf. Cowper) hearing the same message, and its joyfulness is nothing to him because he cannot know, or does not believe, it is meant for him since he is one of those chosen for damnation. In this version of the Good News, Christ didn’t die for all, but only for the elect. You have to look outside the Good News to figure out if you’re elect or not. I’m saying that it appears to me that, in Calvinism, the Gospel is yoked to divine condemnation.

    But, again, for the Lutheran, it is God’s Law, not the Gospel, that condemns. It exposes the sin in each of us and has no pity at all. Then comes God’s Gospel, and it is truly good news. Without qualification it says that Christ has atoned for the sins of all people. Because it is unconditional good news, we may repent and firmly believe that we are saved. We may live from our Baptisms as people buried and raised with Christ.

    It is true that there are those who reject the Gospel. Those who are saved, are saved by the pure mercy of God. Those who are damned are damned through their own fault.

    I acknowledge that this Lutheran understanding is less satisfying from a logical point of view, e.g. the Calvinist view that God predestines some for damnation as He predestines some for salvation and, so, the atoning work of Christ is solely for the latter, or what I understand to be the Arminian view, that God responds to our decision for or against salvation. If the debate is to be conducted on logical terms, the Reformed person will defeat the Lutheran every time, I suppose.

    I should say also that I’m a layman and years ago I realized that, as a theology student I make a pretty good English lit teacher. I would hope that nobody would judge the Lutheran position on anything solely by what I say on its behalf.

    • Mr. Nelson,

      You wrote,

      if I understand Reformed predestination correctly, there are those whom God wants to save, and those whom He wants to damn.

      I could be wrong, but that’s not how I understand it. I understand it along these lines.

      Because Adam and Eve broke the covenant of works, we all bear that sin. Due to sin, we are unable to uphold God’s law, so we are all condemned. The condemnation is not so much God’s choice as it is the natural consequence of our failure to uphold His law, and the necessity of His justice.

      However God, for His own reasons, reasons that He does not reveal yet the existence of which He has made known, decided to save some.

      The rest of it is as Prof. Roebuck says in his new entry.

      Like you, I’m a layman, and have none of the expertise of those who run this blog. Even so, this is an invaluable forum to help me understand our religion better, and part of that is through discussions like this. I thank you for your thoughtful contributions, and I hope that I have said nothing to offend (sadly, I’m more skilled at that than most).

      • Certainly no offense!

        I think that doctrine of limited atonement will remain as something that Lutherans and Reformed find between them. It’s no small matter. If Christ died for all, then I know he died for me, and the Good News is Good news indeed. If He died for some but not for all, I (for one) must wonder if He did die for me.

        There;’s also the related issue of “once saved, always saved,” which Lutherans believe is contradicted by various passages of the Bible. I can have saving faith and defect from it. I must always see myself as a sinner who is the object of a merciful Savior who gave Himself for me, and must contend against world, flesh, and devil that would seek to destroy my faith. In this struggle I have the rich resources of Holy Church. The preached Gospel is not simply information, it is God actively and actually speaking to me and working in me. The Sacrament of the Altar is quite truly given to me for the forgiveness of my sins. In Baptism I daily drown the “old man.”

      • Both limited atonement and “once saved, always saved” refer to things that man cannot know, except that they exist. We cannot know who the elect are, just that they exist. We cannot know who is “once saved, always saved,” only that they exist.

        In the sphere that we inhabit, anyone who repents and has faith is of the elect, and Christ died for him. And if he apostatizes, then he was never elect, because if he was elect, he would never have been lost.

        By the way, I prefer “once really saved, always really saved,” because those who have the appearance of being saved sometimes fall away.

  12. Pingback: Election or Faith « The Orthosphere

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