Thursday, November 8, 2012

Are Lutherans Weak On Sanctification?


“You can only say you’re weak on sanctification if you view sanctification as your work.” 


A quote from Pastor Bill Cwirla on episode 185 of The God Whisperers, discussing Thesis 21 of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. Put it into context by listening to the whole thing here.

14 comments:

infanttheology said...

Clearly, Lutherans don't believe in divine monergism when it comes to sanctification. The quote is creative, but whatever the context, I think the teaching is creative also, as in novelty, as in "not what we've historically taught".

+Nathan

Scott Diekmann said...

FC, SD, II, 66:
"...The converted person does good to such an extent and as long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him. As soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from that person, he could not for a moment keep obeying God. But the converted person cooperates with the Holy Spirit the way two horses draw a wagon together-this could not be allowed in any way without damaging the divine truth."

Scott Diekmann said...

FC SD, II, 39: "Even in this life the regenerate advance to the point that they want to do what is good and love it, and even do good and grow in it. Still, this (as stated above) is not of our will and ability, but of the Holy Spirit. Paul himself speaks about this, saying that the Spirit works such willing and doing (Philippians 2:13). Also in Ephesians 2:10 he credits this work to God alone, when he says, 'For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.'”

FC SD, II, 52: "...The Spirit desires to work effectively, to convert people to God, and to work in them both to will and to do."

FC, SD, II, 65: "...As soon as the Holy Spirit has begun His work of regeneration and renewal in us...."

FC SD, II, 66: "On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

FC SD, II, 71-72: "But the question is about the effective cause. Who works this in us? How does a person have this? How does he get it? Therefore, this teaching informs us that, since the natural powers of mankind cannot do anything or help toward it (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:5), God, out of His infinite goodness and mercy, comes first to us. He causes His Holy Gospel to be preached. The Holy Spirit desires to work and accomplish this conversion and renewal in us. Through preaching and meditation on His Word God kindles faith and other godly virtues in us. They are the Holy Spirit’s gifts and works alone. Therefore, this teaching directs us to the means that the Holy Spirit desires to begin and do this. It also teaches us about how those gifts are preserved, strengthened, and increased. It warns us that we should not let God’s grace be bestowed on us in vain, but diligently use it and ponder how great a sin it is to hinder and resist such works of the Holy Spirit [Acts 7:51]."

Conclusion: Our "work" is to avoid hindering the Spirit's work, and to cooperate with Him in His work of sanctification by seeking the means through which He works that sanctification, His Word and Sacraments.

infanttheology said...

Scott,

Your work = your action = cooperation of your will.

Is it as FC, SD, II, 66 says it is? You bet. But its still work really done by us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the body.

Do we put our hope in this? Is this the primary emphasis of our preaching and teaching? Of course not. We only have to talk about it when people say things like Pastor Cwirla says. I don't think he is trying to undermine our teaching, but what he's saying is nevertheless careless and false, insofar as he is stating it as a general principle that holds true in all contexts.

Its simply a both / and - His work and our work - even if that which our regenerated new man (not old Adam) contributes is immeasurably small.

I would say that SD III, 65-68 and 88 are a good counter-balance to SD III, 34-43, which, if taken by themselves might give the impression that there is no synergism, or cooperation, in sanctification.

See also SD III: 25 (http://bookofconcord.org/sd-righteousness.php) : “For not everything that belongs to conversion belongs likewise to the article of justification, in and to which belong and are necessary only the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith, which receives this in the promise of the Gospel, whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, whence we receive and have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, sonship, and heirship of eternal life.” (therefore, we speak of ongoing conversion, which would belong to sanctification. “Only the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith” are involved in justification. This implies that there is something more that is involved in sanctification, does it not?)

Note in FC SD VI, we live and walk *in* the Law by the power of the Spirit (i.e, faith). The Law does work death in the one who lives *by* it as power (i.e. not by faith). Also: “…free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves *in* the Law of the Lord” (http://bookofconcord.org/sd-thirduse.php#para18 )

Formula: "Through preaching and meditation on His Word God kindles faith and other godly virtues in us. They are the Holy Spirit’s gifts and works *alone*."

Absolutely. What do we have that we have not received? I am talking about the new man cooperating, not the old man. The Holy Spirit creates the new man - the new nature, in us. We do not have this new man apart from justifying faith in Him, which means in communion with Him.

"Our "work" is to avoid hindering the Spirit's work, and to cooperate with Him in His work of sanctification by seeking the means through which He works that sanctification, His Word and Sacraments."

Yes, but don't forget in FC SD VI we are told that we live and walk *in* the Law by the power of the Spirit (i.e, faith). The Law does work death in the one who lives *by* it as power (i.e. not by faith). Also: “…free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves *in* the Law of the Lord” (http://bookofconcord.org/sd-thirduse.php#para18 )

Conclusion?: the Christian goes from an immature righteousness to a mature righteousness by hearing the Word of God, participating in the sacraments, and exercising ourselves according to the whole counsel of God. This goes hand in hand with the drowning of the old Adam that is daily repentance. Knowing that we live by them, we seek out every word from his mouth, and these comfort and help equip us, so that we leave childhood behind and attain to the “mature manhood” mentioned in Eph 4: 13-15. Since “the word of God…is at work in you believers” (I Thes. 2:13), this is the kind of activity we actively run to, and initiate ourselves as well.

+Nathan

infanttheology said...

Scott,

The paragraph in italics should not have been put there:

This implies that there is something more that is involved in sanctification, does it not?)

Note in FC SD VI, we live and walk *in* the Law by the power of the Spirit (i.e, faith). The Law does work death in the one who lives *by* it as power (i.e. not by faith). Also: “…free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves *in* the Law of the Lord” (http://bookofconcord.org/sd-thirduse.php#para18 )

Formula: "Through preaching and meditation on His Word God kindles faith and other godly virtues in us. They are the Holy Spirit’s gifts and works *alone*."

...sorry about that

infanttheology said...

Scott,

Chew on this for a while: http://bookofconcord.org/sd-originalsin.php#para10

And now, post-fall, there is a righteousness that grows in the Christian - you can clearly see it in SD II: 65 and 66 (the new powers *in* us), 68 (one is weak, another strong in the Spirit), and 71, 72 (these gifts – including virtues – are strengthened), for example.

Cwirla correctly wants to take the focus off Christians and any personal righteousness we might think is “our possession”, focusing on the neighbor instead. Understandable. But has he completely removed the Christian from the equation? The emphasis seems to be all on Christ (yes, this sounds good!), who evidently not only daily drowns us in repentance (preserving us in the faith), but also makes us daily exercise ourselves in the law of the Lord (see FC SD VI), without anything that we can say is real cooperation, real acting, real working...

Scott Diekmann said...

I think we’re talking past each other Nathan. You mention that Pastor Cwirla’s comment is “careless and false, insofar as he is stating it as a general principle that holds true in all contexts.” Well his statement isn’t careless and false then, because he isn’t stating it as a general principle that holds true in all contexts, which is why I advise the reader to interpret his comment by placing it into the context of the discussion he and Pastor Donofrio were having on Thesis 21 of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. I suppose I was careless and reckless for posting the quote, because really, who is going to take the time to go listen to the podcast and put it into context? Thesis 21 states “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” Pastor Cwirla’s comment came as he was speaking about the old Adam (although his overall emphasis is on sanctification being the work of the Spirit). As Luther put it, “Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the Old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God's.”

Gerhard Forde said “We are inveterate theologians of glory. We are tempted and bound to be so. We invest all our capital in works.” The “we” there, as it relates to us, is the old Adam that still resides in us, who loves to brag about himself and his works. We must guard against the old Adam’s bragging, who must instead be crucified.

My guess is that all three of us would agree with question 162 in the Small Catechism:
“Besides faith, what else does the Holy Spirit create in you by the Gospel?
“The Holy Spirit sanctifies me in the true faith, that is, by faith He works a renewal of my whole life-in the spirit, will, attitude, and desires-so that I now strive to overcome sin and do good works (sanctification in the narrow sense).”

I agree with your conclusion, as long as it’s understood that in “the kind of activity we actively run to, and initiate ourselves,” that we give credit to the Spirit in that activity as well, since “the Spirit works such willing and doing [emphasis in original].”

Scott

Scott Diekmann said...

My last comment was made before I read your last comment Nathan. I doubt Pastor Cwirla would argue that we're automatons blindly acting on orders from the mothership. You might consider emailing him and see what he has to say. The works we do are dependent on faith. As we grow in that faith, as the Spirit sanctifies us, don't we come to see more and more how sinful we are, and how everything we do is done through the Spirit? We are totally dependent on Him and His grace. To be focusing on our work seems to me to head right back to Thesis 21. "He must increase, but I must decrease."

infanttheology said...

Scott,

Luther's statements are relevant as regards justification, but not sanctification.

My conversations with some who claim Christ but also defend homosexual activity in some circumstances have convinced me that the distinctions I have made above are important.

I'd be delighted to talk to Pastor Cwirla I'm sure our paths will cross again on the blogs... : )

Some things to think about. Pastor Cwirla evidently does not understand something like marriage in a Gospel-sense at all : http://www.geneveith.com/2012/05/10/president-announces-his-support-for-gay-marriage/#comment-149463 What might that mean?

On Issues ETC on 7/23/12 he said that there is no progress (growth) in the Christian life. I was surprised to learn that the only progress we can speak of is the progressive death of old Adam. He says we are supposed to “catch up with the death certificate” which ultimately happens when we die – but I guess not “catch up to ourselves in Christ” in the life we live in the body? I mean, I might not feel like I see growth in my life, but I know Scripture says that I (there is an “I”, right? – or is Jesus alone the “New Man”?), working with the Holy Spirit, can and should grow (see here)

Another thing Pastor Cwirla said there is that we should stop focusing on ourselves and our sin and focus on Jesus. I agree! But I think it looks like this: call what you know God calls sin “sin”, and *immediately move on to call grace “grace”. Pastor Cwirla may believe that is a good way of putting it, but that’s not what he said. I’m afraid what he said potentially gives comfort to persons who reason in the following fashion: since even all my good works are sinful (true), then there is no need to ever repent of specific particular sins (false), so I should just get on with (false) serving my neighbor who really needs my good works (true).

Sadly, more and more persons in the LC-MS are thinking this way today.

Forde is a big part of the problem:

"in the end, if human beings see themselves as makers and doers, they will find themselves having to carry the entire world on their shoulders like the mythical Atlas holding the world on his back”.

False. On the contrary, the violent take the Kingdom of God by force. Yes, we are not “makers and doers” in our justification, but we certainly are makers and doers who influence and impact both the church and the world – as Luther said repeatedly. It is also because of these truths that the comfort and confidence provided by the passive righteousness is continually needed.

"as long as it’s understood that in “the kind of activity we actively run to, and initiate ourselves,” that we give credit to the Spirit in that activity as well, since “the Spirit works such willing and doing [emphasis in original].”

Of course. We never claim anything before God. But this does not mean that we consistently try to downplay the concreated righteousness that certainly does exist in the Christian and growth in sanctification.

+Nathan

Scott Diekmann said...

I’d have to see more of what Pastor Cwirla thinks about marriage before I’d be willing to state he doesn’t understand marriage in a Gospel sense at all. I don’t think you can make that judgment based on one paragraph in the comment section of a blog post.

AC XX says good works are necessary, and the BOC clearly teaches that we progress in sanctification. It also goes on page after page explaining how this is a result of faith, and how our good works are sinful except because of what Christ has done for us. Because of this truth, I don’t prefer to spend my time dwelling on how I’m progressing in my sanctification; I just don’t see a whole lot of that going on in my life. Instead it’s a continual battle with sin, the devil, and my flesh. In the end, because of what Christ has promised me, I have confidence that I’ll be one of those sheep who say “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?”

I remember the interview you’re referring to on Issues, Etc. Like the quote in this blog post, again, I think Pastor Cwirla was referring to the old Adam when he says there is no progress in the Christian life. If you were to attend his church, I’m quite certain you would find that none of his parishioners believe they don’t need to repent of specific particular sins, at least those who are paying attention. Does he downplay good works? Perhaps, but it’s difficult to say based on a radio interview alone. What does our confession say? In part, it says, “…What need is there of a long discussion? All Scripture, all the Church cries out that the Law cannot be satisfied. Therefore, starting to fulfill the Law does not please on its own account, but on account of faith in Christ. Otherwise, the Law always accuses us. For who loves or fears God enough? Who has enough patience to bear the troubles brought by God? Who does not frequently doubt whether human affairs are ruled by God’s counsel or by chance? Who does not frequently doubt whether he is heard by God? Who is not frequently enraged because the wicked enjoy a better life than the righteous, because the righteous are oppressed by the wicked? Who fulfills his own calling? Who loves his neighbor as himself? Who is not tempted by lust? Paul says, ‘For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing’ (Romans 7:19). Likewise, ‘I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin’ (7:25).” Does that mean we don’t preach good works or sanctification? No. But it ought to mean, whenever we talk about growth in sanctification, every sentence should be prefaced by “because of Christ.”

So to get back to the post, do I think sanctification is my work? It is Christ’s work that obtains my salvation, and my sanctification, not my own. Without Him, I am nothing. My work is done in the flesh, which hinders the Holy Spirit’s motives and adds some of its uncleanness to the works. Thanks be to God that in spite of me, “yet, because of Christ, they are holy, divine works, sacrifices, and acts belonging to the rule of Christ, who in this way displays His kingdom before this world. For in these works He sanctifies hearts and represses the devil. In order to retain the Gospel among people, He openly sets the confession of saints against the kingdom of the devil and, in our weakness, declares His power.” Ap. V., 68.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

"I don’t prefer to spend my time dwelling on how I’m progressing in my sanctification; I just don’t see a whole lot of that going on in my life."

Me neither.

"I think Pastor Cwirla was referring to the old Adam when he says there is no progress in the Christian life. If you were to attend his church, I’m quite certain you would find that none of his parishioners believe they don’t need to repent of specific particular sins, at least those who are paying attention."

Scott - having gone back and listened to that several times, I'd have to say the opposite. And I've experienced the opposite not necessarily from a parishoner, but from a person who follows his teachings quite closely.

"Without Him, I am nothing."

Of course.

"My work is done in the flesh, which hinders the Holy Spirit’s motives and adds some of its uncleanness to the works."

Except for your work that is not done in the flesh, that is done in your new man, who, in communion with Christ, is either more or less righteous. Yes, our actions will always be infected by sin this side of heaven, but the new man in you (that's not just Jesus) grows in fighting that sin. I'm not speaking about this because I experience it, but because that's what the Scriptures teach.

+Nathan

Unknown said...

To the original post: I would refer the reader to Harold Senkbeil's wonderful book "Sanctification - Christ in Action." Or I might simply refer to Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Of course, the reader should realize that the "Weak on Sanctification" folks, whom I know personally, are saying this rather tongue in cheek in view of those who would boast in their sanctification. The phrase is left deliberately ambiguous precisely to invite the conversation.

WM Cwirla said...

The "Unknown" is me, btw.

infanttheology said...

Pastor Cwirla,

All I'd say about that Galatians passage there is that the "I" is the new man - i.e. the "new nature" that God has created.

Do I want to focus there? Not at all. Will I point it out if I think what some say seems to, for all practical purposes, deny the existence of this I? Yes.

I don't think that I have met LC-MS Lutherans who boast of their own sanctification. Even those who oppose persons who are more confessional seem to really believe the whole "I am a poor miserable sinner" thing.

Thanks for chyming in here. Best regards!

Nathan Rinne