Tuesday, June 18, 2013

About Luther

Gary is a Lutheran that I responded to. He replied again but kind of changed the subject. So I thought I would give this reply its own post as well.
Hmmm...very interesting. My post on your blog was not directed at Catholics but to any Baptists who were trying to sway your readers to believe otherwise. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians stand together on the crucial issue of baptismal regeneration.
Lutherans and Roman Catholics actually have much more in common than Lutherans and other Protestants. We believe in baptismal regeneration. We believe that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and spirit, in the bread and wine of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. We believe that sins are forgiven in the Sacrament. We are the only Protestants who hold these two "catholic" doctrines. 
We Lutherans consider ourselves Catholic, just not Roman Catholic.
Lutherans are in many ways  halfway between Catholics and the bulk of protestants. They are much more sacramental than most protestants. I don't actually know how they believe what they believe about baptism, Eucharist, and apparently also confession and square it with a denial of the sacramental priesthood. If sacraments do real things then the person who performs these sacraments has real power. Not just anyone can have that power. There needs to be some group that will understands and respect this power. Anyway that is a big topic that is discussed at length by Tim Troutman. but it always seemed to flow for me that to have sacraments you needs priesthood and then you need some way to ordain priests. The dominoes start falling and you end up with at Catholicism.
So how are we different?

Lutherans do NOT believe that "sola scriptura" means that the Bible is the only authority on Christian doctrine. However, unlike Roman Catholics we believe that the Bible is the only FINAL authority. Church Councils and bishops certainly are valuable authorities. But the pope and Church Councils are not EQUAL authorities to Scripture.
The different forms of Sola Scriptura don't matter that much. They all boil down to yourself as the real final authority. Any time there are competing opinions on what the bible says there is nothing but your own preference to decide between the two. The opinion of the church is respected but can be discarded. Same with historical Christianity, we respect the early church fathers but they can be wrong. So there is no mind higher than my own in discerning God's truth.

Just reading the quote on the graphic above you can get the egocentric nature of it. Unless I am convinced. I stand as the judge. What is scriptural? I will decide. What counts as plain and clear reasons and arguments? I will tell you. I am in the center.
Look at the early Christian Church in the first 300 years after Christ. The bishop of Rome had no higher status than the bishop of Antioch or the bishop of Alexandria. No bishop placed his word as equal to God's Word.
I don't think so.You had St Cyprian talking about the chair of Peter around 250. He is the main one but Tertullian makes some statements as well. In the second century you have Irenaeus talking about succession of the bishop of Rome. Earlier you have the Corinthian controversy where they went to Clement, the bishop of Rome, to resolve their dispute. Even Paul in Rom 1:8 talks about how the faith of Rome is proclaimed in all the world. (Update: David Anders has something on this too.)
The bishop of Rome gained power and influence once Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. Then with the fall of the Eastern Byzantine Empire, the eastern bishops lost influence, while the power of the bishop of Rome increased to the point that he ruled essentially as a secular ruler.
I am not sure what your point is. The fact that political forces were involved in establishing the primacy of Rome does not mean it is not God's will. The question is more whether the petrine office should have succession. That is, did the blessing Jesus gave to Peter in Mat 16:17-19 continue after Peter died? If the chair of Peter continues to be something Christians should respect then that means Rome.
The early Church Fathers say NOTHING about the bishop of Rome having authority over the entire Christian Church!
The exact way the primacy of Peter is exercised would change over time. Local bishops ruled. They did so in unity with the bishop of Rome. Councils were important and the pope played a special role there. Still almost all decisions were made by the local bishop without and input from Rome. That is not the question. The question is did they see the papacy as a legitimate office? They did. If you accept that then when popes change the way they govern the church you will accept that too. That is what governance looks like. Dramatic structural changes can be made. They may or may not be prudent. But the grace of the office remains intact.
The idea that the bishop of Rome is the "vicar" of Christ on earth, possessing not only total control over the entire (western) Church but total civil control also brought the West in the sixteenth century such corruption and vice equal to any brothel or criminal mob.
The notion of the vicar of Christ did not bring corruption. The church has always had the potential for corruption even at the highest levels. Lutheran churches have this problem too. It is called sin. It did not show up in the 16th century. The 200 years just prior to the reformation was a time where it was particularly bad for an extended period. There were anti-popes. There were inappropriate alliances between France and the pope with the papacy actually moving to France for a while. That tested the faith of Catholics especially in England and Germany who were political enemies of France. 

Still the graces of the papacy remained intact. The church was in desperate need of reform in its practice. Its doctrine remained true. Its sacraments remained valid. Its role remained legitimate.
Martin Luther, a devout Catholic, was appalled by what he saw on his visit to Rome. He was even more appalled when Pope Leo X sent his emissaries to Germany to raise money to build St. Peter's by telling people that they good buy an indulgence, which would absolve them, or a loved one, of the temporal punishment of sins (decreased time in Purgatory).
You don't buy an  indulgence. You get one for doing some penitential act. The traditional penitential acts are prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Now one can see that in the case of alms-giving people might be confused into thinking they are buying an indulgence because they give up money and receiving an indulgence. Tetzel actually added to this confusion because he saw that doing so added to the amount of money he collected. So bad theology was taught for bad reasons and the pope did nothing to stop it for the same bad reason, namely money.

This goes back to the earlier topic of corruption. Popes can make bad decisions. That does not invalidate the entire papacy. In fact, authority only becomes real when a decision is made that we don't like or even respect.Obeying authority that we agree with is hardly obedience at all.
Luther spoke out against abuse and corruption. Did the pope heed his advice, and "clean house" in the Church? No, he excommunicated Luther, and along with him, other devout Catholics, seeking a return to the faith of the Early Church.
It was a bit more complicated than that. Luther could have stayed. He would have had to agree to stop teaching his views. He had quite a few fairly radical things he wanted changed about the church. He was right about some of them. The trouble was that he was sure he was right about everything and was not willing to be charitable about it.

Did Pope Leo handle it well? I don't think so. I think both men handled themselves more like school children than like clergy should. Lots of crude insults. More anger than substance.
That is why the Lutheran Church exists today. We did not leave the Holy Mother Church. We were kicked out my corrupt, immoral Churchmen.
At the end of the day the pope is still the pope. Luther was too proud to recognize that. It is a hard thing. Church history has many examples of people being punished for disagreeing with the church and some of the time the church was eventually see to be wrong. That is what Luther need to do. Trust God that He will protect the church. He will root out error in the church. We just need to worry about rooting out error in ourselves.
The Church you know today as the Roman Catholic Church today, is not the same Church as it was in the days of Luther. It soon saw that if it did not want to lose all of Northern Europe it would have to clean up its act, thus the Council of Trent.
The church did reform. Luther could have helped reform it from within. He chose not to so the reform took a little longer. God was faithful but Luther was not patient enough.
And by the way, the Pope and conservative Lutherans have so much in common that talks have begun on reconciliation. The Pope has lost hope in the liberal Protestants.
I am the same way.  I have more hope for conservative protestants. They actually believe in solid truth that does not change. What they don't realize is that when you define that precisely what truths Christians can question and what truths they must accept on faith you end up with very Catholic thinking.


  1. My prayer is for Christian unity. All sides have erred. Luther had a hot temper and I believe it clouded his thinking at times. However, when the all-powerful leader of the Church is burning at the stake all who disagree with him, I might be angry too.

    But that is the past. Let's "bury the hatchet" and work and pray for unity of Christ's Church.

    There are rumors that the Pope may create a Lutheran Ordinariate. I doubt that at this time many Lutherans would join it, but it shows how far we have come. Lutherans and Catholics have reached agreement on the Doctrine of Justification. Let's pray we can reach agreement on much more!

    God bless you my Catholic brother!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  2. I do pray for Christian unity as well. I saw it as Christendom's biggest issue about 25 years ago and still do. It was a big part of my conversion seeing that Protestant Christianity simply can never produce unity.

    The agreement on the Doctrine of Justification shocked me. Does that mean Lutherans have admitted the reformation was a mistake? It seems like it. Justification was the reason for it. Now the Catholic doctrine is OK? Quite an admission.

    God bless you too Gary.

  3. No, no, no, my brother. The RCC admitted Luther was right on the Doctrine of Justification. You Romanites are slowly coming around to the truth! ;)

    Let's work toward unity, brother!

  4. The is the problem with ecumenical dialogue. It is understood very differently by both sides. They sign the same document buy frame it very differently. What would you consider the main points on which Catholics have admitted Luther was right? I don't know of any.

    What I would say is that a lot of language and misunderstanding has been clarified. For example, the phrase "faith alone" is not something Catholics must reject in every context. There are some understanding s of that phrase that we can accept.

    Also, as a protestant I certainly understood that Catholics reject salvation by grace alone. That they believed in works righteousness. They never have. Still this document helps protestants understand that. Faith allows us to cooperate with grace and that cooperation must involve works of love as well but it is all grace.

  5. Maybe Catholics and Lutherans mean the same thing but use different wording. I hope so.

    However, all the Catholics I know, including my mother-in-law, believe that they must do good works to "complete" their salvation. We Lutherans would say that we do good works because we ARE saved.

    Lutherans do NOT believe that once baptized, a Christian can go out and live like the devil, forsake God, and still expect to get into heaven. That person may well wake up one day in hell.

  6. I don't think your mother-in-law is the best source of the Catholic doctrine of justification. Catholics distinguish between the temporal and eternal consequences of sin. They use the word "justification" to refer to both. The bible does to. Protestants only use "justification" to refer to salvation, that is the eternal consequences. Protestants use language like sowing and reaping or the blessing of obedience to refer to removing the temporal consequence of sin. They cringe when you use words like merit or penance or indulgence but often they are talking about something very similar.

    My guess is when talking about completing salvation a Catholic would be referring to temporal consequences. That is the inward transformation of our hearts and minds. If we die without being fully renewed than the process is completed in purgatory. So the consequences of that are serious but not eternal. You still go to heaven if your salvation is incomplete. You just need to complete it.

    Lutherans do NOT believe that once baptized, a Christian can go out and live like the devil, forsake God, and still expect to get into heaven. That person may well wake up one day in hell.

    Catholics don't believe this either. We believe in mortal sin. That means a serious sin committed with sufficient knowledge and freedom will break you relationship with God. It will put you on the road to hell. You can get back into a state of grace by going to confession. For confession you need contrition. That is you need to be sorry for your sin. So if you count on confession as an easy "get out of hell free" card you are playing a dangerous game. You cannot count on being able to manufacture sorrow for sin when you are in danger of death. In fact, the whole idea of planning to be sorry for something while continuing to do it is quite incoherent.

  7. Your positions are good to hear.

    I THINK I agree with all you said except for Purgatory. We Protestants, including Lutherans, do not believe in Purgatory. We don't believe in it because it is not specifically mentioned in Scripture and was not present in the early Church of the first 300 years of Christianity.

    The belief in Purgatory was at the heart of what caused the split in the western Church (the Reformation). Somehow people got it into their heads that by giving money to the Church they could reduce their time or the time of a deceased loved-one in Purgatory. Rightly or wrongly the concept of a "place of punishment/purification" prior to entering heaven divided the Western Church.

    So, we Lutherans are happy to let you Catholics keep your Purgatory. We'll skip it, and go on to heaven immediately! :)

    By the way, Baptists, evangelicals and the Reformed refer to Lutherans as "the pope-less Catholics". Every time I get into a theological debate with Baptists and evangelicals they always want to point out to me that I'm really a Catholic.

    So to Roman Catholics we are the "Arch-Protestants". The original "enemy". To other Protestants was are "Catholics".

    Pity us poor Lutherans! :)

  8. Sorry for the typo..."WE are "Catholics".

  9. Thanks for the comments. I am surprised we have so much agreement about confession and mortal sin ans such. Certainly they were new to me when I converted.

    I actually tell conservative protestants they are really Catholic all the time. I think it is true. Conservative protestants don't think you can just re-interpret the bible and throw out doctrines that have been taught by all Christians since the beginning. They know that is wrong. The trouble is they can't be consistent about it. They can't because that is precisely what the reformation did. The reformers were the liberals of the 16th century. They were wrong then for the same reason liberal theology is wrong today.

    On purgatory, it is in the bible. You excluded some of the bible to try and get rid of it but it is still implied in the 66 book bible. The fact that you had to exclude an Old Testament book from the bible should let you know that the doctrine was believed before Christ. Moreover, the fact that something is not specifically mentioned in scripture is not a good reason to reject it. Anyway, the link below is pretty good if you are interested.


  10. Very interesting article.

    It seems to me that Lutherans and Catholics are pretty close on the Doctrine of Justification/Salvation but we use the same terms in different ways and therefore we misunderstand each other.

    Many Protestants, especially Baptists and evangelicals, believe that Catholics teach "works righteousness": that a person is saved by doing good deeds and following the rules of the Roman Catholic Church. Lutherans do not believe this about Catholics. This is why Lutherans accept Catholic baptisms as valid and consider Roman Catholics as fellow Christians, unlike how we view Mormon baptisms and the Mormon Church, for instance.

    We Lutherans know that both Catholics and Lutherans believe that Christ alone saves us by his death on the cross. We both believe that we receive God's free gift of salvation in Holy Baptism.

    Where we differ is this: Lutherans do not believe that good deeds assist in our justification. We believe that when we are baptized we are fully justified by the power of God's Word in and through the waters of Holy Baptism. A Lutheran does not worry about whether or not he has done enough good deeds to get into heaven...or out of Purgatory.

    BUT...that doesn't mean that a Lutheran is now "off the hook" and can sit back, sin all he wants, and still get into heaven. If a Lutheran (or any Christian) turns his back on God, rejects God, willfully sins, he is in danger of losing his salvation and going to hell.

    The Baptists and evangelicals say that a Christian can never lose his salvation. So let's say that someone was "born again" and then falls away from God and lives a life of sin...Baptists and evangelicals will not say that he lost his salvation...they will say he was never saved in the first place (they don't believe God gives salvation in Baptism, they believe that the sinner has to make a sincere, penitent decision to believe to be saved.)

    But bottom line, all three denominations arrive at the same point: willfully sin and reject God and you will end up in hell.

    So, correct me if I am wrong, but do Catholics believe that their good works complete their salvation? Do Catholics believe that they must cooperate with God to achieve Justification?

    If so, we Lutherans would call this "Synergism": man cooperates with God to attain salvation. Luther and Erasmus had a big debate over this issue.

    Lutherans view salvation/justification as 100% God. We don't believe that the sinner assists or even cooperates in his salvation. We believe that God has predestined before the world began who would be his children. Then at a time of his choosing, at some point in each of those persons' lives, God gives them the free gift of faith, quickens their souls, and they believe. They are saved.

    However, unlike Calvinists, we do not believe that God predestines any one to go to hell. Man sends himself to hell. Calvinists will counter: Well, if you believe that God predestines the "Elect" that means he has predestined all the rest to hell." Lutherans say "no". We believe the Word of God, even when it doesn't fit with human reason and logic. Therefore, God predestines the Elect to heaven; man damns himself to hell. We do not try to explain a mystery of God. We call this a paradox.

    Now, once God saves a sinner, he can reject the free gift, return to a life of sin, and perish in hell for all eternity.

    Lutherans believe that Christians can cooperate in their Sanctification, but not in their Justification. God saves us 100% by himself, but we do cooperate with God in our sanctification.

    We don't have to worry about not getting into heaven unless we outright reject God and live a life of willful sin.

    How does this compare to Catholicism?

    1. Catholics don't draw a sharp line between Justification and Sanctification. They always happen together. Yes, we cooperate with grace. It is 100% God but God never forces Himself on us. We believe in predestination but also free will. We choose heaven or hell.

      James 2:24 says, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." So we can't ever believe works have no role in justification. The bible says they do. Faith opens the door but faith cannot remain theory. It has to come to life in us and change our thinking and our actions. What does that look like? Faith changing thinking is called hope. Faith changing actions is called love. The supernatural agape love is what we need for heaven. If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

      So Luther was wrong about Synergism. It does not take away from God's glory. God working through us shows His greatness more than God just overpowering us.

    2. I actually think that Lutherans and Catholics use the terms justification and sanctification differently...but end up at the same place: If someone says that they are saved by faith alone but have no good works to prove it, they probably are not true believers, true Christians.

      Good works MUST accompany faith. Lutherans believe that good works will automatically occur where TRUE faith exists. No good works means, no true faith which means, no true Christian.

  11. The first mention of Purgatory in the Bible is in 2 Maccabees 12:46: “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.”

    Just because the Jews practiced atonement for the dead, doesn't mean that Christians should still be doing it. Jews had to offer animal sacrifices every year. I hope that our Catholic brothers and sisters do not believe that Christians still need to offer animal sacrifices just because it is in the "Bible".

    Did you know that ALL Protestant Bibles contained the Apocrypha until the mid 1800's?

    Lutherans study the Apocrypha. We believe it has great value. We just don't believe it is the inspired Word of God. I will have to study the issue more. If it is true that Jesus used the Septuigint that contained the Apocrypha, I would vote for putting the Apocrypha back in the Bible.

    1. Actually the presence of the practice in Maccabees does mean a lot. It means it was there at the time of Jesus and the apostles. So their failure to comment in it cannot be a sign it was unheard of. It was something the Jews did. Failure to comment on it is a sign of acceptance by Jesus and the apostles. Huge difference.

      The Apocrypha is interesting. Really the canon question in general is hard for protestants. Without a trustworthy church how can you get a trustworthy scripture? This is made worse by the fact that their 66-book canon is basically absent from the early church. There is no strong evidence even one person before the reformation recognized that canon.

  12. Randy, here is an article I think you will find interesting.

    It states that when Luther responded to Pope Leo's bull...Luther still believed in Purgatory. I'm not sure if he changed his mind later on, all Lutherans now do not believe in Purgatory, but Luther argues in his response to the bull that the Pope should not persecute those who do not believe in Purgatory as there is no firm evidence of its existence in Scripture other than the vague reference in 2 Maccabees:


    1. It is interesting. The comments by Scott there are interesting too. The 2 Maccabees reference is vague when you talk about Purgatory. It is not vague when talk about the broader topic of atonement for the dead. You could conceivably make sense of that in other ways than Purgatory. Protestants don't though. Same with the vague references to Purgatory in the gospels. It would be fine of protestants could make sense of them in their system but they can't.

  13. Here is more good news about Catholic-Lutheran relations: Catholics will join Lutherans in commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.


    1. That is good news. The Reformation is like a divorce. Really celebrating it at all seems wrong. This is called a commemoration rather than a celebration. That means remembering together. It is good to remember together the good and the bad of the past 500 years. May the next 500 be much better.

    2. Amen, brother!

      What would you think of this idea: The Pope creates a Lutheran Ordinariate and allows Lutherans to keep these Lutheran beliefs/traditions:

      1. Lutherans are not required to believe or teach about Purgatory.
      2. Lutherans are allowed to keep their interpretation of the doctrine of Justification.
      3. Lutheran pastors/priests are allowed to marry.
      4. Lutherans are not required to officially acknowledge any other Sacraments other than Baptism, the Eucharist, Confession and Absolution.
      5. Lutherans may honor the Virgin Mary on her feast day, as they currently do, but are not required to venerate her.

      Do you think that Catholics could accept allowing Lutherans to keep these beliefs in order to reunite Lutherans back into the Catholic Church?

    3. Interesting. I am not actually the pope but I will give you my response to your proposal

      #1 might be OK. To be in union with the pope you need to accept all the infallible teachings of all the popes. I think the teaching on Purgatory is open. You can just say your soul goes from whatever state you died in to a pure state by some process. It might be an instantaneous process. There is lots of tradition that says it is a painful process but I don't know if any of it is at the level of dogma.

      #2. That should be OK. The details of exactly what that means need to be worked out but the joint declaration has done much of that work.

      #3. Married priests will be OK. I am not as sure about existing priests marrying. I believe currently with the Anglican Ordinate and the Ukrainian Catholic Rite and even with the Roman Catholic Deaconate you can be married going in but if your wife does you must remain celibate. You cannot marry as an ordained man.

      #4. That would be hard. Holy Orders has to be acknowledged right off. All priests would have to be validly ordained by a Catholic bishop.

      Confirmation, what is the issue there? Sacrament of the sick? Same question. You don't need to do these things to be Catholic but they are normal and it would really depend on why you are avoiding them.

      For sure marriage would need to be recognized as a sacrament. In fact, when Anglicans parishes convert often there are quite a few irregular marriages that need to be dealt with before the couples can be received.

      #5. As long as you accept the Marian dogmas you don't need to do the Marian prayers and devotions. What is the difference between honoring Mary and venerating her? They are both ways of lifting her up without engaging in the worship that is due God alone.

  14. #3 Celibacy for clergy is RCC policy beginning in approximately 1000 AD, not doctrine. I don't think Lutherans would rejoin the Catholic Church without allowing our "priests" to marry. If RCC priests could marry, there would be far fewer gay men hiding out in the priesthood.

    Divorce would have to be strictly forbidden. A married clergy who divorces, other than for the sin of adultery by his wife, should be removed from the priesthood. And even if divorce is due to adultery, he should not be allowed to remarry. He must remain celibate.

    #4 The issue of Apostolic succession could be solved by having the local RCC bishop lay hands on the local Lutheran bishop, making him an equivalent bishop. I live in San Diego where there is a large Caldean Catholic community. The are Catholic, but not Roman Catholic, however they are under the Pope, but have their own bishops. If Lutherans could do the same, I think the chances of reuniting would be greatly improved.

    Lutherans practice Confirmation, but since it was not ordained by Christ, we don't see it as a Sacrament--a means of grace/forgiveness of sins.

    #5 I forgot about the "Marian doctrines". I don't think Lutherans will ever accept that Mary was born sinless, that she was a perpetual virgin, or that she was "assumed" into heaven. I'm not sure reunification would be possible if Lutherans are mandated to accept "Marian doctrines". Do you have any references to papal statements about the necessity of Catholics believing in the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption? Are they required doctrine?

  15. #3. I am just saying what is in place now. Married priests we have but they are always married first and ordained a priest second.

    #4. They can ordain someone as a bishop for the ordinate. It might be a former Lutheran bishop. No guarantees. If there are enough Lutheran bishops in the group that should be fine. I know here in Calgary we had the Lutheran bishop convert a few years back. You would still need to recognize ordination as a sacrament.

    #5. The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are defined as dogma. So you have to give them assent of faith. For me, it was just a matter of trusting the church. They didn't contradict scripture. If they were false I believe the Holy Spirit would not have led the church to define them infallibly. I remember one convert who said that if you can't name at least one doctrine you believe solely because the church teaches it then you have not really wrestled with church authority. These were in that category for me then. Less so now. I can understand better now the sense of holiness that led the church fathers to say that Mary must have been ever virgin and preserved from any stain of sin.