How have the Norwegian theses been received? Unfortunately, in most instances where judgment has been passed on them, the censors have promptly dragged the Missouri Synod into the discussion by raising the question: “What is the attitude which these theses assume toward Missouri?” According as this question has been answered, there has been uttered irrelevant praise or censure. The theses have been accorded irrelevant praise — praise from the Iowa Synod’s point of view — in the Iowa Kirchenblatt, which declares that by the Norwegian theses the Missourian conception of Election has been given a deadly blow. Unquestionably the purport of this remark of the Kirchenblatt is, that the “Missourian” conception of Election is combated, if not rejected, in the Norwegian theses. Is this a correct representation of the state of affairs? Hardly.
The Norwegian Agreement presents two conceptions of the doctrine of Election, which are carefully distinguished and clearly delimited the one from the other. According to the first conception, Election is “a choosing unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Accordingly, “the doctrine of Election comprises the entire salvation of the elect, from the calling to glorification.” According to the second conception, God “has ordained to eternal life all those who from eternity He foresaw would accept the proffered grace, believe in Christ, and remain steadfast to the end.” According to this second conception, Election does not include the entire salvation of the elect from their call to their glorification, but refers only to the [[@Page:12]]ultimate result, “the final glorification,” and faith wrought by the Holy Spirit does not enter into the eternal election as a component part, but is a “necessary antecedent” of election. The first conception is generally known as the “Missourian,” the second conception, with its characteristic “election in view of faith,” has been declined by Missouri. Iowa has never ceased to find fault with us for our refusal to accept this second conception.
Now, what is the attitude of the Norwegian theses toward the first conception of Election? It is acknowledged in plain terms, in Theses 2 and 3, that the first conception — the “Missourian” — is the conception of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. As regards the second conception, the one characterized by the formula “in view of faith,” according to which faith is a necessary antecedent of election, it is not claimed at all that this conception is taught in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. On the contrary, it is expressly stated that this conception is peculiar to later Lutheran theologians, such as Pontoppidan, Gerhard, Scriver, and others, that it gained entrance into the Church upon the authority of these great men, and that this conception, when understood and explained so as to exclude every synergistic notion, leaves the doctrine of the way of salvation intact. Hence the Norwegian theses do not reject, but declare, the Missourian doctrine of Election to be the doctrine of Scripture and of the Lutheran Confessions.
We are aware of the following objection at this point: “If your Missourian conception of Election is expressly recognized in the Agreement as the conception of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, then, why are you not entirely satisfied with the theses?” The reason why we are not quite satisfied, and why we beg leave to offer a suggestion, is stated in the Agreement itself. It is this: the second conception, which regards election as having taken place “in view of faith,” is not the conception of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, but of later theologians. Now, we are convinced that anything not taught by the Scriptures [[@Page:13]]nor the Lutheran Confessions should not be embodied in a platform in which Lutheran church bodies purpose to declare their unity in the faith. Moreover, the Norwegian bodies primarily concerned in this union movement agree with us in the principle that articles of faith are established only by Holy Writ, not by the authority of theologians. Even the Lutheran Confessions, to be sure, are accepted by all of us for this sole reason, because (quia) they profess nothing beside the Scriptures, but only the Scriptures. For this reason we believe that the Norwegian church bodies will concur with us in declaring that the second conception, which is not found in Scripture, and, for this reason, is not professed in the Lutheran Confessions, ought to be stricken from their articles of church union. This is our well-meant suggestion. When the Iowa Kirchenblatt, some months ago, maintained that “Missouri” desired no union of the Lutheran synods in America on the basis of the Lutheran Confessions, and again, when the same journal recently reiterated the charge that Missouri is an enemy of “all true union,” such remarks must be classed with the aforesaid irrelevant utterances, and they are best explained as arising from the party-spirit. We “Missourians” would like to do our share towards bringing about among the Lutheran church bodies of America a union worthy of the Church of the Reformation, that is to say, a union on the basis of the Scriptures and the Confessions, because the Confessions state only the doctrine of the Scriptures and no human opinions.
A question here arises which is apt to dim our vision of the exclusive right which must be accorded the teaching of the Scriptures and the Confessions. It is this: What shall be our attitude toward those teachers, otherwise highly esteemed by us, who cling to the “in-view-of-faith” formula; more especially, how shall we regard those teachers who in the last analysis explain this formula so as to give it a meaning different from its native sense? As, when we hear it stated: “We accept the term ‘in view of faith’ as a [[@Page:14]]description of the elect in the present life. What we wish to express by means of this phrase is merely this, that those are the elect who are in this life believers and depart this life in the faith.” Now, this explanation, or interpretation, of the “second form” of the doctrine of Election has been given in express terms by theologians of the Norwegian Synod. Again, it has been said: By using the formula “in view of faith,” we desire to express the fact that the sanctification of the Spirit and faith in Christ form a component part of the eternal election, and are not, as the Calvinists teach, merely means of carrying into execution an election already brought about without the sanctification of the Spirit and faith in Christ. Thus explained and interpreted the second form, as regards the matter taught, is indeed no longer placed in contradiction to the first. However, in that case everybody will grant that we must apply the rule: Tene mentem, corrige linguam, that is, Keep your correct thought, but drop your faulty expression. Accordingly, Walther advised as early as 1872: “We believe that the safest way to avoid every kind of misunderstanding is to forbear using the new terminology of the seventeenth-century theologians, and to return to the simplicity of the Formula of Concord, which does not attempt to solve the mystery.”)
In the interest of reaching an understanding regarding the matter involved, this point deserves to be examined more closely. It is indeed correct doctrine that the elect are, not those who are unbelievers in this life, but those who believe and remain steadfast in faith. This is what the Scriptures teach. In [[John 10, 27 >> Jn 10.27]] Christ describes His elect according to their temporal aspect on earth thus: “My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they follow me.” V. 5: “A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers.” According to Matt. 22, the elect, as distinguished from those who are merely called, are those who obey the call to the wedding [[@Page:15]]and have on the wedding garment. The same truth is expressed in our Lutheran Confessions: “For this reason the elect are described thus: ‘My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life.’ ([[John 10, 29 >> Jn 10.29]] sq.) And ([[Eph. 1, 11. 13 >> Eph 1.11-13]]): Who according to the purpose are predestinated to an inheritance, hear the Gospel, believe in Christ, pray and give thanks, are sanctified in love, have hope, patience, and comfort under the cross. (Rom. 8.)”) But this correct doctrine does not find expression in the second conception of Election. The formula, “Election in view of steadfast faith,” rather conveys the thought that faith, faith persevering unto the end of life, is an antecedent of election; in other words, a person must have received faith, and remained steadfast therein to the end, before God could elect him. Again, it is indeed correct to say that faith constitutes a component part of eternal election itself, and is not given its proper place when it is made a mere afterthought, belonging not to the elective act in eternity, but only to its execution in time. Such a view of the relation of faith to election makes election to be absolute, that is to say, it declares election to have taken place, not through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, but without these. It is Scripture that teaches us the proper place of faith in election. [[2 Thess. 2, 13 >> 2 Thess 2.13]] describes how election took place in eternity; [[v. 14 >> 2 Thess 2.14]], how it is executed in time. According to [[v. 13 >> 2 Thess 2.13]], God has chosen men from eternity unto salvation “in the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” By these words the mode of the eternal election is set forth. St. Paul, in this passage, invites the Thessalonians not only to a view of the fact that God ordained them from eternity unto salvation, ὅτι εἵλατο ὑμᾶς ὁ θεὸς ἀπαρχὴν εἰς σωτηρίαν, but immediately subjoins a definite statement as regards the manner in which this act was performed in eternity, viz., in the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, ἐν ἁγιασμῷ [[@Page:16]]πνεύματος καὶ πίστει ἀληθείας. This ἐν denotes the accompanying circumstance, the manner how, or the means by which, something is done. As, for instance, in [[Acts 17, 31 >> Acts 17.31]]: God will judge the earth ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ, ἐν ἀνδρὶ, “in righteousness by that man,” etc. So frequently. Not only does the phrase ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος καὶ πίστει ἀληθείας, as well as the statement: εἵλατο ὑμᾶς εἰς σωτηρίαν, belong into eternity, but it also belongs into the one eternal act of electing. The thought that is here plainly stated is as follows: God has chosen you Christians at Thessalonica from eternity unto salvation; the choosing hand of God took hold of you from everlasting, but not absolutely (Latin, nude), merely by His omnipotent hand, but through the sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth, that is to say, through the instrument of the Gospel and by the bestowal of faith. Thus, according to the Scriptures, the sanctification of the Spirit, the operation of God through the Gospel, and the conferring of faith belong into the act of the eternal election as such, and not only into its execution in time. This very thought is deemed of such importance by our Confession that it makes clear from the outset) that eternal election must not be regarded nude, absolutely, as though it comprised in itself nothing further, or nothing more belonged thereto, than that God would say thus: This one shall be saved, that one shall be damned, but that the entire doctrine concerning the ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, righteousness, and salvation should be taken together, simul mente complectamur. For, as God has elected us ἐν Χριστῷ, so also ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος καὶ πίστει ἀληθείας. In other words: Even as Christ belongs into the eternal act of electing as its basis, so the Gospel and faith likewise as its means. Even as the elect are not taken nude, “without means,” out of the world into the kingdom of God on earth, but are “by the hearing of His holy divine Word, as with a net, … delivered from the jaws of the devil,”), even [[@Page:17]]so — in like manner — the eternal act of election was performed.
This point is of decisive importance in teaching Election. If we failed to take into Election the net of the Gospel and faith, but imagine election as performed nude, — extra Christum and extra evangelium et fidem, — we should, at the very outset, mutilate the doctrine of Election to such an extent that the damage could not be repaired. Election, in that case, could not but appear “terrible” to us. We should in that case be hopelessly committed to the false, Calvinistic conception of an absolute election. And as to the practical use of the doctrine of Election, we could not be directed to seek and find our eternal election in the Gospel, as the entire Eleventh Article of the Formula of Concord urges us to do. But if the eternal election was enacted, not nude, but by means of the Gospel and by the conferring of faith, then our eternal election is also revealed to us in time, in each and every instance, by means of the Gospel and by our faith in the same. We need only believe the Gospel in order to recognize our election and be assured of it. As Luther never ceases to admonish the believer: Make the Gospel your concern, and you will not fail to discover your election.) Scruples regarding a person’s eternal election can arise only at such times as, and in the event that, he lets go of the Gospel and of faith. Such is the overshadowing importance of the truth that the Gospel and faith belong into the act of eternal election itself, and not merely into its execution. Dr. Walther says: “Our doctrine is this: Even as God in time saves us by faith, even so He from eternity decreed to save the elect by faith; and this is what is meant by the decree of election in the divine Word, the Lutheran Confession, and our doctrine. … The Calvinists teach an absolute election unto eternal life, [[@Page:18]]and it is only after this election has been settled that God decrees to give faith to none but the elect. We, on the other hand, believe, teach, and confess according to the Scripture and our Confessions that God has ordained men through faith unto eternal life.”)
However, this doctrine of the Scriptures and Confessions is not expressed by that conception which makes God’s foreknowledge of faith to determine His choice in the elective act. The conception which embodies this view rather expresses the very opposite of what Scripture and the Confessions teach. If God has elected those whose perseverance in faith unto the end He foresaw, then faith is an antecedent of the eternal election, and not pars ordinis electionis. This conception which makes faith an antecedent of election pushes faith out of the elective act by placing it ahead of that act, while the Calvinistic conception, which yields a place to faith only in the execution of the divine decree, likewise removes faith from the elective act by placing it after that act. To keep up the appearance as though faith were retained as a part of eternal election, the patrons of the in-view-of-faith idea must call in the aid of another fiction of human reasoning, viz., they must construct a parallel between the divine act of election and the divine act of justification, thus converting an operative act of God into a declaratory one.
In another chapter (Chapter IX) we intend to show that not all who have espoused the term intuitu fidei have conceived of faith only as an antecedent of election, but have broken the force of the incorrect formula, because they have actually retained the Scripture doctrine regarding grace, and, particularly, because they have rejected the notion that a person’s “right conduct” over and against divine grace furnishes us the explanation of the difficulty why some are converted and others not. By such teaching the intuitu fidei is practically put out of commission, or, as some one expressed it: By teaching sola gratia, we practically pass [[@Page:19]]the death-sentence on intuitu fidei. Practically, too, the doctrine that the believer is certain of his salvation and election serves to completely sidetrack that conception of election which posits foreseen, persevering faith as an antecedent of election. A person who is certain of his salvation and election has learned to disregard everything which God may have foreseen and presupposed, because no one can know what God may have foreseen concerning his person.
This is the favorable construction, a reconstruction rather, of the “second form.” And here attention must be called to the fact that the Norwegian Agreement takes no cognizance of this favorable construction or recasting of the “second form,” but accepts it just as it reads. The theses distinctly state that, according to the “second form,” faith is an antecedent of election. As a result, not two “forms” of doctrine, but two doctrines, materially differing from one another, are presented in the theses. If a statement like this would occur in the theses: True, we employ this phrase that God has elected those of whom He foresaw that they would become believers and persevere in faith to the end, however, we mean by this foreknowledge of faith nothing but this that the believers are the elect, or that faith is a part of the order of election, — I say, if the theses were to contain such a statement, they would not have placed another doctrine alongside of the doctrine of the Scriptures and Confessions. In that case we would suggest, as stated above, “Tene mentem, corrige linguam.” On the other hand, if the notion that faith is an antecedent of election is permitted to stand, another doctrine of Election, differing from the doctrine of Scripture and our Confessions, is the result. There is, indeed, also according to the Scriptures, “a decree of final glorification, with faith worked by the Spirit and perseverance as a necessary antecedent thereof.” But this is not the decree of election taught in the Scriptures and in our Confessions, but the judgment of the Last Day.) [[@Page:20]]