During the last forty years there has been a public discussion within the Lutheran Church of America of the doctrine of election and, in connection therewith, of the doctrine of conversion. The controversy concerning these doctrines was of such seriousness that it brought about divisions and new alliances. Also the oldest Norwegian church-society in America, the Norwegian Synod, was not only drawn into the controversy, but also suffered grievous damage in consequence of a division which occurred among its constituents. Recently efforts of greater magnitude than at previous times have been made to reunite the Norwegian Lutherans. Moreover, these efforts have produced palpable results. Articles of Agreement have been drawn up by a joint committee and have been almost unanimously adopted by the respective synods. These events, however, have caused a renewal of the public discussion, in the press of the Church, of the doctrines of election and conversion.
We need not regret this. The subject about which everything turns in the last analysis is the subject De servo arbitrio and De libero arbitrio, that is, the question whether in matters spiritual the natural will of man is of no moment, or whether it can accomplish something. This subject will retain a decisive importance for the Church until the end of days. Luther treated this subject not only at Heidelberg in 1518, and over and against Erasmus in 1525, but to the end of his life. In comparison with the subject of free will, he calls all other controversies which he had with the Romanists “puerile affairs” and “remote matters.” He addresses Erasmus, who ascribed to man a facultas se [[@Page:4]]applicandi ad gratiam, a good conduct in spiritual matters, thus: “This is what I commend and praise in you, viz., that before all the rest you alone have attacked the real matter, that is, the central issue, and have not wearied me with those remote matters (alienis illis causis) concerning the papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such matters, which are puerilities (nugae) rather than issues. With such matters nearly all others have hitherto vainly pursued me. You are the only person that has seen the real point in controversy, and have taken me by the throat (cardinem rerum vidisti et ipsum jugulum petisti). For this I thank you with all my heart; for I delight to be occupied with this subject, as far as my time and leisure will permit.”) A discussion of this subject is necessary also in our times. It is not easy for theologians to keep their balance in this question. It is different with Christians. On the basis of Scripture, Christians simply believe: A person who is converted and saved is converted and saved by the grace of God alone; if a person remains unconverted and is lost, the blame rests on himself. This fact is expressed in theological parlance thus: On the basis of Scripture, Christians believe the doctrine of sola gratia as well as that of universalis gratia. However, we meet with a different state of affairs among theologians. Theologians imagine that they are forced to deny or to “limit” — thus they usually put it euphemistically — either the one doctrine or the other. Shedd, with the utmost seriousness, divides all Christians on earth into two classes of people: such as deny the doctrine of sola gratia, and such as deny the doctrine of universalis gratia.) From the view-point of the theologian he denies to the Lutheran Church, which confesses and maintains both doctrines, especially in the 11th Article of the Form of Concord, and [[@Page:5]]which places its veto, in the very premises, on every effort to mediate between these two doctrines, also on the so-called theological effort, calling such efforts “presumption,” the right to exist. Shedd and other Reformed theologians of recent times designate the position occupied by the Form of Concord “untenable ground.”) Luthardt shares this opinion.) The difference between Shedd and Luthardt is only this, that, of the two factors which come under consideration at this point, the former cancels or “limits” universalis gratia, the latter, sola gratia. The position which is in accordance with Scripture, and, hence, is the only correct one from the theological view-point, viz., the position which maintains both sola gratia and universalis gratia, without diminishing the force of either, has been expressed, as far as we can see, only three times in public documents issued by churches, and recorded in the history of the Christian Church: in the decrees of the Synod of Orange in 529, in the 11th Article of the Form of Concord, in 1580, and in the 13 Theses of the Missouri Synod, in 1881.
In participating, by means of this publication, in the discussion of the Norwegian Articles of Agreement, and of the criticism to which they have been subjected, our aim is to aid, on our part, toward the recognition and maintenance of the doctrinal position of the Form of Concord as the only one which is in accordance with Scripture and correct from the theological point of view. Our wish and our prayer to God is, that the Norwegian Lutherans of America in their union, which is most desirable, would place themselves upon a platform which fully corresponds to the glorious confession of the Lutheran Church in the 11th Article. When they have done this, all other Lutherans of America, whether they speak German, English, or any other tongue, should follow the example of the Norwegian Lutherans.[[@Page:6]]
If circumstances had been different, we should have preferred to treat the glorious confessional position of the Lutheran Church in the Article of Election once more in the same manner as was done at the intersynodical conference at Watertown, Wis., in 1904. On that occasion we presented the controverted doctrine without quotations from controversial writings which had appeared in America. This was done in order to avoid, as far as possible, the arousing of party feeling. This method is not feasible as matters are at present. The Norwegian Articles of Agreement have been given to the public, and have been publicly praised as well as censured in the periodicals of the Church. In these public discussions there is still special mention made of us, the so-called Missourians. On the one hand, the Norwegian theses are being praised for the reason that the doctrinal position of the Missouri Synod is being combated by them. On the other hand, the same theses are being censured, for the reason that their contents are essentially Missourian. Moreover, individual persons in our circles are being specially referred to in these discussions, viz., Walther before others, but also members of the present St. Louis Faculty. Quite a number of particular questions are being treated more or less exhaustively, for instance, the question, whether there are two forms of presenting the doctrine of election, which ultimately merge into one doctrine, as far as their contents are concerned. Since the Articles of Agreement mention the names of Gerhard, Scriver, and Pontoppidan, a new discussion has arisen regarding the position maintained by ourselves and our opponents as regards the doctrine of the later Lutheran dogmaticians. Since the doctrine of election cannot be treated without reference to the doctrine of conversion, the question has again been called up for debate, whether a person’s conversion is dependent upon the grace of God alone or also upon the person’s proper conduct; again, what is the meaning of the “call,” and whether it is admissible to speak of “the possibility of being converted,” and of “acts [[@Page:7]]preparatory to conversion.” Lastly, also this delicate question has been raised, “Which side has changed its position?” Our purpose is to throw some light on all these questions, however, solely to the end of aiding in bringing about a union on the glorious platform of our Lutheran Confessions.