XIII. Fellowship of Faith and Church-Fellowship with Such As Occupy the Position of Gerhard.

Fellowship of faith and church-fellowship with those who hold Gerhard’s position does not cause the slightest difficulty. Such is the clear verdict of experience. Before the doctrine of Predestination was made the subject of public controversy, there were people in the Missouri Synod who held the position of Gerhard. In 1855, Dr. Sihler published in Lehre und Wehre a series of 19 Theses on Predestination in which, alongside of the greatest emphasis on “By-grace-alone,” he manages to find a place for “In view of faith” in the doctrine of Election.) When the controversy on Election commenced and the necessity of treating this doctrine thoroughly on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions became apparent, Dr. Sihler very soon perceived that the intrusion [[@Page:129]]of “foreseen faith” into Election agrees neither with the Scriptures nor with our Confessions. Accordingly, he corrected his theses of 1855 through a public statement which appeared in Lehre und Wehre in the year 1881.) Dr. Sihler’s statement is very interesting and instructive. It reads as follows: “It may or may not be known that, with the knowledge and consent of Prof. Craemer, then my colleague at the theological seminary in this city, I contributed, some twenty-five years ago, 19 Theses on Election, to the first volume of Lehre und Wehre, which were accepted by the editors. … As is well known, this doctrine had not then been controverted, and the experience of all men will bear me out in saying that in such a case no such clear and precise expressions are used, even in the domain of theology, as become necessary when some doctrine has become controverted, and when error has crept in. Now, therefore, since in the very first thesis ‘persevering faith foreseen by God’ of the elect was given a place in the definition of predestination, I hereby renounce that part of the definition. True, even at that time my way of viewing the matter was, that faith does not determine and condition God’s election of the individual — for Thesis 10 says expressly: ‘Foreseen faith is not the cause of election, since we are chosen not by reason of our faith, but for Christ’s sake’ (cf. Thesis 4). But for this very reason the conclusion of Thesis 1 was incorrect and apt to lead to misunderstandings; for it is self-evident, and hence unnecessary to say, that, since in God nothing occurs in succession, but everything is simultaneous, He has according to His omniscience foreseen from everlasting those whom He has from everlasting chosen in Christ by a free act of His gracious will unto eternal salvation and glory, and whom in time He gives through the Gospel faith as well as perseverance in faith. Hence I likewise accept the doctrine of our Scriptural Confession, that solely the free, unmerited, and undeserved grace and mercy [[@Page:130]]of God and the perfect and most holy merits of Christ are the only ground and cause of election.” Like Dr. Sihler, a number of other pastors of the Missouri Synod, before the controversy was started, joined the sola gratia with foreseen faith. Neither in their case did the attainment of perfect unity in the doctrine of Scripture and the Confessions cause any special trouble. After the general pastoral conference which met at Chicago in 1880, almost universal agreement also in terms was established within the Synod. Whoever really holds fast to the grace of God in Christ and rejects every cause of conversion and salvation in man, and, hence, really holds faith to be donum Dei, no longer has any interest in intuitu fidei when the correct doctrine of Predestination is exhibited to him from Scripture and the Confessions. For this reason we maintained during the predestination controversy that also Gerhard and the rest of the old theologians would have dispensed with the intuitu fidei over against us, that is to say, if they had had to deal, not with Calvinists, but with us in the matter of predestination. Objection was raised that we could impossibly gauge the possible actions of Gerhard, since Gerhard is dead these two hundred years and more. And this we had to admit. But it were unfair to assume less spiritual knowledge in Dr. Gerhard of Jena than in Dr. Sihler of Fort Wayne. Hence there is no cause for anxiety in the movements toward union now inaugurated. Persons who really occupy the position of Gerhard and Pontoppidan, to speak concretely, persons who really are united on sola gratia, and on the rejection of the “dissimilar,” i. e., good conduct of man, as a means of explaining why some are converted and others not, and who really believe that faith is a free gift of divine grace for Christ’s sake, will by an inner necessity slough off the intuitu fidei husk, to wit, foreseen faith, as a norm of election. This may require varying lengths of time in the case of individuals. It would have been the height of folly had we broken off brotherly relations in 1880 with those who stood like Gerhard. We did what must be approved by every [[@Page:131]]one: we treated the difference with copious reference to the testimony of Scripture and the Confessions, and in this manner attained perfect unity in rebus et phrasibus, as is proper in the Christian Church.

The objection might here be made that during the controversy on Predestination we did not convince all, that some left us and adhered to intuitu fidei. That is true. But the reason for this was that these people did not hold Gerhard’s and Pontoppidan’s position. They had not merely identified themselves with the term intuitu fidei while otherwise agreeing with those theologians in the doctrine of Conversion, but they were teaching that conversion and salvation depend, as regards their ultimate issue, not on divine grace alone, but on the good conduct of man. As Walther justly insisted time and again, no one can have a grosser misconception of the controversy regarding predestination than if he imagines the intuitu fidei to have been the main issue in the struggle. The other side took foreknowledge of faith in the sense of foreknowledge of good human conduct, and this was admittedly the reason for its adherence to intuitu fidei. It has expressly declared the consideration of human conduct to have been the “cardinal point” (Kernpunkt) of the entire controversy. While a person holds this position, there is no hope of unity and church-fellowship. But as soon as this position is surrendered and a person returns to the teaching of sola gratia, there is, judging from the Missouri Synod’s experience, the best hope of unity.

As regards the union movement among the Norwegian Lutherans, perfect unity may be gained simply by continuing negotiations a little farther on the basis of Thesis 5 and Theses 2 and 3. Thesis 5 records an agreement to reject every consideration of good human conduct in conversion and predestination, no matter whether good conduct is ascribed to natural or presumably imparted powers. Whoever has accepted this thesis, will, upon due reflection, no longer have any interest in maintaining intuitu fidei, or the foreknowledge of faith. Again, in Theses 2 and 3 an [[@Page:132]]agreement has been reached that the form of doctrine according to which faith is an antecedent of eternal election, i. e., the form of doctrine characterized by the term intuitu fidei, or foreseen faith, is not the doctrine of Scripture and the Lutheran Confession, but is peculiar only to a number of theologians. All who have accepted this are surely, upon due reflection, ready to surrender the coordination of the second form with the Scriptural and confessional form of doctrine. Hence all that is required now is a continuation of courteous and patient negotiations. Then surely all parties concerned will take their position on the “form of doctrine” which is found in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

Two extremes should be guarded against in this matter. The one extreme would consist in an utter refusal to take up negotiations with those who, so far as we can see, are honest in their confession of sola gratia, or if we should impatiently break off these negotiations too soon. True, after the American Lutheran Church has discussed the Scriptural and confessional doctrine of Predestination for more than thirty years, every pastor now ought to know what to think of intuitu fidei by the rule of Scripture and the Confessions. But we must not forget that not all have taken part in the controversy. If people now hold the view which Dr. Sihler held in 1855, and which was held by many pastors of the Missouri Synod and the Synodical Conference prior to the Pastoral Conference at Chicago, we shall do precisely what we did in the eighties and later. We enter into negotiations with them, and we can see no reason to doubt that the outcome will be a gratifying one. Note well: We always have in mind persons who hold, alongside of intuitu fidei, the sola gratia and the correct doctrine of the means of grace. While they are still conferring with us in reference to the “theological” employment of the “second form of doctrine,” they even now practice the “first form” when they think of their own election. For when they think of their own election, they do not think of the inscrutable foreknowing of God, but of their redemption, calling, conversion, [[@Page:133]]justification, and preservation, and hence recognize in the Gospel and the promises of grace their election. We would urge, once more, that, owing to the inscrutability of divine prescience, it is simply impossible to make practical use of the “second form.” The old theologians, too, Gerhard, Pontoppidan, and Scriver among them, have never had any practical use for the “second form,” but left it on their study-table, where it had originated. That is what is being done in our time. Although, according to the phraseology of Thesis 1 of the Norwegian Articles of Agreement, the “second form of doctrine” has been accepted unanimously and without reservation together with the “first form,” still the Norwegian Lutherans will, as little as the German and English, ever make use of it. Because they are even now, as a matter of fact, in harmony with the representatives of the “first form,” it would be wrong to despair, impatiently, of the success of the negotiations.

The other extreme would consist in exalting a weakness in knowledge quasi to the dignity of a doctrinal norm. If it is certain, on the one hand, that weaknesses in knowledge must be treated in patience and charity, and thus remedied, it is no less certain that they should not be made part of a confessional statement, nor receive the sanction of the Church.