XIV. Which Side Has Changed Its Position?

In one respect this is a delicate question. A party-spirit, inimical to the acknowledgment of the truth, is easily roused by a discussion of this question. But a discussion of this kind cannot, after all, be avoided. As a matter of fact, each party has, during the past thirty years and to the present day, maintained that the other has changed its position, and the Norwegian Lutherans had barely accepted the Madison Agreement when the question arose among them which side had shifted its position. United Church voices were heard insisting that the Norwegian Synod’s position had [[@Page:134]]undergone a change. And the districts of the Norwegian Synod accepted the Articles of Agreement with the understanding that the leaders of the United Church have surrendered their former tenet, viz., that conversion and salvation do not depend only on divine grace, but also on human conduct. Who, then, has changed his position?

We would not limit our discussion of this point to the Norwegian Lutherans, but would take into consideration also the other Synods which were involved in the controversy. Our endeavor is to treat all fairly. We cannot at this juncture help mentioning by name individuals who were spokesmen of their church-bodies, — Dr. Walther, Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Stellhorn, and others. As to Dr. Walther, it should be said that he always rejected intuitu fidei. We have found no utterances of his which would prove the opposite. However, Kirketidende recently quoted expressions of Walther made in 1863 and 1872, to the following intent: “There is a great difference between saying: ‘God has chosen those of whom He foresaw that they would believe and remain in the faith,’ and saying: ‘God has chosen some because He foresaw that they would believe and remain in the faith, or, because of their faith.’ The former is quite correct, according to [[Rom. 8, 29 >> Rom 8.29]]; the latter is Pelagianistic.”) The opinion that in [[Rom. 8, 29 >> Rom 8.29]] by προγινώσκειν also a foreseeing of faith is indicated we do not find expressed by Walther in later years. During the controversy,) and even previously,) he understood προγινώσκειν, [[Rom. 8, 29 >> Rom 8.29]], as did Luther, in the sense of “zuvorversehen,” foreordain, hence, placing it with the synonyms of erwachlen, elect, and in no other sense. Again, Walther’s utterances concerning the [[@Page:135]]doctrine of the later dogmaticians extend over so great a length of time and had in view so great a variety of antitheses, that we shall not quarrel with those who would assert that Walther was not always consistent in his judgments. Our own opinion we have stated above, and have given our reasons for the same. But it must not be forgotten that Walther even previous to the great controversy wrote: “Our Synod cannot and will not adopt the doctrinal form of our seventeenth and eighteenth century dogmaticians as its own,”) and adjudged the terminology of the seventeenth century dogmaticians as, strictly speaking, giving umbrage to “an error” which “the theologians themselves execrate,”) and for this reason held that we are on the safe side “if we entirely refrain from using the new terminology of the seventeenth century dogmaticians and return to the simplicity of the Formula of Concord, which waives every attempt to solve the mystery that here presents itself.”) So far as Walther’s real position in the article of Predestination is concerned, no change of attitude can be asserted. This is our firm conviction based on Walther’s very first detailed utterance concerning the doctrine of Predestination, in his article against Licentiate Krummacher in the year 1863,) which so clearly and powerfully states the limits within which the correct thoughts concerning eternal election may move, and within which they must be confined, that there is no room left for a real change of doctrinal position thereafter. Walther in this article discusses at length the synergistic as well as the Calvinistic solution of the mystery in Election, and then says in conclusion: “Since the Word of God contains both statements, that God has from everlasting chosen the elect according to the good pleasure of His will to commend His glorious grace, and that the damned are rejected by reason of their own sin and guilt, while the Lord desires the salvation of all, therefore the [[@Page:136]]Formula of Concord believes, teaches, and confesses both facts; it does not, like Calvin, endeavor to bridge with human reason the yawning chasm of this inexplicable mystery, permits both truths to stand, and humbly adores the inscrutable wisdom of God, awaiting the solution of this seeming contradiction in the life eternal.”) This was Walther’s position in the doctrine of Predestination before this doctrine became a subject of controversy in the American Lutheran Church. There can evidently be no shifting of doctrinal conviction with one who has taken this position, even if, in the course of time, he might give utterance to variant opinions regarding this or the other theologian, or come short in the understanding of this or the other text of Scripture. We do not hesitate to say that we consider any person orthodox in the article of Predestination who speaks as Walther did in 1863. It may serve the cause of unity, under present circumstances, if we reprint part of this statement by Dr. Walther, which preceded all public controversy. Walther wrote in 1863: “The last test whether a presentation of Gospel doctrine contain Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian leaven is to be found in the presentation of the doctrine of Election. Unfortunately, it has been shown by experience that many theologians in their presentation of doctrine avoid and luckily escape Pelagian error only until they begin to treat the doctrine of Election or Predestination. Too often it has at this point become evident that even among those who imagine themselves able to subscribe, word for word, to the confession of the Formula of Concord concerning original sin and free will there are such as have by no means been cured of all Pelagian views. I refer to all those who believe and teach that as the stiff-necked unbelief of many, foreseen by God, is the cause which prompted God from eternity to decree their rejection and damnation, even so the persevering faith of a number of others, foreseen by God, is the cause which prompted God [[@Page:137]]from everlasting to ordain them unto eternal life. Whoever teaches thus evidently represents persevering faith not as a pure gift of divine grace, but as a performance of man and as the external prompting cause which induced the Lord to prefer a number of persons before others and ordain them to salvation. For if faith is a gift of God’s free grace, then this faith could not have prompted God to predestinate a person. Faith, in a way, becomes a merit of man, election ceases to be an election of free grace, but is founded on human merit and the moral superiority of one over another, and the ultimate reason for man’s salvation is placed, not in the eternal free mercies of God in Christ, but in man himself, his willing, his accepting, his assent, his faithfulness, and perseverance, in a word, it is transferred from the hands of God into the hands of man. If this were the doctrine of the Formula of Concord and of Lutheran theologians faithfully adhering to this Confession, then, indeed, Licentiate Krummacher were justified in charging our Church with being ‘infected with a Roman Catholic Semi-Pelagianism,’ in spite of its correct stand on the doctrines of original sin and free will. But praise and thanks be to God forever, our glorious final Confession stands also this test. Our precious Formula of Concord has not permitted itself to be crowded from Calvinistic determinism, like some later theologians of our Church, to the opposite extreme of Semi-Pelagianism, even in its subtlest form. For, while it protests against the Calvinistic assertion that God, according to His absolute will, did not desire to save the greater part of the race, but ordained them from eternity unto sin and perdition, hence does not earnestly call them, and that God, accordingly, is the cause of sin arid perdition, our Confession, at the same time, is careful not to assert that the cause of the foreordination and salvation of the elect is their better conduct, their constant faith, or aught in them, but asserts that the cause is solely and purely the free grace of God and His mercies in Christ. The Calvinists draw the conclusion: If God has ordained out of [[@Page:138]]free grace a number of persons unto eternal life, if He alone does everything to convert them, to preserve them in the faith, and finally to glorify them, without their contributing the least, then, of course, since all men are by nature equally depraved, the cause must lie in God alone why the others do not become believers, or are
not preserved in the faith, and are not finally saved, but damned; the reason must be that He converts and preserves the former through an irresistible operation of grace, while He passes by the latter with His grace, and leaves them in their corruption, because He does not desire their salvation, but has from everlasting decreed and in time created them unto sin, death, and damnation, for the glory of His justice. And it is true, unenlightened reason, which refuses to abide by the Word, cannot but think thus. Reason, ignoring Scripture and following its own thoughts, must draw this conclusion. Not so our precious Formula of Concord, and with it the whole orthodox Lutheran Church. Our Confession does not draw this conclusion. It maintains: That men are saved has its cause solely in the free grace of God; and that men are lost has its cause solely in the sin and guilt of man. It perceives well enough that reason cannot harmonize these facts; it perceives, too, that, according to our reason, if men are lost only by reason of their sin, then the others are saved by reason of their being so much better; or, if men are saved only by free grace, then the others must be lost because of some deficiency in the gracious will of God. But since the Word of God contains both statements, that God has from everlasting chosen the elect according to the good pleasure of His will to commend His glorious grace, and that the damned are rejected by reason of their own sin and guilt, while the Lord desires the salvation of all, therefore the Formula of Concord believes. teaches, and confesses both; it does not attempt, like Calvin, to bridge with human reason the yawning chasm of this inscrutable mystery; it permits both utterances to stand, and humbly [[@Page:139]]adores the unsearchable wisdom of God, awaiting the solution of this seeming contradiction in the life eternal.”

Since 1881 much has been said on the other side about “New Missouri” and about a “new departure” of Walther and the Missouri Synod. Such opinions are explained, not from the real facts as they are before us, but from the subjective state of mind so readily produced by controversy.

On the other hand, we cannot possibly perceive how Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Stellhorn, and the Ohio Synod can square their later with their former position. Leaving out of account all minor matters, such as the interpretation of historical facts, etc., let us just consider the main issue, the recognition of the mystery in Election, under rejection of the synergistic as well as the Calvinistic solution. Since 1881, Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Stellhorn, Dr. Loy, and the Ohio Synod have taught that the converting and saving grace of God is determined by man’s good conduct; that hereby is explained why some are converted and saved, others not; and that to speak of an inscrutable mystery in this connection would be Calvinism. Now we cannot but believe that previous to the controversy, in 1874, Dr. Schmidt in express terms acknowledged this mystery and rejected the Iowaan solution, which would interpolate human conduct. The words have been quoted once before: “Our earnest opposition to the theory of self-determination exhibited and defended by Prof. G. Fritschel in Brobst’s Monatshefte, should astonish no one, as this doctrine ultimately transfers the miraculous work of conversion from the hand of God into the hand of man, and thus divests it of its real mystery. To render less profound the impenetrable mystery of Conversion and Election, by means of rationalizing speculation, here as with all mysteries of God, amounts to no more nor less than, in effect, demonstrating the mystery as such out of existence. We insist upon retaining the ‘mystery of faith’ also in this instance ‘in order not to be defrauded; for it is not unknown to us what he really has in mind.’ ”) [[@Page:140]]This very position was maintained by the Ohio Synod before the controversy. In the year 1875 the Ohio Synod rejected the psychological mystery consisting in the unfathomable corruption of the human heart, and, as stated in its synodical report, found the mystery to “consist rather in the fact that one is roused, through the divine call of grace, from his sleep of sin, receives the faith, remains therein, and is finally saved, while another also hears the call of God, but does not arise, or if he rises, falls again from the faith, and is finally lost. The cause of our eternal salvation rests entirely in the grace of God; the cause of damnation, in the resistance of man against the operations of divine grace. … It will ever remain an unsearchable mystery to human reason why God permits so many to be lost, when He earnestly desires that all should be saved. The Synod finally agreed to substitute for this thesis a paragraph from the Formula of Concord which states this difficult matter with incomparable clearness, and which reads as follows: ‘For no injustice is done those who are punished and receive the wages of their sins; but in the rest, to whom God gives and preserves His Word, and thereby enlightens, converts, and preserves men, God commends His pure grace and mercy, without their merit.’ ” Nor does Dr. Stellhorn’s statement over against Iowa in 1872, quoted in an earlier chapter, permit of any other interpretation than that of being a rejection of Iowa’s “self-decision” and good conduct as a solution of the mystery in Conversion and Predestination. The “psychological” mystery which he now confesses is the very one rejected by the Ohio Synod in 1875.  One cannot help but posit here a change from the doctrinal position held in former years.

Lastly, how about the Norwegian synods which have accepted the Madison Agreement? Which side has changed position? Those members of the United Church which hitherto followed Dr. Schmidt have certainly receded from their former position by the adoption of Thesis 5. Thesis 5 rejects human “conduct,” whether proceeding from natural or spiritual powers, as an explanatory cause of conversion, [[@Page:141]]salvation, and predestination, so energetically and persistently demanded by Dr. Schmidt and termed by him the “cardinal point” of the entire matter. Dr. Schmidt’s denial of the certainty of faith with regard to election and the attainment of final salvation) is rejected in Thesis 6 d. Dr. Schmidt taught that God alone knows whether a person will die in the faith. Over and against this, Thesis 6 d asserts that also the Christian knows through faith in the promises of God that he will obtain the goal of faith. The clearness of presentation might have been enhanced by a brief statement in Thesis 6d with reference to the twofold relation maintained, on the one hand, by the faithful Christian’s fear of backsliding (inasmuch as he regards himself and his sinful flesh, [[1 Cor. 9, 27 >> 1 Cor 9.27]])), and on the other hand, by his certainty of attaining the blessed end of faith (inasmuch as he regards the grace and promises of God, [[Rom. 8, 38. 39 >> Rom 8.38-39]])). Dr. Koren was a master in pointing out this twofold relation. But the substance of the matter has been expressed in this thesis: Uncertainty of salvation for the Christian is rejected, and the certainty of faith is upheld.

As regards the Norwegian Synod, we do not find that Thesis 1, which, taken as it reads, acknowledges the “first” and “second form of doctrine” as of equal authority in the Church, is in harmony with the Synod’s former position. True, the Norwegian Synod has ever declared its unwillingness to reject the “second form” as false doctrine so long as it is not made a vehicle for “introducing a difference in man, as if persons who are converted and saved were somewhat better, be it ever so little, than the rest,” but permits faith to be simply a gift of divine grace. At the same time, as stated above, the Norwegian Synod declared that [[@Page:142]]the “second form” is “an attempt at finding a solution; an attempt to clear up a great difficulty, to render comprehensible and reasonable what in our opinion must be left unsolved,” and, “The first form is very inconvenient for Semi-Pelagians and synergists. Behind the second form they are able to hide, not behind the first.”) In accordance with this characterization of the “second form,” Thesis 1 ought not to read: “The Synod and United Church committees on union acknowledge unanimously and without reservation the doctrine of Predestination which is stated in the Eleventh Article of the Formula of Concord (the so-called ‘first form of the doctrine’) and in Pontoppidan’s Explanation (‘Sandhed til Gudfrygtighed’), Qu. 548 (the so-called ‘second form of the doctrine’).” Nor is it in accord with the former practice of treating the doctrinal difference when Thesis 4 leaves it undecided whether Calvinistic terms and words had been ascribed justly or unjustly to the Norwegian Synod, and synergistic terms and words to Dr. Schmidt. That the expression, “man’s sense of responsibility in respect of the acceptance or rejection of God’s grace,” should be amended so as to correspond to Thesis 5, we have mentioned elsewhere. So much on the question, “Who has changed his position?”

Before we close, we beg leave to assure the reader once more that in our discussion we have had no intention of offending any one personally. We would serve the cause of union in the truth of our glorious Lutheran Confession. Would that the entire American Lutheran Church also in its public teaching might occupy the position which all Lutheran Christians, indeed, all Christians on earth, and all theologians, so far as they are Christians, even now occupy in their relation to God. It is the position stated by Scripture in the words: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely [[@Page:143]]by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Away with “dissimilar conduct” as affording a means of explaining why some are converted and saved, and others are not! Back, in simplicity of faith, to the Lutheran Confessions which state with utmost clearness: If those who will be saved compare themselves with those who will be lost, they must confess that they, too, conducted themselves ill and are in equal guilt. At the same time they know from the Word of God that those who will be lost will perish not by reason of any deficiency of divine grace, but through their own guilt. Whatever transcends these two truths must remain a mystery during the present life. The Calvinistic solution, by denying or, at least, detracting from universal grace, is contrary to Scripture. Likewise is the synergistic solution, by supplementing grace with good human conduct, contrary to Scripture. Let it be said once again, — it is but necessary that all concerned confess that with their lips which they already believe in their hearts before God. May the Lord of the Church graciously grant this through the workings of His Spirit!