A NOTABLE booklet, by Professor Pieper, D. D., of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., was issued in 1913. It bears the title, “Conversion and Election,” and the significant sub-title, “A Plea for a United Lutheranism in America.” The book has attracted much attention in all branches of the Lutheran Church, and is being widely circulated both by sale and gift copies. It is written in a clear and fluent style, and an excellent spirit prevades it all ; indeed, it could not display a more irenic and complaisant temper, and at the same time maintain the author’s stalwart theological positions. For the fine spirit evinced the whole Lutheran Church should feel grateful. A few brief replies have been made to the booklet by men in the Ohio and Iowa Synods, to whom Dr. Pieper has responded in a supplemental chapter.
The author’s subtitle would indicate that he intends his production to appeal to all Lutherans in America, not merely to the Norwegian Lutherans, whose effort at union was the occasion for the issue of his book. (Since this was written, a committee of the Joint Synod of Ohio has published a reply in pamphlet form.) Therefore, we feel that the General Synod must be included in this “plea for a United Lutheranism in America.” True, we cannot quite agree with the author that his work is a “plea;” it is rather an argument for Missouri’s position, an earnest and powerful one, and an invitation for all other Lutherans to go over upon that platform ; yet the conciliatory spirit and the evident desire for Lutheran union displayed in the book are most winsome, and the general tone and manner do not stir resentment.
The immediate occasion for the publication of the book was the union of the Norwegian Lutheran Synod and the United Norwegian Lutheran Church, by the adoption of Articles of Agreement at Madison, Wis. These articles are printed in full in the book, so that those who wish may read them for themselves ; and they are of great importance from every viewpoint, and should be read with care. It appears to Dr. Pieper — and to us as well — that the articles are somewhat indeterminate on the doctrine of election, being a kind of compromise between the stiff predestinarianism of Missouri and the milder views of Pontoppidan, Gerhard and Scriver. To put it as precisely as we know how, some of the articles endorse the position of Missouri in the plainest and most positive terms, but afterward certain paragraphs are inserted that modify it in such a way that the followers of the other view might be tolerated. In short, the articles do not seem to be quite consistent throughout. Therefore Dr. Pieper thinks that the Norwegians should eliminate, or at least qualify, the compromising sections.
However, in this work we shall not undertake to discuss, much less criticise, the Norwegian Articles of Agreement. Our purpose is to deal with the doctrinal position of the Synodical Conference as set forth by Dr. Pieper in his impressive booklet. We would simply add that perhaps the Madison Agreement is the best possible statement the Norwegians are able to make to suit all parties, especially in view of the profound and insoluble mysteries of the eternal decrees of the Godhead — a subject, as we shall try to show later, on which no body of men should presume to dogmatize in such a way as to exclude from church-fellowship any of their Lutheran brethren. We may be wrong, but just now we think it would be best for the Norwegian Lutherans to “let well enough alone,” and go on their way with one accord as brethren, and help to do the work of the Lutheran Church in the extension of God’s kingdom in America, without presuming to settle those matters which are beyond human comprehension. Thinking and writ- ing on these mysterious subjects are of value in their place ; and, moreover, it is native to the minds which God has given us to delve as deeply as we can into these great and holy mysteries; but we do think our theologizing and speculating on them ought not to be made the ground of division among Lutherans who truly accept the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions, even though they cannot understand all things in the same way. More of this later.
Dr. Pieper’s book is of great value ; indeed, it will be an “eye-opener” to many people outside of the Synod- ical Conference who have not taken the pains to inform themselves as to that body’s precise doctrinal position. For instance, this book ought from now on to preclude the charge of Calvinism against Missouri. No more ought that allegation to be made, because Missouri de- nies the charge in toto et ex animo. We Lutherans ought to know by experience how trying it is to be charged with a doctrine which we have always rejected with all our vigor, namely, the error of Consubstantination in the Lord’s Supper; for, in spite of our oft-repeated denials, there are men even today who allege this error to be ours. (Even so profound a writer as Dr. A. M. Fairbairn charges Luther and Lutheran theologians with “consubstantiation.” (See his “The Place of Christ in Modern Theology,” p. 161.)) Not only because Missouri repudiates Calvinism should all cease from charging her with it, but also because, as we shall show, she explains her position in such a way as to disclaim the central doctrine of the Calvinistic view of predestination. Now we humbly hope, too, that we shall be able to show that our Missouri brethren should cease to charge Synergism and Pelagianism against their fellow-Lutherans who cannot fully accept their view-point.
What is the precise Missouri doctrine of election? Let it be distinctly understood that she honestly believes she is adhering strictly to the teachings of the Bible and of the Formula of Concord, and also thinks that her opponents are not correctly interpreting them. Of her sincerity no one should for a moment entertain any doubts. In a series of plain propositions we believe we can precisely set forth her position, which is as follows :
1. God from eternity elected some to be saved and did not elect others. (Do not charge Calvinism here, but wait for the rest of the statement.)
2. God’s eternal election of those who are saved is in nowise dependent on or conditioned by anything that is in man or that man can do, but belongs only to His own inscrutable counsel, will and purpose. Why God elected those who are finally saved is a mystery which he has not revealed, and therefore we should not seek any explanation of it. Both the Synergists and the Calvinists try to explain it, and that is where they are wrong.
3. The elect are elected and saved solely by grace. Sola gratia is the watchword of Missouri when speak- ing of the elect. Therefore they are not elected “in view of faith” (intuitu fidei) or “good conduct,” but wholly and solely through the gracious will and purpose of God. To try to explain God’s reasons for electing certain ones, either by intuitu fidei or “good conduct,” is going beyond Scriptural teaching, and is therefore not only synergistic, but presumptuous ; for it is prying into the inexplicable mysteries of God’s eternal decree.
4. While the Bible and the Confession do not re- veal and explain why those who are finally saved were elected out of the mass of mankind, they do clearly tell us why the non-elect are condemned ; it is solely be- cause of their willful sin and guilt, especially in rejecting Christ and resisting the Holy Spirit. They get only what they deserve; on this point the Bible is perfectly clear: “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;” “Ho, every one that thirsteth ;” “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life ;” “And this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men love dark- ness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” God is perfectly in earnest in offering salvation to all alike, and desires all to be saved, and so it is not His fault if some are not saved. This is the slogan of universalis gratia which Missouri proclaims with all her might. Hence she is not Calvinistic, but utterly repudiates the Calvinistic formula of a limited atonement and a limited proffer of salvation. The Calvinist tries to account for the difference between the salvation of the elect and the non-salvation of the non-elect, on the ground that God makes His call effectual with the former, but leaves the others to their fate, because He has predestinated the latter to be lost. If He externally calls the non-elect He does not mean to make the call effectual. This Calvinistic view is utterly repugnant to Missouri.
5. So far as concerns their moral and spiritual condition, both the elect and the non-elect are in the same case ; both alike guilty ; both alike unable to deliver themselves ; the faith or conduct of the one does not decide the matter of their election. Why did God then elect the one class and not the other? That is the mystery of the eternal divine decree into which we have no business to pry, because it has not been revealed in God’s Word. This is Missouri’s position, then, in a few words : The elect are predestined from eternity, but what the ground or determining cause of their election is, we do not and cannot know. God has not told us. The following is Dr. Pieper’s clear and admirable statement of the case (page 21) :
“Let us ascertain briefly in what respect we are facing a mystery at this point. The Scriptures teach, on the one hand, that the grace of God in Christ is extended to all alike, and, on the other, that there is no difference among men, since all are in the same state of total depravity and in the same guilt before God, and their conduct over against the saving grace of God is equally evil. Such being the case, we might conclude, either that all men would be saved by the grace of God, or that all would be lost by their own guilt. Instead, the Scriptures teach that some are saved merely by the grace of God, and the rest are lost solely by their own guilt. Why this different result when the underlying conditions are the same? This is the mystery which no man has ever properly solved, and no man ever will properly solve in this life, because the Word of God offers no solution.”
We break the long paragraph, for Dr. Pieper continues : “We should bear in mind that no mystery appears when each of the classes, those who are saved and those who are lost, are considered separately. In this separate view of the two classes everything is explained by the Word of God. The Word of God names only one cause of the conversion and final salvation of those who are actually converted and finally saved ; it is in each and every case the grace of God in Christ. Likewise it names only one cause of the non-conversion, and failure to be saved, of those who are not converted and are not finally saved ; it is in each and every case the fault of man ; it is owing, in particular, to his resistance against the converting operations of the Holy Spirit. The hardening of man’s heart, too, proceeds only on the basis of human guilt.
“But the mystery appears when the classes are com- pared with one another. The question then arises : If grace is universal and total depravity general, then why are not all converted and finally saved? Cur alii prae aliis? It is this question that the Word of God does not answer. At this point we must, with the Formula of Concord, acknowledge a mystery insoluble in this life. If a man so much as strives to solve this difficulty, he proves himself a poor theologian, because he does not know the limitations of theological knowledge: he presumes to know more in matters spiritual than is revealed in the Word of God ; while he who actually solves this mystery is forthwith proved a false teacher; for he denies either sola gratia, that is, that those who are saved are saved solely by the grace of God, or he denies universalis gratia, i. e., that all who are lost are lost by their own fault.”
Surely the above is an explicit statement of Missouri’s position. Every thinker can clearly see wherein it differs from Calvinism, which teaches that by an absolute decree God predestined some to be saved and others to be lost. Missouri will have nothing to do with foreordination unto reprobation ; she stoutly up-holds the doctrine of universalis gratia. She stops in the face of the mystery, and bows humbly to what she believes is the teaching of God’s Word. So far as we have seen, she does not even venture the statement that God, for good and right reasons, elected those who will be finally saved, while others are not saved. That, how- ever, might be implied when Dr. Pieper says this mystery will never be solved “in this life;” for such a statement connotes the fact that in the next life all will be made plain, and we shall all be satisfied that God acted graciously and justly, and not arbitrarily. Dr. Pieper would have sufficient Biblical ground to qualify with such a statement, for “will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Ps. 97:2).
We think now that Dr. Pieper’s doctrinal position, which is evidently that of the Synodical Conference, has been presented with sufficient fullness and explicitness. Our next duty will be to attempt to discuss the merits of his book.