“Pan-Lutheranism” = pandemonium

Is there some sort of general Lutheranism which provides a pan-Lutheran big tent for the 21st century?

1.   The LWF is pan-Lutheran. Most member churches subscribe to the CA[1] but this means everything and anything in practice.[2]

2.   Is the LCMS Lutheran? Gospel plus inerrancy. Categorically denying ordaining women, on the basis of Scripture–as a requirement. See The DNA of the LCMS and The LCMS Study Bible.

3.   Is the ELCA Lutheran?  Gospel plus the required, sacramental episcopate–and changing the constitution to do so! See The ELCA’s Required Episcopate.

4.   What does CA 7 state?  Proclaiming the gospel purely and celebrating the sacraments according to that gospel.[3]

5.    Any required add-ons change the gospel. Gospel-plus = another gospel.[4]

6.   Does that mean Lutherans are fanatics, purists? No, for it is not in doctrine (pure doctrine), but in the use (usus) that the gospel is pure gospel–see Forde here. That the gospel is so preached.

7.   But it does mean, for example, that a Roman Catholic priest, when celebrating the Lord’s Supper, cannot proclaim the gospel purely. He cannot because he celebrates as a functionary of the local bishop (ordinary) whose authority is the magisterium (all the Roman bishops in unity with the bishop of Rome). This is not equivalent to the authority of proclaiming the gospel purely. In fact, it is in contradiction, for any other authority (requirement) is excluded. There is only one gospel.

8.   If a Roman priest rejects the authority of the magisterium, he is no longer a Roman Catholic.  But what happens in Lutherdom? What of the little fish who are ignored by their leaders? They may later be in trouble. Do they financially support the denomination?  Do they reject gospel-plussing? Ah! There’s the rub. See Here We Stand, and Necessary Implications. For example:

a.   Gospel plus inerrancy (and its cognates: verbal inspiration, Biblical, and claritas)[5]:  Does the gospel authenticate itself, or does (even by implication) the received text function as the prior miracle, in order to authenticate the gospel. See Bayer here, and The Book of Concord’s Key to Itself – because “sole rule and norm” does not in the BC mean what Biblicism tries to make it mean.  See also Tappert on quia/quatenus.[6] And Käsemann.[7]

b.   Gospel plus creeds (and/or confessions):  As Edmund Schlink points out–the doctrine of justification is the key to the creeds; the creeds are not the key to the doctrine of justification. See the Charter of Freedom, Section I on Schlink, here.

c.   Gospel plus office (Amt, church order):  As George Lindbeck states, for Lutherans –the gospel establishes the Amt, not the Amt the gospel.[8]

9.   The gospel authenticates (establishes) itself. See Roman 10:17 (and Käsemann, Romans, on the whole chapter); 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; 1 Peter 1:23-25. Any and every attempt to authenticate the gospel (not allowing the gospel to authenticate itself) is “another” gospel. See The Cross: The Twofold Scandal.

10.    But what then of the “truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:5, 14)?  The “truth of the gospel” in Paul’s remarkable formulation is the scandal and foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-31). And the “truth” of the cross, the meaning (interpretation) of the cross, establishes itself—see Forde.[9]

a.   May then, as has been asserted, no one break unity unless “the saving work of Christ is denied,” the very truth of the gospel (as for example, by the archheretic Arius)?  With modern historicism, however, nothing holds. Arius has been rehabilitated !!![10] As has Nestorius.

b.   It all comes down to gospel-plussing. To CA 7. See We are not free to gospel-plus, and Necessary Implications, Here We Stand, and Teaching Authority.

11.    This whole Lutheran way of doing the gospel – it’s about election and the sacramental Word – applies to the hearer as well as the preacher. There is nothing the sinner can do – not even repent rightly:

“For Luther subjectivism is overcome only when one is grasped by that which comes truly ‘from without,’ the address of God in the gospel promise, in such fashion that one in turn gives sole authority to that address, to its actual content…..One who hears the gospel promise – who is grasped, judged, and redeemed by the content of the Word of God – could not place himself above that Word, but only under it.”[11]

Outside of us, in spite of us. The Lord “snatches”[12] us through Baptism, because sin is intrinsically rebellion–we are running in the opposite direction.

12.    Pan-Lutheranism sounds good until you think about it. It doesn’t work on the ground, however, wherever more than the gospel is required.

1.   Gospel plus inerrancy (or Biblicism) makes “another” gospel
2.   Gospel plus earnest repentance makes “another” gospel
3.   Gospel plus a required church structure makes “another” gospel
4.   Gospel plus sentimentalized Luv, ignoring damages, makes “another” gospel
5.   Gospel plus required conversion experiences makes “another” gospel


[1] Some Moravians subscribe to the CA, and thus are in the LWF. Some Sumatran Lutheran churches do not subscribe to the CA; yet with their own Batak Confession as a basis they are accepted by the LWF.

[2] For example, the ELCA has a required sacramental episcopate and is yoked to the Episcopal Church; the Germans are invested in the Leuenberg Agreement (with the Reformed) which does not involve the required sacramental episcopate. The Swedes have a lesbian bishop; Tanzanians object but go along. The LWF has gatherings, goes through motions, fights AIDS and poverty. The NALC wants to join.

[3] To proclaim the gospel purely means to overthrow all authorities/required add-ons that appeal to something else besides faith alone in Christ alone.

[4] Christian freedom includes the adiaphoristic principle, that is: 1) that whatever does not stand in the way of proclaiming the gospel and celebrating the sacraments purely and rightly is a matter of Christian freedom, an adiaphoron; 2) that something good in itself, such as ecclesiastical ranks “created by human authority,” cannot be made a requirement for salvation and the lack thereof cannot be allowed to cast doubt on being fully in Christ’s body; and 3) that an adiaphoron is only an adiaphoron when it is an adiaphoron for both sides involved.

[5] “Christ’s theanthropic actuality called for a revolution in language. There could now be no uniform concept of (logical) truth that would apply both to theology and philosophy. In short, Luther did not allow semantic logic to function as a straightjacket for capturing the event of God’s becoming flesh” (Piotyr Malysz in a review of Oswald Bayer, “The Word Became Flesh: Luther’s Christology as Doctrine of the Communication of Properties,” [pp. 5-35] Creator est Creatura: Luthers Christologie als Lehre von der Idiomen-kommunikation. Review available at www.Lutherantheology.wordpress.com) Malysz’s critique applies also to the attempt of the Lutheran Neo-Thomist school, represented by Bielfeldt, Mattox, and Hinlicky (The Substance of the Faith. Luther’s Doctrinal Theology for Today [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008]), to create a “straightjacket” to prove the existence of God and demonstrate the reliability of theological language.

[6] “The Confessions themselves therefore assert both a quatenus and a quia, both that the Confessions should be acknowledged only in so far as (quatenus) they agree with the Scriptures and then also because (quia) they agree with the Scriptures” (Theodore Tappert, “The Significance of Confessional Subscription,” Essays on the Lutheran Confessions Basic to Lutheran Cooperation [1961] 30).

[7] “Neither the scriptures nor the world can be adequately grasped except through belief in the justification of the ungodly…. But everything depends on the right coordination of the two. Just as the church must not take precedence over Christ, but must be Christ-determined without itself determining Christ, so salvation history must not take precedence over justification. It is its sphere. But justification remains the centre, the beginning and the end of salvation history. Otherwise the cross of Jesus would also inevitably lose its central position and then everything would be distorted – anthropology and ecclesiology as well as Christology and soteriology” (Ernst Käsemann, “Justification and Salvation History,” Perspectives on Paul (Fortress; Minneapolis, 1971) 75-76.

[8] George Lindbeck, “The Lutheran Doctrine of the Ministry: Catholic and Reformed,” Theological Studies 30 (1969) 611.

[9] “The cross is not to be understood by means of another system, the cross is its own system.” (Gerhard Forde, Where God Meets Man (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972) 36. See the whole section 35-44.

[10] George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine. Religion and Theology in a Post-liberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984) 108-109.

[11] Forde, “Infallibility Language and the Early Lutheran Tradition,” (L/RC 6; p.126) Read it here.

[12]Large Catechism, Baptism, #83; Tappert, p. 446.