Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Magnum Opus of the Reformation: Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation; Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on June 13, 2015

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Welcome truth lovers to Blog Talk radio .com/False Reformation, this is your host Paul M. Dohse Sr. Tonight, part 3 of “The Magnum Opus of the Reformation: Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation.”

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Per the usual, we will check in with Susan towards the end of the show and listen to her perspective.

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Let’s start out with an interpretation prism that just struck me this week. Have you ever thought about this? Think about it: all of Reformed doctrine developed during the Reformation presumed a church state. That means the doctrine itself was tailored for an outcome that required oversight by the state. So, if Luther came back from the dead and visited the church today he would be delighted in regard to the doctrine being taught, but would be absolutely aghast that the church is functioning without the state enforcement of orthodoxy. When Luther is showed the carnage of today’s church in this scenario, he says in the modern vernacular, “Duh, there’s no enforcement of orthodoxy. The patients are running the Psych ward!”

In other words, the doctrine presupposes bad behavior necessarily restrained by the enforcement of orthodoxy, and by the way, that’s exactly how Calvin ran Geneva. So, what we have today is a Protestant doctrine designed for a theocracy functioning in a representative republic. Just a thought, now let’s move on to thesis 7.

Thesis 7: The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.

This is clear from Thesis 4. To trust in works, which one ought to do in fear, is equivalent to giving oneself the honor and taking it from God, to whom fear is due in connection with every work. But this is completely wrong, namely to please oneself, to enjoy oneself in one’s works, and to adore oneself as an idol. He who is self-confident and without fear of God, however, acts entirely in this manner. For if he had fear he would not be self-confident, and for this reason he would not be pleased with himself, but he would be pleased with God.

In the second place, it is clear from the words of the Psalmist (Ps. 143:2), »Enter not into judgment with thy servant«, and Ps. 32:5, »I said: I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.« etc. But that these are not venial sins is clear because these passages state that confession and repentance are not necessary for venial sins. If, therefore, they are mortal sins and »all the saints intercede for them«, as it is stated in the same place, then the works of the saints are mortal sins. But the works of the saints are good works, wherefore they are meritorious for them only through the fear of their humble confession.

In the third place, it is clear from the Lord’s Prayer, »Forgive us our trespasses« (Matt. 6:12). This is a prayer of the saints, therefore those trespasses are good works for which they pray. But that these are mortal sins is clear from the following verse, »If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses« (Matt. 6:15). Note that these trespasses are such that, if unforgiven, they would condemn them, unless they pray this prayer sincerely and forgive others.

In the fourth place, it is clear from Rev. 21:27, »Nothing unclean shall enter into it« (the kingdom of heaven). But everything that hinders entrance into the kingdom of heaven is mortal sin (or it would be necessary to interpret the concept of »mortal sin« in another way). Venial sin, however, hinders because it makes the soul unclean and has no place in the kingdom of heaven. Consequently, etc.

Ok, this thesis is about as clear as mud. But in context, this is how I interpret it, and by the way, most Reformed scholars agree: everything a believer does is evil whether it appears good or bad by human standards. Let me get to the crux here: if any person saved or unsaved thinks they can do a good work that God would look upon and say, “That’s a good deed, it won’t save him/her, but the deed in and of itself is a good deed” that’s mortal sin; ie., condemning sin.

Hence, a Christian is in a state of perpetual sin of the mortal type. Believing such, and attending every good work with fear is venial or forgivable sin. Saving faith is the belief that Christians are under condemnation. This is what the Reformed mean by the Christian life being lived out “subjectively.”

Good and bad things happen and we don’t really know what’s really good or bad or who is doing it or what kind of good or bad works they are.

Let me explain: first, as we saw in the other theses, what appears good to man is really evil, and what appears evil is really good. Man can’t even judge good from evil. For example, man sees suffering as bad, but all wisdom is hidden in suffering. Secondly, we have no way of knowing whether God is doing the work or we are doing the work. Remember Luther’s old and rusty hatchet illustration from last week? So, you just kind of live out your life subjectively, and whatever happens is ok just so you realize that anything initiated by you is evil, and what appears to be good might be a manifestation of Christ’s righteousness or one of your evil works by virtue of the fact that you did the work. Either way, you have no way of knowing as you are “living out justification subjectively” or what is known as “subjective justification.” The key is to live your life in fear that you might come to believe that you can do anything that has merit with God.

Do we have examples of this in our day? Sure we do. How often have you heard a professing Christian say, “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it! It was the Holy Spirit who did it!” Often, you can even see the fear in them that someone will believe they did the work. This also relates to other people. I once had a congregant (a financially poor single mother) tell me that a person who gave them a car didn’t really give them the car (and I am talking a new car by the way), but rather it was the Holy Spirit who gave her the car. You see, if you concede that someone else can do a good work, that is also saying you can do a good work, and that’s mortal sin. Here is another one: “Jesus did it THROUGH me.” What’s that? That’s Luther’s old rusty hatchet, right? Like a hatchet, you are completely passive and God just picks you up and starts whacking away on stuff.

Where do people get this in our day? Right here—you are looking at it. The Heidelberg Disputation 1518 practically applied in 2015.

We are going to look at thesis 7 in a little more detail, but first, let’s get another big picture; let’s address this idea of perpetual condemning sin and the traditional Reformed remedy. We are going to call on our good friend John Calvin to help us with this. Obviously, if Christians swim in the waters of condemnation, there needs to be a remedy, so let’s go to a trusty Reformed commentary:

…by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God… Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God (John Calvin: Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles; The Calvin Translation Society 1855. Editor: John Owen, p. 165 ¶4).

So, daily we ask forgiveness for mortal sin (that which removes us from grace), and this “ALONE” keeps us in the family of God. But wait, did you know there is only one place where you can get that ongoing forgiveness? Let’s again consult John Calvin to find out where that place might be:

Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.21).

To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to the Church (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). For when Christ gave the command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ; but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.22).

Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place (Ibid).

This is what the crux of the Reformed gospel is: a perpetual justification for perpetual condemnation. Do we have present-day examples of this? Sure we do; specifically, the interpretation of 1John 1:9 by many in Presbyterian and Baptist circles.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The idea that this verse proffers a continued repentance for “present sin” is fairly common in Protestant circles of all stripes. Of course, this boils down to keeping yourself saved via repentance. How is that not works salvation? But at any rate, it begins with this idea that Christians dwell in constant mortal sin that needs continued forgiveness.

Here is another example from real life: Susan was at the grocery store and ran into an old friend who is a member of a mainstream evangelical Baptist church. Somehow, the subject got onto alter calls, and Susan wondered aloud why churches have alter calls. Here was the lady’s answer: “Well, I guess people have sin in their lives that needs confession.” Why do people need to go to church to get that forgiveness? Again, we may be far away from 1518, but that doesn’t mean the fruit falls far from the tree my friends.

Let’s now look at some of the finer points of thesis 7.

To trust in works, which one ought to do in fear, is equivalent to giving oneself the honor and taking it from God, to whom fear is due in connection with every work. But this is completely wrong, namely to please oneself, to enjoy oneself in one’s works, and to adore oneself as an idol. He who is self-confident and without fear of God, however, acts entirely in this manner. For if he had fear he would not be self-confident, and for this reason he would not be pleased with himself, but he would be pleased with God.

We begin the finer points with misplaced fear. Biblically, there is to be no fear of condemnation; in fact, love and fear of condemnation are mutually exclusive:

1John 4:18 – There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Christians do not fear eternal condemnation because there is “NOW no condemnation” for those who believe (Romans 8:1). In contrast, Luther, as well as Calvin, cited fear of condemnation as the primary motivator of the Christian life. Luther has stated it here in thesis 7, but Calvin was a little more to the point:

Certain learned men, who lived long before the present days and were desirous to speak simply and sincerely according to the rule of Scripture, held that repentance consists of two parts, mortification and quickening. By mortification they mean, grief of soul and terror, produced by a conviction of sin and a sense of the divine judgment. For when a man is brought to a true knowledge of sin, he begins truly to hate and abominate sin… By quickening they mean, the comfort which is produced by faith, as when a man prostrated by a consciousness of sin, and smitten with the fear of God, afterwards beholding his goodness, and the mercy, grace, and salvation obtained through Christ, looks up, begins to breathe, takes courage, and passes, as it were, from death unto life. I admit that these terms, when rightly interpreted, aptly enough express the power of repentance; only I cannot assent to their using the term quickening, for the joy which the soul feels after being calmed from perturbation and fear. It more properly means, that desire of pious and holy living which springs from the new birth; as if it were said, that the man dies to himself that he may begin to live unto God (CI 3.3.3).

This quotation by Calvin also revisits the doctrine of mortification and vivification that we discussed in prior lessons. But the main point for citing this text from the Calvin Institutes is to show that THE primary motivator of sanctification according to the Reformers was, and still is condemnation and fear of future eternal judgement.

Just please let that sink in for a while. You can’t chalk this up to a secondary disagreement with the heroes of the Protestant faith, this is the heart and soul of their soteriology. Granted, biblically, Christians are to fear present consequences in this life, and that is one of the motivators for Christian living. This is Moses’ “blessings and cursings’’ that apply to believers and unbelievers alike. However, for unbelievers, while a moral life does lead to blessings in this life, it only results in lesser condemnation in the end. For the Christian, it’s more and more life unto life. Christ came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. But, also, “judgement begins in the household of God” right? Remember Ananias and Sapphira? That event made the assemblies “fear” which actually spurred growth in the assemblies. But this is not a fear of condemnation. That kind of fear stifles love.

So let that sink in as well. Love cannot thrive in the midst of condemnation and the fear thereof. Why is the institutional church so messed up? Are you beginning to see why? Susan and I were talking about something for our grandchild to do this summer and the idea of VBS came up. I shot the idea down; for better or worse, I have studied all of this long enough to know I do not want my grandson anywhere near an institutional church that considers itself Protestant. What’s the alternative? Well, not a lie because it’s the only game in town. Christians need to get busy building true Christian communities.

But this is completely wrong, namely to please oneself, to enjoy oneself in one’s works, and to adore oneself as an idol. He who is self-confident and without fear of God, however, acts entirely in this manner. For if he had fear he would not be self-confident, and for this reason he would not be pleased with himself, but he would be pleased with God.

We could discuss the fact that the Bible plainly states that it is perfectly ok to take satisfaction in a job well done, but the bigger and finer point is the either/or interpretive prism that is a hard fast rule in Protestant teaching. We sometimes call this the either/or hermeneutic. This concept saturates Protestantism. You can’t please yourself and God, you either totally please yourself or totally please God. You can’t be confident enough to do a job well and take satisfaction in it without being arrogant; you either have NO self-confidence, or you are making yourself God—it’s either/or with no in-between. There is no balance.

Of course, this is the Platonist aspect of Reformed theology and is the natural result of the dualism philosophy that Platonism is based on. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that it all flows from the knowledge of good and evil doctrine first presented to Eve. I think that is a whole wide open frontier of research that hasn’t been explored yet.

So, tonight we only covered thesis 7 and will continue with thesis 8 next week.

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