Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 56 - Predestination Controversy (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-056 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DR. LAWRENCE RAST: I'm happy to take up that question of what really happened in the predestination controversy. It was a very devastating moment in American Lutheran history the results of which continue to affect us even down to the present. Let me give you the short answer to what actually happened during those times. Over the course of a number of years, C. F. W. Walther, as president of the Missouri Synod, had been delivering essays on how the Lutheran Church alone gives full glory to God as God is savior, as God expresses salvific intent by grace alone, and the like. And in 1877, he took up the issue of predestination, or election. In that particular essay, he made the comment that he believed election is a cause of faith. And in that respect, he was simply referring to the language of Formula of Concord, Article 11. Initially, there was little response to his essay. The assumption was that it was a faithful proclamation of what the Lutheran Church had taught. However, later on, a particular theologian by the name of F. A. Schmidt began publicly to express reservations about Walther�s position, and ultimately to accuse Walther of Calvinism. As he turned up the heat in the rhetoric, other Lutheran became concerned about Walther�s position as well. And quickly, the controversy went into two directions. One question had to do with the matter of predestination proper. On what basis does God elect people to salvation? The other question grew out of that. And that question was: What is the nature of conversion. First, in regard to predestination, as we've already said, Walther said God's electing activity in Christ is a cause of faith in those who come to salvation. At the same time, Walther and the Missourians made it clear that those who are lost are lost because of their own personal rejection of the gospel, not because God causes them to reject the gospel. Indeed, this is a deep and profound mystery. Yet, said Walther, we must take the word as God's word. When the Scriptures speak of God's electing activity, they always speak of his election in terms of Christ done by grace. And when they speak of ones who are lost, they always speak of man's rejection. Matthias Loy and the Ohio Synod took a different tack. They said that God elected in view of faith. That is, God in his foreknowledge saw who would come to faith and who would not, and on the basis of their coming to faith, elected them to salvation. Walther and the Missourians responded that this made faith the cause of salvation, and faith, as something within man, becoming because of salvation compromised salvation by God's grace alone. The differences were not resolvable between the two theologians and the two synods. And the split occurred. Missouri adopted its 13 theses articulating its position. But very quickly, the controversy moved to the next point: namely, that of conversion. After all, if God elects in view of faith, the question quickly became: Then how does man come to faith. What is the nature? What is the essence of conversion? Missouri again said, if a man comes to faith, it is completely and totally because of the grace of God in Christ. On the other hand, F. A. Schmidt, a well-known theologian and active in a number of synods including the Missouri Synod, the Norwegian Synod, and the Ohio Synod, said, no. What we have here is a matter of resistance on the part of the individual who is confronted with the grace of God. And the way Schmidt answered the question was simply this: Some people are less resistant to God's grace than others. As he would finally put it, he would say this: God is able to overcome natural resistance in all human beings, that resistance that is bound up in our status as sinners, original sin in other words. But God is not able to overcome willful resistance in human beings. Here again, said the Missourians, Schmidt went too far. He was making something in human beings, something in the makeup of man, the cause of God's electing activity, rather than God's pure grace in Christ. As things played out, the argument became very intense. The Ohio Synod, and later on a portion of the Norwegian Synod, specifically a section of the Norwegian Synod that left the Synodical Conference and called itself the Anti-Missouri Brotherhood. This group said the Missouri Synod is Calvinist. Walther is a Calvinist. He believes in double predestination. Missouri, on the other hand, heightened their own rhetoric and accused the Ohio Synod and the Norwegian Synods of synergism, of man and God working together for salvation. The result: Division, and that division would not be healed for many, many years. As the controversy played itself out, we see a great tragedy within American Lutheranism, as confessional Lutherans come to different positions in regard to theology. In the case of the Missouri Synod, they strove and continued to strive to maintain their position on the basis of scripture and the confessions. The Ohio Synod went a little further. They used scripture. They used the confessions. They also turned to the orthodox theologians of the late 16th and 17th century where they could find the use of the language of election in view of faith as well and appealed to the tradition of the church in this regard. Sadly, the two were not able to bridge the gap for years and years to come. And that point remained an issue between the Missouri Synod and the later manifestations of the Ohio Synod, specifically the American Lutheran Church, well into the 20th century. What it does show in both cases is the seriousness with which these groups took their theology and their practice. And interestingly enough, it also provided a real test of the polity of the Missouri Synod. At this point in time, the polity of the Missouri Synod was first tested in its most profound way. And what I mean by that is this: When the predestination controversy broke out, when division occurred within the Synodical Conference, there was a rearrangement of congregations and pastors within the two church bodies as well. That is to say, some congregations and some pastors within the Missouri Synod no longer felt they could affirm, without equivocation, the Synod's stated position. And they freely removed themselves from fellowship with the Missouri Synod and entered into fellowship with the Ohio Synod. The same thing happened in the Ohio Synod as pastors and congregations removed themselves from that fellowship and joined the Missouri Synod. It is a sad story in the history of American Lutheranism. And the effects of that story continue to affect us today. How we will continue to strive forward within such a context remains to be seen. But even though this as an old controversy, an old question, it still is one that confronts the church today. As we strive to address it, I believe we must do so on the basis that our Missouri forefathers did: namely, clearly and simply on the basis of scripture as the sole source, rule, and norm and its right exposition in the Lutheran confessions. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****