Full Text for Creative Grace in The Essay 'What Commitment to the "Sola Gratia" of the Lutheran Confessions Involves' (Text)

Vol. XXXILI Spring, 1969 No. 1 - -- - - - TIIE S P H I N G F ~ E T ~ U E K is ptihlished quarterly by the faculty of Con- oordia Thiwlogical Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, of the Lutheran Cl~urch-- hlissouri Synod. EDITORIAT, COiVIbRjllT'I'EE, EE:ICIT 1.3. I4 ~ ~ I N ' T Z E N , Editor I ~ . ~ Y M O N D F. SURBCRG, Book Ret7imv Editor D n vIrl P. SC.AEF,, A~socinte Ellitor ~IAI:K j. S'TEEGE, A S S O C ~ U ~ E Editor ] ' ~ ~ E S J I ) E N ? . J . 11. 0. PHEUS, CX offici0 Contents RESPONSES T(_) "\iS'HAFI' COIZ,Tfi~Jl'I'ME.XT O 'THE, 'SC)I.,A GI;ATIA' IN 'THE ~ . ~ ' I ' H E : ] < A & ~ CONFI;SSJO;XS lly li(jL 1FIj;S'' Rrc:~raxu J . SC:H~I ,T-Z . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 E ~ E ~ C H F1. I ~ ~ E I N T X E N . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 RESI'<.)&SL:.S 'I7() "'l'IiIF ILUTMEl:AN CO.N[;ESSlONS ' S 0 l - A SC.:I:IP'I-T_JRA' I ' EV(:EK.E E'. K z , ~ ; G . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . T;:~I.CU I ~ I I A M E 11 . . . . 2 3 lndcxcrl ill. INDEX TO RELIGJOUS PERIODICAL ITERATURE, published by the Americuli 'r'l~rologicul Lihmry Associatiolz, 3IcCor~rnick Seminun. I,iht-fir->:, Chictigo., : 'li?lois. Clcrgy changcs of ,tdrlress reported to Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, will also cover mailing change of r/3~ Spr-irzgficlder. Other changes of address should be scnt to the Business Manager of The Springfielder, Con- cordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois 62702. Address conimunications to the Editor, Erich H. Heintzen, Concordia Thea logical Seminary, Springfield, Illinois 62702. Creative Grace in The Essay "What Commitment to The 'Sola Gratia' of The Lutheran Confessions Involves" T HE THREE ESSAYS prepared by the commissioners of The American Lutheran Church and Thc Luthern Church-Missouri Synod in the search for consensus were not prepared or offered as union documents. No one is asked to vote on them. They viere meant as partial, sample expressions of the consensus to which the conlrrlissioners bear witness by a special document wherein they assure the churches that in their meetings they did achieve con- sensus. Thc essays were presented to the churches for study and discussion. They were to be springboards for discussion and not articles of subscription. Since these essays were not presented as the instruments by which fellowship will or will not be declared or effected, they may bc looked upon as rather free-wheeling statements. By "free-wheel- ing" we do not mean "careless." Rather, such essays are not subject to the rigorous and extremely cautious verbal ordering required of "official documents." In the process of studying the essays, one is free to express per- sonal reactions to the concepts and the wording. To "like" or "dis- like" the expressions in the essays is not necessarily indicative of one's viewpoint about fellowship. This article docs not enter into pros and cons of fellowship. The reader is asked to bear this in mind. A detailed reaction to the essay on "Sola Gratia" would require many pages. I t would surely include many conlmendatory words for the clear and sometimes poetic expressions on "Sola Gratia." One rejoices at many fine, Lutheran, Scriptural erllphases which are set forth. The theme of salvation by grace through faith without human merit is not missed. The emphasis of this brief reaction, however, is upon the open- ing paragraphs of the essay. I t is meant to express a concern about thc use of the concept of creative gmce. The writer has examined the cssay many times, prayerfully. In the contest of the whole essay one can see that the authors seem to use the literary device of start- ing with a broad, general concept and then narrowing it to specific applications. God is the God of all grace, and therefore specifically of saving grace in Christ. All that God does is an act of undeserved mercy for man. However, when the topic under consideration is "What Com- mitment to the 'Sola Gratia' of the Lutheran Confessions Involves," one may wonder if the intrusion of the concept of creative grace is truly in accord with the confessions and if it is helpful. Perhaps our concern is distinctly pedagogical. I t may also have an element of worry about where pressing the concept of crea- tive grace end. Such fuzzy suggestions of indefinite dire pos- sibilities arc rather cowardly. The point will not be pressed. Rather, the emphasis will be this: "IVhy not retain the confessional usage of the concept of grace?" IYhat is gained by squeezing the word grace into God's creative and activity? It is interesting to see that many fine Bible references listed in the opening paragraphs of the essay do not list any which actually cillploy the word "grace." They refer to the goodness and power of God in creating and sustaining the earth and its creatures and inhabitants. This is an excellent teaching to recall, but it is not involvcd in what Lutherans talk about when they speak about tllc great Reformation theme of "Sola Gratia." The essay says: "Both the Old and New Testament witness to creation as an act of gracc by putting creation into direct relation with thc saving activity of God." By "direct relation" the essay re- fers to the fact that in proximate verses and even in single verses of Scripture wc tIo read that the God who redeems is the same God who crcatcd His people and the world. IVe fail to follow the logic of thc conclusion that this witnesses to "creation as an act of g-race." The cssay further states: "The grace of the Creator is mani- fested in the creation and care of man." Again, one is moved to ask whether it is grace which is thus manifested. Is it true that grace as Lutherans use the term is manifested in the rain and sunshine and enzymic action of the soil? And when any human being has bene- fitted from the providential, sustaining acts of God, has he received grace? T o all of this one might reply that in a manner of speaking one can refer to all of the beneficial acts of God toward man as acts of grace. The question is whether or not such a concept of grace is helpful and whether it reflects the "Sola Gratia" of the Confessions (which is thc announced then~e of the essay). In a recent nntioilal paid advertisement, the Knights of Colum- bus used as an attention-getting headline the question: "The Grace of God-L\'hat Does It Mean?" They say: "Saved from misfortune . . . or blcssed in a worldly way . . . some pious and well-meaning pcoplc are wont to say: 'It was only by the grace of God.' This may reflect a worthy attitude of appreciation toward God, but i t doesn't hcccssarily reflect the understanding of divine grace every Christian should have." The advertisement then goes on to present the tradi- tional Roman doctrine of grace as infused grace. As little as a gen- eral, providential grace suffices for the Roman Catholics, so little does it suffice to express the grcat "Sola Gratis" which the Lutheran confessors opposed to gratia infusa. It is instructive to study the confessions where they employ the tern1 grace. The Augsburg Confession refers to "grace" as a state into which men are received hecause of Christ's merits. Article V:4: " . . . that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justi- Of Grace 5 fies those who believe that they are reccived into grace for Christ's sake." Article XX: 9: "First, that our works cannot reconcile God or merit forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification, but that we ob- tain this only by faith, when we believc that we are received into favor for Christ's sake, who alone has been set forth the Mediator and Propitiation . . . ." The Augsburg Confession speaks of "grace" as something ob- tained for Christ's sake. Article XXVIII : 5 2 : "It is necessary that the chief article of thc Gospel be preserved, to wit, that we obtain grace freely by faith in Christ. and not for certain observances or acts of worship devised by men." In speaking of creation, The Largc Catechism (The Creed, I : 2 3 ) says: ". . . it is God who gives and does all these things, that therein wc sense and see His paternal heart, and His transcendent love toward us." Note that Luther uses the word love to denote the divine motivation for creation and prcscrvation. "Grace," on the other hand, The Largc Catechism places under the second article (The Creed, 11: 30): ". . , Jesus Christ . . . made us free, and brought us again into the favor and grace of the Father, and has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protec- tion, that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life and blessedness." In the Large Catechism, The Creed, I11 : 5 4 Luther notes: ". . . the grace of God is secured through Christ . . . ." Later in the section on the Creed, 111: 6 8 he adds: ". . . but this (namely, the doctrine of faith) brings pure grace, and makes us godly and acceptable to God." Again, in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 111: 106 we read; "But that virtue justifies which apprehends Christ, which communicates to us Christ's merits, by which we receive grace and peace from God. But this virtue is faith." In view of this use of the term gracc, one shies at the state- ment of the essay that ". . . man's fall was that he willed to be 'like God', independent of the grace of God (Gen. 3)." One searches Genesis 3 in vain to find a statement that man declared himself free from God's grace. Grace, as the Confessions refer to it, was not needed by man prior to the Fall. It is offered to men as God's solu- tion to the results of the Fall. Man rejected God's dominion. The essay repeats the theme of creative grace by suggesting that mankind is "united in revolt against the grace of the Creator." This revolt then seems to be defined as the action of fallen man who "ignores God's continued manifestation of Himself in the things that He has made." \Ve may be misreading at this point, but it seems easy to draw the conclusion that the grace at which man revolts is equivalent to whatever it is that God reveals about Himself in the things that He has made. That the essayists really do not mean this is evidenced by their prior use of John 1 : 1 7 : "Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Man learns about God's eternal power and godhead as he contemplates creation, but he will never find grace in the things which God has made. For this revelation he must turn to the specific rcvcllltion \vhich comes only through the person and words and acts fIis Son. The question is: 'li'hy use verbiage which gets one tangled up in what is definitely not involved in conr mitnlent to the "Sola GratiaV of the Lutheran Confessions? In the light of the whole essay, it would be foolish to see too nlany shadows in the references to divine grace as creator grace. 'The essay does contain adequate testimony to the nature of gracc as being forgving action for the sake of Christ, appre- hended by faith alone and accessible through a special revelation in tllc Scriptures. For I,utherans c o m l ~ ~ i t t ~ d o the "Sola Gratia" of the Confes- sions, grace is ,lot in creation and providence. The kind of gracc refcrrcd to by "Sola Gratia" is specific, special and exclusive. It is a grncc which ollcratcs in the redemptive activity of Christ and the work of thc Holv Spirit. L\'ithout Christ's redemptive activity, the world rcccivcs ~ b t l ' s love and care. He makes His rain to fall oo thc just and on thc unjust. Ile seriously offers His saving grace to all, for Christ has objectively merited full salvation and forgiveness in the stead of 311 111cn. Yet, all Illen do not receive that grace. [f it is said that in a manner of speaking one may refer to all of God's activities on bchalf of nlan as gracious acts, undeserved and proceeding from an omnipotent God who continues to sustain men who clescrve only dcstructinn, we may agree. Yet, when we are at- tempting to eluciclatc the idea of grace as it is presented in the Luth- eran Confessions, wc. do well to avoid this unnecessary and confusing use. For the sakc of clarity and in the interest of avoiding open doors which may lead pcoplc astray, language should remain precise. Ilcre and there today one notices these "new" uses of terms which then require explanation and denial of "what wasn't meant." liccently we rcnd a book which offered so many and such conflicting definitions of a sacranlent that anyone reading it found his head spinning. Careful, painstaking perusal indicated that the author was trying to express some good, old ideas by clothing them in rather spectacular terminology. To use current language to preach the Gos- . pel is sound practice. To confuse ourselves by introducing unhelp ful meanings when we arc seeking clarity in our commitment to our standard confessions may be putting burrs under the saddle of the horse wc are trying to gentle.