Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Difficulty of Evangelism for Calvinists

For Reformed Calvinists their doctrine of election is a thing of objective beauty derived by logical deduction from the principle of God's sovereignty over all creation. But for non-Calvinists it is more like a dark, labyrinthine maze which leads to a God who, despite sending His Son to ostensibly save the world (John 3:16), actually intends only to save some, having already decided before the Fall into sin to condemn a goodly portion of humankind to eternal damnation for the sake of His own glory. Technically, this view is called Supralapsarianism, and a presentation of it can be found in John Calvin:
"For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestined either to life or to death"
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III 21:5.
Some Reformed theologians softened the starkness of Calvin's doctrine by positing that God's elective decree to save some and pass by others logically took place after the Fall, a view known as Infralapsarianism. This was regarded as more adequately preserving the goodness and justice of God, since he was only passing by guilty sinners who deserved eternal death anyway. But the distinction is academic, since both schools of Reformed thought deny the Biblical doctrine of universal grace, that is, that God loves all people and desires their salvation (Ezek 18:23; 1 Tim 2:3-4; note that universal grace does not equate to universal salvation). Thus the Lutheran Francis Pieper could write:    
"The Calvinistic Reformed bodies not only deny, but, in part, bitterly attack the gratia universalis (universal grace - Acro.) and teach the particularism of saving grace in its strictest form: God does not love all men, Christ did not redeem all men, the Holy Ghost does not desire to convert all men. The division into supralapsarians and infralapsarians does not touch the question of universal grace. Both groups deny it. The supralapsarians teach that God has decreed to create a part of mankind unto damnation. The infralapsarians teach that God has decreed to leave a part of mankind in the damnation incurred by all men through the Fall, or to pass them by with His grace."
Francis Pieper, in Christian Dogmatics (Eng. trans. St Louis, 1951) volume II, 'The Saving Grace of God', pp. 24-25.
Lutherans have, more or less since the definitive divergence of views on the sacramental union in the Lord's supper at the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, regarded Reformed theology as harbouring a strong element of rationalism which seeks to fill, through human reason, what they perceive as lacunae in Holy Scripture, a tendency which actually leads to the denial of clear teaching passages (sedes doctrinae) of Holy Writ. Lutherans point to several misconceived Reformed doctrines as a result of this tendency, classic cases being the already mentioned doctrine of the sacramental union in the Lord's supper and the question "cur alii praes aliis?", why are some saved but not others? With an eye on the development of the Reformed doctrine of election and in order to stave off any controversy within German Lutheranism, the Lutheran doctrine of election was set forth definitively in the Formula of Concord (1579):
 "The eternal election or ordination of God to eternal life Is not to be considered in God's secret, inscrutable counsel in such a bare manner as though it comprised nothing further, or as though nothing more belonged to it, and nothing more were to be considered in it, than that God foresaw who and how many were to be saved, who and how many were to be damned, or that He only held a [sort of military] muster, thus: "This one shall be saved, that one shall be damned; this one shall remain steadfast [in faith to the end], that one shall not remain steadfast."
For from this notion many derive and conceive strange, dangerous, and pernicious thoughts, which occasion and strengthen either security and impenitence or despondency and despair, so that they fall into troublesome thoughts and [for thus some think, with peril to themselves, nay, even sometimes] say: Since, before the foundation of the world was laid, Eph. 1:4, God has foreknown [predestinated] His elect to salvation, and God's foreknowledge [election] cannot fail nor be hindered or changed by any one, Is. 14:27; Rom. 9:19, therefore, if I am foreknown [elected] to salvation, nothing can injure me with respect to it, even though I practise all sorts of sin and shame without repentance, have no regard for the Word and Sacraments, concern myself neither with repentance, faith, prayer, nor godliness; but I shall and must be saved nevertheless, because God's foreknowledge [election] must come to pass. If, however, I am not foreknown [predestinated], it helps me nothing anyway, even though I would occupy myself with the Word, repent, believe, etc.; for I cannot hinder or change God's foreknowledge [predestination].
And indeed also to godly hearts, even when, by God's grace they have repentance, faith, and a good purpose [of living in a godly manner], such thoughts occur as these: If you are not foreknown [predestinated or elected] from eternity to salvation, everything [your every effort and entire labor] is of no avail. This occurs especially when they view their weakness and the examples of those who have not persevered [in faith to the end], but have fallen away again [from true godliness to ungodliness, and have become apostates].
To this false delusion and [dangerous] thought we should oppose the following clear argument, which is sure and cannot fail, namely: Since all Scripture, given by inspiration of God, is to serve, not for [cherishing] security and impenitence, but for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 2 Tim. 3:16; also, since everything in God's Word has been prescribed to us, not that we should thereby be driven to despair, but that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope, Rom. 15:4, therefore it is without any doubt in no way the sound sense or right use of the doctrine concerning the eternal foreknowledge of God that either impenitence or despair should be occasioned or strengthened thereby. Accordingly, the Scriptures teach this doctrine in no other way than to direct us thereby to the [revealed] Word, Eph. 1:13; 1 Cor. 1:7; exhort to repentance, 2 Tim. 3:16; urge to godliness, Eph. 1:14; John 15:3; strengthen faith and assure us of our salvation, Eph. 1:13; John 10:27f ; 2 Thess. 2:13f.
Therefore, if we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably concerning eternal election, or the predestination and ordination of the children of God to eternal life, we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the bare, secret, concealed, inscrutable foreknowledge of God, but how the counsel, purpose, and ordination of God in Christ Jesus, who is the true Book of Life, is revealed to us through the Word, 14] namely, that the entire doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation should be taken together; as Paul treats and has explained this article Rom. 8:29f ; Eph. 1:4f , as also Christ in the parable, Matt. 22:1ff , namely, that God in His purpose and counsel ordained [decreed]:
1. That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless [innocency] obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.
2. That such merit and benefits of Christ shall be presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments.
3. That by His Holy Ghost, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, He will be efficacious and active in us, convert hearts to true repentance, and preserve them in the true faith.
4. That He will justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith, and will receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life.
5. That He will also sanctify in love those who are thus justified, as St. Paul says, Eph. 1:4.
6. That He also will protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, and rule and lead them in His ways, raise them again [place His hand beneath them], when they stumble, comfort them under the cross and in temptation, and preserve them [for life eternal].
7. That He will also strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work which He has begun in them, if they adhere to God's Word, pray diligently, abide in God's goodness [grace], and faithfully use the gifts received.
8. That finally He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified."
The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Art. XI Election, paras 9-22. Available in full here
 Now that's good news!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

C. S. Lewis on Liturgy

The reputation of C. S. Lewis as a lay theologian waxes and wanes. Certainly one wouldn't...couldn't endorse all of his opinions, which can sometimes be very idiosyncratic (after all, he wasn't trained as theologian). He is at his most valuable, I have found, as a purveyor of common sense reflection on church life from the perspective of the educated lay person, and that is a type of rare voice that clergy need to heed. Professional clergy can easily become cocooned, as it were, in their own rarefied world. Lewis's greatest value to clergy is that he can jolt one out of that world, as he does in these quotes on liturgy (personally I'm very close to Lewis here, so maybe I'm an atypical clergyman):     

"Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best -- if you like, it "works" best -- when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping."
Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer

"I would ask the clergy to believe that we, laymen, are more interested in orthodoxy and less interested in liturgiology as such than they can easily imagine...  What we laymen fear is that the deepest doctrinal issues should he tacitly and implicitly settled by what seem to he, merely changes in liturgy.  A man who is wondering whether the fare set before him is food or poison is not reassured by being told that the course is now restored to its traditional place in the menu or that the tureen is of the Sarum [i.e. old Salisbury] pattern.  We laymen are ignorant and timid.  Our lives are ever in our hands, the avenger of blood is on our heels and of each of us his soul may this night he required.  Can you blame us if the reduction of grave doctrinal issues to merely liturgical issues fills us with something like terror? 
...I submit that the relation [between doctrine and liturgy-Acro.] is healthy when liturgy expresses the belief of the Church, morbid when liturgy creates in the people by suggestion beliefs which the Church has not publicly professed, taught and believed."
God in the Dock

“Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” 
Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer