Thursday, May 29, 2008

We Condemn

I was going to haul out my copy of Hans Werner Gensichen's book We Condemn: How Luther and 16th Century Lutheranism Condemned False Doctrine in order to quote a few salient paragraphs, but I can't find it in my piles of stuff right now.

In them meantime, while my mind is on it, I'm posting a brief comment on the book by Ralph Tate found at the ConcordTX site. He gets the gist of the differences between the Lutheran and the Reformed-Roman Catholic condemnations.

In Gensichen's book, "Damnamus: How Lutheran Reformers Condemned False Doctrine",* he discusses the use of "anathema." You can find the use of "we condemn" or "damnamus" or "anathema" throughout the Book of Concord, but most prevalently in the Formula of Concord. (See also Nagel's paper on "Antithesis".**)

In Reformed or Catholic circles, the anathema strikes at the person. Why? Because they are both works based theologies. Rome places works before Justification, while Reformed teachers place works immediately following. Since both hold to a form of infused righteousness, the anathema necessarily strikes at the individual. Thus, we can see that their anathemas generally degenerate into ad hominem attacks, which are often fallacious.

However, you will note that, generally speaking, Lutherans use "anathema" in a totally different manner. They use it evangelically. In other words, anathemas are used to mark the boundary of churchly belief and practice by condemning only errant doctrine.

This, in turn, has a two-fold function: 1) to protect simple believers within the church and 2) to reclaim the errant teacher. It is much the same way Lutherans use excommunication: not to punish but rather to protect and reclaim.

At a different level (the pedigogical, catechetical, educational), the anathemas serve as antithesis. A thesis must have appropriate antithesis. For example, if I say, "This is a car." I must also be able to say what it's not, "This is not a cat." Something either "is" (true) or it "is not" (false; the Law of Non-contradiction).

In fact, as Bacon points out, the negative instance is always stronger than the positive instance. So, if I say, "This is Christ", then I must be prepared to say, "This is anti-Christ."

Thus, you can see that our Confessors were not simply being cranky curmudgeons when stating "damnamus!" Rather they had a very precise pedagogical and evangelical purpose. To allow people to remain impenitent in error is just simply irresponsible. It is childish and cowardly ("effeminate") to act otherwise. This is very deadly business. That is exactly why the Formula of Concord is crafted in a thesis/antithesis structure. Antithesis is the antiphon to the thesis (Nagel). It's also why so many "Lutherans" blanch at subscribing to it: our old Adam just can't stand the heat.

Now there are exceptions to almost anything. For example, you may find Zwingli, Calvin and Pope/Cardinals condemned by name. According to the rules of rhetoric, ad hominem condemnation is valid whenever the teacher and his teaching/cause are so closely identified as to be synonymous. This is especially true if such teachers persist in false doctrine after repeated admonition. Hence, Zwingli, Calvin and various papal representatives are condemned [by name].

So, rather than being acrimonious, the proper use of the anathema is both very evangelical and uplifting. Still, condemnations are a real problem for many in our synod, today. When cited for error, they recoil with personal attack, because they sense personal afrontery. The root problem is that many "leaders" in our synod have internalized many Reformed notions. [We live in a society that, after all, is steeped in a world-view whose genetic kernel is Reformed.] Such sensitive little gods we've become!

You can readily see this effect in many sermons, communion practices, ad nauseam, a la Church Growth and Leadership programs. The reason is that Justification (sola fide), and its Law/Gospel corollary, have been replaced by the Great Commission as theology's material principle. Sermons become self-help exercises in positive thinking. Communion becomes a cattle-call. We say, "Jesus loves you", but we can't draw ourselves to say, "repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand." In the end, we just damn people all the more just like Luther's Heidelberg Disputation argues.

Rather the Cross itself is the most awful polemic against man's designs. It's its own thesis/antithesis. There, the Crucified One both condemns us and saves us. In fact, He must condemn us, crush us and annihilate us so that He can save us, resurrect us and make us anew. Those who quail and quiver at anathemas and condemnations understand neither the Cross nor really believe the Resurrection. For the cruelty of the Cross necessarily presupposes the Resurrection.

So, in summary, Reformed/Catholic anathemas strike at the person, because of their doctrine of Personal-Righteousness. Lutherans use the anathema evangelically to protect, teach and reclaim, because their material principle is the sola fide, Christ's imputed Righteousness. Those who are touchy about such issues either are in denial or are hiding another agenda.


* Hans-Werner Gensichen, "We Condemn: How Luther and 16th Century Lutheranism Condemned False Doctrine" (St Louis, Mo: CPH, 1967).

** Norman Nagel, "Externum Verbum: Testing Augustana V on the Doctrine of the Holy Ministry", LOGIA, Vol. VI, No. 3 (Crestwood, MO: The Luther Academy, Holy Trinity 1997).

1 comment:

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Very interesting point. Thanks.

Just testing it I did a couple simple word searches on the Confessions. Searching for "condemn those" brings up a dozen references. Searching for "condemn the" brings up sixty. Of course not all these references are pertinent, but it shows the basic language pattern being 5:1 in favor of the point you make.