Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ex Opere Operato is Alive and Well and Living in the Ablaze! Program

In the Twenty-First Thesis on the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, C.F.W. Walther writes:

"... the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act. The grave error which is scored by this thesis is held by the papists, who teach men that they will derive some benefit by merely submitting to the act of being baptized, despite the fact that they are still unbelievers, provided they are not actually living in mortal sins. That mere act is said to bring them God’s favor or make God gracious to them. They teach the same regarding the Mass and the Lord’s Supper, viz., that grace is obtained by the mere act of attending these rites. This impious and abominable teaching contradicts point-blank the Word of God, in particular, the Gospel, which teaches that a person is justified before God and saved by grace alone, and that he cannot perform any good work until he has been thus justified.

The Ablaze! Program doesn't make much mention of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper. For the most part, it seems to be interested in telling people about the Gospel -- telling them about Jesus and what an awesome, spectacular, praiseworthy and loving god our God is.

Adherents of the Ablaze! Program make it sound that encountering people with a Gospel presentation is worthy to be counted as a significant event. Just say something about Jesus or have a prayer with your waitress and we'll chalk it up on the Ablaze! counter.

The opus operatum approach, if one were to generalize or over-simplify, is the way of Roman Catholicism, while the opposite extreme, opus operantis is the way of the Reformed. The former emphasizes the efficacy of a done deed. The latter attributes efficacy to the faith one has in the heart.

Luther ultimately avoided such a dichotomy as being unhelpful. For him, the Gospel was not effective: it was salutary. The Gospel dunamis was not irresistable force and effective power, but it was enlivening and vivacious. (Life is so fragile, but at the same time no power on earth -- no chemical, no physical, no nuclear, no psychological, no spiritual power is capable of creating it.)

The Ablaze! Campaign says little about repentance, denying one's self, confession, and a salutary use of the means of grace. It's too busy doing its deeds ex opere operato and catching it digitally to promote in a newsletter, website or brochure.

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