Stand in Awe of Justification
The Diamond Among the Jewels of Divine Revelation
[Presented to The Minnesota District Pastoral Conference April 12-13, 1983 at Martin Luther Ev. Lutheran Church St. Louis, MO]
The doctrine of justification is the shining jewel of our faith. Indeed, this teaching of Scripture is the heart and core of Christianity. Luther, as is well known, called justification the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. Dr. Luther goes on in admiring this jewel by saying:
The article of justification is the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines; it preserves and governs all church doctrine and raises up our conscience before God. Without this article the world is utter death and darkness... The doctrine of justification must, as I frequently urge, be diligently learned; for in it all the other articles of our faith are comprehended. And when that is safe, the others are safe too.1 (E. M. Plass, ed, What Luther Says: An Anthology, 3 volumes. (St. Louis: CPH, 1959), 2:703-704.)
The Confessions of our Church echo this regard for the centrality of justification. Each of the symbols of Reformation vintage view justification as "the chief topic of Christian doctrine"2 or words to that effect. Therefore, since we view this doctrine as the central teaching of our church, by which the church stands or falls, it is not without some trepidation that this paper is presented. I certainly must confess, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
Last year, when first approached to take this assignment, I was under the impression that this paper would be a response to the now famous "Kokomo case." (My only criterion for selection was that I happened to vicar in the same conference back in '78-'79, when the situation first developed. Now I know that vicaring for George Boldt is an honor, but I wonder if I should thank him for being assigned a paper purely by association?!) In the intervening year, the Kokomo case has been dealt with by the proper committees of our church. Yet to read the "august" pages of the Christian News one would imagine that the controversy rages on. Such is not the case. I am convinced that our gracious Lord has united the brethren in our Church in a Scriptural understanding of justification. There is no controversy or conflict within the WELS. However, since our position has been raped and plundered by those who put words into our mouths, this paper might prove a beneficial review.
One final word of apology before we start in. The subject matter assigned was "objective - subjective justification." I found the assigned topic rather extensive. Where does one begin? In the course of preparing this essay, brethren asked me to review the Kokomo situation. Others wanted me to cover the Maier case at Ft. Wayne. Others asked for an exegetical presentation of pertinent passages. At the risk of trying to cover everything, yet doing nothing thoroughly, I will attempt to oblige all. I hope to present a brief review of Scripture teaching on justification and also analyze the current difficulties men are having with this central doctrine of the Bible. Let us polish the jewel of justification. We need always to stand in awe of this diamond among all of God's revelation.
I. Listen to Men Describe its Various Facets
Lutherans view justification as the key to understanding God's plan of salvation. To paraphrase a popular ad, we could shout "When you've said justification, you've said it all." The term is a catch-all phrase by which we feel confident that orthodox teaching is preserved. But is it? What have we said? What do we mean? Sometimes the pastor in the pulpit uses a handy theological trade word that only confuses the parishioner in the pew. We need to examine how men try to describe the various facets of this brilliant jewel.