On denying the sacrament for “political” reasons

Confessional Lutherans get excoriated for not admitting members of other churches to the Lord’s Supper, though I don’t hear many people complaining when that happens in Catholic or Orthodox churches, which likewise practiced “close communion.” Some Catholics are taking this to another level by refusing to commune politicians who favor abortion.  Some are considering refusing to commune regular laypeople who disagree with the church’s other moral teachings.  Is that a possibility for Lutheran parishes, or does our different understanding of the Lord’s Supper and church discipline preclude that?

At any rate, Joel J. Miller, who is not Catholic but Orthodox, defends the Catholic practice from the ultra, ultra-liberal retired bishop in the Episcopal church Gene Robinson, who says that amounts to “playing politics” with the sacrament:

It’s absurd to trust the church for the grace of the sacrament and not the grace of its doctrine. The sacrament is a gift of God to his people, yes, and so is the church’s teaching. It’s not about being worthy or unworthy but being in communion with the church. No one is shocked if a Catholic priest denies the cup to a Protestant. Why should we be shocked if he denies it to someone who similarly dissents from church authority and teaching?

Second, as Robinson said, it is a gift. Conversely, it is not an entitlement. There’s no right to the Eucharist. It has always been the food of the faithful, and there has never been an open invitation. In the ancient church the unbaptized were not even allowed to witness it. To hear of people demanding the sacrament violates the very spirit of it. It’s something received with thanksgiving, not seized like a union benefit.

Third, the church has always barred people from the sacrament who live counter to the church’s moral teachings. That’s what Paul’s rant in 1 Corinthians 5 is all about. The man sleeping with his father’s wife was barred from fellowship and later restored to fellowship, as we discover in 2 Corinthians 2.

The sacrament is always administered pastorally, not robotically. If there are pastoral reasons to deny the cup, then denial is reasonable. That’s always been the case. As with the offender in Corinth, the point of such pastoral oversight and discipline is the ultimate restoration of the one barred. Repentance opens the way for the parched.

via Playing politics with the sacraments?.

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  • Seems to me that those living in unrepentant sin (and perhaps that includes leading others to sin) is always grounds for denying communion. Communing with those living in willful, unrepentant sin is just as dangerous as communing with believers in another (false) doctrine. If unity in confession must come before unity in communion, I would think the same 1 Corinthians principles apply to unrepentant, flagrant sinners.

  • kempin04

    “The sacrament is always administered pastorally, not robotically.”

    Would that the missouri synod would re-discover this foundational truth!

    Issues about admission to the Lord’s Supper are not resolved in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, but in the doctrine of the Public Ministry. Admission to the Lord’s Supper should not be based solely on a pre-printed self-diagnostic policy. It is the responsibility of a properly called pastor. (And yes, denial is also a part of this responsibility.)

  • Tom Hering

    Communing with those living in willful, unrepentant sin is just as dangerous … (@ 1)

    There is no danger in communing with unrepentant sinners. All the danger is theirs.

  • CRB

    Admission to the Lord’s Supper is inextricably tied to the office of the keys. However, when many congregations in the Lutheran realm operate only with one key (the forgiving one) why would anyone be surprised that some members (who deny the retaiming of sins key) would be promoting a “y’all come ‘policy”–in keeping with our culture’s non-judgmental attitudes and practices? It seems that one follows the other, no?

  • Tom @ 3,
    While you are technically right, there is an obligation on the behalf of the clergy to admonish those who are impenitently engaged in gross and heinous sin.

  • Jon

    In addition to the above comments which are aimed at the implications on the vertical aspect of the Supper (i.e., between God and recipient and right preparation to receive it to their benefit), what does this practice say about the horizontal aspect of the “communion” between those joining at the rail, or in the procession (i.e., that what you confess, I likewise confess)?

    I mean, not that we all have to be of the same political party, but we had better have the same confession of faith and agreement on the teachings of our part of the Body of Christ. We are supposed to be at peace with one another.

  • Tom Hering

    J @ 5, of course there is.

  • Like we are repentant, all of the time.

    Any overeaters here? Anyone here who flat out refuses to go out of their way to help people in need (regularly)?

    Would you rather sit at the computer than go out to seek the needy? (join the club)

    If you’re not worthy of it, then it is for you.

    Flaunting your sin, advocating sin, poisoning the congregation…is another matter.

  • Jon

    @8, so, Steve, you do have a fence then:

    “Flaunting your sin, advocating sin, poisoning the congregation…is another matter.”

  • Yes, we have a fence. But we don’t build it high. We don’t have litmus tests.

    We invite all baptized Christians who believe the Lord to be truly present in the elements to come and receive it.

    If the pastor is aware of someone who is poisonous to the congregation because of what they are doing, he can deny them the Supper.

  • Trey

    Tom is correct the danger is theirs. However, this may trouble Christians, which is the opposite of what the Lord desires in His Supper.

  • kerner

    Old Adam @10:

    We invite all baptized Christians who believe the Lord to be truly present in the elements to come and receive it.

    In theory. In practice, we often make all who claim to fit those qualifications to spend three months taking classes to prove it first. Even then, some Lutheran synods insist on a lot more agreement than that.

  • We have decided to err on the side of God’s grace for sinners.

    We believe the sacrament to be pure gospel. Not for those who are deserving. Not for those who understand it completely. But for who will receive it in faith.

    And in sermons and in classes, we proclaim it and teach about it.

  • Defense of denying communion for political views has to be done on a case by case basis. After all, a political position can have a moral component and some have a stronger moral component than others. And what is the Church without moral stands?

    I don’t always agree with the Roman Church but this practice has some validity.

  • Actually, those who commune with unrepentant sinners knowingly (key word there) do have danger, because Paul warns us to not even eat with someone who claims the Gospel, but denies the power thereof, in 2 Timothy 3. I would suggest that supporting the brutality of abortion qualifies for excluding such a person from (at least full) fellowship, and those who would welcome such people into full fellowship fall under the stigma of Paul’s warning.

  • I think Gene Robinson and others only understand the sacrament on horizontal terms. And why wouldn’t an unbeliever be scared? You have a church who holds the keys now withholding forgiveness because of a disagreement – one which Robinson can only understand in political terms. Next thing you, you have masses of unwashed peasants pursuing certain political agendas in the hopes of making heaven. Sounds like the middle-ages. I don’t agree with the construct or worldview (which seems to reduce all actions to the horizontal, and all conviction to politics), but I can understand it.

  • kempin04

    Old Adam, #13,

    “We have decided to err on the side of God’s grace for sinners.”

    If you are going to err, I suppose it is better to err on the side of the gospel. But shouldn’t the objective be NOT to err? The core premise of your statement reads in the first few words:

    “We have decided to err.”

  • fws

    Law and Gospel

    the losing key is the Gospel of Christ that is the unconditional declaration of the words “given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of sins . This key, alone, has an eternal consequence, alone, which is Life, and alone delivers Life, apart from any doing or undoing or not doing.

    the binding Law key is misused and misunderstood if it ever places any conditionality on the losing key. Period. our Lord reserves for himself on judgment day the task of separation of sheep and goat, wheat from weed, soil analysis and fruit inspection.

    the binding key has no eternal consequence at all. It is the removal of a disruptive person , just exactly as an usher would usher a loud person from the divine service. There is no other significance.

    for Lutherans, please note this asymetry in the small catechism. What is it that the pastor excludes,the impenitent from? The holy catholic church? No. The communion of saints? No
    that would be forbidden! From what then?

  • fws, good to hear from you. I hope you are feeling better.

  • DonS

    Responding to Tom’s comment @ 3, and following up on BB’s comment @ 15, there is danger in communing and being in Christian fellowship with unrepentant sinners. That is why the biblical process of church discipline ultimately leads to expulsion from the church.

    I Cor. 11 instructs us to examine ourselves in preparation for the Lord’s Supper. So the primary responsibility is ours, to ensure that we are are not partaking unworthily. However, if a pastor knows of a congregant’s unrepentant state, he should not commune him or her.

  • Tom Hering

    Don @ 20 (and Sarah @ 1), yeah, on second thought, there IS danger in letting unrepentant sinners take Communion – if they’re known to the congregation as such. Who among us is so strong as to never think, “If they can get away with it, why can’t I?” At least as a passing thought. Which would be harder and harder to shake off the longer we see the unrepentant sinner being allowed to take Communion.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    So here’s a question: On another post today I brought up the issue of gluttony. I someone is super-obese, to the point where they have been hospitalized for it, and continue to pile up their plates at every church event, are they unrepentant sinners, and should they be barred?

    No, before some assumes something, I’m not on a crusade – I just use the example as a test case for the ideas being floated here.

  • fjsteve


    Jumping in late to this debate but your question seems clear to me. Addicts are most often seriously repentant–actually, serially repentant. The over-eater, alcoholic, and drug addict are sick and spiritually starving individuals who need nourishment. Denying them communion is quite literally denying a starving man food.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    fjsteve – and when the addict is a Lutheran mister distributing the Communion, all the while reveling in his eating habits?

  • fjsteve


    If a person is publicly reveling in activities that run contrary to their stated beliefs, I would question whether they are truly addicts or if there’s something else going on in their lives. Addicts don’t tend revel in their habits, they more often tend to hide them. Nonetheless, to the extent the pastor’s addictions or any other proclivities are affecting the lives of his family or his congregation, he should consider stepping aside. If they’re grossly affecting them he should be forced to step aside. However, though he should be forced aside from public ministry, he should not necessarily be denied communion.

  • DonS

    fjsteve @ 25 states it well. The issue is open rebellion — an unrepentant attitude — not the sin itself.

    Another thing to keep in mind is I Cor. 6: 18. Paul says “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” God has a special regard for the monogamous sexual relationship between man and wife — He likens the relationship between Christ and the Church to that relationship.

  • Klasie, for starters (#24) that can be a Baptist, too, and I really wish (#22) you wouldn’t refer to me personally in this way. :^)

    Just kidding; really, great point, and suffice it to say that I agree that it is one of many “respectable sins” that the church has forgotten how to rebuke. And I can confess occasional difficulty with a knife and fork, though thankfully not hospitalization for gross obesity.

  • kempino04 @#17

    OK…I should have said, “IF we are to err…”

    We are very thankful that Jesus didn’t erect all kinds of fences around himself.

  • CRB

    Klasie @22
    The problem with the dealing with sinners is not a focus necessarily on what WE see. We need to return to the distinction of mortal and venial sins. When that is the starting point, then we can approach a person to determine if the sin problem is concerning one who revels in his/her sin(s) or is genuinely struggling with the sin(s). We all stumble into sins because of weakness (veniel) but when we defend our sin(s) and/or even promote them, then we are in danger of damnation and must be brought to repentance.

  • kempin04


    Regarding your analogy of gluttony, (just to be precise), on what specific scriptural basis would you rebuke an obese person?

  • Jon H.

    @30 Try Job 15:23, 27-30, New King James version.

  • We can all be rebuked…every single hour of every single day.

    There is quite a long list of things that we Christians ought be doing, but flat out refuse to do 99.5% of the time.

    That is a stone cold fact. Unless you are pumped with pride and believe that you are actually handling your humanity with steadfast unselfishness.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Kempin04 – the book of Proverbs identifies gluttony with drunkenness, in a couple of places, for starters.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Here’s another one: Gossip. Sure , occasionally it get preached against. But how many campaigns has there been to say force stores not to have those gossip magazines at the check-out? How many Christians have petitioned networks, or their elected officials against those malicious gossip spreaders like ET Today and TMZ? How many preachers have warned against the indulging in the fruit of the “labour” of the paparazzi? So again I ask, why concentrate on the one thing that does no harm to the neighbour of the one doing it, and ignore (or give far less attention) to that which is designed to harm people??

  • Frank fails properly to account for the fact that the keys include both loosing and binding. When one’s sins are “bound” there is no forgiveness, in fact, the person is placed outside the Church at that point, to be handed over to Satan, hopefully for a little while, in order to drive him to recognize his sin, repent of it and return to the Church.

    So, for instance, a homosexual person who persists in his homosexual activities, against his better judgement, in defiance of God’s clear Word, must be excommunicated.

    So also the one committing adultery and anyone caught up in what the Lutheran Confessions describe as open and manifest willful sins that do drive out the Holy Spirit.

  • CRB

    Rev. Paul T. McCain @35
    This is what the Scriptures and our confessions teach, but you forgot the exalted voters assembly:
    what do THEY say? : )
    The pastor can preach and exhort and encourage the congregation to address this issue, but if they take no action, then who’s to blame? Often the result is something like, “the pastor is mean, etc.”! Or, it’s just ignored until it (supposedly) “goes away.”
    Sadly, we are living in a time in the church where, “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many has grown cold.”

  • Preach it, Klasie, on both gluttony and gossip.

    Regarding proscription of gluttony, I’d also add the last letter of the decalogue. Seems to me that the person who won’t stop eating has a problem with covetousness.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Bike – my point is that I fail to see why Christians have such massive hang-ups on homosexuality, but these other things, that affects my neighbor, are so easily discarded.

  • Klasie–understood fully. My response is that I accept your test cases–and the rest of the 1 Timothy passage–with the provision that it be done with pastoral oversight in the overall context of church discipline. If a politican is promoting gluttony with corn subsidies or gossip by constantly using anonymous sources, they need to face the discipline of their church. That may, or may not, include refusal of the Lord’s Supper.

  • Dan

    KK @38
    It isn’t a “hang up” with homosexuality. If society (including the Church) were to celebrate other sinful behaviors and lifestyles then we would have to take a stand on these but as you know it is homosexuality that is being promoted an celebrated.

  • kempin04

    Klasie, #33,


    Jon H, #31,

    Good reference. It does seem, though, that the scripture from job cites obesity as a symptom of wealth. Would you agree? Would you further add the wealthy the list of those who need to be rebuked?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Kempin – Proverbs 23:20-21 & Proverbs 25:16 for starters. But there are also other places where drunkenness and gluttony are treated as a “pair” – like Deut. 21:20. And then there is St Paul’s comment about the Cretans.

  • kempin04


    Looks like we had better add sloth to the list, then, along with wealth.

    For the record, I am not, strictly speaking, objecting to the point. I just want to make sure that our rebukes are coming from the scripture and not just a pharisaic consensus. Your larger point is very well received, that we have a tendency to fixate on other people’s sins and ignore what the scripture says about our own. I’m just ruminating that while the scripture certainly speaks negatively of gluttony, I do not recall any place where it is specifically forbidden. Covetousness, as Bike says, would certainly cover “food greed” by implication. Overeating is poor stewardship. I’m not sure that obesity in itself is necessarily the evidence of sin, though. (Likely, perhaps, but not necessarily.) Would you make the same point about smoking, say, or about someone who does not maintain their health in a responsible way? Is that sin? Is it a sin to pierce your ears or tattoo, (Leviticus 19:28), or to use a tanning bed and risk skin cancer? If you are going to bind someone from the Lord’s supper, you had better have a crystal clear scripture. Biblically, there seems to be a stronger case for pierced ears than obesity.

  • fws

    McCain @ 35
    Hi Pastor Mc Cain
    Is there a reason you address everyone else in the second person and me in the third person? No need to answer. That was a rhetorical question.

    Frank fails properly to account for the fact that the keys include both loosing and binding.

    Nope. I accounted for both the binding and loosing keys. Anyone can see that quickly by reading my post eh?

    When one’s sins are “bound” there is no forgiveness, in fact, the person is placed outside the Church at that point, to be handed over to Satan, hopefully for a little while, in order to drive him to recognize his sin, repent of it and return to the Church.

    It is, alone(!), the Gospel, that is, alone(!), the Power of God that….ALONE! can lead to repentence in the “broad sense”. http://bookofconcord.org/sd-lawandgospel.php#para8
    SO you wish, by the binding key, to leave sinners with the Law apart from from Christ. You really believe this Paul?

    So, for instance, a homosexual person who persists in his homosexual activities, against his better judgement, in defiance of God’s clear Word, must be excommunicated.

    Okay. But let’s be clear then that THIS is what you are really saying
    The Gospel must only be preached conditionally, and IF a sinner manifests what, to us, is a sincere repentence that is a work that they must do and can do of their own power and free will, apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit. After all, IF such sinners cannot come to church, then they also are excluded from any preachment of Christ and the Holy Gospel.
    All sinners here: Take note and apply pastor mc cains doctrine to your own situation with God.

    So also the one committing adultery and anyone caught up in what the Lutheran Confessions describe as open and manifest willful sins that do drive out the Holy Spirit.

    This is true! So we must fear God and not do contrary to his will. Also God WILL inflict earthly sufferings and punishments upon those who do contrary to his will.
    Art II, FC , SD (paraphrased): ” Man cannot cooperate with the Holy Spirit in his conversion, sanctification or preservation… it is ALONE the hearing of the Word of God that can do these things… man , with his human power and free will can go to church and hear that Word of God that, alone(!), can work such things…. Man CAN cooperate with the Holy Spirit in his daily life of repentence [that is: . man can cooperate in doing the mortification of the flesh that any pagan can also do. This outward repentence, sorrow for sin, and moral betterment, requires no bible, no Christ, and no Holy Spirit. Aristotle is fully sufficient to teach this.]. ”

    God bless you pastor Mc Cain. You are teaching a theology that makes the Gospel conditional upon something we are able to do without Christ or the Holy Spirit. I am surprised you would state such a notion so baldly.

  • fws

    Pastor Mc Cain you are conditioning those Two Words “for YOU” that, alone, convert the preaching of Christ Crucified from being horrifying Law to comforting Gospel.

    And the condition is that men must do a “philosophical righteousness” that man can do with no need for Christ or the Holy Spirit or the Bible. You are demanding that men do a repentence in the “narrow sense” (see the formula of concord art V, Solid declaration here , paragraph 8ff). Until they do this, you will withhold the Two Words from them.

    I simply must not be understanding you correctly! I simply refuse to believe that my dear Pastor Mc Cain would teach such a doctrine! Correct my understanding of your words please dear sir!

  • fws

    kempin 04 @43

    I suggest that you are missing the point in your list construction, and you are also perhaps missing the fact that klassie is making a far broader point. his point out of list items are just illustrations of that broader point, not an invitation to do “list repentence” .

    and the point is this:

    No Holy Spirit, No Christ, and no Bible are necessary to either know or do outward repentence, sorrow for sin, contrition, remorse, moral reformation, moral betterment , etc etc. “Concerning morality, nothing can be demanded beyond Aristotle’s Ethics” (Apology III “Law and Love”) . What part of that word “nothing” is there to understand?

    So where, alone, are the Holy Spirit and Christ, alone, necessary, alone and only? The Holy Spirit and Christ are , alone, necessary, to have new heart movements planted into men that are true fear, love and trust in God . Alone. This is the invisible righteousness that is the complete and instantaneous keeping of the 1st commandment that can be made to be a reality in us, alone, by Holy Baptism. Alone.

    It is this “distribution” that is , alone, the entire point demonstrated, in each and every article of our Confessions . Art 18 of the Apology on Free Will tell us that this “distribution” is useful to “know where the Holy Spirit is necessary”.

    Natural Man, with his romans 2:15 natural law in his reason, his free will , and his human powers, is FULLY able to know and do ALL righteousness that the Divine Law demands except and only ONE righteousness . This righteousness is , alone, the things of the Spirit that the natural man cannot know or do by his reason or strength. This is romans 8 spiritual righteousness vs natural carnal fleshly righteousness that natural man, flesh born of flesh, can know and do . Aristotle is the example the Confessions use to show what this carnal righteousness consists of.

    It is , alone, faith, alone, that hides our own thoughts words and deeds inside of the works of Another, that alone, makes us righteous before God. And this righteousness and unconditional Gospel, is not, nor can be, conditional upon us doing any of the carnal , philosophical righteousness that is the 100% of our thought words and deeds even after our baptism. Original sin remains after baptism.

    some I fear, read art I of the formula of Concord as describing the believer only before his conversion. This is totally wrong. We must read formula of concord art I, original sin, as describing us, as believers. Otherwise art II nor any of the rest of the articles, will be read in a reformed way, even as pastor mc cains words can be taken ( I hold that pastor mc cain has misspoken in a way that can be misunderstood as attenuating original sin in the believer, and I believe that what he wrote does not reflect what he believes)

  • fws

    try seeing it this way Kempin:

    Natural Man with his romans 2:15 Natural Law includes, fully so, everything that existed in man before the fall, and continues to exist in the Natural Man after the fall.

    There is only ONE thing that existed in Natural Man before the fall, and does NOT exist in Natural Man after the fall.

    That ONE thing that is missing in Natural Man after the fall but existed in him before the fall is this, alone:
    The Image of God. The Image of God is , exactly, faith, alone in Christ alone. Alone. Alone. Alone.
    This is the ONE thing that Adam had that the Old Adam lacks and is ,alone, restored, in the New Man.
    This ONE thing, that is the very Image of God and Original Righteousness, is fully restored to New Man , alone , in Holy Baptism.

    Yet the Old Adam still clings to the believer. Therefore what the Formula of Concord describes is ALL that we can sense of ourselves in th0ught, word, deed , will , soul, and , indeed… our very nature and essence. it is so much a part of us believers that only God will be able to separate us from old adam upon our death.

    bless you pastor Kempin

  • Jon H.

    @41 Kempin, James’s epistle rebukes wealth. In that today is his feast day, it’s a good time to reread it. As for the Job verses, I cited them mainly to see what people might think. The speaker there is one of Job’s counselors, later rebuked, so I’m not sure how much stock to put into his comments.

  • sg


    I fail to see why Klasie believes the media’s portrayal of Christians. Take Klasie for example: Klasie does not have a massive hang-up on homosexuality. And these other things, that affect his neighbor, Klasie does not so easily discard. Klasie also knows personally many other Christians like himself, yet he comes on here and generalizes that Christians have such massive hang-ups on homosexuality, but these other things, that affects my neighbor, are so easily discarded. It is like Klasie speaks not from experience or data but merely parrots negative stereotypes promoted in the popular press. What if some other group, say blacks or hispanics, were given such negative coverage, would Klasie follow that, too?

  • Abby

    Jon @48 “James’s epistle rebukes wealth”

    No rebuke of wealth here — nor of wealthy people. Just some instructions regarding the use of money which is a gift from God: “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”

    “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6:17-19

    I know of Christian people who are extremely wealthy: they do this for the benefit of 1000s of people. They give away millions, for the health and well-being of a whole city and beyond. I am happy for them that they are blessed in this way.

  • CRB

    Thought I would post this again, since it didn’t receive any replies:
    We need to return to the distinction of mortal and venial sins. When that is the starting point, then we can approach a person to determine if the sin problem is concerning one who revels in his/her sin(s) or is genuinely struggling with the sin(s). We all stumble into sins because of weakness (veniel) but when we defend our sin(s) and/or even promote them, then we are in danger of damnation and must be brought to repentance.

  • fws

    Crb @51
    interesting post. What is the difference between venial and mortal sins? How can one identify, in practical terms which sin falls into what category? In us? In others? How is this category useful?
    if you are Lutheran, can you help point me to the places in the Confessions that use this distinction?

    thanks crb!

  • kempin04

    Fws, #46, #47,

    I’m not really sure what you are referring to with my “list construct.” I’d like to ponder through it, but it is confirmation weekend and my oldest is being confirmed. Perhaps we can come back to it later.

  • Abby

    John H@31 I would say that God does not rebuke wealth:

    “And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

    And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” Job 42:10-17

  • CRB

    fws @ 52Apology Art 4
    What Is Justifying Faith?
    48] The adversaries feign that faith is only a knowledge of the history, and therefore teach that it can coexist with mortal sin. Hence they say nothing concerning faith, by which Paul so frequently says that men are justified, because those who are accounted righteous before God do not live in mortal sin.
    from the SD
    • The Lutheran Confessions state, “Therefore the expressions or propositions mentioned [that good works are necessary, and that it is necessary to do good] are unjustly censured and rejected in this Christian and proper sense, as has been done by some; for they are employed and used with propriety to rebuke and reject the secure, Epicurean delusion, by which many fabricate for themselves a dead faith or delusion which is without repentance and without good works, as though there could be in a heart true faith and at the same time the wicked intention to persevere and continue in sins, which is impossible; or, as though one could, indeed, have and retain true faith, righteousness, and salvation even though he be and remain a corrupt and unfruitful tree, whence no good fruits whatever come, yea, even though he persist in sins against conscience, or purposely engages again in these sins, all of which is incorrect and false. FC SD, IV, 15, Triglotta.
    • 8. We believe, teach, and confess that, although the contrition that precedes, and the good works that follow, do not belong to the article of justification before God, yet one is not to imagine a faith of such a kind as can exist and abide with, and alongside of, a wicked intention to sin and to act against the conscience. Lutheran Church. Missouri Synod: Concordia Triglotta – English : The Symbolic Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. electronic ed. Milwaukee WI : Northwestern Publishing House, 1997, S. 795 FC SD III EP, para 11
    • We unanimously reject and condemn the following…that Faith is the kind of trust in Christ’s obedience the can be and remain in a person even though he has no genuine repentance, even though no love follows, but he continues in sins against conscience. FC SD, III, 64. McCain CPH
    The last couple note the idea of sinning against conscience and continuing/persevere in sin, which is effectively, mortal sin.
    Hope this helps.

  • fws

    Kremlin @ 53
    Of course we can do that . Here or by email. Fwsonnek@gmail.com

  • fws

    Crb @ 55

    Those are all great quotes. I am not sure they get at helping us understand what the confessors might have meant as a distinction between mortal and venial sins. I get stuck on what a “venial” sin is, and what the import of the word venial, as contrasted with mortal is.

    I would start , on a hunch, that the confessors think that ALL sin is mortal. Nothing in your quote would overturn that hunch. Sin always, always kills which is why the law always accuses and only accuses. If there were nonmortal sins, then this would not be the case would it be crb?

    I downloaded the pdf of the bente triglotta English of the book of concord. There one can do word search for the words venial, sin, and mortal. I would start there of I had more time crb. Maybe you can do it?

    Let me know brother.

  • fws

    Crb, just as a housekeeping note…

    My intention is to appeal to other Lutherans using the confessions. And not just as a way to proof text and win a point. I want to engage the larger argumentative construction in each article, which will, always , always, to make some form of law and gospel distinction in each and every article. Look for them to make that distinction and one will understand the article… miss looking for that distinction, and the entire point of any article will be missed.

    So I always use McCain’s online book of concord, and then copy the link here to invite others to actually go read, in context , for themselves. That is my subversive intent in whatever I write here.

    And I appeal to the confessions rather than the bible primarily, because Lutheran unity depends on a right understanding of law and gospel distinction . Only when one sees the proper distinction on any article , is the study of scripture then useful for passages that touch upon an article. It saved lots of time to go that way…

    I am really happy to see you digging into our Confessions!

    Blessings to you crb!

  • fws


    For example… what is the law versus gospel distinction made in art vi on the Lutheran third use of the law. If one looks for that in art vi, then they will end up with a Lutheran third use. If they miss that distinction or don’t see that distinction as THE point of the article, then one will just mine art vi to find proof texts to support s very reformed definition of third use as being the law as non killing instruction, or an imagined “indicative” use of the law vs an imperative use of the law. Which distinction should be nonsense to any Lutheran….

    Hint: each believer has two Powers within him. Each power is 100% of who the believer is. That is the law gospel distinction made . It can only be understood by placing art vi in the context of art I and ii as BOTH describing who we are after Baptism and the new birth. Most who miss the law gospel distinction assume that fc art I describes the believer before, and not after, baptism. They attenuate original sin in the believer that is to say…..

  • Recovering Glutton

    Parable of the publican and the Pharisee: Question:
    When the Publican returned the next week, do you think he arrived with the Pharisee’s speech in his pocket?
    Or do you think he realized each and every time he prayed that he had not gotten one bit better?

    It doesn’t matter what your sin is, you’re not getting any less sinful.
    Gluttony is often a sign of illness. Is it a sin? Yes. Is it unrepentant sin? Not necessarily. The glutton can repent on Sunday morning and still not be able to himself by the time he gets home for lunch. He comes back again each Sunday as the publican. I categorize even illnesses as sin because they are a result of being sinful. Perhaps a more precise distinction would be that illnesses are symptoms of sin–of living in a fallen state.

    FYI: Christian Gluttons already know they have a problem. Most of the Christians I know who are obese know they have a problem. They know they are gluttons. They aren’t flaunting their gluttony. Even those who joke about it are just covering up their embarrassment. Sometimes they may even cry while in the process of making the food that they don’t want but need for some unexplainable reason. Just because you find it easy not to overeat doesn’t mean the glutton does–it’s not always just a matter of willpower. Think about your own pet-sin that you have been unable to control but isn’t always so visible. Now make yourself stop doing it.
    See you at the altar!

    Sincerely: A former glutton who has recently lost 55 pounds after finally getting the correct health diagnosis.

    (How we even got on this topic, I don’t know…)

  • Gene

    The table belongs to God, not the Church. Given that Jesus shared his supper with Judas, I don’t see how we can deny the same to anyone who would receive it.

  • CRB

    fws @ 57,
    To stay with the matter at hand, I invite you to read what Chemnitz says in his Loci:

    The Analysis of the Definition of Venial Sin:
    The definition of venial sin must be subjected to the same analysis. For in order that the sin found in the regenerate may be venial, that is, a sin on account of which grace is not lost nor the Holy Spirit and faith driven away, these aspects are necessary:

    I. In order that the sin found in the regenerate may be and become venial, there must be repentance and faith over against the earliest stages of concupiscence, as described above, so that the regenerate will resist with repentance and fight against their depraved desires either in the pressures put upon them or in their pleasure or in consent, and not permit these desires to “rule over them” whereby they might “yield their members as instruments of sin,” Rom. 6:13, or that they might “fulfill the lust of the flesh,” Gal. 5:16.
    II. In order that they might seek by faith and ascertain that these corrupt desires and the resulting fires through which they resist the Holy Spirit are pardoned and not imputed for the sake of Christ, and that they might ask the help of the Holy Spirit. They should not believe or feel in their hearts that God is unconcerned about their weaknesses, but they must understand that if God should want to enter into judgment with them they could not stand in His sight, Ps. 130:3 and 143:2. Because they know that they must resist these desires, they call upon the Holy Spirit that He would be present and help them so that they are not overcome but may live in Christ.
    III. Therefore they must recognize their own lust and corrupt desires, even if there is no pleasure or consent regarding them and no action follows which in itself is sin according to the Law, since if God should will to deal with them in keeping with the rigor of His righteousness, no one could be justified. Therefore they should grieve because of these stains and they should seek and believe that they solely for the sake of Christ the Mediator are pleasing to God. With Paul they must say, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby justified, for He who judges me is God,” 1 Cor. 4:4.
    In the writings of Jerome the question arises as to whether the first stages of emotion are sin. From this a controversy arose concerning these first emotions which are suggested to the mind of the regenerate man in addition to his will. Thus Paul, when he says in Rom. 7:19, “The evil which I do not want to do that I do,” understands these suggestions by which the pleasure and consent come, but he deplores them and struggles against them. This they call “the first stage of emotion.” Concerning these, Jerome states that unless there is the addition of pleasure and consent, inclinations of this kind are not in themselves sins, but only natural emotions which are not involved with the divine law. Lindanus says that they are insignificant things, minor defects, little faults which cannot contaminate the works of the regenerate. The Scholastics also teach that in venial sins there is no need for contrition and there is no need to lament over them. They are things which in themselves are worthy of being overlooked and unworthy of God’s wrath. But we must not judge about desires of this kind on the basis of our own human reason, for God says in Is. 55:9, “For as the heavens are high above the earth … so are My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” When His law prohibits these lusts, there is no doubt that they are sin and that the godly must lament over them. Thus, in order that the promise might remain sure, the regenerate are not to trust in their own works nor rely on them, even though neither desire or consent are added to their first emotions, but they must pray that they can remain in grace only for the sake of Christ.
    IV. Even if the fires of depraved lusts in their great power take the regenerate as captives either to the point of consent or to the actual performance of some evil work, yet if they immediately repent in sorrow and in faith seek forgiveness, it is certain that the Holy Spirit has been grieved or hurt, but not yet crushed, and faith and the grace of God have not yet geen lost. For the Holy Spirit works in the regenerate that he may rise again as a righteous person, even if he falls seven times in a day. Thus Paul says, Eph. 4:26–30, “Even if you are angry, do not sin, nor give place to the devil … and do not grieve the Holy Spirit in whom you have been sealed unto the day of judgment.”
    V. The reborn stand by faith, although they cannot in this life completely get rid of the stains of their original sin or totally put to death their evil actions, Rom. 7:24, and although these evils in themselves according to the Law are worthy of eternal damnation, yet because they have been born again and remain in Christ and do not walk according to the flesh, that is, because they keep their repentance and faith and practice them, they therefore do not have to experience condemnation, Rom. 8:1. And this is what is said in the common definition, namely that grace and the Holy Spirit are not lost because of venial sins. The reason is that those who repent and believe in Christ receive, possess, and retain grace and the remission of sins. But those who reject faith and repentance, such people lose the grace of God.
    The Anabaptists, in opposition to this position which we take, try to defend their own peculiar notion that the regenerate cannot lose grace. They use two particular arguments:
    1. The will of God is immutable, just as grace is in the courts of princes. For God has said in the prophet Hosea 2:19, “I will betroth you to Myself forever.” Therefore they say that he who has once obtained the grace of God can never lose it in all eternity. But they fail to observe the additional words in Hosea, “In righteousness and in judgment, in mercy and in faithfulness, I will betroth you to Me”; or Col. 1:23, “If you continue in the faith established and settled …”; cf. Heb. 3:6; Rom. 5:2.
    2. They argue that while faith remains, grace also remains. But the regenerate do not deny their faith in Christ, even though they sometimes fall into sins, and therefore they also retain the grace of God. For the explanation of their line of reasoning, which has misled not only the Anabaptists but almost the whole world, it is useful to note the point given above, which indicates the signs we can use to understand whether faith is still present or has indeed been lost. For there is no doubt that where there is true faith, there is also the grace of God. But where the first is lost, the second cannot be present. For: (1) Faith in Christ, which alone justifies, does not take pleasure in sinning, but when the foundation has been overturned, then justification is no longer present. (2) The specific difference of faith is that it lays hold on Christ in Word and sacraments. Therefore, when you permit something to be done against conscience and are not concerned after the lapses have occurred to seek to be reconciled by the Word and the sacraments, then there is no faith present which may show itself and use its power; and the result is that faith no longer again lays hold on Christ. (3) A person who is involved with sins against conscience might adopt the opinion: I know, to be sure, that God does not approve of what I am doing, but because He is merciful, I believe that He will have mercy on me even when I am engaged in my sins. This kind of persuasion is not true faith. For it is the quality of true faith that it does not look for the opportunity to do something shameful, but with contrite heart seeks remission of sins in the Word and sacraments, for the sake of Christ (4) We can judge a tree from its fruits. The fruits of true faith are not to look for occasions to sin or to remain in our sins, but to mortify the flesh. Thus Luther says in the Smalcald Articles [3.43, Tappert, p. 310], “When sin contrary to conscience is permitted, faith is lost.” And Augustine says, “It is unbelief which hangs on to all sins, so that they are not forgiven.”

  • Alex

    Gene @ 61: Depends on what you mean by “belongs”. It does belong to the church in the sense of a gift to be used faithfully for its own benefit. Also, Judas was not just “anyone who would receive it”. He was called out and separated from “anyone” when he became one of the twelve. Judas gave every appearance of being with Jesus’ “in” crowd. Therefore, for Jesus to give his body and blood to Judas in intimate outward communion fellowship does nothing to argue for communing just “anyone who would receive it.” Rather, Judas stands more accurately for false brethren who appear true and outwardly practice closed communion but eat and drink to their own judgment. Judas does not speak for the visitor to the Lutheran congregation who is a practicing Methodist but is denied the supper even though she desires it. Her desiring the table is an eternal blessing in itself, while Judas’ receiving from the table in denial of Christ curses him. I would rather be denied the table than to deny it. I hope you would too.

  • Gene

    Alex@63, you said, “I would rather be denied the table than to deny it. I hope you would too.” I would indeed. And therefore I don’t deny it. I, and my church, practice open rather than closed communion.

  • Alex

    Gene @64. I assumed that you did practice open communion. My point is that the Judas argument does nothing to justify practicing either open or closed communion. Judas’ receiving is irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not anybody desiring the sacrament should be able to receive it. A Judas would be able to commune according to either practice. He would pass what you might call the “strict” criteria for admission to closed communion. He would most certainly be able to commune at a table where the church and pastor don’t care about such things. I was basically saying that I hope you aren’t basing your open communion practice according to the line of thinking you posted above, @61, because that is neither a sound reason to give nor a reason to deny the supper to anyone who desires it.

  • fjsteve

    I’m troubled by the categorization of mortal and venial sins for the Christian. The only thing that makes sense is that mortal sin is the sin of unbelief. If you categorize a mortal sin as a sin that the Christian, knowing it is a sin, continues and refuses serious repentance, you’re just peddling a soft legalism. Right? We all have those sins–even the smallest of them. In fact, just saying “the smallest of them” means I’m not categorizing specific sins into ones that I can continue unrepentantly and ones I can’t. Oh, I’m not going to hell for being jerk behind the wheel of a car. I just sample stuff in the produce aisle. It’s not stealing. It’s not like I’m a homosexual or anything.

  • fws

    Crb @62

    Thanks for the wonderful additional material from Chemnitz. I will have to study it later.


    That would outline part of my concern as well. All sin kills and is mortal… it will be interesting to review what crb presents from father chemnitz

  • fws

    Crb @62

    Chemnitz , as usual, is a very challenging read. In the first couple paragraphs he references what he wrote before your quote. Can you present that to us as well?

    I was hoping for a distinction to be made between venial and mortal sin. I would urge reference constantly back to father Chemnitz public, final, and definitive interpretation of all he wrote , contained in the formula of concord. Our understanding of his private writings must be bound and constrained by that confession.

    In art two of the formula, Chemnitz says
    1)that we cannot cooperate in our conversion, sanctification or preservation in the faith.
    2) we can, by our human power, go to hear Gods Word , through which, alone, the hs works 1) in us.
    3) we can cooperate with the hs , Even as pagans can also do, in our daily life of repentance.
    4) by repentance , it is clear that Chemnitz means the word in the narrow sense (fc , sd, art v), which is equivalent to the sristotelian practice of virtue ethics that any pagan can and must also do. Also see Luther definition in the large catechism under baptism as being nothing other than repentance. The nub here is to strictly apply the les gospel distinction to that word repentance. Gospel= nothing we can do, not even after conversion. Law (repentance in the narrow sense)=what we can do, alone using our free will, human powers, and reason. The confessions call this kind of repentance by various names:… carnal righteousness, philosophical righteousness, the righteousness of reason, outward righteousness, the righteousness of thought-word-deed, historical faith, doctrine, administration of word and sacrament, distinction of law and gospel, Romans 8 flesh, virtue, second table righteousness, righteousness that we can sense(versus faith ), etc.

    What father Chemnitz has written MUST be understood within the constraints of what I just presented from the formula of concord.


  • CRB

    fws @68
    Here is the beginning of the matter from Martin Chemnitz’s Loci. Hope it helps!
    Chapter III
    Definition of the Matter
    Next we must consider the definition of this matter. What is mortal sin? What is venial sin in the regenerate? The usual definition is that mortal sin is those kinds of actions which cut off those who permit them from the grace of God and thus they cease to be righteous, and as a result they are condemned unless they change their minds. But venial sins are not of this nature, since out of the pure grace and mercy of God they are forgiven for the sake of the Son of God our Mediator to those who repent and in the case of these sins, their sins are covered.
    In another place we have shown that in setting up correct definitions we must keep our eye on two things. The first is that in the main parts of a definition we must include those elements necessary for an understanding of the subject. The second is that they must have the foundations for each part of the definition drawn from the testimonies of Scripture.
    Therefore in defining mortal sin we must indicate the chief aspect of this kind of sin, in order to understand it. These are:
    I. The difference between mortal and venial sin is derived not from the subject of sin as it is considered in itself in keeping with the Law. For although one kind of sin may be greater or less than another kind, cf. John 19:11, “He who betrays Me has the greater sin”; Luke 12:47–48, “The servant who knew the will of his master and did not prepare himself and did not act in keeping with his will, will be beaten with many stripes, but he who did not know and did commit things worthy of stripes, he shall be beaten with few”; Matt. 11:24, “I say to you that it shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for Capernaum”; yet according to the Law, if God should enter into judgment with sin, all sins in themselves are mortal, guilty of or subject to the wrath of God and worthy of the curse and eternal death. That is to say, there is no sin, even if it seems to be insignificant, which in itself according to the Law and outside of Christ, if God should enter into judgment with it, that is not worthy of eternal death. Deut. 27:26 and Gal. 3:10, “Cursed is every one who does not continue in all the words of this law, to do them; and all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ ” Therefore in the definition we must include the concept that “all sins in the unregenerate are mortal.” For “he who does not believe in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains over him,” John 3:36. This is what Luther is saying on Galatians 5 [Amer. Ed., 26.76], “Mortal sin and venial sin are distinguished from each other not on the basis of the substance of the deed involved or according to some difference in the sin committed, but on the basis of the person or because of the difference of those who commit the sins.”
    We must note this aspect of the matter thoroughly. For the error of the Pharisees in the time of Christ pertained to the matter of big and little sins. This idea, however, is refuted at length in Matthew 5. On the other side, Jovinian contended that “all sins are equal,” something which Jerome refuted. Likewise in our own day Sebastian Frank, an unlearned and arrogant man, has asserted the same thing. But Luther is correct when he says, “As far as guilt is concerned, all sins are equal unless reconciliation takes place.” Thus those people are in error and need to be corrected who think that certain sins do not deserve death. But it is a certainty that all sins, even those which in our eyes seem minor, are worthy of the eternal curse. Augustine uses this simile: It is insufficient to make this comparison between these two kinds of sin and simply say that whether a person is on the shore or sinking in the depths of the sea, they are both dead. There will be some difference among those who are saved, just as there is a difference among stars in their brilliance, 1 Cor. 15:41, and there are also degrees among the damned because of the difference in their sins. Yet all are in damnation.
    Thus also this is not a recent but an old controversy in regard to the virtues of the gentiles. Augustine at one time believed that Socrates and Heraclitus lived according to the Word, that is, they abstained from vices and controlled their living, and for this reason they were saved. He says that because Christ is called the Word or the Logos, that they lived in keeping with the Logos, and thus they had lived according to Christ. Thus it is certain that the ancients often spoke very inappropriately. Clement of Alexandria, who is celebrated for his learning, says that the philosophers were justified according to the natural law because they had no other. Thus also Epiphanius stated that many among the gentiles were saved by the law of nature. Pelagius believed the same thing. Yet Augustine, in thinking more carefully on this matter, rejected it. In Epist. 95 he says that the virtues in the gentiles do please us with a certain peculiar quality which they have by nature, so that it is not easy for us to condemn them. We would hope that they might be delivered from eternal torment. But human desires are one thing and the sentence of divine judgment and the righteousness of our Creator are something else. Their virtues in themselves are not evil but good, as when a person is moved by mercy toward his poor neighbor, covers his nakedness, gives him something to drink, things which in themselves are not evil. But the voice of judgment says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” Rom. 14:23. Augustine is correct in saying, “Not only must they do good things, but they must do well. There are many good works, but they are rendered unprofitable because the people by whom they are done do not do well. Our works are not to be judged by our actions but by our intentions, for an action must be compared with a righteous purpose.” Thus the formal cause and the final cause make the difference between the good works of the regenerate and the virtues of the gentiles. “An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit,” Luke 6:43. Prosper, in his book De Vocatione Gentium [MPL 33.764 ff.], says, “Without the worship of the true God that which appears as virtue is sin, because nothing can please God without God.” Lombard cites the statement of Anselm, “The whole life of unbelievers is sin.” We must make a distinction between the gifts of God and the impurities which inhere in us by reason of which even the virtues of the gentiles are contaminated, so that they are sin.
    II. Because in the definition of mortal sin mention is made of lapses or falls contrary to conscience, we should note that this is a Scriptural expression: Acts 24:16, “I am always anxious to have a conscience without offense toward God and men”; Rom. 13:5, “Be obedient for the sake of conscience”; 1 Tim. 1:5, “The purpose of this commandment is love which issues from a pure heart, from a good conscience and from sincere faith”; Heb. 10:22, “Purify your hearts from an evil conscience”; 1 Peter 3:21, “the covenant of a good conscience.” The conscience is called the judgment of the mind regarding what has been done or ought to be done, as it says in Rom. 2:15, “… their conscience bears witness concerning their thoughts which accuse or excuse them”; or Col. 2:14, where “the written accusation which was used against us” is referred to conscience. Therefore whatever evils we commit against our own conscience, these are quite properly called mortal sins. Thus 1 John 3:21, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”
    But it is not an easy matter to show in the case of the individual precepts the difference between mortal and venial sin. Yet Luther’s explanation is simple, and it shows how mortal sins in the regenerate can be seen and recognized, namely, when the regenerate refuse to repent, do not fight against sin but indulge in wicked lusts and knowingly and willingly act upon them. For where there is no repentance, there there is no faith, and no grace. When a person refuses to repent, at the same time the Holy Spirit is driven out and faith is lost. Hence the Apology [4.353, Tappert, p. 161] correctly says, “There must also be faith, and it must increase in repentance.” Thus Christ says, “Unless you repent you shall all perish,” Luke 13:3, cf. Jer. 5:5, “Even the great men have broken the yokes and burst the bounds. ‘Shall I not visit them?’ says the Lord.”
    The teaching regarding the degrees of conscience give some help to this consideration. For example in James 1:14–15, these grades or steps are mentioned: (1) our own original concupiscence; (2) the temptation by our concupiscence, when it begins to urge us to evil and gives us evil thoughts; (3) the inviting enticements. For we are lured by these enticements, just like birds and fish. In the same way our original lust invites us by these lures; (4) the enticing occurs when our will through the fires of evil desires is unexpectedly seized to bring it to obedience. Even the regenerate person can fall into this position. For Paul in Rom. 7:23 laments that he is made captive, but while he still remains in Christ he resists and damnation is still not upon him, Rom. 8:1; (5) an evil intention is conceived, a plan to do wrong. When wickedness progresses to this point, repentance and faith are driven away; (6) “Lust brings forth sin,” that is, when this work is completed which was undertaken, then sin produces death.
    From this passage in James we can see the distinction used in the ancient church, as we see in Lombard, Bk. 2, dist. 24 [MPL 51.647–722], where he cites Augustine.

    1. The first degree or step is the evil suggestion.
    2. The enticement.
    3. The consent. When the will agrees.
    4. The planning or scheming.
    5. The evil deed itself.

    To these steps of Augustine later scholars, such as Gregory the Great and Isidore, added others which can be listed in this way: from evil activity comes the habit of sinning; from the habit of sinning comes the excusing of sinning; from this comes the defense of sinning. Later comes an obstinacy, and then a glorying and exulting in it. Note Prov. 2:14, “He rejoices in evil things”; Ps. 52:3 (Vulgate), “Why do you glory in malice, you who are mighty in iniquity?” Is. 3:9, “They revel in their sin as Sodom. They do not hide it.” For the Sodomites in Gen. 19:9 were such shameless sinners before God, as if they actually saw God before them and yet they did not blush to make an open admission of their crimes. They continued to act this way until they were cast into destruction. For after boasting and glorying in sin, there finally followed the “reprobate mind” of which Paul speaks in Rom. 1:28, “God gave them up to a perverted mind,” from which comes the final step, the sin against the Holy Spirit.
    The study of these steps is useful, for it shows how repentance is first delayed because of our lust, then little by little broken down and finally destroyed, conquered, and ultimately rejected and driven away, until it is utterly crushed and leads into the sin against the Holy Spirit.
    But we must also note the steps or degrees of concupiscence. For in Paul even in his regenerate state there were the fires of depraved lusts in which his flesh delighted and which took his will captive; and yet because he mourned over this, resisted it and kept a good conscience, we must not consider him to have committed mortal sin.
    God Himself shows these steps in concupiscence in the Decalog in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. For in Deut. 5:21 in the Ninth Commandment chāmad is used, which is derived from the idea of the heart burning with original or innate lust or emotions. The word includes the root of this concupiscence, the idea of our being pushed into it and enjoying it. The Latin translator tried to express the force of this term through the word, “You shall not covet,” but he could not quite get the emphasis of the word. Luther, in the German language which sometimes can express ideas of this kind better than the Latin, renders it, “Du Solt dich Nicht lassen Gelusten” (you shall not allow yourself to hanker after something). In Ps. 51:5 David uses the cognate word which is taken from the root yācham or chāmam, and means that the conception of lust has taken place in heat. This word includes the first or original lust, when the flesh burns in its desires. From this we can to some degree estimate the force of the term which concurs with the ideas set forth in Rom. 7:7, “They would not have known lust if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ ”
    In the Tenth Commandment the fourth conjugation verb(˒āvah) is used which means that a person lusts or desires eagerly. But in the fourth conjugation there is a reciprocal aspect involved, which reflects an action toward the person performing the action. That is, the person causes himself to lust eagerly which clearly includes by this emphasis the other steps in concupiscence. Thus in Gen. 3:6 it says of the forbidden tree that it was “desirable and something that a person would lust after.” Thus in the Ninth Commandment is the first step of concupiscence, but in the Tenth are the rest of the steps, when I am really helping my lust along (wann ich der Lust so weit bringt), so that I am now planning and thinking about my lust. Num. 11:4 has, “The people had a strong craving for meat,” of which it speaks in 1 Cor. 10:6. Sirach in Ecclus. 18:30–31, seems to be emphasizing the same thing when he says, “Do not give free rein to your lusts, but control them; do not indulge the desire of your soul, for lust will make you a joy to your enemies.” And Paul says in Rom. 6:12–13, that when sin so reigns in a man he is “obedient to its lusts and yields his members as instruments of wickedness.” Note also Rom. 7:8, “Sin through the commandment worked in me all kinds of covetousness”; Gal. 5:16, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh”; Ecclus. 9:9, “Lust is kindled like a fire”; Prov. 6:18, “The heart devises plans for lust.”
    The explanation of Luther for discerning mortal sins is this: When repentance has ceased, when faith has been crushed, then a man is in a state of mortal sin. We have already spoken of the refusal to repent, but it is not out of the question to say something about the loss of faith also, for “without faith it is impossible to please God,” Heb. 11:6; and “He who does not believe shall be condemned,” Mark 16:16; and “The wrath of God remains over him,” John 3:36.
    The loss of faith is shown by four very simple signs:
    1. As the common definition says, when a person assents to an error in a fundamental article of faith. For the articles of faith are the objects of justifying faith. Eph. 2:20, “We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” Thus a person who does not know the number of years that Methuselah lived or the dimensions of Noah’s ark is no worse off, as long as he retains the foundation of the faith. But if a person in regard to his salvation believes something other than what the Gospel teaches, for example, if he ignores the merit of the Son of God which is brought to him in the Word and the sacraments, so that he does not apply it to himself by faith, or if a person allows an error in the doctrine of the person or the work of Christ, such a person commits an error in a fundamental point. Hence matters pertaining to the sacraments are not adiaphora whereby each can believe whatever he wishes without any detriment to his faith. For not every kind of opinion regarding Christ or faith is correct, but only that teaching which lays hold on the promise of grace as it has been taught. But he who in opposition to this foundation commits an error, he has lost his faith and the grace of God. A false or heretical faith is not true faith but is contending against the foundation.
    2. The loss of faith takes place when he who had been born again permits himself to take an action contrary to conscience and is not desirous of receiving remission in the Word and the sacraments. There are many who neglect the hearing Of the Word and the use of the sacraments, and they persuade themselves that they can still keep their faith and the forgiveness of their sins despite this. But they have shamefully blinded themselves. For when faith does not grow in sinners or exercise its own qualities, but rather degenerates into Epicurean impurity, how can it continue to exist or live in a man? This point can be easily demonstrated and understood. For it is the characteristic of true faith that it clings to the promise of the Gospel with a sound mind and a contrite heart, and in Christ seeks the remission of sins or deliverance from sin. Further, it is the fruit of true faith that it does not live in sin but in righteousness. Therefore, when a person constantly shuts off either of these elements, how can he retain true faith?
    3. Faith also is lost when the mind without repentance conceives and adopts the opinion or persuasion that it wants to and can continue and keep on in sin, and yet nevertheless for the sake of Christ can have and keep the grace of God. It is manifest that such faith is not true faith. For faith in Christ does not seek to be able freely to practise sin against conscience and to pile up sins, but rather to be freed from them.
    4. From the fruit we also can learn whether faith is true or false. The fruit of true faith is not to serve sin but to live unto righteousness. Likewise the corrupt fruits also show that the tree itself has become evil because of the loss of faith. From these basic ideas it is simple to judge when true faith has been lost and trodden under foot. Consequently when sins take place and are mortal, it means that faith has been lost and destroyed.
    III. The third part of the definition refers to mortal sin, that is, that through mortal sin repentance is crushed and faith driven out, the Holy Spirit grieved and tormented, the grace of God along with the remission of sins and the inheritance of eternal life lost and the person is again guilty of the wrath of God, eternal death, and condemnation.
    We have a very good example of this situation in Judas. He “denied the faith” from the beginning, as Paul says in 1 Tim. 5:8. Although in words he said that he believes, yet he begins to be forgetful of the blessings of God, 2 Peter 1:9, and afterwards he grieved the Holy Spirit who over and over again tried to lead him by His chastenings into the way of God’s commandments and to cause him to mortify his flesh. Because faith is the means whereby the grace of God and the inheritance of eternal life are retained, 1 Peter 1:5, therefore when faith is lost, the person cannot retain grace but falls again under the wrath of God which clearly follows the judgment of God.
    IV. To this definition of mortal sin also pertains the part which asserts that it is mortal sin if a person does not through repentance come back to God. We need to add this part, so that this doctrine does not drive away those who have fallen into despair or the feeling that they are reprobate. But in order that those who have fallen may be called back to repentance, at the same time that the hope of reconciliation is shown to them, if they repent, at the same time there is also shown to them what kind of repentance is required for mortal sins. Rom. 2:4, “Do not despise the riches of His kindness, His patience and His forbearance which is meant to lead you to repentance.”

  • fws

    Crb and festive

    This is actually a really important discussion and distinction to explore. The scholastics and Chemnitz were more Structured in their approach. Today we are not. And so we end up sneaking in false doctrine by not being so precise.

    And what does this look like for us old Adams that want to call ourselves “confessionsl Lutherans”. The false doctrine comes looking like this:

    Usually we think we can participate with the holy spirit in our sanctification or preservation in the faith.

    But How?

    We know we can’t say by DOing something. We know that that would be works righteousness. That would be just too roman catholic and too obvious an error. So we don’t go there… but we really actually do.

    So we think we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this by practicing….. right thinking!…by getting our internal motive right when we do good works, or… by refraining from doing willful sinning (which implies that there is such a thing as UNwillful sinning, and further, that unwillful sinning does not damn us).

    Such notions are really just a return to the Thomist-Augustinian-Aristotelian scholasticism that was directly opposed by the Apology to the Augsburg Confessions.

    Whenever the Confessions refer to “outward works”, they actually mean ANYTHING we can do or sense in thought, word or deed. We miss this. Why? We don’t think of our thoughts, motives or emotions as being “outward” stuff.
    But that begs a question doesn’t it:

    So what would the Confessions put in the category of “inward”? Into this category, the confessions place, alone, one thing, alone and only. That one thing , alone is true fear, love and trust, that is to day, faith alone. And this faith is not historical faith that is intellectual assent to infallible scripture. No Christ or holy spirit is needed for that.

  • fws

    Crb @ 69

    Yes! That is extremely helpful!
    Again, we must bind, limit, restrain narrow our understanding of the private writings of Chemnitz, Luther and especially melancthon, by their public and final and definitive confession in the book of concord.

    In this case, I would urge the reading of fc, sd I and II in a special way:
    We must read those two articles as an inseparable couplet that lays the foundation for all the rest of the formula.

    A Calvinist or melancthonian Lutheran will do this:
    He will read art I as describing the condition of men BEFORE their conversion and enlightenment.
    What that means, is that now, after conversion, the Holy Spirit infuses into the believer powers that “attenuate” what we read in art I. So that now we can cooperate with the holy spirit in our enlightenment, sanctification and preservation in the faith!

    So we then, along with Calvin and melancthon, reembrace the very scholasticism that the apology rejected.

    The scholastics said that , with the assistance of the holy spirit, we must practice Aristotelian virtue ethics. That is, we must practice the self-virtues until they become a habit, or second nature. This “repentance” becomes the condition, or “meritorious” preparation, or “repentance” upon which receiving grace is conditioned.

    The neo-scholastics, melancthon, and his disciple Calvin, rejected this view! They say this: We become justified and receive grace fully apart from anything we can do or any preparation. Then… subsequent to justification, and as a part of justification or fruit of it….we will….with the help of the holy spirit….practice the self-virtues, until they become second nature. And they call this “sanctification”.

    See? This is our old Adam merely rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. The scholastics placed our efforts at morality as a conditional preparation for justification. Calvin, melancthon and many modern Lutherans merely relocate that same works morality as being a subsequent and still conditional requirement for grace.

  • fws


    So we should be clear that the goal of those neo-scholastics is to include something we are able to do, and must do in order to be saved. They do this by saying we can cooperate with the Spirit in our sanctification and so also in the preservation of our faith. And to nurture this error, they say that we, of course, could not do this cooperating without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

    To counter this, it is important to note that Chemnitz, like Luther, refuses to place any difference in the works themselves . The difference is in the person doing them. And here it is very, very important to avoid a common modern Lutheran error: we say that it is the motive or thinking of a Christian that actually transforms the works themselves from being merely fake and pharisaic “good works” to becoming real and true GOOD works. This is very, very wrong. It places a difference in the works themselves. This is Neo-Scholasticism. Notice that Chemnitz carefully reject this notion. He also does this in art vi of the formula.

  • fjsteve

    Correction @66, …just saying “the smallest of them” means I am categorizing specific sins into ones that I can continue unrepentantly and ones I can’t.

    I found post 69 more helpful, actually. The point on mortal sins is pivotal being understood as the sins of the unregenerate. Moreover, the completion of the Augustinian progression from venial to mortal sin is not inconsequential. If you leave it at “The evil deed itself” you leave people in despair but there is a huge gap between the “evil deed” and “boasting and glorying in sin”, and yet again between this and the sin against the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, humans being human, they will always push the limits; some will push evil deeds to the limits of mortal danger and others will see mortal danger lurking behind every evil deed.

  • fws

    Fjsteve@ 73


    It is really important to see that St Thomas Aquinas was the foremost disciple of St Augustine, and both overlayed Aristotelian categories and his ethical process over scripture in a way that departed from St Paul.

    The very first thing that the apology, in art II original sin does, is to uncombined augustines natural appetites+heart desire=concupiscence and then reconstruct the meaning of the word concupiscence to align with St Paul. If one does not see this, then one will be misdirected even where Chemnitz uses the word “concupiscence”. Therefore, in this thinking, concupiscence is actual sin, but is not original sin. And so the need for gradations moving from venial to mortal.

    Augustine could never bring himself to see concupiscence as sin. Why not? “natural” as in natural appetites is something God made, so it can’t be sin! Apology II redefines. Concupiscence is, alone, the original sin of a covetous heart that seeks to place it’s trust in anything but Christ. So that begs the question: what does the apology do with the Aristotelian category of “natural appetites”?

    In art 23, they create a new category, that Augustine would not recognize called “the divine ordinances”. This is an amoral category into which the apology placed the sex drive classifying it like the laws of gravity, etc.

    So what is the relation between the sinful desire of the heart and natural appetites?
    Sinful desire-coveting enflames natural appetites into actual sins.

    So the apology corrects the scholastics by deconstruction of their mapping of Aristotelian categories ala St Augustine
    And realigns them in a way that agrees with St Paul.

    That is why Lutherans had no more organic need in their theology for a distinction between mortal and venial sin.

  • fjsteve

    Franks, sorry, can you expand on how divine ordinances differs from natural desires?