Characteristics of Lutheran Antinomianism

Characteristics of Lutheran Antinomianism June 3, 2014

The subject of sanctification, good works, and antinomianism has once again come to prominence in the blogosphere, and Gottesdienst has had a number of recent posts on this subject, utilizing quotes from the Lutheran fathers over against what are perceived antinomian tendencies in certain realms of Lutheranism. One of the things I have noticed in these debates is that one side defends the necessity of preaching good works, while others deny that antinomianism even exists within Lutheranism. Part of the problem is that antinomianism is a notoriously hard beast to define, especially since the manner in which the term is used today is not exactly as it had been used in Luther’s time. But, for the sake of clarity on these issues, I think it would be beneficial to try and specifically identify what some of these antinomian tendencies are. These are all statements I have heard from Lutheran pastors, and so I guarantee they are not made up, as some seem to assume:

Sanctification is not a process, but is purely positional as is justification.

The believer is not the new man-Christ is.

The Christian does not cooperate in sanctification.

God’s work of sanctification can never be evidenced by a changed life.

Pastors should not encourage people unto good works in sermons.

If you preach on sanctification, you are trying to go “beyond Jesus.”

The Christian is utterly sinful, and his good deeds are as filthy rags, so that nothing other than his faith differentiates him from the unbeliever.

There are no rewards for the Christian’s good works in heaven.

Lutherans should not worry about what is or is not sin, because Christian liberty negates it.

It is “unlutheran” to ask if a certain behavior is or is not sinful.

That the Christian does not in any sense cease from committing certain sins, because this is a denial of the simul.

Christians always do good works, but they are purely spontaneous, so we should never encourage people to do them, and they are not visible to us. In other words, good works exist, but we should never talk about them and we can’t see them.

The doctrine of vocation is the only thing we can say about Christian living; there is no sense in which the Christian’s faith grows, and holiness grows.

Because Paul’s epistles were not sermon, we should never follow the gospel with imperatives as he does in our sermons.

These are, what I perceive as antinomian tendencies within Lutheranism. If you haven’t heard these types of statements made: great! I hope you don’t. But unfortunately, these ideas are out there, and are harmful to the church as they are completely inconsistent with our Confessions and Scripture.

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