Open thread (2): The five points of Augsburg evangelicalism

OK, here’s the second of the threads on which I’m inviting discussion in my absence over the next few days. (I will be able to read people’s posts, but probably won’t be able to contribute myself.)

One of my passions on this site is promoting Augsburg evangelicalism. As I explain on my “about” page, this is a slightly tongue-in-cheek term for “certain key teachings which lie at the heart of the Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith”, as distinct from the wider Lutheran tradition and culture. What we might call “the five points of Augsburg evangelicalism” were summarised by CPA as follows:

  1. Justification by faith alone.
  2. Baptismal regeneration.
  3. The real and substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
  4. The relative indifference of polity as defining the being of the church.
  5. Scripture as the only binding norm of faith and practice.

As CPA went on to point out, it is not immediately obvious why those five points should be enough to define not only Augsburg evangelicalism, but also Lutheranism. In other words, why it should be that, in practice:

…every congregation which affirms these five also affirms the whole kit and kaboodle of the Lutheran tradition, from the Book of Concord to Law and Gospel sermons to Waltherian congregationalism to Reformation Sundays to Concordia Press to beer.

It’s not immediately obvious to me either why this should be the case, and if I have any “apologetical” aims for this site then it is not to “convert” people to Lutheranism as such, but to promote those aspects of Lutheran theology, such as the “five points”, which can be appropriated with benefit by people of any tradition (just as I benefited greatly from teachings such as law/gospel, the theology of the cross, the doctrine of vocation and so on long before becoming a Lutheran, and as I continue to benefit from the insights of Christians from other traditions today). I described this in more detail in my post, From Augsburg with love.

So what I’m inviting in this thread is contributions from non-Lutheran readers in particular. Just as some Reformed Christians will talk about being “five-point” or “four-point” (or even “seven-point”!) Calvinists, how many of the five points of Augsburg evangelicalism do you find yourself able to agree with, and which are they? In other words, are you a one-, two-, three-, four- or five-point Augsburg evangelical? 🙂

Update: Early responses have pointed out the potential ambiguity of some of the “points”, in particular #3. So I’ve amended this slightly in order to clarify what is meant by it: namely, what Fr Kimel would call the real identification, not what Calvinists mean by “real presence”. To put it another way, both #2 and #3 are to be understood in the sense in which they are expounded in the Small Catechism, not in the sense in which they could be understood in the Heidelberg Catechism.

I’ve done this not as an exercise in “team sports” or (as Fr Spike put it) playing a “vapid” game of saying “I believe the words of institution more than you do!”, but simply for the purposes of identification, clarity and usefulness of terminology. We can argue about the depth and importance of the difference between the two positions another time; for now the question is just which of those positions (if any) people would identify themselves with.

Those who’ve already responded: feel free to amend your answers as necessary!

This entry was posted in Augsburg Evangelicalism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Open thread (2): The five points of Augsburg evangelicalism

  1. Al says:

    Five-pointer here.

  2. shea says:

    3 1/2. I’m a credobaptist. As for the Lord’s Supper, it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

  3. Laura Grace says:

    Hmm… 1, 3, and 5 I can sign on to without much explanation (I would nuance #3 ever so slightly). I reject #2 — credobaptists ought to; baptismal regeneration + credobaptism = rather scary legalism. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the issue of polity is “indifferent,” though I would agree that it’s not a hill on which to die. So I guess that makes me 3 3/4 ish. I feel most at home with the Mahaney/Piper types — reformed, baptist, charismatic with seatbelts.

  4. G’day Josh.

    That is a curly question to ask as not all would understand those 5 points as you do.

    Take the difference between the Lutheran and Evangelical / Calvinist / Arminian understanding of justification by faith as an example.

    I agree with points 1, 2 4 and 5 and don’t really understand what you mean by the 3rd point.

    Yet I would understand baptismal regeneration as to mean believers baptism and not infant.
    That justification by faith is not so much tied to the promises of Christ regarding those who were baptised – rather that they are tied to those who believe in Him for the forgiveness of their sins through the cross rather than through the act of baptism.

    I can even agree with point 3. I would also say though that if the Church and all in it are also the body of Christ then that means that Christs presence and blood works through the body of believers outside the actual communion elements as well.

  5. Father Spike says:

    I think I’d be somewhere between three and four points. Put me down as a π-Pointer, okay?

    2 and 3 are the obvious ones to disagree with. The difficulty with baptismal regeneration for me is that I don’t understand how to hold that belief without sliding into a “you’re a member of X church, therefore you’re saved” thinking. I’m not saying there’s no way, mind you, but I’ve never had that particular illuminating conversation.

    I’m way into a strong sacramentology on days with an “n” in the name, but I have paralyzing moments where I feel that it’s all a game of saying “I believe the words of institution more than you do!” Again, not dogmatizing or picking a fight, but on some days it does seem a bit… vapid, perhaps?

  6. I’m definitely a 5-point Augsburganite and confessional Lutheran. However, in view of the traditional 5-points of Arminianism and Calvinism, I would not say these are “5-points”. If you look at their points, it progressively works itself forward (If man is depraved, then he is unconditionally elected, if he is unconditionally elected, he can’t resist, if he can’t resist, then he will persevere). I would say these are “tenets” of the Augsburg Evangelical faith. I believe Rick Ritchie in his article “A Lutheran Response to Arminianism” provides an excellent 5-point understanding of Lutheranism. He’ll have to post it, because I wouldn’t do it any justice.

  7. Chris Jones says:

    Well, I’m a Lutheran, but with one foot still in the Bosphorus, as is well-known.

    Even after the update the five points are ambiguous. I find myself responding “it depends on what you mean” to almost every one of them, and answering “I agree with this as long as I can use my own idiosyncratic interpretation.”

    Let’s take the first one, which everybody else probably thinks is quite straightforward: justification by faith alone. Whenever I think about any of the Reformation Solas, my reaction is, “compared to what?”. The word “alone” (or “only”) is an excluding word; what exactly is it that is being excluded? St Paul clearly is excluding “works of the Law”, but some Protestants use it to exclude a whole lot more than that. For example, many reject baptismal regeneration on the grounds that “faith alone” excludes regarding the sacraments as salvific. That is certainly not an Augsburgisch use of “faith alone.”

    If salvation is “by grace through faith,” then an overly aggressive understanding of “faith alone” puts limits on what grace can use faith to accomplish.

    Point four, I think, does not mean what it says. What it really means is “it’s OK that we don’t have bishops.” “Polity,” strictly speaking, means “how the Church is governed,” and if that is how it is being used I can certainly agree with point four. But “polity” is often used as a shorthand for “how we view the role and authority of the clergy” (not just in administrative terms, but liturgically and sacramentally as well). In that case I can’t agree that it’s a matter of indifference (nor do I think it’s authentically Augsburglich). Any Church in which the pastor can say “in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you your sins” has a non-indifferent view of the role of the clergy.

    Plus, if I am right that point four is really referring to “it’s OK not to have bishops” then I certainly disagree. The abandonment of the episcopacy was the biggest mistake of the Reformation, and one of which we ought to repent.

    Finally, point five. “Scripture alone” means different things to different people. Yes, Scripture is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged, but when Scripture is abstracted from its proper ecclesial and liturgical context, almost any teaching (true or false) can be concocted from it by the fallen and finite wit of man. Thank goodness we Augsburgers never do that (&lt.G&gt.).

  8. Phil Walker says:

    I’d say two-possibly-three, but given that the “Lutheran syllogism” is meant to be a quantum different [1] from the “Reformed syllogism”, you may say one-possibly-two. 😉

    1. I hold to justification by faith alone, and *I* think I genuinely hold to it. But then, maybe Jesus believed in JBFA perfectly, so I don’t have to, or something. 😉 x lots.

    5. I hold to Scripture as the only binding norm of faith and practice, without a doubt. But…

    4. This business about church government. I’m a reluctant presbyterian; but no matter the haziness of my view, I’ve long understood that church government is the only secondary issue worth splitting over—and that, only for practical reasons. So it hangs on what you mean by “relative” indifference, and how heavily you’re leaning on that phrase “defining the being of the church”. If you really mean it in its full glory, then I’d go further: church polity is absolutely indifferent. The true church does exist under the pope, even if the pope makes it harder for the true church to exist.

    But if you mean, “it’s OK to have bishops/popes/presbyteries/AGMs/whatever or not to have them,” as Chris reads it (and, roughly, as I read it, too), then I disagree. There are more and less biblical ways to structure the church. The fact that you don’t stop being the church just because you vested all ecclesiastical power in one man doesn’t mean it’s OK to do it.

    [1] I mean a quantum in its physical sense: an imperceptibly tiny, yet discrete, amount.

  9. Brian Crowe says:

    John – many thanks for the making us non-Lutherans think. I have tried to work through some of the issues from an Anglican perspective on my blog It was, perhaps ironically, 3 that gave me greatest pause for thought – and it is the most characteristically Lutheran statement of the 5(?).

  10. Bror Erickson says:

    I guess I kind of wonder how long a person stays in a church if they believe the above and the church doesn’t.
    As for why you can’t seem to have the five points with out the rest of the kit, I think that is essentially a problem with in the English speaking world, and mostly the Unitied States, Canada, and England. I’m not sure that the same could be said in the English speaking areas of Africa, Australia (never been there, and have met very few Lutherans from there).
    Once you leave the realm of the English speaking world you run into a whole gammit of polities, even among confessional Lutherans. The episcopal model is especially prevelant in the area of the Baltic. Trying to find the proper polity was a fever of 19th century Confessional revival, it became a pitched and heated battle causing riffs within Lutheranism that still haven’t healed. And that is a strange thing for Lutheran’s as we are technically, evidently not practically, indifferent to Church governance. Walther won the day in America, and that has had far reaching effects, not all of them bad either.

  11. Bror Erickson says:

    “But if you mean, “it’s OK to have bishops/popes/presbyteries/AGMs/whatever or not to have them,” as Chris reads it (and, roughly, as I read it, too), then I disagree. There are more and less biblical ways to structure the church. The fact that you don’t stop being the church just because you vested all ecclesiastical power in one man doesn’t mean it’s OK to do it.”
    Given the history of Lutheranism, and the wide variety of polities within Lutheranism this is exactly what is meant. The Lutheran Confessions at one point are even willing to remain under the pope, and in the next breath…
    In all my reading of the scriptures, I have been unable to find anything that demarcates the proper structure for the church. There are at times some different elements described, but nothing prescribed, and there seems to have been some variances among the different churches. The only office that makes it’s necessity known is that of pastor, whatever you want to call that office.

  12. Phil Walker says:

    In all my reading of the scriptures, I have been unable to find anything that demarcates the proper structure for the church.

    Hence my comment that there are “more and less” biblical ways, rather than “biblical and unbiblical” ways. Church government isn’t something we can ever say we’ve “tied down”, for a number of reasons. Firstly, different localities and groups of people will operate best under different systems. Secondly, even the early church organised itself differently at different times and in different places. Following on from that, thirdly, could we even copy the early church, we’d have no guarantee of getting the perfect system. And fourthly, even if we had the perfect system, we’re not perfect people.

    So I agree that Scripture doesn’t lay down a constitution for the local or ecumenical church. However, that doesn’t mean there are no principles which show themselves at various points: plural leadership is perhaps the easiest to think of as something the New Testament church seems to have practised everywhere. From the first days in Jerusalem to Paul’s letters to Timothy, the local church seems to have had multiple leaders who met and worked together on an equal footing. At least the way I read Acts 15, that seems to have been as true of the ecumenical church as the local church.

  13. Bror Erickson says:

    What church polity do you know of that excludes plural leadership? Even the Pope has his cardinals he works with.
    But even so in the grand scheme of things us Lutheran’s could careless if it was a one man show. What matters in regards to the church above all else is the gospel in its entirety of expression. And Church government is law. the church is not defined by law, but by the gospel. where the word of God is taught in it’s truth and purity, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. If I find that I have found the church, lutheran, presbyterian, anglican, what ever its name or governance, that is where I want to be.
    So by the five principles of Augsburg Evangelicalism, I won’t argue with another church body over the particulars of the church governance, or let that separate me from their altar, but I will argue with them over who Christ is, what happens in baptism, and what happens in the Lord’s supper.

  14. Rick Ritchie says:

    John’s original statement should be read to place heavy weight on the latter part of “The relative indifference of polity as defining the being of the church.” That probably comes from the definition of the church in Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, though that article’s indifference was primarily aimed at human traditions or rites and ceremonies. Article VII defines the universal church and how we recognize it when we find it present in a congregation. It also defines unity and says that the right teaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments are enough. So how do we apply that? If someone else has a polity that is visibly awful, we don’t have to unite to their polity, since we already have unity in the Gospel and the sacraments.

    I don’t think I would say I am indifferent toward polity. But I agree with the others that it is not defining.

  15. Andrew says:

    I’m a Calvinist from a Lutheran background and still with strong Lutheran sympathies. I’m not really sure what point 4 is about church polity, but whatever it means, I think a presbyterian government is probably best (certainly better than congregational, at any rate).

    I absolutely agree with justification by grace through faith alone. But justification (vindication) involves nothing less than union with Christ. So the union that enacts and maintains our justification necessarily will produce his nature within us as well. Justification is utterly distinct from sanctification, but the two are sides of the same coin: Christ. (It’s a poor analogy, I know.)

    I agree with baptismal regeneration in one sense, but not in another. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that the grace promised and offered in baptism is actually conferred upon the elect (WCF 28.6). However, the timing of one’s regeneration isn’t necessarily linked to the timing of his baptism. The grace promised and the application of Christ’s salvation begins when we’re brought into his body, the church, via baptism. And God works through his church, where the Word is preached, to bring his people to faith. So there is certainly an aspect to baptismal regeneration. Beyond that, joining the church is a leaving of the world, certainly marking someone off as a different person with different responsibilities and a different identity than before. I think this is more in line with what I’ve read of Melancthon’s understanding of palingenesia/regeneration.

    I do believe that Jesus’ body and blood are to be identified with the elements of the Supper by means of a sacramental union. To receive the one in faith is, in effect, to receive the other. But on a difference of Christology, the bread and wine are not directly and wholly the same as Jesus’ flesh and blood. It all comes back to the Lutherans-are-Monophysites, Calvinists-are-Nestorians debate over Christology.

    I agree totally with point 5.

  16. Phil Walker says:

    I suspect we probably agree more than we disagree: certainly I started off by saying polity doesn’t define the church (I didn’t say it, but I agree that it is Christ, presented in Word and sacrament). Certainly Rick’s put the broader point I wanted to make much more eloquently than I.

  17. Rick Ritchie says:

    Thanks, Phil. I have to admit though, polity is the last area of doctrine to catch my interest. Before I wrote the above, I had to re-read Article VII, and what I was going to write before that was in large part wrong. And Bror’s comment was careful to keep to what that article says, which is easy to miss if we come to the subject with a different set of questions—even good ones.

    Article VII begins with words about the universal church. Those words have implications for how we think of congregations. But the focus of the article starts much broader. Whether it really narrows or not is worth some discussion. The New Testament does allow us to speak of the one church (e.g. Matthew 16:18) and of churches in the plural (e.g. Romans 16:4). Article VII is interesting in how it uses these terms.

  18. Phil Walker says:

    ‘Course, I’m not a Lutheran, which is why I’m not worrying about Article VII, nor Article XIV. 😀

    What I said was that (a) polity doesn’t define the church at all, so is absolutely indifferent in that regard, but (b) it isn’t completely divorced from Scripture, so cannot be indifferent in that regard. In Lutheran terms, perhaps what happened is that Bror Erickson thought I was talking about Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, whereas the issues I was thinking of were more to do with the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope? I definitely find that latter document to address the issues I was thinking of more clearly than the former.

  19. Rick Ritchie says:

    I figured that was what you meant, Phil.

    It’s hard to say exactly how these things develop. I think that the word “indifferent” itself tends to have a certain meaning to Lutherans. (In many discussions, the language is that “polity is an adiaphoron.” When someone says this, they are referring to a specific past discussion, and not registering a personal opinion.) We tend to think ‘indifferent’ is being used as a technical term rather than a general term in these discussions. And when we get into talk of “defining” the church, what we mean by “church” and for what purposes we would be defining it are also confessionally determined.

    All sorts of questions beyond these may be legitimately asked. I think it sometimes takes some special effort, though, to keep people aware of whether the terms are used in a confessional manner or answering the common questions or not. If not, you almost have to avoid the confessional language as much as possible so as not to have the discussion fall into a well-worn track.

    This may be like attempting to have a conversation with a Calvinist and using the terms ‘unconditional’ and ‘election’ in the same sentence. You may be talking about something very different from the ‘U’ in TULIP, something very worth discussing. But it may take some time to get out of that conversation, and in the process, half the onlookers will be certain you are an Arminian when all you wanted to know was whether Hillary’s voters were going to vote for her under any circumstances.

  20. Phil Walker says:

    Haha! I like it.

    The things you learn, eh?

  21. Bror Erickson says:

    Phil Walker,
    Rick Ritchie’s answer is fair in describing where I was coming from. (Thanks Rick). And I think it needs to be noted that the 4th principle that we are discussing here, (why I don’t knnow it is the least important of them in my opinion) has some qualifiers on it. 1. Relative, meaning not total indifference, but relative. 2. It qualifies, as defining the church. So the discussion really hasn’t been about what polity is best for the church.
    (Those questions can never be given a once and for all answer.)
    Believe me that relative indifference goes by the way side real quick when it becomes a practical matter. As can be witnessed by the curent tempest in the LCMS over the Blue Ribbon Task force.
    I went and visited an interdenominational seminary a couple years ago, that was beginning to train pastors for a splinter group from the ELCA. A group that still wanted to retain the name Lutheran. I was discussing with the director of the school that had a completely (broad lutheran sense of the term) reformed faculty. I asked how it is possible for them to train pastors for the different denominations. He said, “Well we only teach doctrine not polity.” It took me days as a Lutheran to get my head around that. I knew the theory well enough, but that was the first time I had really encountered the disconnect so bluntly. I was dumbfounded that churches would be split from eachother for no other reason than polity. I dumbfounded that this man ostensibly thought there was no difference between Lutherans and the rest of protestantism. It is precisely doctrine that does separate us, (though in the ELCA, that may not be as true as it once was.) And it occured to me that may be the reformed are more and more picking up on this 4th principle by way of the back door. If this faculty could come together to teach doctrine, and leave the polity aside, there by training men for the ministry in the PCA, the Dutch Reformed, and some non-denominational church. Maybe they were coming to the conclusion that Polity really didn’t matter as much as John Knox thought it did.

  22. Phil Walker says:

    So the discussion really hasn’t been about what polity is best for the church.

    Ah, but you see, that was the thrust of my statement that you quoted and with which you expressed disagreement. So the issues we each thought we were discussing were completely different.

  23. John H says:

    Well, I’m back. 🙂

    Have been greatly enjoying following the discussion over the past few days. As regards point 4, I had understood it as distinguishing “Augsburg evangelicalism” from those traditions (e.g. Anglo-Catholicism) which see the historic episcopacy as integral to the church’s essence: i.e. those who take the view that all that can exist apart from the “apostolic succession” of the episcopacy is a mere sect, and that the church can only be found in its fullness and truth where the episcopal line of succession has been maintained.

    Now I’ve heard it argued (reasonably persuasively) that if the apostolic succession in that sense matters at all then Lutheranism has in any event preserved it by combining the offices of priest and bishop in the single ministry of the pastorate – so that each pastor is ipso facto a bishop. But I don’t think that is a particularly important issue for Lutherans.

    As has been noted above, all that is required (in the eyes of Lutherans and other Augsburg evangelicals) for the church to exist in its fullness is the congregation of the saints where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered – “little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd”. The loss of the episcopacy is a problem principally in that it exaggerates (in the eyes of both Lutherans and non-Lutherans) the extent of the rupture that occurred at the Reformation, and undermines the Lutheran claim to be the same catholic church that existed in the first fifteen centuries.

  24. Rick Ritchie says:

    I noticed while I was reading Augsburg Article VII this time through that I have not been very careful in distinguishing where the article talks about the universal church versus where it speaks of a single congregation. Where it says “The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly,” it says this right after talking about the one holy church. There might be some distinction between identifying the one holy church in its instantiations, and identifying a solid congregation. Even where you use the same method—looking for pure teaching and right administration—what you are discovering is a little different, and what you can conclude from it is a little different.

    Looking deeper, I find that even in Scripture, the language of “church” and “churches” already exists. There is the one church (e.g. Matthew 16:18). And there are churches (e.g. Acts 16:5, Revelation 2:7). Article VII made an interesting choice to speak in the singular all the way through, while appearing to talk about individual congregations some of the time.

  25. Jen says:

    I’m at least a 3.5 pointer. I’m a new Lutheran so I have no idea what #4 means. I have EO friends so #5 is under consideration, but I very strongly lean towards agreement on that point.

  26. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » The still centre

  27. Pingback: The Boar’s Head Tavern

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s