Law & Gospel Does Not Make Reformed & Evangelical Churches Orthodox

cover450x450Confessional Lutherans were tantalized by the idea of other denominations adopting Law/Gospel language in the expectation that it might lay a bridge across the Missouri. There were high hopes for former Presbyterian pastor Tullian Tchividjian to be the celebrity convert whose high profile would slipstream thousands of closeted Lutherans into the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS).

Editor’s Note:  Even the Brothers of John the Steadfast had high hopes for this and published an interview of Mr. Tchividjian.  In hindsight this was a mistake as it introduced our readers to a false teacher and charlatan.  

Tchividjian made Law and Gospel so central to his public identity that his own denomination became suspicious, and Lutherans became solicitous. Alas, he fell off the antinomian side of the horse with adulterous scandals that briefly interrupted his career as a pastor and celebrity speaker. He is now back in the pulpit in defiance of Titus 1:6-7.

Consequently, any bridge-building to other denominations via the Law/Gospel hermeneutic can be written off for a very long time.

Tchividjian’s critics crowed that his scandals proved that Law/Gospel distinctions are a deformed theology that rejects sanctification. They are more content than ever to see Calvinism as a necessary refinement of Lutheranism.

It does not help that Tchividjian’s comeback sermon at a synergistic church had a bold false teaching, “[God] loves us because we are bad and dirty.”

No, God loves us despite how bad and dirty we are – even the wicked are blessed with children, food, and material wealth. God has no desire to find us wallowing in our swill, so he provides the means of atonement and salvation through the birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. We are Christians only because of granted faith in the person and work of Christ, not because God has an affinity for dumpster diving to find us in our most sinful state.

Tchividjian’s statement was tagged onto a riff hinting at a more authentic justification for sinners whose depravity runs deepest in a nihilistic world.

“God meets us in messy places because messy places are all that there are. He comes to meet us in dark places because dark places are all that there are.”

That is a confusion of Law and Gospel, but it is hardly unique. It is symptomatic of the “grace alonely” movement and its obsession with “raw stories” of redemption. (Grace “alonely” is adapted from Pastor Brian Kachelmeier’s fantastic axioms about “grace alone” versus “grace only”, which he will develop when speaking on “The Grace of Justification vs. the Grace of Self-Justification” at the upcoming Steadfast Lutherans Conference).

We might fairly trace the growth of the audience for Tchividjian’s grace alonely ideas to the influence of the White Horse Inn (WHI). He is, arguably, an outgrowth of WHI’s pan-Protestant cry for a “Modern Reformation” as a corrective to the errors and excesses of American Evangelicalism.

The notion of a uniting “Reformation Theology” is anchored in the ecumenical setting for WHI’s broadcasts where doctrinal disputes are acknowledged, but glossed over. There is a persistent, if unspoken, declaration of a common confession that hints at a reconciliation between Luther and Zwingli.

The notion of a “Reformation Theology” is extremely seductive for Christians weary and wary of sectarian rivalries and strife. They are only too eager to embrace a statement of belief that reads something like, “We all preach, teach, and confess Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the sins of the world”.

It is a reductionist creed that is necessary, but not nearly sufficient. Yet that has not stopped its kudzu-like invasion of most denominations.

It was visible in Tchividjian’s Liberate network, and it is visible in its step-child, Christ Hold Fast (CHF). The ‘missional’ faction of the LCMS has certainly been seduced by the appeal to unity and common purpose as embodied by FiveTwo.

What is missing? The Means of Grace and the Office of Holy Ministry (OHM).

Tchividjian could eloquently expound on Law and Gospel in a way that made Lutherans swoon, but he never actually apprehended it because he publicly rejected the real presence in Holy Communion, and did not meet the requirements of the OHM. Yet, even his version of Law and Gospel was and is severely distorted because he rejects the Third Use of the Law, and treats any use of the Law in a Christian’s life as de facto legalism.

The White Horse Inn can talk movingly about the “greatest story ever told” in Law/Gospel terms, but even the brilliant Michael Horton, if he is consistent, is left with only the Law. Preston Sprinkle can communicate with skill about the Gospel at CHF, but he only has the Law because he rejects Word and Sacrament ministry, and the OHM – the very means through which God gives the gifts of the Gospel.

To speak about justification in an orthodox way is not the same thing as to practice its delivery and reception. Without the offices and mechanisms to distribute and receive God’s Grace, Law and Gospel is just Law. When the means of grace are abridged in any way, Law and Gospel is just Law. Without the OHM, Law and Gospel is just Law. When the OHM is modified in any way, Law and Gospel ends up being just Law.

The only “Reformation Theology” that exists is found in the steadfast, life-giving doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church because they are faithful to Scripture. Let us be content and thankful, but unyielding.

“These [Lutheran] congregations are normally not very flashy, not very large, and not very exciting. They are humble churches with humble people and pastors whose treasure is the Pure Word of God, Law and Gospel, and the Sacraments.”

Bryan Wolfmueller, Has American Christianity Failed?


Law & Gospel Does Not Make Reformed & Evangelical Churches Orthodox — 47 Comments

  1. Thank you for the boldness and the clarity expressed in this post!
    Do you have these same concerns about 1517 Legacy and their association with CHF?
    I also appreciated the kudzu metaphor! Brilliant

  2. @Tim Wood #2
    Good to hear.

    “Tchividjian’s critics crowed that his scandals proved that Law/Gospel distinctions are a deformed theology that rejects sanctification. ”

    Sadly they don’t see that TT’s law/gospel distinctions are not actually correct law/gospel distinctions. As such they ARE deformed theology.

    Great article. This needs to be said over and over, especially to those radical Lutherans still enamored with his teaching even though they reject his overtly sinful manipulative behavior. (I would argue that his behavior is a natural outgrowth of what he believes. He has repeatedly made stories about how it would be better for a wife to not nag her husband when he forgets to take out the trash again and instead sits down to watch the game. That instead she should take it out herself, then come sit by him and put her arm around him and ask how the game is going. I have heard others in videos put out by Coral Ridge say similar things. In at least one example I heard Tullian use his own ex wife’s name when they were still married, saying “wouldn’t it be better if she did this” – saying that would make him feel ashamed and want to help more.

    He often extolled his dad allowing him to forge checks from his dad’s checkbook (and this was AFTER he was trying to straighten up his life) as the reason he stopped doing it. It makes me wonder if he expects that to be the normal way of weaning us off of every besetting sin, and until someone lets him get away with whatever he wants to do, he won’t worry about trying to stop it?? Is that how it goes? Sure seems that way! Coupled with stuff like we hear sometimes from Lutherans when asked, “now that I am a Christian what should I do?” they say “whatever you want.”

    (example here from someone’s blog post )

    Truly confusing.

    How in the world does this fit in with Walther telling us that when we are considering what we ought to do we must look at the law as if there is no gospel. When considering our status and acceptance before the Lord we are to look at the gospel as if there is no law. Those are two very different things regarding sanctification and justification, and Tullian and the followers of his teaching, many Lutherans included, enamored with him seem incapable of understanding that.

    btw, the strategic use of the word “briefly” in the article was truly appreciated by me.

  3. Could someone point out to me where the synergism is in Spring Hill Church’s doctrinal statement? I couldn’t find it.

  4. @Jay #4 Hi Jay, please note these specific items in the church’s doctrinal statement:

    1. “We believe that God the Holy Spirit is a person. He regenerates, seals, and sets apart the believer to a holy life. At regeneration He baptizes the believer into the body of Christ and comes to indwell him fully and permanently.” Note the weird word play with regeneration and baptism. The church rejects the sacraments: “We believe that Christ ordained the observance of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper until He returns” – so it is declaring that regeneration takes place without baptism or the sacraments.

    2. “We believe that whoever trusts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord becomes a child of God. This salvation is not the result of any human effort or merit. Faith itself achieves nothing; rather, it is the object of faith (Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin) which has value. In becoming a Christian, a person acknowledges his own spiritual bankruptcy (his inability to meet the righteous demands of a holy God) and places his trust for salvation in Jesus Christ who died in his place, paying the penalty for his sin. (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8-9; Ro. 3:28)” This is tricky, but pay attention to who is doing the work. Salvation is dependent on an expression of remorse and the individual’s ability to trust Christ. Again, note the very odd word play about faith and trust. This is very common and typical for evangelical churches that have moved along the spectrum from being more legalistic SBC types to being more grace community church types. They have picked up some monergistic language, but they are still wedded to synergistic habits. I speak from experience

    The strongest clue to this church’s real identity is this statement: “We believe that all true believers are kept eternally secure by the power of God through the new birth, the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of Christ.”.

    Likewise: “We believe that the purpose of the church is to glorify God by building up every member of the body and by making Christ known to the whole world. Every member of the body shares in this purpose.” The purpose of the church is to dispense salvation and forgiveness, and their is a designated officer for the task.”

    Spring Hill is guilty of gross hypocrisy for giving TT the pulpit given this statement: We believe that the local church is to be ruled by elders having equal authority. The elders are assisted by other leaders when necessary to carry out the ministry, all of whom are selected according to standards expressed by the New Testament. (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-13)

    Lastly, note the chaotic relativity in its last two statements:

    4. We believe in the unity of the local church and therefore reject an emphasis on, or teaching of, minor or unclear doctrines in a way that threatens division. (Eph. 4:1-6; Phil. 2:1-11; Ro. 14:1-23; 1 Tim. 1:3-7)

    5. We believe the local church should be a witness to the contemporary world and that without compromising biblical absolutes, its ministry, worship, and teaching should creatively adapt to the particular culture it feels called to reach. (1 Cor. 9:19-23; Gal. 2:3-10; Acts 17:22-34)

    This doctrinal statement would earn a failing grade at any seminary

  5. @Tim Wood #2
    What’s wrong with the 1517 legacy and Christ Hold Fast? I’ve been listening to their Thinking Fellows podcasts and have not heard anything contrary to Orthodox Lutheran doctrine.

  6. @J. Dean #7 I want to be crystal clear about avoiding guilt by association. My concern is not individual 1517 contributors, but the organization being the patron of CHF. You’ll note that 1517 is scrupulous about LCMS Lutheran affiliations for its contributors. It mostly functions as a sort of CUI / SoCal forum. Yet, when it comes to CHF, which is co-marketed and branded with 1517, there is a unionistic flavor. Why? Because CHF appears to be 1517’s attempt to push the idea of “Reformation Theology” I have written about in this article. Simply put, CHF does not have the same Confession that 1517 projects, so why is 1517 its patron?

  7. If they only have the law then they’re in no way Christian and cannot possibly be saved, which is plainly false. So if that’s what you mean then you are wrong, and if that’s not what you mean then your words are confusing and should be corrected.

  8. @Nathan #11We acknowledge that there are true Christians who are part of the church eternal by virtue of their received faith in the person and work of Jesus, yet are members of heterodox churches. However, when such a person becomes aware of the false confession of their visible church, they are required to flee the false teaching and teachers.

    I have written about learned men who earn some of their keep with Law/Gospel proclamations, yet they renounce or reject the sacraments and OHM. They know better because they have studied the topic, but have chosen rebellion.

    From Fellowship in Its Necessary Context of the Doctrine of the Church, 1961, Thesis 11:

    The marks of the church are all-decisive. Everything must be referred to them. This duty is hindered by presumptuous judgments or statements concerning the faith or lack of it in individuals. It is Enthusiasm to build on subjective faith (fides qua) and love, for faith is hidden and love is variable. Both are in man. The Means of Grace are objective, solid, apprehensible. Since these are God’s own means we must attend entirely upon them and draw from them the distinction between the orthodox church and heterodox churches.”

    That’s a benchmark that removes my opinion from the matter.

  9. Pr Wood I would love it if you could expand on the idea you brought up of the Reformed having nothing left but law. I have many Reformed friends and they are confused by this as am I, to be honest. I would like to know how to understand /explain it, from the outside looking in on Lutheranism. This post seems to be written more in an ‘in house’ way, but even being Lutheran I still don’t quite get it, except dimly. It may have to be a separate post or series of posts I suppose?

  10. “The only “Reformation Theology” that exists is found in the steadfast, life-giving doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church because they are faithful to Scripture. Let us be content and thankful, but unyielding.” -Does this mean that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the only true church? And if so, I’m thinking Jesus is in big trouble.

  11. @Paula #13 Hi Paula – please note that I am a layman, not a pastor.

    Law and Gospel is Martin Luther’s priceless bequest to us, but the two doctrines are neutered when they are kidnapped from the the whole “family” of doctrine and practice that he gave us. For example, you cannot say you have the pure gospel when you reject baptismal regeneration or Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion.

    Yet this is what many Reformed and, lately, Evangelicals have attempted. They like the Law and Gospel concept, but they pretend that it is detachable from the rest of Lutheran theology. Our theology, which is simply the Confession of the ancient church recovered and restored, is a finished puzzle. All the parts need to be in place or you have an unfinished picture.

    A puzzle with missing pieces has no value, but this is precisely what Law and Gospel kidnappers want to sell us. Many of these abductors are also Lutheran, but think that they can do it better than Luther and Scripture by attempting innovations or by grafting in alien doctrines that have achieved popular acclaim.

    Reformed theology runs the gamut, but at its core it rejects the means of grace, and presents the Holy Spirit working through special revelation and promptings rather than working through ordinary means. This contradicts Scripture and makes it impossible for them to discern Law and Gospel. Even if they can explain it correctly, it’s worthless because they have rejected the gifts of God to transfer salvation and forgiveness to sinners via pastors preaching the Word, baptizing, communing the saints, and offering confession and absolution. The sacraments are objective external assurances that are pure Gospel.

    It’s the whole puzzle or nothing. The nothing is the Law, which leaves us condemned since we are required to fulfill all the law, but are unable to.

    “So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two kinds of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are separated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not—as in the case of the law—what we are to do and give to God.” Martin Luther, LW 35:162.

  12. Excellent points! I remember arguing the same about Tullian’s “Law and Gospel” back in January, 2014 in the Count It All Joy Show podcast – starting at the 34:14 mark here – where I also referenced the BJS interview mentioned in the editor’s note above.

    Thank you very much for this articulation, Mr. Wood. I’m happy that concerns I’ve had for years are being recognized as valid by a larger swath (even Chris Rosebrough is making public statements to that effect now), but sad it took Tullian’s public fall for it to happen.

  13. From the main article: “To speak about justification in an orthodox way is not the same thing as to practice its delivery and reception.”

    Can you “speak about justification in an orthodox way” and not speak the Gospel?

    The Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. (Romans 1:16)

  14. @Carl H #18 Hi Carl – speaking about justification is not the same as delivering the good news. We receive the Gospel through the sacraments – God’s power makes us believers.

  15. @Tim Wood #15
    “@Paula #13 Hi Paula – please note that I am a layman, not a pastor.”
    Oh, my mistake! I was always under the impression you were a pastor. Duly noted. 🙂

    You said “Reformed theology runs the gamut, but at its core it rejects the means of grace, and presents the Holy Spirit working through special revelation and promptings rather than working through ordinary means.”

    But if they accept the primary means of grace i.e. the Word of God, how are they without the gospel? And if they are non charismatic i.e. adhere to sola Scriptura, even though we would say their understanding is imperfect, how are they relying on special revelation/promptings?

    God certainly does work through our desires and promptings, providentially. The tricky thing is even for Lutherans, to keep in mind that just because we have a prompting doesn’t mean God is telling us to do anything in particular, and especially not if it contradicts what is already revealed in Scripture.

    “It’s the whole puzzle or nothing. The nothing is the Law, which leaves us condemned since we are required to fulfill all the law, but are unable to.”

    I guess I would chalk them up to the old “felicitous inconsistencies.” I have a hard time accepting that so many Reformed believers or even Arminian believers may not be saved. They likely view us the same way. I’m not saying “you must be wrong” I’m just saying “I don’t understand.”

    I am in the AFLC currently. Most AFLC churches allow open communion (except not for little ones). I am sure there are some that would consider us Reformed or Unionist because of that. I just get confused as to how all that figures together. I honestly will keep trying to figure it out, but for stuff like this it takes me a long time to see how the doctrines affect one another. Sometimes it just seems to me to be more complicated than it was for believers we read about in Scripture. I know that is likely be *my* problem, and not the problem of the teaching I’m trying to understand.

  16. Wood: “We might fairly trace the growth of the audience for Tchividjian’s grace alonely ideas to the influence of the White Horse Inn (WHI).”

    And, we might fairly trace Tchividjian’s Lutheran-sounding but false theology to the late ELCA theologian, Gerhard Forde, whom Tchividjian frequently paraphrased in books and tweets, via the various LCMS theologians (themselves false-teaching Fordeites), who appear in WHI publications.


  17. @Paula #21 Hi Paula. We must be careful to say who is and who is not saved because we have no ability to discern that. However, I do know that when I see my pastor baptize a week old baby, that baby has salvation and forgiveness because the Bible has commanded baptism and explains its work.

    The problem lies in people who say Sola Scripture, but actually practice Scriptura Selectivam. When Jesus says, “this is my body, this is my blood”, but people say, no it’s just a symbol, then they have taken on the role of editors trying to make a Readers Digest version.

    Klemet Preus explains the Reformed failure well in Fire and the Staff, and that problem is the grandfather of American Evangelicalism. I’ve pasted in a long excerpt:


    Among Calvinists, also called Reformed, the tendency to deny the objective qualities of the Gospel crept into their thinking. The Word was not objectively powerful. Baptism was not an objective washing. The body and blood of Jesus were not objectively present in the Supper. They were present only if you believed. Over the years, Calvinism became much like a thirsty man who was about to drink a beer. But the beer would be thirst quenching only if he really believed it. So the man concentrated on his faithful drinking rather than on the beer itself. One of the basic tenets of Calvin’s theology is the thought that the Spirit of God has a secret power that transcends the mere power of the Word and the Sacrament. The “secret power” comes to us immediately, that is, without the Word and the Sacrament. Calvin says:

    So long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and died for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. And, although it is true that we obtain faith, yet, as we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and to inquire into the secret power of the Spirit, through which we enjoy Christ and all his blessings.22

    Notice that, according to Calvin, we are to seek something higher than the Word itself. We are to discover the secret power of God. Then, and only then, can we fully enjoy Christ. Calvin’s followers wrote confessions of faith much like the early Lutherans wrote their confessions. One of the earliest is the Westminster Confession, a document used by all the early Reformed churches. This document teaches that the sinner is directed not simply to the Word of God and the Sacraments. He is directed instead to the inward witness of the Spirit along with the promises of God. The Spirit works in the Word, it is true, but He also works through something that is above or beyond the Word. The certainty (of salvation) is an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidences of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.23

    Notice again that you cannot simply trust the “divine truth of the promises of salvation.” To these promises God must add “the testimony of the Spirit.” The Word is powerful only if and when God adds to it the power of the Spirit. In Calvin’s thinking you cannot simply trust the promises of God. The Gospel and the Sacraments are not powerful in and of themselves. There is a secret power or an inward witness added to the Gospel. To Calvin you can actually have a Spiritless Word. You can have the word of comfort without the Comforter. The objective assurance of the Gospel is lost.

    Preus, Klemet I. (2005-01-01). The Fire and the Staff (Kindle Locations 1723-1748). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

  18. @Robert #23 Thanks, Robert, and I would agree based on anecdotal evidence of the apparent love of Forde’s “On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation”.

  19. Having come from Calvinism, I would say that, to be fair, Calvinists are not entirely monolithic on the sacraments. There are Calvinists who do believe in a real presence (albeit defined differently) in the sacraments, and Calvinists who hold to a completely symbolic view (Calvinist Baptists). The latter group does not care about their association with Zwingli, but the former group will bristle if you so much as even give an appearance of their association with the Swiss Reformer. They insist that Calvin held to a different doctrine than Zwingli did.

    But… the sacraments are only efficacious if you’re elect. And where the real issue with all of this falls is the issue of double predestination. When I was a Calvinist, there was always a little bit of doubt, because ultimately if you believe in double predestination you start wondering whether or not you’re actually in Christ. After all, if you believe that God equally chooses to damnation in the same way as He elects unto salvation, you realize that you could indeed still be reprobate somewhere down the road, that you could still not truly be saved to begin with.

    And this plays havoc with you, because you know that there is a chance you could be holding to a false profession of faith. You constantly second guess whether or not your faith is real, and then the answer comes “Well, what do your fruits (meaning good works) look like?” Then your problems double, because 1.) your good works, though real, will never align perfectly with God’s perfect expectation of good works and 2.) in the end, you’re coming dangerously close to trusting in your works and your righteousness for the thing that saves you. In the end, it’s really not much different from what Arminianism does.

    It’s really sad, because Calvinism, whether it means to or not, leaves the despairing believer with either doubt or pride. And while good Calvinists will say “Look to Christ,” as good and true as that is, the point becomes undermined by double predestination. Christ’s comfort runs the risk of being nullified by Calvin’s logic. And in truth the cross of Christ (although I don’t honestly think Calvinists intend for this to happen) becomes secondary to the sovereignty and predestination of God.

    As bad as law and gospel become convoluted with a misunderstanding of the Sacraments, the doctrine of double predestination is equally guilty in this realm.

  20. I would be very cautious of over-reaching statements.

    Firstly, I too am furious at what Tullian has done. As a gay teen in the 70’s I knew the only thing I could do to obey God was to remain celibate. I have done so for over 4 decades now, even though being alone has brought me depression and taken me to the brink of suicide far more than one time. And now, here is Mr Tchividjian throwing away a supreme blessing I longed for and can never have by walking away from his wife and kids. Not only that but to use women the way he did and to turn right around and commit to a lifetime of adultery with a new “wife” is absolutely abhorrent to me. I certainly will not buy his next book as the only thing he could say should be public and freely given: “I am wrong and I have sinned!”

    But we do need to be careful about the appellation “false teacher.” Because he himself has sinned horribly and has disqualified himself from ministry does not make everything, or even most, of what he said wrong. A pastor or a teacher who abuses people and commits adultery brings great shame on the Church. But it does not invalidate what his ministry or his teaching of the past. It is indeed fair to say there are things he wrote and said that are theologically wrong. But his current sin neither proves they are wrong nor intensifies their wrongness. They are wrong in themselves. There are also things he wrote and said that are right and they remain right in spite of his sin. False and true teaching remain such in spite of the behavior of the teacher.

    So also we need to be careful of the belief that the Reformed churches have only Law. Since only the Gospel saves, if only the LCMS has Gospel and all that any other church body has is law then only those who attend and are reached by the LCMS could be saved. The law and Gospel may be muddied and intermingled and improperly use but they still remain what they are. So let’s not make overbroad statements about the Gospel being absent in this or that Church.

    Finally, what has Mr Tchividjian done that the LCMS has not, unofficially, accepted and adapted to in the last few decades. If you look at, almost the only topic there is about “gay marriage.” If you look hard enough you can dig up one Q/A about divorce with a 1 paragraph answer and a link to the CTCR document on divorce. Apparently keeping gay people from having sex is far more important than divorce and remarriage. Jumping over to, there is one blog post about how blended families can be a place where grace can reign. Now i don’t disagree with that. But I find it odd that the LCMS essentially skips over the whole issue that remarriage after divorce (except in some limited circumstances) is to commit to live a life of adultery. For the most part, the focus of the LCMS seems to be be on “surviving divorce” and finding grace and forgiveness after remarriage. So can we really excoriate Mr Tchividjian for a behavior we seem to accept as normal in the LCMS?

    So, yes, let’s be angry about Mr Tchividjian acting in a deceitful and unchristian manner. But let us not fall into the error of Donatism nor the error of invalidating the Gospel just because it is not as clearly defined in some places. Also let us check ourselves and ask, are we encouraging our members to follow in the footsteps of Tchividjian? Or do we truly mean it when we say that divorce/remarriage is a sin?

  21. It’s sad that the “hope” Tullian Tchividijian seemed to offer of bridging the gap between Lutheranism and the Evangelical world ultimately fell through. Of course T.T. had his doctrinal issues, and I see what you mean with reference to the WHI, but man, I wish Evangelicals would get it.

    I wish the Evangelical Catholic faith of the Lutheran church was the sole theological tradition uniting the church. It’s sad that T.T. did more to destroy this hope than anything else.

    How can Lutherans reach Evangelicalism? I would like to see Confessional Lutherans do more to come up with ideas for outreach. There is a lot of criticism of “missional” folks, and even those who are ecumenically minded, but it would be good if solid, Confessional type-Lutherans came up with some positive solutions for reaching out to both Evangelicals and the lost.

    I’ve been a Lutheran for about a year now, and one thing that I’ve thought about a lot is, “where were Lutherans all those years? Why didn’t I ever know that Lutheranism was even an option.” I knew about Calvinists, Reformed Baptists, Arminians Baptists, Big Box Evangelicals, Wesleyans, Episcopaleans, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, etc., but the only thing I knew of Lutherans came from the history books. I always assumed Luther and Calvin believed the same things, so Lutherans must have died off as a distinct group when Calvinism grew. When I started listening to the WHI, I found Lutheranism through Dr. Rosenbladt.

    What prevents Lutherans from ever making a blip on the radar? Why have Lutherans become the specter of Protestantism? How can we get out there in a positive way without compromising our principles?

  22. @Ken Miller #28

    One of the things that turned me around was hearing programs like Issues, etc., Worldview Everlasting, Just and Sinner, and other Lutheran broadcasts.

    Simply informing others of the options of Lutheran teaching is a great way to do this.

  23. @Ken Miller #28 It is a common refrain, “Where are the Lutherans?”

    Note where Kevin DeYoung is looking for them – in flashy high profile places like conferences, popular books, and movements. That’s not where the Confessional Lutherans are because it requires a good deal of self-promotion not to speak of the risky marketing dollars backing the selling of big Christian names. There are no Confessional Lutheran “rock stars” because fame displaces the focus on Christ and the cross. However, it is incredible that DeYoung doesn’t at least know about Issues Etc. That’s blind ignorance for the sake of it.

    In my experience, most converts found Confessional Lutheranism when they started researching doctrines that were troubling them. That’s when the Lutherans show up, headlined by Issues Etc, Table Talk Radio, Steadfast Lutherans, WeTV, Lutheran Satire etc.

    Where Lutherans have gotten involved in flashy things, trouble has followed because compromise is inevitable as we have seen with Liberate, CHF, Mockingbird, FiveTwo, etc. The current approach is just right – Confessional Lutheranism can be found where and when it is needed.

    Let’s not tempt our pastors to seek attention in the name of outreach.

  24. Hi there, I am curious:

    In your article, you seem to call out particular Lutheran “ish” organizations, or those that want to co-opt some Lutheran ideas for the sake of unity, and you mention Christ Hold Fast.

    Could you explain why I should or should not trust the content offered at CHF? Perhaps I lack discernment, but, from what I have read, it seems thoroughly Lutheran, and very Law/Gospel centred. I am in fact friends with one of the contributors (and a pastor myself, within the Church of Lutheran Brethren Canada).

  25. @Tim Wood #30

    Hey Tim,

    I appreciate your response. You make a good point. It is hard to be involved in the Evangelical rock star movement without shameless self-promotion.

    I found the Lutheran Church through some rather indirect means, so I guess
    It’s Providence that brought me here.

    I have to say, I think Jordan Cooper has done some great things to advance historic Lutheran theology. He reprints classic Lutheran works in paper back, and he interacts with a lot of Calvinists through online forums, like Facebook pages.

    I guess it’s more complicated than i was originally thinking, but I still wish there were better ways to get our message out. Law & Gosepl, Word & Sacrament, it’s desparately needed and i wish more Evangelicals had it.

  26. Dear Tim,

    Thanks for your thoughtful article and subsequent comments! Tchividian is an embarrassment to all Evangelicals, I am sure!

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I’d like to address two items: 1) the theology of sanctification in various faith traditions; 2) the issue of cooperation between faith traditions.

    (1) The theology of sanctification, aka, the Christian life, is one of the biggest dividing lines between Protestant faith traditions, and most folks don’t realize that. The four basic types are: a) Methodist/Evangelical/Holiness/Pentecostal; b) Calvinist; c) Lutheran; d) Antinomian/Liberal.

    a) The founder of the Methodist position is John Wesley, whose position is described in “An Account of Christian Perfection.” Methodists believe that ethical perfection is possible in this life, and we should strive toward that goal. “Evangelicals” is a confusing term, but it originally meant people with a Methodist view of sanctification who remained in the Church of England, Presbyterian, or Baptist churches. So all “Evangelicals” today (except for the Calvinist-Evangelical type) have Wesley’s doctrine of perfection. This doctrine is both contrary to Scripture and psychologically damaging.

    You may observe that the 1517Legacy group ( ) talks about “those broken by the church.” What they mean by that is that such people have scars, wounds, and other psychological damage from their own attempts at living a perfect life, and finding that was impossible. I am not a member of 1517Legacy, though I know a few of its members. The guys I know have seen part of their personal ministry over the years as an outreach to people reaching the ends of their Evangelical-perfectionism-rope. “Issues,etc.” has served that function too.

    So where do people go who have been burned by Evangelical-perfectionism? . . .

    b) Calvinism. Calvin’s Institutes states that believers experience sanctification, but NOT perfection in this life (1559 Institute III-3:10-15). This is a BIG difference from Wesley, Calvin argues that the marks of sincere repentance are found in the Christian Life (1559 Institute III-3:16-20; III=6-10). Although good works are not a cause of justification, Calvin says they can strengthen faith as proof of God’s Spirit at work in us (1559 Institute III-14:16-21, and ch. 15). It is true that various Reformed churches, i.e., non-Wesleyan/non-Methodist, have variations on this doctrine, but if you are going to speak of Calvinism or Reformed theology in general, it is best to rely on Calvin’s Institutes.

    c) Lutheranism. Where Calvin has primarily a positive proof of faith, Lutherans have primarily a negative proof, i.e., a proof of unbelief. In Apology IV, 140-144 (Tappert, 126-127), Melanchthon notes that faith cannot exist together with mortal sin, “such a faith does not remain in those who obey their lusts, nor does it exist together with mortal sin” (IV, 144). As to how faith exists, he states that “faith has its existence in penitence” (IV, 142) and “this faith ought to grow and be strengthened in these terrors [of conscience] and in other afflictions” (IV, 142).

    As to sanctification, Melanchthon writes “After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses” (IV, 125; Tappert, 124). But even then “We must not trust that we are accounted righteous before God by our own perfection and keeping of the law, but only because of Christ” (IV, 161; Tappert, 129).

    Note that for Lutherans the major area of sanctification is in our relationship to God, secondarily only to our neighbor. This means that Calvinism has a more “social” view of sanctification, while Lutheranism has a more “individual” view of sanctification, for which reason Lutherans have often been accused of being “quietistic” by Calvinists.

    d) Antinomian/Liberal. There are a variety of positions here, but the result is the same, namely, the negation of the Law in the life of the Christian. The Socinians, who were the original liberals, rejected the vicarious atonement, and were outright Pelagians. Later Liberal Protestants rejected God’s role as Judge, leading to universalism.

    (2) Cooperation between faith traditions. The LC-MS, WELS, and ELS have different positions on this matter. The LC-MS position is stated most clearly in its Constitution, Article VI.2, and it applies only to rostered church-workers and congregations-as-a-whole. It does not prohibit such association by laymen, though such association may be inadvisable for many reasons.

    According to Constitution VI.2a, pastors in the LC-MS may not serve congregations of mixed confession (i.e., members of different faith traditions in the same congregation) and, per VI.2b, may not take part in worship services and sacraments of congregations of other faith traditions or mixed confession.

    Per Const. VI., 2c pastors and congregations may not participate in “heterodox tract and missionary activities,” which refers to evangelistic and missionary work in our nation and overseas–“participating” meaning a variety of things such as: paid work, volunteer work, fund-raising, giving of offerings, publicizing, etc.

    So in the LC-MS, pastors should not participate with, let’s say, the Gideons, but laymen in their congregation may do so.

    Can LC-MS pastors have other types of alliances or associations with non-Lutheran pastors? That is a good question, but it is not prohibited by the LC-MS Constitution.

    Many LC-MS congregations and pastors in small Midwest towns work together for the care of the poor and indigent with other Christian ministers and churches. LC-MS military chaplains have worked together with the chaplains of other faith traditions in various ways, though not sharing worship services or the sacraments with them. Many LC-MS pastors and congregations are heavily involved in the “Right to Life” movement with non-Lutherans.

    In the late 1990s, Robert Preus saw a growing need for “confessing Evangelicals” to make common cause on things that mattered to them. He helped organize the “Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals,” which met in plenary session in Cambridge, MA in April 1996. The LC-MS contingent included: JAO Preus III (CSL), Gene Veith (CUW), Ron Feuerhahn (CSL), Art Just (CTS), Mickey Mattox (who is no longer LC-MS), Don Matzat (first host of Issues, etc.), Rod Rosenbladt (CUI), David Scaer (CTS), Wallace Schulz (Lutheran Hour speaker), Bill Weinrich (CTS), Larry White (parish pastor-Our Savior, Houston), and myself (parish pastor-Christ, Oak Park).

    Everyone in the LC-MS contingent signed the “Cambridge Statement” (see link in comment #33 above). Jack Preus III and Gene Veith became our representatives on the ACE council after Robert Preus died.

    What does this mean? It means that since 1996, significant leaders in the LC-MS have been working together with conservative Protestants of the (mostly) Calvinist type in order to stem the influence of: 1) Wesleyanism and its offshoots, and 2) Liberal Protestants–and in order to maintain, with God’s grace, our theology and practice as defined by the 16th century “magisterial” Reformation (Anabaptists need not apply).

    From the LC-MS perspective, projects like “Modern Reformation”, “White Horse Inn,” and “1517Legacy” are in themselves not a problem if they stick to their founder’s intent. If there is a false doctrine or false practice being advocated there, that is only a problem in itself, not a problem due to association. But they do bear watching, since these type of organizations may easily change when their founders die or become disengaged from them.

    I hope this clarifies some matters.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  27. “To speak about justification in an orthodox way is not the same thing as to practice its delivery and reception.”
    This is true.
    “Without the offices and mechanisms to distribute and receive God’s Grace, Law and Gospel is just Law.”
    I don’t know what this actually means. I *think* waht you mean to say is that without the Means of Grace (“offices and mechanisms”, etc.), one is steered back to the Law in order to have some sort of confidence in the Gospel.
    “When the means of grace are abridged in any way, Law and Gospel is just Law. Without the OHM, Law and Gospel is just Law. When the OHM is modified in any way, Law and Gospel ends up being just Law.”
    “Ends up” just might save your own tail here. This is kinda like the issue of fides reflexiva. Errors regarding the means of grace and the Office most certainly *do* militate against the Gospel. However, someone’s formal theology may deny the means of grace, even while, without their realizing it, they actually *have* and are *benefiting from* the means of grace. A Calvinist who believes the Gospel: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, including me”, even while he confesses some other way of “coming to faith”, still believes solely by means of the Gospel–the Word (if not the Sacrament or Baptism). Whether he acknowledges it or not, where there actually is faith in Christ, it was the Holy Spirit through the external Word that worked that faith in him. “Ends up” does indicate that if he persists in this, he may very well finally deny Christ Himself, in order to maintain his own prideful “consistency”, or whatever. So, those two words may have bailed you out of being guilty of an error.

  28. @Nick #31 Thanks, Pastor. Christ Hold Fast has several problems that should steer Confessional Lutherans away from it.

    1) It’s founder and leader is disqualified from the OHM for several reasons, starting with the fact that he has a questionable call, no sending, and no ordination. Secondly, he scandalized Christ and the church with his behaviour, and returned to the pulpit without any fear of ecclesiastical oversight. 4 of the CHF contributors just yesterday released a call to repentance to TT for the same issues. That’s a problem.

    2) CHF promotes unionism and syncretism. There will be protestations that there are no candles lit and no incense burned, but it is very clear that CHF is promoting the idea that Protestants have a united Confession as long as you do the Law/Gospel thing.

    Look at the mix:
    * Lutheran Brethren.
    * Self-styled Lutheran micro synod of one.
    * LCMS
    * Synergistic American Evangelical
    * Female worship leader
    * PCA Presbyterian
    * LCMS SMP at an urban megachurch
    * Mystery
    * American Baptist (“We accept no humanly devised confession or creed as binding.”)
    * Sacramental Entrepreneur
    * Lay Preacher
    * Anglican – Lutheran Syncretist

    There cannot be a common confession, but CHF is saying there is one as long as you proclaim adherence to some abstract notion of a “Law & Gospel Collective”. That’s pure nonsense, and so we should mark and avoid people who participate in the nonsense, and more so if they are proclaiming it.

  29. @Tim Wood #36

    Thanks for your reply sir! I appreciate it! There is much that I have been completely unaware of (until now thanks to Google).

    As far as a common confession among protestants, I do find myself hoping such a thing could be possible as well. But, per the persistent and welcomed encouragement of my elders, I’ve tried to devote my studying to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions rather than try to grasp the distinctive points of other denominations and traditions. I wonder what you might do in a situation (not hypothetical for me) where someone not Lutheran at all does come across orthodox lutheran theology, and specifically enjoys Law & Gospel quite a bit? What common ground can be celebrated, if any?

  30. @Nick #39 The common ground has to be Scripture. Part of what we see is an abstraction of Law/Gospel as something that rises above the unity of Scripture. So, when we encounter someone who likes L/G but is not Lutheran, our obligation is to patiently and gently instruct them to see that it can only be “liked” as part of a whole.

    I came out of American Evangelicalism first by tiptoeing through the TULIPs, and only then to Confessional Lutheranism. Listening to Fighting for the Faith had left me satisfied that it was all the same as long as we had Law and Gospel. There were Lutheran sermons, Baptist sermons, Reformed sermons and the standard was sound Law & Gospel with an emphasis on redemption. I was having difficulty coming to terms with a sacramental view of communion so, with encouragement from the White Horse Inn, it seemed fine to go the Reformed path. It was only by listening to Table Talk Radio (don’t remember which episodes) that I realized the error – it was all or nothing, and I had almost taken my family down the path to nothing.

    The distribution and reception of God’s grace is critical in helping non-Lutherans understand Law/Gospel as a concrete, objective thing that you can be assured of. What assurance do we have outside of the Sacraments? That was the key that turned the lock for me, and many others by anecdotal evidence.

  31. @Tim Wood #38

    Brother Wood–you *are* my brother in Christ, and will be forever, by the grace of God, when I am no longer “Pastor” Mueller :)–I appreciate what you are aiming at here in the article. And I appreciate how graciously you received what I wrote! The famous “felicitous inconsistency” is by NO MEANS an excuse to ignore sin and error of the heterodox! (Or to be slack in myself, either!) It is terribly serious and frightening and sad for folks in Calvinist pews to be taught the denial of Christ’s instituted Means. But where the Word is, even in the midst of heterodoxy, the Spirit is able to work. Here’s the problem with the Reformed’s knee-jerk reaction to our doctrine of Baptism, for example: “You have faith in Baptism! We have faith in Jesus!” “No, we Lutherans have faith in Jesus who is present and washing away our sins *in* Baptism. Where is the Jesus say you have faith in?”

    But we must remember that our faith “in” the Means is properly faith in *Jesus* who is the Content of the Means. (Otherwise, we are sliding toward ex opere operato–or however you spell it.)

  32. @Rev. David Mueller #41

    That’s one thing I wish Lutherans would be a little more clear on. I hear people say “I am Baptized” or “I look to my Baptism” for assurance. I understand what is meant, and agree. But the way it’s said to a non-Lutheran, it does sound like one is treating Baptism itself as the cause of justification/regeneration rather than the conduit through which the saving work of the Word comes through to us (That was how I understood it at first before a better understanding of Lutheranism).

    I would rather hear it said that “I am saved because of Christ’s work on the cross on my behalf, and that work is applied to me through the Word by means of Baptism.” I know that’s a bit wordy, but it conveys the idea better and avoids potential misunderstanding.

  33. Some of the Lutheran rhetoric concerning baptism might better reflect a distinction between the granting of an identity and the fulfilling of it.

    God placed us on a new path, but that path is narrow and there are unknown dangers ahead on the way to the summit; not all who begin the journey will complete it. So what does baptism in the past mean for the journey ahead?

    The faithful trust that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6).

  34. I met Mike Horton once at a Mockingbird conference in NYC where he was presenting. I asked him exactly what is referred to in this post: Why do the WHI hosts always get along and agree so well? I mean, I recognized that, in some ways, confessional Presbyterians are our strongest allies, especially when it comes to the “solas.” But the issues that divide us are significant, and I thought listeners would benefit from an occasional cage fight over some of the issues. It would help us understand them and their significance better, and for those listeners who (like I was for some time) are searching for their church home, it could provide invaluable guidance. Horton kinda laughed it off, it wasn’t their style or strategy or something, I don’t remember. He just didn’t seem to take the idea of a ideological brawl on the radio too seriously.

    Having only very recently joined the Lutheran church at the time, I confessed to him that I very nearly went his direction and joined a URCNA congregation. (It didn’t help much that they are nearly impossible to find.) He mentioned something along the lines that it was better to find a good Lutheran church than a bad Reformed one. Five years later, I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

    I appreciate that he has great respect for our tradition. I often strongly suspect him to be a closet Lutheran. I heard him interviewed on a Westminster Seminary podcast parroting the Calvinist position on the Lord’s Supper like he was regurgitating something from rote memory to prove his Reformed orthodoxy. It lacked the ring of conviction. I don’t wanna come down hard on the guy if he’s secretly considering our confession, because his public associations have brought him significant criticisms from both sides.

    I suppose I can see why WHI goes with a more peaceful approach to disagreement. There’s something to be said for not stepping in a puddle of mud when it isn’t necessary. You can only get crucified in church work so many times before you develop an instinctive reflex to duck first, ask questions later.

    But I still think more debate would have made the program a lot more fun to listen to. Fencing with words is nearly a dead art these days, because nobody has the stones to do it without getting their feelings hurt. We are so emotionally invested in our opinions that we no longer care if they are true.

  35. @Miguel Ruiz #44 Thanks, Miguel, good insights. If anyone is a “closet Lutheran” then they are heaping more coals on their heads because they refuse to have the true confession on their tongues. Ultimately, I think this was part of TT’s self-deception – he believed his own BS about bridging denominational gaps with L/G and was then comforted in his error by Lutherans who thought he needed persuasion instead of rebuke.

    By the way, if you read Horton’s systematic tome, The Christian Faith, he goes after the Lutheran position on Holy Communion quite aggressively.

  36. @Tim Wood #45

    “The Christian Faith” came out about the same time I was leaving my brief Reformed phase, so I figured it wouldn’t be worth the time and money since I had a new confession to learn better. I’d like to see how he argues that, though. I’ve never heard a rational or competent argument against our position on the supper, and I’ve argued it out with many a strong rationalist thinker. It ultimately comes down to “I don’t want to believe that” and the more honest ones (rare gems, they) will flat out say it that way.

    I think that Lutherans who refuse to have the true confession are those we should rebuke before rebuking Presbyterians for being Presbyterian. I mean, we already will not commune them. But false confession at the same table is infinitely more serious, imo. If a Presbyterian persists in Presbyterian errs (or Methodists, Roman Catholics, etc…) at least they are being honest and consistent.

    I think Tullian is fully aware that he would in no way be permitted to commune in our churches. In hindsight, I think his “look how Lutheran I’m leaning” vibe was not the revelation of an inner struggle, but rather, a marketing ploy. 2.5 million members of a conservative, confessional denomination is a market more than 8 times the size of the PCA. We resonated with some of his ideas, and it is exceedingly rare that any celebrity minister ever says anything that could be considered Lutheran-ish at all. So his supply stepped in to fill our demand.

    Not saying he doesn’t buy what he was selling- if he only wanted to pander to crowds, there are much better selling pitches and larger markets than the Reformation theology crowd. But it was naive for any of us to think he wasn’t really Reformed. Though I’m sure much of the “truly Reformed” are now saying “He ain’t one of us either.” I personally know some who were saying that long before any scandal came out.

  37. Tim: Thank you for your post. I read all of your post, but I haven’t read all the comments, so please forgive me if I’m repeating what someone else has said. You are very right to lament the presence and prominence of a false teacher. You are also right to warn of the tendency among many to ignore vital doctrine in a well-meaning but not well-informed attempt to create broader unity. I think your point after that (regarding means of grace and office of holy ministry) is less strong. So far as I can tell, the point rests entirely on the assertion that “The only ‘Reformation Theology’ that exists is found in the steadfast, life-giving doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church because they are faithful to Scripture.” Forgive me if I have missed it, but I don’t see any support for that assertion. You mention problems with WhiteHorseInn, Michael Horton, Preston Sprinkle, but the problems you describe also seem to be based on the failure of those people/groups to conform to your assertion. Without a case made from scripture to support the assertion about the means of grace and the office of holy ministry, could not (should not) those who are concerned with fidelity to scripture be reluctant to agree?

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