What are Reformed Baptists? I don’t know. People who hold to both the freedom of the will and double predestination? People who hold to believers’ baptism and TULIP? Got me. What I do know is that some of them have it in for Lutherans. In particular, one Emmitt Tyler II (@titus35_com) has part of his website dedicated to “exposing” what Lutherans “really believe.” (As if this were something we were trying to hide. It’s been in the Book of Concord for anyone to read for 500 years.) He also seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter playing guessing games comparing Lutherans to Arminians and Roman Catholics. (Incidentally, I find it ironic that Mr. Tyler claims to be all about pure grace and that it comes solely by faith without works, and yet he attributes salvation finally to something we do: http://www.3qgames.com/do. He puts “do” in quotation marks, but the three “you musts” puts the lie to that. If the Gospel has “you must” in it, it ain’t the Gospel. The contradiction is obvious here: “Your salvation has nothing to do with your good works or your effort to keep the Ten Commandments. You’re saved only by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. … If you want salvation, hate your sins and turn to Jesus, trusting in Him alone as your Lord, God, and Savior, and you’ll be saved.” )
The central claim seems to be that Lutherans teach that (1) a person can lose salvation because sin hardens the heart against the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, (2) Lutherans believe in works righteousness: i.e., that it is our works that keep us in faith and sustain our salvation.
In spite of the fact that Lutherans have explicitly rejected the idea that our works either begin, continue, sustain, or contribute to faith or salvation, Mr. Tyler has discovered that this is not really true! Actually, Lutherans believe the opposite of what they say they believe! And they’ve hidden it under their false talk of “salvation by grace through faith alone”! So: have we? Do we really believe that works are what keep a person saved?
Here’s the evidence that Mr. Tyler has “discovered” in the Book of Concord, what he calls “The Hidden Catechism” (ooohhhh!).
First, Lutherans have always and openly taught that one can lose faith and salvation. If people didn’t know that, it’s not because we never said it. I would suggest both David and Judas as two who sinned and hardened their hearts against the Holy Spirit. One was brought to repentance and faith again; one despaired unto death. Now I realize that those who hold to double predestination and the unqualified perseverance of the saints are simply going to reply that David was always going to be saved, and Judas was not. Thus, delving into the hidden will and counsel of God (which apparently has been made known only to them), they claim that if someone appears to “fall away,” they never really were saved in the first place. That’s a neat way of resolving it without any Scriptural backing whatsoever. How does one account for David, who was chosen by God to be king, who trusted God’s promises to him, but who then sinned in coveting, adultery, and murder to such an extent that he doesn’t even realize he is sinning until Nathan preaches to him? Then he repents and believes the promise that God has removed his sin from him. Don’t worry! all that (unrepentant) sin had no effect on David’s faith or election. He was always going to be saved. Show me the Scripture, not your rationalistic philosophy of salvation.
The second point seems to have clear evidence in both the Formula of Concord and the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (though I wonder if he read anything but one article in the Solid Declaration). Tyler quotes the Article on Good Works from the Solid Declaration as evidence that Lutherans believe good works keep you in your salvation. Paragraph 33 quotes the Apology as commentary on 2 Peter 1:10:
Peter teaches why people should do good works: namely, to confirm our calling, that is, that we may not fall away from our calling by lapsing again into sin. Do good works, he says, so that you may remain in your heavenly calling, so that you do not fall back into sin and lose the Spirit and his gifts, which you have received, not because of the works which follow from faith, but because of faith itself through Christ. These works are preserved through faith. However, faith does not remain in those who lead a sinful life, lose the Holy Spirit, and reject repentance (Kolb/Wengert ed.).
So does that mean that once you have faith, then it is your works which keep you in faith? Well, if Mr. Tyler had bothered to read on a little further:
On the other hand, this does not mean that faith only lays hold of righteousness and salvation at the beginning and thereafter delegates its function to works, so that from then on they may preserve faith and the righteousness and salvation that have been received. [which is exactly the position that the so-called “crypto-Calvinists” (!) had defended at the Altenburg Colloquy in 1568-69] On the contrary, so that we may be sure and certain of the promise not only that we receive righteousness and salvation but also that we retain it, Paul attributes to faith not only the access to grace but also the basis for our standing in grace and our “boasting in the glory which is to come (Rom. 5:2). That is, he attributes everything–the beginning, middle, and end–to faith alone (paragraph 34, Kolb/Wengert).
So what were the confessors saying? It helps to understand that they were arguing against pseudo-Lutherans who were claiming, on the one hand, that good works are harmful to salvation; and, on the other, that good works are necessary even to salvation. They were holding (and we should follow them) the entire counsel of the Scriptures against all extremes: the Roman extreme that good works are necessary to complete faith with regard to salvation; the Reformed-leaning extreme that good works preserve and exhibit salvation after one has believed; and the extreme that suggests that faith is so solitary that even evil and unrepentant works can never remove one from faith and salvation.
Therefore, we must begin by diligently condemning and rejecting this false Epicurean [Reformed Baptist] delusion that some dream up, that faith and the righteousness and salvation we have received cannot be lost through any arrogant and intentional sin or evil work but rather that when Christians follow evil lusts without any fear or shame, resist the Holy Spirit, and intentionally proceed to sin against their consciences, they nonetheless at the same time retain faith, God’s grace, righteousness and salvation (paragraph 31, Kolb/Wengert).
There is a single source of the Reformed Baptist confusion: an inability to distinguish between Law and Gospel. There are a multitude of passages in Paul’s letters that exhort or encourage people not to fall back into sin and death. (See, e.g., Ephesians 5:1ff.; Galatians 5:16-21; 6:7-10; Colossians 3:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). And what of 1 Timothy 1:19, where Paul says that Hymenaeus and Alexander have “made shipwreck of their faith”? How could they have faith if they were never among the saved? How could they “shipwreck” something they never had? Or 1 Timothy 5:15 where some widows had “already strayed after Satan”? According to Reformed Baptists, they didn’t really “stray” since they were never “in the fold” to begin with. Or 1 Timothy 6:10, where some, because of the love of money, have “wandered away from the faith.” We could find other examples. But by exhorting Christians in this way not to fall away from the faith, Paul (or the Confessors) do not claim that the opposite is true: that by doing good works, one is preserved in the faith. The reality is that one is either doing good works from the Spirit and by faith, or one is doing evil, from his own flesh. There is no neutral position between sin and good works. Sin is rebellion against God and unrepentant sin is simply unbelief. Unbelief means no salvation, since salvation is by grace through faith. Good works flow from faith, and have no other source than the Holy Spirit. No good works means no Spirit and no faith.
So when the Confessions exhort good works so that one does not fall back into sin, they are simply describing the life of faith lived out in the world, as opposed to the life of the flesh dying in sin. This is all Law (which does not mean it is bad), and therefore it is not the Gospel which gives salvation. Because Reformed Baptists seemingly cannot see the distinction between Law (i.e., do good works, because this is what God requires of you) and Gospel (the free gift of righteousness in Jesus because of His death and resurrection), they confuse the exhortation to good works with righteousness before God. This in spite of the fact that every sentence in Article IV of the Solid Declaration is written against confusing faith with good works.
Finally, the Lutheran position is not worked out in abstraction and speculation. We begin in the concrete and the physical: from the actual confession of ourselves as sinners and from the hearing of God’s Word in Christ that election to salvation is a free gift given in the flesh and blood of a particular Man. Reformed Baptists seem to begin from speculation about what God does in His own secret counsel with regard to choosing for either salvation or damnation. This means that they cannot deal with the actual facts on the ground: some confess Christ as Lord and some of those who previously made such a confession later fall away. (And some of those who fall away later make the good confession again.) Instead of observing and seeing the way things are in reality, they have to speculate about an individual’s heart: when someone falls away, she was never really elect. Where is the Word that says that? Where does God speak that way? This is simply human logic dictating what must be or not be in someone’s heart. It is human rationalizing masquerading as holding to God’s promises about how He will do what He said He would do. Those promises of God in Christ that are cited in favor of “once saved, always saved” are not promises made in the vacuum of God’s eternal will; they are made to people so that they might believe and be saved. This is the difference between Reformed and Lutheran doctrines of election: the Reformed hold to election in the abstract, solely in the realm of God’s sovereignty; Lutherans, on the other hand, hold to election as the proclaimed Word of salvation, objectively accomplished once for all on the cross, and directed to individuals in preached Gospel and Baptism. The Reformed hold that God elects absolutely; Lutherans hold that God elects through His own chosen Means. They both claim to be unconditionally gracious, but one flows from God’s sovereignty and one flows from the concrete action of God in Christ at particular times and places.
I do not expect that this will convince the Lutheran-obsessed Reformed Baptists, anymore than an apologia would convince a God-obsessed atheist. But it should be a hint that when every single Lutheran denies works-righteousness and holds for dear life (literally) to the distinction of Law and Gospel, you have misunderstood the teaching (thus, points 1-2 are correct, while 3 is false). Mr. Tyler, that means you.