Let’s Diagram the Baptismal Passages: Titus 3:4-7

Update: previous images of manuscripts have been removed so as not to violate copyright images

Baptism is one of those subjects that is often debated with passion. Unfortunately, both sides of the debate tend to respond with emotion rather than presenting their arguments from the grammar and flow of the text. And more often than not,”proof” texts are presented without regard to the actual passages at hand that expressly speak about baptism. My sincere attempt is to engage the flow, grammar, and logic of this text to come to the conclusion of a Lutheran view of baptism.

With that goal in mind, the post will be divided into four major sections. The first will deal with the flow of the text. The second, grammar and exegesis of the text, the third textual variations to consider, and the fourth, common objections against the Lutheran view of baptism.

Some brief notes on this diagram

  • I do not claim any expertise in Greek grammar. Though I can read Greek, my knowledge is limited and I have relied on other resources to aid me. The main sources used for this post are the NA28, CNTTS Apparatus (Center for New Testament Textual Studies), CSNTM website, and several Greek grammars and critical commentaries that are a part of my digital library from Logos Bible Software.
  • I have used the NA28 as the base Greek text.
  • The English has been provided for convenience. It will be useful for English-only speakers to see which Greek words were used to translate the English words.

Diagram: the flow of the text

  • Four subordinating clauses flow from the main clause, He saved us. They are: (1) temporal–when God saved us, (2) denial/affirmation–how God saved us, (3) means–by what/through God saved us, and (4) purpose–why God saved us.
  • The explanatory clause tells us more about the Holy Spirit. It indicates to whom He is given, the measure in which He is given, and the Agent through which He is given.
  • Using the Mind Node app, I created a flow diagram which can be seen below

The grammar & exegesis of the passage

Download the PDF here for a full-sized image:

The adversative conjunction δέ (but) stands in correlation to point us back to the previous verses. It stands in contrast to what we were as to what we are becoming in Christ. Before, we were foolish, disobedient, led astray, etc. (v. 3). δέ, but, that is all going to change because God is sending His Son to rescue us from these things. According to the EDNT, δέ is a weaker form of the other common adversative ἀλλά (but).1*

Although verse 4 syntactically comes first in the sentence, verse 5 stands at the head of the diagram as it contains the main subject and verb of these four verses. He saved us is the dominating theme of these verses. The verb ἔσωσεν is used to describe God’s gracious act of saving us and indicates a complete saving from both danger (the world. Satan, etc.) and destruction (God’s righteous judgment).2 The verb is an aorist active. The aorist states that the action has happened without regard to the time of the action. The timeframe of this saving is revealed in the first subordinate clause to this main verb.

Here, we begin the four subordinating clauses. We will look at each of these before moving on to the explanatory clause

Temporal– ὅτε δὲ ἡ χρηστότης καὶ ἡ φιλανθρωπία ἐπεφάνη τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ. (but when the goodness and kindness appeared of God our Savior…) ὅτε (when) is the temporal portion of our clause. The word itself is said to be “a point of time which is roughly simultaneous to or overlaps with another point of time.”3 In this case, it references the time of the verb ἐπεφάνη (appeared). Two nouns appear as the subjects of this verb and are linked by the conjunction καὶ to show what Paul is referencing as appearing: the first is χρηστότης, goodness. Here, we are not so much concerned with how man views goodness but the quality of goodness as defined by God. While ἀγαθός (agathos) also means good, our word here, according to the TDNT deals mainly “a relation in which the person or thing designated stands to others or to its purpose” while ἀγαθός deals both with beneficiary things as well as material things.4 The next part of the compound subject is φιλανθρωπία (philanthrōpia) where we derive our word philanthropy. It expresses God’s concern and welfare of humanity. These two nouns coupled together show us two different sides of God’s love for His pitiful creatures. They entail not only our well-being spiritually but a concern the Creator has for His own rebellious creatures, much like a father’s love never wanes even for his wayward children.

Denial/Affirmation–the next clause deals with a negative/positive aspect of what God did and did not use for His process of saving us. οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων τῶν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ ἃ ἐποιήσαμεν ἡμεῖς ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸ αὐτοῦ ἔλεος (not from works in righteousness which were done by us but according to His mercy). The negative ouk stands at the front of the clause for negation. And what is the not in reference to? there are essentially two parts to this negative. (1) not of works. The preposition ἐκ (from) often indicates the source or point of origin from which something derives. This phrase is almost certainly in reference to the Mosaic Law as Paul’s other usages in his epistles reference this phrase thirteen other times.5 (2) [works] in righteousness which were done by us. The precise placing of each word leaves no room for doubt. The preposition denotes the realm or sphere that these “works” are done in righteousness, that is, our righteousness has no bearing on our standing with God. There are two interesting textual variants that exist here in verse 5 and each will be discussed in the next section. For now, it suffices to point out that the entire clause is negated by the adverbial particle ouk. We can do no good thing to stand before God. It is only according to His mercy. Here ἀλλὰ (but) is the defining contrast. If there is the denial of works then surely there must be the affirmation of something that will stand before God! And this contrast points to His mercy. The Louw-Nida Dictionary of Semantic Domains defines the word mercy as to show kindness or concern for someone in serious need—‘to show mercy, to be merciful toward, to have mercy on.6 Because we could not stand before God upon our own merit, He provided His mercy through the perfect work of Jesus Christ. The explanatory clause dealing with this is the last clause we will discuss.

Means– With the temporal and affirmation/denial being the forefront of the sentence, we now come to the means by which God saved us. This means is διὰ λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ ἀνακαινώσεως  πνεύματος ἁγίου (through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit). The preposition dia can express a number of things, but here it expresses the means by which God saved us. The preposition is shown as means because its objects are in the genitive case. When dia is used with its objects in the genitive, it implies through or by. While the standard (according to) is God’s mercy, His means of saving us come through something ordinary. The dia connects two objects, the first named one being a washing. Nearly all commentators are unified that this is an allusion to baptism,7 yet they seem perplexed as to what washing actually means. I will discuss these views more in the Objections section. At this point, a plain reading of the text suffices. Just as God used the means of the Jordan river to cleanse Naaman, just as Jesus used ordinary clay and spit to heal a blind man, so through the ordinary means of water coupled with the promised word of God, He uses baptism to wash us clean and give us His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16). It is a washing of regeneration. The word regeneration is used only one other time in Scripture (Matthew 19:28) to describe the new earth, and its infrequent use is the source of our interpretive problem. The second object of the preposition is ἀνακαινώσεως (renewal). This renewal takes place through or of the Holy Spirit, placing it as the subject of renewal.

Purpose–We now reach the purpose of God’s saving us. it is ἵνα…κληρονόμοι γενηθῶμεν (in order that…heirs, we might become). There is a participle phrase between the hina clause and the main clause, but the main part of the clause is the subjunctive γενηθῶμεν (genēthōmen-we might become). The direct object of the verb is kleronomoi, heirs. Two parts exist within this purpose clause. The first, is the participle phrase being justified by His grace. Paul uses his normal term δικαιόω (dikaioō) for justification. Nearly half the times this word appears in the New Testament are found in the book of Romans. The basic meaning is to be declared righteous before God. And once again Paul states that this righteousness comes via τῇ ἐκείνου χάριτι, by His grace. The only chance for us to be declared righteous is by His grace. This dative of means ties the passage neatly to the beginning of the main clause where we met the affirmation/denial. God’s goodness and kindness, our washing and renewing, the Holy Spirit poured out upon us (discussed next), and our washing of regeneration and renewal do not come from our own goodness or ἐξ ἔργων (from works) but only through His marvelous, wonderful grace.

Explanatory Clause

Our explanatory clause came in the middle of these verses but I have waited to discuss it last, as I wanted to focus on the subordinating clauses to the main verb first. The entire clause is οὗ ἐξέχεεν ἐφʼ ἡμᾶς πλουσίως διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν (whom He poured out upon us abundantly through Jesus Christ the Savior of us). The verb poured out explains the recipient upon whom the Spirit is given (us), the measure in which He is given (richly, abundantly), and the Agent by which He is given (through Jesus Christ). This clause itself completes the Trinitarian formula for our salvation. We see the word σωτῆρος (Savior) used both of the Father and the Son within the same sentence. We see the Holy Spirit renewing and sanctifying our souls that we might be able to stand in the presence of a Holy God. It is no accident that Paul attributes salvation to all three Persons of the Trinity and that we see that all this is glory given to the Son as it is through Him and by Him that the Spirit is given.

Textual Variants

There are two textual variations that should be considered in this section. The first has to do with verse 4, the denial/affirmation clause. Paul states that we are not save of works which we have done. The bold and italicized word is the variant under consideration. It boils down to whether the reading should be ἃ or ὧν. The difference is that the former is neuter plural accusative (the direct object of the verb) or a genitive plural neuter, which would simply translate not of the works of which we have done. Although there is not much difference in the meaning, it is listed as a significant textual variant.

Our second textual variant comes in the middle of verse 5. Some commentators have insisted that because of the lack of a second διὰ (through) before Holy Spirit in the compound clause of washing…renewal, it should be interpreted as a spiritual cleansing rather than viewing λουτρόν as a reference to baptism. But there are three manuscripts that do add this second διὰ. They are 06 ( Codex Claromontanus), 010 (Codex Augiensis), and 012 (Codex Boernerianus). The second preposition is added just before the Nomina Sacra (an abbreviated Holy Name). These three manuscripts are 6th and 9th century, respectively. All three manuscripts are listed as consistently cited witnesses in the NA28 edition of the Greek New Testament.

A second dia would then allow the text to read, He saved us…through the washing of regeneration and renewal through the Holy Spirit. This does two things to the text: first, it makes the two events, washing and renewal separate but simultaneous. I would argue that a single dia does the same. We will discuss this more in the Objections section. Second, the ambiguity of λουτροῦ (washing) becomes clearer, as one of the major reasons for interpreting the word as a spiritual cleansing or as epexegetical to regeneration8 is based on the absence of the second dia, again discussed below.

Objections to the Lutheran view

Most objections to the Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration in Titus 3:5 seem to be based upon four different premises. They are,

Objection 1: Washing should be read as a spiritual cleansing and not baptism.

Rebuttal: Although he admits that the simple understanding “syntactically” of the text is in favor of baptism, Marshal doesn’t allow it for other reasons stated earlier.9 Further in his discussion, he dismisses baptism altogether because “it is hard to see how washing can convey new brith.” The idea of a spiritual cleansing as opposed to baptism should be disregarded on several grounds.

First, Paul never associates “spiritual cleansing” with the word λουτρόν anywhere else in his writings. The only other place he uses the word is in Ephesians 5:25-26, with a reference to the church being cleansed by water. The bible never even mentions a spiritual cleansing for salvation, that I am aware of. Perhaps the only references to purifying only mention the Spirit and not together with water as Paul does here.

Second, one of the main principles of hermeneutics is to go with the plain meaning of the text unless there are other reasons against it. The fact that most commentators see this as an allusion to baptism suggests that the plain meaning of the text is baptism. The only objections proposed are those of theological persuasion and certainly not grammatical, as stated above.

Third, the early church interpretation of this passage was baptism10. Here, many would accuse me of following “fallible men.” The argument states that we can’t trust fully the church fathers because their writings were not inspired. Yet there are those Reformed exegetes that object to the doctrine of the Rapture on the same grounds. For around the first fifteen hundred years of the church, this, along with the other baptismal passages were interpreted as being God’s ordinary means of delivering His saving grace to us. To throw away an interpretation that has stood for so long, or to simply throw it out because of a differing theological presupposition is careless.

Objection 2: Baptism is a work, which Paul excludes in toto.

Rebuttal: This is simply a mischaracterization of the Lutheran view of baptism. And quite frankly, it is silly. Many commentators continually insist that baptism cannot be in view because Paul has excluded works righteousness at the outset. As we have seen, Paul is referring to righteousness within the Mosaic Law. Paul would hot have had baptism in mind as a work while writing to a Gentile pastor, for baptism was mainly a Jewish custom and initiation into the Jewish faith. Baptism, like preaching the word, is commanded by Christ Himself. Certainly there would be those that would cry foul if we claimed that repentance was a work! That is because it is understood that it only comes through the means of the Spirt’s work. If baptism is a work, it must be God’s work. It is done in the Triune name of God. Just as it is God’s work to regenerate a man when mere men preach, so also too, it is God’s work to regenerate and give His Spirit when mere men baptize others. As Luther states in his large catechism:

To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God himself. Although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own act. From this fact everyone can easily conclude that it is of much greater value than the work of any human being or saint. For what human work can possibly be greater than God’s work?

LC, IX.10

Objection 3: Because Paul focuses on the Divine action of our salvation, it is not likely that he refers to baptism being efficacious.

Rebuttal: This goes hand-in-hand with the first objection. No one, including Confessional Lutherans, deny that salvation is a work of God from start to finish. But this objection focuses on another issue, namely warring Scripture against other Scripture. When the topic of Divine salvation ensues, the default view of those that oppose baptismal regeneration is to quote ad nauseam other Scripture that has nothing to do with baptism. Most often, these passages include either the thief on the cross or the conversion of Cornelius. They point to these and claim victory because they feel they have “proven” people received the Holy Spirit before baptism. But we also see in the book of Acts where people did in fact have faith in Christ but did not receive the Holy Spirit until some of the apostles laid hands on them (Acts 8:14-15, Acts 19:4-6). Are we to believe, then, that no one can be saved unless an ordained pastor lays hands on a person to receive the Holy Spirit? It’s ridiculous for one to point to such a passage and make that claim. Instead of arguing what Scripture does not say about baptism, opponents of baptismal regeneration should engage the actual arguments and focus on what Scripture does say. Pointing to Scriptures that don’t deal with baptism doesn’t negate the Scriptures that do.

Objection 4: A second dia is needed to clarify what washing means.

Rebuttal: This argument was dealt mainly in the Textual Variants section but I wanted to revisit it here. We have seen three reliable manuscripts that add a second dia before the word Holy Spirit. But there are other reasons to deny the objection.

First, washing has significant parallels to both the Old Testament. Titus accompanied Paul during his missionary journeys and it is not a stretch to think that he would have been familiar with Old Testament rituals of washing (Galatians 2:1-3). When Paul mentions this washing, he no doubt would have thought back to the rituals and the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised through the prophet, Joel.

Second, there is no reason, contextually or grammatically to conclude that washing is any other thing except baptism. And though the construction may be difficult, the context is not that ambiguous. To maintain that Paul is using the word as metaphorical for the Spirit is not seen in any of his other writings, nor is it seen in any other passage. The context should be allowed to stand on its own without further complicating it because of a theological presupposition.

Third, I would argue that a single dia would still require that washing and renewal are separate but simultaneous events. The linking καί (and) coordinates the two events. It does not state that they are the same thing or that they are metaphorical. It seems to be a common caricature that those who hold to baptismal regeneration do so on the grounds that it happens apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. No Confessional Lutheran argues that regeneration takes place apart from the work of the Spirit. Neither do we deny that regeneration can and does take place by other means than baptism.

In his article in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Quarterly, John Brug gives interesting insights as to why washing refers to baptism. He states that Paul is using a chiasm. Most commentators point out rightly that παλιγγενεσίας (regeneration) and ἀνακαινώσεως (renewal) are synonymous and should be taken paired together. Brug points out that because of this pairing, the other two genitive, washing and Holy Spirit should also be considered pairs. This then, would make Holy Sprit, rather than renewal, the second object of the preposition. He states that this being the case the rendering should be God saved us through the washing which works rebirth and through the Holy Spirit who works renewal. His rendering is not based upon the word order, as most translations keep, but is based upon the actual parallelism of the chiasm. You can download and read Brug’s article below11.

Conclusion

Titus 3:5 should not be read in any other context except baptism. There is no grammatical reasons to assume that washing is hypothetical for a spiritual cleansing, nor is there any good exegetical grounds to assume that Paul’s focus on divine action excludes baptism. Baptism is commanded by Christ and therefore is God’s work rather than mans. Apart from the grammar and context, the Church has historically interpreted this and other passages in light of baptismal regeneration. To reject this on the grounds of the church fathers’ writing not being “inspired” while arguing for other theological positions (i.e. Rapture, Election, Justification, etc.) based on the interpretations of early church writings is both dishonest and a double standard. If you are interested in how the early church fathers interpreted the baptismal passages, I invite you to download the PDF, Baptism Texts & the Earliest Christians. It was complied by pastor Chris Roseborough of Pirate Christian Radio.

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footnotes (all footnote reference page numbers are electronic editions)

  1. Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). In Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament, p. 278. Eerdmans. [<<<]
  2. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) p. 982. University of Chicago Press. [<<<]
  3. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) v1, p. 632. United Bible Societies. [<<<]
  4. Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G., eds. (1964–). In Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed.) v 9, p. 485. Eerdmans.
  5. According to a search in the ESV conducted in Logos Bible Software. See also Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, ICC Commentary series.[<<<]
  6. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) v1, p. 750. United Bible Societies. [<<<]
  7. Marshall (ICC Commentary–The Pastoral Epistles) seems to be one of the few that doesn’t nail down the allusion to baptism. He maintains that it could be baptism but more than likely is a reference to a cleansing of the Holy Spirit. [<<<]
  8. Expexegtical simply means additional words to clarify the meaning of another word. [<<<]
  9. In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, he states, “We can assume without further ado that the author would have agreed that the Holy Spirit was associated with the whole process. Syntactically, the simplest understanding of the expression is (1)…[i.e., a reading that includes baptism] Even if this view of the syntax is not accepted, it still remains the case that a reference to an outward rite as the means of salvation is very unlikely in a context which is replete with references to divine action. Marshall, I. H., & Towner, P. H. (2004). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, p. 317-18. T&T Clark International. [<<<]
  10. Iranæus, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc. [<<<]
  11. Exegetical Brief: A Rebirth-Washing and a Renewal-Holy Spirit. Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, 92 [<<<]
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Given For You: A Brief Explanation of the Sacramental Union in Lutheran Theology

 For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh Justin Martyr, Apology 1, LXVI

Introduction

The Lord’s supper is a Lutheran doctrine that is often misrepresented, if not completely caricatured. It has been called Transubstantiation at worst and Consubstantiation at best. In this post I hope to set the record straight by giving a brief explanation of this most important Lutheran doctrine. Let us begin by defining the terms we have just stated.

Defining the Terms

There are three prevailing views when discussing the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper: Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, and Sacramental Union.

Transubstantiation

In the doctrine of Transubstantiation, the bread and the wine become the actual body and blood of the Lord. The prefix trans means on or to the other side, suggesting that the elements themselves change. The participant then, is no longer receiving bread and wine but the body and blood of the Lord. While there is no apparent physical change in the appearance of the elements, the person chews and eats the flesh and blood of Christ. This has been called Capernaitic by some. Lutherans reject Transubstantiation based on illocal presence, which will be discussed a little later on.

Consubstantiation

This view suggests that the body and blood of Christ coexists con (alongside or with) the bread and the wine. While the participant receives the body and blood, they are also receiving the elements of the bread and wine, as well. Lutherans have been accused for decades of holding to consubstantiation, even though it has been explicitly denied by Lutheran authors over and over. I admit that it is a more accurate view than transubstantiation but nonetheless, it lacks a proper explanation of what Lutherans believe. Lutheran theology distinguishes between local and illocal presence, discussed below.

Sacramental uniton

Sacramental Union probably best describes the Lutheran view of the Eucharist. In it, the participant receives the elements of bread and wine while at the same time participating in the body and blood of Christ illocally, that is Christ is truly present in the Supper in a manner that is undetectable to the human senses. Just as the Book of Concord states,

Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? Answer: It is the true body and blood of the Lord Christ, in and under the bread and wine, which we Christians are commanded by Christ’s word to eat and drink.

LArge Catechism, VIII (emphasis are mine)

Notice the words in bold, in and under. This represents what Lutherans call the illocal presence of Christ or the Communication of His attributes. This means that while Christ is truly present in the Sacrament, He is not physically present, that is, in a transubstantial way. We receive the true body and true blood of Christ but He is present illocally rather than locally. In means that the body and blood are truly present within the elements. Under means that the body and blood do not change the elements and that they cannot be detected with the senses (i.e., illocal presence). Some theologians have added the word with to communicate that we truly do partake of the body and blood of the Lord, being illocally present.

The Solid Declaration clarifies this in defining the union between the humanity and deity of Christ:

We believe, teach, and confess that, although the Son of God is a separate, distinct, and complete divine person in and of himself and thus was truly, essentially, and fully God with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity, nonetheless at the same time, when the fullness of time had come [Gal. 4:4*], he assumed human nature into the unity of his person, not in such a way that there were two persons or two Christs, but that Christ Jesus was in one person at the same time true and eternal God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and a true human being, born of the most blessed Virgin Mary…We believe, teach, and confess that there are now in this one, inseparable person of Christ two distinct natures, the divine, from eternity, and the human, which was assumed into the union of the person of God’s Son in time. These two natures can never more be separated nor mixed together with each other, nor can one be transformed into the other…We also believe, teach, and confess that as these two natures remain unmixed in their nature and essence and never cease to exist, each therefore also retains its natural, essential characteristics and will not lay them aside ever in all eternity, nor will the essential characteristics of either nature ever become the essential characteristics of the other. Therefore, we believe, teach, and confess that to be almighty, eternal, infinite, and present everywhere at the same time naturally (that is, to be present in and of itself as a characteristic of this particular nature and its natural essence), and to know all things, are essential characteristics of the divine nature, which will never in all eternity become essential characteristics of the human nature

Solid Declaration, VIII, 6-9 (Emphasis are mine)

Luther sought to reform the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper from Roman Catholicism. By defining the terms the way he did, he kept his flock from being charged as cannibals, much like the early Christians were charged. But he also retained the purity of the Supper without commingling and confusing the deity and humanity of Christ and having the charge of the heresy of Nestortianism thrown upon him.

Concluding Thoughts

The Lutheran doctrine of the Sacramental Union between the body and blood of Christ and the elements of bread and wine remain the best explanation for the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. It is well-attested to in church history, defined greater by the authors of Concord, and demonstrated in its language that Christ can truly communicate His attributes as Deity however He desires. Perhaps we shall some day embark on a polemical trail of this doctrine, but for now we should simply be content with Christ’s own words, “This is my body [and blood] given for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength: 5 Reasons I Am (joy)Fully Lutheran

In March of 2022, I was confirmed in the Lutheran church of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). I started studying Lutheranism in late 2018 or early 2019 when I was challenged on some of my commonly held beliefs, particularly that of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For the first time, I read Lutheran authors in their own words rather than through the filtered lenses of other authors that critiqued them. What I found was a simplicity in the way they interpreted Scripture, the main principle being that the plain reading of the text was to be taken as the meaning. As I opened myself up to this idea, my presuppositions of Reformed Theology began to crumble and the old arguments I had always used against certain Lutheran doctrines made less sense than ever before.

But it wasn’t until around September of 2020 that I visited my first Lutheran church, an LCMS (Luther Church of the Missouri Synod) congregation. I was a little put off by it because it seemed a little too “Roman Catholic” to me. I had never been exposed to a liturgical service before this. However, I continued to attend and dive into Lutheranism. Eventually, I wound up and became a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. It is no secret that I thoroughly enjoy Lutheran theology. And below, you will find my top five reasons why.

1. Pastoral concern for the conscience

Photo courtesy of Simon Claessen

We sin everyday. Sometimes, we blow it really bad. We feel alone, in the dark, depressed, no hope in sight. One of the things emphasized in Lutheran theology is the care of the conscience. Pastors are prepared to help the sinner see and understand that the gospel is not just for the lost. It is for believers, too! It has been stated Luther once said that he felt the need to preach the gospel to himself everyday because he sinned everyday. Lutheran pastors help the wayward, sin-sick conscience by continually pointing them to the objective reality of the atonement. Christ really died for them, saved them, and will keep them in the faith. It is a wonderful breath of fresh air to feel the relief of forgiveness and there is absolutely nothing like hearing out loud the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”

2. The Liturgy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines liturgy as, a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted

The Liturgy is so much more than this. It is ordered and structured with purpose. But it was also patterned after the temple worship in Jerusalem.

While some chide the liturgy as “boring” it is the very normality and pattern that make it so beautiful. The liturgy follows the church year calendar and has its worship settings around the seasons of the year. It ensures several things stay on track during the service. And most importantly it keeps the pastor from going off on a tangent preaching his own ideas. Instead, he is presented with several Scriptural passages that fit the particular church season and chooses one to bring the sermon to the congregation.

For this reason, the liturgy has been accused of stifling the creativity of the pastor and not allowing the Holy Spirit to use the pastor’s natural gifts. But the liturgy was set in place to ensure two things: the pure proclamation of the gospel and the sacraments presented to the congregation.

3. Participatory Worship

Modern Evangelical church services have been boiled down to an emotional experience, for the most part. Phrases such as “You can really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit,” and “Fill us with your glory/show us your glory” have almost become the slogans of worship services. What exactly does it mean to “feel” the Holy Spirit or to see His glory? If your worship experience has been dependent upon emotional sways, you will always be seeking to answer this question.

True worship starts with the notion that we do not enter into the Lord’s House to give anything to Him but simply to receive His gifts to us. Emotion is good but it is the promise that is the foundation. And these gifts are His promises contained in His word. In participatory worship, when we recite the creeds, confessions, receive the sacraments, and responsively read Scripture, we are receiving promises made to us. This is one of the reasons why Scripture reading is so important within a Lutheran service. Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel readings all remind us of God’s faithfulness. Receiving the Lord’s Supper along with the words, “Take, eat, this is my body…this is my blood given for you for the forgiveness of sins,” reminds and gives us surety of forgiveness, not based upon our participation but based solely on the promise of Christ.

4. Extra Nos

Extra Nos is the Latin phrase for Outside of us. It is intended to communicate that our justification comes from some other source that is not within us, namely, Jesus Christ. Today’s church culture seems to be saturated with some form of self-centered justification. Whether it is some type of emotionalism or asceticism, it has permeated our worship services. Even solid gospel-preaching churches have fallen prey to this beast with a continual emphasis on self-examination of ones sanctification. Many pastors tend to over emphasize the sanctification process. When week in and week out, it is preached that you should be at a “certain level” of Christianity because you’ve been saved for X amount of years, your focus begins to shift inward instead of outward. This shift begins to cause doubt, fear, and depression. You begin to think, “I should be further along, more holy. Am I really saved at all?”

Extra Nos is the solution to this doubt. Our standing before God is based solely on the atoning work of Jesus. I don’t downplay the importance of living a holy and sanctified life. But truthfully, Christian sanctification, if we’re honest, resembles a rollercoaster much more than a straight line upwards.

We all have our highs and lows and the entire point of the gospel is that we can’t be sanctified or holy without the Spirit of God. When we begin to feel depressed about our sanctification, we must learn to look extra nos and see the wonderful, completed work of our Savior. It is the only sure remedy to drive out all doubt and fear.

5. Law/Gospel Distinction

Of all Lutheran doctrines, I would consider this one of the most important ones. The way we read snd interpret Scripture will depend on how well we can distinguish between Law and Gospel. This is also the doctrine that trips most Christians up and causes them to doubt their salvation. The Bible is divided into these two great sections. Everything we read in it will fall into one of these two categories. Let me take a minute to explain:

The Law makes demands of us. It tells what we must do to obtain God’s favor and what we must do to avoid His wrath. It threatens us with punishment severe for our disobedience and rebellion of the high Kingly commands. In short, it leaves a longing in us and shows us that the only true way to please God is through sinless perfection. This is the first and foremost use of the Law. It drives us into despair and causes us to seek a perfection not found within.

The Gospel, on the other hand, are promises made to us which are obtained by faith. They are not conditioned upon our pleasing God or living up to certain expectations that we know are impossible. Instead, God has given them to us in Christ. Salvation, justification, eternal life; these are all part of God’s gospel promises. We don’t seek to earn them through good behavior or going an entire week without cussing some one out that cut us off in traffic. Instead, all the promises of God find their Yes in him (2Corinthians 1:20). They are all given to us based upon Jesus’ perfect work, not ours.

One final caution about Law/Gospel distinction: It is crucial to understand that not everything in the Old Testament is Law and not everything in the New Testament is Gospel. Many stories in the Old Testament can be considered gospel promises, such as that of Abraham, Naaman, Ruth, and others. The New Testament is replete with threatenings for those who do not seek shelter within the Gospel promises. They will be judged under the Law since they refused to obtain God’s non-Law promises through faith. It is not simply that God desires to punish these individuals. It is a matter of justice in which God cannot leave sin unpunished. Because we could not obtain these gospel promises through the Law, He has graciously provided it through His Son.

Concluding Thoughts

I believe Lutheran theology is the most accurate expression of Scripture. While I could give more reasons that I am Lutheran, the above five points are probably my top reasons. Within Lutheran theology, I found a beautiful yet traditional, a faithful yet confronting theology that addresses both the soul and intellect of the entire person. If you wish to learn a little more about who we are and our confessions, please check out this link. God’s peace be with you.