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  • Tristan A. Emmanuel,
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Neo-Lutherans seem to have migrated. They're making a home in our front-yard and it's not a pretty site. I'm not referring to Lutherans proper, i.e., Lutheran denominations; I'm speaking about people in our communities. They're Presbyterian and Reformed in affiliation, but their reformedness is so narrow they're almost like old-school Lutherans.

Now I've got nothing against Lutherans, especially the old-school type. Their view on justification is great. The problem with Lutheranism is that it doesn't go far enough; it's a half-way reformation. That is to say their reformation begins and ends with justification.

The way this relates to us is that some of our own have taken the same position. They are so hyped on "justification" they've become fanatical about it. I call them Justifanatics.

Justifanatics are people who claim that the essence of the Reformation is simply and ONLY salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ. They have serious reservations with any emphasis on law, sanctification, and especially on personal application in sermons. Their creed is simply: Sola Justificato - justification to the exclusion of all else!

Now, they've always been around. But for the most part they were in ivy-league, seminary-closets out on the West Coast (and East) bemusing the perversion of the high reformation since the rise of the "theonomic" revolution. They taught their pet theologies, made a few disciples, but didn't seem to make too much of a splash.

It seems however, that they've decided to leave their coastal enclaves and migrate to the heartland of Reformed communities; that is, they're started to make a stir.

In virtually every Reformed periodical I've seen, I've read some article or letter in which they defend their "narrowness" on the nature of the Reformation. Now I'm all for history, debate, and even rigorous argument, but what concerns me is that their defence has maturated into full-scale defamation of those who hold contrary, yet historically orthodox, positions. I'll give you a case in point.

A while back Steve Schlissel gave a speech at a Reformation Rally at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. The speech was entitled: "Now, More Than Ever: Covenant Consciousness."

He spoke about the need for a living faith, as opposed to dead letter theology. He said things like: "Propositions don't save!" "The solas won't save!" "Luther was fine for his time…but we've taken things too far." And the most shocking (at least to many in the audience), "The only thing new about the New Covenant is that Gentiles are included!"

Well, Justifanatics have had a field day. One critic wrote to the Christian Renewal (Jan. 14, 2002) that Schlissel had denigrated the value of Luther and had the audacity to invert the order of salvation. His proof? Instead of having the audience ask, "What must I do to be saved?" Schlissel concentrated on, "What does God require of me?"


Another very vitriolic critic wrote (Christian Renewal, Jan. 28, 2002), "Rev. Schlissel did us a great service. He showed how foreign a message is that is now out there being promoted in reformed circles under the banner of 'covenant consciousness' as if it were reformed theology. I hope elders and ministers will be on their guard."

On guard?

I heard that speech. And I can tell you Schlissel's point was really quite basic, so basic my nine year old could get it. Granted, his categorical rejection of "propositions" didn't help him (and I don't agree with him on that point). And I can see how some of what he said sounds a lot like modern evangelicalism - you know the need-no-creed-but-Christ crowd - but that is only if you take him out of context.

Like any good orator he had a single point and he used hyperbole to emphasize that point: An active living conscious faith is what matters, not a dead passive trust in ideas.

To which I say, "Here, here!" Our God is living. His Word is living. Therefore, our theology MUST be living. And I absolutely concur with Schlissel, too many Reformed Christians are dead but think they are alive because they've got the Three Forms of Unity.

Yes, theology is important. Schlissel didn't deny this, although to the hard-of-understanding it may have sounded like that. He was simply driving home the point that it is an active living faith that matters, a faith that doesn't pit law against gospel.

But the invectives have been so loud and harsh you'd think Schlissel was a good-for-nothing-heretic. One critic stated, "If Schlissel's quite different gospel…gains admission we cannot be united; we will not be reformed, and the loss of the gospel means we will not even be a church." And another stated rather sternly, "On matters that concern the gospel, no such misunderstanding may be permitted."

Comments like these leave no doubt in my mind that some very stormy seas await Presbyterian and Reformed communities continent wide.

How so?

If clear thought doesn't prevail, blind reaction and fanaticism will. To charge that Schlissel is preaching a false gospel, to accuse him of gospel "revisionism," to call him to "reform" his doctrine simply because he believes the gospel involves "…that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength," is FANATICISM!

Fanatics generally don't care about the measures they employ to defend their cause. Blinded by their narrow zeal, some fanatics have even murdered for their cause, (something all of us witnessed recently). Schlissel's critics have demonstrated that balance and wisdom do not rule their judgment, but fanaticism does.

Now, I'm not suggesting that these justifanatics are plotting a conspiracy. However, I am saying that groundless accusations and overblown rhetoric that bring an "orthodox" man's reputation into question, all because he challenged an audience to live zealous and faithful covenant lives is not only unjustifiable, it is a flagrant violation of the ninth commandment.

If this trend continues we can kiss unity talks good-bye, (at least for the time being). We'll be so busy slandering and splintering that fanaticism will rip us to shreds.

  • Tristan A. Emmanuel
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