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Annotated Large Catechism: Two Speeches to Floor Committee 5

Below are two speeches that I am planning to give to Floor Committee 5 of the 2023 LCMS convention about Resolution 5-14 on the annotated Large Catechism. The first addresses the resolution generally, and the second goes into detail on one of the flaws of the annotated Large Catechism.

  • Speech to Floor Committee on Resolution 5-14
  • Denial by Omission of the Atonement
  • Bonus Notes on Paulson’s Errors

Speech to Floor Committee on Resolution 5-14

Rev. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Four overtures about the annotated Large Catechism were memorialized to synod and assigned to your committee.

Two of them were bad. Nos. 5-30 and 5-31 were one-sided, recriminatory, and political. They recited wrongs allegedly done in private. Delegates could not know whether those assertions were true, and thus should not be put upon to vote about those assertions. I commend the Committee for not adopting those or incorporating their inappropriate provisions.

No. 5-32, to entirely throw out the annotated Large Catechism would have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. It was right of the Committee not to report a resolution to the floor to do that.

No. 5-33, from the faculties of the two seminaries was much better, and you have rightly incorporated some of its material into your resolution.

But, your Resolution 5-14 requires delegates like me to approve and encourage the use of the annotated Large Catechism, flaws and all. It dismisses as if non-existent a group of critics whose objections are to limited parts of the annotated Large Catechism on grounds having nothing to do with alleging wokeism, CRT, and such, but instead on qualification of authors and doctrinal content. That is an unsatisfactory outcome that is not well suited to walking together.

I cannot ignore the concerns of that group when the annotated Large Catechism does suffer from:

  • denial by omission of the atonement in an article where the subject made it the duty of the author to confess the atonement.
  • confusion of the two kingdoms with the three estates.
  • confusion of the origin of one of the powers of the kingdom of the left hand as being in the Fifth Commandment when it is in, or at least equally in, the Fourth Commandment.
  • misapplication of estates and kingdoms to the Christian life.
  • condemnation of innocent acts of Christians on the basis of those confusions and misapplications.
  • unqualified and disqualified authors in not just any publication but a synodical publication of the Catechism.

I am not ready to approve or commend the use of a synodical Catechism with that many flaws of that order of magnitude. Neither, however, am I ready to scrap the whole thing. Your resolution ought to be to withdraw version 1.0, correct its flaws, and issue a corrected Second Edition. Otherwise, even if you pass this resolution, what you are creating is disunity and error.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Denial by Omission of the Atonement

Rev. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

In the annotated Large Catechism, the author of the essay on the Third Commandment:

  • In his other writings heretically denies the vicarious satisfaction of Christ in his atonement as the basis for justification and the forgiveness of sin; and
  • In his essay where he had the duty to confess the atonement and justification because without them there is no Christian preaching of the Word of the Gospel, he omitted them. Omission is denial when it was his duty on the topic of the Third Commandment to confess Law and Gospel.

In the Lutheran church, unlike other churches, we say that the Third Commandment is about preaching and hearing the Word of God. We say that God speaks two Words to us, Law and Gospel. We say that justification is the heart of the Gospel. Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V, paragraph 101, confesses:

We are justified only when we receive Christ as the Atoning Sacrifice and believe that for Christ’s sake God is reconciled to us. Neither is justification even to be dreamed of without Christ as the Atonement.

Without the atonement we cannot even dream of justification. Without justification there is no Gospel. Thus, the assignment to write an essay about the Third Commandment indispensably and intrinsically entailed a duty to confess the atonement and justification as elemental to what is to be preached and heard on the Sabbath Day.

Vicarious satisfaction means that Christ rendered active obedience to God under the Law on our behalf, as our Vicar or substitute, and Christ’s merits of active obedience are credited to us. It means that Christ rendered passive obedience to God on our behalf by suffering the Law’s penalty of death for our sin, when our sins were imputed under the Law to Christ as our substitute.

But the author omitted it. From his other writings we know why. Following Gerhard Forde, he publicly teaches his denial of vicarious satisfaction. He goes to great lengths to do so. Along with the Socinians, von Hoffmann, Aulen, and the Fordeites who reject what they call “the legal framework” or “the legal order” of the atonement, Paulson rejects what he called “the legal scheme” of the atonement. In his book Lutheran Theology, from the beginning of the book Paulson rejects the so-called “legal scheme” and sustains his rejection through the entire book. Vicarious satisfaction as confessed in many places in the Book of Concord is rejected because Paulson characterizes it as being part of “the legal scheme.”.

Therefore, when writing about preaching and hearing the Word of the Gospel on the Sabbath day for an LCMS catechism, he did not enunciate his rejection of vicarious satisfaction in the atonement because that would not fly in the Missouri Synod, but neither did he confess what we confess. He omitted it. Because the assigned topic made it his duty to confess it, the omission is a denial, and a denial that is consistent with his express denials in his other writings.

This means that our Large Catechism now has a deficient, un-confessional presentation of what it is to preach and hear the Gospel on the Sabbath Day.

Bonus Notes on Paulson’s Errors

Paulson goes beyond Forde, by accusing Christ of his own actual sins and his own original sin. To satisfy the drive to reject the so-called “legal scheme” of the atonement, look how far he has gone to deny the obedience of Christ to the Law that is part of our doctrine of vicarious satisfaction. In Lutheran Theology, while at the bottom of one page admitting that Christ is without sin,[1] at the top of the next page he launches into an elaborate indictment of Christ as having sins of his own, as being “an original sinner.” He speculates into unrevealed mysteries of Gethsemane putting confession of sins of his own into Christ’s mouth when He prayed that the cup might pass from him. He accuses Christ of the original sin of unbelief. He portrays Christ’s cry on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” as faithlessness. He says,

Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own, personal sin – not only an actual sin, but the original sin. …  He looked upon himself on the cross and believed in his own belief.[2]

This cannot be simply an edge way of talking about imputation, because imputation is legal. Paul says, “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13). When the whole project and agenda of Lutheran Theology is to abolish the “legal scheme,” imputation is ruled out categorically a prior.

[1] Steven D. Paulson, Lutheran Theology (London: T & T Clark, 2011), 104.

[2] Paulson, Lutheran Theology, 105.