On Identifying and Choosing Denominations: Church Bodies, Traditions, and Movements

I’ve wanted to write a blog post on the numbering of denominations for awhile. When I was a non-denominational evangelical looking into denominations, I struggled to find good resources outlining the exact beliefs of each denomination. Part of my struggle was that I did not have a good understanding of that which I needed to find. A great deal of my failure to understand the doctrine of different churches was a lack of understanding of history and the distinctions between theological traditions and various church bodies. I knew that there was a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and a Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and that the former was conservative and the latter liberal, but I didn’t know what made both of them claim the title of Presbyterian. In this post I’d like to offer clarity to the reader that is currently in the position in which I found myself in the past.

The most apparent reason that there is confusion on this subject, at least in my experience, is rooted in the definition of “denomination.” If someone asks me my denomination, I could answer in a number of ways. I could respond “Protestant,” “Lutheran,” “orthodox/confessional Lutheran,” “high church Lutheran,” or “Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (or LCMS).” Any of these could be the correct response given the right circumstances. I think the problem in the definition is apparent from this example. I’d thus like to offer a helpful way of categorizing these things so that those trying to do comparative theology can organize their thoughts easily.

Rather than considering denominations, which is ambiguous, instead consider theological traditions, movements, and church bodies. Theological traditions would include broad groups such as “Lutherans,” “Presbyterians,” and “Baptists.” Movements would include “charismaticism” or “fundamentalism.” Church bodies would include specific identifiable organizations such as the “United Methodist Church” or the “Evangelical Presbyterian Church.” I think the first example of theological traditions likely matches best with the colloquial use of the term “denomination.”

In some cases, a tradition and church body may be one and the same. The most obvious examples of this are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Oriental Orthodox Church. In other cases, a church body may include multiple theological traditions such as the “Union of Methodist and Waldensian Churches,” an Italian church body that has both Methodist/Wesleyans and Waldensians (generally Reformed). In most cases, church bodies are of a single tradition and specific movement(s). The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, for example, is squarely of the Presbyterian tradition and the fundamentalist movement. The Lutheran Congregations in Missions for Christ is in the Lutheran tradition and the missional movement.

For the sake of clarity and simplification, however, and for the sake of helping the reader grasp the basic set of theological traditions, I would propose the following list to contain all major Western theological traditions (I will not be discussing Eastern churches, namely the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Ancient Church of the East, or Assyrian Church of the East). My criterion for identifying a theological traditions was to ask, “Is the tradition historically identifiable as a discrete group? Furthermore, can it be grouped into a larger tradition that is also discrete?” If the answer is “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, then it can be considered a theological tradition.

Here is the list: Adventist, Anabaptist, Anglican, Congregational, Continental Reformed, General Baptist, Hussite/Moravian, Irvingian, Lollard, Lutheran, Non-Comformist, Old Catholic, Particular Baptist, Pentecostal, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterian, Quaker, Remonstrant, Roman Catholic, Sedevacantist, Waldensian, and Wesleyan/Methodist.

It should be noted that all of these traditions (Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, and Sedevacantist aside) have a defined confession of faith that provides the objective teachings of that tradition. Some church bodies may not strictly adhere to that confession, while others may, but in assessing theological traditions, sticking to their confession of faith (rather than miscellaneous theologians of the tradition or other sources) gives the reader objective grounds for assessment. I have gathered all of these confessions on my blog here.

Some may argue that some of these bodies could be grouped together as Protestant, but for each group, this would likely fail as many groups insist they are not Protestant, and Protestantism itself is not discrete as the criteria for Protestantism is very unclear. Would it only include groups that split from the Roman Catholic Church? Would it include Irvingians, Old Catholics, and Sedevacantists? Others may argue that some of the above groups could be grouped together as Reformed, but the Reformed tradition is not discrete as it remains unclear if it should include all Calvinists, even 4-point Calvinists, or if it should include Remonstrants (Arminians), or if it should be limited strictly to those who uphold one of a few sets of Reformed confessions of faith, or any other criteria. Others may argue that Evangelical is a tradition, but this all depends on definition– the exact list isn’t the point of the post.

Of course, there will be exceptions to this list as I cannot consider every micro-church or individual Christian. This is beyond the scope of this post as my intent is to help people organize information for comparative theology, not to identify micro sects.

Identifying movements is more difficult as they are, by nature, not discrete, but here is a non-exhaustive list of no particular order or importance: charismaticism, evangelicalism, fundamentalism, liberalism (AKA mainline stances), missionalism, latitudinarianism, confessionalism, neo-orthodoxy, presuppositionalism, primitivism, revivalism, ecumenicism, etc.

In deciding between traditions and church bodies, it’s important to ask fundamental questions that get at the heart of the differences between these groups and at the heart of one’s own faith. These fundamental questions can often be boiled down to principals of theological authority. From where does one derive theological truth? Is Scripture of utmost importance? How does historical tradition play into theology? Or reason? Or personal experience? Or the authority of the church? Can truth change? Can the source of truth change? Is truth always preserved? Is truth knowable? Etc. Answering these fundamental questions will guide the decision between traditions, church bodies, and movements.

As an example, a commitment to the principle that scripture is the sole infallible rule and norm for all theological truth will certainly exclude one from becoming Roman Catholic or Old Catholic. Holding this principle in tandem with a high emphasis on the importance of historical tradition might bring one to an Anglican or Lutheran position, or alternatively, high emphasis on the use of reason might lead one to become Continental Reformed, Presbyterian, Remonstrant, or Congregationalist.

Questions about the nature of truth will often direct one’s decision in matters of movements. If truth can change, for example, then one might embrace a more liberal/mainline church body over a more conservative body. If theological truth is considered clear and precise, as opposed to blurry and loose, this may direct one to lean toward movements that are less ecumenical, and the opposite position, toward movements that are more ecumenical.

It is my recommendation that one first answer these fundamental questions first in order to determine which traditions and movements are considered acceptable within your basic framework. This will necessarily lead one to a relatively small number of church bodies, which us ultimately the decision one must make, even if that be a non-denominational independent congregation.

I Read the Entire Socratic Corpus in 7 Months

The title says it all. I read all of Plato, including his apocryphal works, and the relevant works by Xenophon and Aristophanes in 7 months. That’s 51 books in all– some very short, some very long. Here are my reflections…

Why?

I’m something of a “completionist” at heart. I like to start at the beginning of things at the very basic level and work my way through every detail of something. Sometimes this means I don’t finish or get burnt out. I’ve played through the first 2 temples of Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask multiple times, getting all of the possible items and heart pieces along the way, but I’ve never actually beaten the game. This time, however, I did complete my task, at least in some manner. My real end goal is reading the high and late medieval Neo-Platonists, specifically with an understanding of those who preceded them (again, completionist mindset), so the beginning of this journey was reading the Socratic corpus (I already read the extant Pre-Socratic corpus a couple years ago). Neo-Platonism has had a great impact on Christian thought, so I thought it would be beneficial to know, especially considering the high praise Luther gives these works, in particular St. Augustine, St. Bernard, the Theologia Germanica, and the Friends of God. I also thought it would be good material to know in general. For centuries, these works were standard in education; it seemed to me that not knowing them was a disadvantage I had compared to former generations. Why should I be undereducated?

How?

Audiobook. Librivox had nearly all of the works available on audiobook (free as always). Two were available on YouTube. Epigrams and Halcyon were not available, so I made audio recordings myself (available on the Audiobooks page). Xenophon’s Symposium and Oeconomicus were not available either, so I simply read. I didn’t record these. They were rather long by comparison to Epigrams and Halcyon, which are both very short.

I came up with a loosely chronological order, based on some research (the chronology is actually highly debated), and just worked my way through. I listened on runs, on walks, lifting weights, in the car, etc. In retrospective, the order in which I read them could have been much better. I should have followed the traditional tetralogies of Thrasyllus, with the relevant apocryphal and non-Platonic material thrown in between the tetralogies. This keeps them organized by topic, which helps in understanding the material.

Reflections

Here’s a table of the works, organized by tetralogy, along with the apocryphal material. I’ve also given each tetralogy a description. The works in the tetralogies don’t always fit their theme perfectly. These are loose connections between the works. Plato is no systematician, and if you look at the 9 themes, you’ll see that they don’t seem to have a particularly coherent organizing principle. Perhaps this is my own fault for how I’ve decided the tetralogies hold together, but I haven’t found better connecting principles than these.

TitleAudio LocationAuthorRun TimeGrouping
DefinitionsLibrivoxPlato0:25:21Apocryphal: Keep on hand as a handbook for definitions to consult throughout
EuthyphroBlogPlato0:40:17Tetralogy I – Life and death of a philosopher
ApologyLibrivoxPlato1:16:18Tetralogy I – Life and death of a philosopher
CritoLibrivoxPlato0:35:44Tetralogy I – Life and death of a philosopher
PhaedoLibrivoxPlato3:03:55Tetralogy I – Life and death of a philosopher
AxiochusLibrivoxPlato0:25:19Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy I
EpigramsBlogPlato0:04:11Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy I
The CloudsLibrivoxAristophanes1:38:36Outside Socratic material related to Tetralogy I
Memoirs of SocratesLibrivoxXenophon6:15:40Outside Socratic material related to Tetralogy I
Apology of SocratesYouTubeXenophon0:24:29Outside Socratic material related to Tetralogy I
CratylusLibrivoxPlato2:50:13Tetralogy II – Naming, definitions, and knowledge
TheaetetusLibrivoxPlato3:31:20Tetralogy II – Naming, definitions, and knowledge
SophistLibrivoxPlato2:38:55Tetralogy II – Naming, definitions, and knowledge
StatesmanLibrivoxPlato2:33:24Tetralogy II – Naming, definitions, and knowledge
SysiphusLibrivoxPlato0:15:18Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy II
ParmenidesLibrivoxPlato2:13:36Tetralogy III – Transcendentals and wisdom
PhilebusLibrivoxPlato2:35:39Tetralogy III – Transcendentals and wisdom
SymposiumLibrivoxPlato2:15:06Tetralogy III – Transcendentals and wisdom
PhaedrusYouTubePlato2:22:58Tetralogy III – Transcendentals and wisdom
SymposiumN/AXenophonOutside Socratic material related to Tetralogy III
Alcibiades ILibrivoxPlato2:15:44Tetralogy IV – Dialogues with children
Alcibiades IILibrivoxPlato0:41:29Tetralogy IV – Dialogues with children
Rivals (lovers)LibrivoxPlato0:21:44Tetralogy IV – Dialogues with children
HipparchusLibrivoxPlato0:22:30Tetralogy IV – Dialogues with children
EryxiasLibrivoxPlato0:38:47Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy IV
HalcyonDrivePlato0:09:21Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy IV
TheagesLibrivoxPlato0:32:05Tetralogy V – Practical wisdom
CharmidesLibrivoxPlato1:04:55Tetralogy V – Practical wisdom
LachesLibrivoxPlato1:02:15Tetralogy V – Practical wisdom
LysisLibrivoxPlato0:55:44Tetralogy V – Practical wisdom
EuthydemusLibrivoxPlato1:33:15Tetralogy VI – Sophistry
ProtagorasLibrivoxPlato3:15:31Tetralogy VI – Sophistry
GorgiasLibrivoxPlato7:06:36Tetralogy VI – Sophistry
MenoLibrivoxPlato2:24:39Tetralogy VI – Sophistry
On VirtueLibrivoxPlato0:12:50Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy VI
Hippias majorLibrivoxPlato1:20:24Tetralogy VII – Capability and arrogance
Hippias minorLibrivoxPlato1:08:23Tetralogy VII – Capability and arrogance
IonLibrivoxPlato0:53:51Tetralogy VII – Capability and arrogance
MenexenusLibrivoxPlato0:41:21Tetralogy VII – Capability and arrogance
ClitophoLibrivoxPlato0:14:29Tetralogy VIII – Political mythology
RepublicLibrivoxPlato12:27:01Tetralogy VIII – Political mythology
TimaeusLibrivoxPlato7:50:59Tetralogy VIII – Political mythology
CritiasLibrivoxPlato1:06:32Tetralogy VIII – Political mythology
Timaeus LocrusLibrivoxPlato0:35:58Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy VIII
On JusticeLibrivoxPlato0:13:39Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy VIII
DemodocusLibrivoxPlato0:23:35Apocryphal material related to Tetralogy VIII
OeconomicusN/AXenophonOutside Socratic material related to Tetralogy IX
MinosLibrivoxPlato0:27:43Tetralogy IX – Political law
LawsLibrivoxPlato17:12:38Tetralogy IX – Political law
EpinomisLibrivoxPlato1:00:18Tetralogy IX – Political law
LettersLibrivoxPlato2:36:46Tetralogy IX – Political law
A long list to be sure….

I thought perhaps I’d offer some reflections on every work, but I don’t think this is worth the time to read in all honesty. In part, this is because I listened to these works rather than sitting down and reading. Sometimes, I didn’t have the best focus while listening, so I’d miss details. It’s hard to count reps lifting weights while trying to focus on the arguments in the Parmenides or the wild physics of the Timaeus (and counting the reps is more important, so that took mental priority). But I also don’t think I have much to offer in terms of novel value. If you want brief summaries, go to Wikipedia or Google.

Here’s my review of the corpus:

Plato offers some very interesting ideas. Some of his political philosophy rightly addresses fundamental issues of political theory (his critiques of the masses are ever-relevant in democratic societies, for example). His metaphysical ideas are foundational to later authors, even if he fails to solve of the pressing objections to his theories. Much of his science is simply false; this is especially apparent in the Timaeus. His practical wisdom is generally quite good, but it’s also often just obvious. He will frequently repeat that an experienced lawyer, for example, is better at doing law than someone who has no experience in law. This should be obvious, but he repeats this point many times.

That being said, I’d say the majority of Plato is not all that helpful. This may strike some readers. I think this is because he has such a high reputation. His reputation, however, comes from his famous and important works, such as the Republic. Most people do not read all the minor and apocryphal works, which are far humbler in terms of meaty content. The Laws in particular, his longest work, is an absolute drag. It is dry and tedious, and much of it is simply about details of exactly what legislation he would have if he were running the state, down to minute details, without arguments for why these details need be that way. He certainly makes arguments, especially for larger points, but he does not for the details, which make up the majority of the work and are almost wholly irrelevant to anyone outside his time period and region.

My recommendation for new readers is to read the Definitions and the famous works of Plato. I’d also recommend Xenophon’s Memoirs of Socrates and Apology of Socrates. The rest may be put aside if you don’t have a particular interest in learning about minutiae of Plato’s ideas. If you’re expecting further elaboration on some of Plato’s more complex ideas by reading his lesser-known works, you won’t find much of value there. I did like Xenophon quite a lot; I think he’s underrated and given the short end of the stick since readers compare his work (including his Symposium, which has been taken too seriously by critics rather than read as a satire, which should be obvious) to the best of Plato, rather than Plato as a whole, which has much chaff mixed with wheat. Aristophanes was not all that useful. His portrayal of Socrates is similar to how Donald Trump might be portrayed by Trevor Noah; perhaps some aspects of truth are there, but it’s an obvious caricature for comedic effect.

Would I do it again?

No, and I don’t recommend you do it either. Read the Bible or church fathers or Luther or Melanchthon’s Orations (if you really desire to spend your time on philosophy)…. Really, just pick up your Bible and read that instead.

A Brief Argument Against the Epistemological Primacy of the Church with Respect to Scripture

A common argument raised against Protestantism is that Scripture is somehow dependent on the Church, and thus, the Church must be causally prior to Scripture, so the authority of Scripture is derived from the authority of the Church, making the Church infallible, which is a violation of the principle of sola scriptura. This argument can take various forms. Gerhard handles 5 variations on this argument in his Locus On Scripture. The most common variety of this argument is that the canon of the Bible (IE which books belong in the Bible) is only known to us through the Church, so without the Church confirming the books, we cannot know what books belong and do not belong.

The most common argument may be formally presented:

Premise (P)1.1) Scripture is later than the Church with respect to the acceptance of those books with regard to us. Before the Scriptures were published, the Church was already then in existence.

P1.2) The Church accepted the sacred books, approved them, and commended them to posterity.

Conclusion (C)1) The authority of Scripture depends on the Church.

Refutation (based on Gerhard):

This is a confusion of the material and form of scripture. Those who received the sacred books from Moses, the prophets, evangelists, and apostles and who commended those books to posterity with their testimony were indeed previously in the assembly of the Church. Also, up to that time, the Church, considered formally, was earlier than Scripture as regards the work of writing. But those witnesses of Scripture were converted and became sons of the Church through the Word that Scripture contains. Therefore they were not earlier than Scripture, considered materially, that is, than the Word that is set forth in Scripture. God’s Word is that “incorruptible seed” through which human beings are reborn and become sons of God (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). The prophets and the apostles preached the same Word previously and later consigned it to writing. Therefore as incongruent as it is to claim that fruit comes before the seed, so absurd is it also to claim that the Church absolutely and simply precedes Scripture, considered materially and with respect to the Word that it contains.

But I’d like to present an entirely different approach to this question from natural theology, with a particularly Lutheran flair. This argument is built from the ground up, making as few theological assumptions as possible, and instead arguing from philosophical grounds.

The argument formally presented:

P2.1) The most metaphysically robust and airtight theosophical system should be accepted as the only true theosophical system.

P2.2) A belief in a classical, triune, incarnate God is the most metaphysically robust and airtight theosophical system.

P2.3) Only Christianity satisfies P2.2.

C2.1) Only Christianity should be accepted as the only true theosophical system.

P2.4) If only Christianity should be accepted as the only true theosophical system, then only a finite number of possible canonical lists are possibly true.

C2.2) Only a finite number of possible canonical lists are possibly true.

Allow me to elaborate on this argument, since it will not be abundantly clear to the reader without context.

P2.1 relies the principal that a system that is the most internally harmonious, plausible, and explanatory powerful should be accepted as true. The alternative option to this is to deny that internal harmony, plausibility, and explanatory power are virtues of a good system– whatever that system may be, which I’m rejecting as foolish prima facie. In this case, we’re looking at a system of combined theology and philosophy (theosophical was an older term for this, though it has taken on new meanings that I do not wish to import here).

P2.2 has three primary components

The first component is that classical theism (CT) is true. I have no need to demonstrate this here, nor could I do so in few words. CT has a good video defending the existence of the God of CT and a good video elaborating on Divine Simplicity. Mathoma has a series of videos on this subject. Aquinas both defends and defines CT in part 1 of his Summa. What’s important here is that CT can be defended entirely from philosophical grounds, and is accepted even by other religions. Confessional Protestants and Roman Catholics generally agree that CT is true, so on those fronts, this should not be controversial. The case for CT in Eastern Christianity and non-confessional Protestantism is hazy. In the East, the Energy-Essence Distinction (EED) can take a variety of possible interpretations, some of which may violate what is traditionally called “classical theism.” The non-confessional Protestant traditions that reject CT include theistic personalism (TP) and theistic mutualism (TM); the former are common in evangelicalism and the latter in Dutch Reformed and Reformed Baptist circles. I’ll address TM immediately; the others may be explained later. TM is part of Presuppositionalism, which is a theosophical system that rejects natural theology, or at least rejects that we can reason about God with human logic. Those who believe in TM will reject this entire argument from the outset for this reason. I’m assuming TM is false prima facie in this argument, without further elaboration. For a good treatment of this subject, see Without Excuse. The existence of the EED and TP positions in the East and non-confessional Protestant traditions does not weaken the argument, as I will explain later.

The second component is the necessity for a triune God. This is demonstrated best by Vecchio and Journeaux. They put forward 5 philosophical arguments for the Trinity, based on the presupposition that CT is true. The first 4 arguments are simply arguments for a multi-personal God, but the fifth argument is specifically for a triune God– a single God in three persons. The argument is presented formally:

P3.1) God is maximally elegant.

P3.2) If God is more than one person, then God is a) two, b) three, c) four or finitely more than four, or d) infinitely many persons.

P3.3) God is more than one person (from proofs 1-4).

P3.4) If God is two persons, God is not maximally elegant (by lack of perfect condilection).

C3.1) Therefore, God is not two persons (from P1 and P4, by modus tollens).

P3.5) If God is four or more than four persons then God is not maximally elegant.

C3.2) Therefore, God is three persons.

P3.1 and P3.3 need to be explained. P3.1 is an assumption of CT, but it is also fitting in the EED and TP systems, though perhaps slightly augmented– not in a way, however, that impedes the argument. P3.4 is probably baffling to the modern reader, but in a classical theosophical system, it is clearer. This premise is derived from Richard of St Victor, the medieval theologian. Paul Burgess has a good article on this subject. If the reader would like a full treatment, check out Richard of St Victor’s On the Trinity. The rough idea is this: Maximal elegance is only achieved with perfect virtues, which includes love. Love (dilectio) is only perfected when it is shared (condilectio). Sharing love requires 3 or more persons. So God is 3 or more persons. Shared love can be understood by example: Have you ever loved something, but had nobody to tell, and this made your love for the thing feel incomplete? That is the lack of condilection (shared love). In a marriage, there are two spouses, but would a wedding with only the spouses really be complete? Or is this love best fulfilled by the shared presence of the minister to officiate and the witnesses to sign the license? This too is an expression of condilection. P3.5 is roughly based on Ockham’s Razor– The explanation that requires the fewest metaphysical commitments is most elegant, all else equal. God being more than 3 persons doesn’t make God any more perfect, since it adds no new virtue nor does it complete any incomplete virtues, so it is an unnecessary commitment for God to be more than 3 persons, so He is most elegant as 3 persons.

The third component of this argument is the necessity of an incarnate God. This argument can be made in a number of ways. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo puts forth an argument along these lines. The Franciscan theologians have been known for making arguments for the absolute primacy of Christ, which also leads to an argument along these lines. A very good argument was presented for this by Classical Theist. The argument is presented formally:

P4.1) God is the essence of goodness.

P4.2) Goodness naturally diffuses.

C4.1) God naturally diffuses.

P4.3) God is maximally elegant.

P4.4) If God diffused Himself into creation by more than 1 means, this would be less elegant than by 1 means, all else equal.

C4.2) If God diffused Himself into creation, He did so by 1 means, all else equal.

P4.5) If God diffused Himself into all creation, this would be more natural of goodness than to diffuse into only some of creation.

P4.6) To be the essence of goodness is to be maximally good.

P4.7) There is a distinction between creation and Creator.

C4.3) God diffuses Himself into all creation while remaining distinguished from creation.

P4.8) Man is a microcosm of the whole of creation, being an intellectual, sentient, vegetative, and mineral creature in one substance.

P4.9) Diffusion into a microcosm of a macrocosm is a most fitting manner by which one might diffuse wholly into the macrocosm without becoming the macrocosm itself.

C4.4) God diffuses Himself into creation by becoming man.

P4.1 is an assumption of CT. P4.2 is a feature of classical philosophy. It is seen in many examples: Good teachers naturally lead to good students. Good trees spawns good saplings. Good music naturally inspires new good music. Etc. P4.3 is an assumption of CT. P4.4 comes back to Ockham’s Razor again. P4.5 is simply explained in the following: A maximally good teacher will lead all his students to be good, not just some. A maximally good tree spawns all good saplings, not just some. Maximally good music inspired all new good music, not just some new good music and some new bad music. P4.6 is self-evident in the CT system. P4.7 is an assumption of CT. P4.8 is part of many classical religions but is also seen in Aristotle and Porphyry. It is an assumption of classical philosophy, generally speaking. P4.9 is assumed. Thus C4.4 follows, demonstrating the fittingness of the incarnation. This argument too can be made from the perspective of the EED or TP, again with augmentation, without hurting the argument.

P2.3 states that only Christianity allows for the features of P2.2. No other world religion satisfies the requirements. Again, the EED and TP do not hurt P2.3. The EED is unique to Christianity, so holding to that position, does not allow for other religions. TP allows for exceptions; however, if the reader is convinced of TP, along with the arguments for a triune, incarnate God, this bars other religions. It is true that somebody could construct a some new religion that satisfies P2.2, but following this new religion seems foolish on the grounds that Christianity has had innumerable highly-intelligent followers, it remains the largest world religion (for what that’s worth in terms of plausibility), and it has stood the test of time and place, which is not something that can be said for many religions. It’s true that other religions are sizeable, long standing, and far-reaching, but none of them satisfy P2.2, nor do they rank at the largest religion.

Thus, We reach C2.1, that Christianity is true, so if Christianity is true, the question of “What are the scriptures?” arises and is answered in P2.4.

P2.4 states that this question has a very narrow set of answers, especially in context of the definition of this religion from P2.2. P2.2 necessarily rules out various heretical Christian-esque groups, including Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, non-Trinitarians (Unitarians, Oneness Pentecostals, Arians, Pneumatomachi, Sabellians, Adoptionists, Gnostic sects, Manichaeism), and various modern fringe sects, who are often Open Theists. If the reader accepts TP, this does broaden the options to a degree, allowing for some more fringe groups (Quakers, for example), but we are assuming that CT is true (again, see the arguments of Classical Theist, Mathoma, and Aquinas above), not TP. So in reality, we have a narrowed set of Christianity that includes the traditional branches– Roman Catholics, Eastern Christianity, Confessional Protestants, and some of the later more orthodox Protestant groups (Methodists for example). If one (or more?) of these groups is true, then there is a set number of possibly true answers to the question “What are the scriptures?” This is the conclusion C2.2.

This set of possibilities includes a canon as small as the traditional Protestant 39 book Old Testament (perhaps without Esther, which may be considered antilegomena by some) + the traditional homologoumena of the New Testament (the traditional New Testament, save for Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, and Revelation) or as big as the 39 book Old Testament + just under 20 deuterocanonical books (and additions to books) + the traditional 27 book New Testament.

What’s important is that we’ve reached the conclusion that we have at least 38 books of the Old Testament and 20 books of the New Testament, without making any theological commitments about how we got these books, why they need to be accepted, what authority is had by the church or tradition, or which other books should be added to the list. We simply know that because at least one of these groups is correct, we must accept at least these 58 books (and no more than the maximum size mentioned).

Lutheranism does not have a set canon for the Bible, but that doesn’t mean there are no limits to allowable positions. Our confessions cite various Biblical books as scriptural; our liturgies use certain books as scripture for the readings, propers, and ordinaries; and we have the famous Luther Bibel of course. But because of this leeway, we are not dogmatically tied to proving a specific canon. This is important to this argument as Lutherans do not need to dogmatically prove any particular list of scriptures apart from at least the 58 books mentioned earlier, as we allow of variance on canonical acceptance (and no more than the maximum size mentioned). Lutheranism represents the group that requires the fewest commitments on this matter and also allows for the widest variance making this argument uniquely fitting.

Another Blog Update

I haven’t posted since June of 2021. It has been a busy time. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, plenty of theology. This is where much of my time has gone, hence the lack of blog posts. I did revise some of the old blog posts slightly, as I mentioned in the last post, but most of my plans for major revision will be going into the book form of the blog posts, which will be much better. Sadly, I have not worked on the book much since the summer of 2021.

The exciting news is that I started a YouTube channel with friends: Scholastic Lutherans. This is where a lot of my time that would have been on my blog has moved. We upload Fridays at noon Eastern time every week. I’ve also been updating the Audio Books page with a lot of new material that will interest readers. I recommend checking it out; I’ve done some remastering and a couple original recordings. I truly do hope to do a post on double predestination (I have notes), but I have not taken any time to write it still. Hopefully that will be the next post on here.

YouTube, Revisions, and new Audiobooks – Blog update

It has been some time since my last blog post. I’ve been occupied with other projects. Some of that work has been for future blog updates.

I started a YouTube channel for this blog, which will host the same audiobooks I’ve hosted on this blog, and maybe some original content if I find the time or desire to do so. I also have begun recordings for a new audiobook– this one more lengthy, though still more of an essay than a true book, another very important book by Luther adjacent to the confessions. All audiobooks in the future will be uploaded both to my YouTube and to this site.

A friend has also helped me with revisions to my blog posts. I have not made these revisions yet, but they will be coming in the future, and I’ll make a blog post notifying that the revisions have been made. In addition, these revisions will be helpful in a more ambitious project to be released (hopefully) in the future– a book format apology for Lutheranism, against other Protestant traditions. This will be a reformatted, revised edition of the soteriology and sacramentology blog posts in PDF format. It will also include some more explanations and opening and closing chapters discussing some context for the readers. I want this to be something that can be sent to Protestant friends that would perhaps convince them of Lutheranism, without needing too much introduction to the subject. I’ve decided to stay away from other topics (such as Christology or Theology proper) due to the depth required to understand the difference between the Lutheran view and other Protestant traditions. Work has already begun, but I’m still in the beginning of the book. I might, in the future, offer the book in print format (properly printed and bound), but I cannot guarantee this. If I get there, I’ll make a post certainly.

The blog post on double predestination that has been hinted on the homepage will come eventually and will be included in the book. I have the scripture references and some content from the fathers; I just haven’t taken the time to write out the post, but it will come.

Thanks for reading!

Romans 13 and the U.S. Revolution Clause

On January 6, 2021 a group of protesters broke into the United States capitol building. Some on Facebook, including pastors in the LCMS, spoke out against this act. Certainly, men are entitled to their political opinions; this post handles only the theology of the act, not its political implications. This is being written as the events are still occurring, but I will not be surprised if discussion of Romans 13 is brought into theology conversations very soon for good reason.

In the NKJV, Romans 13:1-7 is titled “Submit to Government.” This is a fitting title for the passage.

1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Romans 13:1-7 (NKJV)

Philip Melanchthon handles the topic of government in the final chapter of his Theological Commonplaces. He writes the following:

Diligently consider that the orders [of worldly authority] unite all human groups and that they are arranged for the knowledge of God, good customs, peace and unity, law, judgement, and punishment. Persons such as lords and office-holders should maintain such laws, judgment, and punishment; and subjects, who by their obedience exercise morality, should not shatter the peace. This is called politica societas, or politics….

Christians are not bound to the laws of Moses, except when they are the same as natural laws. Christians may use reasonable laws…. By “reasonable laws” I mean those which are in accord with the natural [sense of] right [Recht] that God has created in men so that we honor virtue and punish vice. This rule St. Paul also sets forth in Romans 13….

Deliberate disobedience against worldly authority, and against true or reasonable laws, is deadly sin, sin which God punishes with eternal damnation if we obstinately continue in it. Faith in God cannot be present in one’s heart at the same time as a design to act contrary to the open commandment of God.

Loci Communes (1555), Of Worldly Authority

With this passage in mind, it is hard to imagine how any revolt against government can be properly conducted without violating a Biblical command. I would contend that it is generally true that revolt violates Romans 13 and its interpretation by Melanchthon; however, U.S. law is anything but a general example on this subject. I should clarify that I am not condoning or condemning any particular action on current events in this post; I am only giving a take on the theology surrounding the events. With this stated, I believe that it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish the U.S. Congress, given the right conditions, and that this action is not a violation of Romans 13.

In U.S. law (among other states), there are generally documents accepted as “organic law,” a law, or system of laws, that form the foundation of a government. The U.S. Constitution would be an example of organic law accepted by the entire federal government. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel handles United States Codes, among which are the organic laws. The organic laws can be found in the U.S. Codes Front Matter, Organic Laws. Among these documents is The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence contains what is sometimes called a “revolution clause.” This is a statement that gives citizens conditions under which a revolution is permissible; the intent of such a clause is to prevent tyranny. The famous clause follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The Declaration of Independence

This passage is considered United States law, with an important caveat– the executive and judicial branches do not accept The Declaration of Independence as organic law. It is only accepted as such by the legislative branch, IE Congress. It is, thus, legal to revolt against the established congress if the proper conditions are met, namely when it is destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe these conditions are currently met by the Congress. The Congress approves budgets which fund organizations such as Planned Parenthood, destroying life. The Congress approves legislation that limits constitutional rights of freedom, such as section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows for the censorship of speech through private organizations that receive government funding (such as Google). The Congress approves legislation that infringes on the pursuit of happiness (which refers to property rights) in passing restrictions to fire arm ownership guaranteed in the second amendment. These are a handful of examples of many.

Given the revolution clause and the met preconditions, my position is that a revolt against Congress is legal under US law and thus not a violation of Romans 13.

On the Differences Between the Continental (Dutch) and Presbyterian (Scottish) Reformed Traditions

The nomenclature among the Reformed tradition is often confusing. “Presbyterian” refers to a sub-tradition of the broader Reformed tradition and a church polity (structure). “Reformed” refers to the broad theological tradition as well as the Continental Reformed churches, most often the Dutch Reformed. This post clarifies the use of these terms and explains the differences between the two primary branches of the Reformed tradition– the Presbyterians, primarily from Scotland, and the (Continental) Reformed, primarily from the Netherlands.

Reformed is a theological term used to refer to a Christian tradition from the magisterial reformation (the primary set of Protestants) that believes in Calvinist soteriology, Covenant theology, and Confessional doctrine. This makes them stand apart from Lutherans and Arminians, who were both confessional but rejected Calvinist soteriology. (Arminians retained a modified Covenant theology; Lutherans do not have a particularly comparable Biblical hermeneutic, instead having unique Law-Gospel hermeneutic and Two Kingdom theology). Some of the biggest names of the early Reformed tradition were Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, and Theodore Beza. While different Reformed authors had differing viewpoints on many parts of theology, they remained united in the aforementioned principles.

The term “presbyterian” (lower case) refers to a type of church structure in which the pastors (called presbyters, from the Greek for “elder”) have a council that makes decisions for the church body, without any bishops. Deacons also work as church servants and lay-elders also assist. Presbyterian (upper case) refers to a sub-tradition of the broader Reformed tradition. Dutch Reformed refers to a sub-tradition of the broader Reformed tradition, not specifically those of Dutch heritage.

While the Lutherans agreed on the Book of Concord (or at least the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Catechisms) as their set of beliefs and the Arminians the 1621 Arminian Confession, the Reformed developed a number of confessions; however, only two survived to this day in common use– the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. Both are traditional Reformed confessions and both hold to a presbyterian church polity (as opposed to episcopal, congregational, or connexional).

Other Reformed confessions, such as those of the Congregationalists or Particular Baptists, see much less use today, the former seeing almost no use at all, and both are congregational in polity rather than presbyterian, meaning congregations have a loose association with each other rather than a set governing council of pastors that makes formal doctrinal decisions, with disciplinary power. Some Reformed churches, such as the Reformed church in Hungary, kept the episcopal system during the reformation. Others, such as the French Reformed (known as Huguenots) were very close to the Dutch and Presbyterians, maintaining a Reformed confession of faith and a presbyterian polity, but the Huguenots are so few in number today that they are not a significant part of conversation.

The Three Forms of Unity are the confessions of the Dutch Reformed tradition (RCA, CRCNA, URCNA, etc) and include the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, and Heidelberg Catechism. The Westminster Standards are a set of eight documents, though three are primary– the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Smaller Catechisms– and these are the confessions of the Presbyterian tradition (PCUSA, PCA, OPC, etc).

Theologically, these two sets of confessions don’t have any substantial disagreement, and on any point of disagreement, there are generally ways to reconcile the two. Differences come down to preferred terminology and presentation. The Westminster Standards are, however, significantly longer, giving more detail on some theology and far more detail on some matters of church governance, but these details are generally not in disagreement with the Dutch Reformed positions.

Here are the differences in theology in the confessions (which may or may not be considered reconcilable, depending on interpretation):

The Three Forms says that all dying infants are saved (Canons of Dordt 1.17), whereas Westminster only gives this assurance for elect infants (WCF 10.3).

The Three Forms says full assurance and firm confidence are part of the definition of faith (Heidelberg 21), whereas Westminster denies infallible assurance as part of the definition of faith (WCF 18.3).

The Three Forms has very moderate rules for the Sabbath, mostly just pertaining to attending church and being extra careful to abstain from sin (Heidelberg 103), whereas Westminster forbids even secular work (WLC 117).

The Three Forms sees the tenth commandment as a summary of the other nine (Heidelberg 113), where as Westminster sees it as narrowly referring to coveting (WLC 147).

The Three Forms emphasizes prayer requests relating to our body and soul (Heidelberg 118), whereas Westminster emphasizes prayers related to God’s Glory and advancement of the Gospel (WLC 184).

The Three Forms include the Apostles’ Creed (Heidelberg 23), whereas Westminster only included it as an appendix to the Shorter Catechism.

The Three Forms (in particular the Canons of Dordt 7 and 10) lends itself better to infralapsarianism, where as Westminster is ambiguous, though it uses infralapsarian language at times. Supralapsarianism is the doctrine that the logical order of God’s decrees is as follows: God decreed election for some men, God decreed creation of man, and God decreed that man would be allowed to fall. Infralapsarianism has a different logical order: God decreed creation of man, God decreed that man would be allowed to fall, and God decreed election for some men. It can be argued that both confessions allow for either view, but the presentation in the Canons of Dordt seems more clearly to lean toward Infralapsarianism.

The Three Forms denies that the Word has any positive effect on the reprobate (Canons of Dordt 3, 4, B.4), where as Westminster teaches that the Spirit can work through the Word in some manner in the reprobate (WCF 10.4).

The Westminster Confession tend more toward looking at things from God’s perspective, which is more speculative, whereas the Belgic Confession tends more toward looking at things from man’s perspective, which is more concrete. Consider the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Compare this to the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism: “What is thy only comfort in life and death? That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” The former emphasizes God’s abstract quality of glory. The latter emphasizes the concrete reality of man encountering God enfleshed. This difference in emphasis is persistent throughout both confessions and perhaps later developments too.

Another difference is coverage of topics. The Westminster Standards covers the following doctrines that are not covered in the Three Forms of Unity: The Covenant of Works, the invisible/visible church distinction, Christian liberty, marriage/divorce, elements of worship, the pope as the antichrist, threatenings and promises in the Ten Commandments, rules for a right understanding of the Ten Commandments, removal of Christian holidays, and burial of the dead. The Three Forms of Unity has one topic that is not discussed in the Westminster Standards: direct reference to historical heresies.

A nice comparison of the catechisms was done by W. Robert Godfrey. I’ve reproduced his table:

Topic/CatechismHeidelbergWSCWLC
Person & work of Christ24%10.3%13.8%
Law18.6%46%30%
Prayer10.9%9.3%9.6%
Sacraments13.2%6.5%8.7%
Holy Spirit (explicit)23.3%9.3%18.4%
Church (explicit)4.7%.9%13.2%
A Comparison of Topic Breakdown of the Heidelberg, Westminster Shorter, and Westminster Larger Catechisms

While both are presbyterian, the Dutch Reformed (according to the Church Order given at the Synod of Dordt) have a fourfold office of minister, doctor (professor), elder, and deacons, whereas Presbyterians (According to the Form of Church Government) have a twofold office of elder and deacon, but the office of elder comes in the varieties of teaching elder (pastor) and ruling elder (lay-elder). The Presbyterians also see pastors as belonging more to the presbytery (this is the assembly of pastors) as a whole than the local congregation while the Dutch see pastors as belonging more to the local congregation since their equivalent of the presbytery, the classis, is only temporary and not a standing institution.

The primary differences, however, between the Dutch Reformed and the Presbyterian traditions come down to other developments, not explicitly in their confessions. The Presbyterians are more influenced by the Puritans than the Dutch, and the Dutch are more influenced by Neo-Calvinists. This is too big to unpack here and may be the most significant difference, but this should provide good guidance for those wanting to learn more. The linked Wikipedia articles provide good summaries.

There are also slight differences historically in their liturgies. While both the Dutch and Presbyterians long held to the Regulative Principle of Worship (the principle that only what the Bible commands for worship is permissible), the Dutch approved of using Biblical Canticles (such as the Nunc Dimittis or Moses’ Odes) while Presbyterians strictly used the 150 Psalms. Another notable differences is the presence of a declaration of pardon in some Dutch services, similar to a public absolution seen in Lutheranism; the pastor will declare the congregation to be forgiven of sins. This practice is rare in Presbyterianism. Historically, the Dutch also maintained a second sermon on Sunday after the main service; this second sermon was focused on catechesis.

This is the extent of the differences between the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian traditions. Most other differences come down to particular church bodies or theological minutiae. Both traditions draw on many of the same authors and ideas and mutually use theologians from both traditions from their founding to this day. The differences should not be underplayed as if they do not exist at all, but for the great majority of circumstances, the differences mean little for laymen.

Introduction to Soteriology: Universal Atonement – a Scriptural and Patristic Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

A key pin in soteriology debates is atonement doctrine. Atonement theories address the question of how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection play into the salvation of men (or perhaps the entirety of creation). There are a number of popular atonement theories. Some include Christus Victor, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Satisfaction Theory, and Governmental Theory. Lutherans often borrow from more than one atonement theory but see Christus Victor and Penal Substitutionary Atonement as particularly important. Explaining these theories is beyond the scope of this post, but is helpful to know for those familiar with atonement theories that haven’t looked into Lutheranism and are wondering from which approach Lutherans consider the question of the extent of the atonement. For the sake of clarity, we will be primarily considering Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

The extent of the atonement is a debate primarily between Arminians and Calvinists in contemporary discourse. Generally, two sides are given: Limited Atonement (Calvinist) and Universal Atonement (Arminian). Arminians argue that the atonement is universal in extent; that is, Christ died for the redemption of every person that will ever live. Calvinists argue that the atonement is limited in extent; Christ died for the redemption of the elect (IE it is limited to the elect). For the clarification to the reader, John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, may not have believed in Limited Atonement, and there is scholarly debate on this subject. That said, many who came after Calvin in the Calvinist tradition, did affirm Limited Atonement, and this view is now synonymous with “Calvinism” in common parlance.

Different subsets of Arminianism and Calvinism have different nuances to their approaches, but the below confessions contain a summary of both sides, and perhaps the most central focus of this debate in history. Best representing the Arminian view is Article 2 of the Five Articles of Remonstrance, which were condemned by the Continental Reformed at the Synod of Dordt. Best representing the Calvinist view is Article 8 of the Canons of Dordt.

That agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Five Articles of Remonstrance, Article 2

Note the use of “savior of the world… for all men and for every man… for them all.”

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father…

Canons of Dordt, Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

Note the use of “chosen ones” to describe those for whom Christ redeems, and further, the section on “every people, tribe, nation, and language.” While the latter half sounds universal at first glance, this is an interpretation of the passages that say Christ died for the “world” as meaning “people from all over the world, but still only those were chosen.”

Lutherans, often left out of this debate, side with Arminians with regard to the extent of the atonement. The best expression of this in simple terms are in the 1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, which are generally considered an Appendix to the Lutheran Confessions.

The pure and true Doctrine of our Churches on this Article.

1] That Christ died for all men, and, as the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the whole world.

2] That God created no man for condemnation; but wills that all men should be saved and arrive at the knowledge of truth. He therefore commands all to hear Christ, his Son, in the gospel; and promises, by his hearing, the virtue and operation of the Holy Ghost for conversion and salvation.

1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, Article IV On Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God.

Calvinists often call Lutherans inconsistent when Lutherans state the universal extent of the atonement since Lutherans believe in Monergistic Election and Perseverance of the Elect. To this, the Saxon Visitation Articles provide further explanation.

3] That many men, by their own fault, perish: some, who will not hear the gospel concerning Christ; some, who again fall from grace, either by fundamental error, or by sins against conscience.

4] That all sinners who repent will be received into favor; and none will be excluded, though his sins be red as blood; since the mercy of God is greater than the sins of the whole world, and God hath mercy on all his works.

1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, Article IV On Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God.

Thus, Lutherans believe in a universal atonement but believe that those who reject God also reject God’s grace and the Gospel that is offered to them freely.

This post will not be addressing the related topics of monergistic election, perseverance and apostasy, or single vs double predestination (dedicated post in the future), which are discussed in other posts. Below, the Lutheran position is defended.

The Patristic Witness

In this post, it is sufficient enough to state that there is no significant support for the opposition in the church fathers and many discuss Christ’s death for the salvation of the world and for all. A handful of notable quotes are found below but are by no means comprehensive.

The entirety of Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John Book VI 37-38, which addresses this very topic but cannot all be placed here, is one of the earliest writings to address this question and concludes with a universal atonement.

The Father of Jesus is therefore a tender and loving Father, though ​”​He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up”​ as His lamb ​”for us all,”​ that so ​”the Lamb of God,”​ by dying for all men, might ​”take away the sin of the world.”​ It was not by compulsion, therefore, but willingly, that He bore the reproaches of those who reviled Him.

Origen, Against Celsus VIII.43 (248 AD)

Origen has several relevant quotes, but the two above examples seem sufficient.

Where our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Him to die for all, stretched forth His hands, not somewhere on the earth beneath, but in the air itself, in order that the Salvation effected by the Cross might be shown to be for all men everywhere: destroying the devil who was working in the air: and that He might consecrate our road up to Heaven, and make it free.

Athanasius of Alexandria, Letter 22 (297-373 AD)

“I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me.”​ [ Matthew 3:14 ] For, because the baptism was ​”​of repentance,​”​ and led men to accuse themselves for their offenses, lest any one should suppose that He too ​”​comes to Jordan”​ in this sort of mind, John sets it right beforehand, by calling Him both Lamb, and Redeemer from all the sin that is in the world. Since He that was able to take away the sins of the whole race of men, much more was He Himself without sin. For this cause then he said not,​”Behold, He that is without sin,​”​ but what was much more, He ​”that bears the sin of the world,”​ in order that together with this truth you might receive that other with all assurance, and having received it might perceive, that in the conduct of some further economy He comes to the baptism. Wherefore also he said to Him when He came, ​”​I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?”

John Chrysostom, Homily 12.1 on the Gospel of St. Matthew (347-407 AD)

“​So Christ was once offered.​”​ By whom offered? Evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] ​”​was offered.”​ ​”Was once offered”​ (he says) ​”​to bear the sins of many.”​ Why ​”of many,”​ and not ​”of all”? Because not all believed. For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing.

John Chrysostom, Homily on the Pestle to the Hebrews 17.4 (347-407 AD)

Chrysostom has several relevant quotes, but the two above examples seem sufficient.

Moreover, he adores the only begotten God Himself, after His Father, and for Him, giving Him thanks that He undertook to die for all men by the cross, the type of which He has appointed to be the baptism of regeneration. He glorifies Him also, for that God who is the Lord of the whole world, in the name of Christ and by His Holy Spirit, has not cast off mankind but has suited His providence to the difference of seasons…

Apostolic Constitutions VII.43 (400 AD)

To this forgiveness the traitor Judas could not attain: for he, the son of perdition, at whose right the devil stood, gave himself up to despair before Christ accomplished the mystery of universal redemption. For in that the Lord died for sinners, perchance even he might have found salvation if he had not hastened to hang himself.

Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 62.4 (On the Passion, XI) (400-461 AD)

Here it is clear that redemption is universal, so much so that Christ even died for Judas.

In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer ​”​grace and truth,​”​ receiving it as the fulfillment of the Law. In order therefore that ​”​that which is perfect​”​ may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in colored expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world.

Council of Trullo, Canon 82 (692 AD)

Notably, some will point to Augustine (354-430 AD) and later Augustinians Prosper of Aquitaine (390-455 AD) and Fulgentius of Ruspe (465-530 AD) as those who taught limited atonement. Augustine notably discusses double predestination, which can imply a limited atonement; however, he gives very little explanation of this doctrine at all, leaving him ambiguous at best for the Calvinists. Furthermore, Augustine writes the following:

The Passion of the Lord is the price for the whole world. He has redeemed the whole world.

Augustine, Letter 171 to Donatists

Just as our Lord was the Creator of all, so also as the Restorer of all He has absolved the whole world with a single death. For we must surely believe that He who has given more than the whole world was worth has ransomed the whole world.

Augustine, Sermon 193 (PL 39:902)

Furthermore, [Christ suffered] outside the city and outside its walls that you may understand that He is the universal victim offered for humankind and therefore is its universal purification.

Augustine, Sermon 155 (PL 39:2047)

And Prosper of Aquitaine writes in Pro Augustini Doctrina Responsiones Ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum that Augustine said the following in response to opponents that accused him of teaching that Jesus did not suffer for the redemption of all men:

Against the wound of original sin by which the nature of all men was corrupted and made liable to death in Adam and out of which developed the disease of all lusts, the true and powerful and unique remedy is the death of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, etc. As far as the magnitude and power of the price are concerned, and as that price is related to the one cause of the human race, the blood of Christ is the ransom for the whole world. However, those who pass through this life without faith in Christ and without the sacrament of regeneration are foreigners to redemption, etc. The cup of immortality, which was prepared from our weakness and from God’s power, has in itself indeed the power to benefit all people. But if they do not drink it, it does not profit them.

Prosper of Aquitaine, Pro Augustini Doctrina Responsiones Ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum

Prosper of Aquitaine discusses double predestination (though different from Calvin’s doctrine). Prosper’s doctrine states that God reprobates (I.E. eternal condemnation, the opposite of election) based on their foreseen demerits, I.E. their actual sins. This is different from the view of any notable early Calvinist. Prosper later rejects this position, however, and holds to a single predestination. This is seen expressly in his work The Call of All Nations. Fulgentius of Ruspe embraces a universal atonement early in life and later embraces a more limited atonement (see To Euthymius II.2-3), but his view is, once again, different from the Calvinists. Fulgentius of Ruspe retains a very high view of sacraments. While Calvinists insist that sacraments are only efficacious for the elect, Fulgentius states that they are effective for all who receive them; furthermore, Fulgentius’ form of double predestination is even more explicit than Prosper’s that reprobation is based on foreseen demerits.

Prosper devotes large portions of The Call of All Nations to the topic at hand, but this quote is particularity relevant:

There can, therefore, be not reason to doubt the Jesus Christ our Lord died for the unbelievers and the sinners. If there had been anyone who did not belong to these, then Christ would not have died for all. But He did die for all men without exception. There is no one, therefore, in all mankind who was not, before the reconciliation which Christ effected in His blood, either a sinner or an unbeliever.

Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations II.16.139-141 (450 AD)

Fulgentius states the following on predestination in his work Ad Monimum Book I:

God has not predestined the wicked to lose righteousness the way He has predestined the saints to receive righteousness… If we were to say that a man has been predestined by God to some wicked deed, we would be ascribing to a merciful God—heaven forbid!—the sort of work where one cannot find a merciful or just God… God could never have predestined man to that which He Himself determined to forbid by commandment, wash away with His mercy, and punish in His justice.

….

God destined those for punishment who He foreknew would depart from Him by the fault of their wicked will.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Monimum Bk 1 (465-530 AD)

With regard to the Vessels of Wrath in Romans 8, he writes the following:

[They] cannot be called the wrath of God except when the iniquity of man is believed to have preceded it.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Monimum Bk 1 (465-530 AD)

At best, Calvinists can only appeal to these figures by saying that they taught a position with some similarities to Calvinist doctrine, but with some apparent and important differences. Lutheran dogmaticians Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard discuss the work of the Augustinians and notes that their form of double predestination is different from Calvinists.

There are later figures to which the Reformed can appeal for support for their doctrine, namely figures such as Thomas Gottschalk of Orbais (808-867 AD). Gottschalk, however, was condemned as a heretic for his views. Other figures after Gottschalk also have a similar doctrine to the Reformed (though these figures are not the major theological figures in their respective eras), but what is notable is that there is no robust support for such a view prior to the ninth century.

The Scriptural Witness

Salvation for All

Isaiah 53:6 reads, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

“Him” in this passage refers to Christ and the context discusses Christ’s life and death.

John 12:30-33 reads, “Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.”

Jesus is answering the people by him who heard the Father from heaven speaking, who the people thought was an angel. Christ says he will draw all to himself in his death on the cross.

Romans 5:15-19 reads, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

This passage is clear that Christ’s atonement was comparable to Adam’s sin in that Adam’s sin brought death to all, yet Christ’s atonement brought life to all. For this passage to read otherwise, Adam’s sin, and with it death, would have to read as not applying to all people, yet it is clear that all sin and all die.

Romans 8:31-32 reads, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 reads, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

See the note from Romans 5:15-19.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 reads, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

Here it is clear that Christ died for both all and the world.

Colossians 1:19-20 reads, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

This passage, in line with 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, highlights that Christ died not only to reconcile men to himself but all of creation, which includes all men.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 reads, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”

Here it is stated that Christ not only desires all to be saved but also that he ransomed (atoned) for all.

1 Timothy 4:9-11 reads, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

Apologists for limited atonement will point to this passage as example of the doctrine of limited atonement since the atonement is “especially for those who believe,” yet the clear intent of the passage is that Christ died for all, not only those who believe.

Titus 2:11-14 reads, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

The grace of God that brings salvation, which certainly includes the atonement, has appeared to all men in this passage.

Hebrews 2:8-9 reads, “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”

This passage uses slightly different language, “everyone” rather than “all,” in English, but the Greek reads the same as the other passages using the Greek word for all (Gr: pas).

2 Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

God is willing that all come to repentance. This is not an explicit statement against limited atonement but is implied in that a limited atonement would not generally suggest that Christ desired all to be saved.

Salvation for the World

After John the Baptist preached of the coming of Christ, John 1:29 reads, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

This famous proclamation from John the Baptist was considered essential to the early church and appears in the historic Sunday services in a canticle called the “Agnus Dei.”

John 3:14-17 reads, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

In this famous passage, the limited atonement must confess that John is using the word “world” in two different senses (though there is little contextual evidence to support this claim) or that God does not love the whole world but only people throughout the world.

1 John 2:1-2 reads, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

John is clear here that Christ died not only for the sins of the recipients of the letter but also the whole world. Apologists for limited atonement will argue that “holos” in Greek (translated as whole) here means “throughout” and/or that John is clarifying that Christ died not only for the recipients but also Christians throughout the world. The latter argument does not match the context of the letter. The former argument is not an entirely invalid reading, but is not the most common use of the term “holos.”

1 John 4:12-16 reads, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

Salvation for the Ungodly

Romans 5:6-8 reads, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Limited atonement apologists will point out that all men, even Christians are ungodly. This reading does work in context, but the phrasing does put into question the underlying beliefs of Paul. If Paul believed in limited atonement, would he use such phrasing in this context without clarification?

2 Peter 2:1-3 reads, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

Here, it is clear that Christ bought (that is, atoned for, see Acts 20:28) the false teachers who “bring on themselves swift destruction” and whose “judgment has not been idle” and “destruction does not slumber.” The false teachers are apostate Christians who are condemned, yet Christ still bought them. Limited atonement apologists will respond that the false teachers merely thought that Christ bought them, but because they were not elect, Christ didn’t actually buy them (this rests on the premise of perseverance of the saints, IE that those who truly believe cannot fall away). This interpretation is wanting in the text. Alternatively, another argument is that the false teachers received evanescent grace, a doctrine taught by Calvin that some receive a fleeting and in-genuine faith. This interpretation (and the doctrine of evanescent grace in general) is wanting in the text.

Addressing Counterarguments

Arguments for Limited Atonement (as with many doctrines) generally fall into a defense against the opponents (negative arguments) or defending the doctrine with their own reasons (positive arguments).

Negative arguments generally consist of the following: Any and all of the passages saying Christ died for the (whole) world are referring to Christ dying for people throughout the world but not every person, and any and all passages saying Christ died for all are referring to all Christians or all of the people being immediately addressed. While perhaps being a possible reading in some passages, such usage of the Greek word “holos” (all world) and “pas” (all) is wanting in many (if not all) the above passages. To claim such an interpretation across such numerous passages without the context of the passage justifying this interpretation undermines this argument. The passages on atonement for the ungodly have been addressed above.

Generally, there are six positive arguments seen in favor of limited atonement. One is an appeal to a select few church fathers and medievals– this has already been addressed above. One is an appeal to reason; drawing from passages on predestination, the Calvinists conclude those that are not predestined to salvation are predestined to condemnation, and therefore, Christ did not atone for them. I will address double predestination in a future post.

The other four arguments are scriptural arguments. The first two scriptural arguments presented are very similar; both look at passages regarding Christ’s atonement that refer to the atonement as “for many” or “for the church” and after this conclude that the writer is implying that Christ did not die for the others. The flaw in this reasoning should be apparent to the reader. Dying for some does not preclude dying for others, especially when there are numerous passages that point to a universal atonement as seen above and the testimony of nearly the entire history of the church is in concord with such a doctrine. The relevant verses have been placed below for the reader to examine themselves. A few notes have been added for clarity.

The final two arguments are interpretations of sections of two passages– namely the Parable of the Good Shepherd and Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. These passages are addressed individually below.

Christ Died for Many

Matthew 20:27-28 reads, “‘And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'”

Matthew 26:28 (cf. Mark 14:24, Luke 22:17-20) reads, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many* for the remission of sins.”

*The text in Luke reads “shed for you (pl.)” rather than “shed for many.”

Hebrews 9:28 reads, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

Christ Died for His People/The Church

Isaiah 53:8, 11 reads; “He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken…. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.”

Matthew 1:20-21 reads, “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.'”

Acts 20:28-29 reads, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”

Romans 8:33-34 reads, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

In this passage the argument is roughly that if it is Christ that justifies and condemns and Christ that intercedes, then he must atone solely for those for whom he justifies and intercedes, but this is drawn from reason, not from the text. Some Lutherans also handle this text with an appeal to universal objective justification, but is beyond the scope of this article.

Galatians 1:3-4 reads, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”

Ephesians 5:25-27 reads, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

A further counterargument given against the limited atonement interpretation is to apply the interpretation used to other texts and note the conclusions you must draw. An example of this is Galations 2:20, which reads, “‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.'” Applying the same rule to this text as the limited atonement apologists use in the above passages, we must conclude that Christ died for Paul, but not others, which nobody puts forth as a true interpretation.

John 10 – The Parable of the Good Shepherd

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”

…. [Later] the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”

John 10:1-16, 24-30

The limited atonement apologist interprets the phrase “I lay down My life for the sheep” to mean that Christ lays down His life for the church but not others. This argument fails on three grounds. First, like the other texts on Christ atoning for the church and for many, a text saying that Christ dies for one group does not exclude Christ dying for others. Second, when Christ says the he lays down His life for the sheep, he states it in context of being the good shepherd, contrasting that He lays down His life but the others do not. His focus is not on the extent of the atonement but in telling of His goodness and grace in protecting His flock. Third, if the limited atonement interpretation were to be taken at face value, this would still prove to be a poor passage on which to ground other doctrine. Parables are neither perfectly clear nor precise and thus shouldn’t be used to interpret other clear passages.

John 17 – Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17:6-24

In this passage, the limited atonement interpretation is that when Christ says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours,” He is referring to the fact that He is praying for the elect, but not for the non-elect; therefore, it follows that Christ did not die for the non-elect since He did not intercede for them here. This interpretation fails on two grounds.

First, not interceding for a group in this passage does not necessitate that Christ did not die for this group, but even if this argument were true, who is it that are given to Christ in this passage and who is the world? Christ says, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” “Them,” “those whom You gave me” must refer to the Apostles as the next clause says “none of them is lost except the son of perdition.” It would not make sense to say “none of the elect is lost except the son of perdition” as the son of perdition (Judas) is not of the elect. Reading “them” to be the apostles also makes the most sense based on the previous clause that reads “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name,” suggesting that “them” is a group with whom Christ spent time while on earth.

This reading is further bolstered in the next paragraph. Christ says, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” “These alone” refers to “them” from the previous paragraph, and Christ then prays for “those who will believe in me through their word.” “Those who will believe” is self-explanatory and “their word” must refer to the preaching and writing of “them” from the previous statement, which can only be the Apostles as it was through the word of the Apostles that the rest who believed heard of Christ.

Thus, in this passage, Christ is first praying for the Apostles then for all the believers to come. Still some may argue that the second paragraph then reads, “I pray for the Apostles. I do not pray for the world but for the Apostles, for they are Yours.” Thus, Christ still did not pray for the world here. This argument fails on two grounds as well.

The first argument still holds. Not interceding for a group in this passage does not necessitate that Christ did not die for this group. The second argument regards the context of the prayer. In the end of John 16, Christ is telling the Apostles warnings and comfort, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sorrow and joy of His death and resurrection, and of how He has (ironically for the limited atonement apologist) overcome the world, thus worrying is of no need. The content leading up to the High Priestly Prayer is not regarding the elect, whom will and will not be saved, or other similar notions. The context is on comforting the Apostles and and the future church. The High Priestly Prayer is thus directed toward the same subject: the Apostles and the church. Christ is not outlining the doctrine of election or the atonement so much as praying for the comfort of the Apostles and the perseverance of the church to come.

Conclusion

Universal atonement is nearly unanimous in the history of the church. Among those who dissent, their framework for the doctrine is different from that of the most commonly promoted Calvinist position. The scriptures are clear in their assertion that Christ died for all people, the entire world, and even the ungodly. Supposed passages for limited atonement fail to support the doctrine upon further examination on multiple grounds. The doctrine of universal atonement stands as both the most historic and most scriptural teaching.

Further Reading

St. Prosper of Aquitaine’s The Call of All Nations

The Arminian Confessions

St. Anselm’s Why God Became Man

Introduction to Soteriology: Resistible Grace – a Scriptural Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Among Protestants, debate surrounding Calvinism and Arminianism is generally focused on a presumed monergistic, irresistible, and final election until salvation vs a synergistic (though Arminians disagree with this term), prevenient, and contingent election. Lutheranism, rejects this paradigm. While Lutherans agree with Calvin, loosely speaking, on monergistic election and agree with Arminius on apostasy being possible, Lutherans take a middle-ground on the function of grace. More rightly speaking, since Luther (and the Lutherans with him) formulated their doctrine prior to the Arminian and Calvinist debates at the Synod of Dordt, Calvin (and the Reformed with him) took a more extreme stance than Luther, relative to the Roman Catholic Church, while Arminius (and the Remonstrants with him) took a more moderate stance than Luther.

For Lutherans, conversion is a monergistic process, that is to say, the will of man does not assent to agreement to conversion. Man does not “accept” Christ nor does he “choose” God. This is in accordance with Reformed doctrine. Lutherans, however, reject that grace is irresistible. Man is able to reject God as his will naturally does in its sinful state. This is not to detract from God’s sovereignty; God does act in ways that are irresistible to man, but as a broad scriptural theme, God permits man to reject Him with regards to salvation. This occurs on a corporate level in Israel and on an individual level in the New Testament.

The Lutheran confessions state the following:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith

Small Catechism Part II – Answer for the Third Article of the Creed

18] Now, if in St. Paul and in other regenerate men the natural or carnal free will even after regeneration strives against God’s Law, it will be much more obstinate and hostile to God’s Law and will before regeneration. Hence it is manifest (as it is further declared in the article concerning original sin, to which we now refer for the sake of brevity) that the free will from its own natural powers, not only cannot work or concur in working anything for its own conversion, righteousness, and salvation, nor follow [obey], believe, or assent to the Holy Ghost, who through the Gospel offers him grace and salvation, but from its innate, wicked, rebellious nature it resists God and His will hostilely, unless it be enlightened and controlled by God’s Spirit.

19] On this account the Holy Scriptures also compare the heart of the unregenerate man to a hard stone, which does not yield to the one who touches it, but resists, and to a rough block, and to a wild, unmanageable beast; not that man since the Fall is no longer a rational creature, or is converted to God without hearing and meditating upon the divine Word, or in external, worldly things cannot understand, or of his free will do, or abstain from doing, anything good or evil.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II.18-19

39] There would also be overthrown and taken from us the foundation that the Holy Ghost wishes certainly to be present with the Word preached, heard, considered, and to be efficacious and operate through it. Therefore the meaning is not at all the one referred to above, namely, that the elect are to be such [among the elect are to be numbered such] as even despise the Word of God, thrust it from them, blaspheme and persecute it, or, when they hear it, harden their hearts; resist the Holy Ghost; without repentance persevere in sins, do not truly believe in Christ, only make [godliness] an outward show, or seek other ways to righteousness and salvation outside of Christ, 40] Moreover, even as God has ordained in His [eternal] counsel that the Holy Ghost should call, enlighten, and convert the elect through the Word, and that He will justify and save all those who by true faith receive Christ, so He also determined in His counsel that He will harden, reprobate, and condemn those who are called through the Word, if they reject the Word and resist the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious and to work in them through the Word and persevere therein. And in this manner many are called, but few are chosen….
78] But the reason why not all who hear it believe, and some are therefore condemned the more deeply [eternally to severer punishments], is not because God had begrudged them their salvation; but it is their own fault, as they have heard the Word in such a manner as not to learn, but only to despise, blaspheme, and disgrace it, and have resisted the Holy Ghost, who through the Word wished to work in them, as was the case at the time of Christ with the Pharisees and their adherents.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declartion II.39-40, 78

The Lutheran confessions are clear here that the Holy Ghost works in the Word and is always efficacious, yet men are able to resist the Holy Ghost working in the Word to convert. At the same time, men do not choose God. While somewhat mysterious, this doctrine upholds that salvation is entirely the work of God yet condemnation is the choice of man.

The reason for man’s resistance (his sinful state), the monergistic grace of God in working salvation, and the ability of man after being regenerate in faith to fall away (apostasy) have been addressed already. To better understand this, previous posts on Original Sin/Entire Depravity, Monergistic Election, and Apostasy/Perseverance should prove useful. Because the previous posts covered much of the argument surrounding this topic, merely falling short of addressing it directly, this post will be short, solely discussing the resistance to the Holy Ghost prior to regeneration.

The Scriptural Witness

Numbers 14:10-11 reads, “And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel. Then the LORD said to Moses: ‘How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?'” God performed many signs to Israel, yet they rejected Him.

Isaiah 5:1-5 reads, “Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. ‘And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.'” Here God works His vineyard, yet the vineyard brought forth wild grapes, suggesting that God allows man to resist His work.

Luke 7:29-30 reads, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” The Pharisees and lawyers heard Christ preach to them yet they rejected the will of God. Examples of Christ preaching and man resisting that are less explicit are abundant.

Luke 13:34-35 reads, “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!“‘” Israel heard the prophets but rejected them. Examples of prophets preaching and Israel resisting that are less explicit are abundant.

Acts 7:51-53 reads, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Stephen is speaking to the Jewish religious authorities in this context, explaining how they resisted the Holy Spirit, as Israel had done in the past repeatedly.

Acts 13:44-46 reads, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.'” Paul and Barnabas preached the word of God to the Jews, yet the Jews rejected God.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 reads, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” Paul is clear that man can reject God after being called to holiness.

2 Timothy 3:6-9 reads, “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.” Paul gives a clear example here of Jannes and Jambres resisting God (working through Moses) in the Old Testament and compares this to the perilous men that that resist the truth, which is none other than the Word of God, through which the Spirit works.

The above passages demonstrate that man resists God’s grace repeatedly, a common theme in scripture.

Addressing Common Counterarguments

“John 6 refutes resistible grace.”

John 6:37, 39, 44-45, 65 reads, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out…. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day…. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me…. Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. Rather, it addresses predestination. Those given to the Son by the Father will be raised up on the last day. Nowhere does the passage make grace to be irresistible.

“Romans 8:28, 30 states that those whom God effectually calls necessarily come to full salvation.”

Romans 8:28, 30 reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose…. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace; nor does the argument address the subject at hand. The argument addresses the possibility of apostasy, not resistance to grace in conversion. I have addressed apostasy and perseverance in a previous post.

“Acts 13:48 states that those appointed thus believe, which suggests irresistible grace.”

Acts 13:48 reads, “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. The passage addresses that those appointed, or in other passages often phrased as “elect” or “predestined” or “chosen,” came to believe. Monergistic election and perseverance of the elect have been addressed in previous posts.

“Acts 16:14 gives an example of irresistible grace.”

Acts 16:14 reads, “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. The passage states that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the things spoken by Paul, which is affirmed by Lutherans as monergists. Even if this were an example of irresistible grace, to base a doctrine on this passage would be to take a single descriptive example as the general rule for all conversions.

“Daniel 4:35 and Psalm 115:3 state that God does as He pleases.”

Daniel 4:35 reads, “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?'”

Psalm 115:3 reads, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”

God is omnipotent and immutable, yet He permits and bestows free will onto people. God is sovereign, but this does not lead to a complete philosophical determinism. Man’s ability to resist God’s calls in the preached Word is not a violation of His sovereignty but a result of God’s permission of free will on man and man’s sinful nature.

Further Readings

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article II: Free Will, or Human Powers

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article XI: Election

Luther’s Small Catechism

High Church Wedding Liturgy for a Low Church Setting

I recently got married in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and had the privilege of freely working on the liturgy for the ceremony. I thought this would be a useful post for those who want a low church service that is still proper. Those who attended my ceremony were mostly Protestants from evangelical and reformed traditions, but everyone followed along quite well, and nobody seemed uncomfortable. This liturgy roughly follows a vespers service from The Lutheran Hymnal along with a marriage rite. The exact setting is modified from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit. I cannot publish the entirety marriage rite, as that belongs Zion. Modifications were made to direct the congregation more easily in a couple places and to remove kneeling. The entire liturgy was spoken, except the hymns, which were sung, of course.

The week before, the following banns should be published, and the following prayer prayed during the intercessions:

The Banns: On [day of the week], the [#th] Day of [month], this [#th] year of our Lord ✠ Jesus Christ, [Groom] and [Bride] desire to enter the holy estate of matrimony according to the Lord’s Word. They desire our prayers so that they may begin their marriage in God’s Name and with His blessing. If you can show just cause why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, you are to declare it before the wedding. May God grant them His blessing.

The prayer: Let us pray for [Groom] and [Bride], who are to be united before God and this congregation in Holy Matrimony (next/this) week: Heavenly Father, You have established matrimony and desire that we keep it holy. Behold with favor [Groom] and [Bride], who intend to have their union blessed by Your Word. Grant them Your grace that they may begin their wedded life in You, live according to Your Word, and rejoice in Your strong love and enduring blessings; Lord, in Your mercy… (hear our prayer).

The ordo:

Cover title: “The Divine Office at Vespers with the Wedding of [Bride] and [Groom].”

First page of liturgy title: “The Divine Office of Solemn Vespers with The Rite of Holy Matrimony [Bride] & [Groom] The [#th] Day of [Month] The Year of Our Lord [year].”

Words in bold are spoken by the congregation. CAPITAL UNDERLINED ITALICS are actions for the congregation.

The Prelude

Please STAND when the bride enters.

The Processional – It is traditional to bow as the Crucifix/Cross passes. When the wedding party has taken their places, please remain STANDING.

Opening Versicle

Pastor: Make ✠ haste, O God, to deliver me.

Congregation: Make haste to help me, O Lord.

All: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: World without end. Amen. Alleluia.

The Psalm ✠ Psalm 127

P: Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

C: It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

P: Lo, Children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

C: As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth.

P: Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

Please BE SEATED

The First Reading ✠ Genesis 2:18, 21-24

The Responsory

P: But thou O Lord, have mercy upon us.

C: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord.

The Second Reading ✠ Ephesians 5:20-33

The Responsory

P: But thou O Lord, have mercy upon us.

C: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord.

Note: An interlude may be played while the pastor moves form the lectern to the pulpit.

The Homily

The Hymn

Note: Any of the following hymns is acceptable for the service. It may be best to choose a more well-known hymn tune for the setting or just a simple tune. I wrote a simple organ prelude for “Lord ‘Tis not that I did Choose Thee” that was played while people were arriving to get the tune into the ears of the congregation.

O Morning Star How Fair And Bright, LSB 395
Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus, LSB 531 (TLH 367)
Salvation Unto Us Has Come, LSB 555 (TLH 277)
Lord ’tis Not That I Did Choose Thee, LSB 573 (TLH 37)
Thy Strong Word, LSB 578
The Law Of God Is Good And Wise, LSB 579 (TLH 295)
These Are The Holy Ten Commands, LSB 581
Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide, LSB 585 (TLH 292)
God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It, LSB 594
All Christians Who Have Been Baptized, LSB 596
Jesus Christ Our Blessed Savior, LSB 627 (TLH 311)
Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand, LSB 645 (TLH 467)
Lord of Our Life and God of Our Salvation, LSB 659 (TLH 258)
What God Ordains Is Always Good, LSB 760 (TLH 521)
Our Father Who From Heav’n Above, LSB 766 (TLH 458)
O God O Lord Of Heaven And Earth, LSB 834
Go My Children With My Blessing, LSB 922

The Rite of Holy Matrimony

Note: Most of rite below follows what is seen generally in any of the Lutheran marriage rites published by the LCMS. I cannot publish the full text as it belongs to Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit.

The Matrimonial Address

The congregation STANDS.

The Invocation

P: In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

C: Amen

The congregation IS SEATED.

The Betrothal Vows

The Parental Consent and Blessing

The Marriage Vows

The Blessing of the Rings

The Exchange of Rings

The Pronouncement of Marriage

The Marriage Blessing

After the Marriage Blessing, the congregation STANDS.

The Marriage Prayer

The Magnificat

Note: For the Magnificat, the TLH setting “My Soul doth magnify the Lord” is an excellent choice to make this singable for the common Protestant. It’s Long Metre, so the words can be set to many well-known tunes. I used Old Hundredth (the famous tune for “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow/The Doxology”).

Please BE SEATED.

The Prayers

Note: I added ellipses into the ordo to save on space for formatting. The full prayers can be seen at the bottom of this post.

P: Let us pray.

The Kyrie

All: Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.

The Our Father

P: Taught by Our Lord and trusting His promise, we are bold to pray:

All: Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed by Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from ✠ evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Collects

P: The Lord be with you.

C: And with your spirit.

The Wedding Collect

P: Let us pray.

Almighty, eternal God, our heavenly Father… through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C: Amen

Commemoration of the Faithful Departed

O God of Life, Lord of Sabaoth… through the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

C: Amen

For Peace

O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed… through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C: Amen

The Salutation

P: The Lord be with you.

C: And with your spirit.

The Benedicamus

P: Bless we the Lord.

C: Thanks be to God.

The Nuptial Blessing

P: Almighty God bless, preserve and keep you… in the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

C: Amen

The Blessing

P: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit ✠ be with you all.

C: Amen

The Silent Prayer

Pray that the love of Christ, by His Word, may abide in you and may strengthen and encourage [Bride] and [Groom].

The Pronunciation

Note: This pronunciation was an addition of preference and is not in the original liturgies. The officiant spoke, “It is my pleasure to announce to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. [Groom’s full name]. You may kiss the bride.” Following this, the recessional music immediately began.

The Retiring Processional

When the Processional begins, please STAND.

It is traditional to bow as the Crucifix/Cross passes. When the wedding party has left the nave, please SIT. You will be ushered from your seats.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

On the back cover, it is fitting to place relevant Bible verses or quotes from church fathers or Lutheran theologians and credits for any cover art.

The full prayers that were used without ellipses:

The Wedding Collect: Almighty, eternal God, our heavenly Father, who has united this man and this woman in the holy estate of matrimony, grant them the grace to live therein according to Your Word; strengthen them in constant faithfulness and true love toward each other; sustain and defend them amidst all trials and temptations; and help them so to pass through this world in faith towards You, in communion with your holy Church, and in loving service one of the other, that they may ever enjoy Your heavenly benediction; through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Commemoration of the Faithful Departed: O God of Life, Lord of Sabaoth, who has won for us eternal life in your Son Jesus Christ, we remember in thanksgiving all our loved ones who have gone before us with the sign of Faith and now sleep the sleep of peace. Grant to them, and to all who rest in the Church Victorious, as You have promised, a place of refreshment, light, and peace, through the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

For Peace: O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, give unto Your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments, and also that we, being defended by You from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Nuptial Blessing: Almighty God bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully behold you with His grace; the Lord fill you with every spiritual blessing, so that, living together in His love in this life, you may enter with joy in His heavenly home; in the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.