Theology Considered as Doctrine


As theology in its subjective sense is the habitude, or ability, to teach the Word of God as set forth in Holy Scripture in all its truth and purity, so Christian theology in its objective sense, or conceived as doctrine, is nothing more and nothing less than the true and pure presentation of the doctrine of Holy Scripture. 1 Pet. 4, 11 : “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” Titus 2, 7-10: “In doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned, showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God, our Savior, in all things.” The claim of being a Christian theologian may be properly made only by him who teaches nothing but Scripture doctrine. 

This doctrine, however, is not drawn or developed from human reason, but is taken in all its parts solely from Holy Scripture. The function of the Christian theologian therefore consists merely in grouping in distinct paragraphs and chapters and under proper heads the various teachings which Holy Scripture inculcates in its several passages on one given subject. If he applies synthesis and analysis, it is merely in the formal arrangement of the various Scripture doctrines. So far as the doctrines themselves are concerned, he allows them to stand, neither adding thereto nor taking away from them, no matter whether they appear consistent with reason and experience or not. In this way the Christian theologian secures his “system of doctrine” or his “dogmatic theology.” 

In accord with this principle the Lutheran theologian Pfeiffer writes ( Thes. Herm., p. 5) : “Positive theology [dogmatic theology], rightly estimated, is nothing else than Holy Scripture itself, arranged under proper heads in clear order; wherefore no member whatsoever, not even the least, must be found in that body of doctrine which cannot be supported from Holy Scripture, rightly understood.” (Baier, I, 43. 76.) Luther very aptly calls all true theologians “catechumens and disciples of the prophets, because they repeat and preach only what they have heard and learned from the prophets and apostles.” (St. L., III, 1890.) This faithful repetition (Nachsagen) of the teachings of the prophets and apostles by the Christian theologian is to Luther a matter of such grave concern that he writes: “In the Church no other doctrine should be taught or heard than the pure Word of God, that is, Holy Scripture; otherwise both teachers and hearers shall be damned.” (Cp. Pieper, Christl. Dogmatik, I, p. 56.) The same truth is expressed in the axiom Quod non est biblicum, non est theologicum. 

The Christian theologian must therefore exclude from his system of doctrine all opinions and speculations of men, and he must teach nothing but God’s own immutable truth and doctrine (doctrina divina) as it is exhibited in Holy Scripture (doctrina e Scriptura Sacra hausta). This demand is made by God Himself. Col. 2, 8 : “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” And this divine demand pertains not merely to the chief doctrines, on which man’s salvation depends directly, but to all teachings of Holy Scripture, Matt. 28, 20: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” In whatever matter Holy Scripture has definitely spoken the Christian theologian must suppress his own views, opinions, and speculations and adhere unwaveringly to the divine truths revealed in Holy Scripture. In no case is he permitted to inject into the body of divine truth his own figments and fabrications, and at no time must he allow his reason the prerogative of doubt, criticism, or denial, but every thought must everywhere be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 2 Cor. 10, 5. That is the demand which God Himself makes on all who would serve Him as theologians; in every instance they are to attest and proclaim His Word and not their own. 

All teachers of the Church who refuse to do this are not Christian theologians, but false prophets, against whose pernicious work God warns His saints. Jer. 23, 16: “Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you. . . . They speak a vision of their own heart and not out of the mouth of the Lord.” And in the New Testament this warning is reiterated with no less emphasis, 1 Tim. 6, 4; 2 John 8-11; Rom. 16, 17; etc. Luther’s insistence on faithfulness in teaching God’s Word is well known. He writes: “If any one wishes to preach, let him keep silence with respect to his own words.” “Here in the Church he should not speak anything but the Word of this generous Host; otherwise it is not the true Church.

Therefore he must say, ‘God speaks.’ Emphasizing the great truth that all doctrine taught in the Church must be divine doctrine, our Lutheran dogmaticians asserted that all theology proclaimed by the Christian theologian must be  ectypal theology, or derived theology (theologia), that is, a reprint, or reproduction, of archetypal theology theologia), or original theology, as it is originally in God Himself. Hollaz explains these terms as follows: “Archetypal theology is the knowledge which God has of Himself and which in Him is the model of that other theology which is communicated to intelligent creatures. Ectypal theology is the knowledge of God and divine things communicated to intelligent creatures by God after the pattern of His own theology.” (Doctr. Theol., p.16.) 

Modern rationalistic theology has rejected this distinction as useless and misleading; in reality, however, it is most profitable, since it expresses the Scriptural truth that God’s ministers must speak only what He Himself teaches in His Word. Moreover, the distinction is Scriptural; for it declares very clearly that all true knowledge of God inheres originally and essentially in Him and that it is by divine grace that the knowledge which is necessary for man’s salvation has been revealed by Him to His prophets and apostles. Matt. 11, 27: “No man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” To ectypal theology belongs also the natural knowledge of God, which man derives either from the Law written in his heart or from the works of God, Rom. 1, 19 ff.; 2, 14. 15. Also this natural knowledge of God man owes to God’s revelation of Himself, Acts 14, 17; 17, 26. 27. Nevertheless this natural knowledge of God, while true and useful in its place, is not sufficient to save sinners, since it does not include the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. For this reason the only ectypal theology which may constitute the source of the Christian religion is that of Holy Scripture, or the written Word of God. Whatever is beyond, and contrary to, Holy Scripture does not correspond to archetypal theology and is condemned by Scripture as vain talking. 1 Tim. 1, 6: “From which some, having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling.” 

The paramount truth that all doctrine taught in the Church must be Scripture doctrine has been all but universally discarded by modern rationalistic theologians. The present-day “scientific theology” no longer recognizes Holy Scripture as the only source and norm of the Christian faith; on the contrary, it regards the identification of Christian theology with the doctrine of Scripture as an “abnormality” and a “repristination of a discarded theological viewpoint.” Nitzsch-Stephan writes: “No one bases his dogmatics any longer in the old Protestant way on the norma normans, i.e., Holy Scripture.” (Cp. Pieper, Dogmatik, I, 65.) In place of Holy Scripture modern rationalistic theology accepts as the norm and standard of faith the dictates of human reason, more or less disguised under the terms “Christian consciousness,” “Christian experience,” “Christian self assurance,” etc., while it denounces true loyalty to the Word of God as “Biblicism”, ”Intellectualism”, etc., which can produce only a “mere intellectual Christianity,” “a dead orthodoxy without inner warmth,” and the like. 

However, in demanding for itself these unscriptural norms, modern rationalistic theology only deceives itself, as even a cursory examination of the matter will show. Thus, for example, Christian experience can in no way serve as a source or norm of faith, since the true Christian experience is never prior to Holy Scripture, but depends upon, and follows, its acceptance; that is to say, only he who believes the Word of God as set forth in Holy Scripture experiences in his heart both the terror of guilt and the comfort of grace. As a person studies and accepts the divine Law, he becomes convinced that he is a sinner; as he studies and accepts the Gospel, he becomes convinced that his sin is forgiven through faith in Christ. In short, there is no true Christian experience of sin and grace without the means of grace, or the Word of God. This is the true reason for Christ’s emphatic command that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, Luke 24, 4’7. Cp. also Acts 26, 20. 

Thus the Christian experience becomes actual only through the preaching and acceptance of the Word of God; or we may say, the Word of God is the only means by which the Holy Ghost works the Christian experience of repentance and faith, Rom. ‘7, ‘7; 1, 16. 1 ‘7. On the other hand, where the Word of God is not preached, there is no true Christian experience. The proof for this truth is furnished by the very advocates of Christian experience as a norm of faith. Schleiermacher, for example, who insisted upon Christian experience as a norm of faith, rejected the central doctrine of Christianity by denying the vicarious atonement of Christ and consequently also the doctrine of justification by grace, through faith. Schleiermacher’s experience moved him ultimately to rely upon his good works for salvation. But such an experience, as is evident, is not Christian, but carnal, rationalistic, and pagan, in short, the very opposite of Christianity. 

So also the “Christian faith” or “Christian consciousness” can in no way serve as a source and standard of Christian theology; for as the “Christian experience,” so also the “Christian faith” or “Christian consciousness” results from faithful acceptance of Holy Scripture. Now, since the “Christian faith” is the fruit of Holy Scripture, it can never be the source and norm of Christian theology, as little as the apple growing on a tree can be its own cause or source. But just as the apple is produced by the tree, so the Christian faith is produced by Holy Scripture; it is found only where Holy Scripture is adhered to and believed. Rom. 10, 1 ‘7: “Faith cometh by hearing.” John 17, 20: “Who believe through their Word.” Hence every “Christian faith” or every “Christian consciousness” which is not rooted in the Word of God, but presumes to judge the Word of God, is not Christian, but carnal and antichristian, 1 Tim. 6, 3-5. 

What Luther writes on this point is certainly true and deserves conscientious consideration. He says: “Faith teaches, and holds to, the truth; for it clings to Scripture, which neither lies nor deceives. Whatsoever does not have its origin in Scripture most assuredly comes from the devil.” All who wish to make the “Christian faith” or “Christian consciousness” a norm of faith would do well to heed this severe, but correct condemnatory verdict. Our Savior declares: ”If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed.” Such statements as these settle the question so far as the Christian theologian is concerned; his discipleship as well as his theology is grounded only on God’s Word and on nothing else. All theology that is not drawn from God’s Word opposes the Gospel and subverts the Christian faith, as the rationalistic theology of all subjective or “I theologians” proves, from Aquinas, Scotus, and Schleiermacher down to the present-day Modernists. Wherever the Word of God is not accepted in its truth and purity, there can be no genuine Christian theology. 

Nor can the “regenerate heart,” or the “regenerate I,” serve as a source or norm of the Christian faith, since a person is truly regenerate only as long as he, in simple faith, believes Holy Scripture. Mark 16, 16 b: “He that believeth not shall be damned.” The “regenerate heart” which modern rationalistic theologians would set up as a standard of faith is, in the final analysis, the carnal and unbelieving mind of an unregenerate person, rising in rebellion against the mysteries of the faith. This is proved by the fact that practically all who accept their “regenerate heart” as a norm of faith deny both the inspiration and the infallibility of Holy Scripture. Such an outrage, however, no truly regenerate heart will perpetrate. 

From this it is clear that all theologians who reject Holy Scripture as the only source and standard of faith have fallen into the error of a most pernicious self-delusion. Their very insistence upon another source and norm outside Holy Scripture proves the spirit of unbelief which either consciously or unconsciously governs their minds.

Rationalistic theology demands other norms than the Word of God for the very reason that it is rationalistic and unchristian. The believing child of God says with Samuel: “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth,”1 Sam. 3, 9. Only blind unbelief and wicked rebellion against God presume to judge His Word by establishing norms of faith in opposition to the revealed divine truth.

Modern rationalistic theology prides itself on its true evaluation of the “historical character” of the Christian religion. But orthodox theology has never denied this “historical character”; in fact, the historicity of Christianity has always been asserted by believing theologians, on account of their firm faith in Holy Scripture. Indeed, just because of their faith in the “historical character” of the Christian religion they are opposed to all norms that are put forth in opposition to Holy Scripture. For “historical Christianity” can be learned only from the Bible, not from any other source. Tradition cannot reveal it to us, nor can it originate with human reason. Only what Christ and His holy apostles tell us of the Christian religion in the Bible is ”historical Christianity.” 

The ”historical Christ” whom modern rationalistic theologians wish to construct outside Holy Scripture and the ”historical Christianity” which they desire to build up apart from Holy Scripture are alike unhistorical and false, for they are figments of unbelieving minds. For the true ”historical Christian religion” we must rely solely on the Bible, Matt. 28, 19. 20; John 8, 31. 32; 17, 20; Eph. 2, 20. 

In short, rationalistic theology is a product of unbelief and as such is intrinsically false, ungodly, and unscriptural. Our divine Lord invariably affirmed, ”It is written”; modern rationalistic theologians contemptuously reject that formula and substitute for it their own subjective opinion, “I believe” and ”I think.” Thus they teach their own word, not the Word of God. Modern rationalistic theology can be cured of its ingrained falsity only by returning to Holy Scripture and adopting Luther’s fundamental principle: “All trust is in vain which is not founded upon the Word of God. God wished to present to us His will and counsels through His Word alone, not by means of our fancies and imaginations.” (St.L., VI, 70; III, 1417.)

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