Rumor has it that when Pope Leo X read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, he said, “What drunken German wrote this?”
It is also rumored that when Martin Luther read Jason Stellman’s post on The Biblical Basis of Man-Made Liturgy, he said, “What drunken Ex-PCA pastor posted this?” I’m sure that’s just a rumor.
Nick’s article posted on the website of Jason Stellman, the self-described “drunk ex-pastor” who served as prosecutor in the Peter Leithart trial, awards Calvin a dunce cap for not realizing that his liturgy contradicted the Reformed doctrine of justification.
It’s not clear to me how the Confession of Sins and Prayer for Pardon [in Calvin’s liturgy] is compatible with the Reformed idea that man’s sins are completely forgiven at the moment of Justification and that God only views man in light of the Righteousness of Christ imputed to him. Why ask for forgiveness of sins every Sunday if you believe all your sins were already forgiven and that God never counts your sins against you?
It is true that Calvin’s liturgy—like the liturgies of Luther, Cranmer, Bucer, and Knox—included a Corporate Confession of Sin and Declaration of Pardon.
In Calvin’s Strasbourg service, after the Confession of Sin, Calvin would deliver “some word of Scripture to console the conscience”; then, he would pronounce “the Absolution in this manner:”
Let each of you truly acknowledge that he is a sinner, humbling himself before God, and believe that the heavenly Father wills to be gracious unto him in Jesus Christ. To all those that repent in this wise, and look to Jesus Christ for their salvation, I declare that the absolution of sins is effected, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Calvin’s Strasbourg service followed the pattern of Martin Bucer’s liturgy, which began with a Confession of Sin followed by a “Word of Comfort” from holy scripture (1 Tim. 1:15; or John 3:16; 3:35–36; Acts 10:43; 1 John 2:1–2; etc.) and the “Absolution.”
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Let everyone, with St. Paul, truly acknowledge this in his heart and believe in Christ. Thus, in His name, I proclaim unto you the forgiveness of all your sins, and declare you to be loosed of them on earth, that you be loosed of them also in heaven, in eternity. Amen.
Bucer’s liturgy makes it clear that the Absolution is an exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). As excommunication declares that the impenitent are bound by sins, absolution declares that the penitents are loosed from them.
We find a similar pattern of Confession of Sin followed by an Absolution in the liturgies of Luther, Cranmer and Knox.
How is it that Nick and Stellman can see so clearly what all these Reformers failed to see?
The Confession of Faith that Stellman at one time believed and defended clearly explains why praying for forgiveness of sins every Lord’s Day does not contradict the Reformed doctrine of justification.
God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance (WCF 11:5)
J. G. Vos explains,
The justified person still can and daily does commit sin in thought, word and deed…. These “daily failings” cannot cancel his standing as a justified person; they cannot bring him into condemnation. But they can offend his heavenly Father, and cause him to withdraw the light of his countenance from the person’s soul for a time. They cannot destroy the believer’s union with God, but they can interrupt and weaken his communion with God. Therefore, the believer is daily to confess his sins and to pray for God’s pardon for his daily failings.
It is not uncommon for a drunken man to believe that he has a brilliant idea that no one else has ever thought of. His sober buddies, of course, realize that he’s making a fool of himself.