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What Luther Says

About The 'Personal Relationship With Jesus' And 'It's A Relationship Not A Religion' Thing...

So this classic video from Rev. Jonathan Fisk and Worldview Everlasting caused some "controversy" in my little world a few months ago.

Below is the introductory note I included with it (as well as some "cut-to-the-chase" comments) when I first shared it on my Facebook page...

"Ok, one more post before I go back to sleep to try to defeat this cold/flu I've been battling for days now. It's the newest video from Pastor Fisk, but it actually goes hand-in-hand with the Hermann Sasse quote I just referenced. " WARNING: This might sting a little (but that's a good thing!)

Here's the money quote from this important Q&A in case you're pressed for time and simply want to cut to the chase. Remember, yes, we Christians are to pursue unity with each other, but we are to pursue unity and love and unity in faith. We should never pursue one at all costs and certainly not at the expense of the other. Grace and peace to you and yours today!

"You can't even ever know Jesus in the way that you know, like, maybe your office secretary or postman, because the fact of the matter is that Jesus is in Heaven and you are here. So, having a 'personal relationship' with Him face-to-face is pretty much impossible. This was the idea behind His sending the apostles, His 'sent ones,' and they, in fact, sending others to preach Jesus' words so you could, in fact, know about Jesus -- know who He is, what He's done through His own words, pressed down, through the lips of sinners, nonetheless perfect through the present day, to reach, confirm, call, gather, enlighten, save, regenerate...you. This is not done through some squishy, oozy blending of you and Jesus in the present by mystical, spiritual experiences. This is through the doctrine, the systematic, the creed, the belief, the faith alone in who Jesus is and what He's done. It's amazing how quickly the churches of 'Sola Fide,' 'Faith Alone,' go away from faith and choose emotion alone instead, when the fact of the matter is we are a people of the Word of God if we are Christians; that is all we can ever be. A people who hear what God says, and say, 'Amen! Let it be to me as You have spoken! Thy will be done!' This is faith alone -- to receive what God has said and then confess it again. So, if you really want to 'know Jesus,' I would submit for your edification, that you should strive to know as much as you can about Jesus. It's not that bare knowledge is, in fact, faith -- that's quite wrong and justly condemned. I mean, you could know a ton about Jesus and reject what that means, you can certainly not admit your sin or receive forgiveness, believe in the forgiveness which Jesus has purchased for you on the cross, all the same, neither can you have faith without this knowledge. 'How will they believe if they do not hear? And how shall they hear if they don't have somebody preaching to them? Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God' Romans 10 -- it should be central to almost everything you ever do when you think about how you relate to God. Do you want to know who God is? Then confess who He is, said that He is. He is now, Jesus Christ, the Man, the Person, ascended to the right hand of the God, ruling over all things by means of His Spirit who speaks and acts and works through His inspired, inerrant, perfect Word, written in the Scriptures for you, confessed whenever we lift those Scriptures up and say exactly what they say, which can be known."

I shared all of that on Facebook and received the following typical responses...

I'm writing a response to this lolol can't do it over Facebook...and while I see what he is saying and agree with some of his points I feel there is a great deal of misunderstanding here lolol look forward to a good discussion. Ok this turned into a full blown five page apologetic lolol it's gunna be a little while before I can get back to you...lolol be blessed bud ill email it to ya.

To which I replied...

Sorry Micah! Just saw these replies from you. You know I'm always open to discussing things with you and confessing what it is I believe and why I believe it. In short, I'm learning the whole "Personal Relationship With Jesus" perspective is more a modern Evangelical construct than it is an historical, orthodox and Biblical one. The quickest way I can sum it up is to say that "I have a personal relationship TO Jesus" as opposed to "I have a personal relationship WITH Jesus." It may seem like subtle semantics, but as someone who's recently come out of Evangelicalism I can assure you that the former puts the proper emphasis on what's objective (i.e., what Christ did and does for me) while the latter puts the wrong emphasis on what's subjective (i.e., what I can do for Christ to make our relationship better). Hope that helps. Looking forward to discussing this more. Perhaps after Christmas or during the holiday break?

The conversation continued...

Ya I understand what u mean...and I understand how u could hold that viewpoint...I just disagree lolol...and I believe the bible is extremely clear about it but of course you feel the same way about your viewpoint...which probably in the end leaves us nowhere lolol...but all things considered ur a guy who loves to understand things as am I so I figured it'd be worth laying out to you the viewpoint of a personal relationship so it at the very least could be more understood because the video misrepresents the entire premise and a lot then is misunderstood....and again without a full explanation it's pointless for me to respond lolol....which is y I'm trying with everything in me to wait to respond until I can give you the full explanation....I want to say so much more but Ill wait till it is complelte and I will email it to you...I trust all is well and it was great seeing luker in school again today. 
hey man sorry about the wait....it is now up to a full 9 pages single spaced lolol...hope you are ready to read...lolol...its probably going to be another couple days though...I trust all is well my friend.

See what I mean though?

We've been fed such a steady diet of doctrinal half-truths and outright lies, that we're so full on false doctrine that we can't even think straight when the simplicity of God's Word as found in the Gospel is presented to us right before our very eyes and ears.

I never thought I, as an ex-Evangelical, would be quoting an Evangelical Protestant (or a Reformed Calvinist) in these parts, but I've found that I encounter the most resistance from family and friends in response to my reasons why I'm a Confessional Lutheran whenever I bring up the subject of this "Personal Relationship With Jesus" business, which is why I'm determined to spend a little more time addressing it from all angles if that will help.

Let's start with an appetizer of sorts.

I absolutely love this quote that gets to the heart (pun intended!) of this whole "It's A Relationship Not A Religion!" or "It's About A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ!" stuff that's so prevalent today.

As for having a ‘personal relationship’ with Christ, if the phrase means something more than assenting to true propositions about Jesus, what is that something more? Feeling warm inside? Coffee has the same effect. Surely ‘personal relationship’ does not mean what we mean when we say that we know someone personally: perhaps we have shaken his hand visited his home or he ours, or eaten with him. John had a ‘personal relationship’ with Christ in that sense, as did all the disciples, including Judas Iscariot. But millions of Christians have not, and Jesus called them blessed: They have not seen and yet have believed. The difference between Judas Iscariot and the other disciples is not that they had a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus and he did not, but that they believed, that is, assented to, certain propositions about Jesus, while Judas did not believe those propositions. 
*- Taken From What Is Saving Faith? By Gordon H. Clark

Yes, I realize that Gordon Haddon Clark was an American philosopher and Calvinist theologian, but that doesn't make this statement of his false theology.

Again, let me caution you that Clark was a Calvinist and so there are some major differences in what he said and wrote over the course of his life and what we Lutherans have historically believed unto this day.

Even so, those differences notwithstanding, this additional quote attributed to Gordon Clark should emphasize the above one.

Or, to put it in another way, this next quote should explain in greater detail that the main issue is "Belief vs. Emotions/Feelings" just as it always has been since the inception of this "Personal Relationship" fluff-and-stuff.

For a good 1500 years Christian theologians have described human nature as intellectual and volitional. Jonathan Edwards, for example, wrote “God has endued the soul with two principal faculties: the one, that by which it is capable of perception and speculation, or by which it discerns and judges of things, which is called the understanding. The other, that by which the soul is some way inclined with respect to things it views or considers: or it is the faculty by which the soul beholds things...either as liking, disliking...approving or rejecting. This faculty is called...inclination, will...mind...often called heart.” 
The Lutherans too, at least those who, like the Missouri Synod, have preserved this orthodoxy, pay little or no attention to the emotions. Even in this decadent century their notable theologian, Pieper, in his Christian Dogmatics (page 519) very briefly, but twice, states the Lutheran position that the image consists of intellect and will. There is no mention of the emotions. 
This emphasis on the will has almost totally disappeared from what now passes as Christian preaching. Freudianism has replaced it with the emotions. Most pew-warmers do not realize that this emphasis is a very modern development. If one go back to the Westminster divines, to Calvin, even to Aquinas, and especially to Augustine, he will find that human nature is regularly divided into intellect and will. The point is important because faith in Christ is not an emotion but a volition. One does not feel for Christ, he decides for Christ. The Scripture says, Jesus himself said, “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Note very carefully that repentance is a change of mind. Its root is the word noeō, “to think.” The noun nous is the intellect. And faith, by which one is justified, is a belief, a voluntary assent to an understood proposition. 
Now today, in contrast with the Christianity of the past, Freudian emotionalism has replaced intellectualism, and volition seems to have been totally forgotten. Finney reduced evangelism to psychological brain-washing. A contemporary evangelistic, but non-ecclesiastical, group boasted that it could convert almost anybody in 20 minutes. They needed 35 minutes in England. This was not the attitude of Jonathan Edwards, of Whitefield, of Calvin, of Luther, nor of Augustine and Athanasius. These men emphasized the truth and urged people to believe the truth. Faith is no emotion. Faith is intellectual understanding with volitional assent. 
Permit me to repeat and emphasize that the Logos was full of grace and truth. He said, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. Christ was sanctified, and if we are also, we are sanctified by the truth. 
*- Gordon H. Clark

I hope that helps to clarify.

If not, then consider that the soup or salad of this meal. Next up? The main course!

This should help put this debate to bed once and for all.

Apparently, Gordon H. Clark wrote a book titled What Is Saving Faith? and it had a Foreword written by a man named John Robbins that contained this wonderful explanation of why this is such an important issue for us to debate, discuss, and prayerfully consider.

LONG BEFORE the Neo-orthodox theologians thought of saying that faith is an encounter with a divine Person rather than assent to a proposition, preachers who ought to have known better taught that faith is trust in a person, not belief in a creed. This writer, when a teenager, was told that some people would miss Heaven by twelve inches—the distance between the head and the heart—because they believed the Gospel with their heads but not with their hearts. Today it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to find a minister—a conservative minister—who does not believe and teach that one must have a "personal relationship" with Christ in order to be saved. But what that "personal relationship" consists of is either not made explicit or, when made explicit, contradicts what the Bible teaches about saving faith. The result is that both Christians and non-Christians are either needlessly confused or totally misled. Perhaps the world is not responding to the churches' message because the message is garbled. Neither the churches nor the world knows exactly what to do to have eternal life. 
Statements such as these about the head and the heart and trusting a person, not believing a creed, are not only false; they have also created the conditions for the emergence of all sorts of religious subjectivism, from Modernism to the Charismatic movement and beyond. No one will miss Heaven by twelve inches, for there is no distance between the head and the heart: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." The head/heart dichotomy is a figment of modern secular psychology, not a doctrine of divine revelation. St. Sigmund, not St. John, controls the pulpit in nearly all churches. 
Further, "trust in a person" is a meaningless phrase unless it means assenting to certain propositions about a person, propositions such as "I believe in God the Father Almighty…and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into Heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead." Trust in Christ, unless it includes belief of these propositions—as well as the Gospel of justification by faith—is totally without value. "Christ" means these propositions—and a lot more, to be sure, but at least these. No one who trusts in the Christs of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, C. S. Lewis, or N. T. Wright will be saved. 
As for having a "personal relationship" with Christ, if the phrase means something more than assenting to true propositions about Jesus, what is that something more? Feeling warm inside? Coffee has the same effect. Surely "personal relationship" does not mean what we mean when we say that we know someone personally: Perhaps we have shaken his hand, visited his home or he ours, or eaten with him. John had a "personal relationship" with Christ in that sense, as did all the disciples, including Judas Iscariot. But millions of Christians have not, arid Jesus called them blessed: They have not seen and yet have believed. The difference between Judas Iscariot and the other disciples is not that they had a "personal relationship" with Jesus and he did not, but that they believed, that is, assented to, certain propositions about Jesus, while Judas did not believe those propositions. Belief of the Gospel, nothing more and nothing less, is what separates the saved from the damned. Those who maintain that there is something more than belief needed for justification, are, quite literally, beyond belief.

There's not much more to read, but the rest of the Foreword is worth your time simply due to its analysis of a low view of the Doctrine of Justification.

Again, please just keep in mind that it's written from a Calvinist/Reformed perspective rather than an exclusively Lutheran one.

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, I hope this video and commentary succeeds in generating some necessary discussions about this whole "Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ" stuff that is so prevalent in Christ's Church today, and particularly within the LCMS churches too.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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