Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prayer for the Dead: Lutheran Pastor (LCMS) Defends it from Scripture, Citing the Pauline Example of Onesiphorus

This comes from Pastor William Weedon, who runs a very edifying, educational blog. It's entitled On Prayer for the Dead. He notes some mixed signals within Lutheranism:

The Synodical Catechism (1943) asks: “For whom should we pray?” (#210) and answers this: “We should pray for ourselves and all other people; but not for the souls of the dead.” In contrast to this, consider these words from Concordia: The Book of Concord:
Regarding the adversaries’ quoting the Fathers about the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not ban. (Ap. XXI:94)
Epiphanius declares that Aerius maintained prayers for the dead are useless. He finds fault with this. We do not favor Aerius either. (Ap XXI:96).
The funeral service provided in Lutheran Service Book prays:
Give to Your whole Church in heaven and on earth Your light and Your peace…. Grant that all who have been nourished by the holy body and blood of Your Son may be raised to immortality and incorruption to be seated with Him at Your heavenly banquet.
So which position is Scriptural?

[additional indentation added presently for ease of reading; bolding and italics are his own]

The Book of Concord constitutes the actual Lutheran Confessions, and would trump the other source in terms of doctrinal authority, I'm pretty sure

Pastor Weedon utilizes as his argument the passages about Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:15-18; 4:19). I've made the same argument for at least 13 years now (it was included in my first book, which was completed in 1996: pp. 141-143). I also revisited the topic in The Catholic Verses (2004, pp. 169-174). Here's another related paper from my blog:
Pastor Weedon further clarifies his position in comments:

Yes, I take it that Onesiphorus has died. Franzmann writes in his Concordia Bible with Notes - NT:
"Onesiphorus is otherwise unknown; Paul's tribute to his energetic and fearless love remains his only but enduring monument. He was apparently dead at the time Paul wrote." (p. 418)
What makes it apparent, I believe (as also Franzmann concludes) is the way St. Paul speaks of his help in the past tense (not something he currently is rendering) and how at the end of the letter that he does not greet the man himself, but his household.

I've also documented Martin Luther's approval of the same practice. I cited the Lutheran Confessions, too (apparently a different rendering of Pr. Weedon's first source above):

Luther's approval of prayers for the dead given out of free devotion was shared in Melanchthon's apology to the Augsburg Confession (article XXIV, 94), where he wrote:
Now, as regards the adversaries' citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord's Supper on behalf of the dead.

Now, of course, I hasten to add that Lutherans -- like the Orthodox -- will not conclude from this (as we do) that purgatory is implied (indeed, so we contend, almost logically presupposed) in such prayers, but that is another issue. For now, I am simply noting the agreement that the practice itself is permissible according to confessional Lutheranism. I think it is good wherever Christians can agree with each other.


Nixon said...

The dead are dead. They are either in heaven or hell. Either way, there is nothing you or anybody else can do for them.

Randy said...

Very simply stated Nixon. It is so simple that we know Pastor William Weedon, St Paul, and the early church all were capable of arriving at such a conclusion. But they didn't. So which premise did they reject?

Dave Armstrong said...

People can believe whatever they wish. The only problem is that in this instance, to believe as Nixon does, one has to reject part of biblical teaching, and also the witness of the earliest Christians.

Since I believe in an inspired, infallible Bible and the great importance of the apostolic deposit and Christians Tradition, I can't do the same.

John J Luce said...

Is that the only example you can find in the N.T. of prayers for the dead? Pretty slim pickings to base an entire doctrine on, especially when you look at what the verse says (2 Tim. 1:18): "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day; and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well." Can we say "that day" (there and v. 12) is the judgment day? If he's in hell when Paul wrote that, all it might be, is a wish (not prayer to God) that the man be given mercy in the judgment. Paul can wish and think that without actually praying that to God. If he's in heaven, what might the mercy of God be for? Perhaps a wish on Paul's part that the man not lose any rewards for all the help he gave Paul. In no case is this verse a necessary support for purgatory, because "that day" --- Judgment Day --- would be AFTER one was in purgatory (if it existed).

Dave Armstrong said...

Lots more, that I detailed in a Facebook post:

curiousknowhow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Hoffer said...

Hello Nixon and John: Purgatory is taught in many places in Scripture. Let's start with Paul. Paul was a pharisee taught by Gamaliel of the School of Shammai. That school at the time of Jesus clearly taught the doctrine of a purgatorial state. If Paul had rejected that aspect of his teaching, I am sure he would have mentioned it somewhere. Moreover, Paul alludes the doctrine in several spots: 1 Cor. 3 which parallels the pharisaic proof text for a purgatorial state which is found at Zech. 13:9, something that is never mentioned by some Protestant folks who engage in eisegetical gymnastics to avoid the obvious reference there. Paul in 2 Cor. mentions "seventh heaven" as well which is another part of that same cosmology. That same cosmology is reflected btw in Dante's Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, who did not make up the different levels of heaven, purgatory and hell out of the thin air after all.

When reading the Scriptures, one should not ignore the historical and theological context in which the human authors, inspired by God, wrote them.

Another more obvious allusion to that intermediate state is seen in the context of the miracles of raising the dead in both the OT and NT. The persons who are being raised must not have been in heaven, as it would have been a cruelty rather than a kindness to raise them. The 'raisees' were not in hell as we understand the term, as such would have been thwarting divine justice. The grace would have been wasted on someone so depraved. No, the deceased must have been in a third state where one could receive the benefit of further sanctity which is why we pray for the dead in the first place. We do not pray for the dead that they might someday get to heaven; we pray that they might receive additional sanctity and enter heaven more quickly.

God bless!

Dave Armstrong said...

Your last argument is an excellent and fascinating one, Paul. Never thought of that. Very good!