Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Spirit and the Letter

In the early fifth century, the popular understanding of 1 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul says, “The letter kills and the Spirit gives life,” was that the Old Testament was to be understood allegorically since, in its literal sense, it was a dead letter. On the other hand, the New Testament was to be understood spiritually since it was quickening and life giving. Thus, when Paul spoke of ergon nomou (works of law) most church fathers understood this as referring to the dead, ceremonial law. The Pelagians, following this interpretation, did not believe their doctrine of salvation contradicted that of Paul. Since Paul was only talking about circumcision, the Sabbath, and dietary rules, they could still assert that salvation was by ethical works of the natural man without the help of the Spirit. It was in this context that Augustine of Hippo wrote De spiritu et littera (The Spirit and the Letter). In it he contends that the whole Old Testament letter kills and the grace of Jesus Christ sets us free when love is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Augustine’s understanding of the “letter” was that it referred to the whole Old Testament law, including the moral law. He believed this since Paul said in Romans, “I would have not known desire, if the law had not said, ‘You shall not desire’ (Rom. 7:7; Ex. 20:17).” The command to “not desire” was certainly not some figurative expression. Paul was talking about the Ten Commandments, the moral law. Further, the text in 2 Corinthians goes on to call the letter that kills the “ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7). To this, Augustine wrote, “Who would be so foolish as to think that it was called the ministry of death carved in letters of stone not on account of all ten commandments but on account of that one commandment that has to do with the Sabbath?” The Pelagians were asserting that Paul was only excluding the keeping of the ceremonial law like the Sabbath from justification. Augustine corrects them by stating that all the commandments were excluded from our justification before God.

In the context of 2 Corinthians 3, there is no mention of circumcision, the Sabbath, or dietary rules. There is only mention of a ministry of death carved in letters of stone received by Moses. This ministry of death killed human beings because Paul said, “The law produced anger, for where there is no law, there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15),” and “Knowledge of sin came through the law” (Rom. 3:20). Since the law forbids sin, it kills human beings by increasing their desire to sin. The object of desire grows more attractive when it is forbidden. Augustine asserts:

“Consider the whole passage [2 Cor. 3] and see whether he says anything on account of circumcision or the Sabbath or any other foreshadowing sacred rite and does not rather say everything for the following reason. The letter forbidding sin does not give life to human beings, but rather kills them by increasing their desire and augmenting sinfulness because of transgression, unless through the law of faith in Christ Jesus grace sets them free, when love is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The Spirit gives us life by pouring the love of God into our hearts. If left to our free will, we would only sin since we cannot fulfill the law of God. In our attempt to fulfill it our sinfulness is exposed. However, God, who is rich in mercy, sends His love into our hearts through the Spirit so that we would no longer fear his punishment but delight in his law. Augustine declares:

“For free choice is capable only of sinning, if the way of truth remains hidden. And when what we should do and the goal we should strive for begins to be clear, unless we find delight in it and love it, we do not act, do not begin, do not live good lives. But so that we may love it, the love of God is poured out into our hearts, not by free choice which comes from ourselves, but by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:5).”

Without the Spirit of grace, the Jews of the Old Testament attempted to keep the law out of fear of punishment, not out of love of righteousness. It was an attempt to keep God’s commandments out of obligation, not because the Holy Spirit had given them a new heart to delight in the commandments of God. Augustine writes, “Those who did what the law commanded without the help of the Spirit of grace did so out of fear of punishment, not out of love of righteousness.” The one who has been freed by the Spirit of grace begins to delight in the commandments of God. Augustine states, “If that commandment is observed out of fear of punishment, not out of love of righteousness, it is observed in the manner of a slave, not in the manner of someone free.”

Once the Spirit of grace sets us free from the condemnation of the law, faith is the love of God poured into our heart. God says to us: “Do what I command!” And faith says to God: “Give what you command!” And we ask that by God’s mercy we would be able to fulfill what He commands us. Augustine says, “In that way God’s grace not merely shows us what we are to do, but also helps us so that we are able to do what God has shown us.” This can only happen through faith which is love poured into our hearts by the Spirit of grace. The law is now written in our hearts within us. The law of God is no longer written outside of us on tablets where it kills us, but rather, Augustine writes, “The former law was written outside human beings in order to strike fear into them from outside, while the latter law is written in human beings so that it justifies them within.”

Therefore, justification is not something that occurs outside of us (extra nos) from the viewpoint of God, but rather it is a process that occurs within us (intra nos). Augustine does not teach forensic justification or Christ’s imputed righteousness by which we are declared righteous. Rather, in justification we become righteous through a process by faith which is love given to us as a gift of the Holy Spirit by which we do what God commands. God clothes us with righteousness, but this is not the righteousness of God. It is a righteousness of love by which He makes us righteous. And this is a righteousness we will have more fully as God continues to bestow His love upon us. Augustine writes, “By that faith of Jesus Christ, that is, which he bestowed upon us, we believe that we now have from God and will have more fully from him the righteous life we live.” Therefore, the letter kills externally, but the Spirit of grace gives us a righteousness of love internally by which faith delights in the law.

The most significant contribution of Augustine’s doctrine upon hermeneutics and theology is his understanding of the works of the law in the thought of Paul (Romans 3; Galatians 2-3). By excluding all ethical works whatsoever from salvation, justification became by free grace alone. His method of showing that Paul was not simply speaking of circumcision, dietary rules, and the keeping of the Sabbath, but rather speaking of the entire law, has had implications throughout history. In the 16th century Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue the Tubingen theologians said to the Patriarch of Constantinople,

“Here the blessed Apostle excludes our works from justification. And by excluding the works of the Law, he means not only the ceremonial or civil works, but also the Decalogue, that most exalted part of the Law, the Ten Commandments…. our entire justification takes place freely and by grace alone.”

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon uses the argument of Augustine:

“Here the adversaries interpret that this refers to Levitical ceremonies [not to other virtuous works]. But Paul speaks not only of the ceremonies, but of the whole Law. For he quotes afterward (7, 7) from the Decalogue: Thou shalt not covet…. Augustine teaches correctly that Paul speaks of the entire Law, as he discusses at length in his book, Of the Spirit and Letter.”

The merits of Mary and the saints contributing to a person’s justification, indulgences, and the Roman doctrine of satisfactions are foreign to Augustine’s thought. Therefore, although Augustine’s doctrine of justification was different then the Augustana the Lutherans were right to bring the doctor of grace into the debate. His arguments can be used today to combat the same false doctrine asserted by E.P. Sanders and the New Perspective on Paul.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Semi-Pelagianism is Still in The Church

I am responding to an article taught by Kenneth Copeland Ministries here: Looking For a Receiver

The article is written by Gloria Copeland who is a very influential televangelist today. The concern I have with Mrs. Copeland’s tract is that she falls into an old heresy (false teaching) called Semi-Pelagianism, and she misunderstands the nature of saving faith.

The Semi-Pelagians were a group of monks in the fifth century who believed that if they acted first and got in the right position, then God would give His grace. This false teaching was refuted on the basis of Scripture by a famous Pastor by the name of Augustine. Some Protestants today have disregarded the history of the Church, and in doing so are repeating heresies that have already been refuted. Thankfully, the classical Reformers (Martin Luther, etc.) were familiar with Church history and were able to build on it, rather then repeat the same errors. Mrs. Copeland teaches exactly what the Semi-Pelgians taught: “Permit God to enter,” “Welcome Him in,” “Be devoted to Him first,” “Increase your capacity,” “Put yourself in position,” “God will give you His grace if you just repent and make a turn towards him with your whole heart.” Copeland gets into an error by using the illustration of the wide receiver. Wide receivers have to work to get open before the quarterback will throw the pass.

Thankfully, this is not the way God works. The Apostle Paul said that Jesus “Saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 1:9). Jesus Christ gives us His grace not because of our work to get in the right position, but by His own purpose and love. When you hear the gospel that Christ forgives you, the Holy Spirit is given to you as a gift, not on the basis of your labor to get in position. When Peter was preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, the book of Acts records, “The Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word….the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out…” (10:44-45). The Holy Spirit is called a gift because God bestows it freely.

Mrs. Copeland says to seek out God first, and then He will give you good things. However, because of our sinful nature, the Scriptures say: “No one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Our sinful natures are so corrupted that the Scriptures say, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…” (1 Cor. 2:14). Thankfully, because God is rich in mercy He saves us freely by grace through faith. Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). At first glance it may appear that that the “this” which is not our own doing is “grace” but not “faith.” However, an analysis of the nouns in the Greek tells us that the “this” is referring to both “grace” and “faith!” So, even our faith is a gift from God which is given not on the basis of what we do, but for free.

By God’s grace through faith we trust in the promise of Jesus Christ to save us. Paul says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5). Paul describes faith as trust in someone who is outside of us. This Jesus Christ is the One who justifies (“justify” means to “pronounce righteous”) us by faith. Faith does not save because it is a good work in and of itself, but only because it is a passive instrument by which you receive and trust in the promised mercy. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (2 Cor. 4:7)? Mrs. Copeland does well in speaking of faith as reception. But because she denies that faith is a gift, she opens the door for man to boast about getting open to receive the pass. Faith is something that we have, but it is also something we have received.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Augustine and His Opponents

All references from: Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000). Great Book!

The Great Persecution of Diocletian in 303-305 AD caused many manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures to be burnt. There were some Catholic Bishops who, under threat of death, gave the Scriptures over. It was believed by 80 Numidian Bishops that a certain Bishop, Caecilian of Carthage was ordained by such a traitor. Augustine scholar, Peter Brown writes, “It was a simple matter for 80 Numidian bishops, in 311, to declare his ordination invalid, and to elect another bishop in his place. This ‘pure’ bishop of Carthage was soon succeeded by another, Donatus: and, it was he, who, as a rival bishop of Carthage, gave his name to what we call ‘the Donatist Church’ – the pars Donati, ‘the party of Donatus.” The ecclesial and theological claims of the Donatist’s were that if the Church’s Bishops and members were not pure, then there could be no Church. They believed that if ordination was administered by an unholy Bishop, then the ordination would not be efficacious. They also held that if the sacraments were administered by an unworthy Bishop, then they would not bestow grace or the Holy Spirit. Like the Pelagians, they saw Christianity as a new Law. Indeed, Pelagius claimed that all Christians should be monks. The Donatist controversy foreshadowed the Pelagian controversy because both groups saw Christianity as a new Law, and saw the visible Church as a group of isolated “pure” people. Augustine combated Donatism with his view of the visible/invisible Church, and his doctrine of election. These theological issues foreshadowed and prepared him for his conflict with the Pelagians.

The Donatists believed that since they were the true Church only their prayers were heard by God. They were worried that if they tolerated unholy people in their Church, God may not hear their prayers. Like the Pelagians, they believed in earning God’s favor by their works. There was only a visible Church, and its mark was holy people refraining from sin. Without their ministers living pure lives, the sacraments would not bestow grace or the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, Augustine’s focus was on the undeserved operation of God’s love and the objective promises of Christ. Augustine taught that the objective efficacy of the sacraments was dependent upon the holiness of Christ. Brown writes, “The rites of the Church were undeniably ‘holy,’ because of the objective holiness of the Church which ‘participated’ in Christ.” The Church would not lose its identity because of subjective qualities. Rather, the promises of God were objective and were not dependent upon the separation of the Christian from society. Brown writes, “The Catholicism of Augustine…reflects the attitude of a group confident of its power to absorb the world without losing its identity. This identity existed independently of the quality of the human agents of the Church: it rested on ‘objective’ promises of God…and on ‘objective’ efficacy of its sacraments.”

For Augustine, there was indeed a visible Church, but there were sinners in the midst of true Christians. This led to Augustine’s doctrine of election. Brown writes, “The dividing line between ‘true’ and ‘false’ members was, of course, invisible: this core would later harden into Augustine’s ‘defined number of the elect.” This way of combating the Donatists foreshadowed and prepared Augustine for the Pelagians. Election was by grace alone and not by works, and true Christians would always be called to exist in the midst of non-believers. The Church was an imperfect shadow of a heavenly reality. Brown records, “The ‘true Church’ of Augustine is not only the ‘body of Christ’, the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’…it is the ‘reality’ of which the concrete Church on earth is only an imperfect shadow.”

Augustine believed that since all humans came through Adam, all human beings are called to exist with one another and not be separate. Since all human beings are tainted by sin, they should not isolate themselves from others as if they do not share a sinful nature with them. Both Donatus and Pelagius were so prideful concerning their human nature they failed to see this truth. Brown writes, “Augustine believed that the Church might become co-extensive with human society as a whole….God has made all men from one man, Adam in order to show, that ‘nothing is more rent by discord than this human race, in its flawed state; though nothing was so plainly intended by its Creator for living together.’” Augustine’s doctrine of original sin caused him to see the Church as a humble agent living in the midst of sinners. Indeed, the doctrine of original sin would be the main issue in the conflict with Pelagius.

The Donatists and Pelagians both believed in salvation by works. Augustine combated both heresies with the doctrine of Paul: salvation by grace alone. The Donatists did not make the distinction between the invisible and visible Church. Augustine’s doctrine of the Church combined with his doctrine of election prepared him for his conflict with the Pelagians. The worthiness of the Church was not dependent upon a “pure” episcopacy or the holiness of its members but it was dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ alone.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Theses Against Worship and Prayer to the Saints

1. God desires all our attention, prayer, worship, devotion, and adoration. Therefore, we should not worship or pray to Mary, a departed saint, or any other creature, but should worship and pray to our Creator alone.

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:3-5).

“…for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).

2. Jesus Christ was worshiped as God. Therefore, we should worship and pray to Him.

“Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God'” (Matt. 14:33).

3. We have confidence and many promises in Scripture concerning prayer to our Mediator Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we have no promises concerning prayers to the dead.

“And whatever you ask in My [Jesus’] name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

4. Mary worshiped God and never proclaimed that she would be worshiped, but only venerated.

“My [Mary’s] soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

5. The Scriptures never grant that it is acceptable to worship Mary. Therefore, Christians should not be taught to worship her.

“And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27-28)!

6. The Scriptures only tell us to pray to God, and that we can ask for others who are still living [not dead] to pray for us. The OT patriarchs (Abraham & Jacob) were not sought for intercession after death.

“Doubtless you are our Father, Though Abraham was ignorant of us, and Israel [Jacob] does not acknowledge us. You, O LORD, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is your name” (Isaiah 63:16).

7. Mary and some saints receive millions of prayers everyday from Christians throughout the world. This is done contrary to the Scriptures while it is assumed Mary and the saints become multi-lingual in heaven.

"And God said to him, 'I am God Almighty'" (Gen. 35:11).

8. Mary and some saints receive millions of prayers everyday from Christians throughout the world. This is done contrary to the Scriptures while it is assumed that Mary and the saints become omniscient (all-knowing) in heaven.

"O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it" (Psalm 139:1-6).

9. Mary and some saints receive millions of prayers everyday from Christians throughout the world. This is done contrary to the Scriptures while it is assumed that Mary and the saints become omnipotent (almighty/all-powerful) and omnipresent (present everywhere) in heaven.

"Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

10. The Bible is against invoking the dead. Therefore, Christians should not be taught that praying to the saints is acceptable.

“Let no one be found among you…who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you” (Deut. 18:10-13).

11. King Saul invoked Samuel who was dead and was condemned.

See 1 Samuel 28:7-16

“So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chron. 10:11-13).

12. Praying to Mary and the Saints distracts us from the One Invisible Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

13. Deceitful miracles can occur through demonic spirits, and are not only brought about by God. Usually, they lead to worship of another creature (or person) rather then worship of Jesus Christ.

“Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "When Pharaoh says to you, 'Prove yourselves by working a miracle,' then you shall say to Aaron, 'Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.'" So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents” (Exodus 7:8-12).

14. The Anti-Christ (also known as the man of lawlessness) will appear before the second coming of Jesus Christ. Paul says he will perform deceitful miracles to lead people astray.

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10).

15. The Scriptures declare that all Christians are saints, not only those who have been voted such by the Roman Catholic Church.

“Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13).

”Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda” (Acts 9:32).

16. The Holy Spirit already intercedes for us [The Saints] even prior to our prayers.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will” (Rom. 8:26-27)

17. Such elevation of particular saints, often causes lay people to think that sainthood is distant and unattainable.

18. Such elevation of priests, monks, and hermits often creates so much distance between clergy and laity, that the laity think they don't have to be as serious about walking with Jesus as the clergy.

19. Rare is it to find someone who is devoted to the saints with images in their home, who also is growing in the knowledge of Scripture and sharing the gospel with other people.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Law and Gospel in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church

AC = Augsburg Confession
Ap = Apology of the Augsburg Confession
SC = Small Catechism
LC = Large Catechism
SA = Smalcald Articles
FC = Formula of Concord
Ep = Epitome of the Formula of Concord
SD = Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

Martin Luther once said, “Whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.” Since the 16th century, there has been much debate over this distinction. But, what is the true Lutheran understanding of it? Specifically, how do the Lutheran Confessions understand the nature and function of the moral Law, and the nature and function of the gospel? To answer this question an analysis of the historic Lutheran Confessions is necessary.

As Luther said, the Scriptures must be divided between Law and gospel if they are to be understood correctly. By gospel, Luther and the Lutheran Reformation had in mind the promises of God to save human beings through Jesus Christ who offers forgiveness of sins, life, and justification. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession echoed Luther’s distinction when defending the doctrine of justification. Melanchthon wrote:

“All Scripture should be divided into these two main topics: the Law and the promises. In some places it communicates the Law. In other places it communicates the promise concerning Christ, either when it promises that Christ will come and on account of him offers the forgiveness of sins, justification, and eternal life, or when in the gospel itself, Christ, after he appeared, promises the forgiveness of sins, justification, and eternal life” (Ap, IV, 5).

The Formula of Concord (FC), V, 1 affirms the same necessary distinction.

The Law

But what is the nature of the moral Law? Is it equivalent to sin because it shows us our sin, or, is it the will of God for our lives? The FC states that through it, God tells human beings how they are to think, speak, and act in order to be pleasing to Him. The FC says:

“ We therefore unanimously believe, teach, and confess that in its strict sense the Law is a divine teaching in which the righteous, unchanging will of God revealed how human beings were created in their nature, thoughts, words, and deeds to be pleasing and acceptable to God” (SD, V, 17).

The Law is therefore the will of God for human beings. The Law also instructs us as to what is contrary to God’s will.

The Law's Function

What is the Law’s function in the hearts and minds of people who read and hear it? What does it do? Luther taught that the Law was a hammer of God by which he drove sinners into despair. He wrote, “Now this [the Law] is the thunderbolt of God, by means of which he destroys both the open sinner and the false saint and allows no one to be right but drives the whole lot of them into terror and despair” (SA, Third Part, III, 2). The Law destroys us because we cannot live up to it. We desire to have the assurance of our salvation but the Law cannot give it. The Law accuses us of being sinful and tells us that we have fallen short of the glory of God. Melanchthon recognized the same primary function of the Law as accusing when he wrote, “Paul says [Rom. 4:15]: ‘The Law brings wrath.’ He does not say that through the Law people merit the forgiveness of sins. For the Law always accuses and terrifies consciences” (Ap, IV, 38).

Scholastic theologians like Gabriel Biel held that it was possible to love God without the assistance of divine grace. Others like Duns Scotus argued that this natural ability was intensified by the infused habitus of love, leading to works that were meritorious. To these arguments the Apology brought to light the nature of the first three commandments (the first table of the Law) as defining our relationship to God. The Apology states that due to original sin, our works are defective before God:

“We wanted to show that original sin also included these maladies: ignorance of God, contempt for God, the absence of the fear of and trust in God, and the inability to love God. These are the chief defects of human nature—in conflict especially with the first table of the Decalogue” (Ap, II, 14).

Before God (coram Deo) all of us have sinned and fall short of His glory. Who on earth has kept the first commandment perfectly? Luther said that the meaning of the first commandment was to “fear, love, and trust God above all things” (SC, The Ten Commandments, 2). Who has been able to do this? What the Scholastic theologians did not understand is that the Law demands total, perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God (SD, VI, 22). Further, they also focused on loving the neighbor as if that would make them righteous before God. To this, the Apology responded, “There is no reason to think that Paul has attributed either justification or perfection before God to the works of the second table of the Law rather than to the first” (Ap, IV, 231). Rather, we have to be made righteous before God first before our works can be pleasing to God. The commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart (Deut. 6:5) can not be kept without the grace of the Spirit.

The Gospel

What is the solution to the problem of our sin and the Law? The Confessors answered that the gospel promises grace, forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation on account of Christ. This promise is received by faith alone and not by works. The Apology says,

“But since justification takes place through a free promise, it follows that we cannot justify ourselves. Otherwise, why would a promise be needed? And since the promise cannot be grasped in any other way than by faith, the gospel (which is, strictly speaking, the promise of the forgiveness of sins and justification on account of Christ) proclaims the righteousness of faith in Christ, which the Law does not teach…. But the promise freely offers to us, who are oppressed by sin and death, reconciliation on account of Christ, which is received not by works, but by faith alone” (Ap, IV, 43-44).

The gospel is strictly speaking, the promise of the forgiveness of sins through the work of Jesus Christ. The gospel is always presented in relationship to justification because through it we receive the promises of God through faith by which we are justified. Without distinguishing between Law and gospel, the work of Christ is diminished, and the Scriptures are misunderstood. We cannot keep the Law unless we are first justified by the gospel. Later in the Apology, Melanchthon wrote: “We must first be reconciled by the promise before we keep the Law” (Ap, XII, 80).

Because the doctrine of justification was central to the Lutheran Reformation, the function of killing and making alive through preaching Law and gospel was also central. Through preaching Law and gospel, God condemns and makes the sinner alive. The Apology said,

“For these are the two chief works of God in human beings, to terrify and to justify the terrified or make them alive. The entire Scripture is divided into these two works. One part is the Law, which reveals, denounces, and condemns sin. The second part is the gospel, that is, the promise of grace given in Christ” (Ap, XII, 53).

Are there other ways that the gospel was to be administered? In addition to the public proclamation of the Word, Luther recognized four other ways that the gospel was administered:

“First, through the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world (which is the proper function of the gospel); second, through baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters” (SA, Third Part, IV).

Through preaching, Absolution, and the Sacraments, the forgiveness of sins are promised to the recipient. Melanchthon especially saw the voice of Absolution as the heart of the gospel. Melanchthon wrote, “The power of the keys administers and offers the gospel through absolution, which is the true voice of the gospel” (Ap, XII, 39).

The Law and the Christian Life

After a person receives the forgiveness of sins by faith, does the law apply to their life? Would saying so negate the gospel’s effect in their lives? Indeed not! Luther held that through gospel, the Holy Spirit gives us help to live according to the Ten Commandments. He said, “[The Apostle’s Creed] is given in order to help us do what the Ten Commandments require of us” (LC, The Creed, 2). The Creed presents the grace of the Spirit that comes through the redemption of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit working through the gospel empowers us to live according to the Law. Since now there is no condemnation for those who are forgiven in Christ Jesus, the Christian is no longer condemned by the Law. But because the Christian still has the old Adam clinging to them, they still need the Law to light and guide their path as followers of Jesus Christ (Ep, VI, 1). The FC says that we have been redeemed by Christ in order that we might exercise ourselves in accordance with the moral Law and desire to do God’s will:

“We believe, teach, and confess that, although people who truly believe in Christ and are genuinely converted to God have been liberated and set free from the curse and compulsion of the Law through Christ, they indeed are not for that reason without the Law. Instead, they have been redeemed by the Son of God so that they may practice the Law day and night (Ps. 119[:1])” (Ep, VI, 2).

Even after rebirth, however, it is not as if Christians do not regress and are never convicted of their sin by the Law. The Christian will often regress, and will be accused as a sinner before God. The Apology says, “The Law always accuses since we never satisfy the Law” (Ap, IV, 164A, octavo; 164, quarto). Through the gospel, we are promised again that we are forgiven and our hearts are renewed:

“For the Law indeed says that it is God’s will and command that we walk in new life. However, it does not give the power and ability to begin or to carry out this command. Instead, the Holy Spirit, who is given and received not through the Law but through the proclamation of the gospel (Gal. 3[:2, 14]), renews the heart” (SD, VI, 11).

Through the proclamation of the gospel our hearts are renewed because we know that God truly loves us as His children. He has given us His Holy Spirit so that we can even delight in the Law of God, rather than fear it as if we were still enslaved to it. Luther said,

“Through this knowledge we come to love and delight in all the commandments of God because we see here in the Creed how God gives himself completely to us, with all his gifts and power, to help us keep the Ten Commandments: the Father gives us all creation, Christ all his works, the Holy Spirit all his gifts” (LC, The Creed, 69).

Prior to the gospel, we could only fear that we could not live up to God’s Law. We had no assurance of our salvation through it, but only felt convicted by it. But now, through the reconciliation and renewal of the gospel our hearts are able to delight in God’s Law according to our inward person. This means that we can delight in doing the will of God who has redeemed us, even while we were lost. The FC says,

“Paul holds that the Law cannot burden those whom Christ has reconciled with God with its curse and cannot torment the reborn with its coercion because they delight in the Law of the Lord according to their inward persons” (SD, VI, 5).

Progressive Sanctification

Did the Lutherans believe that there was possibility of any progress in relationship to the Law for the children of God? That is, did they believe that it was possible to keep the Law more and more in an increasing manner? Melanchthon wrote,

“We openly confess, therefore, that the keeping of the Law must begin in us and then increase more and more. And we include both simultaneously, namely, the inner spiritual impulses and the outward good works” (Ap, IV, 136).

After the person receives the Absolution and renewal of the Holy Spirit, “then improvement should also follow, and a person should refrain from sins. For these should be the fruits of repentance, as John says in Matthew 3[:8]: ‘Bear fruit worthy of repentance’” (AC, XII, 6). The Confessions however, reject the idea of certain Ana-Baptists groups, and the Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon 332 which said that we can keep the Law perfectly after we have been reborn (Ep, II, 12; Ep, XII, 25; SD, II, 79; SD, XII, 33).

Contemporary Implications

Confessional Lutherans in America have done an excellent job maintaining the second use of the Law as the primary use in preaching and teaching. By doing so, justification remains at the forefront since the convicting use of the Law leads to the proclamation of the gospel.

In the 19th century in true Calvinistic form, Karl Barth held that even the Law was gospel since humans did not deserve to hear from God. God was totally “other” and transcendent and whenever he spoke it was gospel. According to Barth, the Law was in the gospel and the Law came from the gospel. This was the same view of John Calvin, the French Reformer of the 16th century in Geneva. This view was not only confusing, but obscured the gospel, which must always remain as a comforting and joyous message of the forgiveness of sins. Throughout most of the history of the church, the gospel was seen as a new Law. Thankfully, the Lutheran Reformation brought to light the distinction between the Law and Gospel, and the difference between Moses and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was not a new Moses. He is our Savior first, and the Lutheran Reformation and Confessional Lutheranism in America have done well to avoid this confusion.

Because Lutherans have properly distinguished between Law and gospel, Confessional Lutherans in America have also done an excellent job of upholding the doctrine of justification. The proclamation of the gospel as the forgiveness of sins continues to be at the center of Lutheran preaching and teaching.

Many Lutherans today, however, are under the misunderstanding that if you preach the Law after the gospel then you negate the gospel. They also state that all sermons have to end with gospel if they are to be true Lutheran sermons. The confessional quotations above show that the Spirit of grace enables us to keep the Law without fear of punishment but because we know we have a loving Father.
Many are under the impression that a teaching is bad if it is too “Law-oriented.” As the confessional quotations show, after we have been renewed by the Spirit of grace we delight in the Law according to our inward persons. The question should be whether or not an instruction or teaching is in accordance with God’s will. If it is “God’s will-oriented” then we should desire to do it! Lutherans do not often speak of delighting in the Law of God. The Law is usually seen as something that only shows us our sins and is therefore negative, and nothing else. But because we have a loving Father who forgives us, we can now delight in His Law, not out of fear, but out of love.

Some also hold that the Hebrew word torah used in Psalm 1 and 119 must be referring to the Pentateuch. They hold that it cannot be referring to the moral Law, because it is impossible to delight in the Law which shows us our sins. They have missed the way that the Confessions have understood those Psalms, but more importantly, do not realize that what they are saying is in doctrinal disagreement with the Confessions which teach that Christians do delight in the Law.

Werner Elert brought to light the fact that Melanchthon and the FC taught a threefold use of the Law, while Luther only had a twofold use. While this is true, it does not mean that Luther was against the Law being urged upon Christians. Rather, Luther simply did not have a third use of the law as a systematic category. In the 1960s, Professors at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis began to hold to a twofold use, believing that the Law should not be urged upon Christians. However, Luther in SA, III, 3, 42-45 teaches that the Law must be applied to the Christian because of the fact that sinful flesh clings to him and it is possible for the Christian to fall from grace. The Kolb-Wengert edition notes concerning this addition: “The emphasis here would seem to be directed against John Agricola and the ‘antinomians,’ who taught that the law did not apply to Christians.” This addition to the Smalcald Articles was added prior to its publication in 1538 after John Agricola subscribed in 1536.

And finally it is often said that Lutherans do not believe in progressive sanctification. Usually, Lutherans are responding to the idea of “victorious Christian living” taught by modern Evangelicals, who turn the gospel into principles for Christian living. While turning the gospel into principles for Christian living should obviously be condemned, believing that it is not possible for the justified to progress in relationship to the Law does not represent the true Lutheran position. Modern Evangelicals who advocate “victorious Christian living” often have a false anthropology, and do not understand the person and work of Jesus Christ as Savior. However, because they teach falsely, it is not a cause for Lutherans to overreact and teach that it is impossible for Christians to progress in relationship to the Law. This runs directly in opposition to the Lutheran Confessions that state that because of the new spiritual impulses of the heart created by the power of the gospel, the Christian can keep the Law more and more and improve his or her life. This is not to say that all Christians will do so, but it is certainly possible that God can work that kind of victory over certain sins through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Not Peace, But Division

My father, comes from a small town in the eastern Mediterranean country of Lebanon. He is a confident, hard-working man who grew up in a poor home. He experienced his father having trouble producing income. When he was a child, Catholic priests from the town would visit his home to pray and teach. They did this, as my dad would later find out, to earn money. Since they did not seem educated, and were consistently not very charismatic or personable, my father grew up seeing the clergy in his town as “lower class.”

My mother, grew up in a Greek Orthodox home in Lebanon that was quite wealthy. Her father had many property investments, and all her brothers were successful engineers and teachers. She grew up with close friends who valued status, appearance, and image. Her perception of the Greek Orthodox clergy was that they were distant from the common citizen. Many of them were monks, unmarried, poor, and had a hard time connecting and inspiring the common person.

My parents married in 1975 and came to America that year to flee from what would become a civil war. In America, they attended a local Roman Catholic parish, and unfortunately, their experience with the clergy was the same.

I was born in 1980 and was baptized at a Roman Catholic parish. It was a tradition in my family to baptize infants, although both my parents were unaware of the meaning since they had not been taught. They did the best they could do.

My faith was not nourished as I grew older. However, after times of unfulfillment in college, I attended a local university ministry to inquire about God and the meaning of life. After three months of attending a men’s group, the Holy Spirit brought me to saving faith in Him, I was born anew, and my life was changed forever. God created in me a passion for studying the Scriptures and sharing the Word. After a few years—while studying for an electrical engineering degree—I continued to feel compelled to preach the gospel and knew that my gifts and callings pertained to the pastoral office. All of my brothers and sisters in Christ encouraged me in this path.

It came time for me to share my desire to prepare for the pastoral office with my parents. They were both against it and thought that if I followed through with these plans they would be losing their son. My mom was so devastated that she removed all the family pictures that included me from the house. She was in tears for months. How could her son leave a prestigious profession such as engineering, for a lowly and distant clerical office?

During this time of conflict I learned that the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable. I learned that honoring one’s father and mother is necessary, but not at the expense of honoring God. I also learned that following Jesus Christ would not always bring peace, but division. This brought significant meaning to the passage where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father…a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-37, 39 ESV).