25 January 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

That is, if Christ has forgiven your sins and snatched you from the power of the devil and given you his Spirit, then you are not slaves, but free children and you will be able to live justly, that is, believe in Christ and show forth your faith in good works. - Urbanus Rhegius, *Preaching the Reformation* p. 63

1 comment:

Paul T. McCain said...

I've had some further thoughts about the subject of preaching about good works and what has been described by Professor Kurt Marquart as a disturbing "aversion to sanctification" that is at work in some of the preaching we hear these days.

Some Lutherans are great on Hebrews 12:2, but act as if Hebrews 12:1 was not there. When and how did any of us begin to think that exhorting the regenerate to do good works in a sermon is somehow inappropriate, or must never come after the Gospel is preached, or is "covered" as we preach against sin? I've been pondering this and have some more thoughts.

Where these entirely erroneous opinions come from, I'm not sure, but I am sure of this. I can find no orthodox Lutheran preacher in the 16th, 17th, 18th or 19th century who ever said such a thing. I strongly suspect the influence of Werner Elert, perhaps misunderstood or misapplied by his American students, may well be to blame here. The suggestion that using the Law in our rhetoric along the lines of its second use will automatically result in our preaching sanctification, or that preaching justification in Christ will also result, automatically, in preaching sanctification simply has no support in classic Lutheran theology or practice.

Further, I believe that the very valid concern that we keep Law and Gospel properly distinguished and very clearly keep justification and sanctification (renewal) distinct have led to the errors out there now. Perhaps folks have forgotten that Scripture and our Confessions and Lutheran fathers use the term "sanctification" in both a broad sense (to refer to salvation) and in a narrow sense (to refer to the renewal that follows justification, but is never a part of it, or cause of it). I suspect there is at work here a simple matter of ignorance that the term "sanctification" is used in two ways like this.

And finally, I have observed that ex-Evangelicals have properly warned Lutheranism against the errors of Evangelicalism, but in their zeal to avoid those errors, they too have gone too far and some are making their negative experiences with good works, wrongly taught, normative for how we are to properly teach about good works. In the process the baby of faithful teaching and preaching about the new life in Christ is being tossed out with the bath water of false teachings about these things. It boggles my mind that any Lutheran would go as far as some are going in trying to avoid preaching sanctification and life of good works among the regenerate.

And further baffling is that anytime anyone even begins to try to talk about this problem we are having people immediately want to avoid the conversation by running right away to: "But the Law doesn't cause us to do good works!" No, it doesn't. "But faith must come first!" Yes, that is true. "We are not saved at all by our works, only by grace!" Yes, of course. "Sanctification is not about good works!" No, not when the word is used in its wider sense. "The Law doesn't motivate anyone to do good works." Correct, again. "We are always sinners in this life!" Yes, that is true. "All our works as are filthy rags!" Yes, according to the old man, true. "The Law always accuses us! Just preach against sin and people will hear third use too!" Well, that might be a logical thing to say, but it doesn't hold up to Scripture and the Confessions and finally all it amounts to is a de facto denial of the third use of the law. It almost seems to me that some have embraced a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to good works!

Granting most of these points, most of which are perfectly true, we need to get back to the issue! The issue is how we do properly preach about the life of Christian renewal (sanctification in narrow sense)? Avoiding preaching about good works in a Romans 12 way is certainly no solution at all, but this is what I hear some of us suggesting.

Here is what Chemnitz says:

The testimonies of Scripture are clear, that the renewal of the new man, as also the mortification of the old, is not perfect and complete in this life but that it grows and is increased day by day until it is perfected in the next life, when this corruptible will have put on incorruption. Profitable also and necessary in the church are exhortations that the regenerate should not neglect, extinguish, or cast away the gifts of the Spirit which they have received but that they stir them up with true and earnest exercises, calling on the help of the Holy Spirit, that He may give an increase of faith, hope, love, and of the other spiritual gifts; for what the punishment of spiritual negligence is the parable of the talents shows. There is also no doubt that faith is effectual through love, that it is the mother of good works, and that good works please God through faith for the sake of Christ. And in this sense the statement in James 2:21–24 can be understood and accepted appropriately and rightly, that through the numerous good works that followed Abraham is declared to have been truly justified by faith, and it is shown that faith is not empty and dead, but true and living.

Martin Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the Council of Trent, Translation of Examen Concilii Tridentini., electronic ed., 1:538 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1971).

And, again Chemnitz:

I have, however, cited the chief testimonies of Scripture to show that we exhort the regenerate to zeal for good works from the sources and foundations themselves, as they are given in the Scripture, and that I might show that the doctrine of good works is being taught much more correctly in our churches than among the papalists, who boast that they alone have good works. For we not only clearly teach from the Word of God that good works are to be done, but we also explain the true reasons why they should be done. We also teach of what kind the good works of the regenerate ought to be, that there may be a distinction between philosophical virtues and Pharisaical works and the new obedience of the regenerate, and how in this infirmity good works can be done, namely, by a person who has been reconciled by faith and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Martin Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the Council of Trent, Translation of Examen Concilii Tridentini., electronic ed., 1:624 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1971).

Here is what Walther said in Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.

What is to be effected by preaching? Bear in mind that the preacher is to arouse secure souls from their sleep in sin; next, to lead those who have been aroused to faith; next, to give believers assurance of their state of grace and salvation; next, to lead those who have become assured of this to sanctification of their lives; and lastly, to confirm the sanctified and to keep them in their holy and blessed state unto the end. What a task!

Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, William Herman Theodore Dau and Ernest Eckhardt, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel : 39 Evening Lectures, Forward by Jaroslav Pelikan. Includes index., electronic ed., 248 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000, c1929, c1986).