We’ve talked here quite a bit about the doctrine of vocation and the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. But there is one other teaching in what we might call the Lutheran theology of culture: the first use of the Law.
To review, the first use of the Law is as a curb, reigning in external sinful behavior so that human society is possible. The second use of the Law is as a mirror, showing us our sinfulness and our need for Christ’s forgiveness; the third use is as a guide, showing Christians what kind of actions please God. The latter two uses get the most attention, but let’s reflect on that first use.
This “civil use” does not create righteousness and is only concerned with external behavior. I may be so angry that I am killing someone in my heart (such is my sinful nature), but I would never kill that person in reality–not just because I fear getting caught but because I would be too ashamed and my conscience would not allow it. The first use of the Law is working. Despite my external obedience to the civil use of the Law, though, I still need the Gospel to grant me forgiveness, and I need Christ to change my hatred into love of my enemy who is also neighbor, whom I am to love and serve particularly in my vocations.
OK, now help me out:
(1) What is the relationship between the first use of the Law and the laws of the civil authorities? (I can see that the two are not coterminous, since the first use works through conscience and not just civil power. But isn’t the civil power obliged to enforce the first use of God’s Law as it relates to civil order and the agency described in Romans 13?
(2) The first use of the law is for all sinners and not just Christian sinners. That is, there is no question of a separate morality for believers and non-believers, at least not in the law’s civil use. Is there?
(3) Doesn’t the first use of the Laws regarding sexual morality apply to the entire culture?
(4) Some Christians are saying that we should let the state set its own standards for marriage and the like–including allowing for same sex marriages–but that the church can insist on its own standards for its members. Wouldn’t that violate the first use of the Law?
(5) It seems that at different times and with different people, the various uses of the Law have been under attack: the legalists rejected the second use; the antinomians rejected the third use. Aren’t we seeing now in our culture the rejection of the first use? And shouldn’t Christians defend it? Or does God’s law need to defense, since it will be at work no matter what man’s laws and customs dictate? If so, how will the first use of the law manifest itself in a morally relativistic, pro-choice-in-all-things culture?