Happy birthday, C. F. W. Walther

Belated birthday wishes, that is.  Yesterday, October 25, would have been the 200th birthday of C. F. W. Walther, the pastor/theologian who led a small band of persecuted confessional Lutherans away from the arch-liberal state church in Germany to religious freedom in America, whereupon he founded the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Rev. Joshua Scheer pays him a tribute with a quotation showing that not all that much has changed theologically since 1856:

“We are well aware that thereby we set our course against the stream of what is currently popular. People want to be entertained rather than instructed. They repeat Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” and deride as a fool anyone who dares to assert that he had found the truth and is proclaiming it. The current taste wants to nothing but “views,” nothing but thoughts “without prejudice,” expressed in attractive form. The man of today wants his age to be celebrated as the age of maturity and enlightenment, but past centuries to be smiled at as times of childish simplicity, darkness, and superstition. What was proclaimed as truth in a former day must now be relegated to a pigeonhole of history. Let us hear no more about people or about a church that always possessed the truth.

But if the current taste wants nothing to do with teaching, it is even more averse to defense. It thinks that it is all right to wage war for things that have reality, like land, money, honor, and the like, but fight for the truth? – folly! Who would and should fight for a phantom, for something that no one has and that no one can conquer? The spirit of the age believes that truth is the riddle of a sphinx that has not yet found an Oedipus. What truth there is on earth is parceled out, if not among the different chief religions, at least among the various parties in Christendom. All the various s0-called churches are regarded as different branches of one tree, and the varieties of teaching in these churches are simply different refractions of the one sun, merely different colors of the one rainbow. They are all sisters, and only lovelessness and spiritual pride can stoke the fires of discord among them.

But however prevalent these principles have become in our day and however commonly they are expressed sometimes in veiled, sometimes in unveiled form, we cannot subscribe to them. By a divine conviction we believe that there is a truth here on earth and that this truth is contained in God’s Word, that is, in the divinely inspired writings of the apostles and prophets. We also believe that these sacred writings have the purpose of imparting the light of this one complete truth to man sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, and that therefore these writings are so clear that a human being is able to recognize and draw this one complete truth from them.

From “Selected Writings of C.F.W. Walther: Editorials from Lehre und Wehre” translated by Herbert J.A. Bouman, pages 11-12 – available from CPH here.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Walther proves our arrogance wrong….

I wonder, though, how many of us today would consider our church and our theology so important that we would pull up our roots, leave our extended families, and abandon our property to go to the other side of the world to live in a wilderness and start all over, just to be free to practice our faith.

God’s likeness and inscription

Last Sunday Pastor Douthwaite preached on Matthew 22:15-22, about the coin with Jesus asking whose likeness and inscription is on it.  But then Pastor Douthwaite took the text in a direction I had never thought of before. What is God’s likeness and inscription, and how do we render to God?

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, okay, got that. But what are the things of God? What are we to render to Him? What does He expect from us?

Perhaps you’re thinking obedience. Good works, the Ten Commandments, and all that. Or, since we’re on the topic of money here, maybe you’re thinking about tithing and giving to God the share of your income that is His. Those aren’t bad answers . . . but perhaps it would be better to stick with Jesus’ words and ask ourselves, whose likeness and inscription is this? Or, where is God’s likeness and inscription in this world, to give Him what is His?

The answer to that lies in the question. For the word translated there are likeness is the word icon, or image. So if it is a coin that bears Caesar’s image, what is it in this world that is made in God’s image and likeness and bears His inscription? Phrased in that way, you know the answer: it’s you. In the beginning, God made man in His image and likeness, and in Holy Baptism He has inscribed His name upon you. You belong to Him. The things of this world are not what God is interested in. His kingdom is not of this world. He wants you. Always you. All of you. He wants your undivided heart and soul and mind and strength. He wants your uncompromised fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.

Too often we stick to the coins though, don’t we? It’s easier. Less involvement. Less threatening. Repentance and faith and holy living, investing yourself, giving yourself, that’s harder by far.

But that is, in fact, why Jesus was there that day, sparring with the Pharisees and Herodians. He was there for you. Giving Himself for you. All of Himself for you.

For this episode took place probably just about 72 hours before Jesus would lay down His life on the cross. To redeem you not with gold or silver coins, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death (Small Catechism, and 1 Peter 1:18-19). And in laying down His life as the perfect Lamb of God on the altar of the cross, to render unto God the perfect sacrifice due for your sin and mine. That the image lost in us by sin be restored to us in forgiveness, and that our life which will end in death, be raised to life again – first in Holy Baptism, and then in our resurrection from the grave to eternal life. That even now we live a new life. That even now we begin to give ourselves, living a Christ life, an image of God life.

It’s never about money with Jesus. That’s just the symptom, not the problem. It’s about the cross. It’s about life in the midst of death. It’s about false gods and false life versus the true God and eternal life.

And so you render to God the things that are God’s when you come here in repentance and faith to receive His forgiveness, His life, His Spirit. And you render to God the things that are God’s when you take that forgiveness, life, and Spirit here received in faith and serve your neighbor in love. Being, as St. Paul said, imitators of him and the apostles, and of the Lord.

As long as you live in this world, you live in two kingdoms. And you render unto Caesar, but knowing that you don’t belong to Him. You belong to God. To the one who created you and re-created you. Who bought you with a price. For not on coins did He put His image, but on you. And not for a worldly kingdom did He die, but for you. That you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness (Small Catechism).

And so now for you He comes once again in the bread and wine of His Supper, that eating His Body and drinking His Blood, His image be renewed in you and His life and love strengthened in you through the forgiveness of your sins. Giving you all that He is and all that He has, that with He in you and you in Him, you begin to live now that life that has no end. And with His Name on you and His Spirit in you, that is exactly the life you do live!

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 18 Sermon.

Mariology

The recent post on “The Pope on Luther” led to a discussion of Luther’s views of Mary, in which noted Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in.  (I am continually amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He cited evidence that Luther had a relatively “Catholic” view of Mary  early in his career, though after the Diet of Worms, in 1521.  (The source of that evidence was somewhat confused, though, which the discussion helped to sort out.)

One of the issues was the “immaculate conception,”  the Roman Catholic teaching that by a direct miracle of God the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.  This is an interesting example of the Roman Catholic theological method, as distinct from how virtually all Protestants “do” theology.  The teaching is not arbitrary dogma, or the exaltation of tradition, or an extension of Mary-worship, or “popish superstition.”  Rather, it is a logical conclusion based on reason, as practiced by scholastic theology.

The chain of reasoning goes like this:  In order to redeem the world, Jesus Christ had to be without sin.  He certainly lived a sinless life.  But he also needed to be without original sin as inherited from Adam.  Jesus took His human nature from being born of the Virgin Mary, not having a human father.  Somehow, though, He could not have inherited Adam’s fallen nature, with its inherent sinfulness, its genetic (we would say) disposition to sin,  the accompanying curses of the Fall.  Therefore, the mother of Jesus must not bear that fallen nature.   She was conceived in the normal manner–not as another virgin birth, with which the doctrine is often confused–but, through a miracle, “immaculately.”

That Mary did not have original sin means that she also did not suffer under the curse of the Fall.  This explains the tradition that she did not feel the pains of labor.  It also explains the bookend Catholic dogma the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  If she did not have original sin, she could not die, so must have been taken up bodily into Heaven.

These notions sound strange to Protestant ears, but they grow out of the Roman Catholic approach to theology, which supports and extends revealed truth with flying buttresses of reason.

Now one might believe these things of Mary without  seeing her as a mediatrix between human beings and Christ, without praying to her, and without seeing her as a co-redemptrix.  One could believe Mary was free of original sin and that she was received bodily into Heaven while still being evangelical, as Luther evidently did in 1521.

But the Protestant theological method, which derived from Luther, uses not reason as the primary authority but the Word of God, which is held to be the only authority in theological issues.  The Bible does not mention any of this about Mary, which is presumably would, if, as Rome claims, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are fundamental and necessary dogmas of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in the Magnificat, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, the Mother of our Lord praises God as her “savior,” which implies that she too is in need of salvation.  And she certainly suffered, which Eve in her pre-fallen state did not, as Simeon prophesied to her:  “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

Further, we could argue that Christ’s incarnation and His redemptive work requires that He take upon Himself our fallen nature.  He never sinned even though He shared our fallen flesh.  Thus he became the Second Adam who freed us from the curse.  (I know talking about the two natures of Christ can easily get heretical.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong, and if I am, I recant.)

The third use of the Law

Continuing our series on the Law, in which we discussed the civil use (as curb; that is, external righteousness that makes possible the social order) and the theological use (as mirror; that is, to help us to see our sins so that we repent and turn to the Gospel), we  now come to the so-called Third Use (as guide; that is, to help Christians know the kind of life that pleases God).  This third use has been the topic of some contention in Lutheran circles, with controversies over how best to understand the law in the life of Christians.

What do you think of this explanation by Jono Linebaugh, an Anglican teaching at a Reformed seminary?  (Read the whole post at Tullian Tchividjian’s blog.)

God’s words that accuse and kill typically do their work of condemnation in the form of a commandment attached to a condition. So, for example, when Paul sums up the salvation-logic of the Law he quotes Leviticus 18.5b: “the one who does [the commandments] will live by them” (Gal 3.12). Here, there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citing Deut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is thus the condition that does the work of condemnation. “Ifs” kill!

Compare this to a couple examples of New Testament imperatives. First, consider Galatians 5.1. After four chapters of passionate insistence that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, Paul issues a couple of strong imperatives: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these imperatives instances of God’s accusing and killing words? Are these commandments with conditions? Is Galatians 5.1 an example of Law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the Law; it is an imperative to stand firm in freedom from the Law. Or take another example, John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? Is this Law following the Gospel? No! This would be Law: “if you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

For Luther, it is within this unconditional context created by the gospel, the reality he called “living by faith,” that the Law understood as God’s good commands can be returned to its proper place. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the Law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to commandments, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. In other words, once a person is liberated from the commonsense delusion that acting righteously makes us righteous before God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving and resurrecting word precedes and produces righteous action, then the justified person is unlocked to love.

For this reason, Luther would insist that the Law only applies to the second question of Christian living: what shall we do? It helps to answer the “what” question, the question about the content of good works. The Law, however, does not answer the more basic question, the question far too few people ask: How do good works occur? What fuels works of love? While the Law demands and directs, what delivers and drives? For Luther, the answer to this question always follows the pattern of 1 John 4.19: “We love because he first loved us.” Works of love flow from prior belovedness. Thus, as Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has said, the essential question of theological ethics is this: “What has been given?” The answer: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).

Recognizing this distinction between the conditional and condemning function of the Law and the descriptive and directive statement of God’s will addressed to the unconditional context of faith in the God who justifies the ungodly is essential for understanding the purpose and place of New Testament imperatives, not to mention the Ten Commandments. The proper pattern is always “in view of God’s mercies…” (Rom 12.1), or as Luther pointed out with respect to the Decalogue, the pattern is the opening promise: “I am the Lord your God…” (Exod 20.2). In other words, the ears of faith are free to hear a commandment without a condition because the Christian conscience listens not to the condition and curse of the Law, but to the Christ in whom there is no condemnation (Rom 8.1).

via Tullian Tchividjian.

The second use of the Law

Let’s do a series on God’s Law. . . .Last time we discussed the first use of the Law, the civil use.  The second is the theological use, the confrontation with God’s demands that makes us realize our sinfulness and our desperate need for the Gospel.

When we read a book, we might consider how we situate ourselves as readers.  That is, in the case of a novel, whom do we identify with?  What side of the conflict do we see ourselves on?  Who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, and which are we?

In the reading the Bible, we tend to identify with the “good guys” and scorn the villains.  We can also situate ourselves as external observers, learning various truths from the text and gleaning useful lessons for our lives.  That’s well and good.  But to gain the most benefit from God’s Word we might situate ourselves differently.  Read the text so that it accuses you.  So that you recognize that you are the bad guy.  That the judgments against sinners apply to you.

When I read the Old Testament, with its seemingly odd prohibitions and harsh punishments, I see that all of the death penalties recorded in the old and superceded covenant are for things I have committed!  I have disobeyed my parents and so, by these standards, deserve to be stoned.  I have committed idolatry and so deserve to die the death.  I am Abihu, presuming to come into God’s holy presence on my own terms rather than His.  I am the wicked Canaanites.  I am the rebellious children of Israel.  I deserve the death penalty that I will eventually receive.

When I read the New Testament, I do not just learn about Jesus so that I can emulate Him and answer the question “what would Jesus do?”   I know I should do that, but in all honesty I find that His is a standard that staggers my best efforts.  When I read the Beatitudes, I realize that I am not poor in spirit or pure in heart or a peacemaker and that I am not blessed.

The Bible, read in this way, terrifies me.  But then in the Old Testament, my horror gives way to God’s constant and unmerited deliverance of His people, to the bloody charnel house that was the Temple with its sacrifices for sin, to the promises that God will send a Savior who will bear my iniquity and heal me with His stripes.  And then in the New Testament, my dismay at Christ’s example gives way to marveling at His work of Redemption and free forgiveness in His Cross and Resurrection. And I realize that He is poor in spirit and pure in heart and a peacemaker and that I am blessed after all in Him.

Sometimes I read the Bible–or hear it preached–in other ways, as information or as a learner, but I am always in need of repentance and of depending on Christ more and more.  So I am always in need of the second use of the Law.

(Any other insights or applications regarding the Second Use of the Law?)

 

The first use of the Law

We’ve talked about the second use of the Law (which convicts us of our sin and drives us to the Gospel) and the third use of the Law (its role in the Christian life).   But we have perhaps neglected the first use of the Law, the civil use, which restrains external evil so as to make life in society possible.   The civil use doesn’t save anyone, and it isn’t even religious as such, applying to all people whether they are believers or not.  But the civil use would seem to govern the extent and limits of Christian political involvement.

We ARE to promote civil righteousness in the social order–opposing abortion, working for justice, fighting corruption, protecting families, etc., etc.  That does NOT mean we are trying to impose our religion on anyone, much less trying to seize power to bring on a Christian utopia.   It does NOT politicize the church.  In the civil arena, we battle abortion in an effort to restrain our sinful impulse to kill our own children; in the church, though, we bring forgiveness to women and doctors who have committed abortion.  Furthermore, believing in the first use of the Law does NOT mean just going along with whatever happens in the civil order, as some have mistakenly interpreted the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.  Those who believe in no morality at all are not following the first use.  The first use of the Law would seem to govern issues such as gay marriage, legalized euthanasia, and other controversial issues in the public square.

This is my understanding of the first use of the Law.  Do I have it right?  Am I missing anything?   How else could this doctrine be applied?


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