You Tube Videos I’ve Now Done

Still not really blogging for the summer, but decided to put some of the videos I’m doing for a class up on You Tube. Here are #1-4 (will be 14 total). After the intro (#1), they basically go chronologically through parts of the biblical text. I don’t expect to become a regular You Tuber, but hope you enjoy taking a look…

Web Media #1 — Introduction to Historic Biblical Christianity

Web Media #2 — Man’s Fall and God’s Promise

Web Media #3 — Whose Side are You On? The God Who Divides.

Web Media #4 — Is it God’s Responsibility to Do Good?


Feedback about how these could be improved welcome. I’m on a limited budget though. : )



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Posted by on June 6, 2019 in Uncategorized


C.F.W. Walther’s Talk on God’s Law and My Talk on God’s Law

The measure of very little.


(Note: my last post for a while. Summer break…)


I don’t mean that statement as praise of what we today call “human beings”.

I mean that both in the sense of quiet exclamation and as a key topic of this post….

I’m talking about W. H. T. Dau’s Preface to C.F.W. Walther’s Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.

Yes, it was written way back in 1928, but nevermind that… I was glad to take this ride again, and if follows below for you too.

You will find that there is some very strong “second use of the law” here (that is, the law as a mirror that shows us our sins): the concrete sins addressed below being those of the first table of the Ten Commandments (in sum, we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things…)

I’ve put in italics things that stand out to me, given recent discussions and debates in the Confessional Lutheran world…

“When I hear Nadia Bolz-Weber, I hear the Gospel” — many a “conservative Lutheran” a couple years ago. Today?


In sum, I find all of that which follows to be rather excellent. While Dau does not allude directly to the fact that a conscience can be seared, an important topic that is little discussed today, I note he does say this: “[fallen man] loved to cheat himself by believing that he was complying with the Law of God, which he had grossly changed by his wanton misrepresentations….”

To be sure though, ultimately, this too, is true:

“No single or concerted effort of lawless spirits and men can put [the moral law] out of commission.”

Again though, as I think Dau alludes to above, this does not mean that the Law of God – not just a general sense that there is indeed a God and a right and wrong that we should apply to all – cannot become increasingly suppressed, ignored, denied, in the hearts and minds of most in this or that people… In other words, as he says, the “Law of God,” which they might tell themselves they are complying with has been altered more and more….

Hatred of God, His Christ, and His Kingdom grows… even as all kinds of nice things are said about Jesus in this or that context. I submit that unless we give real attention to the progressive sanctification Dau alludes to, we will, increasingly, go with that flow.

Whether it be outside or inside the church we know…

In these last days, I do indeed recommend reading the whole of Walther’s great work, freely available here. And please – don’t believe for a minute that he was the forebearer of the “Gospel reductionism” and “antinomianism” that is now engulfing us more and more…

And here also, as promised, is a bit from the recent talk I gave on the Law’s “Third Use” in the context of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I hope you find the short outline helpful…

Let’s jump into Dau’s great introduction of Walther’s great work….


The treatise which is herewith offered to the public will be found, in the last analysis, to be a searching study of the will of God as related to the will of man.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures teach us that the will of God is directed towards man along two distinct lines. While the divine will itself is always one and never self-contradictory, it operates from distinct purposes and for distinct ends. But no matter how it operates, the element of man’s sin is always a factor in its operations. The will of God is related to the possibility and actuality of man’s sinning and exerts itself in two peculiar ways, against man’s sin and all its effects, by denouncing, opposing, fighting, and destroying them.

In the first place, God has willed, is now willing, and will never cease willing, that man shall not sin. Sin is the absolute negation of that moral rule and order which God has set up for the universe that He created and in which He placed man as His foremost creature. Sin is lawlessness and constitutes the doer thereof a rebel against the righteous rule of His sovereign Lord.

God created man in His own image. That means that the original human being whom the almighty Maker of heaven and earth and all their substance fashioned from a clod of earth and made a living soul by breathing into him the breath of life, — that this original, primeval man was holy and righteous as his Creator is. He was holy because His entire being, body, soul, and spirit, with all their faculties and functions throughout man’s life on earth, were consecrated solely and entirely to the service of God in whatever station the divine Ruler might place him or to whatever task He might appoint. He was righteous because his essence and actions were in perfect conformity with the will of his Maker. His human intellect, will, and affections were at no point out of harmony with the divine intellect, will and affections. God had put the attributes of holiness and righteousness which exist in him as His very essence into man as created gifts and as reflections of that perfection which exists in Him essentially.

God has worked into the very nature of man the rule of right — of being right and doing right. This rule has been permanently fixed in man. St. Paul says it is “written” in man’s heart. Even sin does not wholly eradicate it; for the pagans, who are without a divine code of law, still do “by nature” the things contained in the code of Law which God published at a later time. Accordingly, what God is by a law of His own and in autonomous fashion, that man is to be by submitting to his divine Ruler and Potentate and in a heteronomous fashion. In God, holiness and righteousness are the characteristics of the one Sublime, Sovereign Being, to whom no one can issue a command or lay down a law. In man, holiness and righteousness are concreated characteristics of an intelligent creature of God that was made dependent upon, and subaltern to, God, of a being that was never meant to be a law unto himself or the sole arbiter of his volitions, judgments, and desires, or answerable to no one for what he might choose to do.

Of this fact, that a divine norm of holiness and righteousness is implanted in him, man is made aware by a faculty which his Maker created for him when he made man in His likeness. This faculty is called the conscience in man. It is the natural, instinctive ability of man to apply the divine rule of right to himself, to his moral state, at any given moment of his existence and to any action of his or to any failure to act when action is demanded of him. While the divine norm of right implanted may be viewed as a judge who measures actions by the law and the testimony of witnesses and renders a decision, declaring a person guilty or not guilty.

Furthermore, man is made conscious by the forces of nature that he is living in a moral universe. This great, wide world and its history through nearly sixty centuries is a witness of God’s sovereign rule over man and serves only for the glory of God. Its powers are spent for the benign purposes of the great Creator; its forces move in a heavenly rhythm to silent laws which He made for them. Man discoveres that this world was not made to sin in; that even the laws of nature resist the effort to sin, and the brute and inanimate creatures rebel, as it were, against being pressed into service to sin. Man finds out that it is really more proper, easier, and more advantageous not to sin in a world like ours and that under existing conditions a person invariably makes life here hard for himself and others by sinning. Fully to suit sinners, the world would have to be made over again.

The divine norm of right concreated in the first human being and transferred in the course of natural propagation from him to all his descendants was afterwards published in writing in the form of “Ten Words,” or commandments, and delivered by Moses to the chosen people of Israel, whom God has made the standard-bearers of the norm of righteousness in a morally decaying world, and the keepers of His oracles which from time to time He communicated to mankind through inspired writers. These Ten Words, or the Decalog, which were published more than two thousand yours after the creation of Adam, formed the subject of many a discourse delivered to the followers of the true God in Old Testament times by their prophets, teachers, priests, lawyers, and scribes and in New Testament times by Jesus Christ and His apostles. The inspired records of all those deliverances is called “the Law” in Holy Scripture and in the theological literature of the Church.

The unwritten law in men’s hearts and the conscience have revealed their existence in the efforts of natural man to do right, to lead an upright life, to serve his fellow-men and his country, to practice the virtue of religiousness and the domestic and civil virtues. The laws of nations, the ethical codes of society, are emanations and manifestations of the ineradicable notion of right and wrong implanted in man’s heart, or of the natural Moral Law. The fearful operations of this Law are also exhibited in every device which the retributive justice of legislators and courts has set up for the punishment of wrong-doing and the protection of the good. Furthermore, the terrors of the Law are produced in every human heart under the smitings of the conscience, which rivets his guilt upon the wrong-doer. The nemesis exhibited in the old Greek drama, in Shakespeare, and in every great drama since is nothing else than the cry of despair wrung from guilty souls by the accusing and damning conscience.

The Moral Law, in both its unwritten and written form, is made ever-enduring. No single or concerted effort of lawless spirits and men can put it out of commission. There will never be a time while this universe lasts when men will not feel the power of the Moral Law in their private and public lives; nor will the Moral Law ever lack advocates, defenders, and champions amidst the growing corruptions of the decadent world hastening to its final collapse. To the end of all things, up to the bar of the last assizes, and beyond the crack of doom the holy and righteous will of God will be asserted throughout eternity by the rightly reprobated in their endless, legally inflicted misery and by the Righteous One in heaven, who has made Himself the end of the Law to all who believe in Him.

“The end of the Law,” — is Paul really justified to apply a phrase like that to an interminable matter like the divine rule of right and wrong? Yes; for God, who maintains His moral rule over men forever through the expression of His holy and righteous will in the Law, has willed, in the second place, that the breakers of His Law shall be given another chance to become righteous in His sight. The Hater of sin and sinners (Rom. 5, 10; Eph. 2, 3) is at the same time the Lover of sinners, and He has declared His good and gracious intentions to the breakers of His Law by the same serious, energetic, and complete will which has been expressed in His holy and righteous Law.

This second manifestation of the will of God for the secure of sinners from the fatal effects of their sinning, viewed from our position in time and space, has occurred after, and in consequence of, sin’s coming into the world. To us this second manifestation of the divine will looks like an after thought, somewhat like this: After beholding the wreckage which the sinner has made of the original plan of the Creator concerning him, the Creator, instead of inflicting inexorably the condign punishment with which He had threatened the sinner, arrested Himself, as it were, in His avenging act and proposed to the sinner a way of escape from the doom of temporal corruption and eternal destruction which the sinner had merited. But this view would not be altogether correct.

To God nothing is an accident. He knows events before they occur, and He determines beforehand the limits of each happening. While in no causal relation to sin, God had forseen in eternity its entrance into the world and in eternity had prepared those safeguards against the ravages of sin which He afterwards proclaimed in the form of compassionate, merciful comforting promises which He made to men in their ruined condition under sin. How these two forms of the divine will can coexist in God passes our comprehension, but that they always do exist in God at the same time, God has declared throughout His written revelation. In fact, the entire Bible which He breathed into the holy writers, from Moses to John, is nothing else than a continuous account and exposition of both His holy and righteous and His good and gracious will. While the former has been called the Law, the latter has been given the endearing name of the Gospel, that is, the goodly, or godly, spell, or tale — so good that it could only come from God. The entire Scriptures, which are chronologically divided into the Old and the New Testaments, are topically, or logically, divided into the Law and Gospel, both of these running through both Testaments.

In expounding to sinners His good and gracious will, God has stated in detail what all He purposes to do in order to help the sinner out of His sinful state. He has declared that in this divine endeavor to reclaim the sinner the entire holy Trinity is to be at work. As the manifestation of the holy and righteous will is a manifestation by the entire Deity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so the manifestation of the good and gracious will embraces an account, not only of the loving and gracious counsel of God in eternity, but also of the redeeming work performed by the Son of God and the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost here in time. The contents of the Gospel have been enumerated by Christians it the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed, as the contents of the Law have been condensed in the Ten Commandments.

The Gospel, then, represents a profoundly thoughtful, elaborate, and orderly scheme of God to bring renegade man out of his rebel condition under sin into a state of loyalty to God under the Gospel. The sinner’s rescue from his wretched condition by God’s Gospel plan consists in this, that the sinner is told not only that God loves him in spite of his sin, but that He so loves the sinner, who is by nature a child of wrath, as to sacrifice His own Son for him and to send the Holy Spirit into his heart to produce in him repentance over his sins and faith in the divine forgiveness of his sins. The love of God for sinners of which the Gospel speaks is not like the easy-going attitude which an indolent and indulgent parent assumes to his libertine son, when he tells him not to bother his mind about his wrong-doing and its consequences, to forget it, and to consider himself still loved by his doting sire. No; the redemptive love of God works in conjunction with the righteousness and holiness of God. These divine attributes which God expounded to man in the Law are not put out of commission by the love of God, but without destroying the sinner, as He has threatened to do, God by His redeeming love finds a way to meet the demands which God’s righteousness and holiness make upon man and to execute the lawful punishment which the sinner has incurred by breaking God’s Law. God sent His Son, coequal and coessential with Himself, on earth in the form of a human being. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was made man and placed under the Law that had been issued to man for the purpose of fulfilling it in man’s place. Through the sinless life of Christ on earth under every condition and in every relationship which the Law of God determines for man, a treasurer of righteousness has been accumulated that balances even with all the demands of the divine Law. This treasure Christ did not collect for Himself; for He was in no need of it, being both the holy and righteous God and a holy and righteous man, who never did the least wrong in thought, word, or deed. This treasure was designed by God to be given away to every sinner as his own and to be regarded by God as the sinner’s righteousness. In other words, God in His love decreed that the sinner, who had lost the original righteousness in which he had been created and who had spent his life in unrighteousness, should be made righteous by proxy, viz., by the foreign righteousness of the Son of God, who had spent His earthly life under the Law as the sinner’s Substitute, in the sinner’s place.

Furthermore, the sinless, impeccable Christ, at the end of His sojourn among men, suffered death, which no one has to undergo except sinners; for death is the wages of sin. There is only one explanation of the death of the incarnate Son of God — it is substitutive, or vicarious, just like His life under the Law. Jesus died the death which sinners had deserved to die, and by His redeeming love, God purposes to regard the death of His Son as the death which He would have to inflict upon every sinner for breaking His Law.

The Gospel, then, embraces the entire work of Christ on earth, as the evangelical Teacher of men, as their evangelical High Priest, who makes atonement for their iniquities, and as their evangelical Regent, who sets up a new rule in their rebellious hearts by the power of His love.

By his first sinful act man had not only changed his relation to God from that of a loyal subject and loving friend to that of a mutinous rebel and hating enemy, but he had also changed his spiritual condition. The first sin was evidence that the human intellect, will, and affections no longer functioned as they had in the state of innocence; they had become blind, crooked, perverse, disorderly. Out of this changed condition other sinful acts kept springing up, and this condition was passed on from father to child by natural propagation. The blight which had fallen on the bright intellect, the strong will, and the correct desires of Adam and Even in the fatal hour of their first disobedience was inherited by their descendants.

Fallen man no longer understood fully the will of God, no longer purposed to live according to that will, no longer desired to please God. Despite the thundering accusations of the divine Law and his conscience against him he continued to live for his pleasures and defied God continually. But he loved to cheat himself by believing that he was complying with the Law of God, which he had grossly changed by his wanton misrepresentations. He managed to consider himself passing fair and even better in God’s sight, and he suppressed the misgivings and scruples that would arise in him by reckless indifference or licentiousness or by increased hypocrisy. Of the divine Law, then, he still retained a partial knowledge, but had no inclination sincerely to live up even to his partial knowledge, and of the divine Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake he could have no knowledge, for by nature no man knew of this divine plan of salvation.

The good and gracious will of God, then, had to embrace this kindness, that, after His Son had completed His work of redemption in the sinner’s place on earth, God sent His Holy Spirit to men by means of His Word. The Holy Spirit was to lead men to a true knowledge of their wretched and hopeless condition as lawbreakers and lead them to genuine spiritual sorrow over their sins, crush their natural conceit and stubbornness, and make them contrite. Next He was to make them understand the wonderful kindness of God in sending His Son to be their Savior; He was to make them accept by an act of faith the work of Christ as performed in their place, and then teach them to lead holy and righteous lives from gratitude to God and after the pattern of Christ’s life, until God would advance them after a life of progressive sanctification to be coheirs of Christ in everlasting glory.

Since God confronts man at all times both by His holy and righteous and by His good and gracious will, He wants him to understand clearly at any moment of his life on earth what his relation to God is when measured by either will. This is a task easy enough to grasp intellectually, but quite difficult to carry out amid the vicissitudes of a life in a world steeped in wickedness and with a body every prone to sin. The task is to keep the Law and the Gospel of God strictly apart, using either for the better understanding of the other, but never mingling the teaching of the one into that of the other.

Dr. Walther’s treatise on this subject has been reproduced in this volume. It is one of the most searching disquisitions of the vitals of a truly Christian life. The reader will find in this treatise amazing insights opened up for him into his own inner life and that of other Christians and fellow-men in general.

  1. H. T. Dau
    Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind.,
    Thanksgiving Day, 1928.



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Posted by on May 16, 2019 in Uncategorized


I Don’t Know if You Noticed All My Werner Elert Tweets….

A false structure: “[Law and Gospel] are against each other as life and death” (Werner Elert, quoted on page 316 of CPH’s 2017 “so-called 3rd use of the law” book, The Necessary Distinction).


Gerhard Forde a problem? Well, somebody needs to look at this Werner Elert guy more! This post exists just in case you missed all my recent tweets… : )

As I prepared for the recent talk that I gave at the 2019 Congress on the Lutheran Confessions in Bloomington MN (presented by the Association of Confessional Lutherans National Free Conference No. 30 and the Luther Academy Lecture Series No. 26), titled “The Third Use of the Law, ‘Seminex,’ and Today: Fatal Denial,” I learned a lot more about the massive influence that the 20th century theologian Werner Elert had on the self-proclaimed moderate LC-MS folks.

Elert was considered a conservative Lutheran theologian in his native Germany, but note some of these short clips I uncovered regarding his theology, perhaps after looking at a list that appeals to the American mainstream of Confessional Lutheranism today….

Wrong Werner. False structure. “Law denotes our entire reality as the realm ordered by God, but therefore also as a realm of coercion (CE, 81)” (quoted on 312, The Necessary Distinction).


This summer, I intend to discover more about how “faithful” men like these are/were in following Werner Elert, whom they claim as an influence:

I will leave you with this quotation, which you should read slowly, from Edward Schroeder, one of the “Seminex” professors, who studied under Werner Elert and vigorously pushed his [version of his?] theology until his dying day, just a few weeks ago. Already in 1972, Schroeder advocated for women’s ordination, and as early as 2001 was promoting the ordination of men and women in stable gay unions, or relationships….

“The greatest ‘danger’ to the Gospel is the Law.” – Edward Schroeder, summing up Werner Elert as he understood him.


In the early 1950s in the Luth. Church-Missouri Synod [LCMS] Jaroslav Pelikan, young professor at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), was recommending to us students that if we wished to escape Missouri’s “hang-up” with Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures, we should go to Erlangen and study under Elert. Elert’s 2 volume “Morphologie des Luthertums” [literally: The Morphology of Lutheranism], was “epoch-making”–he said–with its presentation of the “Evangelischer Ansatz” [“Gospel-grounding”] for Lutheran confessional theology.

So three of us students “went to Erlangen” for the academic year 1952-53. Bob Schultz, already graduated from Concordia, became Elert’s doctoral candidate. Baepler and I were only half-way through Concordia, but had finagled scholarships to go to Germany for the year. Elert died before Schultz finished his work. He attended Elert’s funeral. Elert’s colleague, Paul Althaus, took over as his “Doktorvater.” Bob’s dissertation (written in German, of course) was a flat-out Elertian theme: “Law and Gospel in Lutheran Theology in the 19th Century.” It was published by Luthersiches Verlagshaus.

Baepler and I were there only for the “Sommersemester” ’53. We all enrolled for Elert’s lectures and seminar. He even invited the three of us over for Kaffeeklatsch one Sunday afternoon, since he appreciated that the pioneer of the Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, had been faithful to law/gospel Lutheranism and had even written a book by that title. At that Kaffeeklatsch Elert agreed to write an article for our Concordia Seminary student theological journal, “The Seminarian”–I can still hear him saying, “Das tue ich!”–which was then published when Dick and I returned to St. Louis. Its title: “Lutheranism and World History.” Most likely it is the one and only Elert article that first appeared in English–and probably never in German. He wrote it, of course, in German and we translated it. It was posted 6 years ago as Thursday Theology #29 in the first year of this enterprise. [If interested GO to the Crossings webpage ( and click on Thursday Theology, December 10, 1998.]

By 1957 all three of us were at Valparaiso University, and were teaching what we had learned, not only to V.U. students, but to the wider Missouri Synod. With Bob Bertram as dept. chair and Gottfried Krodel added to the staff later on, law/gospel Lutheranism became the trademark of “Valparaiso Theology.” So there were 5 of us in one place at one time. We encountered conflict within Missouri, of course, with our teaching and writing. Verbal inspiration and “Evangelischer Ansatz” were not compatible.

This Elertian sort of Confessional Lutheranism, though hardly ever acknowledged as such, was also near the center of the eventual explosion in Missouri in 1973-74 that took place at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and then created “Concordia Seminary in Exile, a.k.a. Seminex. That is, of course, one man’s opinion. Bertram and I were then on the faculty at Concordia–and “Elertian” confessional Lutheranism, already at home there (but hardly majority opinion), got additional support.

The fuse for the explosion was the LCMS national convention in 1973. By a 55% to 45% vote the convention declared the “faculty majority” [45 of the 50 professors at Concordia Seminary] to be “false teachers.” Three false teachings were specified. Two of the three were actually Elert’s own “heresies,” although he was never named. One heresy of the Concordia faculty was called “Gospel-reductionism.” In nickel words: grounding the Bible’s authority on the Gospel itself [ = Elert’s Evangelischer Ansatz] and not on verbal inspiration. The second heresy was on the so-called “third use of God’s law,” a constant hot potato among Lutherans ever since the 16th century. Our “false teaching” on the law’s “third use” was that we opted for Elert’s Gospel-grounded interpretation and not the one the LCMS had supposedly “always” taught.[i]

“Only an inebriated mole would claim that the Missouri Synod is not in theological ferment.” – John Warwick Montgomery, in 1966




[i] “Remembering Werner Elert-Fiftieth Anniversary of his Death,” Thursday Theology #336 (November 18, 2004): For a more detailed account of some of the things that happened with men like Robert Schultz, Bob Bertram, and Edward Schroeder, check out Schroeder’s own account, including a helpful chronology: “Schroeder, Ed: The Holy Spirit in Werner Elert’s Theology” (2016):

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Posted by on May 13, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Notes I’ll Have at Hand to Help Me in Today’s Q and A

“Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.”

— David, in Psalm 1:1,2.



Today, I am blessed to be presenting at this conference. The title of my paper is “The Third Use of the Law, ‘Seminex,’ and Today: Fatal Denial”.

I won’t be able to publish the text of my talk on the blog here, but I will put up an outline with some quotes relatively soon (a week?). I am however, putting up the notes that I’ll be using to assist me in any Q and A today after my talk.

I hope you find them interesting and edifying.

Blessings in Christ,




With the way I am defining the third use of the law, it leaves open the option of gently exhorting and almost pleading (on the basis of the mercies of God), not just killing with the law (2nd use), or rebuking old Adam (“1st use for the Christian”)… This use is only possible because you are dealing with one who has faith in Christ.

The law must be defined as the immutable will of God, and we must preach it to the regenerate as those who are regenerate, fully aware of the sinner-saint battle (this needs to be taught as well). Epitome VI is quite clear that the preacher has a role in this as the “use” of the law is not just how its received (that plays into to hands of Forde… it really gets the focus off the content, i.e. “fixed rule” of the law….)…


Marquart: “Sanctification and good works clearly do not dominate Reformation preaching, but they’re equally clearly an important part of it. This is important because the new creation in us is under constant attack by the devil, the world, and our own flesh. This new creation in us needs encouragement and care! To ignore it, to preach as if we had no new creation in us, but only the wicked old flesh, is to break the bruised reed, and to quench the smoldering wick, contrary to Isaiah 42 (cf. St. Matthew 12:20). We preachers need to encourage our hearers as they battle for what is good and right and God-pleasing in their daily lives.” (emphasis mine)


Walther goes on to quote Luther here: “Paul shows the nature of exhortation, which is only for Christians, when he writes, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God’ (Rom. 12:1). Luther comments ‘He (Paul) does not say: I command you; for he is preaching to those who are already pious Christians, in the new man, through faith, who are not to be forced with commands but rather exhorted so that they willingly do what is to be done with their sinful old man. For whoever does not do it willingly, through friendly exhortation alone, is not Christian. And whoever forces it by laws from the unwilling is already no Christian preacher [but] a worldly jailer. A law-driver urges with threats and rebukes; a grace-preacher draws and encourages with demonstrated divine kindness and mercy. For he wants no unwilling works and unhappy service. He wants joyous and happy service to God. He who is not moved and drawn by such a sweet, dear Word of God’s mercy, granted and given to us so abundantly in Christ, so that he also does it with love and will for God’s glory and his neighbor’s benefit, is nothing and everything is lost on him’ (Church Postille on the Epistle for the First Sunday after Epiphany [Rom. 12:1-5]; Erlangen, VIII, 5f.), 69-70, emphasis mine.


Walther: “As to the apostles, no sooner had their hearers shown that they were alarmed than they seemed to know nothing else to do for them than to comfort them and pronounce absolution to them. Not until that had been done, would they say to their people: ‘Now you must show your gratitude toward God.’ They did not issue orders; they did not threaten when their orders were disregarded, but they pleaded and besought their hearers by the mercy of God to act like Christians” (94, in Law and Gospel).


Luther: “The law is not to be taught in such a way among the pious, so as to accuse and condemn, but so as to admonish to good. . . . The law then is to be attenuated for them and is to be taught them by way of exhortation.” Martin Luther, and Holger Sonntag. Solus Decalogus, (Minneapolis, MN: Lutheran Press, Inc, 2008), 211, 213 ; WA 39/1:474.29–475.2.


For Protestants, preaching has always been a primary component of the church’s life together. Two of the main contributors to the Lutheran “Book of Concord,” Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae gave a clear explanation of what sermons should be all about “in our Lutheran congregations”:

“Preachers should be diligent not to preach in generalities, but always to arrange the material according to these parts: sin; God’s wrath and punishment of sin; contrition, remorse, anxiety of the conscience, etc.; the resolve to abandon and avoid sin; the person of Christ; His office and merit; God’s grace; the forgiveness of sin; faith; the good fruits of faith, such as the good resolve to do better, good works, patience in suffering, etc. This is done so that in the sermons, the teaching may always have its application or accommodation to use, as the doctrine should be used in the best way.”


From Holger Sonntag’s unpublished paper “God’s Last Word”, (available at

“Every deliberate use of the law by the preacher (or the individual Christian) as anything other than stern condemnation is regarded as an attempt to manipulate God’s unchanging Word in order to let the sinner get off easy, a practice that will turn them inevitably into secure Pharisees. We just ought to preach ‘the law’ and then just let the Holy Spirit use it as he wills – a view also upheld by [Scott] Murray.”


Scott Murray’s position: “[the third use of the law] ’gives direction for the impulses of the Christian to do good works’ (14) or, as he states later, ‘The third use is the description of how the Law functions under the Gospel’ (56).  This third use is ‘the use of the Law that applies to Christians after conversion’ (13). Throughout his text Murray defines the “‘Law’ as God’s ‘objective and eternally valid legal code’ (44 et passim).” in Matthew Becker, “Murray’s Law, Life, and the Living God (Review Article)”,

In his book, Murray also talks about Hermann who “took the Law out of the hands of God and set it in the hands of unholy humans.” He then talks about how “humans proclaim the law. God uses it.” Murray, Law, Life and the Living God, 66.


Werner Elert, with more confusing theology: “Law is not moral prescriptions, but is instead the ominous destiny that hangs over every sinner’s head.”


Werner Elert, who stated that “[a]ccording to the Law the hope for reward and the fear of punishment are legitimate motives for the keeping of it.” Since Elert saw the law of God entirely through the lens of the first (the political use) and second use of the law (the theological, or pedogogical use), this might seem to make some real sense. The third use, after all, speaks to the renewed man, not the unregenerate one who operates “from fear of punishment or desire for reward” (FC VI:16). And yet, note here that if Elert really believes what he is saying, he has gotten the second use of the law flat-out wrong! And is it not true that in even a missionary and pastoral context, using the law to convict of sin necessarily entails not only talking about sins that “hit home with” and are relevant to the one being preached to, but also talking about a lack of fear, love, and trust in God as well?


Don’t accept cheap law substitutes. Is the law really good, or is it just “good” in the sense that follows?:

In the end, this also all relates to the atonement, and ideas like those of Gerhard Forde, who believe that Jesus was “justly accused by God’s law”. See more on this in my post: “Jesus Became Sin – But Did He Also Become a Sinner According to God’s Law?” What it comes down to is this: Christ ends up a damned sinner, “defeated” by that most coercive and even killing of forces: the merciless “order keeping” law! What do I mean? By “order keeping” I mean something like this: law is not necessarily associated first and foremost – or at all! — with God’s law, the 10 commandments, but is rather anything which provides boundaries, “makes life work,” and keeps peace – all good things! What really is true, right, and just may not even need to be considered here, as this story from a good friend of mine illustrates: “In Kindergarten I was accused of and punished for throwing a snowball at recess. I had not done it. Oddly enough, 45 years later, it still kind of hurts to think about. In other words, even though I was not guilty of the sin for which I was punished, there was significant suffering involved on my part. I didn’t need to be the sinner to suffer for the sin of whoever did commit that sin. Although that is what I, for all intents and purposes, became. And justice was served. The boy hit by the snowball in the face, and his parents, were satisfied. The teacher and principal upheld the law. My classmates learned from my experience.” By “merciless,” I mean that the law, though “good” in an earthly sense, ultimately fails because it does not have the good of particular persons in mind – even Jesus!…


Clearly the concrete Christian learns. An issue here though, I think, is whether or not the Christian as Christian is ever educated as Christian, as inner man. Yes, He is never educated where one attempts to coerce him by way of compulsion, but what about where education in God’s law is attempted as information earnestly presented for the good of the neighbor, in line with how and why we were created? I realize the part about the new man being like the planets that run their course appears to challenge this line of interpretation….

“And, indeed, if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit, so that in their nature and all its powers they were entirely free from sin, they would need no law, and hence no one to drive them either, but they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction, admonition, urging or driving of the Law, what they are in duty bound to do according to God’s will; just as the sun, the moon, and all the constellations of heaven have their regular course of themselves, unobstructed, without admonition, urging, driving, force, or compulsion, according to the order of God which God once appointed for them, yea, just as the holy angels render an entirely voluntary obedience.” (emphasis mine)

Lange says that “According to Luther, the new man (Christian qua Christian) is a complete and perfect creature in which the believer (Christian in concreto) strives to be found through faith in Christ Jesus.” Lange, Jonathan G. 1994. “Using the Third Use: Formula of Concord VI and the Preacher’s Task.” Logia 3 (1): 19–25. Elert says “insofar as the regenerate are empowered by the Holy Spirit, they do not need the law at all.” Elert, Werner. 1949. “The Third Use of the Law.” The Lutheran World Review 1 (3): 38–48. I note that in each case this not what the text says in the Formula of Concord (or, with Lange’s quote, the sermon of Luther’s that FC VI mentions). Regarding Elert, if he were interested in comporting with FC VI, he should have said something like: “insofar as the regenerate are completely renewed by the Holy Spirit…” Most accurately, the text is dealing with a hypothetical. If the regenerate were completely renewed…. See also Eggold, Henry J, Jr. 1963. “Third Use of the Law.” Springfielder 27 (1): 15–23, who makes the same point. And Ken Schurb also refutes Elert’s claim that Melanchthon said that the Christian needed the law insofar as he was a new man in Christ. Ken Schurb, Philip Melanchthon, the Formula of Concord, and the Third Use of the Law (PhD diss., Ohio State University, 2001), 142.

Digging into FC VI more, what makes this statement from FC VI very interesting is the point that no instruction would be needed if this were the case (which it most definitely is not!). Does the phrase “completely renewed” go hand-in-hand with innocence – or, instead perfection (i.e. completeness, maturity?). On the one hand, one can make a case for innocence, in that “completely renewed” is explained in part by the phrase “entirely free from sin”. One does not need to be mature to be entirely free from sin, even if one might need this, perhaps, to be free from temptation! In any case, I suggest that, biblically speaking, it makes sense to think of it as going hand-in-hand with totally maturity, and hence the FC uses the important phrase “completely renewed” here. Critical here is the fact that the boy Jesus learns and grows, matures… (see pastor Paul Strawn’s sermon on this here:… and is perfected. And presumably, instruction from the word of God, in part from the law, has something to do with this! (or did Jesus never learn anything from his parents or teachers?). And of course He was always completely a new man, even prior to being a completely mature new man!

And if this is the case, what then, might this mean for us and our growth? Again, “completely renewed” in this life, is, in the end, not a possibility, for it suggests total maturity before heaven, where, because of the Word of God which we have learned in our heart though the Holy Ghost (and how does this begin to get there if not through instruction in this life from other persons who give us God’s, not their, teaching?), we “do freely of themselves what God requires of them, by the prompting and impulse of the Holy Ghost, just as the sun of itself, without any [foreign] impulse, completes its ordinary course…”

Again, I note that this whole section from FC VI is a thought experiment, and one which, it seems, is ultimately not very helpful for our current debate. As it stands, I think insisting on statements “[t]he Christian is both old and new simultaneously. We are not old and new partly but wholly,” (Mattes, Mark C. 2005. “Beyond the Impasse: Re-Examining the Third Use of the Law,” 275) close off discussions concerning the nature of Christian anthropology that need to happen (see the paper from Paul Strawn summed up and linked to here: “The Saint-Sinner Christian Life: Driving out the Sin that Remains,”, as well as my paper “Paradise Regained: Placing Nicholas Hopman’s Lex Aeterna Back in Luther’s Frame.”


My blog post: Top Ten Law Sections of the New Testament Epistles That Can Encourage the Christian

Christian brothers and sisters who want to talk all the time about “radical grace”… now please don’t get me wrong.

I think I understand pretty well why you want to do what you do. Therefore, let me make some things very clear from the get-go:

  • There are passages in the New Testament Epistles that almost always[i] encourage the Christian because they are about what God, in His great love, has done for us in the life of Jesus Christ. They are specifically constructed to give us this gift, help us remember and reflect on this gift, and tell us who we are by this gift, and we find ourselves, first and foremost, receiving or passively consenting to these truths in joy. I’m not going to deal with these “pure Gospel” passages.
  • There are passages in the New Testament Epistles, even outside of Romans 1-3[ii], that tend to condemn us. They tell us as Christians to avoid sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, that we, since we remain sinners until we die (that’s why we die!), always continue to entertain at some level. As they tell us what not to do, they deal with God’s law. I’m also not dealing with these below.
  • Regarding what I do deal with below, these passages tell us what to do (therefore they are also rightly called “law”). Please note that I am not saying that I am empowered by these words that follow. They, in fact, also at times bring a very strong sense of condemnation in me!

But you see, I do know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which does empower me. Which does motivate me. Which – since it has, thanks be to God, been driven into me like a nail – does change me from the inside out (Eph. 3:16, 2 Cor. 4:16).

This makes all the difference.

(speaking of exclamation points, in what follows, I removed lots of explanation points from my original draft. Feel free to add them yourselves!).

And I know that many of you “radical grace” persons also know this Gospel — this breath-taking-ly amazing good news. Jesus Christ has rescued us from this “passing-away” world, this “present age”, death, the devil, ourselves…. He has died for the sins of the whole world – even ours. Even mine. Through Him, we have been adopted into the family of God and are His own precious child.

Amazing! (I left that explanation point in)

And insofar as we are new in Christ, we are a new man. And qua new man, we know that these commands are exactly the kinds of word our flesh, our old man, our “old Adam,” needs.

We need to put that self that is dying, that false self — that being who clings to what Peter calls “the empty way of life” – down (see Gal. 5:16-17).

Me to – as an individual part of that body. It’s like Paul said in Gal. 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Mystery of mysteries. Grace of graces. I, like Paul, want to live in Christ to!

In His way.

As a new creation raised to new life who delights in His holy will! His lex aeterna.

For He is good and holy, and I want to be this to! Not so that I can be accepted before Him, but because He, through Christ’s blood and righteousness, has accepted me! As Christ was and is, so shall we be.[iii]

Therefore, that we may be His hands for the sake of all our neighbors whom He dearly loves, I give you these fine words that remind us who we are in Him – and who we are becoming… are to become.

And – of course – what He desires for our neighbor to become in Christ by faith as well.

(I’ve also italicized some of the parts that either explicitly or implicitly refer back to the Gospel which grounds all such exhortations)

  1. II Thesalonians 3:7-10

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

Comment: OK, I’ll admit it. This comment encourages me because that last sentence gives me some “teeth” when it comes to dealing with my sometimes ungrateful and lazy children. Oh, and that describes me to sometimes, doesn’t it?

  1. Philippians 2:14-16

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Comment: That first phrase really smacked me down the other day. Sometimes, I complain and grumble a lot, and that is clearly not an attractive quality. I like the idea of being able to leave that behind completely, and evidently, the watching world likes that idea as well. It’s encouraging to think that God knows this is hard for us, wants us to be honest, and yet will give us the hope and strength in Christ to make progress even now. Down old Adam! Shut up with your whining! The neighbor depends on your fearing and trembling! (see previous verse) I have all things in Christ!

  1. I Thessalonians 4:10-12

…we urge you, brothers, to [love one another] more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Comment: The idea of living quietly and working with one’s hands – to the end that one need not [overly] depend on others but rather give to others, no doubt helping them to do the same – is very appealing, is it not?

  1. Philippians 4:4-8

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[a] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Comment: I love that we are exhorted to not be anxious. Also that we are to think about all these good things that are worthy of praise – even in a fallen, sin-infected world! The Apostle Paul is someone who was clearly familiar with great and praiseworthy things in the Greco-Roman world, and we to can be encouraged to think about God’s goodness and providential working in our own cultural contexts.

  1. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Comment: How would I want others who are concerned that I am ignorant, blind, and misled to treat me? Like this. Hard words are more readily accepted in a relationship where you are convinced that the other person is not trying to “win” or use you – or worse – but to really help you.

  1. 1 Peter 3:15-16

15 .…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Comment: I am glad that we are told to share the hope that we have in Christ with gentleness and respect. Thank God Jesus is God. I am also glad that we are told to defend our faith, because this implies that good reasons can be given to others, which in turn implies that God values the rational intellect in service to Him.

  1. Ephesians 4:1-4

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Comment: We are told here to maintain, or keep, or treasure that unity that we are given by Christ and His Spirit (through His word). Contra the impressions given by many “ecumenical” Christians, we are not told to create unity in the church. It is a gift given to us in Christ, and Paul urges us to walk both from this gift and in this gift.

  1. Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Comment: In truth, the whole of what follows in Romans 12 is rather exhilarating. Check it out. Certainly, painting the picture it does, it gives us a glimpse of the kind of love and attitudes we will know in a perfect way in heaven. It sounds quite wonderful. That said, through the blood-bought forgiveness of Christ, we are blessed to receive – and live – a taste of this even now.

  1. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Comment: Correct me if I am wrong, but this verse tells me, in part, that God actually enjoys listening to me – constantly. I get the impression He is even eager to hear from me – all the time. I am just not an annoyance to Him, like I might be with others. To say the least, I am not like that with my own kids.

  1. Ephesians 4:32-5:1,2:

32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Comment: If Matthew 18 is weighing you down, read it alongside this passage. We should forgive as He forgave and continues to forgive us, out of a kind and tender heart of compassion and loyalty – love!

And yes, there are many others that I wanted to include (passages like I Thes. 2:11-13, 5:15; Colossians 4:5-6; Philippians 2:1-2)…. But this is already long enough.

As Christians we don’t live by God’s law — we live by grace through faith in Christ. That said, it’s alright for you to highlight these beautiful commands in your Bibles! In fact, given their rich understanding of the pure Gospel, I submit that Lutheran Christians in particular have a lot to offer fellow believers when it comes to a deeper understanding of Bible passages like these.

What are your top ten encouraging law-sections from the epistles? Feel free to list them below.


[i] As Martin Luther points out in his Antinomian Disputations, sometimes even the good news that Jesus died for our sins can condemn us. Why? Because we recognize that if it were not for our sinfulness – and the actual sins that result from it – Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross. Some might even despair, thinking that their own sins are so great or grievous that they could not be forgiven by God. This to, of course, is the result of a sinful pride, and this is one reason why it is important to speak both of God’s law and His gospel – so the “gospel” doesn’t get “used up” as law so that it can’t serve as real good news.

[ii] Romans 1-3 is constructed specifically with the intent to condemn us by God’s law and “shut us up.” See in particular Romans 3:19-20.

[iii] See all of the passages about perfection/completion referred to in the first footnote of this post.


My last post before this one:

And Now… A Message for Today’s LC-MS Mainstream (Sermon by Nathan Rinne)

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Posted by on May 8, 2019 in Uncategorized


And Now… A Message for Today’s LC-MS Mainstream (Sermon by Nathan Rinne)

Coming soon to an LC-MS church near you. Or already here?



Sermon follows. First, prefatory material to set the stage…

C.F.W. Walther was a giant.

He was the key founder of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LC-MS), and a man of incredible passion for God and His people. In his Pastoral Theology, which was the textbook for all the pastors trained in the Missouri Synod, he offered the following heartfelt plea:

…all true Christians are of such a nature that one can accomplish all kinds of things in them through urgent exhortation. So many preachers accomplish so little in bringing Christians to good works or bringing them away from sinful living because they do not exhort, but rather demand, command, threaten and rebuke. They do not suspect what a powerful weapon they have but do not use. Upright Christians, even if burdened with various weaknesses, do not want to reject God’s word. They want to live for Him Who died for them. They no longer want to serve sin, the world, and the devil. They want to be completely renewed according to the image of God. If they hear in the exhorting preacher the voice of their gracious God, they neither can nor want to oppose it…

Maybe that worked well for Walther, right? Like Jesus said about speaking with authority!

Walther certainly had it in spades…

Years later, however, in the mid-twentieth century, some who followed Walther in church leadership would abandon their post, leaving his fiercely-held convictions far, far behind… Even while creating the impression they were his rightful theological heirs.

These men no doubt appreciated Walther’s zeal, focus on Christ’s love, and palpable pastoral warmth—and they claimed him as their own. Nevertheless they left behind his positions on issues like Biblical inerrancy, the law of God, the Christians’ sanctification, and church fellowship.

Even though we have no reason to think that what we now recognize as Walther’s classic work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, was not graciously and warmly received by his contemporaries, these men begin to make noise about the lack of overall appreciation for Walther’s insights – and to use it as a wedge to push their own views, particularly about the Bible and God’s law (see Edward Schroeder’s candid admissions).

Eventually they threw the Missouri Synod into utter turmoil, illustrated most clearly in the events of the 1960s and 1970s, culminating with “Seminex” and the “Battle for the Bible.”

“The greatest ‘danger’ to the Gospel is the Law.” – Edward Schroeder, summing up Werner Elert as he understood him.


Exactly what happened? The Germanic captivity of the Lutheran church.

In 1948 and 1949, professors from the LC-MS begin to regularly meet with the “best and brightest” German Lutheran theologians in Bad Bol, Gemany. While F.E. Mayer gave the impression that “we went, we talked, we held our own,” (Paul Strawn, here) what really happened was that they were overwhelmed with awe. They found themselves bowing before their world-savvy theological Alphas.

The Germanic heritage of Kant, Schliermacher, Hegel, von Hoffman, Ritschl, Harnack, Heidegger and Elert was just too much….

My pastor, Paul Strawn, give his take on the situation:

The more I study, the more it seems that much of this has to do simply with pride.

Academics are so for they are not only intellectuals, but wish to be seen by the world as intellectuals–especially by other intellectuals! That being so, they must acquiesce academically to the most intellectual in their field. That is, after all, the heart of the endeavor of the scientific community: Who has come up with the latest theory? How right is it? And how must I personally change my point of view to be in continuity with it? This idea holds as true for the field of theology as it does for any other field of academic endeavor.

The end result is that true Christian theology is sacrificed on the altar of academic conceit.

Folks, the ghost of Bad Bol is still with us. And, believe me, the subtle undercutting of God’s law, and the Scriptures, has not gone away.

Don’t kiss any rings.

“After all, the fathers didn’t have the benefits of Kant’s and Hegel’s great revelations; they don’t ‘follow the world’s agenda’; they don’t ‘answer the questions “everybody” is asking nowadays,’ etc.! — Horace Hummel, appropriately pummeling intellectual conceit


If they can’t or won’t answer your honest questions…

if they don’t take kindly to being challenged about potential areas they have compromised…

if they get irritated when you try – deeply aware of your own sin — to gently help and guide others as best you can as you seek to live in the truth of God’s word… (remember I Tim. 4:12)

Then continue to love them and pray for them (and you). But be smart too, you know?

“[O]ne’s confidence is scarcely strengthened in certain would-be leaders and ‘pioneers’ who gleefully chase after almost every new theological miniskirt that chances along…” — Hummel


My friend Matthew Garnett is really smart. He has produced a couple of rousing messages in the past couple weeks, attempting to call large quarters of the LC-MS back to itself. First, on the Messed Up Church site, he gave us “A Warning about Popular Lutheran Teaching,”

And now, expanding on his comment there that “we aren’t Gollum,” he is subjecting contemporary Lutheran conceptions of “the Simul” to necessary scrutiny in his piece at my own blog, “The Disassociated Christian”.

Check these pieces out — if you think you are up for the rollicking ride He provides…

And now, as promised above, it’s my turn…

The following was written as a part of a homiletics class I recently took. Even as I wrote it, I pictured it as a message most appropriate not for the typical Christian congregation, but for a conference of pastors, theologically-inclined laypersons, or even a gathering of professors. I hope it challenges and edifies you.



….the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer….” — Deuteronomy 10:15

(Eighteenth S. after Trinity. Texts: Deut. 10:12–21 Psalm 34:8–22 1 Cor. 1:(1–3) 4–9 Matt. 22:34–46)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Brethren, as Paul says “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge…”

And in our Old Testament text for this day from the book of Deuteronomy, we see a similar word about God’s gracious choice of His people. And we also see another consistency: He has always called on us to be dependent on Him – to submit to Him and obey Him because He has our good in mind:

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

And as Martin Luther put it regarding this passage, it is only “the power of the first commandment,” which is faith, that “may rule and govern all commandments and works”. This certainly isn’t just some external thing we do… outward behaviors…but is rooted in this: for “I am the Lord your God who has delivered you!”

So “Circumsise your hearts!”

Faith begets love which begets this obedience. And today, God hasn’t now–and He didn’t then–give anyone laws which are bad.

Then, as now, following those commandments perfectly, in true faith, would have been the best thing for us and everyone else. Really, not just for the good of God’s people but for the good of all the nations… With the finest law in the land – nay the earth – at that time, Israel was to be a showcase for the nations. Here, in our text, Luther even sees in God’s words “delightful promises of God”: God is not partial! God take no bribe! He executes judgement for the fatherless, the widow! He gives food and clothing to the sojourner!

Brethren in the Lord, not much has changed. Our great God—who chose us—still reigns over all heavens, all other gods, all nations.

He is still the one who regards the least of these, and those not much in this world – you and me. And He still calls us from a life of idolatry to one of complete loyalty to Himself.

So come to the feast and circumcise your hearts!

But wait… wait…. Of course things are a little different now, you might say. With Jesus, parts of God’s law were abrogated after all–and He Himself is the end of the law! We have the insights of Dr. Luther and great men like C.F.W. Walther, who have given us even clearer guidance on what it means to really understand God’s Law and Gospel!

We know that God’s law condemns us and the Gospel frees us! We know that while the law is a force which keeps us in bondage, the Spirit, through the Word of grace, gives us life! We know that even if God’s law might be called sweet, we, being and remaining sinners can never see it that way, and should never fool ourselves into thinking we can see it that way: “there is no sweetness in the law [for us!]” we might dourly think.

Brethen, may it never be!

Jesus is not the end of the law per se, but He is the end of the law for righteousness. Now as then, this is not about our worthiness — let Him who boasts boast in the Lord! Any who seeks Divine Things but find themselves zealous in the wrong way, seeking to be justified by God’s law or even their own Law or Measure, must, if they really will be saved, find their end in Him – the end of their old and empty way of life which is passing away….

They must hear that word which produces faith, that word which gives us the only One who truly lived the life of love God intended, the only One who truly fulfilled the law.

For what do our other texts for the day show us?

In the Gospel lesson, for example, Jesus through His Holy Spirit, not only reveals Himself as the One who teaches with authority the goal, or point of all the commandments – citing His summary of them in loving God and neighbor–but, through His piercing question to the Pharisees, reveals Himself as the Divine Son of David, who, of course, will perfectly fulfill that Law of God.

So in this passage from the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin and exalting Christ, David’s Son whom he calls Lord, the One who fulfilled all the commandments of God on our behalf and for our sake by living the life of love God desires. By His tender mercies, He now calls us to fulfill his law as well.

We are commanded to believe in the Lord Jesus, the One who is vindicated by God and proves the world and its worldliness, with its own laws and its own interpretations of His laws, to be wrong. How? Because as Jesus says He – not you, not me, not them — is going to the Father… [ascending to the Father…] where you can see Him no longer….

The Psalmist tells us too, no doubt thinking about the “great and awesome wonders” of God mentioned in the Deuteronomy text, to “Taste and see that the Lord is good and take refuge in Him!”

And really, how can we not? To whom, after all, shall we go? For we who have been exposed to Him cannot help but see in this Psalm a clear picture of the Lord Jesus, who is indeed the “righteous person [who has] many troubles,” whom the Lord nevertheless “delivers….from them all…” not only “protecting his bones from being broken” but much, much more.

Resurrection. Victory. Ascension.

Listen to Him!

So, with this said, let’s revisit some of the statements I made earlier to which I replied “may it never be!”

I said: “We have the insights of Dr. Luther and great men like C.F.W. Walther, who have given us even clearer guidance on what it means to really understand God’s Law and Gospel.”

Luther indeed said the distinction between Law and Gospel was an exceptionally glorious light and that without it Scripture remained a closed book. This said, none of this means that the Law and Gospel regulate the Scriptures, but the opposite is true – we learn about, we see, law and gospel from the Scriptures. And Luther, of course, was not the first to see this great light—even if he perhaps saw it most vividly—and neither were those claiming His spiritual lineage the first to corrupt it.

Look at our epistle reading, for example. Paul comforts the Corinthians in it, and us today as well, that the Lord desires for us to be kept blameless on the last day. He will provide the means for just this!

For they, as the Apostle says, are called — together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — to be his holy people. As He goes on to say in this letter, they, through the power of God’s Spirit, do not need to be like the Israelites who fell to idolatry, to grumbling, and to sexual immorality in the desert. No. God instructs them now and promises to provide a way out – this “[Holy] Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given by God” (I Cor. 2:12)

The whole of the book of I Corinthians, introduced to us by Paul in our other text, is an urging, on the basis of who they are in Christ, to not be stubborn but to “circumcise [their] hearts,” and renew their faith and trust in Him, the crucified giver of the Holy Spirit.

As Luther puts it: “[Christ]….wants to indicate that because of all the temptations and hindrances we face, nothing is more necessary in Christendom than continued and unceasing prayer that God would give us His grace and Spirit” (on Matt. 7:11)

What about this one I mentioned?: “We know that God’s law condemns us and the Gospel frees us! We know that while the law is a force which keeps us in bondage, the Spirit, through the Word of grace, gives us life!”

Do not be stiff-necked brethren. Remember, the Lord set his affection on your spiritual ancestors and loved them, blessing them with the true teaching of the Lord Jesus and His apostles – and he chose you, their spiritual descendants, above all the nations of this world—as it is today. You are God’s holy nation, His holy people, and you know that from the beginning, God meant all His commands for our good. Even in Eden, God did not mean for His commandment to be some eternal principal or force which would always coerce us and keep us in bondage. Be the law Yin to the Gospel Yang.

No – our ancestors failed as we fail to fear, love, and trust in God above all things! To grow in the “very goodness” of creation – the truly spiritual life that God had blessed us with. If we dare to call God’s law a “negative force” it is because we have become negative in our sins, in sin, corrupting ourselves, corrupting our nature, and with it our views of God’s law, which is always fulfilled in love.

What about that last phrase I mentioned? “We know that even if God’s law might be called sweet, we, being and remaining sinners can never see it that way, and should never fool ourselves into thinking we can see it that way: “there is no sweetness in the law [for us!]” we might dourly think”

This, my friends, is a lie from the Accuser who uses the law to our condemnation and not for our good. It is true, of course, insofar as we take breath in this earthly life we will not be free from sin, and therefore the law cannot but haunt and accuse us. We will do nothing from a truly pure heart like we ought. We will learn nothing of the goodness of His law without tainting it with our own sinful perceptions, desires, motivations. We will fulfill no action with the heart of Christ for our neighbor who also embodies Christ for us.

Nevertheless, there is sweetness in the law and we new creatures know it! For in Christ, the Law’s guilt and accusation are taken away! As Luther notes, when we know Christ and bear His easy yoke “everything within is sweet and pleasant…[we willingly do and suffer everything…” For we are redeemed in the blood of the Lamb and so this is the truth.

We can see that God’s law is fulfilled in love, and offers a picture not only of what we are not, but of what we should be, and, through faith, will be!

We can see that the fear, love, and trust in God above all things – and the love of neighbor as one’s self (especially with the family of God!) – should be at the center of everything, not bringing worldly health and wealth, but nevertheless beginning to bring real harmony and shalom, peace, to this world.

Back to our Psalm for the day:

Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord….

 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Come Lord Jesus, our only Refuge and our only Strength.



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Posted by on May 4, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Dissociative Christian: Approaches to Simul Justus Et Peccator and Romans Seven That Fragment the Christian

“Here, it is argued, that the Christian is made up of two personalities: the “old man in Adam” and the “new man in Christ”. — Matthew Garnett


By Matthew J. Garnett

[editorial comment: the bold are mine, Nathan’s, not Matthew’s. Also, hope you will tune in tomorrow as I talk about the the Germanic captivity of the Lutheran Church and a Message for the Confessional Lutheran Mainstream]

Gollum: Too risky, Too risky. Thieves! They stole It from us. Kill them, kill them, kill them both! Shhh! Quiet! Mustn’t wake them! Mustn’t ruin it now!

Sméagol: But they knows! They knows! They suspects us!

Gollum: What’s it saying, my precious, my love? Is Sméagol losing his nerve?

Sméagol: No! Not! Never! Sméagol hates nasty hobbitses! Sméagol wants to see them… dead!

Gollum: And we will. Sméagol did it once. He can do it again.

Sméagol: It’s ours! Ours! We must get the Precious! We must get It back!

The Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King (2003 Film)

In her latest book, Shameless, Nadia Bolz-Weber discusses a woman in her congregation she calls “Cindy”. Cindy is a lesbian who was reared in a fundamentalist Pentecostal setting. She was often told how aberrant sexual behavior was offensive to God and was often the result of some form of demon possession. According to Weber’s account, Cindy wanted to be a good Christian and follow God’s commands, but she had a problem. She had strong, romantic feelings for another girl. These feelings felt good and right to Cindy. Juxtaposed with the seemingly arbitrary teachings of her Fundamentalist church, such feelings of being “offensive to God” and “demonic” caused a major rift in her personality. Cindy could not reconcile her strong feelings with the notion that those feelings were wrong simply “because God said so”.

Weber, in this account, maintains that the problem is not Cindy’s desire to engage in sexual relations with someone of the same sex. She is right to pursue these desires. The problem is the teaching. Weber is half right. The problem is the teaching and the problem is two-fold.

The primary error in this kind of “Law” teaching is that it places arbitrary rules on individuals without connecting it to reality. In many of these cases, like Cindy’s, the Christian is never taught why, say homosexuality, is offensive to God and demonic. Indeed, traditional Christians have a very difficult time it seems in describing not only the real dangers of sin, but the benefits of obedience in a reasonable and coherent fashion. Put simply, Cindy was not given a good reason as to why her feelings of homosexuality would, if pursued, lead to a destructive place for her and for all her relationships. Equally, she was not well taught on the joys and benefits of being single or of pursuing motherhood and family life. Instead, she was taught that homosexuality as sin is nothing more than a religious taboo.

The second error in this teaching is that Law is taught without recourse to the Gospel.

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. Matthew 23

This perhaps is the most fatal error. Cindy feared being found out. She knew that if her secret feelings were uncovered, the best she might hope for was a terrifying exorcism ceremony or at worst ostracism from her community. Cindy dare not share these feelings because she knew the last thing she would receive was absolution of her sins in the Gospel.

This kind of false teaching leads to a rift in the personality of the Christian believer because it forces her to hide sin instead of confess and confront the sin. At the same time the answer cannot be to embrace the sin as Weber suggests and deny that something like homosexuality is a sin. The results are the same in both cases: a fractured Christian. On the one hand, the Christian is forced to conceal sin. On the other, she is forced into a schema where the sinful behavior is somehow permissible.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5

Unfortunately, there is yet another approach among popular Christian teachers that results in this sort of “dissociative Christian”. That angle in teaching is to insist that the Law does not have a positive use. Often this is couched in “speech-act” language that maintains that since God’s word is efficacious, the Law must necessarily “do something”. Since it is clear that the Law cannot empower behavior or affect salvation, it must only act to condemn and convict.

From this presupposition, the argument proceeds from the doctrine of simul justus et peccator largely founded in Romans chapter seven. Here, it is argued, that the Christian is made up of two personalities: the “old man in Adam” and the “new man in Christ”. The Law can only have one effect on the “old man”. This part of the personality cannot and in fact will not learn anything from the preaching of the Law. All “he” can do is be “killed”, that is convicted of “his” sin by the Law. The “new man”, it is argued, since “he” has “the mind of Christ” is in no need of the Law at all.

It is a clever philosophical construct to be sure, but it again leaves the Christian fragmented. The argument places the Christian in the unenviable position of “Cindy”. In reality, she is forced by this teaching to simply live with the sin because a reformation of life is impossible. Her “old man” refuses to change and her “new man” requires no change. Thus, in all three cases – where sin is hidden and the Gospel withheld (Fundamentalism), sin is reinterpreted as good (Weber), or where the Christian is helpless to be freed from the reality of sin – being a Christian means living some version of a dual life.

Most tragically in all of this, the Christian never fully receives the true comfort of the Gospel. Real relief from the pangs of sin cannot be found in concealing it. Comfort cannot be found in redefining sin as something integral to our identity and thus understood to be good.  Similarly, genuine refuge is not found in defining the Christian as having no hope and really no need of a reformed life.

This last error is particularly pernicious. A person might feel relieved from the news that they are suffering from a particular mental disorder and that many of his life’s struggles were due to a congenital chemical imbalance. However, that relief will be short lived if it is later learned that the condition is untreatable. To teach the Christian that his sins are forgiven before God in heaven, but that nothing can be or should be done to change that condition here and now is unsustainable. The notion that he is “just a poor, miserable sinner and nothing else” is a false comfort and false gospel. 

Furthermore, this teaching is particularly problematic for pastoral care. If the “old man” refuses to learn and the “new man” does not need to learn, then any teaching on morals, ethics, and care for one’s neighbor makes very little sense. The question of, “Pastor, now that I know my sins before God are forgiven, what do I do with my life?” becomes a major challenge. The Pastor cannot walk his parishioner through the Decalogue and its meanings to answer this. According to his theory of “the simul”, this is an exercise in futility. At best, the pastor can only refer the person to their life’s experiences and feelings for guidance. Finding ways to specifically love God and one’s neighbor becomes a mystical, hit and miss experiment.

To summarize, the Christian life is not something akin to Tolkien’s “Gollum” character in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The struggle with sin as described by St. Paul in Romans chapter seven and the doctrine of simul justus et peccator is not a description of a fragmented Christian who conceals sin, embraces sin, or is helpless under the power of sin. Those descriptions are in fact perversions of St. Paul’s teachings and simul justus et peccator. 

To be sure, it is understandable why the Fundamentalist culture has trained their parishioners to conceal their sin. They do want Christians to live a life pleasing to God. Nadia Bolz-Weber has great  compassion for those struggling with sexuality and wants to help. Those who bifurcate the Christian into the “old man” and “new man” are fearful that any slip into working toward a reformed life will devolve into legalism and self-justification. While these goals are good and godly, these approaches have severe deficiencies. The Christian life is not only about Sanctification. The Christian life is not only about Justification. The Christian life encompasses both doctrines. When Sanctification is absolutized as with the Fundamentalists or when Justification is absolutized as with Weber and with a distorted teaching on “the simul”, the result is the dissociative Christian.

The Christian need not despair that his personality has been fractured by the Gospel. It has not. Indeed, the Gospel gives the Christian hope and courage to face his sin for the first time without fear and without some dissociative scheme in place. The Gospel empowers him to make real strides away from a self-centered existence toward a Christ-oriented life, which means that others in his life are genuinely placed as the priority above his own interests. At last, a genuine reformation of one’s life seems at hand in the Gospel. Certainly, the struggle against sin sometimes seems insurmountable and he is tempted to retreat to the dissociative disorders noted here. However, St. Paul is sure to remind us of the hope we have.

Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Romans 7






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Posted by on May 3, 2019 in Uncategorized


“Antinomianism as Theological Method” by Paul Strawn

“The law and gospel cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive” — Paul Strawn, on the view of contemporary Lutheran gnostic antimomianism


After reading Jim Yeago’s classic 1993 paper again this morning, I’ve decided to just post my pastor’s whole paper jumping off of Yeago right on this blog…


Antinomianism as Theological Method

Paul Strawn—Baxter, Minnesota 2017

The term antinomianism is an English derivative of the Greek ἀντί (anti “against”) + νόμος (nomos “law”). A simple definition of an antinomian is found in Mirriam-Webster: “One who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.”[1] The word is not found in Greek literature but was apparently coined by Martin Luther (1483-1546), first appearing in his brief Against the Antinomians (1539)[2] the only work from Luther on the topic that appeared in the American Edition of Luther’s Works (1971). As such, it was probably chosen because of its brevity, and its publication towards the end of a controversy that began twelve years earlier, and which had precipitated no less than six published sets of theses drawn up by Luther, and four public disputations.[3] The importance of antinomianism for Lutheran theology can be gathered from the fact that Article V (Law and Gospel) and Article VI (Third Use of the Law) would be included in the Formula of Concord (1577) chiefly to address various aspects of it. The origin of antinomianism within Lutheranism is usually dated to 1527, when it was noticed that Johannes Agricola (1494-1546), who having studied theology in Wittenberg became the director of the Latin school in Eisleben, preaching locally as well, had begun to assert that repentance and contrition should not be a result of the preaching of the law, but of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Contrition and repentance for sin, he stated, are not so much a precondition of faith as a consequence of it. What can best induce genuine sorrow over one’s sin and a turning from it is not the preaching of the law, but the preaching of the gospel of God’s immeasurable grace in Christ. And as to the guidance for the Christian life, it is to be derived not from the Ten Commandments or other aspects of the law in the usual sense, but from the apostolic admonitions which follow from the gospel.[4]

Questioning an Old Answer

The latter assertion, that “guidance for the Christian life… is to be derived not from the Ten Commandments”—traditionally understood as the “third use” of the law—recently became a point of contention once again within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) when on the heels of the publication by Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis—the publishing arm of the LCMS—of Scott Murrays’[5]  Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism (2002) a number of speakers at the annual Confessions Symposium at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne asserted that there actually was no third use of the law in Luther’s theology. So what had been taught in the synodical (LCMS) Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism for over a century—that there are three uses of the law (political, theological and pedagogical functioning as a curb, mirror and rule respectively) was therewith thrown into question. Kurt Marquart, who also presented a paper which would not be included in the collection of those eventually published, did not see it as so, and in a few short remarks demonstrated that Art. VI of the Formula of Concord indeed reflected Luther’s Theology. And yet in his introduction to six of the papers presented there, published in 2005,[6] seminary president Lawrence R. Rast, Jr. painted a picture that indeed seemed to be somewhat murky:

Yet, while the Formula hoped that Article VI would “explain and settle” the matter, the history of Lutheranism shows otherwise. The varieties of questions that this matter has generated are remarkable: Did Luther teach that there is a function of the law for the Christian? Did Lutheranism teach there the is a function of the law for the Christian? Should Lutheranism teach that there is a third use? Was the Formula faithful to Luther? And so on.[7]

Making Luther’s Antinomian Disputations Accessible

Being in attendance at the conference, and noting that the most important source for Luther’s thoughts on antinomianism had never been translated into English, I set about to translate and adapt the six sets of theses from Luther which were then published as Don’t Tell Me That! By Lutheran Press in Minneapolis in 2004. That work would be the topic of discussion three years later at the 20th annual Minnesota Lutheran Free Conference on October 27th, 2007 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and would be followed by the publication of Holger Sonntag’s translation of the Antinomian Disputations—for the first time in any modern language—in 2008 along with the Latin text of the Weimar edition from which they were taken,[8] as well as an English-only edition as Only the Decalogue is Eternal.[9] Concordia Pulpit Resources excerpted Don’t Tell Me That in 2009,[10] which brought further attention to the work.[11] Another effort that began as a result of the publication of the six papers from the symposia in Ft. Wayne was that of Edward A. Engelbrecht, Senior Editor for Professional and Academic Books and Bible Resources at Concordia Publishing House, which appeared in 2011 under the title Friends of the Law: Luther’s Use of the Law for the Christian Life.[12] What particularly had spurred Engelbrecht on was the assertion by Larry M. Vogel in his paper presented at Ft. Wayne “A Third Use of the Law: Is the Phrase Necessary?” (CTQ 69:192) that “Luther had no Third Use of the Law.”[13] Engelbrecht therefore set about in a treatment of over three hundred pages to demonstrate that Luther did actually teach a third use.

A Rejection of All Three Uses of the Law

So all seemed well and good. What started out in 2002 with a discussion of Murray’s books at a major Lutheran seminary as an open question, that is, the existence of the third use of the law in Lutheran theology, raising the question as to the essence and nature of antinomianism, seemed in 2011, with the appearance of Engelbrecht’s work, to be closed again. But already in 2009 an event within American Lutheranism had occurred that signaled that an even greater, and deeper discussion of antinomianism was needed. Meeting in Minneapolis, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved the sanctioning of homosexual behavior among its leaders, clergy and members as long as it occurred within a “committed relationship.” Here was not an issue of the third use of the law, which since the ELCA does not accept the Formula of Concord, was not an issue as far as confessional conscription is concerned. And ultimately, the approval of homosexual behavior was not even an issue of the second use of the law, its theological use, that of exposing sin. What happened in Minneapolis in 2009 really raised the question as to the law of God itself, as to whether or not it plays any role at all in the life of the Christian. In fact, what happened there was not a matter of the law of God or the gospel, but ultimately the revelation of God, the question as to why in fact God reveals himself to man: Does God do so to shape or form man into his likeness? Or ultimately, to do something else?

Antinomianism as Theological Method

Already back in 1993, David S. Yeago, now Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at the North American Lutheran Seminary—the seminary of the newly formed (2010) North American Lutheran Church—had raised this question. Writing in his oft-cited article “Gnosticism, Antinomianism and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Costs of a Construal,”[14] Yeago noted the disastrous implication of making Luther’s distinction of law and gospel into an overall epistemology (theory of knowledge) which becomes “the ultimate structuring horizon of Christian belief.”[15] In other words, instead of understanding the distinction of law and gospel as identifying when the Christian is hearing the Ten Commandments and the description therein of God’s holiness and of His ultimate will of man to “be holy as he is holy” (Lev. 19:2), over against the proclamation of the holy Christ’s fulfilling of the law, his suffering, death and resurrection, so that His holiness could be given to man, to “all who believed on His name,” (John 1:12), the law/gospel distinction is the fundamental structure of Christian theology.

The space within which all other theological concepts and categories must be placed and ordered an [sic] interrelated is itself structured by a radical irreconcilable antithesis. Law and gospel are two irreducibly opposed and incompatible words, and there is nothing behind them or beyond them which unites them except, perhaps, the inscrutable purposes of the hidden God. The antithesis of law and gospel is thus a primitive datum, which theology must simply accept as such and to which it must relate everything else on which it reflects. The antithesis of law and gospel cannot be mediated or contextualized in any way; it can only be terminated by the gospel’s negation of the law, by the victory of the one word over the other. The law is sheer oppression, the gospel sheer liberation, and this total opposition can only be ended by the negation of the law.[16]

In other words, the context of the law of God is not the creation, the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai or the Sermon on the Mount, and the context of the gospel is not the incarnation of Christ, and the recreation of man through baptism into man. Law oppresses simply “because it is an ordered demand, a requirement, a command. The law oppresses because of the kind of word it is, not because of the situation in which we encounter it.”[17] The gospel, conversely, “comes to free us from the situation defined by the law.”[18] Thus, we are not freed by the gospel from sin, death and the power of the devil—actual things existing from which we need to be freed—but we are freed by the gospel from the law, that is, freed from a demand, a requirement, a command, whatever it may be. In Yeago’s words

If it is true that the law opposes simply because of its formal character as ordered demand, then the converse would seem also to hold: anything which the formal character of ordered demand oppresses. That is to say, anything which proposes some particular ordering of our existence or calls for a determinate response from us will be perceived as being, simply as such, the oppressive law from which the gospel delivers us. And since the gospel’s liberating character is defined in terms of its antithesis to the law, it will not be our sinful abuse of the law and hostility to the commandment, and God’s wrath against us on that account, from which the gospel liberates us. Rather, the gospel will liberate us from the situation of having to hear commandment at all, from having to reckon with any word whatsoever which has the formal character of ordered demand.[19]

And even more clearly (and somewhat redundantly!):

Thus the law oppresses because it proposes a determinate ordering of our existence and calls for a specified response, and it follows that the gospel liberates because it delivers from determinate order and specified response. The law/gospel distinction thus conceived expands quite naturally into a kind of ontology of human existence, at whose heart is an antagonism, or at least an irresolvable tension, of form and freedom, of order and authenticity. Form and order imposed despair promotes self-righteousness; salvation is liberation from form and order and the law’s cruel demand for them.[20]

So here we have a concept of antinomianism that has gone far beyond being simply the question as to how and when to apply the Ten Commandments to a Christian, of whether the law should be used to work repentance in the unconverted, or whether there are two uses of the law or three. For in all such discussions what is presupposed is that the law is actually the Ten Commandments of Mt. Sinai, and the gospel something to do with the historical Jesus Christ. No. The antinomianism that Yeago is describing is simply the existential rejection of anything which would shape or mold the individual against his or her personal wants, needs or desires. This has come to include gender as that which society “imposes” upon an individual.

And we must stay with Yeago for one more point before moving on, and that is what the identifying of form, or shape or mold with a command or demand, with the law, has to do with any understanding of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. With such an understanding of the law, is not the incarnation of Jesus Christ the ultimate form of enslavement?

The logic is simple: if form is enslavement, then a God who took form in history would be an enslaving God. The liberating God must therefore be a formless God, a God at most dialectically related to any particular form, a God who is everywhere and nowhere, whose faceless elusiveness frees us from the tyranny of the particular and ordered and definitive.[21]

Yeago then goes on to describe this understanding of Christ to be that of Gnosticism which I have no doubt is probably true. But it also relieves Yeago and the NALC and ELCA and all of their partner churches from a bit of introspection, that is, of the question as to how they have arrived at this theological construct. It is not as though as a consequence of decades of group-think, a majority of theologians within the institutions of higher education of the ELCA arrived at Gnosticism of one form or another. In other words, by noting the parallels between such thinking and Gnosticism we are led off track, away from the actual source and cause of such thinking, which seems more accurately to be that of the philosophical underpinning of Gnosticism, Platonism, mediated through the Protestant theological tradition of Caspar Schwenckfeld (1490-1561), and most recently, of Karl Barth (1886-1968). In other words, Yeago needed to go back further in history to the actual source of the idea. And then realize its continuing influence within the Protestant church yet today. For what is found in the theologies of Schwenckfeld and Barth, is that they posit a rather Platonic, radically other, God, that is, a God disconnected from His creation, but who still interacts with it, directly, but not through created means. And I am guessing that it would not take too much digging to reveal that the criticism Yeago levels against an epistemology that is based on some sort of shaping, forming or molding of man, or freeing of man, is simply a derivation of the dialetic theology of Karl Barth—taught nowadays in Lutheran seminaries throughout the world.

And Within the LCMS

And it is not as though the LCMS has not dabbled with this way of portraying God’s interaction with man. Back in 1973 Concordia Publishing House published the little volume God’s No and God’s Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.  It was a condensation of C.F.W. Walther’s (1811-1887) The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel, first published in German partly in 1893 and then fully in 1897, and then in an English translation prepared by W.H.T. Dau (1864-1944) at Valparaiso University in 1929. The choice of the title of the condensed version, God’s No and God’s Yes could not have been haphazardly chosen, but most probably was used somehow to capitalize on the growing popularity of the dialectic theology of Barth, the Lutheran theologian Friedrich Gogarten (1887-1967), and Emil Brunner (1839-1966) starting to be of interest at Valparaiso University and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis at that time.  What is dialectic theology? Here is a definition of as good as any: “a form of neo-orthodox theology emphasizing the infinite tensions, paradoxes, and basic ambiguities inherent in Christian existence, and holding, against rationalism, that God is unknowable to humans except through divine grace and revelation.”[22] Of course of what exactly such “divine grace and revelation” consisted was up for debate, as Barth and Brunner’s famous exchange of 1934 demonstrated, with the question being that of how exactly God interacts with man to reveal Himself: Through history? Through Scripture? Through creation in any way? According to Barth, through creation the answer is “no.” Through God in some way, “yes.” Indeed, in his last letter to Brunner God’s relationship with mankind is described as “Yes to all”.[23] Thus entitling Walther’s thesis on the proper distinction between law and gospel, both of which are proclaimed to man through the revelation of God’s Holy Word, the Scriptures, as God’s “yes” and God’s “no” muddied the waters, presenting Walther’s classic as some sort of dialectic corrective.

But it cannot be said that it did not have its effect. For it is perhaps within the world-wide context of Protestant theology, the proper distinction of law and gospel understood even in a Waltherian fashion has indeed taken on the form of an overall epistemology driving even confessional Lutheran theology. Here the study of Walther’s classic in homiletics class at the seminary, preparing the student to preach, is juxtaposed over against the study in systematics classes of a multi-volume dogmatics textbook, like that of Francis Pieper,[24] full of obscure Latin and German terminology. The first presents twenty-five theses which become not only the basic structure of every sermon the pastor will preach, but also every Bible study he will teach and every counseling session, shut-in call and hospital visit he will make. It will also inform his decisions on pericopal systems, sermon texts, hymns, songs or worship format. The second, the dogmatics text, then only serves as the context, the historical, dogmatic and ecclesiological context in which in the first will be used. And indeed, the very usage of the content of Christian theology itself, becomes a matter of law and gospel. How so? Most obviously—but certainly not exclusively—in the compelling question as to whether or not there need be any instruction in the Christian faith like that of standard confirmation classes. Must the student attend? Must lessons be completed? Must the Small Catechism be memorized? These were not even questions years ago, but now they seem to be falling more and more under a law/gospel dialetic as in: Are we not imposing something on the students (and parents!) by insisting on learned content? Are we not insisting that Christianity have a specific shape, form or mold? And are we not, by doing so, really imposing the law of God, where the gospel should predominate? (Here we can note the title of the confirmation materials used in the ELCA for quite some time: Free to Be.[25])

No, confessional Lutheran theology has not gone so far as to embrace the idea that the incarnation of Christ was the ultimate expression of an enslaving god, and enslaving god who will force and shape and mold man against his will. But the question must be asked, every time an indifferent matter is raised within the church, whether or not the knee-jerk theological reaction has become simply that of an antinomianistic rejection of anything that may shape, form or mold? That this may in fact be happening can be determined by simply comparing the pastoral practice—even the synodical culture!—that has developed on the basis of a dialectic understanding of Walther’s Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel over against the practice, the church life, described in his newly republished Pastoral Theology.[26] There one finds not a clash between a dialectic epistemology and church dogma, but a dialectic epistemology and given pastoral practice. If the Christian life cannot take on a given shape, form or mold, how can the pastoral office? An office of the gospel? (This might also explain why no more modern pastoral theology has gained wide acceptance.)

Origins within the LCMS

I would suggest, then, that at least within the LCMS, the gradual, if almost imperceptible, adaptation of the usage of the law/gospel distinction as a foundational dialectic epistemology reveals itself ultimately in rejections of the third use of the law. How this came about practically within the synod is not too difficult to discover. Indeed, Ed Schroeder, who would become a professor of systematic and historical theology at Concordia Seminary, and then Seminex, and now is retired, took credit for it in 2004 when he posted to the world wide web:

   In the early 1950s in the Luth. Church-Missouri Synod [LCMS] Jaroslav Pelikan, young professor at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), was recommending to us students that if we wished to escape Missouri’s “hang-up” with Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures, we should go to Erlangen and study under Elert. Elert’s 2 volume “Morphologie des Luthertums” [literally: The Morphology of Lutheranism], was “epoch-making”–he said–with its presentation of the “Evangelischer Ansatz” [“Gospel-grounding”] for Lutheran confessional theology.

So three of us students “went to Erlangen” for the academic year 1952-53. Bob Schultz, already graduated from Concordia, became Elert’s doctoral candidate. Baepler and I were only half-way through Concordia, but had finagled scholarships to go to Germany for the year. Elert died before Schultz finished his work. He attended Elert’s funeral. Elert’s colleague, Paul Althaus, took over as his “Doktorvater.” Bob’s dissertation (written in German, of course) was a flat-out Elertian theme: “Law and Gospel in Lutheran Theology in the 19th Century.” It was published by Luthersiches Verlagshaus.

   Baepler and I were there only for the “Sommersemester” ’53. We all enrolled for Elert’s lectures and seminar. He even invited the three of us over for Kaffeeklatsch one Sunday afternoon, since he appreciated that the pioneer of the Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, had been faithful to law/gospel Lutheranism and had even written a book by that title. At that Kaffeeklatsch Elert agreed to write an article for our Concordia Seminary student theological journal, “The Seminarian”–I can still hear him saying, “Das tue ich!”–which was then published when Dick and I returned to St. Louis. Its title: “Lutheranism and World History.” Most likely it is the one and only Elert article that first appeared in English–and probably never in German. He wrote it, of course, in German and we translated it. It was posted 6 years ago as Thursday Theology #29 in the first year of this enterprise. [If interested GO to the Crossings webpage ( and click on Thursday Theology, December 10, 1998.]

By 1957 all three of us were at Valparaiso University, and were teaching what we had learned, not only to V.U. students, but to the wider Missouri Synod. With Bob Bertram as dept. chair and Gottfried Krodel added to the staff later on, law/gospel Lutheranism became the trademark of “Valparaiso Theology.” So there were 5 of us in one place at one time. We encountered conflict within Missouri, of course, with our teaching and writing. Verbal inspiration and “Evangelischer Ansatz” were not compatible.

   This Elertian sort of Confessional Lutheranism, though hardly ever acknowledged as such, was also near the center of the eventual explosion in Missouri in 1973-74 that took place at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and then created “Concordia Seminary in Exile, a.k.a. Seminex. That is, of course, one man’s opinion. Bertram and I were then on the faculty at Concordia–and “Elertian” confessional Lutheranism, already at home there (but hardly majority opinion), got additional support.

   The fuse for the explosion was the LCMS national convention in 1973. By a 55% to 45% vote the convention declared the “faculty majority” [45 of the 50 professors at Concordia Seminary] to be “false teachers.” Three false teachings were specified. Two of the three were actually Elert’s own “heresies,” although he was never named. One heresy of the Concordia faculty was called “Gospel-reductionism.” In nickel words: grounding the Bible’s authority on the Gospel itself [ = Elert’s Evangelischer Ansatz] and not on verbal inspiration. The second heresy was on the so-called “third use of God’s law,” a constant hot potato among Lutherans ever since the 16th century. Our “false teaching” on the law’s “third use” was that we opted for Elert’s Gospel-grounded interpretation and not the one the LCMS had supposedly “always” taught.[27]

The fact that a rejection of the third use of the law, that antinomianism, was a part of formation of Seminex and the walk-out at the seminary in St. Louis is little-noted. Normally the issues involved with that event are described as those having to do with the Bible, with the doctrine of inspiration and other such matters. But also key, as David Scaer recently has noted in papers presented in Ft. Wayne, Indiana (January 2017) and Bloomington, Minnesota (April, 2017) was the rejection of the third use of the law. That this is so can be gathered from the claim noted above, but also by recent complaints within the ELCA that such antinomian ideas came into the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and the ELCA in general via the Seminex graduates who now hold positions of power and influence in that synod.[28]

Antinomian Negation of the Atonement

Of greater import to Scaer is the denial of the need for the doctrine of the atonement as can be found apparently in the writings of Oswald Bayer (University of Tübingen), Steven Paulson (Luther Seminary, St. Paul), and Timothy Wengert (Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia). But such a rejection of the atonement makes sense. In order for the law of God—if still understood as the Ten Commandments—not to accuse the Christian, ultimately, it cannot accuse Christ either. In other words, in order for the law not to play a role in the life of the Christian as traditionally understood, the crucifixion of Christ on the cross cannot be portrayed as a fulfillment of the law. So Gerhard Forde’s (1927-2005) understanding of the crucifixion of Christ has been described by Jack Kilcrease (adjunct professor at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids) :

He begins with the recognition that human beings exist under the law and the hidden God. Having God constantly impinge upon their reality, human beings cannot trust God because they recognize him as a mortal threat. In order to overcome this situation, God has sent Jesus into the world to forgive, thereby changing God’s relation to the world from one of hiddenness and law to one of love and forgiveness. This forgiveness is not brought about by the fulfillment of the law or the propitiation of god’s wrath. God as he is actualized in Jesus simply makes a unilateral decision to forgive without any fulfillment of the law. This action on God’s part is completely disruptive of the previous human situation under the law. It is an eschatological event.[29]

Kilcrease goes on to claim that Forde “is no antinomian”, for he would still seek to apply the law to the life of the Christian, if only, like Agricola, in the preaching of the gospel. But the problem, of course, with Forde (and with Bayer, Paulson and Wengert) is deeper. It is that which Yeago described above, that is, a rejection of the law—of God working through creation, even shaping and molding creation—as a fundamental epistemological assumption. Thus a “unilateral decision to forgive without any fulfillment of the law” is oddly familiar to Schwenckfeld and Barth’s idea that God chooses to act in each Christian’s existence when and where it pleases Him, like He did on the road to Damascus. Both approaches would seek to distance the creation itself from the acting of God. Indeed, God cannot ultimately do so for that would be a shaping, a molding, a directing, in other words, an application of the law.

Sure, it could be suggested that with Elert and Forde especially, that the issue is not a rejection of the law, of a radically juxtaposing the law as that of a hidden God, over against that of the gospel, that of the revealed God. But the problem is that even in such an understanding of the law of God the law and the gospel cannot co-exist. They are mutually exclusive. Where the one is, the other is not. And since that is so, where the gospel is, there can be no law—no fulfillment of the law, no pursuit of such fulfillment—but only an acceptance of thoughts and actions which a given community of Christians perceives to be acceptable. How this plays out practically can be understood by revisiting the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009. After Timothy Wengert presented a synopsis of the paper to the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) meeting in Minneapolis in 2009, entitled “Remarks Concerning “Bound Conscience,””[30] and after much debate, the statement was adopted leading to the acceptance by the chief constitutional body of the ELCA of homosexual behavior by the clergy, and others in leadership roles in that church. According to Wengert, Martin Luther’s and Lutheran theology’s chief understanding of the Christian’s conscience has to do with the individual Christian’s view of a specific Bible passage, or a number of Bible passages. If the Christian arrives at a specific understanding of the Scriptures on a given point, and becomes conscience-bound to that interpretation, it is up to other Christians to honor the conscience of that Christian. In other words, one Christian cannot tell another that they are wrong, if the first believes that what they are doing is right. Sure, the issue is buried in the topic of conscience. But at the end of the day, it is simply a rejection of any application of the law of God in the life of the Christian.


So what ultimately is antinomianism? It is not just a rejection of the use of the law within a certain context, but it is rejection of the law understood to be given by God within any context, and thus, of God defining human life and existence. Christologically, it therefore must be a rejection of Christ fulfilling the law, and the crucifixion of Christ satisfying the demands of the law for mankind. In essence, therefore, antinomianism, as Scaer has suggested, is ultimately a rejection of God, the God of love, who through the work of Christ, would once again recreate man in such an image of love, or in other words, in His image. That such an idea is being promulgated within the Christian church, however, is understandable. For if, following the best of reason accepted today, history cannot truly be known, and the texts of history can only be a record of what was understood to have happened within history, God working in history through Jesus Christ, and the record of that working, i.e. the Bible, cease to be sources for our knowledge of God. Thus, how, can God be known? For the liberal theology of the 19th century it was through culture, the advancement of culture. World War I destroyed that idea as “Christian” societies slaughtered each other by the millions. What then? Karl Barth’s Holy Other filled that void—a God who cannot be known through created things either natural (nature/culture/government) or revealed (Scripture/church), but simply when and where and how he chooses to reveal Himself. It is assumed He exists of course, but He ultimately is to be discovered. What antinomianism in its various itterations does is affirm that this is so. Its God therefore is not—indeed it cannot be—the God who takes on definitive shape and form in nature, in history, in Jesus Christ. Rather it is the god of the ancient Greeks, of Plato, whose existence certainly can be deduced from the human experience in one form or another, but he simply can never be known.


[1], accessed on 5/11/2017.

[2] In Luther’s Works, Vol. 47, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971) 101–119.

[3] For a brief outline see Holger Sonntag, “Translator’s Preface,” in Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus: Martin Luther’s Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations, Trans. and Ed. by Holger Sonntag (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2008), 11-14.

[4] Franklin Sherman [?], “Introduction,” Ibid., 102

[5] Senior pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas and Second Vice President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

[6] Concordia Theological Quarterly 69 (2005). ej

[7] “The Third Use of the Law: Keeping Up to Date with an Old Issue,” Ibid., 188.

[8] See above fn. 3.

[9] Minneapolis, Lutheran Press.

[10] Vol. 19, Part 2, Series B (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), 3-6.

[11] See’t-tell-me-that-martin-luther’s-antinomian-theses-translated-by-paul-strawn/, accessed on 5/11/2017.

[12] St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[13] Ibid. xii.

[14] Pro Ecclesia II, No. 1, 37-49.

[15] Ibid., 38.

[16] Ibid., 40.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 41.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 44.

[22] accessed on 5/11/2017.

[23] accessed on 5/11/17.

[24] Christliche Dogmatik, 4 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917–1924); English translation: Christian Dogmatics, 4 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950–1953).

[25] Gerhard Forde, James Nestingen (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1993).

[26] (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017).

[27] “Remembering Werner Elert-Fiftieth Anniversary of his Death,” Thursday Theology #336, November 18, 2004,

[28] Such claims (see seem to have flown around upon the publication of James C. Burkee’s Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2013).

[29] “Ford’s Doctrine of the Law” CTQ 75 (2011), 163.

[30] _Conscience.pdf.

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