In the Lutheran blogosphere, the “Fearsome Pirate”, has always been a bit of a loose cannon who marches to his own drummer. But I suggest the man makes some good points and his perspective is worth paying some attention to. See here and here for some recent bombastic but informed commentary.
If you want a more refined, reasonable, and respected voice saying much the same thing – i.e. the church’s faith and love is weak – see Pastor Peter’s latest post.
Although I have said that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rightly understood, has had relatively little influence among the leaders of men – even in the past times” (see here for context), there is no doubt that the influence of the Word of God in the churches of the western world is waning. There is a famine of the word in minds and hearts.
I think this is very true of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, of which I am a part. In the LC-MS, missions have been cut back as churches as a whole are increasingly self-focused. The church is “weak on sanctification”. We listen to the word, but do not seem to hear it.* And there is little courage to do it. I to, am to blame.
I went to a conference for confessional Lutherans the past two days near the twin cities in Minnesota, where the topic was “It’s the Law – or is it? Legalism vs. Antinomianism”. There were some very good talks, but apart from a few who began to tackle tough questions, few delved deeply into this issue (again, I have done a series entitled “We are all antinomians now” and I will stick to my guns on this).
Professor David Maxwell, from Concordia seminary in St. Louis, at one point asked: “How to extol God’s Law without undermining the Gospel?” It seems to be the question only a modern confessional Lutheran could ask – if they dare to haul the elephant out into the room. In our healthy zealousness to defend the doctrine of justification, I believe it is our unique temptation as serious Lutherans to wonder about how to extol God’s Law.
Professor Maxwell put forth the teaching popularized in recent years by Dr. Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, also from Concordia seminary in St. Louis, the “two kinds of righteousness”. I will not explain it in detail now, but suffice it to say I think one of the weaknesses of this teaching is that it allows the world’s reason to define what a “good work” is. And we know, according to human reason that teaching your children the catechism, attending weekly worship, and simply proclaiming the deeds of the One True God are not a good work!
But do we even think that it is? Do we even believe that we can talk about these First Table things as being God’s Law – things we should do for our neighbor’s sake? (see this post). Yes, we know that we cannot make the law of God do-able such that we can be saved. And yet, should we – as men and women saved by the Lord Jesus Christ and called to serve Him by serving my neighbor – seek to know and do God’s love more and more – unto the perfection that we will only know on the last day?
Should I, for my neighbor’s sake, be actively seeking to be where He is at – about His Father’s business in the world? Should I, for my neighbor’s sake, strive with all my heart to increasingly live within (not by) the 10 commandments according to their positive applications? (the possibilities are endless!) Should I, for my neighbor’s sake, strive to consistently discipline my “old man” by fasting, praying, and giving alms? And above all, should I, for my neighbor’s sake, seek to it at my Lord’s feet more and more that I might grow in my understanding and realization of every word that proceeds from His mouth? That I might more deeply be found in Him in the profound intimacy of His supper?
And If I catch myself doing these things to be saved or simply to make God “get closer” to me so I can feel Him, should I not simply repent?
But perhaps some might say that “when the law is do-able the sinner is in charge”. I respond: didn’t the 16th century Lutherans believe that they should always strive to love God and neighbor more and more precisely because they were saved? To bring the “two kinds of righteousness” back into this, that is precisely why Luther distinguished these as he did – for consciences who were striving to love God and their neighbor! Why? Because those who truly do strive to love God more and more see how short of God’s love they fall – and sinners perpetually need to be assured that God continues to forgive us, heal us, and give us peace in spite of our failures – and even our tainted good works!
For we are not to live by the law, but by His Spirit! This means we live in the love of Christ who lived in the law – that is, in that objective form of life where our relationships with God and neighbor are nourished and are brought to fulfillment.
But as regards God’s Law – being perfect as He is perfect – is there much striving going on today? Do modern understandings of Lutherans theology even allow for it? (note in this passage about perfection Jesus is not using the Law to try and show us our sin, even if that does happen in the process)
It should, for this is the way it used to be understood. For this is how we grow in sanctification! This recent post on the Brothers of John the Steadfast is good in that it shows there is growth in sanctification. But just how do we mature?
The answer is as simple as it is profound: hearing the Word of God, participating in the sacraments, and exercising ourselves according to the whole counsel of God. This goes hand in hand with the drowning of the old Adam that is daily repentance. Knowing that we live by them, we seek out every word from his mouth, and these comfort and help equip us, so that we leave childhood behind and attain to the “mature manhood” mentioned in Eph 4: 13-15. Since “the word of God…is at work in you believers” (I Thes. 2:13), this is the kind of activity we actively run to, and initiate ourselves as well.
I suggest that confessional Lutherans everywhere – including me – need to “grow into” this teaching. Saying that “reverse progress” is how we should be talking is not sufficient, for what Pastor Kleinig says is not opposed to what I have said here. Further, in his recent post where he says the “Lutheran sanctification debate is completely unnecessary” Issues ETC. host Pastor Todd Wilkin recommends his article “Sheep Don’t Keep Track”. It’s a great article, but “keeping track” is not what this debate is about. It’s not that confessional Lutherans who speak of progressive sanctification (or “deepening sanctification”, which sounds great to me) are “keeping track” of their sanctification, it is that they want to, by the grace of God, to be faithful witnesses to Christ – even unto death. It’s about being ready for the slaughter at any time, even as we are ready to share God’s mercy – in its manifold forms – with our enemies. It is about being those whose trust is increasingly not in one’s self and one’s own strength, but in Christ. For the sake of our neighbor. Like Paul, in Christ, we become less concerned about ourselves (see Rom. 9:1-5)
I submit that is God’s program – and it’s something we should get with. If you want to debate me on this, I suggest you read through this debate first. Here I discussed with Scott Diekmann this quote from Pastor Bill Cwirla: “You can only say you’re weak on sanctification if you view sanctification as your work.”
No. When it comes to sanctification, we exist in synergy with God. Full stop.
*-I volunteer I Cor. 5 as one of the most relevant but ignored Bible passages of our day.
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