(exclusive paper* from the recent confessional Lutheran conference in Bloomington, MN: “It’s the Law – or is it?: Legalism vs. Antinomianism”)
For children, things are pretty simple. When dad says “I forgive you” or “do this” they know what that means. But what should simple Christians do when some of the most well-known Lutheran theologians from the 19th and 20th centuries seem to imply that Christians who strive to excel in love for God and neighbor are almost certainly attempting to justify or save themselves by their works? (this is something I alluded to in my previous post)
Well, getting deep into the word and some good old hymns is undoubtedly some of the best help. In the process they might also find themselves having to make some fine theological distinctions, though I submit that the answer is not in some new paradigm of the “two kinds of righteousness” (stay tuned – more on this later this week). Fortunately, Dr. Martin Luther already did this theological work in his day, giving us 21st century men the 16th century insight we need. It would seem that Luther’s theological anthropology holds the key to our dilemma.
This is another report from the theological conference, “It’s the Law – or is it?: Legalism vs. Antinomianism” that recently took place in the Twin Cities. What follows is a summary of Pastor Paul Strawn’s** paper, “The Lord’s Prayer as a Prayer of Repentance in the Antinomian Disputations of Martin Luther” (note that the paragraphs above are my own stated views). Permission has been given by a conference organizer to put the paper on the web, and that paper is here* (the diagrams below are from this paper).
Pastor Strawn notes that there are many elements in the traditional Lutheran worship that require Christians to do something they do not want to do: repent of sin and acknowledge that there is “something within [them] that must be driven out in some way” – and that this can only be done with God’s help. This is particularly true of the Lord’s prayer.
Using Luther’s insight about the Lord’s prayer being a prayer of repentance***, Strawn shows in his thorough examination that throughout his life Luther taught an extremely robust two-nature view of the Christian, analogous to that of Christ’s two natures****. In fact, in the beginning of his conflict with Rome, the papacy and its theologians took direct aim at Luther’s anthropology, which Luther considered “a settled and true doctrine” (fn 21, p. 6).
Here is a model of what Luther’s anthropology looked like, a model that was consistent throughout his career. One will note that Luther drew an analogy between man and the Old Testament temple:
In short, by grace though faith, the new man created and strengthened by Christ is to keep his old man, or old nature, under control by forcing it to do works of service, or love. This would include not only the second table of the commandments (works done directly for our neighbor), but also the first table of the commandments (works done indirectly for our neighbor)! All of this would be related not to the “passive righteousness” from above that creates and sustains Christians, but to our “active righteousness of the Law” on earth (not just “civil righteousness according to political laws” or “righteousness of reason” in general).***** Along these lines, Strawn offers another helpful diagram expanding on the first:
Strawn quotes Luther in his second Galatians commentary saying that “there is great comfort for the faithful in this teaching of Paul’s [about the dual nature of the Christian] … if we sometimes become aware of the evil of our nature and our flesh…we are aroused and stirred up to have faith and to call upon Christ…” (p. 12) “Mindful of our illness”, the Christian constantly and consciously hears and meditates on the word of God, prays, and uses the sacraments to be “purged” and “cleansed of the poison of sin” – until our deaths when we are entirely purged. We also use rituals and works “like an orderly of sorts” so that our sinful nature can be restrained while we “endur[e] the cure of a living physician, that is Christ.” (p. 13). In sum, this means the Christian life is to look something like this:
Luther: “[Christians] have sorrow over and hatred of sin combined with faith. And this is why they cry out with Paul (Rom. 7:24): ‘O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’….we are reminded that the repentance of the pious is perpetual – yet in such a way that faith and the knowledge of Christ conquer the terrors so that the fear is filial, not servile…” (ODE, p. 125)
In sum, the Christian life is one of continual repentance as the new man created by Christ wars against the old, and this helps explain both the content of the Lord’s prayer and the Lutheran Liturgical Traditions.
*The Association of Confessional Lutherans (PO Box 43844, Mpls, MN. 55443-0844 ; Luther Academy (PO Box 2396, Brookfield, WI. 53008)
**This is my pastor. FYI, he never asks me to blog anything, especially his own stuff, although he gives me permission to share his work when I ask. I also posted his paper on cataphatic mysticism in worship. Many of the books referenced in this post are also published by the press he started.
***Strawn summing up Luther’s view expressed there: ”the praying of the Lord’s Prayer by Christians is the tacit confession that the Christian life is still beset by sin. What is more, it signals that the Christian must daily drive out that sin through perpetual repentance” (p. 3).
****Strawn demonstrates that Luther uses “a type of genus idiomaticum in which the attributes of either [the old man and the new man] are ascribed to the entire Christian”. Luther also explicitly made the analogy between the Christian’s two natures and Christ’s two natures in his “Freedom of the Christian” and expanded on this in detail in his “Commentary on the Magnificat” (p. 5, from where the first old/new man diagram above is drawn)
*****Something I would add: the church of course relies on external evidence in order to make imperfect evaluations of a human being’s spiritual state. If we are to talk about the righteousness that is in the eyes of the world, we must first of all think about the church, who determines what good works are with the help of the Scriptures. More on this in my upcoming series on the “Two Kinds of Righteousness”.