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“Please Mr. CTCR – [do your part to] get the Word of God into our consciences”

16 Jul

ctcr

The fool asserts “there is no God”.  Even pagans who aren’t too far gone recognize that.

Perhaps the new CTCR* document from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, titled The Natural Knowledge of God in Christian Confession &  Christian Witness (find it here) should have just said that and stopped.

The thing is – it did not even say that.  Where the Scriptures inform us that evil men can grow more evil – where they, for example, assert that there is no God ; or call evil good and good evil ; or are not even able to detect their sin – we as a church have evidently become far less aware of this knowledge.

onlythedecalogue

The document features a battery of Luther (and Melanchton) quotes (see pp. 46 and 47 in particular), but it did not include these selections from the recently translated but largely ignored Antinomian theses of Martin Luther (see here and here ; order it here):

“The law in general is… given… for all of humanity; indeed because many laws that are useful for this life are also given, written together with the Decalogue, and are written on the hearts of all men, unless they are utterly unnatural, ever since the birth or creation of man, together with Adam.  But because man is fallen into sin and since gradually men fell away and turned away from God more and more, and , disregarded by God, became worse, until it [sc. The law] is almost totally fallen into oblivion and obscured, God was forced again to give us an end, lest we forgot totally his law, so that we would at least remember who we were before and who we will be in the future… when it says ‘You disobey God, you do not believe in God, you do not fear God; you are a faithless adulterer, disobedient,” and whatever is such, here I am at once horrified and fear and feel in the heart that I certainly owe this God; not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world.  And by this preaching at once the veil is removed and I am shown that I sin… as the people of Gomorrah who killed prophets and never had a sense of the law or a true notion thereof…”  Four hundred years before there was a law’ (Gal. 3:17) must be understood of the written or Mosaic law.  For otherwise the law is born with us” (bold mine, translations above from “The Third Disputation Against the Antinomians”, Preface, translated by Pastor Paul Strawn and Pastor Holger Sonntag. 2007)

…Let those words sink in.  For Luther at least, it almost seems as if – sometimes at least – the “natural law” cannot be imagined to exist apart from the presence of God’s word and believers in the world.  On the other hand, in the CTCR document there is no nod towards Luther’s kinds of nuance.  Rather, “for the ordering of life in the civil realm… appeals to Scripture… are not, strictly speaking, necessary” (p. 47).  Interestingly, Pastor William Weedon, discussing a conversation with Bryan Wolfmueller, makes points that would be compatible with Luther’s above.  It seems to me that both Bryan Wolfmueller and Dr. J. Budziszewski, in Issues ETC. interviews, have also made points about “seared consciences” and the like that would also jive with Luther’s.

undertheinfluence

I wanted to like this CTCR document.  After reading parts I-III – and learning some good stuff along the way – I still had some real hope.  But part IV – Natural Knowledge and Christian Witness – did not deliver.

I can’t shake the conviction that the real question is this: as persons grow more evil – more against those things revealed in the Word of God – is Divine revelation more or less necessary?  What, in general can we say about this?**

boundconscience

The western world, historically “under the [Christian] influence” is increasingly less so.  The elites in our culture who rule are going, going….  So much so in fact that when President Harrison says [to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee] “Please Mr. Chairman, get the federal government out of our conscience”, we embrace the rhetoric but do not think about it critically: in general, should we not want the federal government in our consciences – upholding what is good for all in our temporal lives (Rom. 13) – when it comes to the civil realm?

The document ends with Philippians 2:9-11, encouraging us all to proclaim

“the name that is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

don'ttellmethat

Amen to that, but let me tell you what I am thinking.  That statement from the Apostle Paul can be taken as Law or Gospel.  Given what Paul says in Acts 17:26-31 it seems to me that any and all who reject the words spoken of here are “without excuse” as well.  It is not the word of the Anonymous God they should fear but the word of the risen Christ.  Look what is said about the Holy Spirit’s conviction in John 16:8-11, which used to be a “staple passage” among Lutherans:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

coepagan

Today we even have people who claim to follow Christ but who, for example, embrace homosexual behavior – and many of these certainly would not reject all notions of the natural knowledge of God or natural law (go to the bound conscience image above and link to the paper).  To say that pagan influence in the Church itself is increasing would be make a gross understatement.  Why am I wrong to think that we somehow need to bring back – albeit perhaps somewhat rehabilitated and updated – the kind of Jesus Christ Luther had some real awareness of?

christjudge

FIN

*Commission of Theology and Church relations

**Another related question: is the church in any way to be ruled by the Gospel alone? (see p. 45, see this post here).  As is often the case with theological reasoning, it is not so much that anything the CTCR says is wrong.  It is rather what is left unsaid – and the context in which the discussion is held.

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5 Comments

Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

5 responses to ““Please Mr. CTCR – [do your part to] get the Word of God into our consciences”

  1. bioethike

    July 29, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Perhaps you can clarify something for me. It seems you believe that the CTCR document does not sufficiently address the truth that sin obscures, corrodes, or infects the natural knowledge of God and, as a subset of that knowledge, natural law.

    OK, that’s a fair criticism of the document.

    However, my impression of the document is that it is intended to re-present the historic Lutheran teaching on the natural knowledge of God, which has fallen by the wayside, not to revisit the commonly-held doctrine in our circles of the horrible effects of original and actual sin.

    Nevertheless, I would have to disagree with your assertion, “For Luther at least, it almost seems as if – sometimes at least – the ‘natural law’ cannot be imagined to exist apart from the presence of God’s word and believers in the world.”

    If natural law is God’s will impressed upon nature, and if God’s will is eternal, then natural law does not cease to exist so long as nature continues to exist.

    Further, God’s creative Word is still active and present within His creation. If God were to withdraw His Word completely from His creation, His creation would no longer exist.

    Thus, it seems imprudent to suggest that Luther envisioned nature or creation as existing apart from God’s Law or His Word.

    Perhaps what you are attempting to suggest is that human sin is so corrosive, that human beings reject God, His Law, and His Word.

    With that I can agree.

     
  2. Nathan

    July 29, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Bioethike,

    Thank you for your comment.

    “If natural law is God’s will impressed upon nature, and if God’s will is eternal, then natural law does not cease to exist so long as nature continues to exist.”

    Yes, *at some level* man continues to *know* and there is no doubt that he is more culpable than ever. And yet, when we think of Sodom and Gomorrah look at what Luther says above. Also Psalm 36 sticks in my mind:

    1 Transgression speaks to the wicked
    deep in his heart;a
    there is no fear of God
    before his eyes.
    2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes
    that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

    What does this mean? Its almost as if the pride becomes so strong all ability to know – on a level that makes any practical difference – ceases to matter.

    “Further, God’s creative Word is still active and present within His creation. If God were to withdraw His Word completely from His creation, His creation would no longer exist. Thus, it seems imprudent to suggest that Luther envisioned nature or creation as existing apart from God’s Law or His Word.”

    Of course – I don’t think that at all. But here you are simply talking about how His word is always upholding the creation. You are not talking about revealed knowledge of God and how it might interact with the natural knowledge of God. My point is that perhaps we can not so strictly separate what man knows by natural knowledge from the actual presence of divine revelation in the world due to the presence of believers who carry and proclaim that word. It seems to me that natural revelation and divine revelation are not so much like domains existing in separate circles that don’t overlap (which I am not saying that some are insisting on, but this often seems to be the practical effect in how we talk about this). In other words, it is not that the distinction is is hard and fast, but is only more of a useful rule of thumb.

    “Perhaps what you are attempting to suggest is that human sin is so corrosive, that human beings reject God, His Law, and His Word.

    With that I can agree.”

    Right – and here I again pose my question:

    “As persons grow more evil – more against those things revealed in the Word of God – is Divine revelation more or less necessary? What, in general can we say about this?”

    I would note how Paul combines the natural knowledge of God with the revealed knowledge of God in Acts 17 – especially how he ends.

    This is not respectable and reasonable Robert George kind of talk (which I love and appreciate and think is right on – but does anyone else care?)!

    My point would be that we seem unable to think about talk like Paul does here in the public square. As the world gets more evil, what do we do? More natural law talk? Or do we talk risen Christ who will judge? It seems in the document that there is no awareness at all that some suppresion of the law is worse than others. Again, in other words, men can be and become much more evil, as they continually kill what their consciences do know and sear them further.

    Then what? I’m sure some folks feel the way I approach this post is not helpful, but it seems to me that this is where we must be going: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/all-things-dying-why-even-grace-promoting-pagan-elites-are-ridden-by-the-devil/

    Please continue talking and engaging me here. I appreciate the pushback and hope for more discussion.

    +Nathan

     
  3. Nathan

    July 29, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Question for those reading this.

    Does anyone know whether Timothy J. Wengert, the author of the document above, believes in some idea of the natural knowledge of God and natural law? I am guessing that he does (please correct me if I am wrong).

    And if he does, what does that mean exactly? How should we best go about confronting that kind of view – when given a good opportunity to do so?

    +Nathan

     
  4. Jean Baue

    July 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    (FYI: Alvin J. Schmidt’s “Under the Influence” has been renamed “How Christianity Changed the World.”) for further reading, get “Natural Law,” a collection of essays edited by Rev. Robert Baker and published by Concordia Publishing House http://www.cph.org.

     

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