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.
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.
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?**
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.”
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.
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?
*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.