Saturday, April 07, 2007

All Chrisians wind up Lutheran in the end

In Luther's day, in the Augustinian monestary, when one of the monks was on his death bed, it wasn't uncommon for them to be thinking in terms of what they had done in life and whether they had done enough good works to make the cut in God's eyes. This is when someone would hold a cross or crucifix before the dying man, and then they would finally remember where their salvation lies. In the end, every Christian has only the cross of Christ to look to. Even Roman Catholic Christians, who when their head hits the pillow at night are thanking God that He sent His son to die for their sins.

Today's evangelicals live by an odd paradox. They have such a shallow view of sin and grace that it's a wonder they cling to any faith whatsoever. I'm not trying to cut them down in any way. I believe they are as sincere about their faith as any Christian throughout the ages could be. The paradox is that the things that they believe strengthens their faith actually destroys faith. And that can actually be a good thing!

What am I saying? Consider this for a moment. We are about to embark on the season of Easter, wherein the celebration of Christus Vicktor will be our song and praise. Our faith comes by hearing what God has done for the sake of Christ on our behalf, and our faith is strengthened by hearing it repeated and eating it and drinking it. The wonderous word made flesh in our ears and on our lips. That's something that is unique in Lutheranism, this reveling in the work of our savior for his sake.

Today's evangelical goes down a different path. They will say prayers that sound not too different from what we would, and worship in a way that, at first glance, roughly resembles Christian worship. But as soon as this easter day is over, they will turn to the law again for advice on how to live a virtuous Christian life and recieve blessings in return.
We Lutherans teach of three uses of the law. The use, being a curb, is there to reign in unrightousness in the world and applies everyone, believer and non believer alike. The second use applies to only Christians, and is the mirror that reveals to us our sins and drives us to dispair of our situation. The third use is the advisory use, that tells us what a Christian life should look like, and this third use is what modern evangelicals are predominately concerned with. They take third use and take it such and extreme that it becomes a heavy burden, which then becomes second use that reveals to them how much they fall short of God's demands. The law of God is always the law of God, no matter what use we may make of it. We might try to use the law to get a blessing or even to try to prove how worthy we are, but the Holy Spirit will use it however HE sees fit. The person who tries to live by the law will die by the law, and that death will come because of second use of the law, or the law driving us to Christ.

In Galatians, 3:24, St. Paul makes a reference to a cultural practice in the greek word, paidagogos. That word refers to a person who was hired by the father of a son to follow the son around and whack him with a stick any time he stepped out of line. Each time the kid did something his father deemed against the rules, the paidagogos whacked him. Pretty mean, eh? So also the law whacks us, till eventually we turn to Christ for relief.

So third use, advisory use, of the law turns easily to second use, driving the one who strives to be justified under the law of his own strength to flee to Christ. The faith we may have in the works done in the flesh is destroyed by the accusation of the law, and faith in Christ is built up by the repentence and turning away from the socalled "virtues of the flesh". Just as the monks in Luther's time were driven by the law's accusations to believe that they hadn't lived up to the standards of God, so also do the sincere evangelicals find they are accused by their own attempts to follow the advise of the law. And just as the Monks in Luther's time were reminded by the Cross of Christ where their only hope lies, so also is the sincere evangelical reminded by the Cross of the hope, no, the only hope, which is Christ alone.

It's good that their faith in their works is destroyed. It's good that their faith in Christ is renewed. In the end, every Christian winds up a Lutheran.


Gary said...

Well written. Perhaps we should only say that the constant refocusing on the Law _undermines_ or _misdirects_ the American Evangelical's faith. Sure, run with the Law (whether Torah observance, monkery, or moralism) and a person _could_ end up destroying his faith. But the Law is also Word-of-God-stuff, and while it can't save us, and only appears to improve us, there remain some real blessing which come to us through the Law.

Ask me sometime to show you some surprising blessings (faith builders) you can mine out of Psalm 119. There's a Law-based psalm if there ever was one. Nevertheless, the Lutheran who knows how to divide Law and Gospel properly can find there much to praise God about.

Pastor Held

Matthew said...

When I talk about "today's evangelical", keep in mind I'm talking about me also. Each time in my life, as I've made moves into doing the law in a 3rd use kind of way, I've wound up in 2nd use. Even before I had the categories in place to understand the threefold uses of God's law, this was the norm.

Some insight into recent practices for me; when I'm at the alter, anymore I'm already on the other edge of second use, so much so that lately I've chosen to recieve Christ's body by mouth. I had wondered why I was doing that, but I finally realized it's because I'm not worthy to handle it with my sin stained hands. Now, that doesn't make systematic sense because literally nobody is worthy at all, but it's just where I've wound up of late.

I've heard in the past that Lutherans are "easybelievists", but I don't find this to be easy at all. Thanks be to God for his Gospel.

the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
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