Thursday, June 28, 2007

Roundtable 21: Good Works

Lutherans forbid good works. That was what folks were saying then, and some have gone on saying it, including those who should know better.

No, Lutherans do NOT forbid good works, but they command all those works which God has enjoined on us. As Luther pointed out - if we take care of those, we won't have any time for the ones we try to make up on our own. The made up ones - "particular holy days, particular fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honor of the saints, the use of rosaries, monasticism, and such" (AC XX:3) - they are what occupied the opponents' preaching.

Used to be they taught just works justify. Now, says AC, they've at least learned to mention faith along with the works - a step in the right direction that brings a tad more comfort.

But nothing compares to the comfort of knowing that your works - not even those works that God Himself commands us to do - do not justify us. Can't get away from AC IV. There it is again. Our teachers proclaim throughout our churches that "our works cannot reconcile God to us or merit forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification." Rather, all these come to us only by faith, "when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ's sake." Not our works, but He alone gets to be "the Mediator and Atoning Sacrifice." (AC XX:9) To think that our works - especially our made up works - merit grace is "seeking a way to God without Christ, by human strength." It's to reject Him who proclaims "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (AC XX:10)

The Lutherans were utterly confident on this point that they had not made up a new interpretation of Paul. How does one know this? The old standard: "Check the Fathers!" Augustine and Ambrose are mentioned. Turns out to be pseudo-Ambrose in the work cited, but there was more than enough ammo in Ambrose and the other fathers too. You knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to throw out a few juicy lines. How about these?


And before this redemption is wrought in a man, when he is not yet free to do what is right, how can he talk of the freedom of his will and his good works, except he be inflated by that foolish pride of boasting which the apostle restrains when he says, "By grace are you saved, through faith." Enchiridion 30

And lest men should arrogate to themselves the merit of their own faith at least, not understanding that this too is the gift of God, this same apostle, who says in another place that he had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful," here also adds: "and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." And lest it should be thought that good works will be wanting in those who believe, he adds further: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." We shall be made truly free, then, when God fashions us, that is, forms and creates us anew, not as men—for He has done that already—but as good men, which His grace is now doing, that we may be a new creation in Christ Jesus, according as it is said: "Create in me a clean heart, O God." For God had already created his heart, so far as the physical structure of the human heart is concerned; but the psalmist prays for the renewal of the life which was still lingering in his heart. Enchiridion 31


If, then, you wish to reclaim any one of the lapsed, do you exhort him to believe, or not to believe? Undoubtedly you exhort him to believe. But, according to the Lord's words, he who believes shall have everlasting life. Repentance, Book I, par 48

He then who has faith has life, and he who has life is certainly not shut out from pardon; "that every one," it is said, "that believes in Him should not perish." Since it is said, Every one, no one is shut out, no one is excepted, for He does not except him who has lapsed, if only afterwards he believes effectually. Repentance, Book I, par 48

Therefore it is said: "That every one that believes in Him should not perish." Let no one, that is, of whatever condition, after whatever fall, fear that he will perish. Repentance, Book I, par. 51

Let us consider another similar passage: "He that believes in the Son has eternal life, but he that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:36 That which abides has certainly had a commencement, and that from some offence, viz., that first he not believe. When, then, any one believes, the wrath of God departs and life comes. To believe, then, in Christ is to gain life, for "he that believes in Him is not judged." John 3:18. Repentance, Book I, par. 53

St. John Chrysostom:

The favors of God so far exceed human hope and expectation, that often they are not believed. For God has bestowed upon us such things as the mind of man never looked for, never thought of. It is for this reason that the Apostles spend much discourse in securing a belief of the gifts that are granted us of God. For as men, upon receiving some great good, ask themselves if it is not a dream, as not believing it; so it is with respect to the gifts of God. What then was it that was thought incredible? That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor. Homily 4 on 1 Timothy

And he well said, "a righteousness of mine own," not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you. For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other. But what is that other? That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God. This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift. And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence. Homily on Philippians 3

Okay, okay, I'll stop. But there are SO many more to choose from. The Fathers are simply stuffed full of testimonies to justification by faith and not by works. How could they be anything else? Well the Confession goes on that the whole value of this faith - not a fictitious faith consisting of historical knowledge, but a living faith that holds tight to the promise of forgiveness (AC XX:25), is in the battle of the conscience, which despairs before God because it has nothing of its own that it can set against the just demands of God in His law. But that is, of course, about justification, not good works.

But the article returns to good works with joy and says: "But see, we don't just teach what they are, we show how to do them!" (AC XX:35) It is FAITH that is the mother of the good works of love, faith that receives the Holy Spirit who renews our hearts. Back to Luther's old favorite of "grace" and the "gift in grace." Forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables those "new affections" that can bring forth the good works. (AC XX:29)

Take away faith, say the Lutherans, and human nature will not be able to really do the good works that the Ten Commandments require. Without faith, no calling upon God, no expecting squat from Him, no bearing of the cross. But let faith come in, that holds to the forgiveness of sins given in Christ Jesus, and watch out! The Holy Spirit rules the heart instead of "all kinds of lusts and human intentions" (AC XX:38)

Which is all just taking seriously our Lord's solemn words: "Apart form me you can do nothing." And joy of all joys, the clencher in this article is the LITURGY. They say: "It's what we sing after all." Veni Sancte Spiritus is cited, verse 6.

Summary then: good works are the works God has commanded; we must do them; we can only do them as those who have been justified by faith and renewed by the Spirit. So, indeed, "Come, Holy Spirit!" Amen!


Paul T. McCain said...

Thanks Pr. Weedon for the great overview of the Article on good works in the AC.

I just finished reading your post and picked up a proof of the forthcoming volume of John Gerhard's locus on God and the Trinity. In the introduction to the doctrine of God Gerhard notes, as the final point under the topic "the usefulness of this doctrine":

"We should note here that knowledge is not merely historical but also practical, not of the letter but of the spirit, not unworking and idle but working and effective, that is, it embraces true faith in Christ inwardly in the heart and commends itself outwardly through a zeal for good works."

Gerhard, "Commonplace on the Doctrine of God and the Trinity." Unpublished translation, pg. 15.

William Weedon said...

Not fair. I WANT a copy. YESTERDAY. ;)

wm cwirla said...

This is the 8th of nine defensive articles (XIII-XXI) which deals with some slander or misunderstanding of evangelical doctrine. This one is explicit: "Our teachers have been falsely accused of forbidding good works..."

This seems to be a natural mishearing of the Gospel of justification by grace through faith apart from works. The natural conclusion is "we ain't gotta do nothin'" I know a lot of Lutherans who know little more than that.

This article puts to rest that notion in one succinct sentence: "It is also taught among us that good works should and must be done, not that we are to rely on them to earn grace but that we may do God's will and glorify Him." It doesn't get any clearer than that. The faith of the justified is living and active, a dynamic trust in the mercies of God for Jesus' sake. The imputation of righteousness frees us to do the righteousness of God without relying on it. That's true freedom.

Again, Lutheran theology revels in the paradox. One is justified before God purely by grace through faith in Christ's all-sufficient work, yet being free from the condemnation of the Law one is not free of the Law but now truly free to do the Law.

wm cwirla said...

Ah, Paul tempts Weedon with yet another book fix.

Paul T. McCain said...

I have book titled, "The Gentle Obsession" it is about people with various degrees of book obsession. It begins by telling the story of the man who, upon his death, was found to have filled, literally, his entire house with books that he had borrowed from libraries around the country and never managed to return. I have another book about the history of the bookshelf. And yet another book about how to care for books, kind of "care and feeding of your books" kind of thing.

But, mind you, I have no book problem, like some people do.

wm cwirla said...

Denial is a powerful defense, my friend.

Paul T. McCain said...

At any rate...back to the topic. I have expressed elsewhere my concern about a trend in conservative Lutheran preaching that I've noticed. Some, in an effort to make sure that works are not mixed into a presentation of the Gospel, end up preaching sermons that never offer the kind of exhortation to good works that we find in the New Testament, and in all the classic Lutheran preachers. It is a sort of "aversion to sanctification" as the sainted Rev. Professor Kurt Marquart described it.

It is rather odd to notice and difficult to get one's arms around as to a diagnosis as to why this has happened, but it is clearly happening.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Do good works help maintain faith and salvation? The law and/or gospel answer depends upon the reason the question is asked. If one is worried that he will lose his salvation in the future, he must be comforted with the fact that works do nothing but show the presence of faith, that faith is the gift of God, and that God alone preserves us in faith.

"Works serve thy neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living."

However, if the person is asking because he does not want to be exhorted to do good works, he must be given a different answer: that is, good works help preserve one in the true faith. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling!" Faith without works is dead. The Apology indicates the same:

97] Now, then, we will reply to those passages which the adversaries cite, in order to prove that we are justified by love and works. From 1 Cor. 13, 2 they cite: Though I have all faith, etc., and have not charity, I am nothing. And here they triumph greatly. Paul testifies to the entire Church, they say, that faith alone does not justify. 98] But a reply is easy after we have shown above what we hold concerning love and works. This passage of Paul requires love. We also require this. For we have said above that renewal and the inchoate fulfilling of the Law must exist in us, according to Jer. 31, 33: I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. If any one should cast away love, even though he have great faith, yet he does not retain it, 99] for he does not retain the Holy Ghost [he becomes cold and is now again fleshly, without Spirit and faith; for the Holy Ghost is not where Christian love and other fruits of the Spirit are not]. Nor indeed does Paul in this passage treat of the mode of justification, but he writes to those who, after they had been justified, should be urged to bring forth good fruits lest they might lose the Holy Ghost. [AP III]

This last sentence states that while we are not justified by works that works prevent our losing salvation.


90] Thus to argue is to make a cause out of that which is not a cause. For Peter speaks of works following the remission of sins, and teaches why they should be done, namely, that the calling may be sure, i.e., lest they may fall from their calling if they sin again. Do good works that you may persevere in your calling, that you [do not fall away again, grow cold and] may not lose the gifts of your calling, which were given you before, and not on account of works that follow, and which now are retained by faith; for faith does not remain in those who lose the Holy Ghost, who reject repentance, just as we have said above (253, 1) that faith exists in repentance. [AP XX]

This last statement is repeated again (quoted) in the Formula's article on Good Works. Justification and sanctification are distinct but inseparable. Those who shun good works grieve the Holy Spirit and lose salvation.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

P.S. A) The only thing which can cause us to lose salvation is our own stubborn will and works.
B) The only thing which can cause our gaining salvation is the work of God.

- Our good works (progress in Sanctification) help prevent a loss of salvation (A) from occurring, but they do not cause our salvation (B).

- Faith is a flame lit by God alone. The fact that our cooperation keeps the wind from snuffing out the flame does not make our cooperation a cause of the flame, nor does the fact that we resist snuffing it out with our own fetid breath. In addition, we agree that our cooperation receives all its power from God, as given to the new man.

- God monergistically created life. The fact that we are the ones who do the living does not make us co-creators. The fact that we can kill ourselves doesn't either.

- Likewise, God monergistically creates faith in our hearts at conversion (usually baptism), which is salvation. The fact that we did the believing at conversion (pure passive faith) does not make us participate in our salvation, nor does the fact that we can fall from faith by our own free will, nor does our cooperation (through active faith) in good works (sanctification).

Paul T. McCain said...

The Confessions are merely reflecting the reality that there is no genuine faith that does not issue forth in fruits of love. "Faith without works is dead."

Paul T. McCain said...

I'm growing increasingly concerned that with the necessary distinction between faith and works that we must always maintain, we Lutherans are tempted to speak of good works and the life of sanctification in such a way as to either minimize it, or worse yet, neglect it. I read sermons and hear comments that give me the impression that some Lutherans think that good works are something that "just happen" on some sort of a spiritual auto-pilot. Concern over a person believing their works are meritorious has led us to neglect clearly talk about good works. It seems some have forgotten that in fact we do confess three uses of the law, not just a first or second use and that this is nothing at all inappropriate about talking about the third use of the law. Our Lutheran Confessions make this very clear. The Apostle, St. Paul, never ceases to urge good works on his listeners and readers. I recall a conversation once with a person who should know better telling me that the exhortations to good works and lengthy discussions of sanctification we find in the New Testament are not a model at all for preaching, since Paul is not "preaching" but rather writing a letter. When I pointed out that all the historic Lutheran preachers never failed to speak about good works and sanctification, I was told that this no model for our preaching either and that in fact Luther does not properly distinguish between Law and Gospel in his sermons. This is not a good thing. Several years ago an article appeared that put matters well and sounded a very important word of warning and caution. It is by Professor Kurt E. Marquart of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I strongly encourage you to give it your most serious attention.

Antinomian Aversion to Sanctification?

An emerited brother writes that he is disturbed by a kind of preaching that avoids sanctification and "seemingly questions the Formula of Concord . . . about the Third Use of the Law." The odd thing is that this attitude, he writes, is found among would-be confessional pastors, even though it is really akin to the antinomianism of "Seminex"! He asks, "How can one read the Scriptures over and over and not see how much and how often our Lord (in the Gospels) and the Apostles (in the Epistles) call for Christian sanctification, crucifying the flesh, putting down the old man and putting on the new man, abounding in the work of the Lord, provoking to love and good works, being fruitful . . . ?"

I really have no idea where the anti-sanctification bias comes from. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk over-reaction to "Evangelicalism": since they stress practical guidance for daily living, we should not! Should we not rather give even more and better practical guidance, just because we distinguish clearly between Law and Gospel? Especially given our anti-sacramental environment, it is of course highly necessary to stress the holy means of grace in our preaching. But we must beware of creating a kind of clericalist caricature that gives the impression that the whole point of the Christian life is to be constantly taking in preaching, absolution and Holy Communion-while ordinary daily life and callings are just humdrum time-fillers in between! That would be like saying that we live to eat, rather than eating to live. The real point of our constant feeding by faith, on the Bread of Life, is that we might gain an ever-firmer hold of Heaven-and meanwhile become ever more useful on earth! We have, after all, been "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). Cars, too, are not made to be fueled and oiled forever at service-stations. Rather, they are serviced in order that they might yield useful mileage in getting us where we need to go. Real good works before God are not showy, sanctimonious pomp and circumstance, or liturgical falderal in church, but, for example, "when a poor servant girl takes care of a little child or faithfully does what she is told" (Large Catechism, Ten Commandments, par. 314, Kolb-Wengert, pg. 428).

The royal priesthood of believers needs to recover their sense of joy and high privilege in their daily service to God (1 Pet. 2:9). The "living sacrifice" of bodies, according to their various callings, is the Christian's "reasonable service" or God-pleasing worship, to which St. Paul exhorts the Romans "by the mercies of God" (Rom. 12:1), which he had set out so forcefully in the preceding eleven chapters! Or, as St. James puts it: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (1:27). Liberal churches tend to stress the one, and conservatives one the other, but the Lord would have us do both!

Antinomianism appeals particularly to the Lutheran flesh. But it cannot claim the great Reformer as patron. On the contrary, he writes:

"That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ's grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee s if t were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstance use these or similar words, "Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!" Instead they say, "Listen! Though you are an adultery, a wordmonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all! . . . They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach... "about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit," but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extol so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, He has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men . . . Christ did not earn only gratia, grace, for us, but also donum, "the gift of the Holy Spirit," so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain fro sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, "Christ! Christ!" He must be damned with this, his new Christ (On the Council and the Church, Luther's Works, 41:113-114).

Where are the "practical and clear sermons," which according to the Apology "hold an audience" (XXIV, 50, p. 267). Apology XV, 42-44 (p. 229) explains:

"The chief worship of God is to preach the our churches all the sermons deal with topics like these: repentance, fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, prayer . . . the cross, respect for the magistrates and all civil orders, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love."

"Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, unto Thy Church Thy Holy Spirit, and the wisdom which cometh down from above, that Thy Word, as becometh it, may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ's holy people, that I steadfast faith we may serve Thee, and in the confession of Thy Name abide unto the end: through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen."

Kurt Marquart

Concordia Theological Quarterly

July/October 2003
Pages 379-381

wm cwirla said...

I'm reminded of an apt Korbyism from Father Kenneth Korby: "We are anxious over the necessity of good works for salvation; God's anxiety is over the necessity of salvation for good works."

It seems to me that much of what goes on today is a theology by antithesis. Not wanting to sound like Evangelicals who preach justification (or an Arminian form of it, at least) to the outsider, but sanctification (as good works) to the insider, some Lutherans have taken to the opposite ditch of antinomianism and have sadly betrayed the fullness of the Reformation's teaching that this article so clearly expresses. We are not justified by our works, yet the justified do good works.

On the other hand, the attempted correctives on the part of well-intentioned law preachers are no better in their misguided attempts at "3rd use of the Law" preaching as though we could somehow toggle the various uses of the Law. It's the Holy Spirit who "uses" the Law, not us.

For us it is simply a matter of the Law and the Gospel, properly distinguished but never divided.

Paul T. McCain said...

I agree that the Law always accuses us of sin and that one can not neatly divide the Law into little compartments and say, "OK, now I'm preaching the Law this way, but not that."

What I've noticed though is that some assume that because the Law always accuses anyway, they really either never should bother, or actually, can never, preach about the life of Christian sanctification and good works after they have preached the Gospel in a sermon. I've been told that one can never do that or else one has not "properly divided" Law and Gospel.

That's a very common "theory" out there these days, which I simply find no, pardon the pun, "justification" for, in either Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions, or any of our Lutheran orthodox fathers.

I've been trying to figure out how, and when, this theory worked its way into our church, but have not figured it out yet.

I see a pendulum swinging here from one extreme to another, but somewhere in the middle I think is the right place on the question of preaching about the life of Christian sanctification and good works of the Christian.

William Weedon said...

The key is likely Elert, Paul, and the huge influence he had on the Valpo theologians and also at St. Louis. Elert is wonderful - don't get me worng - but when it comes to third use and the whole area of sanctification, I think he weasles on what the Symbols actually say, and on what the Sacred Scriptures most certainly teach.

Paul T. McCain said...

Here is the Roman Catholic response to this article in the Augsburg Confession, from the Confutation:

In the twentieth article, which does not contain so much the confession of the princes and cities as the defense of the preachers, there is only one thing that pertains to the princes and cities - viz. concerning good works, that they do not merit the remission of sins, which, as it has been rejected and disapproved before, is also rejected and disapproved now. For the passage in Daniel is very familiar: "Redeem thy sins with alms," Dan. 4:24; and the address of Tobit to his son: "Alms do deliver from death and suffereth not to come into darkness," Tobit 4:10; and that of Christ: "Give alms of such things as ye have, and behold all things are clean unto you," Luke 11:41. If works were not meritorious why would the wise man say: "God will render a reward of the labors of his saints"? Wisd. 10:17. Why would St. Peter so earnestly exhort to good works, saying: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence by good works to make your calling and election sure"? 2 Pet. 1:19. Why would St. Paul have said: "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed towards his name"? Heb. 6:10. Nor by this do we reject Christ's merit but we know that our works are nothing and of no merit unless by virtue of Christ's passion. We know that Christ is "the way, the truth and the life,". John 14:6. But Christ, as the Good Shepherd, who "began to do and teach," Acts 1:1, has given us an example that as he has done we also should do, John 13:15. He also went through the desert by the way of good works, which all Christians ought to pursue, and according to his command bear the cross and follow him. Matt. 10:38; 16:24. He who bears not the cross, neither is nor can be Christ's disciple. That also is true which John says: "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked," 1 John 2:6. Moreover, this opinion concerning good works was condemned and rejected more than a thousand years ago in the time of Augustine.

rev will said...

As one who preaches every week I think about this often. Since I will be giving an account of my works before Jesus Christ on the last day I'd better be preaching what He has given me to preach. I've wrestled with this over the years and still do. Do I preach Law and Gospel or Law/Gospel/Sanctification? I preach Law and Gospel. If I preach sanctification, what will I leave the people with? The Law. And that never saves. If I preach Law and Gospel I leave them with the Gospel, and that saves. God has this amazing ability to produce good works in us. And He does it through the Gospel. Not the Law. You can almost see God laughing (a joyful laugh, not a mocking one) when on Judgment Day He welcomes in the sheep with a description of all their good works and they respond with ignorance and
confusion--what works are you talking about? (Matthew 25)

There is ample opportunity to exhort the people of God to what they should be doing when you're proclaiming the Law. You may never get another chance at proclaiming to them the wonders of the Gospel if you leave them with that Law. The wonders of the Gospel are that He not only saves us but also produces in us what He delights in--good works.

Paul Willweber

Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor Willweber, you've expressed well what is heard in some circles these days about preaching about sanctification; however, respectfully, I would challenge you to find any evidence of the theory that your remarks illustrate: that the key to proper division of Law and Gospel is always to preach Law, then Gospel, in that order, and never to mention anything about sanctification after preaching Gospel.

I can find no evidence to support this theory in the Bible, the Book of Concord, Luther, any of our orthodox Lutheran fathers, Walther, etc.

It is a recent phenomenon and I've grown to understand that while it is well intentioned, it is simply incorrect.

rev will said...

I don't have any evidence. Just a conclusion drawn from many conversations with pastors and laypeople alike as well as all the wrestling I've done with the preaching task. Why is it that we do not want to trust the Holy Spirit to bring about His fruit through the proclamation of the Gospel? Additionally, as I've said, I'm not denying the necessity of preaching sanctification, I'm saying that it is one of the aspects of the proclamation of the Law. (BTW, it may clarify my position to state that I generally don't preach Law then Gospel. I usually go back and forth in my preaching--always ending on the Gospel of course.) :-)

Paul Willweber

Paul T. McCain said...

Brother Paul, I entirely agree with you that the Holy Spirit works sanctification in us by means of the Gospel. On that we both agree; however, let me respectfully challenge you a bit on this.

Our namesake, the Blessed Apostle, did not hesitate to preach the Law in all its severity, the Gospel in all its sweetness, and then to speak to Christians about the great "therefore" ... I'm thinking for instance of the Epistle to the Romans.

We have Rom. 1, then Rom. 3, then Rom 5, and I believe Paul does powerfully and beautifully distinguish properly between Law and Gospel, but at the same time there is no hesitancy on his part to speak very plainly about the "works prepared in advance for us" (Eph. 2).

As I said, I can find no evidence in Scripture, the Confessions, or any of our Lutheran orthodox fathers for what has become an assumption on our part today, that we should not preach specifically about the life of Christian good works in our sermons, or else we are "ending on the Law" or "not letting the Gospel predominate."

As I said, I was schooled in this thinking, as you probably were too, but I've come to realize through careful attention to the homiletical approach of the sources of our theology that I was simply wrong.

I appreciate our conversation on this.

rev will said...

Yes, the conversation is always worthwhile. It is my understanding that the Gospel must (how's that for Law!) predominate but not necessarily in quantity. I have to agree with you on the method of Paul's epistles. I wonder, however, is that necessarily a template for how we are to preach? Why is it not preaching sanctification if you preach sanctification in your proclamation of the Law? Why does the preaching of what we are to do/how we are to live have to come as a "therefore" after the preaching of the Gospel? Why can't we preach the Gospel and entrust to the Holy Spirit the work of bringing about the "therefore" He desires?

BTW, I have been accused of being reactionary and I think that's probably true. When I hear or read a sermon that ends on what we are to do/how we are to live I am left with uneasiness (which I think is part of the work of the Law, to draw me to repentance). Is it up to me? If so, then I'm failing miserably. If it's up to God, how do I know if He's bringing it about since I keep sinning and failing? This is some of what I am reacting against in my position.

Paul Willweber

William Weedon said...

I wonder if the talk of the good works of Christians DOES easily fit under "law"? What I mean is that the essence of St. Paul's exhortations to the believers was not so much a telling of them what to do as it was a reminding them of who they are now in their union with Christ. The good works that he exhorts them (and us) to accomplish could all be boiled down to this: live in Christ and let Christ live in you!

That also implies that everything that is not life in Christ has to go, or in stronger terms, has to die, indeed to be put to death. But this death of the old self and its wicked ways comes also as gift from union with Christ and not as the requirement to obtain such union.

All of which is to say: good works for Christians goes wrong when it is detached from the mystical union, which is sanctification's goal and sanctification's power. Yes, union with Christ can increase - not that He gives more of us to Himself but that we learn to live ever more from the total gift of Himself to us in Holy Baptism.

Josh Schröder said...

Well, I'm just a layman, but if I recall my catechism and other theological training, a Christian's good works fall under the category of sanctification, not justification. If we're trying to do good works to earn God's merit or favor, then we're in trouble. But if good works FLOW FROM FAITH; if they are done out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us, then we're good.

Maybe what is missing from this discussion is some treatment on the topic of vocation (I believe Dr. Veith's book is titled God At Work). As Christians, we are God's masks that He wears to hide Himself as He serves others through us. When I serve my neighbor, is it I serving my neighbor or is it Christ serving my neighbor through me? To me this is a mystery.

What is straight in my mind is that whether you preach sanctification in a sermon or not, we cannot separate God from the good works that a Christian performs.

Since this conversation is pretty much dominated by ordained ministers, I'll finish by asking that they comment on the juxtaposition of the doctrines of sanctification and vocation.

rev will said...

Responding to William Weedon: So what would be wrong with saying what you have said/proclaiming works in the way you have described and then finishing all that up with a clear Gospel proclamation?

Paul Willweber

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Another key to this article -- one which I've found that even Lutherans often have very little grasp of -- is the definition of "faith" as not "simply a knowledge of history, such as the ungodly and devil have. Rather, it means a faith that believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history." (Par. 23, Concordia, pg. 43).

It is the distinction between notita (knowledge) and fiducia (trust) as elucidated by way of Augustine in par. 26, "Augustine also warns his readers about the word 'faith' and teaches that the term is used in the Scriptures, not for the knowledge that is in the ungodly, but for the confidence that consoles and encourages the terrified mind."

I've often asked folks what "faith" means. The response is usually that it means "to believe." "To believe what?" I ask. If I don't get the general "believe in God" response, it's often a recitation of the historical facts, "That Jesus died for my sins, and rose again." (Or some variation thereof). Yet even that statement, albeit including "for my sins" is notitia -- not necessarily fiducia. For one can acknowledge that Jesus did in fact die for their sins, but not have true fiducia, or trust, in this reality.

Fiducia presupposes notitia, in a certain sense. But I've been playing also recently with how this distinction plays into our understanding of infant faith. Those who deny the Lord's gift of Baptism to infants often do so purely on the grounds of "notitia." How can they really "know"? But what if you approach the question first from the matter of "fiducia" or trust? Do any of us doubt that infants can, in fact, trust? They live almost solely on fiducia/trust. They trust their parents, that they'll feed them, hold them, change them, etc. If they do have trust, or "fiducia," there is most certainly "notitia." Albeit this knowledge may be very simple, and undeveloped, but it is a knowledge nonetheless. Ultimately, then, we must confess that the Lord's gift for them remains His gift for them so long as it is not rejected. We do not doubt that they trust (fiducia) thus we do not doubt that there is simple notitia as well. While the fiducia/notita distinction doesn't wholly or sufficiently express our confession of infant faith and Baptism, it certainly can help to elucidate the matter more clearly, particularly when coupled with a strong theology of the external Word which we confess unites with the element making it a Baptism.

The "notitia"/"fiducia" distinction also thwarts quite effectively the Romanist citation of James 2. None would doubt the devil's "notitia," but he certainly doesn't have "fiducia."

Faith as "trust," or fiducia, expresses faith in more familial terms. A child trusts his father. This relationship lends itself toward expression: the child expresses his love for His father, as the Father has so faithfully expressed his love for the Child. The Spirit binds the Father and son (who is a "son" by way of adoption in the Spirit of THE Son), and good works are simply expressed as a fruit of that fiducia-defined relationship. As such, it is unthinkable that faith (as fiducia) could exist apart from Good Works.

William Weedon said...

Pastor Willweber,

I don't think it would be wrong to end with a clear Gospel proclamation, but I do note that historically Lutheran preaching has never felt a compulsion to do so. When we read our fathers' preaching, we see that it is rather unformulaic in that regard, and there are times aplenty it ends with the exhortation to be the people or live out the life that God has now given us in union with Christ.

I remember Dr. Nagel (true to Elert!) once speculating whether it were most helpful to speak of the third use of the Law per se, and whether it were not better expressed as the GOSPEL'S use of the law - when the Gospel takes the Law in hand to serve its purposes. Any of you other students of Nagel recall such a thing?

I *think* what he was getting at was what I was trying to express above. It is the same point that the Ten Commandments are not grammatically imperatives but indicatives, and when passed through the Gospel can become themselves promises: this is the shape of the life that God is forming in you; this is what God is making you to be! A people who has no other gods before Him. A people who does not misuse His name, etc. This is the life of faith that He gives us to live in union with His Son.

Josh, what is this JUST a layman thing? You are a layman which means a member of Christ's baptized royal priesthood and to you has been given the sacred and solemn duty (among many other things) of judging the shepherds' teaching. I appreciate your input. And notice how nicely what you pointed out flows into what Pr. Fouts said: good works flow from faith! And faith is not some head-knowledge, but vital trust, hanging onto the promises for dear life. Hanging onto the promises, clinging to them, and finding them enlivening and freeing, God also tosses us back the Law, not for us to live under its condemnation, but for us to live IN it as the expression of His perfect will. A gift to guide us in the life that is lived out in union with Christ, trusting His promise.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Right. Pr. Weedon! Law and Gospel are not grammatical categories. Sometimes, it seems, our discussions around the proper distinction between Law and Gospel treat these categories as if they're tools in a tool box. When you want to "break something down" you grab the appropriate tool, and when you want to build something up, you grab the other appropriate tool. Thus, homiletically, the distinction has become almost mechanized. Somewhere along the line we have imagined that law and gospel can only function according to our neat little categories. We've got the law parsed up in three ways -- how dare you feel condemned by *my* 3rd use! We've got the Gospel wholly separate -- what's wrong with you, feeling damned by *my* Gospel proclamation? Thus, if the law and gospel function in the ears of the hearer differently than the preacher intends, we somehow imagine that they "got it wrong," or "weren't listening properly," or even that we, as preachers, dropped the ball.

The Confessions, however, at almost every instance that the proclamation of law and gospel is discussed, do not allow the Holy Spirit to be absent from the discussion. AC V, where the Gospel is being preached "the Holy Spirit is given" who "works faith when and where it pleases God in those who hear the good news..." It is "Christ's Spirit" that both does the comforting and convicting when law and gospel are preached according to FC V, 11. It is "To this end the Spirit was obtaind for us through Christ and sent." And in FC VII, " often as believers stumble, they are rebuked by the Holy Spirit from the Law. By the same Spirit they are raised up and comforted again with the preaching of the Holy Gospel." (par. 14).

Law and Gospel is not a "mechanical" tool in the hands of the preacher. The preacher simply speaks what the Lord has given Him to speak in the text. He strives to distinguish them properly, accounting for all three "uses" of the law.

But ultimately the Words proclaimed are not the preacher's own to do with what he wills. He speaks these words only as the Lord's instrument, our mouth-piece. They are the Lord's Words. And the Lord will take them to His use -- regardless of the grammar involved.

Neither is it unthinkable, that through the phenomenal of recollection, what functions as 2nd use at one point in the sermon, after having heard the Gospel, may then be recalled in a 3rd use sense. The fact that I'm a no good scoundrel in many and different ways certainly destroys me, crushes me, and the like. But having heard the Gospel, I may well recall those words that had once crushed me and in turn strive to do better apart from any explicitly *different* proclamation of the 3rd use according to the same.

Still more, being simul iustus et peccator, yet neither being at any one time sola iustus nor sola peccator on this side of the eschaton, the law and gospel meets the total human (totus homo). Thus, in a certain sense, it is conceivable that law and gospel may function as in Melanchthon's "simul mortificatio et vivificatio." Thus, while the law at any one moment my completely condemn us according to our sinful nature, it may wholly instruct us with good pleasure according to our justified nature. At either instance, however, it is the "total man" who is being condemned and justified. Such corresponds also with the life of the Christian both now and not yet. The Christian, living in this world, is in many ways damned with the law every time it is heard (lex semper accusat). Nonetheless, there is an eschatalogical dimension to the Baptized, who have a share already in coming Kingdom. The "3rd use" is a sort of eschatalogical reality invading the present. It speaks to man as He is already redeemed, already resurrected with Christ through the waters of Baptism. Yet, just as man lives "totus homo" with both the sinful and justified nature, what is spoken to man eschatalogically to his justified self, will at the same time condemn him according to this present life and his sinful flesh. The key, as always, is who speaks the better word? The flesh of man, which condemns him, or the blood of Christ which has redeemed Him? Thus in faith we cling to the justifying Word. And from this faith, good works proceed as "thy Kingdom comes" through our vocations in this body and life.

wm cwirla said...

"I remember Dr. Nagel (true to Elert!) once speculating whether it were most helpful to speak of the third use of the Law per se, and whether it were not better expressed as the GOSPEL'S use of the law - when the Gospel takes the Law in hand to serve its purposes. Any of you other students of Nagel recall such a thing? "

I recall a conversation in Nagel's office after a presentation by Gerhardt Forde in which Dr. Nagel was less than happy with Dr. Forde's rather categorical approach to the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel. With Nagel, the distinction far more dynamic, focused on receiving/rejecting Jesus and His gifts.

From this exchange, and many others like them, I learned to look at the Law not only in its mirroring/accusing/killing impact (which it always has), but also in terms of the gift which the Law surrounds. For example, the first commandment deals not simply with refraining from idolatry but also with the gift of God. The 2nd commandment, His Name. Etc. One aspect of our freedom from the condemnation of the Law is to receive the gifts of God as He intends to give them and to use them according to His will.

I've always joked that Lutherans like the first half of Paul's epistles but conveniently ignore the second half. Nearly all the epistles have this basic order: Doctrine (Romans 1-11) / Exhortations to holiness (Rom 12 -15). Certainly the exhortations flow out of the doctrine, as good works flow from faith, but I see no rigid Law then Gospel formula at work. I think such a formulaic approach has all but killed Lutheran preaching. As Brother Weedon indicates, our fathers were much freer in this regard. Read Luther's sermons and try to discern any pattern. Law and Gospel are woven together into a seamless cloth.

Perhaps the most abused pattern, which was never intended as a pattern, is Richard Caemmerer's "goal/malady/means."

Paul T. McCain said...

Josh, I allowed your comment, but I need to throw a flag on the play, so to speak. Please respect the etiquette on this site and do not engage in the kind of sharp-edged argumentative and combative tone we are both used to on other blog sites. Also, you are addressing a pastor and you are to respect his office and speak in a manner appropriate for that respect.


Now, we may resume the proceedings.

J Nielsen said...

This has been a very appropriate topic for this week. I have been reading the daily devotions by C.F.W. Walther in "GOD GRANT IT," and they have all been saying things like "We should in no way conclude from today's passage that we can earn God's mercy by showing mercy toward our neighbor [but].... He cannot absolve us from our sins while our neighbor groans against us and accuses us before Him. God must do to us what we do to our neighbor."

It is interesting that the man that we think of when we promote the proper distinction between law and gospel has had very little of what most would consider "sweet" Gospel in his messages this week.

As everyone here has been saying when seen through the eyes of already existing faith - the law can be very encouraging and motivating and, yes, even "sweet."

I think that not preaching on topics that would be considered in the "third use of the law" from time to time leave those of us that are sitting in the pew to continue to wonder what God really does expect from us between one trip to our Lord's table to the next.

I commend those of you who do preach regularly about how we are to live as redeemed Christians and encourage those of you who don't often to start. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Paul T. McCain said...

Thinking more about this, and the comments offered here, I've come to think of the situation of preaching sanctification this way.

Sermons without clear and specific conversation about our life as Christians perhaps could be considered this way.

A man tells us that we are called to a great and wonderful adventure into an undiscovered country, full of danger, but also opportunity. He tells us all the dangers we face, and tells us how miserably we have, and do, and will continue to face up to these dangers, and how we will surely fail many times to take advantage of all the opportunities. We lament our condition and decry it. We despair of actually being able to take this wonderful trip and to take advantage of these wonderful opportunities.

Then the man tells us of the one who has already taken the journey, in our place. He came into this world to do just this. He became like one of us and took the trip and the journey. Because of Him we too can travel the path he took.

The man tells us how we are able to take the journey, and why, and he tells us the wonderful provisions the man who took our place has given us for the journey. We are comforted! We are hopeful! We now want to hear about this wonderful adventure of a lifetime, about the undiscovered country, about the opportunities. We want to hear how we can follow in the man's footsteps who has gone before us. We are joyful and excited and ready to hear.

And then the man ends his message.

He doesn't tell us more about the journey. He doesn't encourage us in that journey by telling us the opportunities, about all the things that man who has gone before has prepared for us to do.

Something seems to be missing here, we think to ourselves. And we are right. Something is missing.

Let's take joy in the opportunity to talk about the exciting journey we are on, and the opportunities for us along the way, and the undiscovered country that awaits us.

Paul T. McCain said...

A word of apology and an explanation.

I have been a bit distracted by a few things in recent days and was not closely following the comments. I noticed last night that a person had posted several comments without identifying himself, and providing a working e-mail address in his profile: both requirements of posting comments here. Please see the right hand side of this page for our commenting policy.

The individual who posted these anonymous comments also became increasingly combative in his tone and then took on a disrespectful tone toward a pastor.

This blog site is different from others. Here we wish to engage in open, cordial, deliberate discussion. Other blog sites are the place for a more "rough and tumble" approach. I don't have a problem with that, but that is now what we we are about here.

So, with apologies to this site, I've deleted the anonymous comments and I'm here again reminding our readers of our commenting policy.

I welcome the posts of "FP" who is a bright and articulate Lutheran layman, but I ask him, and everyone else who comments here, to please comply with our commenting policy.

Thank you.

Carl Beckwith said...

I'll first admit that I haven't read every post here closely so maybe my little point has already been made. What caught my attention was whether or not a sermon should end with the gospel. I believe it was Weedon who pointed out that many of our Lutheran fathers were not so deliberate in their sermons. True. With that said, however, I don't see how a sermon concerned with sanctification or our life of discipleship could end in any other way. My point is simple. After you proclaim the life of faith and the godly works our Lord has called us to do, you have to answer one question that will linger in the mind of every layperson listening to you. How? How in the world can I do what the righteous did in Matt 25? The answer is never the law but always the gospel. It is the gospel that orders our loves and provides the motivation to do the works articulated in the law. If we do not hear that our sins are freely forgiven for Christ's sake, our hearts will not be at peace but will be disordered by selfish desires. We can disagree about this but, in my opinion, if you end a sermon with the law and expect a person to do good works, you are suggesting to your hearers that the motivation to do those works comes from us. Put another way, to end with the law encourages me to say, "I can do it"; to end with the gospel, teaches me to say, "Christ can do it." So, yes, we proclaim, "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me."


Paul T. McCain said...

Carl, you make many good points. I have had the privilege of hearing Weedon and Cwirla preach, and reading many of their sermons. I can not recall ever thinking, "Wow, that sermon left me feeling convicted of my sins and feeling despondant over them, and offered me no comfort. All I got was a big old "to do" list."

No, not at all.

Describing the cruciform shape of the Christian life in the vocations into which we have been called can be done powerfully, clearly and effectively without turning it in a long "guilt trip."

We have take wonderful and necessary distinctions: law and gospel and nearly turned them into "things" that we must manipulate in precisely some kind of "formula" in order for them "to work."

I believe Pr. Cwirla's comment above this one offers a very necessary caveat.

Steven G. said...

I find this thesis of Walther's helpful in this discussion:

In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace. (emphasis mine)

Please notice what I have highlighted. It seems that this thesis of Walther's is often used in defense of the current "Law then Gospel" pattern in preaching, but notice that Walther goes on to say that the preaching of sanctification must follow the preaching of justification and that the preaching of good works must follow the preaching of grace.

When a Pastor preaches a sermon with no application of the Law to the Christian as a believer (third use), can it really be said of this Pastor that his "audiences are held by useful and clear sermons.' (Defense: On the Mass, paragraph 50)

Steven G. said...

Carl Said:
If you end a sermon with the law and expect a person to do good works, you are suggesting to your hearers that the motivation to do those works comes from us. Put another way, to end with the law encourages me to say, "I can do it"; to end with the gospel, teaches me to say, "Christ can do it."

With all do respect Carl (If you are a pastor forgive me for not including that title.), this seems to be just a tad foolish. To just disregard all that a faithful Pastor (A Pastor who faithfully preaches God's word and correctly distinguishes Law and Gospel) has said in his sermon just because he ends with an admonition to "go and do likewise". If the pastor has done his job, you will not be led (if you do it is a lie from Satan) to think that the motivation to do good works comes from something within our nature corrupted as it is.

Rev. Jeff said...

With all due respect to our venerable fathers in the faith and our holy brothers, do we not realize that our forefathers were raised and educated in the Roman system? Preaching and teaching faith and good works were natural.

Admittedly, I am a student of Elert and Nagel.

As the FC says:

So, too, the doctrine of the Law, in and with [the exercise of] the good works of believers, is necessary for the reason that otherwise man can easily imagine that his work and life are entirely pure and perfect. But the Law of God prescribes to believers good works in this way, that it shows and indicates at the same time, as in a mirror, that in this life they are still imperfect and impure in us, so that we must say with the beloved Paul, 1 Cor. 4, 4: I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified. Thus Paul, when exhorting the regenerate to good works, presents to them expressly the Ten Commandments, Rom. 13, 9; and that his good works are imperfect and impure he recognizes from the Law, Rom. 7, 7ff ; and David declares Ps. 119, 32: Viam mandatorum tuorum cucurri, I will run the way of Thy commandments; but enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified, Ps. 143, 2. (FC TD VI. 21.)

Also it says:
But how and why the good works of believers, although in this life they are imperfect and impure because of sin in the flesh, are nevertheless acceptable and well-pleasing to God, is not taught by the Law, which requires an altogether perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God. But the Gospel teaches that our spiritual offerings are acceptable to God through faith for Christ’s sake, 1 Pet. 2, 5; Heb. 11, 4ff. In this way Christians are not under the Law, but under grace, because by faith in Christ the persons are freed from the curse and condemnation of the Law; and because their good works, although they are still imperfect and impure, are acceptable to God through Christ; moreover, because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts; however, they maintain nevertheless a constant struggle against the old Adam. (FC TD VI. 22-23)

In addition, Walther says:
In the first place, the Law tells us what to do, but does not enable us to comply with its commands; it rather causes us to become more unwilling to keep the Law. . . . The person will become furious at God for asking such impossible things of him. Yea, he will curse God in his heart. He would slay God if he could. He would thrust God from His throne if that were possible. The effect of preaching the Law, then, is to increase the lust for sinning. . . . In the second place, the Law uncovers to man his sins, but offers him no help to get out of them and thus hurls man into despair. . . . In the third place, the Law does indeed produce contrition. It conjures up the terrors of hell, of death, of the wrath of God. But it has not a drop of comfort to offer the sinner. . . . Ever since the Fall the Law can produce no other effects in man. (C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans. W. H.
T. Dau, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 14-15.)

Walther continues:
By this spectacle [the terror of the Israelites at God’s thunder and lightening from the mountain] God has indicated to us how we are to preach the Law. True, we cannot reproduce the thunder and lightening of that day, except in a spiritual way. If we do, it will be a salutary sermon when the people sit in their pews and the preacher begins to preach the Law in its fulness and to expound its spiritual meaning. There may be some in the audience who will say to themselves, “If that man is right, I am lost.” (C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans. W. H.
T. Dau, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 118.)

Elert says:
The law always accuses. Christ exempted no one from this verdict. Proof of this can be seen in his call, directed to everyone, for repentance from the heart (Mark 1:15 in conjunction with Luke 13:3-5). The “Our Father,” designed for all to pray, presupposes that all are guilty (Matt 6:12). Therefore also in the interpretation which the law receives from Christ it always exposes man’s sin. There is no situation imaginable, so long as the law reigns over us, where it would not exercise this accusatory function. (Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, vol. 1, trans. Walter A. Hansen (St.
Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962), 13.)

Why do we wrangle about preaching sanctification when we ought to trust the Holy Ghost to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth? Why not let the Law be Law and the Gospel to be Gospel and allow the Holy Ghost to work when and where he wills?bgg

Pastor Kevin Jennings said...

Sorry to say I got behind in reading the posts to this article. Something about building a fence (not necessarily a good work) and taking care of the family (a good work).

In preparing sermons each week, there is a great temptation that causes me weekly to be very guarded in preaching on sanctification. Whether this helps us in the quest for why sanctification has dropped off the radar in many situations is anybody's guess.

The temptation is one of the very abuses this article uncovers: making man-made works into something God-pleasing. The article identifies rosaries and the like. This is one of the great abuses seen in evangelical televangelists and others, too - making something I dream up into a God-pleasing work. And, I'm as guilty of this as anyone, when left to themselves, the hearers are just as tempted as the preacher to make man-made developments into God-pleasing works. I usually say, "If sinful man can screw it up, he's going to screw it up."

For instance, is the work of giving commanded by God - is it a good work? Of course (see Galatians 6:6, for instance)! Is it necessarily a God-pleasing work to give a special offering to the new building project or to a specific mission? Now we're talking about something completely different. There's some difficulty in indentifying these as good works which are God-pleasing. Am I going to ask for those special offerings? You better believe it! Will I call it God-pleasing? Well...

The point: Sanctification preaching really difficult - maybe that's a factor! It has its own set of abuses to guard against. Sticking to what God has commanded in His Word (the 10 Commandments is always a good source) is the task of the preacher.

Josh S said...

If we do not hear that our sins are freely forgiven for Christ's sake, our hearts will not be at peace but will be disordered by selfish desires

I'm not sure why this keeps coming up. No one is suggesting that pastors should not preach that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake.

What I am saying when someone believes in the Gospel, he believes in a person, in the Son of God. When someone trusts Christ, it's entirely natural for him to ask, "So what should I do with my life now?" The biblical answer to that is not "nothing."

In other words, how should the Gospel affect my life? The biblical answer is not "not at all."

Paul T. McCain said...

Josh, I'm intrigued by your last post. Is it really the case that the Biblical answer to a person who is in Christ is that there is "nothing" I now do with my life?

I am having a hard time reconciling this with the Biblical texts about our life in Christ.

I might well be misunderstanding your point and I welcome your clarification.

Thanks to everyone here for making this a constructive conversation about a most important topic indeed.

Josh S said...

Is it really the case that the Biblical answer to a person who is in Christ is that there is "nothing" I now do with my life?

I said the biblical answer is not "nothing." The double negative might have thrown you off.

William Weedon said...


You missed Josh's double negative:

NOT nothing
NOT nothing at all.

wm cwirla said...

A paraphrase from a favorite Nagel sermon comes to mind this morning. On James 2:26:

"As breath is to the body, so works are to faith. As the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead. And you only take notice of your breathing when there is something wrong with your body."

wm cwirla said...

Regarding "sanctification preaching": I have yet to meet a baptized believer in Christ who doesn't know what the will of God is for his or her life. If anyone needs a refresher course, the Ten Commandments provide a convenient summary.

Much of what I hear and read as "sanctification preaching" is little more than self-improvement with a Christian veneer. It's not the daily baptismal dying and rising that is the Christian life.

Exhortations to holiness are quite another matter. When St. Paul exhorts his hearers to flee immorality, shun drunkenness, maintain sexual purity, discipline one's speech and conduct, etc, he's not telling them something they don't already know. Paul doesn't need a ten week sermon series on sex to convince the Corinthians that a guy isn't supposed to be having it with his stepmother.

The true exhortation to holiness and good works is the exhortation to be who we already are in Christ, namely, children of God and children of the Day. Sanctification preaching, properly speaking, needs to be about Christ and our baptismal identity in Christ. (See 1 Cor 6:9-11 for a great example of this.)

Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor Cwirla, I certainly agree, but we do not preclude preaching to Christians about the works prepared in advance for us to do, and, like the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul actually talking about those works and encouraging and urging Christians to be be about them.

The concern for giving long "how to" lectures has caused some to take things in the opposite direction.

The McCain principle is that for every bad, misleading or false action in the Church leads often to an overreaction.

I think that's what's been happening in our preaching [with sermons ever decreasing in length, lately I've been noticing nine minute sermons seem to be the norm with some]. We are now hearing sermons that do not mention, at all, the cruciform shape and contour of the baptized life, that do not talk about the blessed fruits of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the image of God that we have received back again in Christ our Lord.

The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

So, while we certainly do not want our sermons to turn into extended lectures on "Ten Ways to Have a Happy Marriag" and then only offer tips and hints on how this is done, neither should we deprive our people of the whole counsel of God.

Proper distinction between Law and Gospel does not mean restricting our sermons only to condemning sin and declaring justification.

The Law always accuses, to be sure, but it does not only accuse.

There is a proper place for preaching about the sanctified life in Christ: its nature, its strength and its consequences.

Paul T. McCain said...

Regarding the double negative.

Tricky things those.

Paul T. McCain said...

Rev. Jeff, thanks for your contribution to this conversation. I need to ask you to identify yourself and make your profile public, with a full name, location and operative e-mail address. We prefer here not to post anonymously. Please read the commenting policy to the side. You are welcome, and encouraged, to comment, please however follow through on these requests. Thank you very much.

wm cwirla said...

"The Law always accuses, to be sure, but it does not only accuse."

That is a key sentence in any discussion on sanctification preaching and the Law. The Law always accuses, even when we don't intend to accuse. The Law always accuses, even as it curbs, instructs, guides, and whatever else God might do with it. That's why there are no "uses" of the Law in our hands, or more accurately, in our mouths. These are the ways in which God uses His Law. And it must be that way because the only way to holiness is through dying and rising in Jesus, not rehab of the old Adam.

Paul T. McCain said...

Amen to Pastor Cwirla's comment. I have seen way too many times people using this truth to "justify" their lack of exhorting the faithful to work, and describing the life of Christian sanctification, and the various works they have the privilege of doing in their various stations and callings in life.

I've had more than one conversation with a pastor who says, "When I am telling people how they are sinners and break the Commandments, of course the Holy Spirit is going to use that preaching of the law in its "third use." That's why I never talk about sanctification in my sermons.

The Lutheran Confessions make a point of praising Lutheran sermons for being such good, clear, practical and relevant sermons on a variety of things that today, I'm afraid, some Lutheran pastors would dismiss as inappropriate subjects for sermons.

Where are the "practical and clear sermons," which according to the Apology "hold an audience" (XXIV, 50, p. 267). Apology XV, 42-44 (p. 229) explains:

"The chief worship of God is to preach the our churches all the sermons deal with topics like these: repentance, fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, prayer . . . the cross, respect for the magistrates and all civil orders, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love."


Carl Beckwith said...

Well said, Rev Cwirla. Thanks for reminding us that it is God who makes use of His law, not those who proclaim His word.

Your final comment is also well said. I am more and more moving to the conclusion that the foundation of all theological thought is not justification by faith alone but Luther's theology of the Cross. When we cling to Christ alone, order our loves and govern our thoughts by what He has and continues to do for us and through us, we rightly know how God comes to us, serves us, and refreshes us by His Gospel and in His sacraments.

As I see it, the theology of the Cross, and the humility it demands, assures agreement on justification, sanctification, the sacraments, and scripture. It avoids the gnosticizing tendency among many today to cleanse the faith of our "material" means of grace, it curbs the false estimation of our rational gifts that allow many today to dismiss on historical and sociological grounds the witness of the Prophets and Apostles that seems too embarrasing for our modern sensibilities, and finally, it prevents those who assert the priority of faith and imputation of Christ's righteousness for our salvation and conveniently avoid God's insistence on our moral transformation and life of Christian holiness.

All of what I am saying is nicely captured by McCain's reference to the cruciform shape of the Christian life. When I teach about justification and sanctification, I always make the sign of the cross over my students as a way of reminding them that our vertical reconciliation with the Father through the Son can never be separated from our simultaneous and horizontal renewal by the Spirit in our service toward our neighbor. To forget about our renewal, our life of discipleship, is to make faith selfish rather than selfless.

It is for this reason that I think all sermons, all bible studies, and all lectures must end with the Gospel, which is to say, with Christ and the Cross. Again, we can disagree, as a few apparently have, but to end in any other way ends with a theology that tends to glory and encourages those first person pronouns. Get the pronouns right and you get the Gospel right.


wm cwirla said...

Along this same line of discussion, we might also remember that the Large Catechism is essentially sermons on the Small Catechism. Read Luther's sermons on the Ten Commandments in view of those who would avoid instrucing Christians according to the Law.

Actually, if we are to take these sermons on the Ten Commandments as sermons, many would fail old CFW Walther's Gospel predomination test. Many have no Gospel at all.

David Scaer made an interesting comment recently at a conference in Wyoming. He said that this is why preachers should preach on the Gospel text assigned for the Sunday. Because it is from the Gospel narrative, it delivers the words and works of Jesus and the preacher is more likely to preach Christ than if he were to preach on the back chapters of most epistles.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Pr. Cwirla quoted Nagel saying:

"As breath is to the body, so works are to faith. As the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead. And you only take notice of your breathing when there is something wrong with your body."

We also notice our breathing when we are exercising, straining, or concentrating, etc. Maybe by some that could be categorized as something wrong, but when we are engaged in something that challenges us physically and increases our strength, we notice our breathing.

When the Holy Spirit brings us to new challenges in order to sanctify us, we become very aware and the "breathing" becomes very conscious and deliberate.

Lora Horn

Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor Cwirla, it is interesting to note the difference between Luther, Chemnitz, Gehard, Walther, etc. and more recent Lutheran preaching. I used to think that we contemporaries Lutherans were correct about how Law/Gospel is distinguished in sermons and our fathers were wrong and had not really understood it, or didn't really put their wonderful theories of Law/Gospel into practice.

And then I began to realize that perhaps it is we who are the ones who are incorrect and they perhaps were, and are, entirely correct.

I tend now to disbelieve that it has only been in the last forty years or so that Lutherans have figured out how properly to distinguish Law and Gospel in our sermons.

Rev. Jeff Nilsson said...

I think Luther should have a say here.

Either Christ must abide and the Law perish; or the Law must abide, and Christ perish. It is impossible for Christ and the Law to agree and share the reign over a conscience. Where the righteousness of the Law reigns, there the righteousness of grace cannot reign; and, on the other hand, where the righteousness of grace reigns, there the righteousness of the Law cannot reign. One of these two will have to yield to the other. AE 26:54

wm cwirla said...

I think the problem we have is that we are always reacting and responding to some criticism. It's what happens when you loose your footing and aren't sure any more. People complain we don't preach enough about works, and so we preach works and then comes the cry of "legalism" and "pietism." We stop preaching works and preach only the justification of the sinner and then comes the cry "antinomianism."

I don't think the Luthean fathers were any better or worse than we are. Sometimes they are great, sometimes they are so-so, sometimes they are downright awful. That's what I would expect; they are no more inspired that we are. The difference I see is that they were not so bound by theories and formulae as to how the Word is supposed to work. They simply preached the Word, recognizing its paradoxical polarity of Law and Gospel. Luther didn't fret over this Law/Gospel ratio or whether his last paragraph was in the category of Law or Gospel. He just preached until he ran out of stuff to say.

We tend to dissect and analyze the text or the sermon in a way that's more appropriate to an anatomy class in med school. It's the living Word of God we're talking about here. And that Word has its killing and making alive impact on its hearers.

I think the worst thing that's happened to the distinction of the Law and the Gospel in our day is that these have become categories rather than two poles in a dynamic tension.

Paul T. McCain said...

I know we are trying to "address the chair" in this conversation, and I often slip, but I need to say this, "Mr. Chairman, I want to agree with my good friend and colleague from California!"

You nailed it.

How to say this? I think we do tend to "overthink" these vital and important dogmatic distinctions to the point that we become nearly more concerned with the formula than the message.

There's one of those sweeping overgeneralizations that never end well, in the final analysis, but perhaps it is as you say, we do more analysis than proclamation.

George Kraus, one of the best preachers I've ever heard, if not the very best, had a favorite saying, "Don't sweat it!"

Robert Preus declared Kraus to the "best preacher on campus" when I was at the seminary, but of course we all knew that Robert P. was himself truly the best preacher, but Robert was given to effusive praise.

But George Kraus preached a sermon in chapel that concluded with the statement, "So, go do it!" and I would challenge anyone to find a single person who heard that who would say, "Oh, when he said that I was once again reminded of my sin. I was left in despair. I was turned in on myself. I was left with Law!'

No, we were all so uplifted, encouragd, comforted and empowered by that sermon that when he concluded with "Go do it!" my best friend and I just turned to each other and said, "Wow!"

We all wanted to run out of there and start being pastors that second, for the sake of Jesus.

Thanks, Bill, for a great summary and diagnosis of the issues. I've been struggling for some time to try to articulate basically what you just said.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

No more Robert's Rules, Paul.. please! I've had enough of that this last week at the convention. Nonetheless... may I call the question?


Paul T. McCain said...

Please, I've tried to get Cwirla and Weedon to start a new conversation on the next article, but they say they are "busy" with, in Weedon's case, a minor thing like a daughter's wedding, and Cwirla probably has some new home improvement project underway.

So, Ryan, please...lead us into the next conversation.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Will do... expect it shortly.