Monday, October 08, 2007

Preaching law to the regenerate

Should the law be preached to the regenerate? In an online forum, I was debating this question as within the context of Lutheran theology. Here are a series of my thoughts on the topic, making reference to notable Christians' writing.

1) "No Law preaching to the regenerate" is not a doctrine to which Martin Luther actually subscribed.

Even though Martin Luther once advocated against law preaching, he later repudiated this as a doctrine and stated that his life's work was full of counter-examples where he had applied the law:
" But admit I had taught or said, that the Law should not be preached in the Church (although the contrary be evident in all my writings, and in the constant practice of my Catechising from the beginning) why should men so stiffly adhere to me, and not rather oppose me, who having ever taught otherwise, were now revolted from myself (even as I dealt with the Pope's Doctrine?)"
Martin Luther, A Treatise against Antinomians written in an Epistolary way

"[Luther] was misunderstood by many, who concluded that to preach like Luther, they must preach faith, justification, and righteousness without the deeds of the Law every Sunday. The practice of theirs Luther denounced as a greater error than the error of the papists. By preaching faith only and saying nothing about repentance, the preacher leads his hearers to that awful condition where they imagine they are in no need of repentance, and finally they get so that they are past help."
C.F.W. Walther, "The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel"

Even though Luther's "How Christians Should Regard Moses" says:
"The law of Moses binds only the Jews and not the Gentiles. Here the law of Moses has its place. It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel.
... but it also says:
"Thus we read Moses not because he applies to us, that we must obey him, but because he agrees with the natural law and is conceived better than the Gentiles would ever have been able to do. Thus the Ten Commandments are a mirror of our life, in which we can see wherein we are lacking, etc. "
Martin Luther, How Christians Should Regard Moses"

2) The willful, "secure", indulging in sins has spiritual consequences.
Lutheran theologians have held that there are two ways the relationship with God can be destroyed-- one is seeking merits on the basis of your works, the other is outright indulgence in sin.
"This means there are two ways we can miss the mark of righteousness before God, two ways the relationship can be destroyed. One is more or less obvious: outright sinfulness, unrighteousness, lawlessness, self-indulgence, what the Bible would call "worldliness" or perhaps in more modern dress, carelessness or heedlessness. In other words, we can just say to God, "No thanks, I don't want it, I'll just take my own chances. [The other way of missing the mark is to seek merit with God on the basis of your own works]."
Gerhard O. Forde, "On Being a Theologian of the Cross," p. 26

"There were many hypocrites among the Galatians, as there are also among us, who pretend to be Christians and talk much about the Spirit, but they walk not according to the Spirit; rather according to the flesh. Paul is out to show them that they are not as holy as they like to have others think they are.
Verse 21. Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in the past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

This is a hard saying, but very necessary for those false Christians and hypocrites who speak much about the Gospel, about faith, and the Spirit, yet live after the flesh. But this hard sentence is directed chiefly at the heretics who are large with their own self-importance, that they may be frightened into taking up the fight of the Spirit against the flesh.
Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 5.

"Likewise the faith of which we speak ... cannot exist in those who live according to the flesh who are delighted by their own lusts and obey them."
Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Article III

3) There's something about "again and again" in Lutheranism.

"Likewise the faith of which we speak exists in repentance, i.e., it is conceived in the terrors of conscience, which feels the wrath of God against our sins, and seeks the remission of sins, and to be freed from sin. And in such terrors and other afflictions this faith ought to grow and be strengthened. "
Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Article III

"[Cheap grace says,] Let the Christian rest content in his worldliness and with this renunciation of any higher standard than the world. ... That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
Cost of Discipleship

4) Law preaching is a part of preaching of the Gospel, and teaching of Christ's work.

But how come we to know what sin is, if there be no Law, nor conscience?8 And where shall we learn what Christ is, and what he hath done for us? if we could not know, what the Law is, which he hath fulfilled, or what sin is, for which he hath satisfied?
Martin Luther, A Treatise against Antinomians written in an Epistolary way

The gospel is the truth of God in Christ Jesus by his Spirit.
The Spirit tells us the truth-- you are a sinner. That is the reality.
You have not only sinned, but you ARE a sinner. This is the Gospel's bite.

When I was first teaching and starting to travel in the church, I would go to visit congregations and I would run into people whose pastors I knew (they were my former students). And they would say things to me like this, "Grace, grace, grace, I'm so sick of grace I could puke. If I hear one more thing about the love of God, I'm just going to get up and leave."
You know my initial suspicion was that they were legalists. But I knew better. These things were being said to me by faithful believers. I knew the students who had become their pastors. I could not figure out for the life of me figure out what in the world was going on. So I asked the students to send me copies of their sermons. I read them. I found out what was going on. They were skipping this intensification. They were declaring the Gospel as a kind of universal acceptance without confirming the reality of people's sins. It was like gagging on sugar. It was so sweet. It had no bite whatsoever. It's critically important to recognize this point right here. Here is where repentance yields its right of way to faith. This intensification by the gospel, this underscoring-- the Spirit making of the Law a teacher-- makes the difference between the faithful witness of the gospel and Gospel reductionism, that reduces everything to grace and cannot for that reason speak of the law. Both must be set out together. If one is neglected, if gospel is neglected or law is neglected, we go awry.
James Nestingen, Australian Lutheran College on Wednesday 15 August 2007.

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