-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps"

This is today's New Testament reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. I thought it was a good reflection of the model Jesus envisioned in his high priestly prayer, that we read in my previous post, in John 17. Jesus' Incarnation becomes a model for our own role in the world.

"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:13-25)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The New Testament and the Kingdom of God

It is undeniably true that the kingdom of God was a central element to the ministry of Jesus. The centrality of this message begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, "Repent! For the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near" (Matt. 3:2). It is then adopted by Christ himself, "But Jesus hearing that John was delivered up, He withdrew into Galilee. And having left Nazareth, having come He lived at Capernaum, beside the sea in the districts of Zebulun and Naphtali... From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent! For the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near" (Matt. 4:12-17; Cf. Mark 1:14). Jesus takes over the proclamation from John (Cf. John 3:26-30).

The most striking characteristic of the treatment of the kingdom of God in the New Testament is its inseparable connection with proclamation, with the Word of God. John, Jesus, and the Apostles proclaim (κηρυσσειν) the kingdom of God (Cf. Matt. 4:23; Matt. 9:35; Matt. 10:7; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Luke 9:2; Acts 1:3; Acts 8:12; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). In the New Testament, to preach the kingdom of God is to preach the gospel (Cf. Matt. 4:23; Matt. 9:35; Matt. 24:14; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Acts 8:12). It is: "τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ Θεοῦ," the gospel of the kingdom of God. It could be argued that the reason for this is that the preaching of the kingdom of God in the New Testament was always seen as an eschatological message, but I think this is a little short sighted. In Luke, Jesus makes it clear that, unlike the eschatological coming of the kingdom in glory (Matt. 25:31), the kingdom he is talking about "does not come with observation" (Luke 17:20), indeed, that it was already "in [their] midst" (Luke 17:21). Because it does not come with observation, it must be a very different type of kingdom than most around Jesus were expecting (Luke 19:11).

The parable in Luke 19 (11-27) is very revealing of how Jesus saw his reign of the kingdom of God. His reign does not begin at his second coming (v. 15) but is subsequent to his death, resurrection, and ascension, that is, at his conquering of sin death and the Devil (v. 12). So when Jesus says, "The time has been fulfilled," and that, "the kingdom of God draws near" (Mark 1:15), it should not be assumed that Christ is talking about the end of the age. Rather, the fulfilment of time is a reflection of the incarnation of the Messiah (Cf. Gal. 4:4).

So the question is, in what way is the kingdom of God in our midst? How is it manifested? Jesus certainly upset the plans of all those around him who believed he would establish a temporal/worldly reign. Jesus tells Pilate in John chapter 18: "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have fought that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here" (v. 36). It should not be assumed that Jesus is here telling us that his kingdom is not "in" (ἐν) this world, rather he tells us that it is not "of the this world" (ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου). This is an imporatant distinction that needs to be made; God's kingdom is not of this world in the same way as his Apostles were not of this world, though, like God's kingdom, they were in this world. The Apostles were in the world, "ἐν τῳ κόσμῳ" (John 17:11), though they were not of this world, "ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου" (John 17:14); in the same way, the kingdom of God may be in this world, ἐν τῳ κόσμῳ, but it is not of this world, ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου. While it might be a little harder to determine the character of what it means for the kingdom to not be of the world, we do see in John 18:36 what it would mean for a kingdom to be of this world. Jesus tells us that a kingdom of this world is a kingdom that excercizes its reign through external force, that is, through the law. It is in the next verse (v. 37) that we hear how Christ exercizes his reign: "For this purpose [to become King] I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I might witness to the Truth. Everyone being of the Truth hears My voice." Jesus makes it clear that it is either a matter of being "ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου," of the world, or of being "ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας," of the Truth. Those who are ruled by Christ are those who "hear his voice."

We have here a perfect depiction of the temporal reign of the two kingdoms, those who are ruled through the law and external institutions and motivation, and those who are ruled by the Word of God. What we have seen here in John 18 has a direct parallel in the 17th chapter in Jesus' high priestly prayer. Reading what we have seen in chapter 18, keeping in mind what Jesus prays in the previous chapter we have a clear depiction of a purely temporal understanding of the two kingdoms. In chapter 17 we see many parallels: Jesus makes it clear that he is praying for those who "have kept Your Word" (v. 6); Jesus gave them "[God's] Word, and the world hated them because they are not of the world, as [Jesus was not] of the world" (v. 14); Jesus does "not pray that [God] take them out of the world" (v. 15), but rather, Jesus "sent them into the world" (v. 18); Jesus asks the Father to "sanctify them in the Truth," and makes it clear that, "[the Father's] Word is Truth" (v. 17). Combining what we have seen from both chapter 17 and 18 we can say that the kingdom of God is not found in transcending the world but in being in the world, though not being of the world, but rather in being of the truth, which Jesus tells us is God's Word. Those who are ruled by this Word, that is, the gospel, are those who hear Jesus' voice, that is, those who keep his Word, not out of fear of punishment or desire for reward, that is, through the law, but out of love for God. Through this Word we are sanctified and bear fruit to God.

We can see that when the New Testament talks of the Kingdom of God, it is not saying this as to make a distinction between the kingdom and the world, but to make a distinction between who we are "of," whether we are "of the world" or "of the truth." That is, it is a question of who our lord is, whether worldly lusts or the Logos. This seems to bear out with a broader understanding of the 1st Century usage of this terminology. Joachim Jeremias writes:

"One thing is certain: the word malkuta [Aramaic] did not have for the oriental the significance that the word "kingdom" does for the westerner. Only in quite isolated instances in the Old Testament does malkut denote a realm in the spatial sense, a territory; almost always it stands for the government, the authority, the power of a king. But this does not mean that malkut is understood in an abstract way; it is always in process of being achieved. Thus the reign of God is neither a spatial nor a static concept; it is a dynamic concept. It denotes the reign of God in action, in the first place as opposed to earthly monarchy, but then in contrast to all rule in heaven and on earth [see for example 1 Cor. 15:24]." (New Testament Theology, vol. 1, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1971), 98.)

Mark D. Roberts likewise writes:

"The Aramaic word we translate as "kingdom" referred...to the authority of the king. Thus malku could be translated as "kingly authority, rule, or reign," and should be in the case of Jesus' usage. He's not saying that the place where God rules is coming near, but that God's royal authority is about to dawn, and is in fact dawning in Jesus' own ministry. Moreover, the Aramaic term we translate as "heaven," literally a plural form meaning "heavens," was often used as a circumlocution for God, much as my grandmother used to say "Good heavens!" rather than "Good God!"

"So when Jesus said "the malkuta dishmaya has come near," he didn't mean that the kingdom of the "the place we go when we die" has come near, but rather that God's kingly authority was at hand. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and demonstrated its presence through doing mighty deeds, such as healings and exorcisms."

From this we are able to see that to proclaim the kingdom of God is not to talk about the kingdom, but to bring about the kingdom of God. It is through the Word of the gospel that God's kingdom is manifested. This is the reason that the kingdom "does not come with observation" (Luke 17:20), and why the kingdom is not like the kingdoms of the world which are manifested through external force and works, that is, this is because God's kingdom comes through simple words coming out of human mouths that enter our ears and pierce our hearts. The kingdom of God is not manifested in works but in faith in God's Word. But we should not be led by this to believe that God's kingdom remains merely a "word-event" (Ebeling), rather, as we see in John 17, God's Word enters hearts and sanctifies in the world. One of my favorite depictions of this is in the parable of the sower, where the "Word of the kingdom," τον λόγον τῆς βασιλείας (Matt. 13:19), which is the seed, is sown in peoples' hearts. Of the seed that is sown in the good soil we read: "Those in the good ground, these are the ones who in a right and good heart, hearing the Word, they hold it and bear fruit in patience" (Luke 8:15). The kingdom of God is not in works or force but in the seed, the Word of God, coming into our hearts and when, through God's grace, hearing this Word and holding it fast, the seed grows and sprouts forth in good works. In this one verse we hear the entirety of God's gospel and the Christian's life--God's Word, faith, love, fruits-- all organically connected through the working of God's Word, that is, the λόγον τῆς βασιλείας.

We see from this that works are not the kingdom of God, but are reflections of the kingdom of God, that is, they are fruits of the kingdom of God; we produce "the fruits of it [the kingdom]," τους καρπους αὐτῆς (Matt. 21:43). The fruits of the kingdom of God are no more the kingdom of God itself than the fruit of the Spirit are the Spirit himself, rather, the fruits express that God's kingdom is powerfully at work in the lives of believers. The exception to this is when external works are inextricably connected in witness' minds with the message of the gospel. Notable examples of this would be mission work where acts of love are connected in peoples' minds with the Word of love; In the case of the Martyrs where people witnessed the hope that the Martyrs held in the Word of God, even in the face of death; and most notably, when the Centurian at Christ's crucifixion, awed by what he saw of Christ's obedience, could declare "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39). These are all examples of Jesus' famous phrase: "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

We see from all this that a spatial understanding of two kingdoms is a foreign concept to the New Testament. This is not to say that Luther's spatial construction was wrong, on the contrary, it was very correct and biblically so. It is just that the New Testament does not use "kindom language" to denote a strong separation between our horizontal life and our vertical life. We do see some parallels, though, that Luther no doubt intended to emphasize. We see from the kingdom language that the kingdom of God comes to us, not we to it; we do not, by means of the kingdom of God try and escape this world, but rather, the kingdom comes to us in our daily life and feeds and empowers us, and we, clinging to this Word, go out into the world and serve our neighbor to the glory of God. The lack of a spatial character concerning the kingdom of God in fact helps us to affirm the worldly order; we see from John that, while Jesus wanted to make sure we were not of the world, but of the truth, he still sends us into the world, to engage it. This essential aspect to the kingdom of God, which Luther was so concerned about, is not neccisarily protected by over emphasizing a distinction between the vertical and the horizontal, but more correctly in relfecting the character of the Incarnation of Christ, where Christ came into the world in complete obedience to the Father and established and affirmed peace, justice, offices, and institutions. Jesus prays that the Apostles' role in the world would be a reflection of what his role (minus the Atonement, of course) was in the world. "They are not of the world, even as (καθως) I am not of the world" (John 17:16). "As You have sent (ἀπέστειλας) Me into the world," Jesus prays, "I also have sent (ἀπέστειλα) them into the world" (John 17:18). "For the Words which You gave to Me, I have given to them" (John 17:8). "I sanctify Myself for them, that they also may be sanctified in Truth" (John 17:19). "I have given them the glory which You have given Me, that they may be one, as We are One: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in one; and that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them, even as You loved Me" (John 17:22-23). We see here not a strict separation of vertical and horizontal, but rather a Christological depiction of God's reign through the Word of the gospel, where our obeidence to the Logos in the world is a reflection of Christ's own obedience to the Father in the world.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies.
Test all things, hold fast the good.
Keep back from every form of evil.
And may the God of peace Himself fully sanctify you, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is the One calling you, who also will perform it.
1 Thess. 5:16-24

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Marty on Legalism

Here is a great quote from Martin E. Marty. I think it addresses some of my own concerns with the current approach in the LC-MS on ethics, specifically in the fields of the two kingdoms and the two kinds of righteousness. Civil righteousness and God's temporal rule through the law is so concrete, and God's temporal rule through the gospel is so undefinable (as much so as the Holy Spirit), that it seems there would be little question as to which we would pick. Especially in a congregational setting, God's rule through the gospel seems a mere abstraction, while simply putting forth and preaching dedication of service to one's neighbor seems to produce the desired results. The natural draw towards a puritanistic work ethic is very appealing not only to the pastor but also to the flesh.

"Legalism is so direct, so problem-solving, so efficient, and has so many accidental but easy ties with Scriptural moments that it seems attractive and agreeable to Lutheran ethics. "Freedom" then relates only to an inner, spiritual reality. "Ethics" is then based on a reintroduction of the Law on all outer, temporal activities. But if legalism is valid in certain areas of life, does it not crowd out freedom in such areas? In that case, is the Christian still not "under the Law" from which Christ on His cross freed him?"

-Martin E. Marty, “Luther on Ethics: Man Free and Slave,” In Accents in Luther’s Theology, ed. Heino O. Kadai, 199-229 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), 207.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gustaf Wingren, Creation, Vocation, and Law

I see Gustaf Wingren's position as the logical conclusion of connecting God's temporal rule of law with the spatial understanding of the kingdom of the world, creation. Part of the problem stems from how we are to interpret God's commands on man within the garden before his fall. It is an inability of separating what the law is and what the law does when it confronts man.

Wingren's position is very reminiscent of Werner Elert's view of the law, with his continual refrain: "The law is always a law of retribution." David Scaer depicts the theological implications of this position very adequately when he writes:

"In Helmut Gollwitz's opinion, "Elert starts from the false presupposition that wrath, judgement, and punishment have an eternal Law of retribution as their basis to have any validity. This would mean that God is wrathful because He is a God of Law, and if this is followed to its logical conclusion it would have to mean that Law of retribution is the fundamental standard by which man's relationship is regulated, and that it was given before and not after the fall as the original form of man's relationship between God and man which was not one of love, therefore that the Gospel could not be the reestablishment of the original relationship." Gollwitz is right! In Lutheran theology the Law's prime purpose is revealing man's wretched condition (SA III.ii.4), but this purpose is defined by man's present condition. The tension exists in man and not in God, whose nature is love. Making Law, wrath, and vengeance part of God's essence before the fall contradicts His love, but also might make it hard to distinguish Elert's position from Calvin's, where hate and love exist side by side in God." (“Third Use of the Law: Resolving the Tension” [A paper delivered at the 28th Annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions, Concordia Theological Seminary, January, 2005])

Wingren avoids this representation of God by making it clear that law is not a reflection of who God is but as being inextricably connected with the creation of the world. For Wingren the reality of law on earth is only justifiable, concerning God, by its being overcome through Christ. Therefore human history under the law is only meaningful as the precursor for its being conquered by Christ, but this only exists as an eschatological reality. For Wingren, Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection makes no substantial difference in how we live in the world and before our neighbor; for Wingren, as long as there is earth, there the civil use of the law reigns supreme. Christ's coming frees us from false faith, but not from the law. This only occurs at the eschaton.

"The work of Christ is victory over the law in any form: good works lead to salvation by neither one route nor the other. The conscience alone, through faith in the work of Christ, is freed from false faith. Christ frees neither the hand from its work nor the body from its office. The hand, the body, and their vocation belong to earth. There is no redemption in that, but that is not the idea. The purpose is that one's neighbor be served. Conscience rests in faith in God, and does nothing that contributes to salvation; but the hands serve the vocation which is God's downward-reaching work, for the well-being of men. From the viewpoint of faith, vocation has no relevance. As soon as any outward quality of life claims a place in conscience or in heaven, claiming to be a condition for God's forgiveness, the immateriality of vocation must be emphasized." (Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press,
1957), 11.)

For Wingren, the whole purpose of creation is service to neighbor, as we read before, "To stress the doctrine of the first use of the Law means not only to affirm that the world belongs to God, but to reject any other religious interpretation of the world." (Creation and Law, trans. Ross Mackenzie (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 160.) But even this is really only a reflection of the character of our life in creation not its purpose. Wingren saw the whole sphere of creation as the realm that man learns to die to himself through the law and to rise with Christ, in time through faith, and eternally in the victory of the gospel. Wingren inverts Luther's view of Baptism. Luther saw the life of Baptism as dying through contrition and repentance, and then the rising of the new man who is reintroduced to the world and creation. Luther writes:

"It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

"Where is this written?--Answer.
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

In contrast to this Wingren will write: "The Christian is crucified by the law in his vocation, under the earthly government; and he arises through the gospel, in the church under the spiritual government." (Vocation, 30) We see how different this is from Luther's position. For Luther, the gospel reintroduces us to and renews God's original will for creation; For Wingren, the gospel is what frees us from the rule of the law inherent in creation. Wingren did not see the mortification that occurs under the law as an accident of the law due to the sinful condition of man, but as inherent in the very fact that it legislates.

"The fact that the Law "puts to death" is sometimes interpreted as a by-product of its primary function, which is to legislate concerning right behavior in society, or to protect and preserve life. But the Law "puts to death" precisely when it demands the required behavior in society and protects life."

The kingdom of the world, for Wingren, is the most fundamental form of the law gospel dialectic. Unlike Elert who saw the law as primarily a "law of retribution" (2nd use of the law), Wingren saw the civil use of the law as the primary use of the law. Wingren saw it as our cross that prepares us for the gospel. "God has ordained many different orders, in which man is to discipline himself and learn to suffer and die." (Vocation, 29)

Therefore legislation and gospel are completely contradictory, "The content of the Law cannot therefore be derived from the Gospel, which by its very nature is always opposed to the Law and judgment, just as Christ’s Resurrection reverses his death." (Creation and Law, 128) For this reason, Wingren saw the kingdom of heaven as a realm where no law exists, no vocation, and no service: "In the heavenly kingdom Christ is king, and there gospel alone rules: no law, and therefore no works." (Vocation, 10) There can be no: "That I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness." (Small Catechism, The Creed, Second Article) Wingren talks so little of the problem of sin as our alienation from God, and talks so much of the civil use of the law that it seems almost as if Christ came more to free us from the law than to free us from our bondage to sin and to restore our original relationship with the triune God and the rest of humanity and creation. In fact, these relationships seem to completely leave off, for, which Wingren most certainly knew, to live in relationship is to give of self, but for Wingren giving of self is a reflection of law not of gospel, therefore the necessity of the end of all relationships:

"In heaven man has neither wife nor children, for all offices leave off, and human beings are all alike, since the rule of the law is put away. The realm of vocation is temporary. It is only in the present, short life that we are concerned with the endowments and responsibilities of office. The transitoriness of vocation can be called another aspect of the fact, already stated, that vocation has nothing to do with salvation. The gospel, as the promise of salvation, is also the promise of eternity, of a kingdom which will never pass away. On earth we receive from God gifts which we are transitory; but in the heavenly kingdom we receive God himself, who never passes away." (Vocation, 19)

This, of course, excepting God's giving of self; heaven becomes a state that man just sits around and receives from God his eternal gifts, anything above this is a reinstatement of the law.

What needs to be analyzed is the essential character of what we have come to know as "law." It boils down to whether the law is seen as something that always coerces and condemns, or whether it has a reality beyond this. Wingren sees the law only as to its negative aspects, thus the need for him to deny a lex aeterna and to envision a heaven completely devoid of man's service. David Scaer has done a wonderful job of explaining the character of the law as it is in its essence. Let's hear from him:

"God does not set arbitrary moral standards for good and evil, but good works are an extension of who or what he is and revive what is already inherent in creation and corrupted by sin. Defined in this way the Law does not stand in an antagonistic relation with the Gospel. This is not simply a return to paradise to what the Law was then, but a republication of the Law in Christ." (Scaer, "Resolving the Tension")

For Wingren, the law's connection with creation is in a way arbitrary. It is not inherent in it but rather is inseparably connected to it because of God's purpose of revealing the gospel through it. Scaer makes it clear that the law's connection with creation, while it can be said to be "inherent" to it, is not so much due to the fact of creation, but to the fact that, in creation, we are set into a relationship before God and before fellow man. To be created for Scaer means to be set into relation. The divine will in these inter-personal relations is to give of self, if this were otherwise, we would not live in relation. This self-giving, under Christ, can at one and the same time be called law, but behind this essentially, love. This is where Wingren's view of the law completely falls apart. Christ's declaration that all the law is wrapped up in love of God and love of neighbor breaks down all arguments that the law is essentially God's way of "putting to death," or that the law is only a "law of retribution" (Elert). Sin gives the law its characteristically negative function: "The commandment which was to life, this was found to be death to me" (Rom. 7:10) But essentially, as we see from Christ and Paul, it was a commandment unto life.

"Jesus identified love of God and neighbor not only as the Law's greatest commandments, but also as the ones into which all the Law is assumed. Law in all its functions determines relationships between men with God and with each other. By assuming the entire Law into love, Jesus showed that the Law in its first and final form has no negatives. Love as the content of the Law (Scriptures) is not a matter of arbitrary divine choice, but reflects what God really is. In requiring love of us, God only asks us to become like him." (Scaer, "Resolving the Tension")

Compare this statement from Scaer--"By assuming the entire Law into love, Jesus showed that the Law in its first and final form has no negatives."-- with this statement from Wingren: "But when it summarizes the Law as love of one’s neighbor, it is stating something about the power of the Law to compel all men to act on their neighbour’s behalf." (Creation, 151) We see how Wingren's view of the law negatively affects his view of love. Love takes on an almost unrecognizable character; love becomes boiled down to a mere outward act.

Therefore we must separate law, as it exists in its essence as love, from God's rule of law (regimente); that is, we must separate space from time. God's law is inherent in being created in relation to God and man, in the world (reiche); God's rule of law (regimente) is an accident of man's fall into sin, its bondage to Satan, and its fate under judgment.

With this understood we can affirm that God's rule through the gospel (regimente) is not antithetical with our existence on the earth (reiche). With this understood, the gospel becomes more than a "word-event" and more than an eschatological hope; the gospel becomes a very present reality that enters our hearts and connects us with Christ and recreates and renews us in the divine will of Christ our King. Only in this way can a real understanding of sanctification be affirmed. It is not an accident that the very term cannot be found (at all!) in either Wingren's Creation and Law, or Luther on Vocation. (How can you write a book on vocation and never bring up sanctification?) When the two kinds of righteousness--civil and imputed-- and the two kingdoms--inseparably connecting God's rule of law with creation-- are set forth, no real understanding of sanctification can exist. Listen to how Wingren talks: "What is effected through these orders of society is not due to an inner transformation of the human heart. The corruption of the heart is amended in heaven, through the gospel of Christ." (Vocation, 6)

"The gospel is thus an eschatological message, in the sense that it promises something that belongs to the future, life after death. This is evident in Luther's way of differentiating between iustitia civilis (civil righteousness) and iustitia christiana (righteousness in Christ). Civil righteousness is promoted by the law and is relevant in courts, in general, before man, as an adequate righteousness. Righteousness in Christ is a given righteousness, and can be said to consist of the forgiveness of sins." (Vocation, 20)

Wingren sets creation, the kingdom of the world, and salvation, the kingdom of God, in an antithetical relationship where the law is conquered by the gospel. A correct understanding, rather, tells us that salvation is an affirmation of God's original will in creation, that he desires for us to live before him, and before our neighbor and the rest of creation in relationships defined by self-giving love. God's will in creation was not a "lesser good" until the "greater good" through the gospel could be revealed; God's will in creation was "very good" and salvation is a restoration of that good that is envisioned in God's perfect will. It is our bondage and guilt under sin that is the problem with creation, not creation itself. Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection that we receive in his Word is the perfect love letter that tells us that God loves us and desires to live with us in eternity. In the same way, creation tells us the same thing, it tells us that it was God's utmost desire for us to live in relation to him and the rest of creation, that our creation was "very good."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King

A nice devotional from Rev. Earl Feddersen for Christ the King Sunday:

It is a bit ironic that, as I prepare this editorial for a Sunday that has a theme about last things, I am also preparing the memorial service for my father-in-law. One of the themes for the Sunday of the fulfillment reminds us that, in all things, Jesus is Lord. Some churches still celebrate the day as Christ the King Sunday.

In one of the old M.A.S.H. shows on television, Colonel Potter was trying to comfort or "cool down" an angry Hawkeye, who had just lost a young patient. He said, "Rule number one in war is that young men die. Rule number two is doctors can't change rule number one." Today my wife's family is fully aware that rule number one in life is that people die and doctors can't change that either. On the other hand, this Sunday we remember that Christ rules everything and, because of His death and resurrection rule number one has been dramatically changed!

Celebrating Christ's Kingship is not some ritual, performed annually, but an ongoing act of faith. It recognizes and proclaims the One who is in charge. Since we, Republican and Democrat and Libertarian and Independent types, all like to think we are in charge, this is risky business.

Some people ridicule royalty today. We may not be as cold and calculating as paparazzi or yellow journalists, but we know how to mock and jest and joke. It is more than merely humbling to see, in the Gospel of John, the same behavior among those who participated in Jesus' trial, where He was accused of nothing less than being a king. The soldiers gave Him a scepter -- the same stick with which they beat Him, a purple robe -- the royal colors, and a crown -- prickly and painful. Isn't the king funny -- a big joke?

At the same time, as you read the story, you begin to sense that things are not as they seem. Pilate thinks that he is in control, and Jesus is on trial, but it looks more and more as if the opposite is really true. While Pilate insists he has power, it is the bedraggled and beaten Jew before him Who demonstrates a personal presence and power. Before Herod, the contrast was between a puppet king and a real King. Before Pilate, the contrast is between a power king and genuine Royalty.

When Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world, He was not implying that His kingdom was in some other time or place; He was saying that His kingdom was not involved in the ways and wars of Caesar or any other temporary world power. The Revelation of John has it succinctly when it says that Christ is "the Ruler of the kings of the earth." He is above those who rule by force or coercion, whose authority is as tentative as the next coup or revolution.

But the ultimate question this Sunday still remains, and it is very personal. Jesus is King, of that there is no doubt, but is He our King? Who is in charge for us? Do we shout with the crowd, "We have no king but Caesar"? Do we shiver like cowards with Peter and pretend we don't even know Him? Or do we bow with the nations and people of every language, who were envisioned by Daniel, and worship Him? Do we shout with the whole company of heaven, as envisioned by John, "And He shall reign forever and ever! Hallelujah!"

Shortly after ascending to the throne of England, Queen Victoria attended a splendid performance of that great oratorio by Handel, The Messiah. She had been told in no uncertain terms that members of royalty do not rise with all the others when the Hallelujah Chorus is sung. It was simply not proper.

But when the singers lifted their voices to shout, "Hallelujah! The Lord God omnipotent reigneth," she could hardly remain in her seat. She did not wish to violate the traditions of kings and queens, but when the chorus came to that last grand climax, proclaiming Jesus Christ the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, repeating the phrase with increasing crescendos, the queen of all England rose and bowed her head before the King of all, including all kings and queens.

A kingdom of love may not seem like much in a warring and truculent world, but it is still with us, and Caesar's is not. Christ is still King, whether or not Victoria is queen. (Please rise.)

There is a King Whose rule truly is determined by Divine right. Christ is King without regard to a popular vote. He rules if we choose to go deer hunting this Sunday, or play golf, or give homage to the god of the pillow. Nothing we will or will not do this Sunday morning will have any bearing on whether or not He reigns forever and ever. But we cannot avoid the confrontation which ultimately asks whether or not He rules in our lives, is our King, and we, His willing servants.

John's vision of the King Who is Ruler of the kings of the earth inspires him to a song of doxology and praise: "To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father -- to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." Those words empower us far beyond the decrees and coercion and force and power of any other king or ruler.

Thank God that the Ruler Whose dominion stretches beyond the earth and over all the galaxies and wonders of all the universe, is the same King Who stood before Pilate and lived the truth of God's love. The One Who is our Judge is the same One Who gave His life as a ransom for us. The One Who calls us to serve Him and live under Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness is the same One Who came not to be served but to serve. The One Who demands obedience from us is the same One Who gave up everything to forgive our disobedience by obeying His Father unto death, even death on a cross.

We close the Church Year, not just standing in awe of, but ready to serve the King Whose power and authority go far beyond not only the resources but even the imagination of any other king. In one short week we will be even more awed and inspired by the knowledge that this same King is the frail and dependent Child Who comes to bring peace on earth, His grace to all women and men.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: "Every Action of the Triune God is a Promise that Gives and a Gift that Promises"

"In the particular divine service, we can hear, taste, and see, through the word, that what holds the world together in its inmost essence is the categorical gift rather than the categorical imperative (contra Kant). The particular divine service does not cultivate its own separate religious sphere, but it discloses the world as creation. In the light of his Reformation discovery that the Words of Institution spoken over the Lord's Supper are fundamentally performative words that give what they say, Luther developed his characteristic understanding of creation as God's gift. Luther has these gift-giving words of the Lord's Supper in his ears, before his eyes, and in his heart when he confesses that every action of the triune God is a promise that gives and a gift that promises.

"The universal character of the categorical gift finds its counterpart in the universality of the response, for which we are empowered by the gift and promise: "For all of this I am bound to thank and praise, serve and obey him." An ethos of giving and love is included in the response. It is included but not identical to it. Thus, it is a mistake to conclude from Romans 12:1-2 that "the doctrines of worship and Christian 'ethics' coincide." It is even less possible to understand this Magna Carta of the new obedience (Rom. 12:1f.) in the sense of the Roman Catholic idea of the sacrifice of the faithful together with Christ in the Eucharist. This proposal is no better than the claim that worship coincides with ethics. Neither proposal has any place for the indispensable distinction between faith as God's service to us, and love as the service of the faithful to their fellow creatures. This distinction is so necessary for salvation that we cannot do without it.

"In the overall context of the letter, the "sacrifice" and the "worship" that Paul speaks of in Romans 12:1-2 explain the significance of Baptism, which Paul sums up as living a new life (Rom. 6:4). This not only has ethical implications but it goes beyond ethics and includes the whole physical perception of the world which needs to be worked out in a comprehensive aesthetics that looks at how our senses, emotions, memory, and imagination are all involved in our experience of reality. We can only view creation properly through that judgment and "death" which is enacted in Baptism; otherwise all talk about creation is idle chatter."

-Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 86-87.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Augustine, Luther, and the Formation of the Teaching on the Two Kingdoms

It will be remembered that I believe there needs to be a clear distinction made between a spatial understanding and temporal (by temporal, I don't mean worldly or transient but "of or relating to time") understanding of the two kingdoms. I think there is a general confusion between these two within the Lutheran understanding that leads to undesirable consequences. The confusion in the Lutheran church stems unfortunately from the work of Luther in this area. While Luther certainly is to be praised for the reemergence of this teaching which had been essentially dead and confounded since Augustine, he himself can address this issue with conflicting positions.

Indeed, a confusion can be seen beginning with Augustine, from whom Luther's thought is indebted. The problem with Augustine's construction is to be found in his categorization of who is "in" the kingdom of God and who is in the kingdom of the world. The Church Invisible is the kingdom of God, those who are subjects of Christ, and not subjects of the Devil, of whom the rest of the world is enslaved, thus being the kingdom of the world. In Augustine, therefore, we see a purely temporal understanding of the two kingdoms; it lacks Luther's clear explication of the Christian's role in "secular" society. Augustine, it can be said, was concerned with the who and not with the what; he is concerned with whether we are ruled by a love for the world or by a love for God, he is not concerned, so much, with the what, a la "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, render unto God what is God's" (Matt. 22:21). For this, that is, the what, we are indebted to Luther. Therefore, under my construction, the temporal understanding of the two kingdoms is concerned with who one is ruled by; The spatial understanding of the two kingdoms tells us what we are to render unto God and what we are to render unto Caesar based on "where" we are. One is temporally defined under lordship--we were at one time were ruled by sin, death, and the devil, at another by God--, the other is spatially defined by what our role is in creation--service to neighbor, obedience to superiors, stewardship of creation, etc.

Augustine focuses on the temporal and not the spatial. But even Augustine's understanding of the temporal is not quite correct. Augustine separated the kingdoms by whole individuals--this individual is ruled by worldly love, this individual by love of God. This, though, is not a the Scriptural depiction. Paul paints a much more complex situation seated in his understanding of the spirit and the flesh (Rom. 7). A correct understanding of the spiritual kingdom has to admit an already/not yet situation; in faith we are connected with the completion of our hope (in spe)--it is eschatologically determined--, while our state as it is now (in re) admits degrees, it is a continuing battle between flesh and spirit. Augustine has the ethical basis of the two kingdoms, the iustitia, but does not admit degrees, thus assurance of being in the kingdom of God rests on whether one feels they are righteous or not; the Lutheran understanding rests on the assurance of the Word of God, on the righteousness of Christ, the iustitia Christi. A proper understanding of the temporal aspect of the kingdom of God rests on the Word of God, in faith (justification), which is our entrance into and assurance of our status in the kingdom, and in what faith apprehends (the Holy Spirit and sanctification), because God rules through his Word (Cf. John 18:36-37). For this focus on the Word of God being the basis of the kingdom of God, we are also indebted to Luther.

Augustine's purely temporal understanding of the two kingdoms was highly dialectical, separating Christians from the rest of secular society. While Augustine could praise secular society to an extent for the limited good it could accomplish, overall, he aided in fostering a view that brought into question the Christian's role in the wider society. In the early formation of Luther's position on the two kingdoms, we see the influence Augustine's thought had on him. This is what William Lazareth says about Luther's early position:

"For the first half of the 1520s, [Luther's] early dualistic views on God's twofold rule (Regimente) of unbelievers with the law and believers with the gospel were coextensively incorporated within this cosmic cleavage. As in Augustine, the unfortunate societal result in the early Luther's theological ethic was a bifurcated humanity: (1) in the temporal kingdom, there was the law's realm of Satan, the fallen world, sin, death, and the temporal sword of Caesar; (2) in the spiritual kingdom, there was the gospel's realm of God in Christ, the redeemed church, faith, new life, and the sword of the Spirit... In so sharply severing creation from redemption, it virtually identified Caesar's realm (negatively) with Satan." (Christians in Society: Luther, the Bible, and Social Ethics (Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 2001), 139.)

What Luther's early position neglected was that Christians were not only ruled by the gospel. but also by the law, due to the flesh. Without acknowledging this, Luther unintentionally set Christians apart from the rest of society; the Christian had no need for the institutions of society nor no place within those institutions because they were ruled by the gospel. It was the societal problems going around Luther that gave him a more nuanced and mature approach to the two kingdoms. This is what Lazareth has to say:

"By the mid-1520s, however, Luther began to benefit from deepened scriptural study of both theological and social ethics. God's dialectical two governments increasingly interpreted the world's dualistic two kingdoms in such biblically based studies as Temporal Authority (1523), Sermons on Exodus (1524-27), Whether Soldiers, Too, Can be Saved (1526), climaxing in his Sermons (1530-32) and Commentary on Matthew 5-7 (1532).

"This exegetical work was prompted not least by the socially isolated, former monk/s unprecedented public challenges (often now experienced first hand): rulers' piety and profligacy, knights' uprising, free-church iconoclasm, limited youth education, competitive trade and usury, emptying of monastic cloisters, peasants' rebellions, sectarian theocratic romanticism, and threatened wars against the Turks-- in short, the disintegration of medieval feudalism within an institutionally integrated Western Christendom." (Lazareth, 139)

It was these challenges, not to mention Rome's abuse of the two swords, that forced Luther to make it explicitly clear what it meant to be servant, father, priest, prince. Luther placed this, often confusedly, into his understanding of the two kingdoms. So Luther's early work that focused on God's temporal twofold rule (Regimente) through law and gospel, was then connected with a spatial distinction of the two kingdoms (Reiche). At its best, Luther could make it clear that, insofar as one were spirit, one was ruled by the gospel, and insofar as one were flesh, one was ruled by the law; and further he could make it clear that, just because one was a Christian, this did not mean that he was separated from the world by a distinction of a secular ethic and a sacred ethic, rather Luther made it clear that God desired for Christians to serve neighbor through the secular institutions and also to exercise God's judgement through them. Here is a good example of how Luther could hold these two understandings-- one temporal, one spatial-- in a fruitful correlation:

"Here we must divide all the children of Adam and all mankind into two classes, the first belong to the kingdom (Reich) of God, the second to the kingdom of the world. Those who belong to the kingdom of God are all the true believers who are in Christ and under Christ...and the gospel of the kingdom...as Psalm 2:6 and all the Scripture says...All who are not Christians belong to the kingdom of he world and are under the law. There are few true believers, and still fewer who live a Christian life, who do not resist evil and indeed themselves do no evil. For this reason God has provided for them in a different environment beyond the Christian estate and the kingdom of God. He has subjected them to the sword so that, even if they would like to, they are unable to practice their wickedness.

"For this reason God has ordained two governments [rules] (Regimente): the spiritual, by which the Holy Spirit produces Christians and righteous people under Christ; and the temporal [worldly] which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that--no thanks to them--they are obliged to keep still and to maintain outward peace.

"One must carefully distinguish between these two governments (Regimente). Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness the other to bring about external peace and to prevent evil deeds." LW 45:88-92 passim

While it is widely debated how and to what extent Luther distinguished God's twofold rule or government (Regimente) with the two kingdoms (Reiche), it seems clear that while he always saw them as related, he never equated them conceptually. Personally, I believe the more they are confused, the more trouble we get into. At Luther's worst, he can make it seem as if there were no rule of God through the gospel at all that takes shape in the wider society. In fact, he can talk, saying that in the one realm "nothing is known of Christ," but rather one is in subjection to the law and Caesar, and that in the other realm "nothing is known of law, conscience, or sword." Gods rule (Regimente) through the gospel that produces righteousness in the sphere of the world is left out, remaining only Caesar's, and by extension, God's rule through the law. This is where the spatial and the temporal get mixed up: Where we are determines how we are ruled, that is, because we are in the world, we are ruled by the law and Caesar. Thus the kingdom of God is relegated to the corner of my inwardness. Oswald Bayer depicts and criticizes one depiction by Erik Peterson of how this Christian inwardness is played out in Lutheranism:

"The new human is no grotesque caricature who spends his life in a darkened room, reciting with closed eyes, "I am justified by faith alone, I am justified by faith alone." By contrast, the passive righteousness of faith with its new relation to God and the self creates a new relation to all creatures, to the world, including a new perception of time and space." (Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 27.)

Unfortunately, this grotesque caricature is not without its basis as a reflection of Lutheran teaching, especially on the two kingdoms. We get this sort of impression from the following quote from Luther:

"As regards his own person, according to his life as a Christian, he is in subjection to no one but Christ, without any obligation either to the emperor or to any other man. But at least outwardly, according to his body and property, he is related by subjection and obligation to the emperor, inasmuch as he occupies some office or station in life or has a house and home, a wife and children; for all these are things that pertain to the emperor. Here he must necessarily do what he is told and what this outward life requires. If he has a house or a wife and children or servants and refuses to support them or, if need be, to protect them, he does wrong. It will not do for him to declare that he is a Christian and therefore has to forsake or relinquish everything. But he must be told: "Now you are under the emperor's control. Here your name is not "Christian," but "father," or "lord," or "prince." According to your own person you are a Christian, but in relation to your servant you are a different person." LW 21:109

While the main point is certainly true, the implication that, as to our "outward life" we are subject to the law, and that our Christianity is relegated to our "inner life," is an error. A proper understanding of participating in the kingdom of God does not ignore the world or relegate the kingdom to our inwardness, rather, it tells us who we are "of." While we are certainly subject to the emperor, we are subject to him through the providence of God, that is, through the God ordained structures of life in this world. We are not "of" the emperor or the world, but "of" God, though we may be "in the world" (Cf. John 17:15-18). Being "of" something, is to be subject to something; Christ tells us, though we may be in the world, we are not of the world, but of God. This at the same time neither denies the world and our place in it, nor does it demand a quietistic inwardness of our being Christian. This doesn't even necessarily change the shape of our life, rather it tells us who we are subject to.

Often times the Sermon on the Mount is set in antithesis to the reality of a sinful and fallen world to explain the need for the teaching of the distinction of the two kingdoms. Indeed, it is certainly true that we cannot suffer injustice, as commended in the Sermon on the Mount, at the expense of our neighbor. Luther tells us that to suffer injustice from our children, according to the Sermon on the Mount, and to not punish them is the equivalent of hatred of them. That means that to truly love them we must punish them. The explanation of this disjunction is not, therefore, a disjunction of evangelical love and civil law, but of different forms of the same love. Just as God has his proper work (opus proprium) of grace and love, so too does he have his alien work (opus alienum) of law and judgement, but this does not mean that God stops being love or stops being loving, but rather, his love takes on another form; "For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines" (Heb. 12:6). The law is given to prepare for the gospel: "So that the Law has become a trainer of us until Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). So too, just as God, a Christian has his own alien work: "In a fallen and sinful world, Christian love will often have to do some strange and even dirty work (opus alienum) in order to protect the good and punish the wicked against the public assaults of Satan." (Lazareth, 166) This, then, does not mean that there is a disjointed ethic, along the lines of the two kingdoms, the one private--in accordance to the Sermon on the Mount-- the other public--often doing some "dirty work"; rather, it is the same ethic of love taking different forms, all stemming from love of God and love of neighbor. As William Lazareth writes: "Since both the gospel of love and the law of justice are complementary expressions of the same sovereign will of God, they are not to be perverted--as in some later forms of Lutheranism-- into just another ethical double standard that virtually divorces private and public morality." (Lazareth, 165)

From this we would see that participating in the kingdom of God does not exclude the activities of our "outward life," as Luther put it. Unfortunately, Luther at some times seems to affirm this, and at others to deny this, as in the previous quote. The consistent witness of the Book of Concord though, from both Luther and Melanchthon, affirms this "outward life" within the kingdom of God:


"Thy kingdom come.
What does this mean?--Answer.
The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.
How is this done?--Answer.
When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and yonder in eternity." (Small Catechism, Lord's Prayer, Par. 6-8)

"But what is the kingdom of God? Answer: Nothing else than what we learned in the Creed, that God sent His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, and to bring us to Himself, and to govern us as a King of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience, for which end He has also bestowed His Holy Ghost, who is to bring these things home to us by His holy Word, and to illumine and strengthen us in the faith by His power.

"Therefore we pray here in the first place that this may become effective with us, and that His name be so praised through the holy Word of God and a Christian life that both we who have accepted it may abide and daily grow therein, and that it may gain approbation and adherence among other people and proceed with power throughout the world, that many may find entrance into the Kingdom of Grace, be made partakers of redemption, being led thereto by the Holy Ghost, in order that thus we may all together remain forever in the one kingdom now begun.

"For the coming of God's Kingdom to us occurs in two ways; first, here in time through the Word and faith; and secondly, in eternity forever through revelation. Now we pray for both these things, that it may come to those who are not yet in it, and, by daily increase, to us who have received the same, and hereafter in eternal life. All this is nothing else than saying: Dear Father, we pray, give us first Thy Word, that the Gospel be preached properly throughout the world; and secondly, that it be received in faith, and work and live in us, so that through the Word and the power of the Holy Ghost Thy kingdom may prevail among us, and the kingdom of the devil be put down, that he may have no right or power over us, until at last it shall be utterly destroyed, and sin, death, and hell shall be exterminated, that we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness." (Large Catechism, Lord's Prayer, Par. 51-54)


"This entire topic concerning the destruction between the kingdom of Christ and a political kingdom has been explained to advantage [to the remarkably great consolation of many consciences] in the literature of our writers, [namely] that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual [inasmuch as Christ governs by the Word and by preaching], to wit, beginning in the heart the knowledge of God, the fear of God and faith, eternal righteousness, and eternal life." (Apology Art. 16, Par. 54) (To read more on Melanchthon's treatment of the terms "spiritual" and "eternal righteousness," see this post)

"Virginity is recommended, but to those who have the gift, as has been said above. It is, however, a most pernicious error to hold that evangelical perfection lies in human traditions. For thus the monks even of the Mohammedans would be able to boast that they have evangelical perfection. Neither does it he in the observance of other things which are called adiaphora, but because the kingdom of God is righteousness and life in hearts, Rom. 14:17, perfection is growth in the fear of God, and in confidence in the mercy promised in Christ, and in devotion to one's calling; just as Paul also describes perfection 2 Cor. 3:18: We are changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. He does not say: We are continually receiving another hood, or other sandals, or other girdles. It is deplorable that in the Church such pharisaic, yea, Mohammedan expressions should be read and heard as, that the perfection of the Gospel, of the kingdom of Christ, which is eternal life, should be placed in these foolish observances of vestments and of similar trifles." (Apology Art. 27, Par. 27)

"For good works are to be done on account of God's command, likewise for the exercise of faith [as Paul says, Eph. 2:10: We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works], and on account of confession and giving of thanks. For these reasons good works ought necessarily to be done, which, although they are done in the flesh not as yet entirely renewed, that retards the movements of the Holy Ghost, and imparts some of its uncleanness, yet, on account of Christ, are holy, divine works, sacrifices, and acts pertaining to the government of Christ, who thus displays His kingdom before this world. For in these He sanctifies hearts and represses the devil, and, in order to retain the Gospel among men, openly opposes to the kingdom of the devil the confession of saints, and, in our weakness, declares His power... To disparage such works, the confession of doctrine, affliction, works of love, mortifications of the flesh, would be indeed to disparage the outward government of Christ's kingdom among men." (Apology Art. IV, "Love and the Fulfilling of the Law," Par. 68-72)

We see in these examples from the Book of Concord that the activity of God through the gospel is the activity of the kingdom of God that reintroduces us to our lives and our vocations. While the Confessors are certainly intimately aware of the confusion of the operation of the Church through the Word and the structures of society that uphold the law and outward peace, they do not put forth the opinion that our external lives are therefore an autonomous sphere within which the ministry of the Word stops its activity in the lives of believers and is replaced by the compulsion of the law. Rather they make it clear that the work of God through the Word, the kingdom of God, actively draws us back into our external lives and provides sanctifying power, and governs "us as a King of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience." In fact Melancthon can talk in this way, almost making the gospel sound like law: "These opinions greatly obscure the Gospel and the spiritual kingdom...For the Gospel...bids us obey [the State and family] as a divine ordinance, not only on account of punishment, but also on account of conscience." (Apology Art. 16, Par. 57)

It should be noted that, as far as the temporal understanding of the two kingdoms (Regimente) there is inherent with this an inseperable connection of the law with the kingdom of the world and the gospel with the kingdom of God; God rules the kingdom of the world through his law, and the kingdom of God through his gospel. Confusion comes in when we are determined spatially in the world and thus temporally under the rule of the law; a confusion of where we are and who or what we are ruled by. Because of this, the kingdom of God has no tangible role in the daily lives of believers, we participate in it only through faith in the Word, or as Ebeling puts it, "it remains a word-event," and then we enter our lives under the kingdom of the world, under the law. This is especially put forth by Gustaf Wingren who saw the first, or civil use of the law the primary function of the law; he will write: "To stress the doctrine of the first use of the Law means not only to affirm that the world belongs to God, but to reject any other religious interpretation of the world." (Creation and Law, trans. Ross Mackenzie (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 160.) In my next post on this topic we, in light of what we have seen so far, will look at Wingren's work on creation, law, and vocation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mr. Jeff Lang

This is one of my all time favorite musical artists. Jeff Lang is an absolutely astounding guitar player, his talent is mind boggling. And if you would think that would be enough, he is also a very talented songwriter with a wonderful voice. His live performances are just amazing; I have been lucky enough to see him twice in concert (he is Australian). Though probably only 5' 3'' (his wife has to be 6' 3'' here they are) Lang has a tremendous stage presence with a radiating energy. I always characterize his concerts as like being slugged in the stomach for two hours; you literally hold your breath the whole time. Here are a couple of samples of his talent:

Here he is playing a wonderful version of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning":

"Burn That Bridge":

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Köberle on the Relation of Justification and the Nova Vita

This is a very interesting, if a little simplisitic depiction of the various views of Melanchthon, Luther, Osiander, and Rome between justification and the new life. Adolf Köberle adopts what he believes is Luther's position. Köberle sees the relation between justification and sanctification as paradoxical, as he believes is the position of Luther. While I'm not sure if Luther saw it as such, I certainly don't. Köberle can talk of justification and sanctification as essentially the same act of God though distinguished theologically and by their "inner sequence." I guess I would say that I have a more simplisitc view of their relation. I see them as stemming from the same motivation of God, to restore mankind into a proper relationship with him and with the rest of creation, but not as the same act. I see objective justification as the whole of God's promises to us through Christ, encompasing the whole of salvation history including the Substitutionary Atonement of Christ, the promise of the Holy Spirit's ministry of the Word establishing faith, the promise of sanctification's beginning and consumation upon death, and everlasting life in communion with God and neighbor; that is, Christ's work on the cross brings with it all the promises of the Deus pro nobis, while the individual works-- Atonement, subjective justification, sanctification, etc.--are essentially different.

I just read an excellent article that deals with the very same subject that Köberle talks of here. Though quite a bit longer, I would highly recommend it. It is by R. Scott Clark, entitled: "Iustitia Imputata Christi: Alien or Proper to Luther's Doctrine of Justification?" Clark gives a very thorough examination of the topic, especially of the evolution of Luther's thought, which is so important when trying to establish what Luther's "real" thoughts were. His conclusions are startingly similar to Köberle's.

"All the possible relations of justification and the nova vita came to the fore at least once during the period of the Reformation. Historically they can be designated by the names of Melanchthon, Luther, Osiander and the Council of Trent. What was produced later was partly a deepening, partly a mixture of the previous positions in which unfortunately the most successful solution, that of Luther, was the least considered.

"In the Apology Melanchthon still kept the justum pronuntiari et effici side by side, though the emphasis is already completely on the pardoning judicial decree of God. Following the publication of the Commentary on Romans, 1532, however, the word justification more and more loses its double meaning and at last receives an exclusively forensic character. It is possible to claim that without this sharpened, "disjunctive" form of the sola fide teaching could not have been maintained in the difficult crises of the following centuries. The rejection of every amalgamation not only brought to Melanchthon's theology the advantage of greater systematic clarity but it also really avowed in a unique way the central thought of the Reformation, "Thy loving kindness is better than life (Ps. 63:4). On occasion there are men to whom we must be grateful for having always said only one thing. This gratitude is owing to Melanchthon in the second half of the sixteenth century and to Herman Cramer and his spiritual kindred in the nineteenth century. It is true that both Holl (Rechtfertigungslehre des Protestantismus, pp. 18 seq.) and Hirsch (Die Theologie des A. Osiander, pp. 267 seq.) have pointed out, not without reason, that this separation of justification and renewal in the course of time brought with it questionable consequences. The preservation of the "article of a standing or falling Church" in the school of Melanchthonian orthodoxy cost something, for in time wide circles sought to satisfy their desire for renovation, that was here inadequately presented, in Pietism or Roman Catholic mysticism. Because of its great historic significance, however, Melanchthon's teaching should always be criticised with moderation. As a systematic solution it is certainly not satisfactory.

"With Luther the primary question was likewise not that of making holy but of being accounted holy. The communion with God that has been interrupted by guilt can only be again restored through the removal of guilt (Cf. the Heidelberg disputation of 1518). But besides Anselm and Occam, Luther was also influenced by Augustine and the Mystics who alike (under the influence of Eastern theology) emphatically placed the effective overcoming of the power of sin in the foreground. Besides the idea of the imputation of the righteousness of God we always find associated with it in Luther's ideas the belief in the commencement and continuation of a progressive renewal of life, but with the righteousness of faith ranking above the renewal. For in quite a unique way Luther understood how to distinguish in thought ideas that were for him a real unity; an evidence that he was not so careless in systematizing as men like to picture him. He wanted to distinguish between "external" righteousness and "inner" sanctification but without separating them from each other. His linking together of the two while at the same time maintaining their correct inner sequence will always remain the ideal solution to the problem. So, and only so, will justification be preserved from the danger of quietism and sanctification from the danger of perfectionism. If, on the other hand, the attempt is made to divide the remissio and the regeneratio into two separate acts, occurring at different times, each will waste away with mutual injury.

"A closer examination will further be able to distinguish three periods in Luther's development, each having a different emphasis in the treatment of the constituent parts of this relationship. There is a first period in which he so strongly emphasizes the effici alongside of the reputari that he interchanges them without any scruple and even speaks of a magis et magis justificari. Otto Ritschl (Dogmengeschichte des Protestantismus, II, 1, Chap. 28 seq.) includes the lectures on Romans in this period. Then, however, the emphasis begins to fall ever morre strongly on the Christus pro nobis, which, definitely given the pre-eminence, is combined with the Christus in nobis. Here (say in the commentary on Galatians of 1522-35) is the real climax of Luther's creative activity. In the later part of his life, as a result of his experiences, he approaches closer to the attitude of Melanchthon. The justitia aliena which we already find clearly indicated in the writings of 1520-1521 is more and more placed in contrast to renewal. It is certain, however, that Luther at all times, though with varying degrees of emphasis, held fast to the essential connection of justification and sanctification, while at the same time making clearly the theological difference between the two conceptions.

"What Luther so vigorously welded together was again split apart by Melanchthon as ha gained consideration for a purely imputative view of justification. While the wealth of meaning in dikaioun [justify as forensic aquital] was thus narrowed, through this one-sidedness, the free, pardoning operation of God's grace in behalf of the sinner was given powerful expression. In this way the central thought of the Reformation was not weakened but actually strengthened. Far more serious were the results on the other side, when the emphasis was laid on the effective aspect, when instead of the promise of God the moral change was made most important for the establishment and maintenance of the relationship with God. This was the case with Osiander. He too started with Luther's teaching but instead of stressing the forensic aspect, like Melanchthon, he turned to its effective, immanent aspects. He was strengthened in this position, as E. Hirsch clearly pointed out, through linguistic, philosophical Logos speculations of the Cabalistic and Neoplatonic sort, which he had acquired particularily from Reuchin and Pico della Mirandola. In so far as he made the external word of Scripture the vehicle of the inner justitia essentialis he remained a Lutheran, but when he opposed the teaching of imputation without rightly understanding it, and made the certainty of salvation depend on a progressive qualitas habitualis in animo he became a Thomist. So the certainty based on the forgiveness of sins became a merely subjective assurance that, because it required continual augmentation, was always insufficient. The effects became the cause; the extent of inner experience supplanted the assurance of a divine promise. Infusion took the place of forgiveness; the sanatio that of the imputatio and a quality of the soul supplanted a divine objectivity. Luther too had taught the activity of the one who was justified but for him that was too uncertain and variable a basis to permit faith to be grounded on it; the righteousness that enters into us is only a beginning and therefore only fragmentary. The righteousness, however, that is imputed coram deo is tota et perfecta. Osiander's ethical protest against the academic externalizing of justification was well meant but his view of the essential infusion of the divine nature of Christ alone, as the means of attaining righteousness before God, not only upset a correct christology (perfectus deus, perfectus homo, Athanasian Creed) but it also distorted the reformers' message of free grace into an ethical-rational sphere. A teaching so strongly reminiscent of the gratia infusa of Roman sacramental theology was no weapon for a Church that had just learned by hard conflicts to find vera et firma consolatio in the gratia extra nos posita. (Cf. Hirsch, p. 271 and the Formula of Concord, Sol. Decl. 623, 59 seq.)

"We can perhaps formulate it thus: for grace, Melanchthon says forgivenss; Luther says forgiveness and sanctification [see my post: "Hey! Let's Keep it Forensic in Here!" ]; Osiander, sanctification and forgiveness. The Roman Church for grace, says only sanctification. The use of the word to describe a purely divine act and a valid promise of grace is expressly forbidden. Si quis dixerit, sola fide impium justificare...anathema sit (Trid. sessio VI, can. 9). Justification becomes exclusively a process of justification (transmutatio), the gratia forensis becomes a gratia habitualis, that through sacramental power is poured into the will. If in Osiander's teaching the renovating power of grace that establishes salvation was still bound in its operation to the viva vox dei in His Word, here, under the influence of Greek theology and a conception of God as a substance, that had been drawn from ancient philosophy, the operation was conceived of as something naturally substantial and consequently magical (actio dei physica). The freely promising, personal working of God is here dissolved into an inner dynamic, an operative function. With such a conception of grace it is no longer possible to speak of a real assurance of salvation."

-Adolf Köberle, The Quest for Holiness, trans. John C. Mattes (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), 92-94 (Excursus).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gerhard Ebeling on the Two Kinds of Righteousness

This post will mainly be from the words of Gerhard Ebeling. I will use this as a transition from the concept of the two kinds of righteousness into the two kingdoms, which is so closely related to Luther's two kinds of righteousness. We see in this quote an unnatural distinction between faith and works, God's activity and our own, and The kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. What I will be posting on in future posts is the confusion between a spatial understanding and a temporal understanding of the two kingdoms. What I see is often purported is a purely spatial understanding of the kingdom of the world and then a purely temporal understanding of the kingdom of God. This plays out in determining our life in the word purely spatially, that is, where we are, and then determining our life in the kingdom of God in a purely temporal way in which we only participate in it through faith in the Word of God; that is, the kingdom of the world is a place, and the kingdom of God is a transcendent event which is ultimately directed eschatologically. As Ebeling writes, "The regnum Christi as the event of the iustitia Dei is and remains a word-event and therefore a faith-event. For that reason, however, until the final presence of the kingdom of God we are left with a distinction between the two kingdoms as a distinction between two modes of iustitia." ("The Necessity of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms" in Word and Faith, trans. James W. Leitch, 386-406 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 401.) Ebeling does make a distinction between the regnum mundo as it temporally exists before the "final presence of the kingdom of God" when he says that it is a sphere of self-contradiction, and as it is, ideally understood, as a spatial distinction, though this still means its spatial character is the ultimate determining factor. He sees the sphere of the regnum mundo, written into its very creation, as a sphere that is the field of the iustitia civilis; that is, despite the temporal state of the regnum mundo of self-contradiction, the regnum mundo without this self-contradiction is still ideally a realm of the iustitia civilis. Ideally, and this is only understood in faith, he argues, the two kingdoms demands a strict separation of activity letting God be God and the world be world, that is, the realm of the iustitia civilis.

I don't think this takes into account a proper understanding of the judgement of God. God's judgement of Adam and Eve in the garden and our future judgement at death or at the second coming is not a judgement on our civil righteousness, our external fulfillment of the law, but a judgement as to the full extent of the law with the bar set at perfection. Civil righteousness, if properly understood in its historic Lutheran context, is not concerned with perfection but with external obedience; righteousness that avails before God is a righteousness that is in full conformance to the Law of God, both external fulfillment and internal disposition. While this side of the grave we can only stand before God with the righteousness of Christ, this does not mean that God does not still demand perfection from us, in fact it proves that he does still demand this of us. A proper understanding of the Atonement is not that Christ fulfilled the requirements of civil righteousness for us but that he fulfilled the righteous requirement that alone can avail before God, that can stand in his court and be declared blameless. The judgement of Adam and Eve show perfectly well that civil righteousness was not what the world was created for, but original righteousness, a righteousness that can stand before God blameless, and live in fellowship with him.

This problem between only considering civil righteousness and a proper understanding of God's judgement is brought up by our Confessions. They write:

"These notions were expressed among philosophers with respect to civil righteousness, and not with respect to God's judgment. [For there it is true, as the jurists say, L. cogitationis, thoughts are exempt from custom and punishment. But God searches the hearts; in God's court and judgment it is different.]...these notions are read in the works of scholastics, who inappropriately mingle philosophy or civil doctrine concerning ethics with the Gospel. Nor were these matters only disputed in the schools, but, as is usually the case, were carried from the schools to the people. And these persuasions [godless, erroneous, dangerous, harmful teachings] prevailed, and nourished confidence in human strength, and suppressed the knowledge of Christ's grace. Therefore, Luther wishing to declare the magnitude of original sin and of human infirmity [what a grievous mortal guilt original sin is in the sight of God], taught that these remnants of original sin [after Baptism] are not, by their own nature, adiaphora in man, but that, for their non-imputation, they need the grace of Christ and, likewise for their mortification, the Holy Ghost." (Apology Art. II, Par. 43-45)

A strict separation of a kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world is shown as fallacious when the account of creation and life in the garden is read. We read that man not only lived in fellowship with his neighbor and creation, but also in fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8). This shows that a purely spatial understanding, determined by the act of creation, of the two kingdoms cannot be upheld. The kingdom of the world, temporally understood, is the unfortunate result of man's fall into sin. In this way, the kingdom of the world may more properly be deemed the regnum diaboli, the kingdom of the devil. This is how the Scriptures untilize kingdom language. The temporal understanding of the two kingdoms tells us of an apocalyptic battle between the reign of sin, death, and the devil, Luther's "unholy trinity," and man's redemption from these through the blood of Christ and the restoration of man into his orginal pristine state of living righteously before neighbor, creation, and God.

While I won't closely evaluate what Ebeling writes, we can see how some of these issues are confused. Namely is an implication that, because we live in the world, that we stand coram mundo, we somehow don't stand coram Deo at the same time or in the same way. It is implied that we are only expected to fulfill the requirements of civil righteousness, to let the world be world, and that if we attempt to live righteously up and above this we are essentially not letting God be God. As Ebeling writes: "By works we can do justice only to the world, not to God." The problem with this is that it, again, ignores the judgement of God, that God judges us to the full extent of the righteous requirement of the law. The fact is, we are asked to do justice to God, and it is for this very reason that the Atonement of Christ is so important. And this same justice before God was demanded of Adam and Eve, thus their judgement for their lack of justice. Much like Arand's definition of civil righteousness being "ever active, never passive," Ebeling likewise makes a strong distinction between "what God does and what man does," saying that faith does not empower works but simply corrects our understanding of the proper place works are to take on earth. All of this, though maybe a little over simplified, implies this attitude: "We are down here, God is up there; We are expected to do what is expected of us down here through our own power and strength because God's kingdom is only participated in in faith, which does not communicate power; God does not expect us to do anything other than try our best to do the right things, though our hearts may be corrupt; This is the proper understanding of the world, to say otherwise is presumptuous dreams of storming heaven by works righteousness; The "presence" of God's kingdom has no other effect than as an object hoped for."

Gerhard Ebeling writes:

"But this distinction is valid only in virtue of the closest association. For who can let the world be world in such a sober, matter-of-fact way? The freedom to do so comes of letting God be God. For we cannot truly let the world be world unless we let God be God. For that reason the iustitia Christiana as iustitia coram Deo, and indeed as iustitia fidei, opens the way to, and so makes possible, the iustitia civilis in its character of iustitia coram mundo, and indeed as iustitia operum. Yet this fundamental insight must at once be shielded against misunderstandings in three directions.

"Firstly, it is usual to regard the relation between faith and works-- and for that we can say, between what God does and what man does-- in the first instance as a relationship between power and performance. Faith is supposed to give the power for works. This way of speaking requires to be very critically examined. The basic relation of faith and works is not the communication of power for works, but the communication of freedom for them-- that is, freedom to do the works in their limitedness as works and therefore also in the limitedness of the powers that are at our disposal for them. Just as faith too does not, though it is easy to misunderstand it so, primarily receive the revelation of what is to be done; but faith gives the freedom to perceive the right, because faith assigns works their due place.

"A second misunderstanding is to suppose that faith does indeed make room for the iustitia civilis by inciting to it, yet also produces over and above it much higher works which far surpass the iustitia civilis. This misunderstanding is partly caused by the ineradicable tendency to adopt a working attitude even before God and therefore to set about special works coram Deo, and partly by the disastrously one-sided practice of letting the iustitia coram mundo take its cue from the political sphere and therefore from what can be compelled if necessary by force. That is certainly the standpoint which is highly significant for the worldliness of the world. But if we grasp the basic theological sense of iustitia civilis, then we must ascribe to the iustitia civilis all works which can sensibly be done and are therefore right works. Even the man who is so unworldly as to give all his goods to the poor or to surrender his life in martyrdom remains, if it is rightly done (and that means if the man in question knows in faith what he is doing), within the sphere of the iustitia civilis, the iustitia coram mundo; i.e. he submits to the test of how far he is doing justice to the world by these works. For by works we can do justice only to the world, not to God. For that reason the criterion of works, precisely from the standpoint of the iusitia civilis, is love. In the realm of works there is no higher iustitia than the iustitia civilis! Yet for that very reason we should not imagine that with mere law-abidingness and bourgeois good conduct we have already done justice to the world and fulfilled all iustitia civilis in the basic sense.

"A third misunderstanding is to suppose that without faith there is no iustitia civilis at all. Christian circles indeed are repeatedly haunted by the idea that an atheist is an immoral man and that if Christian colours do not justify an undertaking, then at least they certainly recommend it a priori as inspiring confidence. It is true that faith is the presupposition of the iustitia civilis in so far as it communicates the freedom to let the iustitia civilis be really only the iusitia civilis and not to seek to derive somehow from the works the justification of the person. But in spite of such misuse of the iustitia civilis, it can still materialiter very well be iustitia civilis. Where the iustitia civilis is concerned there is cause enough for believers to be shamed by non-believers, both as to discretion and as to readiness to make sacrifices. Over and above that, however, the freedom to matter-of-factness which is communicated in faith is a thing the world has to thank faith for, even without an immediate awareness of the connexion. That the idea of iustitia civilis has attained an isolated independence (which is admittedly wide open to falsification), is of course a major factor in the modern world. As Christians we do have ground for taking care that that is rightly understood, but hardly for seeking in principle to set it aside again. On the contrary, there are many reasons for the church to let the children of the world, who are often wiser in this respect also, remind it of the true meaning of the iustitia civilis." (404-405)