Thursday, March 22, 2012

“Pursuing freedom from Scripture's clear teachings, by arguing for their ambiguity, results only in tyranny” – Part One

Without the “Theology of the Cross” man misuses the best in the worst manner

The title of this two-part series of posts was taken from the closing sentence of my previous post, When the Third Use of the Law pre-dominates.... Through the eyes of those who were there, we caught a glimpse in that post of the decay in clarity of Scripture’s teaching that occurred in the ELCA. As the Second Use of the Law was replaced over time with its Third Use, the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture and certainty of its teaching was rendered more and more ambiguous, requiring man to supply clarity in matters which Scripture had previously been thought to clearly teach. Under the guise of offering a Gospel “relevant for Christian living,” Third Use preaching offered little more than a degenerate form of moralistic social activism, well-suited for the itching ears of those no longer disposed to endure sound doctrine, who’ve instead turned to chasing their own lusts (2 Ti. 4:1-5). This decay lead the ELCA officially into the antinomianism it now revels in, having, at its Church Wide Assembly in 2009, officially placed “sin into the ‘not-sin’ category, by majority vote,” declaring that monogamous homosexual relationships “[are] God-pleasing... against the clear Word of Scripture” (quoting from my previous post). The tyranny in this is that in the ELCA, man has become the arbiter of Scripture’s clarity and meaning, rather than Scripture itself, and from the verdict of man’s declaration there is no appeal – that is, there is no recognized higher authority to which one may appeal (Scripture having been declared ambiguous, or unclear because it has been made difficult to understand), making man and his declarations the final authority.

This is what two average individuals, one layman and one clergyman, present in the ELCA throughout its decline, seemed to independently observe. But we don’t really need direct observation of these events to predict that such would happen. Do we?

Scripture clearly teaches that Satan is full of pride and covets God’s glory for himself (Is. 14:13-14; Ma. 4:8-10), and that at the instigation of Satan man Fell into this same sin, in this way separating himself from God: the sin of pride and of desiring equality with God (Ge. 3:1-19). This sinfulness remains part of our fallen human nature. We want to be like God. We desire His wisdom and authority for ourselves. We long for ourselves a share in God’s glory. Being entirely unlike God, however – that is, being unrighteous, unjust, unloving, lacking knowledge, having no real power over Creation, and certainly not being everywhere present all the time – we abuse the Revelations of Himself to us, in our efforts to rob Him of the glory that belongs only to Himself:
    In the case of General Revelation – or God’s revelation of Himself to all of mankind within His Created Order – contemporary man studies it not just for the purpose of understanding it and of being good stewards before God in its use, but studies according to his own definitions, contrived by him to specifically rule out any authority above man, for the purpose of bringing Creation under his immediate control. Being like God means that man can predict, guide and control Creation on his own terms, or at least convince himself that he can; and if such control results in death or suffering, this is not significantly different than the results man observes in God’s own control of Creation.

    In the case of Special Revelation – or God’s direct revelation of Himself to all of mankind in the clear Word of Scripture, which He has preserved for us, just as He promised, down through the ages to today – man studies it not just for the purpose of understanding it and of being good stewards of its teaching, but for the purpose of discovering where it is wrong, inconsistent or incomplete, and in need of man’s correcting and clarifying efforts. Being like God means that, just as we suffer various shortcomings, we recognize the same in Him – His “failure” to perfectly preserve His Word, for instance, or His “failure” to inspire His Word in perfectly clear terms suitable for direct translation into any language. As His equal, man takes great honor in critiquing God’s Word – in the same manner we would the written work of any of our colleagues – helpfully pointing out His errors, contradictions and lack of clarity, in the hopes that our efforts will assist God in producing a more excellent and well-received message.
Crucifixion of Christ, by Georges Rouault (1937)Man naturally pursues a “Theology of Glory.” The consequences of this with respect to God’s many gifts to mankind are clearly stated by Dr. Martin Luther, who stated in his 24th Thesis at the Heidelberg Disputation, without the 'Theology of the Cross' man misuses the best in the worst manner. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that where man permits himself the freedom and authority to arbitrate God’s Revelation, he does so with the force and finality of God Himself. It should also come as no surprise that man, according to his nature, does work toward this very end – whether deliberately or quite unconsciously – and that he revels in the glory assigned to him for his efforts.

It seems most charitable to assume that no confessing Christian would deliberately seek a place of judgment over God’s Word, and to leave it at that – remaining oblivious to its likelihood and limiting ourselves to the messy job of first recognizing when it happens and then reacting to it long after the fact. This is, however, a dangerously pollyanna attitude, since the tactic of arguing for the abstruseness of Scripture, in order to deliberately accumulate authority and glory to man, is not unknown in the history of the Church. In fact, this is exactly how, and why, Erasmus, in his Freedom of the Will (a.k.a. De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio, or Diatribe), and later supporting works, argued for the ambiguity of the Scriptures – to maintain the freedom and authority of man over against Scripture. And Erasmus’ arguments have remained active as a dominant force in Western Society and, through it, the Christian Church – more so today, perhaps, than ever before.

To be continued in Part Two, tomorrow... (“Pursuing freedom from Scripture's clear teachings, by arguing for their ambiguity, results only in tyranny” – Part Two)

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