Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When the Third Use of the Law pre-dominates...

About two weeks ago, one Rev. Mark Schroeder (LCMS), wrote a short piece for the blog The Brothers of John the Steadfast entitled, “I can’t tell you how thrilled and excited I am.”. It was an interesting piece, given Rev. Schroeder's background and perspective: a pastor in the AELC, then ELCA, and then finally LCMS, by colloquy in 2010. He had recently been invited to join the roster of bloggers at BJS, to add his perspectives related to issues in ELCA. The title of the piece is a quote from the newly elected bishop of ELCA's Minneapolis synod, Ann Svennungsen, as of February 18, 2012, which he addresses along with the voting assembly's overwhelming acceptance of a resolution to formally oppose a proposed amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution banning same-sex marriage and defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Rev. Schroeder goes on to lament the apostasy of the ELCA, and more importantly, to humbly correct his fellows in the LCMS for what he perceives as elation at the disintegration of the ELCA, saying:
    “Too many of my brothers and sisters in the LCMS seem to be almost thrilled by the demise of the ELCA. I pray I am over-reaching and plain wrong in that analysis. This is a profound sadness... [they] are moving totally into the world and wanting to be a part of it. No longer, 'in the world but not OF the world'... The greater and deeper crisis was succinctly stated by German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg in 1996:

      If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”..
One must appreciate his sentiments. I, for one, particularly appreciated the straightforward quote he offered from Pannenberg, which poignantly captured the severity of the ELCA's departure from Scripture and the Confessions. While most of us think it, it seems that not many are prepared to actually say that the ELCA is outside "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."

But what really caught my attention was the exchange Rev. Schroeder had with an LCMS layman, who was formerly a member of the ELCA. In their exchange, they offered observations regarding the course of ELCA's demise: the growing absence of the Second Use of the Law. The layman, at comment #12, who identifies himself as "Ken M" offers the following observations:
    February 26th, 2012 at 19:48 | #12

    I am currently a member of LCMS, but most of my background is ELCA and predecessor bodies. To be honest, it puzzles me when most LCMS criticize ELCA, simply because it misses the point of why I left.

    ELCA is often criticized as being “antinomian”, and the 3rd use of the Law is often mentioned as a “problem”. My lived experience with the ELCA is not that there is too little Law preached, but rather that it is ONLY Law that is preached. Many attempts at being relevant. Many statements on social issues. As I understand it, this IS 3rd use of the law. Whether it is God’s law that is normative is another problematic issue, admittedly. What I found totally lacking is preaching and teaching of the THEOLOGICAL use of the Law.

    Too many sermons are “God is nice. God wants you to be nice. Go be nice.” This is admittedly a bit of a caricature, but it is distilled from too many pastors and bishops out there. If this is a help for anyone, it is only a help for those who “feel” nice. This is not a help for the terrified consciences for which our confessions care so deeply. Any why did Jesus have to die if both he and we are so “nice”? No wonder when I served on a call committee in an ELCA congregation that there was a candidate who sent us some sermon tapes where he didn’t ever mention Jesus doing anything…

    I have heard too much crap in LCMS too. The vital difference is that it seems that LCMS is still reformable. As Walther put it in Law and Gospel, the problem with the sin against the spirit is not that it is worse than other sins but rather that it cuts us off from the cure.

    This is the sickness to death that I had to reject. And it fills me with a deep sadness and pain to this day that I had to do so.
It is clear that this layman lived under continuous Law preaching, where the Law was not applied according to its Second Use, to convict sinners of their sin as a prelude to a Preachment of the Gospel, but was applied in its Third Use. His description of the Law that he heard over the years was that it was pretty vague and nondescript, summarized as "be nice."

Rev. Schroeder responds at comment #14 as a Pastor with firsthand experience (and clarifies for "Ken M" a bit what it was he was obviously trying to say):
    February 27th, 2012 at 19:50 | #14

    The distinction that you may find useful is this: the difference between God’s Law (the Decalogue) and man-made law(s), as in the ELCA.

    The ELCA is antinomian to the core as indicated by the fact that a church-wide assembly put a sin into the “not-sin” category, by majority vote, and say it is God-pleasing, going against the clear Word of Scripture. So, the result is: there is little, if no, theological (2nd) use of the Law in pulpits and classrooms and you nailed that. I discovered this when as an ELCA pastor, preaching Law and Gospel sermons, some folks would simmer with hostility at to what I was preaching (as I found out later!).

    And so the ELCA, in it’s denial of the 2nd Use of the Law (theological) and the resulting antinomianism, the vacuum has been filled by something else: man-made law (and maybe the equivalent to it is human tradition). So what fills the void, for instance, is congregational programs (the bane of many a congregation) and social justice. And as in the true Law of God: if we just do this (man-made law: btw, see Mormonism and Islam), then we will have more people on a Sunday and a true Christian society and nation and we are saved. It’s fairly easy, after all we can vote on it! It is akin to indulgences. Just buy this or just buy into this. And so as I heard one ELCA pastor preach that “Jesus was a self-authentic human being.” No, Savior there.

    And I agree with your assessment about “niceness”: a friend and colleague had as his screen saver the scroll: “Nice is the enemy of the good.” “Nice” is a fairly easy man-made law to fulfill. “Have a nice day!” “No thanks, I have better plans.” So does the Lord. My friend also said that our Lord came to justify the ungodly…not ungodliness. The result: no need for Jesus Christ.

    And the Third Use of the Law is absolutely blunted: to see if our good works are actually pleasing to God, as in the 10 Commandments and as Luther correctly teaches them in the Catechisms.

    In my interview to become an LCMS pastor, one of the panel, a district president, said, you know the LCMS is not perfect. I said, If it were, then the Lord has returned. No church, worth it’s salt, will ever say it is perfect and the LCMS so clings to the fullness of the sound doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Note Rev. Schroeder's comment regarding what happens when the clarity of Scripture, the Law in this context, is diluted: man swoops in to provide that clarity – "It’s fairly easy, after all we can vote on it!" That is, the organization takes on what ought to be the authority of Scripture. This is undoubtedly what has happened in the ELCA with respect to the approval of homosexuality and of female ministers. As Law and Gospel has disappeared from among them, teaching on these issues has also become less clear to the point that the Scriptures have been declared ambiguous regarding these unpopular teachings. As a result, Scripture teaching has not been sought to decide such matters; instead, the organization had absconded with that role, and there is no appealing to any authority above it – Scripture has been declared mute on the subject – leaving the decision of the organization final and authoritative. Thus, the matter is decided and no further discussion on these matters can be entertained.

I will have more to say on this in coming days, as these were precisely the observations of Rev. Dr. Nestingen (formerly ELCA now NALC) in the essay he delivered at the Lutheran Free Conference held at MLC last November – for which I was in attendance: Pursuing freedom from Scripture's clear teachings, by arguing for their ambiguity, results only in tyranny.


Norman Teigen said...

Interesting, very interesting. I offer an approach from a different angle. About two years ago my wife and I felt it best to leave the ELS church where we had been members for some 15 years. Since we are getting up in years we thought it in our best interests to really look at other Lutheran churches. We found that we were not ELCA people and passed on membership there. We went to a WELS church (I should say that it was once a WELS church) but we passed because of the hymn book. We thought that we would find a home in the LC-MS but the 4th of July sermon was a right-wing political rant and we couldn't go there.

We finally went back to a congregation of the ELS because of the hymn book and the sermons. No politics are discussed there, only the word of God. In the hysteria of the moment this congregation does not involve itself in the political campaigns of the moment.

I see Missouri as facing problems, not because of doctrinal confession as much as aligning itself with political actions and concerns. This failure to live according to the principles of Article XXVIII might result from being too closely aligned to the politics of Cardinal Dolan and the Roman Catholic Church and James Dobson and Chuck Colson of the Reformed.

Just sayin'.

Norman Teigen
Evangelical Lutheran Synod Layman

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

You might wish to read Prof. John Brug's evaluation of preaching in the ELCA that can be found on pp. 157-167 of "WELS & Other Lutherans" (Second Edition). He makes the observation that while the gospel may be often referred to, what is most prominent in the sermons he studied is moralizing.

This is the irony of the ELCA and most liberal Christianity, of course: they believe that by emphasizing love and grace and mercy that they have set the gospel free in people's hearts and lives, but by removing the condemnation of sin they have denatured the gospel, and thus they end up preaching nothing but law disguised as love.

Anonymous said...

The LCMS should consider removing the log that is in its eye before attempting to remove the speck that is its brother's eye. The LCMS, like the ELCA, has abandoned Christ's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms to pursue a political campaign against the government's divine right to certify marriage contracts as it sees fit.

The LCMS feigns a righteous concern about the "sanctity" of marriage. This is the same synod whose ministers routinely marry men and women who have received a "no-fault" divorce from the state but who are still married to their faithful spouse in the eyes of God.

Why does the LCMS condemn state sanctioned homosexual marriage but is a willing participant in state sanctioned polygamy? The government is not forcing LCMS ministers to participate in either sin. "Therefore, since the power of the Church grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, it does not interfere with civil government; no more than the art of singing interferes with civil government. For civil government deals with other things than does the Gospel. The civil rulers defend not minds, but bodies and bodily things against manifest injuries, and restrain men with the sword and bodily punishments in order to preserve civil justice and peace." AC XXVIII

Erin H said...

Mr. Gorman appears to be alternately blurring and defining the lines between Church and State wherever it is convenient for his arguement.

I agree that the LCMS, of which I am a communing member, should not "feing a righteous concern about the 'sanctity' of marriage", but the Church should be more concerned about training up their own youth to not live with a partner outside of marriage (just to keep this relevant to the "sanctity of marriage issue"), as so many of them end up doing, rather than being concerned with *anything* homosexual individuals wish to do, since the vast majority of homosexuals would not be members of any church that does not accept their right to marry.

I take issue with Mr. Gorman's comments about people remarrying after obtaining a "no-fault" divorce. I live in Texas, which is a "no-fault" divorce state. That pretty much means that the reason a couple divorces is their own and should not be open for public discussion. It means that a woman does not have to check a box to indicate that her husband abused her, for example. It means that a person does not have to check a different box to show that their spouse cheated on them or abandoned them. When a spouse is abused or neglected, that is most definitely *not* our Lord's intention of what the marriage relationship should be (remember, please, that our marriages are to mirror Christ's love for his Church). I find that couseling an abused or neglected individual to remain in a miserable, loveless marriage simply for the sake of the "sanctity of marriage" is a stellar example of perverting the sanctity of marriage.

I am very thankful that no one counseled the (happyily few!) people I know who have obtained divorces to remain in marriages where the love had left and there was no hope of reconciliation. Had the opposite been the case, I strongly suspect I would know a few more spiritually broken individuals than I do at the moment.

Anonymous said...

It's not blurring the line between the two kingdoms to recognize that the state of Texas, according to its own purposes, may recognize "no fault" divorce and that the state of New York, according to its own purposes, may recognize "homosexual" marriage. However, Christ's Holy Church, according to NT scripture, may recognize only marriages between one man and one woman. "No fault" divorce is adultery. Marriage can only be ended by the innocent party.

LCMS (or WELS) ministers err when they acknowledge "no fault" divorce decrees granted by the state. The innocent party must prove to the church that he has been wronged according to scriptural, not legal, standards. The guilty party remains bound to his marriage vow.

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