Sunday, October 12, 2008

What makes a Lutheran a Lutheran?

1. Luther’s breakthrough is that God encounters us. In the passive life of a Christian, the subject of theology is defined by the God who speaks and not the other way around. The linguistic dynamic is central to our communicative relationship with Christ. Mary who sits at the Lord’s feet to hear His Word serves as a profound model for Christians emulate (Lk. 10:38). We should preach, meditate, and suffer this relationship with the Lord in light of inheriting the contemporary theologies of theory (Hegel), existentialism (Schleiermacher), and moralism (Kant). Luther writes, “Those who wish to philosophize by using Aristotle without danger must first become thoroughly foolish in Christ.”[1] In this way philosophy is to aid our dialogue of theology, yet remain subservient to the Word that the Lord graciously gives us.

2. Luther’s thinking on oratio, meditation, tentatio has nothing to do with “knowing” or “doing,” but rather being continually acted upon by God. This single movement of prayer, singing, hearing, meditation, teaching, and suffering is a passive reception whereby God has his way with us. This is difficult for Romanists and neo-protestants to deal with because it necessitates the evisceration of any source of pride or sense of control, as well as further demands to shatter works-righteousness, which lies at the heart of all heresy. American Evangelicals see themselves as both subject and actor in their relationships with God. They invite Jesus into their hearts and reduce theology to a dynamic of action (morality) to “make the world a better place.” Luther’s oratio, meditatio, tentatio is wholly anti-speculative - grounded firmly in the external word, which God works in us.

3. Lutheran doctrinal writings bear the name “confessions” because we confess Christ’s doctrinenot ours. Doctrine is not made up of abstracted and distinct “theories” or “disciplines.” Rather, Christ is our high priest, chief liturgist, and sacrificial Lamb of God. We confess that He is Lord and what He has done. We do not speculate beyond what the Lord has given us through His Word. All that he has done and is doing is “for us.” For these reasons our confessions are considered ‘corpus doctrinae’ - given that it is a single statement that is anchored in Christ’s teachings, death, and resurrection.

4. To espouse our confessions by proof-texting might suggest that some passages support doctrine, while others do not. The selectiveness of proof-texting encourages us to imagine that God reveals himself in hidden tidbits of Scripture. The Scriptures are overflowing with Christ and his doctrine. We fail to see this truly awesome reality because of the blindness caused by our sin. A better approach is to read and hear the words of Jesus in order that we might see the totality of what he does for us now throughout the entirety of the Scriptures.

5. Every possible “human self-understanding” of God does indeed deal only with the hidden God. This inward looking attempt to imagine the “nakedness” of God is always speculation, leading to delusions and profound spiritual blindness. As Luther writes, “The theology which is speculative, which, forgetting itself, soars upward into matters divine, is looking for the fall of Satan - and finds it too.” (Luther citation from graffiti on my book bag). It is not our place to define God or analyze his motives. We should never speculate saying “Is this God’s will?” How can I please God?” We are confronted by the hiddenness of God in senseless catastrophes, unspeakable suffering, cruelty to the innocent, and the intolerable horrors of war and genocide. God both preserves life and destroys it. It is not our job to comprehend the hiddenness of God. The Lord does everything for His pleasure – though he does not delight in suffering, but working all things “for you” – and our eternal benefit. We stand under the Word of the Lord and by His work gladly receive it.

6. When the Gospel is preached it is the Lord Jesus who is in fact speaking. In 2 Cor 5:17-21 Paul is speaking of the apostolic office which administers His holy word and sacraments whereby Christ reconciles sinners. Christ is the final authority in the church as he comes through means of grace from the Office of the Holy Ministry.

7. There is no such thing as “balancing” Law and Gospel (as if they are opposite) - a misunderstanding which this writer has been forced recently to drain from his blood. The relationship is more complex and dynamic whereby Christ both fulfills the Law and receives its wrath as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Therefore, the relationship is reconciled in Christ. The Law, unlike the Gospel however, is not a gracious address but a crushing imposition for sinners. The Law comes with coercion – and comes universally to all men, exposing their sin as well as the consequence of death and damnation.

8. The critical error of Luther’s classical three ladders of ethics, feelings, and reason is that they do not look to the totality of all Scripture which points to the Cross of Jesus. The motivation for approaching these three ladders is to know God or experience him. Yet the knowledge of the all-powerful, majestic, and holy God does not give us consolation but only fear, whereby we remain under the law. Experience, likewise confounds and confuses. Navigating the chaos of a universe shattern and shorn by sin is an impossible task and will be met with crushing defeat. It is rather through the revelation of suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ that God has chosen to know us.

9. The use of the term “presence of God” does not provide any understanding of the Gospel. Luther himself did not use the term “real presence” but rather spoke regarding Christ’s very body and blood. Being in the presence of God does nothing for us if we forget that he is physically present “for you.” The Pharisees stood in the presence of Christ during his earthly ministry but were harshly judged. Therefore, proximity with and before God does not automatically reconcile us to him. Speaking of the “revelation of God” does not aid Christians in proper understanding either. Like, “presence” language, the “revelation of God” is a product of the Enlightenment. It is better that we speak of Law and Gospel and their distinct content, which God reveals and addresses to men.

10. The universal and natural knowledge of God always leads men to His wrath (Law) and therefore despair along with the penalty of death. Despite our personal philosophical proclivities we will always find ourselves in direction opposition to God. It is true that our very lives are a contradiction to God. The Gospel however, reestablishes the relationship between God and man. We do not know God in and of himself. The relationship is only reconciled in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. This Gospel graciously invites us and by the gift of faith it is received.

[1] Oswald Bayer quoting Luther in Theology the Lutheran Way. Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007, p. 189.

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