Thursday, January 29, 2009

Doctrine, Ministry, Law and Gospel

The Reformers did not conceive of Scripture as containing doctrine or articles in the plural. They understood doctrine as making up a body – a singular confession regarding Christ’s office and work. The articles do not attempt to explain every bit of Scripture but rather to hand the doctrine of Christ over. It is not dead doctrine but a living confession that creates and sustains the church, consoling Christ’s people. The articles proceed as a single confession for pastoral care and consolation. James Schaaf, in “Smaldcald Articles and Their Significance,” interprets the chief article of Christ and his work as enveloping and clarifies all the following articles. Any mass, work, vow, saint, or bishop that takes away an iota of Christ’s work sets himself against the Gospel, and therefore the chief article. We can therefore see Luther’s work with Smalcald as his last testament – a final confession rooted in an unshakable belief that the first article is simply the true and wholly catholic and evangelical confession. The Smalcald articles are a return to the ecumenical Creeds and small catechism.

The Smalcald Articles present the Lord’s Supper simply in terms of a simple and summary confession, We maintain that the bread and the wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ.” He considers the notion of transubstantiation to be an exercise in “sophistry.” Luther’s Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper holds a more comprehensive explication of Christ’s Institution. He proceeds with a confession of the Supper, beginning with the Trinity and work of the Son. He condemns pelagians, Anabaptists, and discusses many of the problems with the papacy that detract from the Holy Supper. A confession of the Nicene Creed runs throughout his explanation of the gifts and benefits of the supper.

The “chief article” in the Smalcald Articles is Christ and Christ alone (SA II, I). He comes to justify the ungodly, paying the full penalty for the sin of the world. Luther uses Romans 4:25 that our Lord was “handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” He is returning to the historic creeds of the church and the catechism which begin and end in Christ’s Person and work. This is believed not by reason or an acute intellect but only by faith – which alone can justify. Luther, citing Saint Paul writes, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law;’ and also, ‘that God alone is righteous and justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.”[1] This faith is given – handed over - as Christ gives himself to the church. The chief article comes as gift – for Luther, it is the only gift that matters, “On this article stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world.”

The Office of the law exposes inherited sin and the complete corruption of the human condition. The law comes not by natural knowledge which can discern it, but only through God’s revelation – thereby revealing the horrifying darkness of the bondage to Satan along with our complete despondence. Luther in the Smalcald Articles references Romans 1[:18]: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all.” The law therefore does not deliver or comfort by comes by way of crushing imposition exposing sin, death, and hell. The lost, condemned, and despairing long to hear the voice of their Shepherd and the Lord looks down from heaven and his pity wakens. The proper office of the Holy Gospel is to speak the words of Jesus - the forgiveness of sins. In this Gospel, “God is extravagantly rich in his grace,” coming to save through the marks of the church – the waters of Holy Baptism, Lord’s Supper, office of the keys, and through the mutual conversation and consolation by way of Pastors. Only then can the law take on a positivistic role in the life of the redeemed saint, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (ps. 119:97).

The priesthood is given to Christ’s church that she may hear her Lord’s words, receiving forgiveness, and His heavenly supper. The church by divine right may ordain Pastors when Bishops are heretical and unjustly withhold Christ office. The royal priesthood (basileiov iepateuma) is often referenced in light of the so called "priesthood of all believers" which is often taken to dispense with the heavenly gifts which proceed through Christ’s servants in the Holy Ministry. However, iepateuma serves as an adjective to describe the unity of communion that all have in Christ, who in turn hold immeasurable riches and righteousness in Jesus. Iepateuma is not to be applied with a rigid individualism to each believer but rather describes the corporate nature of the church, as the bride of Christ. The apostolic Ministry must feed the flock as our Lord demands, in spite of the Pope and heretical bishops. They must be apt to teach, called and ordained.

[1] Romans 3[:28, 26].

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