Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dr. Robert Newton's Response to my critique

Dear Bror,

Thanks so much for taking the time and energy to write and critique my work. That says much. As always I learn much from my “critics” more than my applauders. I count them both as dear brothers and friends in Christ. In response so some of your critique I reread my paper to see if your observations were accurate. Quite honestly, most of them were not. Which suggests that we might be talking past each other. That is always possible, in fact probable. It also can mean that I am not as clear in my speaking as I need to be. I will always plead guilty to that accusation. It can also mean that you are not hearing as clearly as you might. That is, you have a fixed paradigm through which you read my paper, in which, case it would be found wanting in every respect. I would suggest that that reality is at least in part true as well. As sons of Adam we must confess that not only do we not speak as clearly as we wish we also don’t hear as clearly. To paraphrase St. Paul, “We hear through faulty hearing aid, deafly.

Before I go any further, I must commend you for your zeal for the Gospel and in that Gospel your zeal for the sheep of your flock, both found and folded and those still lost on the hillside. You love them all. You see each of them equally in need of the Savior. Amen. We are brothers, first in our having the same Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, second, we share our Lord’s love for souls. We love the family business—seeking and saving the lost; keeping and feeding the found. We are also brothers in pursuit of the Truth (as our Lord centered it in Himself). So thanks again for writing.

That brings me to a baffler and an observation that will form the springboard for most of my conversation with you. It comes in this paragraph that you wrote.

Rev. Newton is absolutely right. I am uncomfortable here, and I should be. He has given me law. And Newton sees that this law is valuable. “It drives us to repentance” what the law does not do is drive us to trust in the atoning sacrifice of the Lord. Not unless that gospel is proclaimed to those who have just heard the law. Where there is gospel then the law does drive one to cling to it in faith. But I have just heard that the gospel is dependent on me spreading the gospel. I have yet to hear that Christ has forgiven me for not doing this! The law does not “raise us again to be His treasured people, a holy nation, a divine priesthood for the world.” Only the Gospel does that, and I haven’t heard it yet, not in this paper.

The baffler is in your last line—“and I have not heard it yet, not in this paper.” How could you have missed it? In fact given the specific context of the quote, how did you miss what followed in my paper:
This robbery lies at the root of our rebellion against our Father, and, likewise, lies at the root of God sending His true Son into the world for our salvation. Note the sign of Jonah that our Lord gave to His people. . . The sign of Jonah was not just that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three nights, it was also why he was in the belly of the great fish. He was there specifically because he had refused to be God’s prophet to the nation of Nineveh. Likewise, Israel had refused to be God’s priesthood for the nations. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid personally for that disobedience on the cross. Thus he lay three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The sign of Jonah also includes the fact that as Jonah repented and was resurrected by God to be Nineveh’s prophet and priest, so also in Christ’s death and resurrection His Church repents and is resurrected to be his priests and prophets for the nations.

And again,

Being uncomfortable comes from the conviction of the Law. That’s what the Law is supposed to do. It makes us uncomfortable and leads us to repentance and faith in the Gospel. Even more than make us uncomfortable, the preaching of the Law if done properly slays us so that Christ might raise us with Himself from the deadness of our sin and enable us in Him to walk in the newness of His resurrected life, thus, the sign of Jonah. It leads us rightly to true repentance and trust in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord who is the great high priest for us and for the whole world. And it raises us again to be His treasured people, a holy nation, a divine priesthood for the world. You and I will continue to be in the middle of this great tension between saint and sinner; priest and parasite; resurrected and dead until the day He completes the mission that His Father entrusted to him and in Him to us. This reality leads us to daily repentance and keeps us in everlasting hope.

If you did not hear the Gospel in these words—placing the entire burden of Christ’s Mission upon Christ Himself—His death, His resurrection from the dead—then you did not understand the intention of this paper at all. If so, I am a great failure in one sense. In another, I have another opportunity to speak to a dear brother.

I hope a communicated why I might be baffled by what you wrote about what I wrote regarding Gospel comfort in the midst of the Law. Now an observation. How could you have missed it. I am going to venture a guess and please do not be offended by it. I believe you didn’t hear the Gospel, which was the driver behind your critique (the most noteworthy driver to be sure), because the Mission of Christ seems to fill you with guilt not joy. You focus or feel people (my paper as an example) are always pointing out what you have not done, or done enough, rather than what you are doing, that is, what Christ is doing in and through you. As hard as you labor in Christ, for Christ and His world, you see that you haven’t done enough and you feel guilty. Some guilt as is always true of us all is always warranted. But this visceral reaction to the Mission of Christ, which I see all over this synod is driven by a guilt based on man’s work not Christ’s. The way you read my paper honestly suggests that you in a very deep, personal way, you are laboring under some kind of Law My paper did not impose it on you. You imposed it on yourself. It is that very issue that I am trying to address for you and for the rest of us.

Now before I go further, let me straighten out a point that seems to be at the center of the confusion. You reacted to the answer to my question “Is the call for Christians to participate in Christ’s mission Law or Gospel?” this way

He answers Gospel. He does so by comparing it to the way the question is normally asked. Is the call to obey the Great Commission Law or Gospel? Presumably the second one has stronger law language and therefore gets the answer law. I don’t care if the language is strong or weak. Law is Law regardless. Watered down law is still law, and it might be more effective and accomplish its job better if it wasn’t cut. Whether we are asked to participate, or told to obey, I don’t care. I maintain that it is law. Furthermore, it is good law. There is nothing wrong with law.

I believe that we have no argument that the command to disciple the nations is just that—command. It is Law in the same way as the command to Love thy neighbor as thyself. If you are concerned that I am questioning that, then, relax. I am not.

My point regarding Law or Gospel wasn’t dealing with the Command. It was the invitation, that is, what’s behind God asking us to Disciple the nations in the first place? So that we, who are dead in trespasses and sins, will fail? I don’t think so. The invitation is meant to be a statement of purest Gospel. Take the Simon Peter example, “Feed my lambs.” That is Law, straight up. The fact that Jesus asked Simon Peter to do that, after Simon Peter had denied Him three times is purest Gospel. Jesus’ words “feed my lambs” is purest Absolution. He doesn’t say to Peter, “I forgive you for not loving me. Go and sin no more.” He could have. He says, something stronger (Gospel speaking), “Come on Pete, we have work to do.” Or “Pete, you don’t believe in yourself, why should you. But I believe in you—that is, I believe in you being mine forever, and I will work my salvation for the world through the ministry of the Gospel that I am entrusting into your hands.” Hear St. Paul at the end of his missionary career, “But I am not ashamed [of the Gospel,] for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” (ESV) You indicate that you have children. You do not entrust them to anyone whom you do not trust. That is inherent in the word trust. Likewise, our Lord would not have entrusted to you the Gospel to preach and administer unless He trusted you with it. That trust that God has in you is purest Gospel. It is built entirely on the merits and work of Jesus Christ, not on anything that you have or will do, nor what you have not done. It is Christ, Christ, and only Christ! That is what is behind my statement that the Invitation is purest Gospel. That is, the fact that He invited you to disciple the nation (Command=Law) is of the Gospel.

Which brings me to your little illustration,

When I ask my son to do something he is not so naïve to think he really has a choice. When I invite him to the supper table he knows to be there. When God asks me to do something, I am equally inclined to realize I don’t have a choice in the matter, no matter how polite the language.

So why would you invite (command) your son to come to the supper table. Because he is your son, you love him, feed him and care for him. He needs food, he needs family, he needs . . . He also is a beloved member of your family. You called your son, not a stranger, to the table. Don’t let the fact that you invited (commanded) him to come to the table negate the reality behind it. He is your son and “that not of himself.” He did nothing to become that. He can do nothing to make it better or worse, or take it away. Your invitation (command) reads properly: Son, come to the table, supper’s on!

It is the fact that God invites (commands) sons and daughters, or in Christ’s case, brothers and sisters to join him in the family business is purest grace. The work or command is law, to be sure. The invite to work is gift.

While I am on this topic let me pick something else up that you rightly mentioned. I am saved by grace alone through faith. We speak of being saved by grace without the deeds of the Law. We get that. Being saved doesn’t hand out there by itself. It has other adverbs handing with it. From what were we saved is one. We answer sin, death and the devil. For what were we saved is another. How do we answer that? The Mission of Christ, good works, etc. Good works are not the Gospel. The Command to do good works is not the Gospel. Being saved for them is.

I could go on and on about this, but let it suffice for now and wait for your response.

Now, to a couple of quick points.

You wrote:

Rev. Newton shares his concern with us that there are people in this synod who do not consider the great commission to be the top priority. I understand and share that concern. This is not a paper that wants to find a way of letting pastors off the hook in regard to this task, one they voluntarily took upon themselves with the conference of a stole. I don’t care what their reasoning is. This is the task the church has, it is one that we need to be engaged in accomplishing. Yet I think sometimes this gets all the press, and actually it is not the lost out there, but the lost, hurt and starving inside the church that are neglected. There is a balance that needs to be struck in the work of a pastor. Christ has entrusted us with sheep that we are to feed. We need to feed them and care for them. If we can’t take care of those we already have, why should Christ bring more into our care? If our sheep are starving, broken, and otherwise hurt, why would another sheep want to join our fold?

Please, I hope that we never drive a wedge between the sheep found and the sheep lost. There are plenty of hurting, bleeding wandering sheep we serve in our parish. That is the nature of sheep. But my priority of the Lost over the found, is not that one is more deserving, or that one needs more Christ. In that they are the same. The difference is only in this, “My sheep hear my voice.” Even mostly deaf they know the voice of their Good Shepherd. They always need to hear it—that is the work of the Pastoral Office. Haltingly, they follow their Good Shepherd. In that we rejoice. The lost on the other hand to not yet know the Shepherd, because they have not yet had the privilege of hearing his voice. That is the only reason why they get priority. That is why Jesus kept reminding his disciples that he had to go on to other villages also, so that they might get an opportunity to hear the voice of their Shepherd. I think you would agree that without a deliberate choice on our part to go intentionally to where the lost are laying “harassed and cast down” and speak for the Shepherd to them they will never hear His voice and follow Him. That is what makes Lutheran so Lutheran. Means of Grace are always a going and seeking enterprise.

Another key point of yours:

It may be an essential part of our life as Christians, but lets not make the gospel dependent on our participation in the proclamation of it. The Gospel as I understand it, is that by which I am saved; Romans 1:16 (ESV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. “ If our participation in Christ’s mission is an essential aspect of our inheritance in the Gospel, then the Gospel is dependent on me. I can’t read the statement any other way. What if I don’t participate? What then?

Was I that unclear? I agree with your first statement in this section completely. My point is not making the Gospel dependent on our participation in the proclamation of it. It is the opposite. I want us to come to understand that our participation in the proclamation of the Gospel is dependent upon the Gospel not the Law.

Two more points as I am quickly running out of time today. Thanks for reading thus far.

Yes I can see how impossible this idea is, as I see how impossible it is that I chose any of it to begin with. I always thought it was Christ who chose me, took me, and made me alive in him. If it came to us in baptism then, it was given to us. No two ways about it. Baptism is a gift. Christ baptizes us into his death and resurrection and gives us life there. We are not the movers in Baptism, it is not a covenant we make with God. It is God making a promise to us. It is there he forgives us our sins. And he does not make that forgiveness dependent on us evangelizing. He even forgives our fear that would stop our mouths when we want to speak.

I think that you missed the point. My point in “choosing” was not choosing Christ or any gift of salvation that He gives by grace alone. All of gifts given while we are yet dead in trespasses and sins. If we could choose, we wouldn’t need the Mission of God. Like I said, that is what makes Lutheran so Lutheran. My point was having been made a son we inherit all the gifts of that inheritance in Christ. Heaven is one, means of grace another, daily and rich forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, etc. Another such gift is the gift to love my neighbor (a Law to be sure). But the point is I am now able to love my neighbor. I wasn’t able to before. I was dead. Now I am alive and in that new life and am able to love. But it seems to be a gift that we would like to pass on. That was my point.

Last point:

It would help if district presidents made sure the Gospel was being preached in our pulpits before they ask for authority to oversee that it is being preached elsewhere. If it was being preached in our pulpits I think people would actually come to hear it.

First, I agree with you about the absolute need to have we COP guys making sure that the pure word is preached, Law and Gospel rightly divided. We are accountable for accounting for that. My plea is that we hold ourselves equally accountable for accounting for the pure word being preached not only to the baptized but to the nations.

Second, don’t drive a wedge between true doctrine and missions. Scripture doesn’t. We have done that in our synod. It is poor theology.

Finally, we need to look at accountability as “a care ability” that is, the ability and desire to care for each other in Christ. Bonheoffer said it best, “I need my brother because of Christ. Christ in the words of my brother is stronger than the Christ of my heart. My heart’s words are uncertain, my brother’s words are sure.” (Quoting from a very rough memory of what he actually wrote.) I am sorry that my paper did not hold the cross of Christ up high enough, or shine a light on it bright enough to grasp your undivided attention and devotion. Holding the cross before you, my dear brother is all that I want. It is in the knowledge—faith—that you belong to Him by His work on the cross alone, is everything. In the “all things that are yours” comes the joyful opportunity to join Him in crushing the serpent’s head as we preach the Gospel to all the world. I thank God for your faithful participation in that ministry.

I will take sometime to think this through, and reconsider. The response is good because it does make Dr. Newtons position clearer to me. I still don't know that I agree with it.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

“I need my brother because of Christ. Christ in the words of my brother is stronger than the Christ of my heart."

This brings to mind something that happened to me some 25 years ago...Upon walking into the church sanctuary, I saw a HUGE angel standing up behind the altar...He spoke to me and said,"Open wide your mouth and I will fill it!" While I wasn't "afraid", it certainly filled me with wonderment! I kept it to myself and muddled it in my heart...(Jesus, was that real?)

Some two years later, I was at a home fellowship/Bible study group and a really precious lady came up to me and said... "The Lord says to you,'Open wide your mouth and I will fill it!'" There was certainly no misunderstanding that! Now, I'm not a preacher or a teacher... It has been quite interesting over the years just how Jesus has used this unction to open my mouth and speak His words...*: ) It is almost always in conjunction with some event that happened in my everyday life...seems neighbors are really open to that...If opening my mouth has led any or many to want to hear the Gospel and learn about Jesus who gave me LIFE...whether it be through tears or laughter...It has been my JOY to comply!