Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A more organized issue oriented response to Dr. Newton

Dr. Newton,
I have been thinking about this now for a good week. In a way I think I might be trying to wear a shoe that doesn’t fit, and maybe that is why we are talking past each other. Perhaps it would be better to discuss this over a couple beers. But, In chewing this over I also read your paper “He opened their Minds: The mission Dei as Interpretive Lens for God Word.” I think my objections to your papers are three fold: 1) Confusion of Law and Gospel, 2) a misdiagnosis of objections, 3) a wedge.
1) Over and over in these two papers I see confusion. Law is called gospel. I am tempted to read a hyper antinomianism in the papers that is afraid to label law as law for fear it won’t be done if it is so labeled. I get that we love because Christ first loved us. I don’t debate that. The most profound act of love we have is sharing Christ with our neighbor, sharing the Gospel. We can’t share what we don’t have. This is why I think it is absolutely necessary to keep the two distinguished, Law and Gospel, and not to confuse them. A little Law leavens the whole Gospel lump. Just a tinge of confusion can often muddle the whole thing. That is when it becomes easy to miss the Gospel within a paper.
The confusion is evident when you make statements saying feed my sheep “is purest gospel” then add a line later that there is an aspect of law to it. One or the other it can’t be both purest gospel, and cut with the law. And I agree with you that there is gospel behind that statement, but it is not pure, in fact the statement is mostly law. The problem here is that when the two are confused you undercut the message. Jesus telling me that my sins are forgiven, telling the disciples, “Peace be with you” in the upper room is Gospel. Jesus telling them to go, that he is sending them, even when he gives them the authority to do so, is still law. It may be a great honor to be sent. I find it a great honor to be one who is sent. But the fact that I am sent is still law. By promise or law? That is the question you ask. Do we enter it by promise or law? I don’t think the question really addresses the problem.
Quite frankly, this is one of the biggest issues I have with both of your papers, is you talking about how we enter this through baptism etc. I feel like I cut theological hairs, but don’t make me the actor in baptism. Baptism was not a covenant that I entered into with God telling him I would hold up my end of the bargain. God made promises to me in baptism. I didn’t make any towards him. I actually quite resolutely refuse to make promises to God, ordination, and wedding vows the exceptions. I learned as a teenager how incapable I was in keeping promises made to God.
God gives us Christians commands. He instructs even Christians with the law. We don’t have to be afraid of it. Christ even forgives the breaking of his law after we are Christians. One may bicker over whether or not Matthew 28:18-19 is given to disciples, as apostles and therefore applies to pastors, or whether it applies to the church as a whole. I don’t care to debate it. Disciples make disciples. One way or another the church has this task, and we all work together to complete it. I would not be the one to tell parishioners they have no right to tell their neighbor about Jesus, because that is my job. Though, depending on the circumstances I might be a little uncomfortable if they started baptizing their neighbors.
What we can’t do is confuse the command with Gospel. Even if it is the gospel that ultimately drives us, or that ultimately gives us the ability to do what we have been asked. I’m not sure who is debating that. The danger is that you think you are helping a wounded brother, and you are not. The proper distinction between Law and Gospel is crucially important, and deserves more than a shrug of the shoulders saying none of us always get it right. That may be true, but it is not an excuse to do a hack job on it with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially ones wounded in the trenches. They all realize that it is an honor that God uses them in the proclamation of the Gospel, it only makes the failures that much more bitter. And I know God will wake me up in the morning to go do it all over again, when I went to bed a failure. But the rest I need doesn’t come from a pillow, it comes from Christ our Sabbath rest, the gospel. The work is not the gospel, whether or not we entered it by promise or law. God’s work for us is always Gospel. Our work for him? Not so much. It doesn’t matter if I do love the work, and probably a bit too much.
2) This brings me to the misdiagnosed objections. The pastors I know in this synod are overwhelmingly hard working men with a passion for the gospel, and missions. I don’t know any who aren’t. So I am confused as to who you are leveling your attacks at. I don’t know who in our synod has a “visceral objection” to missions.
I do know many who have disagreements as to how they might be done. I know many who have objections to what is and isn’t proper when it comes to the how of doing missions. And I do know synergists, and they are not the ones who expect lost to make their own way to church. Actually I could see a few people holding that position, but as we have free will in temporal matters that would not be synergistic. Naïve it would be, but not synergistic. The synergist would be the one that tries to get them to pray the sinner’s prayer when they do make it to church for whatever reason. This is what surprises me. The lost do come! Some weeks I have all I can do to track down the "lost" ones that darkened the door on Sunday. To be honest, most of them have some connection to the church, a friend or what not. So maybe they aren’t making their “own” way. But my people would not be inviting them if they couldn’t trust me to give their friends the same Gospel I give them, Christ Crucified. But to get back to the point. You talk about this phenomena, and I don’t know it. Perhaps I am just isolated in Utah. But I have never run into this paradigm that “assumes that the Gospel proclamation locates primarily in the church (the gathered assembly of believers) around the ministry of the called pastor. So, the unsaved first need to come to church in order to hear the Gospel.” I suppose it is the second part that has the problem. I mean there is no Church where the Gospel is not being proclaimed, so if I want to hear the Gospel I am going to go to church. What disappoints me is how often I don’t find it in “Church.” Vacations are too painful to go on anymore for the synergism that runs rampant in synod. That and I inevitably end up in church on a Sunday when they don’t have communion. The one Sunday I could sit in the pew with my wife and family, and I hear awful confusions of law and gospel, and don’t have opportunity to commune with them. And to top it off, I have to suffer the shameful blasphemy of women giving the children’s sermons. Has not anyone in this synod read 1 Cor. 14?!!! But when the COP has not been able to handle these problems, and ensure that the Gospel is being preached in the pulpits of our synod, they then ask for more power to make sure that congregations are growing fast enough and call us hypocrites who are suspect of the new scheme. It isn’t that I think people have to come to church to hear the Gospel, I proclaim the gospel every chance I get. I do it with neighbors over beer, strangers at the post office who see me wearing a collar, etc. I just don’t think you can ensure that it is preached to the nations when you can’t ensure that it is being preached in the pulpits. I agree with you that there are problems in the synod. I don’t think the fix is to be found in regulations and law.
3) This finally brings me to the wedge. You ask me not to drive a wedge between theology and missions. I refuse to. That is the last thing I want. I ask the same of you. Don’t treat it as two different issues, needing two different sets of tools to deal with. You are already given theological oversight, this you admit yourself. You also admit that the COP has not always down a stellar job in following through with this.
The question is if they are not two different problems why do you need new regulations and accountability structures to deal with the issue?
But there is another wedge that is being driven. It is one of trust. I’m a young guy. I grew up in a pastor’s home absolutely oblivious to synodical politics. My dad didn’t see fit to bring those home to the dinner table very often, though he had been put through the ringer a couple times. He preached the gospel, and as strict a disciplinarian he was, he raised me with the Gospel. I became a pastor when I realized people actually go to church their whole lives and never hear the Gospel! Seriously, the "gospel" is confused with missions, social activism, and warm fuzzies, or rules against drinking, promise keeping and the like ubiquitously. I spent 3 years hearing that sort of drivel on Sunday mornings because there wasn’t a Lutheran Church to go to. I spent Another year listening to it because the Lutheran pastor didn’t know what Lutheranism was. I thanked God I was a Lutheran; that I was lucky enough to be born in a church that had the gospel. However, I was even luckier than that, I had a dad who knew the gospel. The synod is losing sight of it, it is falling apart. Everyone is at each other’s throats, and doing what is right in their own eyes. “What ever works” seems to be the mantra, and no one gives a rip anymore for what the Bible says, much less the Book of Concord. Synodical Resolutions seem to carry more weight at times. Quite frankly, I am horrified to hear at times, people reference Synodical Resolutions as if synod was free to go against scripture.
People have watched Synodical officials thumb their noses at them and their concerns for too long. People who have serious misgivings, Christian brothers and sisters, about the propriety of mingling prayers with those of Buddhists, and Muslims are marginalized, and ridiculed even on National Television by our Synodical leaders. Beloved radio programs are taken off the air with no real explanation whatsoever. Oh funding. I forgot. Yet funding is found for other shows. Missionaries are yanked from the field overnight, before the people are even made aware that there is a funding crisis. And these are things that just happen on the surface. I don’t even want to get into the rampant rumor mill detailing backstabbing etc in boardrooms.
And you want new accountability structures? You have the gall to call others hypocrites for being suspect? Do you honestly think that new Synodical resolutions are the answer to this problem? This is a human answer. We think we can stop drugs and violence by passing laws against them. We can stop people from hating each other by passing laws against hate crimes. When isn’t murder or a beating a hate crime? When isn't hate the driver for those crimes? Yet laws never really answer the problem. Laws are the way of this world. They aren’t the answer especially at a time of mistrust. Any pastor seasoned with a year in the office knows that you don’t change the constitution when the congregation is fighting, not unless you actually want the congregation to split. You don’t ask for more power when the people don’t know they can trust you with what you have already. There are other ways of addressing the problem, and they are normally better suited to the problem. If the laws are in the way of you doing what you want, they are serving their purpose. Find another way to the goal.
Finding a way of holding pastors accountable for who they do or don’t see is not the answer you are looking for. The answer is probably more simple than that. You hinted at it in your response. It is beer. Not literally, but it is the comradery of sharing a beer, and hearing one another out, to be preceded by and followed by forgiveness. Laws are about lording it over. The church, and its leadership especially, is not to be about that. Oh I know we need some rules and regulations, there has to be some discipline and order. But these are rarely effective in answering the problems of the day, especially to the problems that are systemic in our synod today.
In the end, part of me wishes that we could solve our problems with new laws and regulations it is human nature to think that way. People aren’t evangelizing? I know lets hold them accountable for that. Can you imagine what would happen to my congregation if I handled them that way? I find it better to ensure they hear the gospel, so that they actually know what to evangelize with. People don’t like being confessional Lutherans? Let’s pass a law that says they have to be? Sure that is going to work. They haven’t listened to the Bible and its clear teachings. They have ignored the BOC, and their Lutheran Heritage, not to mention turned their backs on their ordination vows, but a Synodical resolution will answer that problem. They wouldn’t dare defy one of those.
No, there is only so much you can do. There is only so much the law can do. And that isn’t much at all. But we might be able to sit and talk, inspire and motivate, in other ways. Share a beer and share the importance of it as you see it. It might wear off on the other person. It might not. But it has a better chance. The law never changes a heart, the gospel does.


Nancy said...

The law/gospel thingy just brought this back to remembrance...

Our pastor once said that he liked to think of the Ten Commandments as in Jesus the Ten Promises...
When we are in Jesus, we will do the commandments...they are promised to be the natural result of being in Jesus...We cannot obtain this "promise" on our own...It is the result of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Nancy said...

"The confusion is evident when you make statements saying feed my sheep “Is purest gospel” then add a line later that there is an aspect of law to it."

Law: Do an action!

Gospel: Peter I still love you and I want you as My partner is this gospel spreading business. Nothing you can do will make me love you any more...I still love you...Nothing you have done can make me love you less...I still love you...Come let's put the past behind us! I still love you...(purest gospel) That is NOT sloppy agape! Jesus knew that Peter would obey because the Holy Spirit of God had been breathed in him by Jesus Himself and was even at that moment working to will in him His good pleasure...That is not why Jesus loved him...He loved Him because he had been given to Him by the Father Himself...

Nancy said...

OK...lost me at "Confessional Lutheran..." Is that like confession booth...Catholic? Or, like Presbyterian or Methodist: I read you answer-read?

Nancy said... up Dr. Newton meet him at your favorite Pub and throw back a a few sips for me..I'll stop by and we can all join Amy in a few rousing rounds of "Being good is just a fable...I just can't 'cause I'm not able...Gonna leave it to the Lord!(pure gospel)...*; ) I think I'm done talking...

Bror Erickson said...

Confessional Lutheran means a Lutheran who actually takes Lutheranism, and hence the confessions of Lutheranism as found in the Book of Concord seriously.

Nancy said...


circlerider said...

"I had a dad who knew the Gospel"

Isn't the tense wrong? I Believe you still have a dad who knows the Gospel and is very proud of you.

Bror Erickson said...

True enough Circlerider! I'm just glad I didn't have to wait till now for you to know it.

Steve Martin said...

"The Lord loves a cheerful giver."

Law, or gospel?


When the law came in, sin increased.

Sure we need laws, they are good. But they will not make us good. They will only make us worse, for righteousness sake.

You can't really demand from people that they go and share the gospel.

You can, but you are not helping them out any. You'll create two congregations. The ones that are actually 'doing it', and the ones that are not, or are just faking it.

Then you are going to get the 'pride' problem, and the despair problem.

Just like any other problem you are trying to handle in the church with the law.

Preach the law, and the gospel. The Holy Spirit will inspire those who hear the gospel to act, in love, for the neighbor.