Thursday, April 25, 2013
The Great Sanctification Debate?
What a ride this has been! The great sanctification debate started with a post that seemed to me to have nothing to do with sanctification though it was title Progressive Sanctification. And quite frankly, if even a few Lutherans start talking of new obedience as something distinct from Sanctification, I think we have gotten somewhere, and perhaps the debate hasn’t at that point been totally fruitless. But that is where the debate started, Jordan Cooper equating sanctification with the new obedience as the Reformed do, even going so far as to equate Lutherans and The Reformed on Sanctification as if there was no real difference between the two positions.
In reality, as I recall, this post had nothing to do with sanctification it was a screed directed at Lutherans for using foul language, drinking beer, and I think he threw in porn with those also. I haven’t ever heard of Lutheran pastors defending porn, but then nothing surprises me. I’m sure it has occurred. In any case, what followed was the usual rant about trusting the gospel too much. Is that possible? And then a cal for more third use of the law in preaching, as if how the law is used is up to the preacher, a notion that is against the confessional understanding of the law and the three uses. (A side note, Dr. Murray, who did his PHD on the subject of the third use of the law, points out that it is more properly understood as function and not use. Use implies that we have control over how it is used, and we don’t.)
So my impression is that we are talking about many different things and one side is more or less conflating them all together. I don’t know if they mean to sound like evangelicals on this, but I hear it, especially when I’m told there is essentially no difference between The Reformed and Lutherans on this subject, and the means of growth in sanctification is seen as the third use of the law. Further that we cooperate in sanctification. This phrase, by the way is never used in the confessions, at least I could not find it. We cooperated with the Holy Spirit who has begun renewal in us. We cooperate in doing good works. But this brings in a whole new dimension that should be studied separately, but has also been conflated into the whole argument which essentially equates sanctification with good works. There is a problem here precisely in determining what makes a work good. The minute a person takes scripture and the confessions seriously on that point, is the minute you start seeing the futility of trying to monitor your sanctification by looking at “good works.”
So I’m going to take a moment here and write up a few thoughts on these different issues.
Sanctification: I’ll start here. To sanctify something is to make it holy. The scripture uses this word almost interchangeably with Justification. The confessions talk of holiness, which means the same thing as sanctification, right up to the Formula of Concord, where the term sanctification begins to be used instead. One can guess that this is because by the second generation of Lutheranism that put the Formula of Concord together, the enemy at the gates were the Reformed. Lutherans started using their terminology to combat their ideas.
In any case, all that aside, it seems today that what the Reformed mean, and what Jordan Cooper and Mark Surburg meant in this debate about sanctification was the new obedience and not sanctification properly speaking. I don’t know when Lutheran Dogmaticians started calling the new obedience as it is described in the Confessio Augustana, sanctification. It seems to have a long history. That said I still don’t like it.
Luther’s Small Catechism has the third article of the creed labeled “Sanctification.” There is reason for that. Luther titled that article “On Being Made Holy”. The whole article deals with that subject alone, and talks about it in much the same way we modern Lutherans have begun to talk of subjective justification. You get the impression that if you were to talk to the great reformer for a while concerning subjective justification he would tell you that you were talking of sanctification. I actually think that might have a bit of bearing on a different and perhaps more important debate within American pan Lutheranism. It isn’t the term Universal Objective Justification I would have trouble with, (Although really if it is objective it is universal, why so many adjectives in this debate?) but the term subjective justification. That is if I was going to have trouble with a term. Justification is by its very nature objective. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, on account of him the world has been declared innocent, this because he died for the world, the world that God so loved. This happened outside of us, in history. It is an event we had no control over. The second article of the creed deals with this. Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, took away the sins of the world, these sins of the world include your sins. This even includes pornography, drunkenness, cursing and swearing, and aside from those petty sins it includes sins such as he ones that caused you to indulge in pornography, drunkenness, the verbal abuse of you neighbor, which is cursing, and the foolish pride in yourself that made you swear in the name of God or your grandma’s grave. Let your yes be yes.
The third article of the Creed then switches over of the application of justification to the individual subjects of God, it does this under the heading of Sanctification. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps me with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. I think this is perhaps a more productive way to talk. The problem I run into at times with people is that they talk about subjective justification as if it was the subject justifying themselves with a choice to believe. And the whole phrase sort of undercuts the notion that justification is by nature objective. So in the catechism there is no talk of objective and subjective justification, but Redemption and Sanctification leaving both sides of justification outside of your control. The Holy Spirit makes you holy by applying redemption to you, applying justification to the sinner. Scripture is pretty clear that this happens in Baptism (Eph. 5, 1 Cor. 6)
The creed stops there with the third article. It leaves the entirety of your salvation up to the Holy Spirit. It does not talk of sanctification as something you will complete. And indeed Scripture is dead set against that idea. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.” “Galatians 3:1-5) The confessions are clear that we grow in holiness because of the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the means of grace and the church where they are found. “ Outside this Christian community, however, where there is no gospel, there is also no forgiveness, and hence there can be no holiness. Therefore all who would seek to merit holiness through their works rather than through the gospel and the forgiveness of sin have expelled themselves from this community. Meanwhile because holiness has begun and is growing daily, we await the time when our flesh will be put to death, will be buried with all its uncleaness, and will come forth gloriously and arise to complete and perfect holiness in a new, eternal life…” (Kolb/Wengert, The Large Catechism, Creed, pg. 438 paragraphs 56 and 57)
And that is why it is dangerous to conflate new obedience and sanctification. You might get away with it in a dogmatics book written for the theologically erudite where you can explain at length your use of the term. Talking with the laity, you just make sanctification a matter of works, and run the risk of expelling them from the community by putting them on a program of works.
Any cooperation the new man has in the new obedience is a result of sanctification and not the cause. Such sanctification then, and even the new obedience that results is begun, sustained and completed by the Spirit working through the gospel and not through the law. See the Galatians quote above. We do not complete by works of the law what was begun by the spirit in faith through hearing. The new obedience in which we cooperate with the holy spirit to do good works is the result of the Holy Spirit’s word in and through the gospel. Can I reiterate that enough? The Book of Concord describes this in the S.D. in Article 2 paragraphs 65 and 66. A much abused section these days in my opinion.
“It follows from this, as has been said, that as soon as the Holy Spirit has begun his work of rebirth and renewal in us through the word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that on the basis of this power we can and should be cooperating with him, though still in great weakness. This occurs not on the basis of our fleshly, natural powers, but on the basis of the new powers and gifts which the Holy Spirit initiated in us in conversion, as St. Paul specifically and earnestly admonished, that “as we work together with” the Holy Spirit “we ure you not to accept the grace of God in vain.” This should be understood in no other way than that the converted do good to the extent that God rules, leads, and guides them with the Holy Spirit. If God would withdraw his gracious hand from such people, they could not for one moment remain obedient God. If this passage were to be understood as if the converted person cooperates alongside the Holy Spirit, in the way two horses draw a wagon together, this interpretation could not be tolerated without damaging the divine truth. (Kolb/Wengert pgs 556-557).
Indeed, we cooperate more as like a wagon cooperates as it is being pulled along by an ox. We being the wagon, and the Holy Spirit being the ox. In the greater context of this article what you have is a description of the difference between the baptized and the unbaptized, getauft und ungetauft. The unbaptized are unable to do good works or will good works, the baptized are given the will and the ability both of which are by the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins. And that is the kicker. It is only by the forgiveness of sins that any of our works are considered good.
Among these good works in which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit are going to be things like regular church attendance, and the taking of the sacrament, prayers and so on which are perhaps particular to the Christian though hypocrites also might attend to those things. One could here too go into a rabbit trail talking of freewill before and after conversion, and that one can exercise their free will in lower things: where to work, who to marry, to plant a tree or not, eat porridge or lobster, or to go to church or not. This free will is recognized by the confessions. We are free in these matters. So we can choose to go to church, and once at church we can hear the gospel and be saved by the monergystic work of the Holy Spirit. It’s the paradox of Lutheranism here, where free will is maintained in lower things, but not applied to the things of God. But that is another thing altogether.
The truth is, outwardly speaking there isn’t going to be much by which one is going to distinguish between the good works of a believer and the evil works of an unbeliever. In fact there is only baptism by which we have been sanctified. A Christian planting a tree is a good work. And non Christian doing the same thing is going to be not considered good. And only on behalf of the forgiveness of sins will it be considered good in the Christian. Granted, one will expect a Christian to try and abstain from sinful activity especially those sins which the Holy Spirit says lead unto death. Yet we recognize that the Christian can and does sin. Really the crux of the issue is that the Christian is still unable not to sin. Why else would Jesus command them to pray for the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Prayer which by its emphasis on daily bread makes it part of a Christian’s daily routine? Daily we have new sins for which to ask God for forgiveness. But because of the forgiveness of sins daily and richly given to me and all believers in the holy Christian church, even the ordinary works of a man living out his vocation are considered good. And those things that look good even to the world are only good insofar as the Holy Spirit forgives the sinner doing them. That is where you begin to really tread on thin ice.
The Old Adam cringes at the notion that a donation to the pregnancy resource center is not intrinsically good in and of itself and extraordinarily so. The Old Adam likes to take a hold of such works and show them to God, or at least oneself as evidence of their salvation. Never mind that many people Christians and non Christians alike donate to such organizations. The Old Adam wants to look at this and say, see? The new obedience is at work in me? I’m obeying God, I must be saved. Then what of baptism? What did that do? You are saved by one or the other, not by both. If you could save yourself by donating to the pregnancy resource center, Jesus need not die and be resurrected so that you could be joined to his life and death in baptism. (Rom. 6)
The upshot of this is that Christians do good works. We just do. We don’t try. We do. Even as we fight with the Old Adam, even as we fight our sinful flesh and his temptations, we do good.
But here is the other aspect of that. There is too often a temptation to think of the Old Adam at work in us where gross and crass sins are concerned. That is my classification. By gross and crass I mean things even the world essentially knows are wrong: pornography, drunkenness, sensuality, adultery, murder, theft and so on. I know many who are not Christians who agree with Christians that these things are evil. I know few who are not tempted by these things. What is too often not recognized is the Old Adam’s propensity to use things the world and Christians see as good for his evil purposes. People think they don’t need church, don’t need Jesus or the sacraments because they are “good.” Christians are tempted to think of themselves as better than others because of their good works and their abstention from things they see as bad. They are tempted to see the Christian life not in terms of daily repentance and forgiveness but in terms of not watching porn. And if they do watch porn the Old Adam tempts to have them repent by donating to a charity or doing yard work at the church. And all these “good things” turn out to be nothing but the armor of the Old Adam refusing to admit that he is a sinner, refusing to admit he needs the cross, refusing to admit that Jesus had to die to save him. After all he is not as bad as Barabbas who actually was freed by Jesus, not as bad as the thief on the cross.
Yet the Christian remains a sinner and a sinner just as much in need of Jesus as the thief on the cross. And this reality is the chief purpose of the law in preaching. It is to expose sin in the life of the believer and unbeliever that they might realize the need for the forgiveness of sins, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Just as the Christian is never rid of the Old Adam, the Christian is never rid of the need for the law. Not the new man, mind you. The new man cooperates willingly with the Holy Spirit (I will now bring you attention to this fact, the confessions don’t say in what or how the new man cooperates, just that he can and should and this is ability is the result not the cause of renewal and rebirth.) But the Old Adam in the Christian needs to be constantly slain by the law. The law never loses this function, this purpose, this use, to expose sin as if in a mirror. And it matters not in what tone, or where in the sermon you place it, the law will always retain its ability to accuse and expose sin. And this is my objection where the third use is concerned. It isn’t that I don’t believe there is a third use, but the third use is never separate from the second use, because finally it is all the same law.
You can contend that you are using the law to bring about instruction in the believer for use in the new obedience. That your intention is not to leave them feeling guilty, but only to empower them to do good. And I don’t see how it is possible to do one without doing the other. How can you expose something as sinful in the Christian without expecting that to instruct them to abstain as much as possible from that activity, to avoid the temptation? How can you expect to instruct someone to do something that is good, without expecting that instruction to show their sinfulness, if in nothing else other than the fact that they needed to be told to do it? After all, good works are supposed to be done spontaneously from a free spirit! (Kolb/Wengert pg. 499)
To treat the law as if it has a switch and you can go from second to third use at will in your preaching, seems to me to buy into the notion that good works can be done at the discretion of the believer, that they don’t follow from a spontaneous spirit, but can be cajoled out of them, which is to say they can be the product of compulsion and coercion of the law. Again see the Epitome Article IV Good Works, (Kolb/Wengert pg. 498-9.)
At this point this blog is the longest I have ever written. If this wasn’t a response to a debate in which I have been ironically slandered by men, some of whom I have counted as friends and had dinner with in the distant past, accusing me of antinomianism, as having some new position, of being a mystic (really? You can do better) and denying the third use, I might have done three different blogs treating each issue separately. Some people are saying we have all just been talking past each other. At times I suspect that might even be true myself. And yet I tend to think the discussion important to have in any case, because I think it is of upmost importance when it comes to preaching. I am concerned to see article after article by Lutherans written about sanctification that say nothing about the work of the Holy Spirit. I mean that is just odd. I am concerned when I am told that Lutherans and Reformed both believe in “progressive sanctification” a term not even used by classic Lutheran dogmaticians who talk of the new obedience under the heading of Sanctification. I am concerned when all these articles admonish to preach third use of the law as if it is somehow a distinct preaching of the law that separates the second and third use from each other as if the law were an egg I was making a cake with. Because finally I think this breaks down that distinction of Law and Gospel the confessions hold so high in the fifth article of the Formula, and elsewhere within Lutheranism. There the law is spoken of as the law, and it is said to both instruct (third use) regarding what is right and God-pleasing, and to condemn everything that is sin and contrary to God’s will. This I believe it does. This is distinguished from the gospel, which is “Strictly speaking, the kind of teaching that reveals what the human being, who has not kept the law and has been condemned by it, should believe: that Christ has stoned and paid for all sins and apart from any human merit has obtained and won for people the forgiveness of sins, “the righteousness which avails before God,” and eternal life.” (Kolb/Wengert pg. 500) Thankfully, I also believe such forgiveness of sins applies to pastors who routinely screw it up. If it didn’t the church would have long ago died.