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.

23 comments:

Carl Vehse said...

"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."

Perhaps "all these articles," particularly the Lutheran ones, really meant to admonish the preaching of the doctrine of the third use of the Law. That would indeed be a valid preaching objective, especially in discussing the doctrine of sanctification (in the narrow sense).

infanttheology said...

Bror,

I invite you to check out this one on my blog if you haven’t seen it already: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/silent-no-more-luther-lays-down-the-law-on-how-to-preach-the-law-200-proof-version/

If you read Pastor Sonntag’s paper, you will see that he addresses Dr. Murray on multiple occasions in the footnotes.

I look forward to reading your post in more detail - and hopefully commenting.

In Christ,
Nathan

Mark Surburg said...

Bror

You say much in here that we all agree upon. The heart of the issue comes out when your write: "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)"

The problem remains that your position can make little sense of texts like 1 Thess 4:1-11. It is too narrow, and unlike FC VI it does not see the Law as God's instrument that suppresses the old man. Paul writes these words so that Thessalonians will do these things "more and more" (4:1, 10). Apparently that's what the apostle thinks his word will do. FC VI enables us to understand how this happens for the Christian who is old man and new man at the same time. The remarkable thing is that God chooses to consider the results pleasing on account of Christ.

In Christ,

Mark Surburg

Mark Surburg said...

Bror there is much within this paper by Holger Sonntag that is worthy of study and thought.

http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/silent-no-more-luther-lays-down-the-law-on-how-to-preach-the-law-200-proof-version/

Donavon Riley said...

Epitome IV: 5] 4. Now, as regards the distinction between the works of the Law and the fruits of the Spirit, we believe, teach, and confess that the works which are done according to the Law are and are called works of the Law as long as they are only extorted from man by urging the punishment and threatening of God's wrath.

6] 5. Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7:25; 8:7; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2.

It's not difficult to understand!

Donavon Riley said...

Who's running the verbs?

Bror Erickson said...

Mark,
My position can make perfect sens of 1 Thessalonians 4. Paul is preaching law. What he intends is really of no account here. It does not negate the fact that he is preaching law. I preach law in much the same way and often. I'm just never under the delusion that now I am preaching third use and the second use has lost its sting because of my tone or my intention. I doubt Paul was under that delusion either. Law is law.

Anonymous said...

"This distinction between causes and effects is also useful for showing that sanctification or renewal is to be distinguished from justification, and that the new obedience is not a cause or an essential part of our justification, because it is an effect or a result." -Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, p. 555

Mark Surburg said...

Bror,

Have you read Sonntag's paper? There is ample evidence that Luther did not view things in the way you are describing. Look beyond Elert to Luther for an understanding that can handle the New Testament's admonitions and exhortations.

Mark Surburg said...

Donovan, You need to read the whole text:
Ep. IV.8. Although this voluntariness [liberty of spirit] in the elect children of God is not perfect, but burdened with great weakness, as St. Paul complains concerning himself, Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17;

14] 9. Nevertheless, for the sake of the Lord Christ, the Lord does not impute this weakness to His elect, as it is written: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, Rom. 8:1.

Or as SD IV.8 explains further:
Nor is there a controversy as to how and why the good works of believers, although in this flesh they are impure and incomplete, are pleasing and acceptable to God, namely, for the sake of the Lord Christ, by faith, because the person is acceptable to God. For the works which pertain to the maintenance of external discipline, which are also done by, and required of, the unbelieving and unconverted, although commendable before the world, and besides rewarded by God in this world with temporal blessings, are nevertheless, because they do not proceed from true faith, in God's sight sins, that is, stained with sin, and are regarded by God as sins and impure on account of the corrupt nature and because the person is not reconciled with God. For a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, Matt. 7:18, as it is also written Rom. 14:23: Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. For the person must first be accepted of God, and that for the sake of Christ alone, if also the works of that person are to please Him.

The works of the individual who is old man and new man at the same are considered good on account of Christ. Those produced as a result of third use of the law are good for this very reason.

infanttheology said...

Bror,

My great thanks to you for delving into this topic so deeply with this thoughtful and informed post! I hope you’ve had a chance to look at Pastor Sonntag’s paper, which I think is quite compelling. He has clearly done his homework, and I hope at some point a response will be forthcoming from Dr. Murray. I think two intelligent and irenic men discussing/debating this would benefit us all greatly.

“…trusting the gospel too much. Is that possible?”

I don’t think so. That said, I think it is possible to have a more or less defective understanding of who Jesus is in the “Gospel” one trusts.

“…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.”

Well, correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think anyone has said there is essentially no difference here. Certainly, for Luther, he saw the law’s primary use as the theological one. Further, it’s not that the third use is “the means of growth…” but that it has a role in our growth in sanctification, which begins first and foremost in hearing and believing the Gospel in the narrow sense, followed by the whole counsel of God, etc.

“… 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…. 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.”

....

infanttheology said...

OK, this is an interesting point. In other words, when Pastor Surbrug quotes from FC IpII.18 (on Pastor Messer’s blog): “For when the Holy Spirit has effected and accomplished new birth and conversion and has altered and renewed (aeƤndert und erneuert)the human will solely through his divine power and activity, then the new human will is an instrument and tool of God the Holy Spirit, in that the will not only accepts grace but also cooperates (mitwirket) with the Holy Spirit in the works that proceed from it”, and says “It's a simple question about a specific point of theology. Do you think ‘that the will not only accepts grace but also cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the works that proceed from it’"? you would fully agree, even as you would not call this sanctification. Now, when I went to sem, I was taught that there was a narrow and broad sanctification. The narrow one had to do with regeneration basically, and came simultaneously in time with all those gifts given in I Cor. 1:30 – even as we Lutherans still distinguished justification from sanctification for the purpose of comforting terrified consciences. The broad one had to do with the rest of our Christian life and our growth in holiness proceeding from the embryonic holiness that we as Christians had because of the Holy One Jesus Christ living within us. I talked with Pastor Sonntag, who has done a lot of reading and translating of Luther and he noted that Luther certainly did equate good works with sanctification his whole life (he spoke of a passive and active sanctification). I also note I John 3:3 and II Cor. 7:1.

That said, I have seen people put forth positions that are similar to yours. Recently, I read the Genius of Luther’s theology, and here is what the authors, Robert Kolb and Charles Arand say (this from their fifth chapter, “The Dynamics of Faith”): “as faith grows, one could say that the Christian grasps more firmly the righteousness of Christ. As faith grows, just like a tree, it does not become more righteous, but it does produce more fruit… Faith grows as it breaks free from its bonds of encumbering sin. For Luther, one can speak of more works or fruit, but this does not imply growth in sanctification…. the Christian is already a completely new creature in Christ... as a tree grows, more fruit grows on it. Faith brings with it new desires: out of love and trust in God, one desires to do the will of God and conform to God’s created intention for us” (K&A 126).

Importantly, in explaining Luther’s comments from the Large catechism that sanctification is a “beginning that is not yet brought to completion” and that we “await the time when… [we] will come forth gloriously and arise to complete and perfect holiness in a new eternal life”, they say that these statements makes sense “within the matrix of the two kinds of righteousness”: “The righteousness that we have been given by faith is a complete righteousness, and the righteousness we manifest in love is a partial righteousness. It is complete when viewed as God’s approval of us and as our possession of the righteousness of Christ: Christ’s righteousness is a totality, and the believer participates in it totally. It is partial when viewed from the standpoint of the world’s approval of us and as a new beginning for human beings along with a new obedience” (italics mine, K&A, 124).

...

infanttheology said...

“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.”

Bror, I understand that no work the Scriptures would call good will be perfect, save from our Lord Jesus Christ. That said, I don’t think “monitoring our sanctification” is what persons like myself are talking about. Yes, we can hardly avoid taking stock of our thoughts, words and deeds, but the whole point here is that the Bible tells us that Christians are to grow in sanctification, and the Bible promises us that as we believe in Him, we certainly will. And even as we Lutherans rightly talk about how it is good to focus not on faith but its object, we certainly want faith in that Object to grow and be stronger as well…

“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…

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)”

Another interesting point, and one that certainly should be explored more. Whatever Luther did, he did it to preserve the “outside-of-you” nature of justification, as you say, to give comfort and peace to terrified consciences – for God justifies the wicked when they look to him in desperate, groping, and loveless trust – via the alien, or external righteousness of Jesus Christ given in His Word! In other words, although those God declares righteous (by faith, given as a gift) he makes righteous (faith + love), justification and sanctification are to be kept totally distinct in our theology for important pastoral reasons. Therefore we do not today, for example, say [subjective] justification (faith alone) = sanctification (faith + love). We always keep these separate! Rather, we are reckoned righteous because of faith in Christ, grasped by the external word, and not because of the righteousness of Christ – including His love – that begins to dwell in our hearts when we are justified. We need to keep talking in this fashion.

...

infanttheology said...

...“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”

Yes and no. Yes, in that we who have been sanctified by God in baptism are justified before Him. There is nothing that we can do to be made more right with God or acceptable before Him. Hence when you quote Galatians, I’d simply say that Paul has in mind this aspect of being right before God, really having eternal life by faith in the Son. That said, as Luther writes in the Small Catechism, now we are only “half holy”, and therefore, as he says in the Antinomian Disputations and elsewhere, the remainder of our Christian life entails “driving out” the sin that remains through repentance and faith (see more here: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/the-saint-sinner-christian-life-driving-out-the-sin-that-remains/). This also fits perfectly with I John 3:3 and II Cor. 7:1.

“…and that is why it is dangerous to conflate new obedience and sanctification. 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.”

Bror, would you be willing to try and specifically state your concern here ? Sanctification does in large part have to do with the works we work in the world by the power of God’s Spirit. First and foremost it has to do with continuing to sit at Jesus’ feet to hear primarily the Gospel of His forgiveness to us through Him and His work but also his “whole counsel” - this is the kind of activity we actively run to, and are to initiate ourselves as well – but it does not end there, either, as God’s Spirit helps us to both will and do as regards God’s will for us.

“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.”

To the first sentence, it is true that any cooperation the new man has in the new obedience is the result of [passive] sanctification. However, it is also true that our cooperation in the new obedience – especially as this new obedience entails running to Jesus’ feet – is a part of our ongoing, active sanctification. Luther had no trouble talking in both ways. You are conflating Luther’s (and Paul’s) concerns about justification with Luther’s concerns about sanctification. He especially makes this distinction in his antinomian theses and the disputations regarding these.

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Nathan Rinne said...

“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?”

Probably not. And neither could Luther – even though he also said things that many modern Lutherans are not able to say (again, see Pastor Sonntag’s paper).

“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”

Yes indeed. And I appreciate the rabbit trail. It touches on some of the things I brought up above. Maybe the difference is that you see more paradox here than I do. As a Lutheran, I am definitely appreciative of paradox. That said, I see the paradox here being more about the old man and the new man. And in my life at least, this paradox seems pretty concrete.

“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?”

Yes – this is in my pastor’s paper I linked to above (see here: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/the-saint-sinner-christian-life-driving-out-the-sin-that-remains/) That said, even as we will not drive out all sin in our earthly life, we are to get a big start on the process. Here I would point out that Lutherans can and should find great joy in striving to know God more and understand Him (Jer. 9 – what joy is there in this!), to love Him more and more each day, and to love our neighbors in increasingly sacrificial ways…. Oh that we might glory in His Law more, not for the “glory of God” as Calvinists understand it, but as we Lutherans do – which means seeing His mercies pour forth like a river for the life of the world. His honor and glory are found primarily in the fact that His love for His whole creation is life-giving and not like that of men’s pale loves which destroy.

“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)”

Yes, we are saved by our baptisms. We are the baptized, hence we do good works that our neighbors might glorify the Lord (i.e. come to know He that is love, light, and life)


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infanttheology said...

“….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.”

I’d say sometimes we try, sometimes we don’t. I think it is wonderful when we find ourselves simply “caught up” in doing good. Other times, it is a lot more like Romans 7. We are well aware of the struggle to be transformed, to do good, to bear fruits that befit repentance.

“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.”

I agree that this will always be a problem. Good things for preachers to talk about and to delve into.

“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.”

Bror, I again agree with you. Preachers need to help their people – and help one another – see that Old Adam indeed will cause us to think in terms of justification by works, scales, etc. On the other hand, we don’t shy from telling persons to “go and sin no more”.

“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.

Yes.

“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.)”

Yes.

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infanttheology said...

“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.”

A couple things: is it possible to be forgiven and yet still feel guilty? Sure. Also, if a Christian is not striving for holiness will they feel guilty even if their pastor does not actively exhort them to do so? If they read are being exposed to words in line with the Scriptures regularly, I think they certainly will be. Actually, if they are striving for holiness, they perhaps will be even more! This is the reason why we constantly need to be hearing about the passive righteousness of faith – justification - as well.

“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?”

Great questions Bror. As someone who wants to believe – and continues to believe – that we grow the most in our Christian life through God’s constant exposure of our sin (through penetrating preaching of the Law) and His constant preaching of the Gospel (“too sweetly”, as Walther said!) I am tempted to throw in my lot with you 100% here. But then, why does Paul end his letters the way he does. Why has the history of Christian preaching – including with Luther – looked like something else? Here Pastor Sonntag’s paper must be dealt with seriously.

“After all, good works are supposed to be done spontaneously from a free spirit! (Kolb/Wengert pg. 499)”

Again, and sometimes they truly are. Insofar as we are new men, I don’t think, as I John says, we need anybody to teach us (the Formula says something similar). We don’t need the formal instruction or inculcation of God’s Law. That said, insofar as we are new men, we recognize God’s Law when we hear it – and we especially delight in the example of our big brother Jesus. When we “see” Him raking the yard or doing other things mature folks “get to do”, we want to imitate Him! When we see Him healing, loving, fighting evil, showing mercy, the spirit of our “new man” is indeed lifted up! How well He knew His Father (and can we know and understand Him better to? – Jer. 9)! How devoted He was to hearing Him speak in the Scriptures and to conversing with Him (quiet places to pray… Father, I know you always hear me….). How willingly and joyfully He was about His Father’s business and endured all the difficulties and trials found in life! Etc, etc…. As His sheep, we hear His voice – His whole council – and we delight!

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infanttheology said...

“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.)”

Again, I think my pastor’s paper mentioned above is a good start here. Luther’s anthropology sheds light on why he speaks the way he does in the antinomian disputations. We are not new men only, but old Adam as well. Sometimes, we are indeed so swept up in the good news that old Adam is simply caught in the undercurrent of the wave. He is overwhelmed. At other times, we are more susceptible to temptation, and he gets the upper hand in this or that way. We are well aware of his twistedness within us and the battle in which we must engage. For example, perhaps we sin in our anger and need to “take old Adam for a walk”. But yes, you are right - this battle is never to be conceived at apart from Christ and the power of His Spirit.

“At this point this blog is the longest I have ever written.”

And I think this is the longest reply I have ever written!

“ 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.”

Indeed.

“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.”

Well, I think you may have a fair point here. Of course, we can do absolutely nothing without the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit. From my perspective, that is not what this discussion/debate is about at all. Due to past discussions, I suspect that this debate may really come down to a simple question: is the new man Jesus or is the new man the Christian?

“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.”

Deepening sanctification in Christ by the Spirit! Yes, all of this is wrapped up in and permeated with Christ and the Holy Spirit!

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infanttheology said...

“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.”

Well, your concerns are noted. (and addressed above). But some of us are concerned when, as Pastor Sonntag says, some seem to be insisting that the preaching method followed by Jesus and His apostles – not to mention Luther – is for all practical purposes being said to be less than optimal (at the very least! – sometimes I get the impression some think it downright un-Christian!)

“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.”

I guess the question here is whether or not we think that Luther should have anything to say here as far as how we interpret the confessions on this issue. I will throw in my lot with Luther (and Paul… and Walther, as Sonntag shows…. And basically the whole history of Christian preaching until very recently it seems…)

“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.”

As do I and I believe most everyone else involved in this debate/discussion.

“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.”

Amen to that. We need this not only every day, but every moment. And then, “by the mercies of God….” And the internal war continues until that final trumpet. But in the Spirit, we may indeed go about that war in the confidence that Jesus Christ will save us from this body of death (end of Romans 7).

Thanks be to God!

+Nathan

Bror Erickson said...

Fun.
I know of no one who has said that preaching like Paul or Jesus is not proper. No one. On the other hand, I think it kind of funny that some in this debate, who seem to consider themselves a bit more sanctified than the others, have falsely accused others of saying this.
I'm sorry, I have no more time for this debate. I am going to try to exercise Paul's advice to Titus, and avoid foolish controversies concerning the law. They are fruitless. This one has proven to be so. I have Sasse translations to edit.

infanttheology said...

Bror,

"I know of no one who has said that preaching like Paul or Jesus is not proper. No one."

I do. At seminary. Epistles aren't sermons you know...

Sorry to hear that you do not want to continue the discussion. I would have liked to hear more from you on these issues.

In Christ,
Nathan

Bror Erickson said...

Nathan,
I would recommend the book "Homeletics" by Reu to you, for a full account of what preaching in the first century looked like.
The actual fact of the matter, is Paul's epistles are in fact not sermons. That isn't to say that we cannot learn something about preaching and what it should look like from the epistles. But in fact, they are not sermons, not in the modern sense of the word anyway, which has taken over the meaning of homily. But that is another story. Still I know of no one who says we shouldn't preach like Paul or Jesus. I certainly have not said this. Over and out.

infanttheology said...

Pastor Erickson,

The key question, I think is "What do you mean by preaching like Paul or Jesus"?

I'll leave it at that for now, as I am sensing that a blog is not the best place for this conversation.

Christ's richest blessings to you,
Nathan