Christ did not legislate on church and ministry

As Christ did not come bringing law but rather grace and truth (John 1:17), expositions of New Testament teaching should never sound like legal arguments (see August Pieper’s “Are There Legal Regulations in the New Testament?”). Unfortunately, New Testament injunctions are routinely interpreted practically as if they were new laws.

This is seen in attempts of some Lutherans to demonstrate the presence of words of institution for the pastoral office in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20 and parallel passages). This paper by Pastor Preus will serve as an example. The paper does have some interesting history, and its negative assessment of the traditional argument for restricting public ministry to that office is quite revealing. While that argument is presented by some members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, its agreement with Walther is questionable. In fact, on examination, the Scriptural foundation of that argument is surprisingly weak.

Since the similarly restrictive position expressed in the paper and in the one reviewed earlier is not supported by any clear Scripture, it is at best a human opinion. For that reason alone, Christians must firmly resist all restrictions it imposes on divine calls to the public ministry, the service of proclaiming the gospel on behalf of the church. For example, believers remain free to appoint non-pastors to teach the word of God on their behalf. The church is free to regard them as called by God, for they are Christ’s gifts to people as surely as pastors are.

In the same way, there is no need to find Scripture with examples of worshiping on Wednesday instead of Saturday or Sunday to know that Sabbatarian is a human opinion at best. It is convenient that we have Colossians 2:16, but the recipients of the letter should have refused to have had their conscience bound as a matter of the principle that doctrine is determined by the light of God’s word without mixtures of human opinion.

If specific counterexamples can be found against a human opinion, so much the better, but they are really not necessary for seeing that none carries any legitimate authority to interpret God’s word. In the case of restrictive opinions on the ministry, there are several counterexamples, as will be seen in the 2005 ministry statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), a church in full doctrinal agreement with Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

The position of the Preus paper is particularly susceptible to a counterexample that the more traditional restrictive position is not. What makes Preus’s position unique if not novel is its basis on the assumption that Jesus instituted the pastoral office after his resurrection—the office that Scripture says was held by both Judas and his replacement. The office held by the apostles was theirs to use in their previous commissions to give peace by proclaiming the nearness of “the kingdom of God” (e.g., Luke 10:1-12). According to the Synoptic Gospels, “the gospel of the kingdom” of God was announced even before the apostles understood that Jesus must die and rise again.

The institution of the sacraments did not create the pastoral office. Rather, since the sacraments are visual proclamations of the gospel of the kingdom, those already commissioned to proclaim that gospel were commanded to administer the sacraments as they were instituted. While they did receive the words instituting Trinitarian baptism in the Great Commission, they had baptized earlier (John 4:2) and had heard the words instituting the Lord’s Supper.

A decisive refutation of the idea that Jesus instituted the pastoral office in the Great Commission is that the office was already held by the apostles before the words were spoken. The office conferred on Judas prior to the Great Commission was filled by Matthias after the Great Commission—the very same office (Acts 1:20, 25). Since Matthias held the pastoral office, Judas did, too. It could not possibly have been instituted by words spoken after his death.

In short, the opinion expressed in the Preus paper restricts the church, the royal priesthood of believers, in ways that Scripture does not. Worse, its regulations are based on the reconstructed account that Jesus instituted the pastoral office after his resurrection, a narrative exposed as fictional by Scripture’s saying that the office held by Judas was filled by his successor.

Then what words instituted the pastoral office? The question presupposes that, since it is of divine origin, the office have been clearly instituted by recorded words of Jesus, in analogy with the sacraments, words in some passage regulating the pastoral office beyond the divine call described in Mark 3:13-19. However, what we actually find in Scripture is that “The divine institution of this preaching and teaching office is not located in just one particular passage. Rather, throughout the New Testament, a divine ordering, establishment, and institution of the preaching and teaching office is indicated and presupposed (John 20:21-23, John 21:15ff, Matthew 28:18-20 [NKJV], Matthew 9:36-38, Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 4:1; see also Treatise 10)” (The Public Ministry of the Word, ELS).

Why is there no passage with the Ten Commandments of church and ministry? Simply because Jesus did not come to burden us with new laws but rather to redeem us from the curse of the law. The redeemed do not break the Second Commandment by misusing God’s name but rather proclaim the only name by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12).

While the good news of the Savior’s deeds to rescue us from the darkness is pure gospel, the command to proclaim those deeds (1 Peter 2:9), that is, to openly use God’s name to “pray, praise, and give thanks,” is pure law. To confuse the two can be disastrous for anyone who has not fully complied with the Second Commandment.

Since believers often fail to proclaim the deeds of the Savior who called out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9), passages scattered across the New Testament command them to do so as appropriate in their various circumstances. Those commands are exhortations to keep the Second Commandment in specific settings, not absolute, universal laws added to the Ten Commandments. For the example of the diverse forms of the pastoral office, “The church is commanded to appoint ministers who will preside over the churches (2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 1:5, …)” (The Public Ministry of the Word, ELS).

That is the public ministry in the narrow sense. In the wide sense, “Authorization to exercise a limited part of the Public Ministry of the Word does not imply authorization to exercise all or other parts of it (1 Corinthians 12:5, 28, Romans 12:6-8, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, 5:17)” (The Public Ministry of the Word, ELS). The ELS cited those passages as counterexamples to the opinion that believers may not authorize anyone but pastors of local churches to proclaim the gospel on their behalf. Not stated by any clear passages of Scripture, restrictions of this kind must not be allowed to hinder the proclamation of the gospel. The church militant does not have to fight Satan with one arm tied behind its back. No, believers are free to authorize professors and lay teachers to announce the good news on their behalf. “The word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9).

The sporadic distribution of passages on church and ministry confirms that none is intended as the institution of the ministry and that none adds new law to the Ten Commandments. Accordingly, the ministry has been long known in its seed form of telling the Gentile nations what God has done to save his people (1 Peter 2:9):

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! (Psa. 105:1-2, ESV)

And with joy you will draw water out of the springs of salvation. And you will say in that day: Sing hymns to the Lord; call his name out loud; declare his glorious deeds among the nations; remember them, because his name has been exalted. Sing hymns to the name of the Lord, for he has done exalted things; declare these things in all the earth. (Is. 12:3-5, NETS)

Set free from sin, believers must carry out the Second Commandment with wisdom, in accordance with the revealed will of God and unhindered by human regulations taught as doctrines. After all, believers have the keys and priesthood of the kingdom—like the gifts from the Spirit—for the good of their neighbors, not themselves.

26 July 2014. Revised on 7 November 2014. Link to  August Pieper’s “Are There Legal Regulations in the New Testament?” updated on 3 July 2016.

Divine calls of pastors and other church workers

The statement on the public ministry of the gospel by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) differentiates the pastoral office from other forms of the ministry. In support of the ELS statement’s teaching that the pastoral office was instituted directly by Christ, the apostles obviously held it, being authorized with “the full use of the keys,” and it is equally obvious that their office was no invention of the church.

In addition, the ELS statement more broadly defines the public ministry in terms of proclaiming the gospel on behalf of the church as opposed to private ministry on one’s own initiative. Under this definition, to say pastors are the only ones in the public ministry is to deny believers the right to appoint others to teach the word of God on their behalf.

Since Christ gave the Holy Spirit and the keys of his kingdom to all believers (John 20:21-23), they may authorize lay schoolteachers to proclaim the Gospel to their students. Anyone imposing restrictions on their use has the burden to prove the restrictions from Scripture. Those who restrict believers without scriptural warrant teach their own opinions as if they were divine commands.

Some, while recognizing that right of believers to appoint lay teachers of the gospel, do not want to say they have been called by God because they do not find those offices explicitly mentioned in Scripture. The tacit assumption is that any class of Christian workers not explicitly mentioned in Scripture is not a gift of Christ to people, as are the evangelists and pastors of Ephesians 4:8-11. This resembles what the old Presbyterians called “the regulative principle”: any form of worship not explicitly commanded in the Scriptures is strictly prohibited, practically limiting them to Psalms a capella for music in worship. The burden of proof is misplaced. Since those restrictions cannot be found in the Scriptures, they cannot bind consciences, and “the word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9).

Pastor David Jay Webber noted that Lutherans have always recognized that pastors are not the only ones with divine callings, citing the German version of Augsburg Confession XXVII:13, which in English reads,

Thus they made men believe that the profession of monasticism was far better than Baptism, and that the monastic life was more meritorious than that of magistrates, than the life of pastors, and such like, who serve their calling in accordance with God’s commands, without any man-made services.

There, pastors are listed alongside magistrates as having divine calls, God-given vocations. We could add lay teachers authorized to proclaim the word of God on behalf of believers. Faithful teachers obey the biblical commands to diligently and conscientiously carry out their work for the good of their neighbors.

Why not reason that since that sacraments have explicit divine commands, the pastoral ministry must have explicit divine commands that imply that only pastors are called by God to teach the gospel? The commands to “do this in remembrance of me” and to baptize do not impose new regulations but rather institute the sacraments as means of grace. By contrast, the pastoral office is not a means of grace but rather a form in which believers keep the Second Commandment, using their Savior’s name in word and sacrament to proclaim his deeds before the nations (1 Peter 2:9; Psa. 104:1-2; Is. 12:3-5).

To deny the divine calling of all non-pastors confuses Scriptural establishment of an office with a divine call to an office. Whether believers authorize someone to the pastoral office established by Scripture or to another office of teaching the word of God on their behalf, they do so with the same authority. Since a faithful schoolteacher authorized to proclaim the gospel is without question a gift of Christ to his people, his calling to his Spirit-created office is just as divine as a pastor’s call to his Scripturally established office.

Indeed, since a faithful schoolteacher appropriately authorized to proclaim the gospel to Christian students is without question a gift of Christ to his people, the arrangement did not come from the flesh or from Satan but rather from the Holy Spirit moving his people to proclaim the gospel. (It is in exactly this sense that a synod would be seen to be a divinely instituted form of the church even if there were no Acts 15. In his paper arguing that a synodical congregation is a church, August Pieper explained that a synod can be seen to be a divinely instituted form of the church from the obvious fact that the arrangement did not come from the flesh or from Satan but rather from the Holy Spirit moving his people to proclaim the gospel (1929, “Concerning the Doctrine of the Church and of its Ministry, with Special Reference to the Synod and its Discipline”).) In fact, any good works believers do have been prompted by the Holy Spirit.

When believers proclaim the deeds of the one who called them out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9), they do so as moved by the Spirit (John 20:21-23, Romans 8:16, etc.). The Spirit moves them to authorize pastors and others to proclaim the gospel on their behalf. Christ still gives gifts to people, and he is not limited by our principles. Christ gave people school teachers to teach the gospel.

Seeing that not only pastors but also the laity engaged in beneficial work are called by God, why have Lutherans generally reserved the term “divine call” for pastors as opposed to farmers, government officials, physicians, etc.? Is it that everyone is called, but some are more called than others? No, the difference is not that pastors are more called than others engaged in legitimate occupations. All vocations, secular and ecclesiastical, have divine calls. Rather, the difference lies in what they are called to do. Those in purely secular occupations are called to perform their duties in order to help their neighbors in this life. By contrast, pastors are called to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments for the life to come. Other occupations, such as teachers in Christian schools, are neither purely secular nor purely ecclesiastical. While believers are free to authorize a school teacher to teach the gospel on their behalf, that authorization is to a much lesser extent than that of a pastor. The authorization of a schoolteacher does not extend beyond the classroom to teaching the congregation, so it is obviously not to the same degree as the authorization of a pastor. That explains why “divine call” usually refers to the call of a pastor. More generally, the call to announce the gospel on behalf of the church is a matter of degree, as the ELS statement recognizes.

Every legitimate occupation is a vocation through which God brings us his blessings. May we give thanks for pastors and schoolteachers who faithfully proclaim the gospel since they really are Christ’s gifts to people.

26 July 2014. Revised 7 November 2014.

New LCMS doctrine regarding fellowship

The Ev. Lutheran Church is the total of all unreservedly confessing agreement with the pure Word of God,
of the teaching brought again to light through Luther’s reformation
and delivered summarily in writing to Kaiser and Reich at Augsburg in 1530
and repeated and expanded in the other so-called Lutheran symbols . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church is sure that the teaching contained in its Symbols is the pure God’s truth
because it agrees with the written Word of God in all points . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church rejects all fraternal and churchly fellowship
with those who reject its Confessions in whole or in part . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth
as they are found in no other known communion,
and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.

 

Following Luther and Walther, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) from its beginning rejected “all fraternal and churchly fellowship with those who reject its Confessions in whole or in part” because such rejection was a rejection of some truth taught by “the written Word of God.” The primary proof text for the termination of fellowship is Romans 16:17 (“watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”).

 

This does not justify refusing to pray with anyone outside of one’s own church body, which may have been a legalistic way the doctrine of church fellowship has been applied in the past. The doctrine itself is sound: do not have fellowship with those who cause divisions contrary to what you have been taught (Romans 16:17). That is not talking about a weak believer who is not causing divisions and who is willing to believe everything in Scripture but who, out of ignorance, is led astray by false teaching. It is talking about those who stubbornly persist in supporting false doctrine even after admonishments against it. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) makes that distinction clear in its Theses on Church Fellowship.

 

A change occurred in the LCMS doctrine of church fellowship in the first half of the twentieth century, culminating in the breakup of the Synodical Conference in 1963, as Mark E. Braun documented in A Tale of Two Synods: Events that Led to the Split between Wisconsin and Missouri. The change in the doctrine and practice of church fellowship is related to interpreting and applying Romans 16:17 and related texts of Scripture.

 

The Concordia Cyclopedia (Concordia Publishing House, 1927, “Unionism,” 774-775) explains the LCMS’s original doctrine in more detail:
Religious unionism consists in joint worship and work of those not united in doctrine. Its essence is an agreement to disagree. In effect, it denies the doctrine of the clearness of Scripture. It would treat certain doctrines as fundamental or essential and others as non-essential to Christian unity . . . A Christian who believes that God has clearly spoken through the prophets and apostles and through the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be a unionist. The indifferent and pacifist stand of the unionist is condemned in all those text which bid us beware of false prophets and to separate from those who deny the truth.
In the light of these texts all joint ecclesiastical efforts for religious work (missionary, educational, etc.) and particularly joint worship and mixed (promiscuous) prayer among those who confess the truth and those who deny any part of it, is sinful unionism. If we hold to the doctrine of the clearness of Scripture, such compromise of the truth cannot be tolerated, nor can it be defended by the plea that religious differences, after all, rest upon misunderstanding.
Thus, full doctrinal unity is required for all forms of fellowship, including not only sharing in communion (“altar fellowship”) and in preaching (“pulpit fellowship”) but also for prayer fellowship and joint ecclesiastical work. Indeed, Romans 16:17 and similar Scriptures do not distinguish between the different categories of fellowship.

 

By contrast, at least since the adoption of the report “Theology of Fellowship” in 1967, the LCMS has officially distinguished between altar/pulpit fellowship on one hand and prayer/work fellowship on the other hand. According to the report, the doctrinal agreement needed for altar and pulpit fellowship is not necessary for joint prayers:
Our Synod should understand that, in the case of doctrinal discussions carried on with a view to achieving doctrinal unity, Christians not only may but should join in fervent prayer that God would guide and bless the discussions, trusting in Christ’s promise Matt. 18:19: “Again, I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.”

 

Such joint prayers, however, are expressions of Christian fellowship according to the Scriptures. Christian prayer is fellowship with the triune God. All those in fellowship with the Father and the Son are necessarily and without exception in fellowship with each other (1 John 1:6). Thus, for Christians to confess fellowship with that God in joint prayer while denying fellowship with each another is to confess something that is impossible according to Scripture. Since there is no distinction between joint prayer and prayer fellowship, there can be no basis for denying pulpit or altar fellowship whenever joint prayer is warranted. By the same token, whenever altar/pulpit fellowship is not warranted because of persistent false teaching, joint prayer (prayer fellowship) is not warranted either (Romans 16:17).

 

Church fellowship takes place not only in teaching, communion, and prayer, but also when churches carry out their other work together. That is the teaching of Scripture, as explained in the Theses on Church Fellowship of the WELS.

 

Striking examples of fellowship in church work without true doctrinal unity involve relief organizations in North America. The LCMS, consistent with her adopted report quoted above but contrary to her original doctrine, participates in Lutheran World Relief, joint with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Similarly, the Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) works jointly with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) via Canadian Lutheran World Relief. The mission/values statements of these relief organizations make it evident that the joint work is not only corporation in non-ecclesiastical matters but is performed on the basis of a shared faith:
Many of the pervasive doctrinal errors of the ELCA and the ELCIC, some of which undermine the foundations of the Christian faith, have been known for decades.

 

In conclusion, the current fellowship doctrine and practices of the LCMS are substantial and long-standing departures from the original doctrine and practice of the synod. Worse, the teaching and practice of the LCMS and the LCC are contrary to what Scripture says about Christian fellowship and the termination of such fellowship when necessary (Romans 16:17).

 

What should Christians do if they have strayed into the LCMS, the LCC, or another church body that persists in teaching error in spite of patient admonitions? According to the LCMS’s Brief Statement (1932, Section 28), leaving a church body that causes doctrinal divisions contrary to the Holy Scriptures they have been taught is commanded in Romans 16:17: “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”:

Since God ordained that His Word only, without the admixture of human doctrine, be taught and believed in the Christian Church, 1 Pet. 4:11; John 8:31, 32; 1 Tim. 6:3, 4, all Christians are required by God to discriminate between orthodox and heterodox church-bodies, Matt. 7:15, to have church-fellowship only with orthodox church-bodies, and, in case they have strayed into heterodox church-bodies, to leave them, Rom. 16:17. We repudiate unionism, that is, church-fellowship with the adherents of false doctrine, as disobedience to God’s command, as causing divisions in the Church, Rom. 16:17; 2 John 9, 10, and involving the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely, 2 Ti. 2:17-21.

New LCMS/LCC doctrine regarding women

 1Timothy 1Corinthians
The Ev. Lutheran Church accepts the whole written Word of God (as God’s Word),
deems nothing in it superfluous or of little worth but everything needful and important . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church distinguishes sharply
between what God’s Word commands and what it leaves free . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth
as they are found in no other known communion,
and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.

—C. F. W. Walther

With those bold words, a founding father of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) set the course for the newborn synod. Does she still show herself to be a synod of the church that “accepts the whole written Word of God,” considering nothing in it to be unimportant (Matthew 5:18-19), and therefore needing “no reformation in doctrine?” A controversial passage will serve as a test case.

The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-15,  an insignificant and outdated passage by today’s standards:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

 

On the basis of that Scripture, the LCMS originally taught:
1a. Women are to make use of their distinctive gifts rather than to teach in the church service since in doing so they would “exercise authority over a man.”
1b. Such an exercise of authority is forbidden because it is contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
1c. Thus, Paul prohibited all exercises of authority contrary to the created order,  even those unrelated to the performance of pastoral functions.
As a result, women did not hold office or even vote in church meetings.

 

That teaching began to change as the roles of North American women evolved in the 1960s. Both the LCMS and the Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) now reinterpret 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as follows:
2a. Women are to make use of their distinctive gifts rather than to “exercise authority over a man” in the form of performing pastoral functions.
2b. Such an exercise of authority in the form of performing pastoral functions is forbidden because it is contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
2c. Other exercises of women’s authority over men are not contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
Accordingly, women as non-elder officers such as congregation presidents may now exercise authority over men since those offices do not involve performing any functions of the pastoral office.

 

While the adoption of the new doctrine is completely understandable in terms of pressures to conform more and more to modern culture, the logical reasoning behind 2b and 2c is not clear. How could Paul forbid women from  performing pastoral functions on the grounds of the created order but not forbid other exercises of authority over men on the same grounds? That could be clarified by explaining why the fact that Eve was formed after Adam should prohibit exercises of women’s authority over men in the form of performing pastoral functions but not in any other forms. Unfortunately, if such an explanation exists, it is not readily available, not even in the relevant committee reports. None of the commentaries in the bibliography even mentions the novel LCMS/LCC approach to interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

 

In fact, that approach appears to be not so much a careful exposition of what the passage says but more of a pragmatic compromise between the traditional approach (1a-1c) and the progressive approaches of those who favor the ordination of women as pastors. For example, Towner implies that the text can be best understood by imagining a situation in which some women in the church at Ephesus tried to dominate based on a misreading of Genesis 2-3—a situation does not pertain today. That speculation, while creative, is implausible in light of Paul’s exhortation to silent learning not just in Ephesus but also in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Similarly, Keener argued that Paul’s exhortations do not apply to women who are much better educated than those of the first century. However, Paul did not ground his exhortations on the women’s level of education but rather on the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:13) as recorded in “the law” (1 Corinthians 14:34). In view of 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:8-10, Paul’s appeal to “the law” was a reference to Genesis 2:15, 22 (Ciampa and Rosner; Johnson; Knight; cf. Matthew 5:18-19). If those progressive opinions had more credibility, they might support the new LCMS/LCC doctrine by indicating that 1 Timothy 2 is unclear on the points that seem to establish the traditional view.

 

If, as is much more certain, the traditional doctrine is the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 after all, two options remain: rejection or acceptance of the authority of the passage. Each has its own difficulties. Rejecting the authority of that Scripture would call into question the authority of other Scriptures. More radical theologians resort to this approach, with Johnson looking for flaws in Paul’s logic and with Collins denying that Paul wrote the epistle. Accepting the authority of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 would mean rejecting deeply cherished attitudes of modern society. Biblical scholars taking that stand include Knight and Yarbrough.

 

The LCMS and LCC still tolerate their former interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Each congregation is allowed to teach that doctrine and to enforce it in its constitution even though it is contrary to the newly adopted doctrine of those synods. Unlike the LCMS and the LCC, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod remain in agreement with the traditional understanding of the passage and do not condone different teachings:

 


Bibliography

 

Changes leading to the current LCMS/LCC doctrine:

 

 

Expositions closer to the original LCMS doctrine:

 

 

Commentaries and related works:

 

Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich. Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Apollos, 2010.

 

Collins, Raymond F., and Daniel J. Harrington. First Corinthians. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2006.

 

Collins, Raymond F. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus : a Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

 

Johnson, Luke T. The First and Second Letters to Timothy: a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven London: Yale University Press, 2008.

 

Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.

 

Knight, George W. The Pastoral Epistles : a Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich. Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans Paternoster Press, 1992.

 

Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2006.

 

Yarbrough, Robert W., “Progressive and Historic: The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in: Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Thomas R. Schreiner, editors. Women in the Church: an Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

 

How to be sanctified

“Let your mind be renewed” (Romans 12:1-2). Is that a command to pray for renewal (law, second commandment), a command to diligently hear and learn the word of God (law, third commandment), or an invitation to believe the promise of forgiveness (gospel)?

As Anders Nygren pointed out in his commentary, Paul had just proclaimed the good news that “he who through faith is righteous shall live” (Romans 1) in freedom from wrath (Romans 5), sin (Romans 6), the law (Romans 7), and death (Romans 8) in agreement with God’s promise to Abraham (Romans 9-11). Thus, Romans 12:1-2 invites the audience to be renewed by believing that good news.  The good works of the remainder of the book result from that renewal of the mind.

The new nature against the old nature

As a saint, the Christian keeps the law already and does not need to be told to do so. As a sinner, the Christian does not keep the law and needs to be told to do so.

Upon hearing the law, the Christian daily repents and turns to the promise of forgiveness in the means of grace. That is the only way the Christian is truly sanctified and renewed by the Spirit.

For that reason, the new nature has in itself no need of hearing the Decalogue from a pastor or of reading the Decalogue in the Scriptures. The Christian has such a need, still having the old, sinful nature. That is why Decalogue is to be preached to Christians and not only to unbelievers, not that the new nature needs it.

The response of the Christian to the Decalogue is to slay the old nature by returning to baptism in repentance and faith in the gospel since the Decalogue in itself can never sanctify. (While the Decalogue tells us what to do, it does not tell us how to do it.) Sanctification comes only with justification as the sinner-saint daily hears the Decalogue and dies and rises again in baptism to walk in newness of life.

The necessity of properly distinguishing the old nature from the new nature is clear in the writings of Luther. As Article VI of the Formula of Concord says, were it not for the fact that did the Christian has the sinful nature, there would be no need for hearing the Decalogue.

Luther’s stress on the distinction between the old nature and the new nature is striking in how much importance it gives to that teaching, as found in Paul’s letters, compared to the minor role it has in Calvinism and Reformed theology more generally. An error of Reformed theology is to inadequately make the distinction, leading to confusion of law and gospel.*

There should be no doubt that he who is born again cannot sin, that sin is lawlessness, and that anyone who sins has not been born of God according to St. John’s first epistle. At the same time, no good thing dwells in the Christian according to St. Paul. Whereas Calvinists and other Reformed Protestants harmonize the two scriptural teachings into a progressive view of sanctification in accordance with their reason, Lutherans embrace the paradox by recognizing that they speak of the new nature and the old nature, respectively.* In this, they follow the apostolic texts themselves. For example, Romans 7:18 clarifies that no good thing dwells in the flesh of the Christian.

The new nature already knows the law and has no need to hear it preached, but the Christian needs it to reprove him. In the words of the Formula of Concord,

“And, indeed, if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit, so that in their nature and all its powers they were entirely free from sin, they would need no law, and hence no one to drive them either, but they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction, admonition, urging or driving of the Law, what they are in duty bound to do according to God’s will; just as the sun, the moon, and all the constellations of heaven have their regular course of themselves, unobstructed, without admonition, urging, driving, force, or compulsion, according to the order of God which God once appointed for them, yea, just as the holy angels render an entirely voluntary obedience . . .

“For the old Adam, as an intractable, refractory ass, is still a part of them, which must be coerced to the obedience of Christ, not only by the teaching, admonition, force and threatening of the Law, but also oftentimes by the club of punishments and troubles, until the body of sin is entirely put off, and man is perfectly renewed in the resurrection, when he will need neither the preaching of the Law nor its threatenings and punishments, as also the Gospel any longer; for these belong to this [mortal and] imperfect life.”

Article V of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession also explains putting off the body of sin and rising to new life in terms of repentance and faith:

“. . . there is first terror and anxiety in the conscience. Thus contrition and faith go side by side. One is putting off the body of sins; the other is the rising again through faith. Neither ought these words, mortification, quickening, putting off the body of sins, rising again, to be understood in a Platonic way, concerning a feigned change; but mortification signifies true terrors, such as those of the dying, which nature could not sustain unless it were supported by faith. So he names that as the putting off of the body of sins which we ordinarily call contrition, because in these griefs the natural concupiscence is purged away. And quickening ought not to be understood as a Platonic fancy, but as consolation which truly sustains life that is escaping in contrition. Here, therefore, are two parts: contrition and faith. For as conscience cannot be pacified except by faith, therefore faith alone quickens, according to the declaration, Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17: The just shall live by faith.”

Thereby raised, the new nature delights in the law, meditating on God’s word day and night (Psalm 1; 119).

* On the remarks about the Calvinistic branch of Reformed theology, see David Scaer’s article (note 20 of page 243); the top of page 238 is relevant to the continual complaint that Lutherans would be more sanctified if their pastors better understood the third use of the law. David Scaer exhibits a penetrating grasp of Reformed theology. He calls the Lutheran position by contrast “Nestorian” in its teaching on the old Adam and the new Adam striving against each other in the same Christian.

Sanctification by the gospel

Luther’s Large Catechism clearly places sanctification under the second and third articles of the Creed, which it presents as a statement of the gospel, not the law. (It instead presents the law in terms of the Ten Commandments.) In excluding the law from sanctification, Luther faithfully followed St. Paul (Galatians 3). 

To put it another way, the Spirit sanctifies and renews us through the gospel, not through any third use of the law. That does not deny the importance of the law in informing (third use), condemning, and compelling Christians who would otherwise sinfully follow man-made works as if they were good, as Article VI of the Formula of Concord says. 

Does a lack of sanctification directly result from a denial of the third use of the law or from a lack of exhortations in sermons to obey the law? No, sanctification comes only by the gospel, not also by the law.

That said, the law in its second use does work sanctification indirectly by bringing about repentance, that is, by preparing the Christian to return to baptism (gospel). That is the entire Christian life, as Luther said: “a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism” (Large Catechism). In other words,

For what is our prayer but a confession that we neither have nor do what we ought and a plea for grace and a happy conscience? This kind of confession should and must take place incessantly as long as we live. For this is the essence of a genuinely Christian life, to acknowledge that we are sinners and to pray for grace. [Martin Luther, Preface to the Large Catechism, 1529 revised edition. Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.]

The third use of the law

The Decalogue, God’s law encapsulated in the Ten Commandments, has three uses: it restrains sin, accuses sinners, and instructs Christians.

Article VI of the Formula of Concord explains the third use of the Decalogue like this:

“. . . the Holy Ghost employs the Law so as to teach the regenerate from it, and to point out and show them in the Ten Commandments what is the [good and] acceptable will of God, Rom. 12:2, in what good works God hath before ordained that they should walk, Eph. 2:10. He exhorts them thereto, and when they are idle, negligent, and rebellious in this matter because of the flesh, He reproves them on that account through the Law, so that He carries on both offices together: He slays and makes alive; He leads into hell and brings up again.”

Thus, the Decalogue is to be preached not only to unbelievers but also to believers because they also have the sinful nature that must be daily crucified so that they can daily rise to new life, a new creation (Romans 6, etc.). Apart from that struggle against the flesh, the new man needs no Decalogue:

“But when man is born anew by the Spirit of God, and liberated from the Law, that is, freed from this driver, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, he lives according to the immutable will of God comprised in the Law, and so far as he is born anew, does everything from a free, cheerful spirit; and these are called not properly works of the Law, but works and fruits of the Spirit, or as St. Paul names it, the law of the mind and the Law of Christ. For such men are no more under the Law, but under grace, as St. Paul says, Rom. 8:2.”

The Christian needs to hear the preaching of the Decalogue only because of the continued presence of the old man, as argued in the beginning of the Formula of Concord’s article on the third use of the law. The law not only restrains and accuses the saint-sinner but also instructs him since the law is not yet completely in his heart. The Holy Spirit writes it there not by the preaching of the law and pastoral pleas to obey it but rather by the preaching of the gospel.

Indeed, the preaching of the gospel, not the preaching of the law, directly renews the Christian, raising him to walk in newness of life and writing the law on his heart. While the preaching of the law does not directly renew the Christian, it does so indirectly by providing instruction that leads to repentance and faith in the gospel.

There is another way in which the preaching of the law indirectly renews the Christian. In obedience to the Sabbath commandment, the Christian hears the gospel and receives the sacraments. By those means, the Holy Spirit sustains and strengthens faith in the gospel and therein renews the Christian for good works.

Oswald Bayer observed that the Formula of Concord echoed the theology of Luther on the third use of the law (Chapter 5 of Living by Faith):

“Luther himself continually stressed the fact that the law should not be preached to Christians insofar as they are justified by the gospel. But it should be preached to them insofar as they are sinners and still belong to the old world. This truth finds the same emphasis in Article VI of the Formula of Concord, which emphatically seeks to clarify ‘what the gospel does, effects, and creates for the new obedience of the believers and what the law does in relationship to the good works of believers.'”

In short, because Christians in this life still have the sinful nature, they need the law to inform them about how what is right in their eyes differs from what is right in God’s eyes, to condemn them, and to restrain them.

Written for assurance of salvation

Have you ever heard that you should read St. John's first epistle to see whether you pass its tests of evidence that you have been born again? Those who teach it as a list of tests overlook the many passages in the letter in which the Elder affirms the faith of the baptized congregation reading his letter (or hearing it read). For three examples, he says, "you have overcome the world," "you know all things," and "greater is he who is in you than he was in the world." Take comfort in those promises to you, and read the letter again, looking for similar unconditional promises. They teach the gospel, the good news that you are forgiven because Christ took away the sins of the whole world, including all of your sins. There is no judgment and no fear in that message. "Perfect love casts out fear."
In order to further encourage the faith/assurance of those reading this letter, he warns them against the false teachers, the "antichrists," who say they know God without any concern for his children and who even deny that God came in the flesh to save us from our sins. Those warnings may also be applied to those who are not alarmed by their sins, including those who trust in their decision and in a false doctrine of eternal security rather than in Christ alone. To them, no good news of forgiveness should be offered but only the condemnation of God's law. Until they recognize that his law condemns their lawless works, they will not believe the gospel. Before they can receive the cure, they must recognize that they are sick.
In short, law's message of judgment is for us when we do not lament our sins. Once we are terrified by God's proclamation of judgment against us, the law has served its purpose and should be set aside to make way for the gospel, God's free promise of forgiveness.
Many false teachers take a very different approach, either by wielding the law against those who already feel its condemnation or by proclaiming the gospel to those who sense no need for forgiveness. Other false teachers mix law and gospel in a way that softens the condemnation of the law or takes away from the comfort of the gospel, against which there is no law. There still many antichrists.
Even as baptized Christians, we daily need both God's law and his gospel. Since we sin daily, daily need to hear God's judgment against our sins, to repent, and to believe the good news that we are forgiven freely. Once our heart, hearing the law, condemns us, we should take comfort in the promise of the gospel that "God is greater than our heart and knows all things" (1 John 3:20). Then our heart will not condemn us, and we will have the assurance that he hears and answers our prayers (1 John 3:21-22). That faith will be active in works of love for our brother. Later, we again become secure in our sins, and God will again proclaim his word to us: first the law, and then the gospel. The process will continue until Christ returns and we see him as he is.
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