Thank you very much, Dr. Rast, for this extremely kind introduction.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. And on with the topic:
“The Third Use of the Law as Confessed in the Formula of Concord.”
I’ve changed the title slightly, and that’s meant to avoid the widespread fiction that the third use of the Law was simply a belated invention or contribution of the Formula of Concord, and that there is no precedent for such a “third use” either in Luther or in the earlier confessional writings of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. The real pointed issue is put like this, in Article VI of the Solid Declaration:
Although those who believe in Christ are truly motivated by the Spirit of God, and do the will of God according to their inward person from a free spirit, nevertheless the Holy Spirit uses the written Law on them to teach them so that through it believers in Christ learn to serve God, not according to their own ideas, but according to His written Law and Word which is a certain rule and guiding principle for directing the godly life and behavior according to the eternal and unchanging will of God.
I’m quoting always the Kolb-Wengert version, which also has its faults, but that appears on page 587.
This true Lutherans have always affirmed, whilst the antinomians rejected it. Furthermore, we must note also that this necessity of the Law is due to the fact that even regenerated pious Christians still have the evil flesh in and with them. If Christians were entirely a new creation without the Old Adam they would not need the law in any of its uses (cf. Formula of Concord, p. 588).
How this issue became controversial for twentieth-century North American Lutheranism has been described in splendid scholarly detail by my friend and colleague Scott R. Murray in his book, Law, Life, and the Living God: the Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism. This is a popularized version of Murray’s doctoral dissertation.
The present paper is not intended to retrace the same ground already so competently covered by Murray. Rather, the intention is to draw some quite practical conclusions for the nature of sanctification and for proper evangelical preaching. For the fact of the matter is that the dispute in question is not about academic pedantries, but about concrete and rather crucial areas of the church’s life and health.
I intend to show, therefore, that (1) the so-called “third use of the Law” is found in Luther and in the earlier confessions, (2) this has far-reaching consequences for the right perspective on good works and sanctification, (3) the neo-antinomian avoidance of sanctification and the third use in much modern Lutheran preaching is harmful and should be corrected.
Werner Elert fancied that he had turned Luther’s words in his Second Disputation Against The Antinomians, 13 January 1538, “Thirdly the law is to be be retained so that the saints know which works that God requires.” Elert claims that this is a forgery (He writes that in Law and Gospel translated by Edward Schroeder, Facet Books, Fortress Press 1967, p. 39). Although Elert’s argument is plausible, it is by no means conclusive. The point, however, is not whether Luther used the phrase “third use,” but whether he actually applied the law in the manner which the Formula later dubbed the “third use,” and about that there can be no honest doubt whatsoever.
Take, for instance, the Table of Duties from the Small Catechism. The Kolb-Wengert version renders it, “the household chart of sound Bible passages for all kinds of holy orders and walks of life through which they may be admonished as through lessons particularly pertinent to their office and duty.” There follow Biblical directions for pastors, subjects, husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, mistresses, young people in general, widows, and for everybody in general. Luther concludes with this rhyme: “Let all their lessons learned with care so that household well shall fare.”
It is crystal clear that this is the third use of the law. If that is not third use, then there’s simply no such thing as a third use of the law.
Again, in his 1530 preface to the Large Catechism, Luther writes, “This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters” (p. 382), and a careful reading of Luther’s explanations of the Commandments shows that the third use, that is the practical application to daily life, is very prominent there. Consider these words at the end of Luther’s treatment of the Commandments:
Here then, we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching on what we ought to do to make our whole life pleasing to God. They are the true fountain from which all good works must spring, the true channel through which all good works must flow. Apart from these Ten Commandments no action or life can be good or pleasing to God no matter how great or precious it may be in the eyes of the world (p. 428).
Article XX of the Augusburg Confession “On Good Works” teaches:
Our people are falsely accused of prohibiting good works for their writings on the Decalogue and other similar subjects bear witness that they are given useful instruction concerning all kinds of walks of life, what manner of life, and which activities in every calling please God. In former times, preachers thought too little about such things. Instead, they urged childish and needless works such as particular holy days and fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, cult of saints, rosaries, monasticism, and the like. Hence it is readily apparent that no one should accuse this teaching of prohibiting good works. To the contrary, it is rather to be commended for showing how we can do good works. For without faith human nature cannot possibly do the works of the First or Second Commandments. Without faith it does not call upon God, expect anything from God, or bear the cross, but seeks and trusts in human help. That is why Christ said St. John 15, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing.’
This third use of the law is essential for the Reformation if we are to escape and avoid an idolatrous self-chosen devotion (more details on this vital topic will be given in the next section).
As Formula of Concord III rightly teaches, “We Christians have two kinds of righteousness—the imputed righteousness of Christ, by which alone we are justified and saved, and the inherent righteousness of love and good works, which is a result and reflection, not a cause, of salvation.” Paragraph 32 puts it like this, “It is correct to say that in this life believers who have become righteous through faith in Christ have first of all the righteousness of faith that is reckoned to them, and after the righteousness of new obedience for good works that are begun in them.”
In his Galatians commentary, Luther called these the passive and the active righteousness, respectively. The imputed righteousness of justification is perfect. The inherent righteousness of sanctification remains in this life imperfect, but grows and matures in us. Indeed, this distinction between the two kinds of righteousness formed the basis of the Lutheran/Roman Catholic agreement at the 1541 Regensburg (or Ratisbon) Colloquy. (Although Eck, as Luther, who has his usual wit here, shortened Dr. Eck’s name. He shortened it to “Dreck” which in German means “rubbish.”) Eck, as soon as he was away from the Emperor’s immediate sphere of power, withdrew his signature—the Emperor forced him to sign. If the so-called “Lutheran World Federation” had remembered that occasion it might have spared itself the disgrace of the Augsburg Concession of 1999 in which the so-called Lutherans compromised their chief article of faith whilst Rome gave up nothing—and even mocked the Lutherans by instigating a jubilee indulgence for their visit to Rome.
This view of believers as saints and sinners at the same time and as perfectly justified and imperfectly sanctified with a fierce civil war raging within them, between their old and new natures (see Romans 7), requires great care in the proper application of Law and Gospel. A number of things must be and remain quite clear: the Law is the standard and measure of good works, but it lacks the power to produce or motivate them. Only the gospel does that. Yet the Gospel does not simply liberate us from the Law, as antinomianism imagines and as “Seminex” used to teach; rather, it liberates us from the condemnation and the coercion of the Law, so that according to our new nature we are now free to love and obey it and to embrace it.
The worst feature of antinomianism is that in refusing to see the Law as applicable to Christians it inadvertently turns the Gospel into Law—that is, into a rule and demand for good works. Such radical confusion of Law and Gospel in principle destroys both of them. It is true that the Law always accuses, as the Apology says, but this refers to the chief, or second use, of the Law which cannot be separated, but must be distinguished, from the third use. For the new creation within us loves and treasures God’s will as expressed in His Law even as the old rebellious flesh within us needs to be on the receiving end of the full force of the Law’s condemnation. Having been saved by grace and through faith alone, we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).
The catechism’s explanation of the Lord’s Prayer teaches that God’s name is honored or kept holy “whenever the word of God is taught clearly and purely and we as God’s children also live holy lives according to it.” Our lives are holy only as they conform to the revealed will of God, (i.e. to the third use of the law). That was a fundamental issue at the time of the Reformation.
Let us see now how the great saints can boast of their great spiritual orders and the great difficult works that they have invented and piled up for themselves while they neglect these commandments as if they were too insignificant or had been fulfilled long ago. It seems to me that we shall have our hands full to keep these Commandments practicing gentleness, patience, love toward enemies, chastity, kindness, etc., and all that is involved in doing so. Such works are not important or impressive in the eyes of the world. They are not uncommon and showy, reserved to special times, places, rites, and ceremonies, but are common everyday domestic duties of one neighbor to another with nothing glamorous about them. The other deeds captivate all eyes and ears, aided by great splendor, expense, and magnificent buildings, they are so adorned that everything gleams and glitters. There is burning of incense, singing and ringing of bells, lighting of candles and tapers, until for all this nothing can be seen or heard. For when a priest stands in a golden chasuble or a layperson spends a whole day in the church on his or her knees that is considered a precious work that cannot be sufficiently extolled, but when a poor servant girl takes care of a little child or faithfully does what she is told, this is regarded as nothing.
—any idiot can do that!—
Otherwise, what should monks and nuns be looking for in their cloisters? Just think, is it not a devilish presumption on the part of those desperate saints to dare to find a better and higher way of life and status than the Ten Commandments teach? They pretend, as we have said, that this is a simple life for an ordinary person, whereas theirs is for the saints and those who are perfect. They fail to see, these miserable blind fools, that no one is able to keep even one of the Ten Commandments as it ought to be kept. Both the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (conclusion of the Ten Commandments, Large Catechism, p. 428).
The issue of self-chosen devotion could not be more far-reaching, even today. The pharisaic love of pomp and circumstance in place of real, down to earth good works is deeply ingrained in our “religious” flesh. Medieval scholasticism despised the Ten Commandments and invented instead the so-called “evangelical counsels” for the spiritual elite: the monks and nuns. The Apology put it like this, on the basis of Colossians 2:23, that human traditions have the appearance of wisdom:
Once this appearance of wisdom and righteousness has deceived people then all sorts of troubles follow. The Gospel concerning the righteousness of Christ, of faith in Christ, is obscured and vain confidence in such works replaces it. Then the commandments of God are obscured for when these works arrogate to themselves the title of a perfect and spiritual life they become far preferable to the works that God commands, like the ones that deal with one’s vocation, the administration of the state, the management of a household, married life, and the raising of children.
Article XXVII of the Apology tells the charming story of St. Anthony of the Desert, who asked God about his self-chosen discipline. God, in a dream, directed him to a shoemaker in Alexandria. When Anthony went to observe the shoemaker the next day, expecting to see marvelous great gifts and revelations, he found nothing spectacular. Instead the man “prayed in a few words for the whole city, and then paid attention to his business. In this way Anthony came to understand that justification was not to be attributed to the particular walk of life he had taken up.” In other words, faithfully making boots all day is just as worthy a service of God as anything else that is useful.
Speaking of dreams, I was startled some years ago when a hitchhiker in North Carolina asked me why God deceives us. I asked what he meant, and the man explained that he had been a policeman, and then God told him in a dream to abandon that, and to sell religious books, an enterprise at which he failed. I remembered the German proverb, “Dreams are foams, and come from the stomach”—especially with the help of a bit of foamy beer!
The only way to be free of the fantasies of our religious flesh is to stick to the Word of God alone—in this case, to the third use of the Law. In his explanation of the Third Commandment, Luther debunks relics as follows—remember relics, all these holy bones and things? Reminds me, about fifty years ago, I think it was the body of St. Francis of Assisi that was on view in Rome for his jubilee. And some American tourist lady, in a great act of devotion, kissed his toe, and then bit off his big toe, four centuries old, and meant to carry it in her mouth to have a relic at home. The police caught her, made her cough it up and give it back, and after that the dead body was put under glass for its protection.
So, here’s what Luther writes about relics:
For the Word of God is the true holy object (literally, relic) above all holy objects. Indeed it is the only one we Christians know and have. Even if we had the bones of all the saints, or all the holy and consecrated vestments gathered together in one pile, they would not help us in the least, for they are all dead things that cannot make anyone holy. But God’s Word is the treasure that makes everything holy. By it the saints have themselves been made holy. At whatever time God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or pondered, there the person, the day, and the work is hallowed, not on account of the external work, but on account of the Word that makes us all saints. Accordingly, I constantly repeat that all our life and work must be based on God’s Word if they are to be God-pleasing or holy. Where that happens, the commandment is in force and is fulfilled. Conversely, any conduct or work apart from God’s Word is unholy in the sight of God, no matter how splendid and brilliant it may appear, or even if it is altogether covered with holy relics, as are the so-called spiritual walks of life, which do not know God’s Word but seek holiness in their own works.
But can we conclude that doing one’s humble duties as father, mother, child, soldier, farmer, factory-worker. and the like actually constitutes worship?
Yes! Provided it is done in faith. For everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). To be sure, faith in Christ is the very highest worship, and the very essence of it, but the fruits of faith (our good works) are also the true worship of God. They are, in fact, “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable act of service,” λογικὴν λατρείαν–reasonable worship (Romans 12:1). Therefore the Apology confesses in Article 24, “Of the Mass,”
Now the rest are Eucharistic sacrifices, which are called sacrifices of praise, namely, the preaching of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of the saints, and indeed all the good works of the saints. These are the sacrifices of the New Testament, as Peter teaches: ‘a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices.’ In summary, the worship of the New Testament is spiritual, that is, it is the righteousness of faith in the heart, and the fruits of faith.
But is not true worship merely passive and receptive? In a word, no. We need to deconstruct, here, the linguistic myth that the German word “Gottesdienst” means “God serving us in Word and Sacrament.” In fact the word means nothing of the sort. This is pure wishful thinking. The German word “Gottesdienst” simply means “worship”; the genitive is objective, not subjective. Take the Large Catechism’s comment on the First Commandment: “There has never been a nation so wicked that it did not establish and maintain some sort of Gottesdienst, worship.” This cannot possibly refer to “God serving us in Word and Sacrament”! Here are some further quotations from the great reformer—my translations, from the St. Louis edition:
Worship (Gottesdienst) means doing what God through His Word has commanded everyone in his estate and office.
A person can have joy in his heart and a good conscience with all his effort and labor, because he knows that his work and labor is a divine worship (Gottesdienst), which is well-pleasing to God.
The noblest divine service (Gottesdienst) is preaching and hearing God’s Word, yet God is served also by the works of the second table.
To divine worship (Gottesdienst) there belong also the works of the second table, which, however, are not directly referred to God.
There is hardly a greater sin than the laborious and invented divine worship (Gottesdienst) which happens with howling and growling in all churches and monasteries.
Why is this important? There is a very real danger that people form the impression that what is really important to God is liturgical falderal and pomp and circumstance in church, and that their own daily labors in their temporal callings are trivial and unworthy by comparison. Our people need to regain the joyful conviction that their daily work, done in faith, is a precious treasure before God and has His fullest blessing, and is greater than all the bowing and scraping in church. Or, in Luther’s words from the Large Catechism:
For this reason you should rejoice from the bottom of your heart and give thanks to God that He has chosen and made you worthy to perform works so precious and pleasing to Him. You should regard it as great and precious, even though it may be looked at as a most trivial and contemptible thing, not because of our worthiness, but because it has the place and setting within that jewel and holy shrine: the Word and commandment of God. Should not the heart leap and overflow with joy, when it can go to work and do what is commanded of it, saying, “See, this is better than the holiness of all the Carthusians, even if they fast to death and never stop praying on their knees!” For here you have a sure text as a divine testimony that God has enjoined this, but has not commanded a single word concerning those other works. If this could be impressed on the poor people, a servant girl would dance for joy and praise and thank God, and with her careful work, for which she receives sustenance and wages, she would obtain a treasure, such as those who are regarded as the greatest saints do not have. Is it not a tremendous honor to know this and to say, “If you do your daily household chores, that is better than the holiness and austere life of all the monks”? Moreover, you have the promise that whatever you do will prosper and fare well. How could you be more blessed or lead a holier life as far as works are concerned? In God’s sight, it is actually faith that makes a person holy; it alone serves God, while our works serve people. Here you have every blessing, protection, and shelter under the Lord, and what is more, a joyful conscience and a gracious God, Who will reward you a hundredfold.”
People need to recapture that joy in their daily service!
About two years ago, an emerited colleague wrote to me complaining about a sort of preaching which “seemingly questions the Formula of Concord about the Third Use of the Law.” He added,
How can one read the Scriptures over and over and not see how much and how often our Lord (in the Gospels) and the Apostles (in the Epistles) call for Christian sanctification, crucifying the flesh, putting down the old man and putting on the new man, abounding in the work of the Lord, provoking to love, good works, being fruitful?
There are certainly powerful influences in our culture, also our church culture, which tend in that direction. Among confessional pastors it is no doubt the enormous influence of Werner Elert, which contributes to an anti-third-use attitude. The irony is that that influence was transmitted largely by the antinomianism of the former “Seminex” crowd!
Further, there is the fact that for traditional Calvinism, the third use (the rule), rather than the second, theological use (the mirror), is the major use of the Law, and evangelicals preach much about practical guidance, various steps towards a “purpose-driven life”, etc. Perhaps there is a knee-jerk response among us to the effect that if they do that then we should not. Would that we had an equal aversion to various Vatican II superstitions, such as a non-historical three-year lectionary, or the notion of clerical elitism, which some find attractive because of the populist contempt for the Gospel-preaching ministry. Yet such cures are worse than the disease, and constitute a return to pre-Reformation vomit (Proverbs 26:11).
Lest I be misunderstood, let me make some things very clear: I’m not advocating that we, as true Evangelical preachers, should imitate Calvinism or so-called “evangelicalism.” The main use of the Law is that which shows us our sin, and the Gospel—not the Law, in any of its uses—must predominate in our preaching. Like humane physicians, we must stress a diagnosis not for its own sake, to torment the patient, but for the sake of the cure, and then concentrate on the glorious treasures of the love of God poured out upon us so superabundantly in His blessed Son. It is our task to preach the love and joy of God into people’s hearts. But then we must also guide them towards God-pleasing expressions of their responding love for God. And in our non-sacramental age, in which all sorts of “sacrament-substitutes” flourish—for example, alleged “tongues” and miracles, millennialist fantasies about Middles Eastern places and politics, “purpose-driven” psychobabble and the like—instead of that we must hold high the glory of the Gospel, which is the power, the δύναμης, the dynamic of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Our preaching needs to serve and communicate the three permanent witnesses on earth: the Spirit, or the blessed Gospel words which are spirit and are life (St. John 6:63); the water of Holy Baptism; and the Blood of the New Testament (I John 5:8). It is through these blessed Gospel channels, and through them alone, that the divine life of faith is transmitted to us sinners.
This, however, does not imply indifference to sanctification. Our Confessions stress its importance everywhere. Indeed they insist that sanctification, as a precious fruit of justifying faith, must grow and increase in us. Horror of horrors! Progressive sanctification? Yes. The Apology teaches “that we ought to begin to keep the Law and then keep it more and more” (Ap. X). Again:
‘For we do not abolish the Law,’ Paul says (Romans 3:31), ‘but we establish it,’ because when we receive the Holy Spirit by faith, the fulfillment of the Law necessarily follows, through which love, patience, chastity, and other fruits of the Spirit continually grow.
Luther’s Large Catechism teaches that the Holy Spirit through the word “creates and increases holiness, causing it daily to grow and become strong in faith and in its fruits.” Also: “holiness has begun and is growing daily.” Again: “All this is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, to begin and daily increase holiness on earth through these two means: the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sins.” Further, “now when we enter Christ’s kingdom, this corruption must daily decrease, so that the longer we live the more gentle, patient, and meek we become, and the more we break away from greed, hatred, envy and pride.” And the Formula of Concord teaches that the Holy Spirit “cleanses human beings and daily makes them more upright and holier.” Also:
The Spirit creates and increases holiness, causing it daily to grow and become strong in the faith and in the fruits which the Spirit produces. He brings us into the Christian community, in which He sanctifies us and brings about in us a daily increase in faith and good works.
Sometimes we are told that sanctification is best left to itself, that conscious attempts to please God lead to hypocrisy, and if we just preach the Gospel, sanctification will happen automatically. No. We are not automata, “dead machines”; we have a renewed will which “is not idle in the daily practice of repentance, but cooperates in all the works of the Holy Spirit that He accomplishes through us.” If being branches in the True Vine (St. John 15) means that, like plants, we have no conscious intentions but simply produce fruit automatically, then the same applies to the Vine Himself! And that is as absurd as saying that since Christ is the Way and the Door, He is as indifferent as ways and doors are as to who is passing over or through them.
This pseudo-biblical argument is exactly parallel to that of the old antinomians, who argue that Christians will do the right things “without any teaching, admonition, exhortation, or prodding of the Law, just as in and of themselves the Sun, the Moon, and all the stars follow unimpeded the regular course God gave them once and for all”—so just as you don’t need to admonish the Sun and the stars, you don’t need to admonish us, either. Nonsense! Clearly, the New Testament exhortations to love and good works require conscious effort, not unthinking, automatic compliance with inner instincts. Thus St. Paul begs the Roman Christians “by the mercies of God”—which he had expounded in the preceding eleven chapters—to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, as their reasonable worship (Romans 12). And of himself he writes, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining”—straining!—”towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). No automatism or somnambulism (sleepwalking) here!
Antinomianism is undoubtedly a temptation for our Lutheran flesh. But the great Reformer opposed it; he spoke of the antinomians of his day…
…who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee as if it were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of the new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten nor trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstance use these or similar words, ‘Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!’ Instead they say, ‘Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a whoremonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all!’
—so continue happily in your pigsty!—
They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach about ‘the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,’ but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extol so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, He has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men . . . Christ did not earn only gratia, grace, for us, but also donum, ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit,’ so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain from sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, ‘Christ! Christ!’ He must be damned with this, his new Christ. (On the Council and the Church, Luther’s Works, 41:113-114)
The Apology claims that our Reformation churches are characterized by “practical and clear sermons, which hold an audience” (XXIV, 50, p. 267). Just what that means is made crystal clear in Article XV:
The chief worship of God is to preach the Gospel…in our churches all the sermons deal with topics like these: repentance, fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, prayer…the cross, respect for the magistrates and all civil orders, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love.
Sanctification and good works clearly do not dominate Reformation preaching, but they’re equally clearly an important part of it. This is important because the new creation in us is under constant attack by the devil, the world, and our own flesh. This new creation in us needs encouragement and care! To ignore it, to preach as if we had no new creation in us, but only the wicked old flesh, is to break the bruised reed, and to quench the smoldering wick, contrary to Isaiah 42 (cf. St. Matthew 12:20). We preachers need to encourage our hearers as they battle for what is good and right and God-pleasing in their daily lives, and we must remember our own chief duty: to proclaim the divine truths of God’s Law and Gospel with truth and integrity without compromise. Luther reminds us in connection with the first petition:
See, then, what a great need there is for this kind of prayer. Because we see that the world is full of sects and false teachers, all of whom wear the Holy Name as a cloak and warrant for their devilish doctrine, we ought constantly to shout and cry out against all who preach and believe falsely and against those who want to attack, persecute, and suppress our Gospel and pure doctrine, as the bishops, tyrants, fanatics, and others do. Likewise, this petition is for ourselves, who have the Word of God, but are ungrateful for it and fail to live according to it as we ought.
In our age of rampant bureaucratism and organizationalism, which creep also into the Church—yes, even into the orthodox Church, even into our synod—truth is perceived as the great disturber of the peace, as creating divisiveness. Against this superstition, we must refuse to be dumb dogs (Isaiah 56:10), but bear witness to the truth without fear or favor. The minister of the Gospel is there to serve God and His holy people with His truth. He is not there to flatter leaders and promote compromise (cf. Galatians 2:11-21).
But it is also vital to insist that the truth be spoken in love, so that it draws people rather than repelling them. The ancient Church’s love towards the poor and the helpless was a great magnet that drew people to the alone-saving Gospel proclamation. Let us encourage our people to be conscious of our great missionary obligation, so that the Church also in our day may draw the lost to the treasures of salvation. It has been my great privilege to observe in person the power of the Gospel to draw and convert people of all kinds and backgrounds, from Haiti to Siberia. There’s a startling new book by David Aikman, former Beijing Bureau Chief of Time Magazine. It is called Jesus in Beijing, and was issued by Regnery Public Publishing in 2003. The subtitle is “How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power.” It turns out that in Communist China, the Christian missionary movement is so vital that even highly-placed party and government officials are becoming Christians, although for a time they have to keep that a secret. If people in China can be so zealous for the Christian Gospel, risking their very lives for the truth of Christ, why cannot we make use of our liberty in a free and democratic society to press and serve the divine truth without compromise? God grant us that immense blessing in these latter days. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.
BONUS: Q & A
Questioner 1: Thank you, Dr. Marquart, thank you very much.
Dr. Marquart: Thank you.
Questioner 1: I hope my questions relate to our general topic. Just for possible clarity of expression in the way we maybe do Bible studies, what alternative wording might we use, for example, than the seeming oxymoron of calling what the teaching of First Peter, for example, where you have indicatives in imperative sequences, calling those “gospel imperatives”? You see the problem in semantics. And my other question is, the “fear nots,” the “do not be afraids” in the Bible—I tend to think of this as Gospel, but it’s a negative imperative, and some people say, though, that is Law. If you could speak to one or both of those, I’d appreciate it.
Dr. Marquart: Well, the so-called “Gospel imperatives” are really strong invitations to receive the blessings and the gifts of God. And you know, we need that, because so often, some poor beggar will say, “Oh, I don’t have the right clothes, I can’t come into your house to eat, so I must—” and then we must compel them to come in. So, the Gospel is put in the imperative not because it is a command, but because it is an intense invitation. And, I believe that these “fear nots” also are basically Gospel imperatives, and there that’s different from the Law imperatives, where we are encouraged to do certain things, and commanded, in fact, to do them. And, forgive me for the irrelevancy, I was reminded when you were fussing with the microphone and couldn’t quite work, quite got through, it reminded me of the tragic result of post-Vatican II, pedestrian liturgies where instead of “with thy spirit” we now say “and also with you.” And it brings to mind a famous story of a Roman priest who made some initial introductory comments—chit-chat—before the service and found the microphone wasn’t working, so he said, “There seems to be something wrong with the microphone.” And the congregation responded dutifully, “And also with you.”
So, yes, we take delight in pressing the Gospel onto people and I’ve found also in my experience that when people come for physical help, they come to a food bank or something like that, and you invite them to church, people will say, “Oh, we didn’t have the right clothes, we’d rather [GARBLED].” Well, people don’t have to be dressed to the hilt for Sunday morning church; let them come in whatever clothes they have. And so that people of all walks of life should feel welcome and should not feel excluded by this exclusive club. So, it’s very important to compel people to come in. Urgently invite them.
Questioner 2: I understand you’d include the three-year lectionary in your description of “vomit,” and I was wondering why you did that.
Dr. Marquart: Yes, what I don’t like about the three-year lectionary is that it’s too academic. It’s done by bookish people, and now nobody knows which end is up. It used to be you knew what Sunday of the Church Year it was by the Gospel for that day. But people can’t keep up with three years, and now nobody knows what’s what, and we’ve lost our sense of continuity. You could look up in books to see what some of the great Church Fathers preached on on that day. But these newfangled texts have no background like that, so they’re too academic and bookwormish. We can bring in any text we like into, in the sermons, but I believe that our preaching ought to be on the traditional Gospels, and this way the Church of the pure Gospel should show continuity with the ancient and medieval Church, rather than this newfangled thing where now nobody knows what Gospel, what Sunday it is.
Questioner 3: Thank you. The Gospel cannot be preached without preaching the Law—
Dr. Marquart: Yes.
Questioner 3: —calling to repentance, God working contrition. Does not the Law that brings about contrition and repentance also serve the function of admonishing the Christians to what is good? Or is the Law need to be separated in its application in terms of second and third use? In other words, if the Law has been preached to work repentance, does it then need to be repeated again in some sort of way that—different sense, after the Gospel has been proclaimed and comforts and is the means by which the Holy Spirit quickens?
Dr. Marquart: There’s a very important question, and in answer I should like to say that we should beware of all legalisms that want to confine preaching to some particular formula, like this “goal, malady, means,” which is pure manipulation. Rather, the Christian preacher ought to present that in freedom, so that his sermons are basically unpredictable. People should not be able to see—look at their watch and say, “OK, he’s had ten minutes of Law, now he must be going to say—the next ten minutes, Gospel.” That’s too predictable, too mechanical. Rather, Law and Gospel ought to be intertwined. They ought to be in dialogue constantly. And the second use of the Law basically will concentrate on our evil and our sins. But the third use of the Law should concentrate on the good things which are pleasing to God. So that’s how these ought to be handled differently. But, of course, the Holy Spirit will, in the preaching of the Law, will do both things at the same time. But yes, pastors ought deliberately to have in mind to support the new creation in its struggles against the world, the devil, and the flesh. But there’s no particular formula, in other words, and, for example, some say, “Never end with an admonition.” Why not? What’s wrong with, after a rich Gospel sermon, saying, “And so the Lord gave us these riches; let us go and do likewise.” Nothing wrong with that. So—
Questioner 3: So, just to clarify, the Law is doing both when it is proclaimed—second or third use—
Dr. Marquart: It can.
Questioner 3: —first, second, third—
Dr. Marquart: It can do both.
Questioner 3: But the “uses” are more descriptions of how the Law functions—
Dr. Marquart: Right.
Questioner 3: —as opposed to being able to be—
Dr. Marquart: But the preacher needs to make the distinction, because otherwise, the recipient will feel that he is just an unconverted sinner and needs converting every Sunday.
Dr. Rast: Due to the constraints of time, we’ll have to thank our presenter here again at this point.