Thursday, March 06, 2003

Belated Post on the Ministry

Jesus Christ can die and rise a thousand times over and it is worthless unless he does so for you. That's Luther for you. The Augsburg Confession does not in this article argue that Jesus' worth, accomplishment, and so on are all for you in the sense that it is self-serving, that Jesus' work is for us in the sense that it is in our benefit and can be drawn into our schemes and riddles.

The office of the ministry is just the stopgap in God's overcoming of sin and the putting away of death. There is always a curiosity and question of whether the third person of the Trinity has much to do or say in all of this and here is where the Spirit's distinctive work comes into play. Surely we need to be more accurate here about this becuase without the Spirit's distinctive work, there is a temptation to either rely on Christ's death "back there" in an all-too protestant way and disrespect the Spirit's founding of the office of ministry or without the Spirit's work we would be left with an all-too institutional reality, the Roman Catholic horn of the dilemna. Seeing the Spirit's work and gifts in human words such as the office of preaching overcomes this opposition.

Here the Spirit creates an office so that Christ's cross does not just remain "out there" or "back there" in the past but that this cross and reconciliation comes home to us. All that which God has done for you does little good, we may extend Luther to say, unless it is said to you and comes to you in your life. Otherwise the cross that we raised in Golgatha is the dream world of some higher reality and all too easily fitted into our own projects and loveless lives. Golgatha is in this world and not some eternity of God and the cross comes to rest in our lives as that death, that cross, are proclaimed. God comes into this world in the very words in Mary's womb and stays here, doing his liberating and forgiving work in the Spirit.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Article VI: Of New Obedience.

Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good
fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by
God, because of God's will, but that we should not rely on
those works to merit justification before God. For remission
of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the
voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these
things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17, 10. The
same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is
ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved,
freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith

This is about as clear as one can state the matter. Good works are the fruit of faith, not the things by which we achieve justification before the throne of God. They proceed automatically, as it were, for faith is a ready and active thing, and it leaps into the doing of good before the one seized by faith can mark or observe it. Furthermore, good works are necessary in the sense that they are commanded by God- as our assisting minister in church last Sunday mentioned, the 10 Commandments are neither optional nor multiple choice. We are to do them because they are commanded by God.

But here comes the tricky part. Any "good works" done because we believe we are attaining something before God, or done because we think they are "good works"- that is, good works done without or prior to faith, pre-emptive good works, to pardon the use of that too now common word, are actually bad works and detrimental to salvation because they remove good works from their proper place in relation to faith.

How else to say it? We keep preaching this, but Lutheran Brotherhood, now Thrivent, in a poll of Lutherans last year, found that something like 60% of regular attending worshippers in ELCA congregations that one is saved by their works, or gets into heaven because of the good that they do (will try to find the exact citation on this for accuracies sake). They thus, it seems, ascend into heaven based on their own self-perception and self-assessment rather than via God's justifying work apprehended by faith in (of) Christ.

That we can climb heavenward based on our deeds, and that we are the ones who are capable of clearly discerning what good and bad works are, seem to be deeply ingrained habits of the heart and mind. It is again this original sin, a willful bondage in which we find ourselves, bound to say no to the grace of God because we will find our own way, thank you. That God would find good deeds ill because they are done to merit salvation, this is at least somewhat counter-intuitive. That God justifies the sinner in Christ and makes good and holy based on a faith created by the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, that is an outright assault. It can in fact only be grasped in faith. We pray daily for that faith.

Next post- the Apology on this article.