How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (2)

I continue this overview of how emphases in the historic tradition of Lutheranism have helped me with many concerns I’ve expressed about American evangelicalism.

Thus far, I have introduced the following elements…

  • How I came to peace with finding a tradition,
  • How I appreciate the priority of Word and Table liturgical worship in the Lutheran tradition,
  • How I affirm their emphasis on pastoral ministry,
  • How I love their healthy view of Christian vocation in the world.

Today, let me begin to say a few words about some other theological distinctives upon which Lutherans focus.

First, the centrality of Christ. In some ways, Lutherans share this in common with all historic traditions. Now I’ll admit that this was a hard fact for me to get through my head, but what I have found is that church groups that I would have formerly labeled as “liberal” or “non-Bible-believing” are often more Christ-centered in practice than their evangelical or fundamentalist counterparts. This includes the Lutherans.

First of all, Lutherans observe the Christian Year, which is as Jesus-shaped and salutary a practice for getting to know Christ and learning to live in his story as any I know.

Second, throughout the year this involves preaching from the lectionary, which shows week in and week out how the Bible relentlessly points to Christ and God’s kingdom. As I’ve attended the Lutheran church, I have heard sermons from the Gospel reading almost every Sunday, which means it is Jesus’ story and Jesus’ voice that is constantly highlighted.

Third, traditional liturgical worship itself is by nature Christocentric, as Robert Webber has explained so well in his writings on worship. The liturgy is designed to reenact the drama of the Gospel, with Christ at the center through proclamation of the Gospel and invitation to the Lord’s Table.

In my experience in evangelical churches and in my own ministry as an evangelical pastor, I would say that the ethos of evangelicalism is more Bible-centered than Christ-centered. My own approach was to preach and teach books of the Bible in expository fashion. Though I still think that is a viable method, one can easily lose track of the “big picture” of the Bible’s story and get wrapped up in details rather than keeping the focus on Jesus and God’s Kingdom. Sermons can become discussions about any number of “Christian topics” instead of Gospel proclamation.

A further observation, which Scot McKnight makes in his book The King Jesus Gospel (reviewed two weeks ago on IM), is that when evangelicalism does talk about Jesus, it tends to be more “salvation-centered” than “Gospel-centered.” Their emphasis on Christ extends primarily to Jesus dying for our sins to bring us personal salvation. As Scot writes, it’s almost as though our faith is exclusively about Good Friday, and nearly everything else in the Gospels is disregarded or downplayed.

I can testify that, even after more than 25 years of ministry in evangelical churches, I have never gotten to know Jesus as well as I have in the past few years as a member of Lutheran congregation.

Second, distinguishing Law and Gospel. This is a huge topic, and one which lies at the heart of what Internet Monk is about, so I won’t write a tome on it today. Suffice it to say that the moralistic approach to the faith is a huge problem in evangelicalism.

As in the days of the Pharisees, churches tend to designate certain religious and moral behaviors as “boundary markers” that identify who is “in” and who is “out.” Practices of hospitality, grace, love, gentleness, forbearance, patience, and trust in the ministry of the Holy Spirit get neglected and then forgotten, replaced by a system of expectations and rules (stated and unstated) that place heavy burdens on people. And those who run the system and the ones who buy into it wholeheartedly are ever in danger of the most spiritually damaging condition of all: pride and self-righteousness.

Now this is not evangelicalism’s problem alone, nor is it a menace only to those who are conservative or involved in the “Christian Right.” Moralism infects religious communities of all kinds. One can be just as moralistic about justice issues and environmental concerns, the inclusion of gays, and advocacy for any number of “liberal” or “progressive” causes as those on the other end of the spectrum. When any group starts elevating issues to the level of the Gospel, it is a short step to constructing boundary markers and installing a rules-based system in which only those who look and talk and think the right way are accepted. Churches, period, are notorious for this.

The Lutheran tradition has a solid theological answer for this. It lies in keeping a proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

Law is the expression of God’s righteous character. It tells the truth about how things should be in this world that God created. It reveals what is “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).

The Law comes to us in imperatives: “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not…”

It draws the line and therefore defines crossing the line as “transgression.” It paints a picture of perfect health and defines the corruption of our nature as “iniquity.” It issues commandments, requirements, laws, exhortations, and instructions, and defines disregard of those standards as “lawlessness.” As a revelation of God’s character, it declares that our lack of conformity to him is “ungodliness.” It sets forth a clear path, a “straight way” on which humans should walk, and then points out that we have “gone astray” and become “lost.”

The problem is that many churches are, in essence, preaching the Law and calling it good news. Viewing the Bible as a detailed instruction manual for human living, week after week preachers are giving “precepts” and “principles” designed to help people experience “transformation” (which may mean little more, practically speaking, than conformity) so that they will enjoy healthy, happy, and holy lives, families, and careers. All this, and heaven too, because Jesus died for us.

This fits our quintessentially American way of looking at life. We honor self-made people who walk to a different drummer and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, underdogs who overcome all odds by sheer force of will. Give people the right instruction and a little encouragement — why shouldn’t we, with all the resources we have at hand, be able to construct our best life now, with heaven the icing on the cake?

The Gospel, on the other hand, is the announcement of God’s grace in Christ for a rebel creation. In his fine book, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, Paul Zahl defines grace as “one-way love,” love that has everything to do with the lover’s heart and generosity and nothing at all to do with the worthiness of the beloved. Grace, according to Zahl, is “an invasive and strongly new intervention, through which trust in God rather than in human performance is at the heart of the human relationship to God.”

Each Sunday, when we confess our sins in my Lutheran church, we pray, “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, for the sake of your holy Name. Amen.” This prayer describes the work of grace in our lives. Through the grace of the Gospel, which comes to us in the person of Jesus and because of his finished work, our sins are forgiven. But that is not all.

God’s grace also renews us and God’s grace leads us. Through grace we delight in God’s will. Through grace we are strengthened to walk in his ways. The formation of virtue in our lives does not come through simply hearing God’s commands and “following the instructions.” It comes instead as we focus on Christ and feed on Christ, digesting his grace toward us. We learn with amazement that we are accepted by him solely because of his “one-way love” and not because we are in any way attractive or deserving. Our relationship with God has been initiated and is sustained wholly from outside ourselves.

This is one reason I appreciate the more “objective” worship offered through the liturgy each Sunday. It allows me to take my place as a pure recipient of God’s grace in Christ. I receive the word of absolution. I hear the Gospel of grace proclaimed. I hold out my hands and receive Christ in the bread and wine. I respond with words of thanksgiving and praise.

None of it is about learning how to participate in the “sin-management” project. It is not about improving my life. I don’t sit and take notes any more to fill my head or make sure I get God’s instructions or “marching orders” for the week to come.

Having received the grace of God in Christ with my brothers and sisters, I am free to go forth and live as a forgiven, renewed, and led human being. A recipient of grace, I am at liberty to extend grace to others.

88 thoughts on “How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (2)

  1. Trent, after re-examining your original comments, I found so many errors of logic (formal and informal) that I simply cannot spend time addressing each one. Congrats, however, on not only mastering the common ad hominem jabs and a fair amount of circular reasoning, but even managing to work in the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Nicely parsed.

    Having said that, I am moving on to newer posts and authors and commentators who can discuss differences without acrimony and potshots. I am following the advice of my late grandmother, who always reminded us….

    “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”


  2. Trent, I am not ignoring your response. I am jammed due to a work emergency and will return when I have some time.


  3. Pattie,

    Could you perhaps point out the incorrect parts? Also, the spite? I think you’re taking offense where none was given, honestly. Calling my carefully worded comment a diatribe is far more unbecoming and far less substantive than anything I have said, truth be told.

    And suffice it to say that you know that you know nothing about me. For all you know, I could be defrocked Roman Catholic priest.

    I happen to be a Catholic who is sad to see how much Rome has denigrated the catholicity of the Church. Augsburg restored the Gospel which Rome obscured and has sadly continued to obscure; as with the Gospel, so too with true catholicity.

    I will echo boaz, and with him echo St. Paul, who writes in the first of his Epistles to the Corinthians, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”

    I am not being divisive, Pattie. I am simply recognizing and stating the differences that exist. Rome does not believe in justification by faith alone, which, to me as a Lutheran Catholic Christian, means that it does not really believe in justification. This doesn’t mean that Roman Catholics don’t have saving faith — I am sure many do. They are just part of a faction (Rome) which officially declares justification sola fide to be heretical — the 1999 Joint Declaration between liberal Lutherans and liberal Roman Catholics very much notwithstanding.

    I would earnestly like to hear your response.

    Pax Christi tecum


  4. You preach the Law as it stands: If God says, “You shall not bear false witness”, he says it to you and he says it to me. So inasmuch as you have been bearing false witness (gossip, etc.), you need to repent.

    Now, when I say that from a pulpit, it is a conviction (you are a sinner in need of forgiveness) as well as a call to repentance (go and sin no more).

    And because it’s both, it needs to be overshadowed by the Gospel, which proclaims the Christ who bore our false accusations so that they may be forgiven.


  5. Trent…I cannot speak to other faith expressions because they have neither my heart nor my head.

    I suggest you consider taking a similar approach. For someone who is not Catholic, you seem to putting forth a great deal of information…much of it incorrect… well as some thinly veiled spite bordering on hatefulness.

    Surely, behavior unbecoming a Christian of any stripe. Your diatribe is ugly and divisive, just the sort of thing Satan loves to see.


  6. The problem is that there is no such distinction. All laws God gives are moral. The Mosaic Law is a package deal. All or nothing. It is only a question of which ones He expects christians to keep.


  7. Amen Patrick! I can’t tell you how often I’ve listened to a sermon and the pastor says a scripture and the Spirit cuts me through the Word just spoken and I don’t remember why that part rang true but I know I needed to hear it. And you are also right in saying being Lutheran involves subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions at some level or other.


  8. Sin management is the reduction of faith to only focus on avoiding bad behavior. It’s the obsession that one must avoid everything related to “sin”, and this obsession and practice becomes the sole purpose of religion.

    Therefore those in the “sin management” camp are so overtaken by the sinfulness of drunkenness that they mandate themselves and others to avoid all alcohol consumption. Or those in the sin management camp are so obsessed with sinful sexuality, that any expression of sexuality (or even romance at times) becomes forbidden.

    The Gospel of Sin Management is a marriage between OCD and fundamentalism. Its not a “real” psychological disorder, but many Christians here at iMonk think it should be included in the DSM.


  9. @Steve Martin

    We Lutherans believe that the Law has three uses. It’s in the BOC.

    We also have no problem with episcopacy; we just see it as adiaphora.


  10. That sinners are accounted just before a righteous God solely on account of Christ’s perfect obedience in life, in suffering, and in death, and liberated from sin and death by His resurrection is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing to believe. But it is the Gospel, which only poor, miserable sinners righteously exposed, crushed and broken by the Law and regenerated by the Holy Spirit can and will believe, those who have despaired in their own works, and by faith trust in the works of Another.

    Roman Catholics love to say that this is a “cheap and easy Gospel” which lets man off the hook and foments spiritual laziness and antinomianism. Really? Not so, I say. Clinging to this promise in faith over and against the ridicule of the world and walking in good works that cannot merit anything for us is probably the most difficult thing imaginable. It is a small gate; few find it. It is not in the pomp of Rome (though it is not my place to judge individuals), nor is it in the enthusiasm of an unmitigated, perpetually-Protestantizing Protestantism. This narrow gate is the Gospel. And it is the Gospel which, I believe, the churches of the Augsburg Confession have faithfully, albeit imperfectly, preserved since the Lutheran fathers reformed the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. Rome own the historical narrative still, as well as the term “Catholic,” but what Rome teaches is not the catholic faith once passed down to the saints. It is an amalgam of Aristotelian moral philosophy and Christian pietism. Much has been retained by Rome which is good, but more has been dispensed with, lamentably. It comes as no surprise, then, that Evangelicals whose churches have never preached Justification or Christology correctly and who have always felt the need to work really hard for their salvation take the surprisingly easy, increasingly predictable sideways step to Rome: same treadmill, but with sacraments and (an aura of vaunted) authority, gravitas, etc. Kids at my alma mater often made what I like to call the “Lord of the Rings” conversion: they fell in love with Rome because the impression they got of it while in college was that it was super-traditional, reverent, and mythopoeic: you can feel like you’re part of something big, mystical, and exciting — the adventure of your salvation! Then they end up at some Novus Ordo parish with a clown presiding and a rock-a-billy banjo-liturgy with a square dance procession of the gifts. Poetic justice, says I.

    Yes, the risk of the pure Gospel is antinomianism. But there is a clear difference between the merits of something and the risks of something. The risk of walking the Narrow Path is falling off of it (think of Scylla and Charybdis in the Odyssey); the risk of walking through the door to the sheep-pen is missing it and running into the fence (which is electric, and barbed-wire — it’s called the Law); the risk of getting married is getting divorced, etc. There is also a significantly higher risk to Roman theology — that of never hearing the Gospel; put another way, the risk of the partial/obscured/perverted Gospel is, well, nominianism. Thankfully, even in the Roman church much of the liturgy still preaches the Gospel, even if the homily (catechism, etc.) does not.

    Chaplain Mike, I’m glad you’re becoming Lutheran. I don’t know you, but I enjoy reading this blog immensely. I blog over at, usually on things at least vaguely theological.


  11. Your netiquette is forgiven, particularly since its the easiest one to engage.

    How then would you preach “You shall not bear false witness”? Do you explain the meaning, put it in current context, then exhort people “don’t bear false witness”? If you preach the Law as Law, how should it sound from the pulpit?


  12. No, it assumes free will towards God doesn’t exist though. You have free will to do what you want, but you can’t freely choose to have faith in God; God gives you faith to believe.


  13. I converted from Lutheran to Episcopal . At the same time I joined a Torah group to learn more about the Jesus who is quoted and followed in the NT. I recently taught a “Torah from a Christian’s perspective” to a class made up of bothe Christians and Jews. We read Torah, Haftarah and NT scripture and discuss how many things we have in common rather than how we are different. It helps my Jewish friends to understand where Christian faith come from and my Christian friends to understand that Jesus came to and was a jew first.


  14. Sin management is preaching that focuses on tricks and programs to reduce sin in one’s life. Which is all well and good, but there’s nothing especially biblical about it. Atheists do the same thing by visiting therapists and reading self help books. Muslims are very good at sin management.

    Biblical sin management is learning and meditating on Christ and his gifts, in Word and Sacrament. That’s the only motivation that leads to holy living.


  15. Lutherans teach that the Law is love God and love neighbor. The israelites had additional laws, ceremonial laws to point them to Christ, civil laws to for peace and to keep them a separate and distinct people from the pagans around them, and divine law, which is imprinted on all humanity’s heart, for all time. Luther used the ten commandments to teach divine law, carefully pointing out how the specifics only applied to Jews, like keeping the sabbath.


  16. Oh, the joys of Spener and Arndt! Spener did Lutheranism no favors in advocating his Pietism, which spilled over and infected the antecedents of modern Evangelicalism. We’ve been trying to recover and fend off the Pietist infection ever since.

    As to the Third Use. Here ‘s a good summary of it’s application:


  17. The point about the uses (or, as I prefer to call them, functions) of the Law is that they are God’s uses of God’s Law. My job as a pastor is to preach the Law. God will use that Law in different ways with different hearers. He might curb those who are being wild and disrupting civil peace (1st function). He may encourage Christians to live according to His will by reminding them of it (3rd function).

    And at all times, He will remind people of their sin and their need of forgiveness (2nd function: “the law always accuses”). Which is why I must always preach the Gospel. And when I teach on holiness of living, I must ground that in the Gospel, like St. Paul did: “In Christ, you have died to sin. Therefore, don’t live as if you hadn’t.” Look for the therefore: it’s all over the epistles.

    It’s not my job to use the Law, since I can’t see into people’s hearts. My job is to preach it. And that’s a tremendous relief for me as a pastor, and no doubt for my congregation, too, since that removes one opportunity for me to be an overbearing oaf.

    [I’m risking bad netiquette here — haven’t read all the comments. Apologies if this point has already been made.]


  18. I would bite. I converted to evangelicalism (from nothing) during my teen years and was a very enthusiastic young ‘leader’. For various reasons, I have moved to the periphery of that movement. (Or perhaps you can say I landed there — it was never my intention to leave; I just found myself in a new and curious circumstance.) So I am now in a kind of limbo, which Michael Spenser wisely described as an actual location in the spiritual landscape. The only way I can see to end this limbo is go back where I came from or else to make the decision to enter one of the traditions I mentioned above. So I will be convert again.

    (Or perhaps convert is not the right word? It will difficult to be “a convert” again, at least not the sort who repudiates everything in their past and adopts a new system with total confidence. The last time I converted, I reinvented my intellectual and personal world and conformed to a new image of myself. This time, no matter what I become, I will really be a hybrid of evangelicalism’s theological conservatism, catholicism, and the mainline quest to obtain justice and dignity for persons. I feel strongly about many things & a thirst to move forward, but I no longer feel I can saber-rattle or play culture-warrior or pretend absolute confidence for any single theological/social ‘faction’. This makes a decision to convert less than straight-forward for me; but go home or convert I must, because I cannot move forward without a tradition to inform me, and because I cannot get closer to God or pursue a vocation from the top of a fence. And I cannot raise a child in the evangelical wilderness.)

    I would have to think of the right angle to use to explain how this experience has felt, but I would be happy to try, if someone wants to create a forum for it. (I don’t have the time to hack out a full explanation on this thread, before it drops several places down the imonk webpage.)


  19. As someone who has never left the faith expression in which I was raised (nor have I ever considered doing so), I am intrigued by converts. Perhaps Ch. Mike and others who have converted to a specific denomination within Christianity from another denomination, atheism, or a non-Christian faith can share the specifics of their faith journies in another post or posts? NO slamming of where one has come from, but a picture of how the trip got you to where you are now…..and why.

    I have noticed the joy and robust faith in my own church family of those who converted to R.C. How about converts of several stripes sharing how God called them one way while their neighbor was just as deeply called to another.

    I am not interested, in these cases, about theological swordfights, but of how this touched YOU…

    Any takers?


  20. I’m not an Evangelical and am often quite confused by how they describe their religious experience. For example, the phrase “sin-management program” seems to have resonated with many here. Apparently it is not such good thing. I’m just left scratching my head. I’ve got no idea what managing sin is or how to go about doing it, nevertheless, it hardly seems obvious on the surface that it is undesirable.

    Another example, and I’m not sure if this will make sense to the readers here or not. I read a book recently by an Evangelical who described themselves as recovering from an addiction to spirituality and or religion (I forget if it was one or the other or both). I work in human services but have been completely unaware of this sort of addiction.
    How common is this kind of addiction to the experience Evangelicals?
    Do Lutherans suffer from this too?
    Are any of you familiar with an abnormal psychological dependencies or compulsions like this affecting some religious denominations greater than others?
    Where might one find a clinical pathology about this disease?


  21. Brother,

    The Lutheran Confessions rightly confirm a third use of the law. To deny it is to turn all the law in the NT into a mere foil for the Gospel, making a mockery of Paul’s exhortations and Jesus’ sermon on the mount.

    The problem with the Third Use comes when those worried about behavior and conduct think that they can preach and apply the Third Use in their congregations as they see fit. The third use is rightly applied by the Holy Spirit as the word is preached and is often hidden under the first two uses of the law. We have a problem ‘just letting’ God’s word, which is powerful and active and sharper than any two edged sword, do it’s work without our help.

    I hesitate to relate how it has worked in my life and the lives’ of those close to me. II is a very subtle, almost ‘zen thing’ when the word actually changes our hearts and minds towards particular sins and sinful attitudes. It happens sometimes when you are not even paying attention, or is only tangentially related to the sermon, or the Scripture you are hearing or reading. It is not something a preacher or teacher can ‘do’ but is almost a byproduct of hearing the word rightly preached and taught. And oddly enough, as you grow in the understanding of just how sinful you are, simultaneously people around you notice you becoming a better Christian, even if you are unable to see it.

    Furthermore, the third use instructs us in what really comprises a good work, and keeps us from inventing man made works to recommend ourselves to God. ( Think monastic vows, not smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol and other such made up ‘good works’.)

    Steve, lets not confuse the outsiders. Being Lutheran involves subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions at some level or other. The hermeneutic laid out in the Confessions is what makes us Lutheran. All the Lutheran Synods acknowledge this.


  22. Chaplain Mike,

    I am curious about which Law are Lutherans are refering to?

    Do Lutherans make a distinction between the juristiction of the commands of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant or do they just attempt to divide the Old Covenant commands into new categaries like other Reformed groups do?

    I love the principle of Law/Grace, but since I do not believe I was ever under any obligation to or within the juristicion of the commands given to Israel via Moses I simply refiuse to listen to their attempts to claim authority over me. I do believe that the New Covenant does have some very clear commands that I am obligated to obey, but only in my failure to obey THEM do I feel a need to apply the Law/Grace idea.

    Is this within the Lutheran “pale of orthodoxy” or would I have to have to endure charges of antinomianism there as well?


  23. The answer is, “Both are useful models.”

    (Are grace, law, etc. models whose reality cannot be known directly, and which may come to be superseded by more useful models in the future?)


  24. I suggest your concept of Lutheranism is rather your own, which poses a problem for anyone contemplating joining the Lutheran Church: which Lutheran church? The WELS and LCMS both adhere to the entire Book of Concord, yet cannot fellowship with other. Both reject the ECLA.


  25. You are correct, Miguel.

    That document did nothing than to say that the Catholic Church has not budged. But that they are willing to put up with Lutherans who are moving towards Rome.

    No thanks. Christ alone means just that. No Popes. No 3rd uses of Law. No inerrant bibles. No historic episcopate. No decisions for Christ. No serious efforts to do this or that.

    Just a couple of links of chain on someone is not true freedom

    We are free because Christ has done everything for us.


  26. Cardinal Dulles had an honest Roman take on the JDDJ:

    Here’s the LCMS response to the JDDJ:

    Basically, Trent is on the books for Catholics, the Book of Concord is Lutheran, they can’t be resolved.

    And I agree with you, officially agreeing with justification by faith isn’t necessary for salvation, but one’s subconscious reliance must be ultimately on Christ, which is harder to do when one is doing good works while believing they earn merit for salvation, or that one’s exercise of free will is how they obtained faith.


  27. It’s on my to-do list, but I’ve heard it’s not entirely honest. The Lutheran groups participating were not exactly the guardians of historic Lutheran theology as expressed in the Book of Concord. And it seems to me like that Catholic Church expresses its “agreement” with us by acknowledging our terminology while redefining a few key words, such as “grace.” I don’t believe the Catholic Church has significantly altered its position since the council of Trent, but I should probably hold off concluding too much until I read it for myself.

    It seems to me, though, that believing the doctrine of Justification is not mandatory for Salvation. I believe the Catholic church does posses the good news of Jesus Christ, but it is simply lived out in much more burdensome manner with less assurance due to their theological amalgamation of justification and sanctification.


  28. Miguel, Many of those same reasons compelled me to enter the Catholic Church. By the way, the Catholic Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification is worth a read.


  29. In the Lutheran understanding of the Great Commission, I believe, “Go into all the world” IS a statement of law. They are marching orders. But, “Lo, I am with you to the very end of the age” is an overwhelmingly overpowering and counterbalancing declaration of gospel. The first by itself is doomed to failure. But with the second, success is immanent, because the words of Christ DO what they say.
    With the writings of Paul, his moral exhortations serve to demonstrate that the moral law of the OT still stands firm as eternally true, though the civil law applied only to Israel and the ceremonial law was completed with Christ.


  30. I think some Lutherans tend to confuse any imperative in the NT (see the apostles’ instructions in their epistles ((see also P Brendan’s 11/14 comment above 1:35 p.m.)) as “Law, the ministry of death.” This misunderstanding turns even Christ’s command to go into the world, teach, and baptize (Matt 28) into a “Law” in which there in no life. Yet when Christ speaks to the 7 churches in the Apocalypse, he begins,”I know your works” (not faith), to which the churches do not respond, “Yes, but You are the end of the law to all who believe; besides, commands in Scripture only accuse.”


  31. Here are my ten reasons for converting to Lutheranism, for which I am currently writing individuals essays:

    1. Law and Gospel hermeneutic. 2. Weekly communion. 3. Sacramental spirituality. 4. Catechism. 5. Church year. 6. Use of creeds and confessions. 7. Emphasis on Justification. 8. Christ-centered worship. 9. Outstanding musical heritage. 10. Theology of the cross.


  32. The very basic way to describe the Lutheran distinguishing between Law and Gospel: Preach them BOTH to the fullest, and make sure you label them correctly. Don’t call “Love God and your neighbor” good news, and don’t tell people that the death fo Christ was their fault. The former calls the summary of the law good news, and the other takes the epitome of grace and uses it as a weapon of guilt.
    For a while after coming to Lutheranism, I was overtly annoyed with hypermoralistic preaching. I’ve since decided you can do worse, because after all, Christianity is an extremely moral religion. Just don’t give morality the last word or the highest focus. All and any morality, for the Christian, is in light of the great gift of salvation. The focus must always be on the cross, because the way of the cross IS the way of life.


  33. There are certainly some distinctives between Catholicism/Anglicanism/Lutheranism. As someone who is still trying to find a way to be faithful and a place to be faithful in, it can be really easy to focus on or worry about what those are. But I have also been struck many times at how close these strains are, especially when we talk about liturgical practice, devotional practice, and the experience of being Christian. There is something very comforting about this, at least to me, as I walk somewhere down the territory these traditions occupy. They certainly seem to feed from common streams, and deep ones.


  34. Well, there was no other Christian tradition to come FROM, was there? I know, I know…our Orthodox brothers, but they were a bit isolated and still, really, catholic.

    I was merely noting the similiarity that I had been unaware of until quite lately…before my computer locked up, I was trying to say that to me, growing up very Catholic, I knew of “Us Catholics people” and “Protestants”. Period. Probably reinforced by the miltary view of Catholic, Jewish, and Protestants….the only services offered on posts and bases, at least until 1989. It all depended on whether there was a cross, a crucifix, or nothing for our Hebrew bretheren in the chapel.

    My comment was directed at the practices of the two faiths now.


  35. Yet we are exhorted to fulfill the law of Christ. Christ being the end isn’t meant in a chronological sense, but in a directional sense. The Law does not disappear after Christ, because it is eternal, being God’s own word. Our freedom from the law is a freedom from its condemnation, but not from its demands. Yes, we are incapable of fulfilling the demands, but Christ in us works to bring us into greater conformity with them that we might reflect His image more fully.


  36. No use for righteousness sake, but it is useful for wisdom. The law reveals the character of God, and sets boundaries for living in which heavenly blessings are free to abound. Lutherans do hold to the three uses of the law, they just understand the third use in a much less simplistic way than the Calvinists.


  37. That sorta sums it up. If the physical universe is often yes/both, how much more should the spiritual realm be the same~~ instead of either/or!


  38. I only mentioned the book of concord because you are Lutheran, which usually means following the book of concord as the best explanation of Scripture (which is really no different than what we do on blogs, explain and apply Scripture).

    Third use is just recognition that redeemed Christians still have a sinful flesh they should strive to stifle, and learning and meditiating on God’s law is a good thing for Christians to do. Law is God’s will, and while Christ is the end of the threats of the Law’s punishments, Christ did not change God’s will that we live in love toward God and one another (which is all that God’s law is).


  39. That should print as:

    Actually it doesn’t say it quite clearly, as it depends upon what the meaning of telos is. Per BDAG:
    1. a point of time marking the end of a duration, end, termination, cessation
    2. the last part of a process, close, conclusion,
    3. the goal toward which a movement is being directed, end, goal, outcome
    4. last in a series, rest, remainder
    5. revenue obligation, (indirect) tax, toll-tax, customs duties

    Danker is Lutheran, I believe, and while he lists Romans 10:4 with definition 1., he says it’s perhaps 3.


  40. That’s true for all of Christianity. Just ask a Thomist about Molinism.

    God has a hidden will he has not revealed to us, and we should not avoid falling into Job’s trap and inquiring into those areas. Let God’s paradoxes stand.


  41. Holy Scripture says quite clearly that “Christ is the END of the LAW for all those who have faith.”

    If you want to elevate some documents that were not perfect (Melancthon was a humanist) over and above what Scripture plainly tells us, then have at it.

    Not me. I’m a Lutheran…and I’m free from ANY AND ALL ADD-ON’S to Christ.


  42. Not that this ever kept Brother Martin from enjoying his blutwurst, so the practical application is a bit mysterious.


  43. That’s fine. The Lutheran Confessions are great…but they are not Holy Scripture.

    There’s no use of the law for righteousness sake for the Christian.

    St. Paul calls the Law,” the ministry of death.”

    He’s right. No life in it. The gospel gives us the life we need and that’s basically the gospel in a nutshell.


  44. I absolutely agree–there’s nothing bipolar about avoiding sin because you love God. That’s the ideal, which a few knew for most of their lives, and the rest of us will mostly experience in fits and starts. It’s where the apparent tension between works and grace becomes no tension at all. And the Catholic Church makes that distinction between avoiding sin out of love for God vs fear of hell, too–the former is called perfect contrition, and the latter is imperfect contrition. Both count, but the first way is obviously better.


  45. I think Evangelicalism, and maybe all of Christianity – probably due to the NT itself – unavoidably and irremediably afflicts its serious followers with a form of cognitive dissonance if they try to hold its various tensions – law/grace; election/freedom; etc. – together.

    Is light a wave or a particle? It depends on how you choose to measure it. Ultimately it’s simply light.


  46. Steve, The Book of Concord does not agree:

    [W]e unanimously believe, teach, and confess that although the truly believing and truly converted to God and justified Christians are liberated and made free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves in the Law of the Lord, as it is written, Ps. 1:2;119:1: Blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law doth he meditate day and night.


  47. There are only two uses.

    Civil righteousness (that we can get along together in this world)…and to convict of sin.


    “Christ is the end of the law for all those who have faith.”


    The law always accuses. There is no life in it. We try and keep the law, but not to elevate ourselves in the eyes of God. But because it is the right thing to do for our neighbor. God doesn’t need our good works, our neighbors do.

    Good stuff! Fun to discuss!


  48. “I am assuming that because of Luther’s Catholic training, it is no surprise that the similarities are so obvious.”

    Not really. All the early Reformers came from a Catholic background. To vastly oversimplify, there were two approaches to traditional (Catholic) practices to come out of the Reformation. Lutheranism rejected those specific elements which were judged contrary to scripture. Calvinism took the stance that it was all corrupt, except for those specific elements which were judged mandated by scripture. It also helped that Luther’s theology of the eucharist was a lot closer to Catholicism.


  49. Antinomianism is a risk of justification by faith alone. Properly presented, there isn’t anything bipolar about avoiding sin because of love for what Christ did on the cross. But, of course, it’s a lot easier and more effective to motivate oneself to stop doing something out of a personal desire to avoid hell, (or millions of years of burning in purgatory) than it is by loving Jesus. But, I agree many Lutherans have watered down the law until it has become a meaningless thing, that does little to show the greatness of the Gospel.


  50. I love this post, which pretty much sums up what I love about being Catholic ! Pretty sure that if I were dropped unto an island that was devoid of Catholics and Catholic Churches, I would likely fit in nicely with being Lutheren. I am assuming that because of Luther’s Catholic training, it is no surprise that the similarities are so obvious.

    Just to think, as a kid I grew up thinking that there were Catholics and Protesta..ts..


  51. This agrees with what I know about Jewish practice, where God’s imperitave seems to be “Keep My Commandments and Live Your Life.”


  52. Having read this post immediately after reading Chaplain Mikes previous post today, my heart and soul just ache in a way and want to scream out, so to speak. Not because I have any issues with this post in itself. Not at all. I invite you all to read my response to todays previous post because basically I could copy and paste it right here.


  53. This question was one of the big reasons that I started to look at Catholicism. What I was so often given was essentially a bipolar Christianity. The Gospel, and Christ’s work, were presented as practically antinomian. But it was followed with: by the way, you should try to be a good person. This was Christianity for me during high school and college: “Your inability to fulfill the Law doesn’t matter, because Jesus paid the penalty! Works don’t matter, because Christ has accomplished everything! You’re free!! Now stop looking at porn.” (Because that’s youth ministry, apparently: Jesus, and sexual imperatives.) It just seems to me that Catholic doctrine and philosophy can handle a Jesus who says “Neither do I condemn you,” in one breath, and “Go and sin no more,” in the next.


  54. HUG,
    already has done for us in the East – September 1 is what we call “indiction”, based on the old Roman civil calendar, as I understand. Doing it this way also serves to put Pascha just about smack-dab in the middle. Our Advent begins tomorrow – another six week fast, but not as “heavy” a fast as Lent.



  55. Well, what is discipleship? Having faith, or living rightly? As we see, even Christ could not teach his disciples to live rightly. (E.g., Peter denying Christ three times; disciples falling asleep in the garden of gethsemane, etc.). The point is to preach the Gospel and give faith.

    Here’s Walther on how to preach not to preach discipleship:

    the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.

    the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly

    the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.


  56. If I could recommend a book, I’d suggest “The Spirituality of the Cross” by Gene Edward Veith. He has some excellent points on how the Gospel relates to morality, particularly in daily living. Essentially, he points out that sanctification is less a matter of pious thoughts and affections and more a matter of fulfilling our roles in a godly way; i.e. *being* a good son, husband, father, citizen, etc.


  57. Speaking of which, the church calendar reboots in less than two weeks. Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King which ends our liturgical year, and the Sunday after that begins the year anew with the beginning of Advent.


  58. Hi All,

    Your comment that the “ethos of evangelicalism is more Bible-centered than Christ-centered” is quite to the point. Unfortunately, some make the connection between Christ and the Bible so tight that bible studying becomes equated with being with Jesus. And furthermore, biblical knowledge can easily get confused for knowing Jesus.

    I appreciate your comment that you feel that the Lutheran tradition isn’t so much about “sin-management” as other denominations might be. However, within Lutheranism there are plenty of strands of sin managing congregations. For class, I had to acquaint myself with “Pia Desideria” by Phillip Spener, and I can say it is about as sin managing as one can get. Principally, it was Spener and Johann Arndt that took Lutheranism into a whole other direction. (Rod Rosenbladt’s “Gospel for Those Broken By the Church” is a case in point of the damaging effects of sin management)

    But, I enjoyed the post and appreciated where you were coming from.



  59. One other beauty of the church calendar is how great it is for kids. There is a rhythm to it. They know Reformation day we sing “Mighty Fortress”, All Saints day we sing “for all the saints”, last sunday before advent we’ll sing “wake awake”, then you get out your advent wreaths and sing those hymns and get back into the story of Jesus being foretold and born; baptized; visited by wisemen; lent; transfiguration; maunday thursday; good friday; easter vigil; easter; ascension; pentacost; and the story of the church. Repeat every year through one’s life.

    Pastors should do more in depth teaching and preaching in Bible study, and it should be as strongly encouraged as divine service and Sunday School for kids.


  60. There is only one Law, but it can have 3 different effects on a person that hears it. You can’t really choose which effect it will have on a person. You just preach the Law, ensuring that the Gospel is also preached.

    Your comment raises a point about how bad a lot of Lutheran preaching is regarding the Law. Walther, parroting Luther, said the Law should be preached in its full force, as Jesus did on the Mount; the point must be made that everybody is guilty, and that sin is terrible, and all are sinners. Most Lutheran preachers fail at this. By fully preaching the Law, the Gospel becomes that much sweeter; by not preaching the Law with full force, the Gospel becomes watered down.

    Read Walther, he lays it all out beautifully.

    free here:

    or buy here:

    The Lutheran Study Bible from CPH also has excellent footnotes, laying out law and gospel throughout the old and new testament. (There is a lot of hidden Gospel in the OT!)


  61. I’d also like to hear this. It was something I was thinking about while reading. Sort of.. .”but what about discipleship?”


  62. I still would like to hear how Lutherans responsibly handle the Law. If there are 3 uses, most Lutherans only seem to talk about the one that points us to Christ. But how should the other uses of the Law be preached. Clearly in Luther’s small Catechism he believes in teaching the Law, but I’ve never heard a thorough explanation of how to preach “love your neighbor as yourself”.


  63. And Luther’s Big Split from the Catholics also has street cred with such Uber-Protestants as Evangelicals.


  64. I resonate with this idea:
    “… I appreciate the more “objective” worship offered through the liturgy each Sunday. It allows me to take my place…”

    That’s what I need in worship, to be reminded of my place, and to be reminded of God place.

    I remember reading an iMonk piece awhile ago about how liturgical services help grieving people continue to worship because of the same idea.


  65. So, anyone know good Lutheran Church in Chicago?

    I tried all the Episcopal Churches friends have recommended, and they just didn’t fit. I wasn’t sure where to go next, but have been contemplating trying the Quaker church because of their silent worship.

    But perhaps i will try the Lutheran churches in the area…


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