Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bonhoeffer Quotes

I recently came across two great little quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that really struck me:

"A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.”

and,

“One cannot understand and preach the gospel tangibly enough. A truly evangelical sermon must be like offering a child a red apple or a thirsty person a glass of cool water and asking, ‘Do you want it’ We should talk about matters of faith in such a manner that people would stretch out their hands for it faster than we can fill them”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

On Justification and Sanctification in Ethics: A response to "The Quest for Holiness"

(I meant to post this awhile ago...I highly recommend Koberle's book "The Quest for Holiness", but its very deep reading, esp. the first 50-60 pages).

Sanctification is the popular topic among Lutherans in America today, and perhaps rightly so. Lutherans are regularly criticized for having little to say about sanctification, and rarely emphasize it, especially in preaching. One theologian cynically remarked that the Lutheran existence consists of the Lutheran constantly muttering the mantra “I am justified by faith alone.” Others criticize Lutheran theology for being too antinomian, or that we just don’t teach about good works. While none of these accusations is novel, and were present in the time of the Reformation, their persistent reappearance makes it crucial that Lutherans decisively answer the question of how justification and sanctification are related, and what their role is in the ethical life. In other words, how does the interplay and distinction between justification and sanctification shape Lutheran ethics?

At first, one might wonder why justification and sanctification necessarily have to be discussed together at all, in regards to ethics. After all, some theologies see virtually no distinction between the two, and others see them as virtually unrelated—so that justification is simply what God did for you (past tense) at your conversion, but the rest of the Christian life is sanctification, and that is up to you. Well, for one thing, the primary concern of churches that grew out of the Reformation, namely Lutherans, Reformed, and other Protestants—is to maintain divine monergism in salvation, so that it is by grace and not by works that we are saved. But on the other hand, there is the concern that grace does not become a license either for sin or for inaction. Good works too are demanded of the Christian; so how is the ethical life maintained without jeopardizing the Gospel of free grace in Christ Jesus? Köberle begins his answer with this premise in mind: that the antithesis of sanctification as divine gift and at the same time the result of obedient choice must be maintained in Christian ethics, so that man is denied all credit but never relieved of his full responsibility.

The first problem, that man must be denied all credit, is rooted in our sinful human nature and its desire to build its own ways to heaven. These “quests for holiness” are described by Köberle as the universal desire of mankind to attain “communion with God [through] the fulfillment of ethical duties.” Laboring under the bondage of sin, we do not realize that all our best efforts are as filthy rags in God’s sight (Is. 64:6). Therefore, from this rotten root of sinful human thinking grows up a false understanding of Jesus Christ and His role in human salvation. As was discussed in class, Jesus becomes “man’s way to God” or a new law-giver through whom ethical precepts are given whereby we may attain to the “sphere of divinity. But as Köberle points out: if this is all that Christ is, then other religious systems have equally admirable ethics to offer. It is precisely for this reason that the distinction between justification and sanctification must always be maintained—so that sanctification does not get used as an ethical means to the end of justification before God—rather, that they remain distinct yet always together, so that the justified life is never viewed as free from ethical demands or import.

Retaining the distinction between justification and sanctification honors Christ’s atoning work as essential and irreplaceable with our own morality, which can never serve as a “bargaining chip” with God, to offset our sins. If works have no role in our justification, and it is solely by faith in Christ alone, then the all-sufficiency of Christ’s merit is acknowledged. Otherwise ethical impulses apart from justification by faith in Christ can become yet another “quest for holiness” apart from God. Sanctification is easily perverted into self-justification. The Gospel brings an end to all such pretensions and the Word of God shows our inability to help ourselves. This is a critical step, however, for it is by forsaking our own righteousness and clinging to the alien righteousness of Christ by faith alone that we find the most liberating basis for ethics. For justification by faith alone sets the Christian free from worrying about the “God question” so that our good works can be spent in attending to our neighbor.

Yet justification and sanctification are simultaneous realities for the Christian—saving faith always receives both justification and sanctification. Justifying faith “includes the certainty and reality of renewal, that is, it confesses the reality and living activity of the Holy Ghost in the world.” The reality of the Holy Spirit at work in us through the regenerating waters of baptism, and the work of the Gospel as Christ lives in us provides the “energy of moral action”. So here we see how Köberle’s premise carries into sanctification, that even here it is God’s work, and not human work that drives us to ethical action. Without complete and serious recognition of the Holy Spirit at work, the only recourse to bring about ethical behavior on the part of the Christian is through “legal prescriptions and the enforced effort to fulfill such regulations.” But such is not pleasing to God; as whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). But, the flip side of this is the second aspect of Köberle’s premise: that sanctification must be maintained as the result of human obedience so that man is never relieved of his full responsibility to the Law.

However, what law can provide adequate guidance for ethical behavior? No law can anticipate or prescribe action for each unique circumstance. But the heavenly-gifted law of the Spirit makes “constraint and freedom…an indissoluble unity.” What does this mean for the Christian? It means that the ethical life is given a bounded-ness by the third use of the law, which prevents the flesh from becoming “lazy, careless, antagonistic”, but rather guides the Christian’s actions in ways that are God-pleasing. The third use of the law presents the Christian with an arena in which to practice good works toward the neighbor. Yet this healthy spiritual constraint is also met by the freedom of faith, which Luther said is a busy, living, active thing, never waiting to be asked but always doing good for the neighbor. Though Köberle warns that many who hear of this freedom of faith take it to mean a “freedom to do anything they please, and want to appear free and Christian only through the contempt and disapproval of human ceremonies, usage’s, regulations, and laws, as though they were Christians because they did not fast on a particular day…” etc. Köberle states that the greater problem than legalism today is libertinism. This tendency of the sinful flesh is to reject the need for discipline as part of the renewal of sanctification.

Köberle argues that the existence of the Christian as simul justus et peccator means that while thankfulness for salvation was the primary motive for sanctification for Luther, compulsion and fear of punishment are a secondary motive that moves the old man. These double motives of “freedom and compulsion, privilege and obligation” come to practical realization in the “three most central expressions of the life of a regenerate Christian—in prayer, discipline, and service.” But disciplining the flesh is not done out of contempt for the body, as in some sort of Gnostic asceticism, but rather is motivated by a reverence for the body as a temple of God’s Spirit, and the sanctification of the whole spirit, soul, and body. Here also we see the vital necessity of retaining the obligation of Christian obedience in sanctification, for if sanctification doesn’t continually cause a Christian to repent and know his needs, he will not hunger for forgiveness or free grace. The denial of the desires of the flesh, disciplining our bodies and keeping our body under control (1 Cor. 9:27) is part of sanctification, as we are no longer slaves to sin, but “slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:15-23). “The battle against dead works is just as important as that against dead faith.

Thus, we see that Lutheranism can indeed offer just as robust a teaching of sanctification as it has historically done with justification. They provide the perfect antithesis for the ethical Christian life, as “justification robs all conduct of its appearance of holiness, [while] sanctification guards men against sinning against grace. The promise of forgiveness gives the basis of action, direction and power to all conduct; the Christianity of action prevents ‘pure doctrine’ from becoming mere talk.” And in all realms of the Christian life, it is in fact the life and death of Christ, and His love that energizes us to serve our neighbor in love. “A church that does not engage in works of love becomes a mere theory and perishes.” Because of the complete acceptance we have before God by faith in Christ, the holy obligation of sanctification becomes a delightful service, motivated by the joy of the Gospel. Lutheran ethics is truly unique in this balance between justification and sanctification, but therein lies its strength.