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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Antinomianism: I'm Against It

Lutherans are occasionally accused of being antinomians. Antinomians are people who are "against the law." During the Lutheran Reformation of the Church, the reformers were calling people to a living faith in the Christ whose death fully atoned for the sins of the world. Martin Luther tells us that at the time, the only sermons one heard were either about the saints or good deeds, but little was said or known of Christ as Savior. So the Lutherans preached Christ crucified, the gospel of free salvation through faith in Him.

But then, for some, the pendulum swung too far the other direction. Over-reacting to Rome's hyper-emphasis on good works, some Lutherans talked about Jesus well enough but failed to say anything useful about living the Christian life, about sanctification.

My friends, the gospel is not a license to sin. And Luther's own writings against the antinomians of his time demonstrate that this is not Reformation doctrine.

Now today, there are some Lutheran antinomians once again. Sometimes these are the liberals who are guilty of gospel-reductionism. To them, as long as you preach justification by faith alone, everything else is negotiable. So you might hear a decent sermon about God's grace, but nothing about sin, wrath, judgment. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. It is grace without discipleship. Forgiveness without repentance. And it ain't Lutheran. It ain't biblical.

But even amongst the traditionalist conservative Lutherans, there is a sort of antinomianism. Just about every heresy in the church is a good thing taken too far. Those who so treasure the work of Jesus on the cross can, if not vigilant, give the impression that it is not OK to talk about sanctification and living in the world as a Christian. They'll say, "Oh, that's what those Catholics do." Or more likely today, "Oh, that's what those evangelicals do." It used to be that "good" Lutherans were afraid of being identified as Romish. Now the "good" Lutherans are afraid of being compared to fundamentalists.

So the Romo-phobes among us (particularly in the first two-thirds of the 20th century) over-reacted by tossing out traditional vestments, liturgies, rites, practices, etc. Don't wear a crucifix or else you'll be thought a Catholic (O Dread!). That is ridiculous. Is it possible that today, the evangelico-phobes are so concerned about not being thought of as baptists in fancier robes, that we neglect preaching the whole counsel of God?

Being anti-anti-nomian, as I am, is not so much about what I'm against. It's about being FOR preaching the law of God, first as a mirror which reveals my sin, but also as a rule for life. It's about preaching the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian, through the Word. It's about vocation. It's about understanding the two realms we inhabit.

Pastor Paul McCain has an excellent post with a link to an excellent article on this very subject.


Addendum: I just wanted to add a few words to this post as a result of some of the sage comments readers have left.

It has been correctly pointed out that the law always accuses us. Every time you hear the law of God proclaimed, the Holy Spirit will use it to convict you of your sin. The law always accuses. It accuses us even if the preacher's intent is not to accuse, but to inform or instruct. Since we can never fully adhere to the instruction of God, the law always accuses us.

The law always accuses, but it does not only accuse. When I preach a sermon (Law and Gospel with the Gospel predominating), I don't figure "well, here I will use the law to accuse" and "here I will use the law to instruct in holy living." I just preach as clearly and faithfully as I am able and trust the Holy Spirit to apply it to the hearer.

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15 comments:

thelogicoftheuniverse said...

Because we all know the law of God is so well defined, very black and white.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

God doesn't stutter. Of course, His Word is clear. It's our limited understanding and hard hearts that make it complicated.

carl said...

Thanks for an excellent post. A friend shared his view of how we should be preaching when he summed up Law & Gospel as "The truth that
hurts and the truth that heals". I
think that gets to the heart of the matter, don't you?

elaine p said...

I'm curious to know how and when during the sermon it is appropriate to use the Law as a "rule for life"? This is very distressing for me to hear the Law being promoted in preaching as a guide for Christian living because I can honestly say from past experience that I will have one of 2 reactions to this kind of preaching. 1. I must be pretty good because I already follow those rules! or 2.I will never be good enough to be a member of your church! I feel like a "spiritual bipolar" either responding in self-righteousness or despair. If the Law "always accuses" how can it merely be slipped into a sermon as a guideline for living?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Elaine P,
Good question. The law always accuses. But the law does not ONLY accuse. It also instructs.

When I preach God's law, I don't believe it is my reponsibility to determine its function. In Lutheran theology, we discuss the three functions of God's law. Our Lutheran Confessions teach these three functions: A Curb to restrain us, A Mirror to reveal our sins (accuse), and a rule for life.

I once heard this question posed to a well-known Lutheran theologian, Dr. Robert Preus, and he said to just preach the law and let the Holy Spirit apply it.

So, following his advice, I don't even try to separate the functions. Why would I? Of course, the law, properly preached, will make you feel condemned. That's the second function, which is always there. But does this same preaching also inform us how we should live? You betcha.

In my preaching, I follow the pattern of Law and Gospel, with the gospel predominating.

But if we deny that the law has a third use (that of a rule for living), we have stepped outside of Lutheran theology. And as a Lutheran pastor committed to the Confessions of our church, that is something I can't do.

elainep said...

Thank you for your quick response. I understand that the law has 3 uses but I must have misunderstood your promoting of the 3rd use during preaching. You have clarified this by saying you do not know what effect your law preaching has on the listener and that you follow the law with the Gospel which predominates. What I was referring to was sermons which are sometimes nothing but long exhortations to Christian living with little discernible gospel or even a Law/Gospel/Law sermon which predominates in law and takes away the joy of hearing the gospel by immediately putting the listener back under the law...I'm so grateful to have been led to an LCMS church with 2 faithful servants of the Word who preach as you do. Thanks.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Elaine,
I'm glad my comment helped to clarify what I meant. And I should have been more careful with my post. I completely understand your concern and I share it 100%. I only meant to address what can sometimes be an over-reaction to the mistakes of those evangelicals who preach only laws for living. We mustn't do that, but we can't avoid all preaching of the law either. And I think that is happening in some parts. And I rejoice with you that you have 2 faithful shepherds in Christ. They are blessed to have such a theologically thoughtful laywoman such as yourself.

Carl said...

I have a friend (a fellow preacher)
who puts it this way (after preaching the Gospel we sometimes,
if the text allows, with the 3rd use. He often puts it: "You get to do ______________.
Is that helpful?

Bob Waters said...

No, Carl.

You can't preach the Third Use without preaching self-sanctification. You can, however, preach the Law. God gets to use it in all three uses, as He sees fit.

I'm going to have to do a post on my own blog about this. It is not antinomianism to bear in mind that it is the Gospel, and not the Law, which drives our obedience.

It's merely Lutheranism.

Bob Waters said...

It seems to me, Pastor S, that your approach is right on target. But we really need to be careful how we talk about this!

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor S, great post, I like it better than mine! But I do have something to say about those who are nervous nellies about "preaching sanctification" -- of course we are to do that! Read the Formula of Concord again. Where did this goofy notion arise that we are not to preach sanctification. Seems some have embraced a "don't ask, don't tell" rule here. There is a third use of the law.

The Confessions say that the law always accuses, the phrase is lex semper accusat.

Note, the word is semper, not sola=only.

There is nothing wrong and everything right in following the lead of St. Paul and preaching about the "therefore" of our baptisms....it is a matter of what we "get to do" since we are free in Christ and it not we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

TKls2myhrt said...

Would you mind if I nominate this post for the Lutheran Carnival I am hosting this week?

Theresa K.

Carl said...

Bob,
At the risk of just "mouthing" a response, please McCain's post. I
agree totally with him!

Carl

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I really appreciate the sage comments and observations that have been offered here. Keep it up.

Pastor Stiegemeyer said...

Theresa K,
No I don't mind. Go right ahead.

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