Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Preachers and Morality

This evening my wife rented a movie entitled: Confessions of a SHOPAHOLIC. Like many comedies of this type it has a sort of morality that is presented. It contrasts, quite effectively, a young woman’s life of lies to the freedom of living honestly. The moral of the story includes the fact that belief in the worship of mammon as liberation is a terrible delusion. It also includes that facing one’s limitations and faults honestly is a beginning to freedom.

As I watched the plot of this movie unfold my mind turned to a saying of Luther regarding the teaching of morality. As I remembered it, he said that the teachers of the world are better at teaching morality than the teachers of the Gospel.

My cursory search this evening did not uncover this quotation, leading me to think that I may have remembered it incorrectly. I did find this quotation from Luther in volume 54 of the American Edition of Luther’s Works: Table Talk No. 3490: High Recommendation of Aesop’s Fables Between October 27 and December 4, 1536.

     Luther praised the fables of Aesop highly:

     “They are worthy of translation and of being put into a proper order and arrangement. It is not a book that was written by one man only, but it was diligently assembled by many men in different centuries. It would be very useful therefore if somebody would translate the book well and put it into proper order. The important fables that are pithy, smack of antiquity, and are useful to the commonwealth ought to be gathered into a first book; then those that are more elegant ought to be placed apart in a second book, and the rest ought to be reserved for a third.”

     “It is a result of God’s providence that the writings of Cato and Aesop have remained in the schools, for both are significant books. Cato contains the most useful sayings and precepts. Aesop contains the most delightful stories and descriptions. Moral teachings, if offered to young people, will contribute much to their edification. In short, next to the Bible the writings of Cato and Aesop are in my opinion the best, better than the mangled utterances of all the philosophers and jurists, just as Donatus is the best grammarian.”

While I understand Luther’s point, I do not fully agree. In fact, if pressed I find that I disagree on the following principal observation, which this evening’s ponderings solidified:

     Preachers of the Gospel do not preach morality and obedience to the Law. Rather, they preach justification and sanctification and the obedience that comes through the repentance worked by the Holy Spirit unto faith.

Preaching of morality is foreign to the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel is the wonderful declaration of God’s love to us in Christ Jesus. The Gospel is the preaching of Christ crucified. The Gospel is the preaching of the new life that God works through Baptism and continually renews through the Lord’s Supper of His Holy Communion. The preaching of the Gospel is the preaching of walking in spirit by faith.

This is the opposite of what is preached and taught by sinful humanity who grasps after the glimmer of self-aggrandizement in search of works-righteousness.

St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)

Further contemplation on this matter led me this evening to this conclusion in this connection:

     If works and obedience of the Law could justify, then Christ would not have stood condemned and would not have died. Yet it was His perfect obedience and His perfect doing of the works of the will of God as proclaimed in the Law that brought Him to bear our condemnation and the curse of the death owed to sin.

No, the preaching and teaching of morality are works of the unbelieving world, whose preachers seek to make better people through knowledge of right and wrong and better or worse. The preaching and teaching of morality is the preaching of self-improvement and self-help.

This truly has no place in the Church of Christ. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel. The Gospel is the preaching of the new life that is received in accompaniment with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3, Acts 2, 1 Peter 3:21). The life to which the Holy Spirit calls us is a childlike dependency upon the holiness of God won for us through the merits of Christ. It is the freedom to walk without fear of condemnation purely on account of God’s declaration of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us through faith.

Thus, as a preacher of the Gospel, I have no desire to preach the morality that leads people to strive to become better neighbors and citizens and people. My desire is to preach the Gospel that leads people to know and rely upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified for their forgiveness, justification, sanctification, reconciliation to God and to all. My desire is to preach Christ as our righteousness, into whom we are incorporated through Baptism and kept everlastingly through the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood. This is the way of grace, mercy, and peace. This is the way of freedom and joy without end. Through this preaching people hear that the grace of Christ truly is sufficient for them, and in this knowledge their struggles turn to everlasting rejoicing and thanksgiving. Yes, I will leave the preaching of the bondage of morality to the unbelievers and continue myself in the preaching of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

1 comment:

Nick said...

In my study on this topic of imputed righteousness, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular lexicon here is what it is defined as:

QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

The lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:
Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
This cannot be right.

So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such. This is confirmed even more when one compares another similar passage, Hebrews 11:4, where by faith Abel was commended as righteous.