Beyond Justification

When someone says that we must move “beyond justification,” there is an expectation of hearing Homer Simpson’s signature moan when something interferes with his moment of blissful laziness or passive comfort.  “Beyond justification” is understood as a code language for now-we-must-talk-about-what-makes-you-a-better-Christian, which most by the book Lutherans cringe at because they think it deals in the realm of subjectivity, leading to legalism and setting our hope on something other than the objective redemption and justification in, through, and by the death and resurrection of Jesus.    But it doesn’t and it shouldn’t.

Most of us are familiar with Luther’s description of doctrine as a gold ring, that if any part of the doctrine revealed in Scripture is missing or maligned the ring looses it’s shape and worth.  To use this analogy of doctrine as a ring: if you leave one point and move along the curved path, you really haven’t left the point at all and will certainly come back around to it.  And since we know that “justification by faith alone” is not the only teaching (doctrine) of the Scriptures, then we know that the whole ring is more than justification.  So for a moment, knowing that we never really leave justification and that if we continue on curve of the ring we will come back to it, let’s move beyond justification.

But why? comes the question.  Why move beyond justification?  First, because we never really move beyond justification; and second, because the Bible does (and third, to prick ears).  There’s far more in the apostolic writings than justification. Instead of thinking linearly, moving from one point to the next, in which case leaving justification would be like leaving your city and going to another, we should think cyclical.  Time does not march on and what goes around, comes around.

So it can be said that while there is far more in the apostolic writings than justification, it is equally true that nothing in the apostolic letters is without (forensic)  justification.  Let’s take an analogy.  If I’m a Major League ball player, I was drafted.  I might have prepared and postured, but in the end someone else made the decision. Let’s call that justification, I don’t get in by my choice (it’s an analogy, people).  Yet there is more to being a Major League player than being drafted.  I also must practice and play.  So once I am in the Major Leagues, no one says to me, “sit on the bench lest you think that you got here because you hit the ball or play second!”  So the apostles.   St. John says, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn. 2:5-6)

But here’s where we get what we commonly call “sanctification” all wrong. To use our above analogy of the ball player, we call playing the game sanctification. Hitting, running, catching, etc.  Sanctification is usually pandered as doing holy or godly things or thinking holy or godly thoughts.  It is usually preached or at least heard as “behavior you engage in once you understand that you’ve been forgiven.”  Sanctification is narrowed down to behavior.  This is a sad shadow of what sanctification really is.

So what is sanctification?  It’s not behavior.  It’s conscience.  We were washed, sanctified, justified in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:11).  Baptism now saves you. Not as removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pt. 3:21).  One man thinks nothing of eating meat sacrificed to idols, knowing that all things come from God, while another – the weaker, by the way – abstains from such meat.  Neither sin because of conscience.  Only, don’t let your freedom be the stumbling block for another.  To again use the analogy of the ball player: all the players play, whether at the bases or in the outfield. And all the players play by the rules. They have clean consciences.  If they break a rule, they are confronted by the rule, repent, and go back to playing the game by the rules.  If they break a rule and are confronted but believe the rule to be wrong, they are no longer allowed to play, their “conscience” has been defiled and so they are thrown out.  So the apostle writes that we will each be judged according to our works and our Lord says that by our words we will be condemned and by them we will be justified (Matt. 12:37).  How?  Because of conscience which issues from a pure faith (1 Tim. 1:5).  This does not contradict justification by grace alone, it compliments it.

Now the question: So, as long as our conscience is clear we can do whatever we’d like?  I suppose, but this question proves that the point has been missed.  The point is not to judge behavior and action, which are gray and blurry and often misunderstood, but to judge conscience based on the Word of God.  For if we judged ourselves we would not be judged.  Sanctification isn’t about actions or works or behavior.  It’s about conscience. Many will say to Him, “Lord, Lord,” but will not enter His kingdom. Why?  Because they believed in justification by grace (calling Him “Lord”) but nothing they did was born of faith.  So they healed and cast out demons, yet their conscience condemns them and so they stand condemned.  This is not about feeling good or bad about what we do, which is not conscience, it is about submitting ourselves to the reign of Christ.

So what does this mean?  It means that we need to start thinking cyclically.  Instead of treating everyone as sinners in need of justification, we should think of everyone as justified (universal atonement).  This doesn’t mean that everyone gets to heaven, but it does mean that God has consigned all to disobedience that He might have mercy on all.  And it means that if I am justified then I will walk in justification, working out my salvation with fear and trembling as I struggle with keeping my conscience clean before the God that justifies me, lest I run the race in vain and in preaching to others I myself become disqualified.


To Redeem a Hymn

I know that bad church hymnody is to the life of the Church as poison is to the life of a man.  It kills it.  So we always strive to sing orthodox hymns both in music and words.  But we all know that there are plenty of pseudo-orthodox hymns that make it into our services, whether intentional or not.  Some are there because we’re ignorant hymnologists (which I don’t think is a word).  And some make it in because we’re too tired to argue, or to beat to care.  Maybe seminary should require an entry level hymn writing class, which would help with sermons, too.

Anyway, I was asked (as most pastors probably were) to sing a patriotic song on July 3rd.  What to do?  The Divine Service has nothing to do with America, which is why we shouldn’t have American flags displayed in the nave or chancel.  On the other hand, for better or for worse we have a heritage of the last three-quarters of a century of including such things into the Divine Service so that many folks simply think the Church recognizes these secular days as part of its own calendar and activities.  So like a messy room has to be cleaned on area at a time, a messy theology and practice has to be cleaned one area at a time.

So we sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Since the hymn is not in the LSB (it is in LBW), I didn’t have any other way to get it into the hands of the people other than printing it out in the missalette.  I did some research and found that there are a few version with some more and some less stanzas; some orthodox stanzas and some that made little sense to me.  After selecting which stanzas were in and which were out, I further helped it in the orthodox direction by providing an orthodox interpretation of each line or stanza.  Here’s how it appeared in the missalette.

1. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: (the Sacrament)
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (the grave)
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: (His gospel)
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, alleluia!  Glory, glory, alleluia!  Glory, glory, alleluia!  His truth is marching on.
2. I have heard a fiery gospel writ in burnished hearts of steel: (the apostles and prophets)
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;” (the promise)
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel, (Christ the victor)
This truth is marching on. (Chorus)
3. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (preaching)
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat: (work of the Spirit)
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet! (faith)
Our God is marching on.(Chorus)
4. In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, (incarnation)
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me: (His love for us)
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, (our love for others)
While God is marching on.(Chorus)
5. He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave, (His return)
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave, (His comfort)
So the world shall be His footstool, and the enemy His slave, (His eternal reign)
Our God is marching on.(Chorus)

I don’t recommend doing this as a regular practice, of course. But on those singular occasions when it may be fitting, perhaps this is a way to redeem a hymn.

Bishops, Pastors, and Deacons in the Old Testament

There is conversation among our theologians about bishops (not just pastors, but chief pastors) and deacons and whether or not the three-fold office known to the Fathers is legitimate.  The conversation should not be about what is necessary insofar as salvation is concerned, for there is only one thing needful, and He is given through Word and Sacrament.  Pastors are necessary.  But even here necessary is not without measure.  For if a dying man confesses Christ having never met a pastor, but only having been instructed by his mother, then the Good Shepherd has been heard by His sheep and the lost has been found.  But this doesn’t diminish the necessity of pastors, who are given for the care and nurture of Christ’s people; those who administer the things of the Lord to His people.   So what of the three-fold office? Is it Scriptural?  I argue, yes. Is it necessary? I argue, yes.  Do we sin if we do not have it?  Does the aforementioned man sin because he did not have a pastor, but only his mother?  I think we speak too much of sinning by omission and commission, relegating sin to merely do’s and don’t’s.  What is sin but a guilty conscience before God?  So instead of talking about whether we’re sinning or not by receiving or rejecting the three-fold office, let us instead hear and consider the witness and example of the Scriptures and see if our conscience can be clear when and if we choose not to submit.  And let us throw off the ungodly burden of always finding what is necessary when all things in Christ are necessary.  To the Scriptures!

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. you shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. justice, and only justice, you shall follwo, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord you God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:18ff, ESV)

Is this ceremonial law?  Yes. But then, so is “take, eat; take, drink”.  Does this refer to Israel of the Old Testament? Yes, but then Israel is a type of the Church, as Jesus and the apostles make so very clear in passages such as 1 Corinthians 10-14, and John 10, among countless others.  Are we bound by this?  Yes, insofar as we are bound by the Scriptures to obey them, learn from them, and submit to them.

So what does this mean?  It means that judges and officers are pointed over all our towns that the Lord God has given His Son.  Jesus is the Judge over all the Church.  And He appoints judges and officers over all the towns in which His people are found.  They’re called apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  They judge, forgiving the sins of repentant sinners and withholding forgiveness from the unrepentant.  What else does St. Paul mean when he says to expel the immoral brother?  That’s a judgment.

So also, they are officers, doing the duty of the Office by preaching and teaching, baptizing, and making disciples.  So St. Paul says to Titus, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5).  Sounds like Deuteronomy.

So in every town there are appointed judges.  Some towns are broken up into several towns, requiring more than one judge, but none of the people of God are left without overseers.  Those who do not attach themselves to the overseer are condemned already, having rejected the ministrations of their Lord.

Where do Bishops come in (that is, canonical Bishops)?  “’Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times.  If you do this, God will direct you, you wil be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he said.” (Ex. 18:21-22a, 23-24)  He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the gatherings.