Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thought of the Day

Eh, I don't think I'm hip enough to have the Eastern Orthodox crowd read my blog, but I had something that came up simply this day. I know there is a lot of reaction on the part of the East against the Justification-courtroom-Jesus saving us from God's wrath language that we talk about a ton as Lutherans.

My favorite verse of Scripture, if asked, is Romans 5:8 - But God shows His love for us in that while were were still sinners, Christ died for us.

All well and good. But I was actually reading, rather than just recalling from memory, and came across the next verse (imagine that. . . the next verse!) It reads: "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God."

This really does seem to be the literal, textbook, Lutheran passage on this (as my Baptist uncle was want to complain, "You Lutherans just live in Romans". . . I would say, "No, we really like Galatians too"). What is the eastern response?

Chrysostom preaches this verse and those following thusly:

"And what he has said looks indeed like tautology, but it is not to any one who accurately attends to it. Consider then. He wishes to give them reasons for confidence respecting things to come. And first he gives them a sense of shame from the righteous man's decision, when he says, that he also "was fully persuaded that what God had promised He was able also to perform;" and next from the grace that was given; then from the tribulation, as sufficing to lead us into hopes; and again from the Spirit, whom we have received. Next from death, and from our former viciousness, he makes this good. And it seems indeed, as I said, that what he had mentioned was one thing, but it is discovered to be two, three, and even many more. First, that "He died:" second, that it was "for the ungodly;" third, that He "reconciled, saved, justified" us, made us immortal, made us sons and heirs. It is not from His Death then only, he says, that we draw strong assertions, but from the gift which was given unto us through His Death. And indeed if He had died only for such creatures as we be, a proof of the greatest love would what He had done be! but when He is seen at once dying, and yielding us a gift, and that such a gift, and to such creatures, what was done casts into shade our highest conceptions, and leads the very dullest on to faith. For there is no one else that will save us, except He Who so loved us when we were sinners, as even to give Himself up for us. Do you see what a ground this topic affords for hope? For before this there were two difficulties in the way of our being saved; our being sinners, and our salvation requiring the Lord's Death, a thing which was quite incredible before it took place, and required exceeding love for it to take place. But now since this has come about, the other requisites are easier. For we have become friends, and there is no further need of Death. Shall then He who has so spared his enemies as not to spare His Son, fail to defend them now they have become friends, when He has no longer any need to give up his Son? For it is either because a person does not wish it, or because though he may wish it perhaps, yet he is unable to do it, that he does not save. Now none of these things can be said of God. For that He is willing is plain from His having given up His Son. But that He is able also is the very thing He proved likewise, from the very fact of His having justified men who were sinners. What is there then to prevent us any more from obtaining the things to come? Nothing! Then again, lest upon hearing of sinners, and enemies, and strengthless ones, and ungodly, you should be inclined to feel abashed and blush; hear what he says.

Ver. 11. "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom we have now received the atonement."

What means the "not only so?" Not only were we saved, he means, but we even glory for this very reason, for which some suppose we ought to hide our faces. For, for us who lived in so great wickedness to be saved, was a very great mark of our being exceedingly beloved by Him that saved us. For it was not by angels or archangels, but by His Only-begotten Son Himself, that He saved us. And so the fact of His saving us, and saving us too when we were in such plight, and doing it by means of His Only-begotten, and not merely by His Only-begotten, but by His Blood, weaves for us endless crowns to glory in. For there is not anything that counts so much in the way of glory and confidence, as the being treated as friends (φιλεἵσθαι) by God, and finding a Friend (φιλεἵν) in Him that loves (ἀ γαπὥντα) us. This it is that makes the angels glorious, and the principalities and powers. This is greater than the Kingdom, and so Paul placed it above the Kingdom. For this also I count the incorporeal powers blessed, because they love Him, and in all things obey Him. And on this score the Prophet also expressed his admiration at them. "You that excel in strength, that fulfil His Word." Psalm 103:20 And hence too Isaiah extols the Seraphim, setting forth their great excellency from their standing near that glory, which is a sign of the greatest love." (Romans, Homily 9)

What remains to be said but, "Amen?"


Note: This is not meant to be an utter attack on the East - nor to say to those of East leaning "how dare you criticize us". Rather this - I have often heard complaints that the Lutheran approach to Justification is both unscriptural and unhistorical - that it is not present. I don't see how that argument can be made.

Now, if folks from the East wish to argue that we Lutherans over focus on this - that's something we can debate. I think the Baptists over focus on personal accountability - but that doesn't mean that I think Scripture doesn't include anything on personal accountability. Rather - first I would assert this as evidence of a forensic understanding throughout the history of the Church -- now, what this means and how it ought to be used - there we can debate - but the "Lutheran dog" has a place at the table in this poker match.

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