Monday, November 15, 2010

Can and Should

I have come to dread the word "can". Christians would do well to remove the word "Can" from their vocabularies, at least regarding permission. "Can I do this" is almost always the wrong question. Rather, ask yourself "Should I do this". Is this something you should do - does it show love to God and neighbor? Does it make you violate other duties you have?

Stop thinking about whether or not you *can* do thing - and don't use the fact that you *can* as an excuse. I could make my church office hours from 9pm - 5am, but you know what, it would be stupid.

Think about what is good to do, what you should do. And go from there.

7 comments:

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Brown:

Just a thought. It sounds to me like you are here giving explicit imperatives to your hearers and/or readers ("Stop thinking about whether or not you *can* do...don't use the fact that you *can* as an excuse...Think about what is good to do") which seems to mean that you are now buying into what you call the "overrating" of the third use of the Law.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Deacon Gaba,

"Stoop" - "Don't" -- those are first use of the Law things. I am trying to curb lousy behavior.

The third use is "think about what is good to do, what you should do. And go from there."

Note the difference. While I can quite specifically say that a certain practice is bad or unwise (and put a curb betwixt it and you - 1st use), when I encourage something, I leave it to the new man to apply this law (do good, do what you should) in whatever ways in your specific vocation God gives you opportunity.

Note that I do not say, "This is how you should do good - expand your office hours. This is good - write help one random stranger a day, so you really should do it." That is the... specific guidance that I think is over-rated.

So, that is the distinction I would make there.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

With respect, you're off base here. The distinction in one use of the law over against another is not in how it is expressed, but in how the hearer receives it. This cannot be predicted, or controlled, by the speaker of the law. As David Scaer writes in volume VIII of the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series,

"After he is converted by the gospel he sees the law as a positive factor in his life...He sees the law as God first gave it to Adam. In its three uses the law remains the same. What changes is man's understanding of himself, others, and his relationship to God." (63)

Your imperatives to which I referred can be said to have a "third use" simply because they are addressed to Christians.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Latif,

I am not sure if I agree with Dr. Scaer, or at least the implications that your use of the quote gives to Dr. Scaer. While only Christians see a third use of the Law, it is not simply a positive response that defines the use.

For example, if I say to someone, "You have sinned against your neighbor", and this convicts him of sin - as he knows as a Christian that he needs to be convicted of his sin - that doesn't suddenly make it 3rd use.

Again, they are not the 3 "responses to" the Law, bur rather the three uses (whether that is the way the preacher uses, as some would say, or the 3 uses which the Spirit uses). What is the Law doing? How is it functioning.

While only Christians hear, benefit, receive a third use, not every application of the Law to a Christian is third use.

And if you don't understand why assuming that if you speak the Law to a Christian that it will be third use, I direct you to the comments here. What you have then is preachers thinking, "Oh, I'm just teaching 3rd use, these people are Christians," and then doing nothing but crushing people.

Phillip said...

Is not the point of Catechesis to teach people to recognize all three uses of the law when one is given? When we here the command to not commit a sin then we should recognize we have committed it and also, Luther's explanation of the commandments ought to come to mind and tell us to do good instead. Should not all confirmed Lutherans have been taught to recognize all three uses of the Law from one?

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You wrote: "Again, they are not the 3 "responses to" the Law, bur rather the three uses (whether that is the way the preacher uses, as some would say, or the 3 uses which the Spirit uses)."

The distinction in the three uses of the law is not in "the way the preacher uses" the law. That is not what is meant by the term "use." Not only is this misleading, and dangerous, it also at times leads to weird language, like "using the third use." Rather, these are three things that the law accomplishes, these are its three functions. If one could simply switch gears on the law, so that the speaker can manipulate which "use" he wants in effect, then we wouldn't have a truism like lex semper accusat.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I do not think we can totally isolate the intent of the speaker as regards Law from the various uses the hearer hears.

I cannot safely simply excoriate someone with heavy law while thinking, "Ah, they are Christians, they will hear third use eventually."

If you set up a fence and tell someone where they ought not go, you are curbing them. Now, might they then contemplate all the places where in their Christian Freedom they can go - yes - but that doesn't mean you were preaching the third use.

Moreover, I don't think the move is typically that the Law migrates to the 3rd use, it is that it migrates to the 2nd use, the accusatory use. That's where the Law will always go for the repentant, for the repentant will always know that he always has, always will, and indeed always is breaking God's command.