Monday, November 22, 2010

A story to clarify

A food critic walks into a restaurant and order his meal and he eats it. The chef then comes out and asks the critic what he thought of the meal. And the critic says, "It was too salty."

What does this mean? Does it mean that the Critic hates salt and thinks salt should never be used? No - that would be more akin to "there were onions, and I hate onions".

Does it mean that the Critic just doesn't understand the chef's brilliant use of salt? No - it means that the chef's brilliant use of salt isn't really that brilliant.

Does it mean that the Critic wants people to have food without taste, for that is the purpose of salt, to give food better taste? No - it means the critic thinks the salt overpowers and destroys the taste of the food because there is too much there.

Likewise, when I say that in general, in American today, that we can put too much of a focus on the Law, too much of a focus on trying to tell people what to do, this does not mean:

A. That I hate the Law, or even the 3rd Use of the Law.
B. That I simply don't understand how much people need the Law.
C. That I think the Law is pointless and useless.

No, it means this. The Law is to be a servant, it is a pedagogue to prepare us for the Gospel. The focus of the Church is not to make "good people", it is to give Christ to poor, miserable sinners, and He will make them good.

Too much law obscures the Gospel, it overpowers it. Too much of a focus on works makes one to think that being a Christian is defined by what I do and how I do it, rather than being defined by what Christ does.

Do we always need Law? Yes. But we need to take care that the Law that we preach is God's Law, not our own wisdom for how best people should live. We need to see that this Law does no predominate, but rather prepares folks to hear the Gospel.

Simple as that.

But, but, but - that's law right there! Eh, I suppose so. Again - I don't hate the Law, I don't think it should be avoided. But in your preaching, it must always yield to the Gospel, and more over, it must be God's Law, what He says, not what any particular preacher happens to think about the way things ought to be (we are servants of Christ, not our own miniature Popes or Rush Limbaughs).

Because, when it boils down to it - people don't need you, they don't even need the a lonely Law hanging out by itself. They need Christ.

Salt isn't the meal - the meal is. If your focus is the salt, the meal will be diminished.


Phillip said...

C.F.W. Walther's Law and Gospel says
"Thesis VIII The Word of God is not rightly distinguished when the Law is preached to those in terror of sin, or the Gospel to those secure in sin."
As an overall culture/ church/ Synod/ whatever, are we really overpowering the Gospel with Law (Real law not Osteen's don't eat bacon nonsense.) or are we overall preaching the Gospel to those secure in their sin? Society and unfortunately many churches seem to preach antinomian acceptance over the Decalogue. Is the meal really too salty or does it need more salt?

Mike Baker said...

The fact that you have to defend yourself on this is sad, Pastor.

"A young person who is “raised right” emerges as an adult who obeys the laws, respects his neighbors, gives at least lip service to religious expectations, and stays away from scandal. The point is clear — this is what parents expect, the culture affirms, and many churches celebrate. But our communities are filled with people who have been “raised right” but are headed for hell."

-Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr
President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Quote from:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


To answer your question "Is the meal really too salty or does it need more salt" I would say, looking on a national level... there is no meal.

The problem is not that we don't have enough Law, or well preached Law, or that we a libertine, or that we are too strict...

Where's Christ? Where is Christ prolcaimed? Where are sinners struggling with Sin pointed not to self help, not to 12 easy steps, not to better knowledge of the dangers of life, but where are they pointed to Christ?

Where do you see the Gospel proclaimed over and over to this society? Preschoolers now tend not to even know that Christmas is Christ's birth... and I'm in Oklahoma.

There ain't no meal here - heaping on the salt isn't the cure.

Mike Baker said...

Tons of salt, very little meat, and no water... that makes jerky. :P

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Thinking more on this, I am wondering about your initial idea. You quote Walther's Law and Gospel, Thesis 8, but then you end up applying to, I think, just general interaction with the pagan hordes.

You write, "As an overall culture/ church/ Synod/ whatever, are we really overpowering the Gospel with Law..." I don't think Walther is speaking culture or that here... he is speaking about preaching, and preaching isn't just some abstract, whatever happens when you talk about Jesus, but it is in the context of the Church, of the service, of dealing with members.

So while I would certainly say that we are not to give Gospel to those secure in their sins... that would be to the defiant, the excommunicated, people like that. This doesn't mean you have to make a stranger feel REALLY REALLY bad about how horrible they are before you speak Christ to them.

In reality, many people in the world who do not know Christ are not secure in their sins, they and languishing, wallowing, and thinking that there is nothing there but sin, death, destruction, dog-eat-dog attitudes and the like.

To these, we only need give context. That massive suckitude in your life - that comes from sin, but, I have good news. . . .

And of course, just because the person across the street is too antinomian, that doesn't mean I should throw out more law to balance him out.

Mike Baker said...

Just because someone steers clear classic Moses or "fire and brimstone" talk does not make them automatically an antinomian.

One of the heaviest law preachers out there is Joel Osteen who comes off mushy and accepting. The instinct is to label him an antinomian... until you really look at what he is about: life tips, advice, works, try harder, be good enough to cause God to bless you, law, law, etc. Just because it has an awe-shucks appeal of optomism people assume it is not salt. Talk to anyone who has labored in that prosperity gospel theological system. It is actually very very salty... because if God doesn't bless you or answer your prayers, the assumption is that the problem is with you and what you are doing.

The defalt setting of all men is Law. The Law is written on our hearts. Look at our culture. You would think that the "anything goes" society is antinomian, but the truth is that it is crippled by the law. This culture driven by success and loving everyone carries some very heavy law-oriented implications. Even in those places where the culture says that the rules no longer apply, actions still have consequences and people still live in a world where the law is made painfully appearant to them. As much as we'd like to pretend that guilt is an out-dated notion, when you talk to most people you will find that they are riddled with guilt and have no way of getting rid of it... because their own hearts convict them and they have no "good news".

And then you read a little later in the book where C.F.W. Walther says:

"Thesis XXV: In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching."

Phillip said...

Society has no meal seems like a fair assessment pastor, but what moral basis would you then support for just a civil attempt to curb the rampant abuses? If we have no meal to begin with, then how do we tell society prostitution, drugs, adultery, etc. is wrong, since pagans care nothing for Scripture? How do we oppose society's rampant sinfulness without just resigning ourselves then to pagans will be pagans and giving up on the government? If society truly has no meal to build upon, then what recourse do we have besides the secular morality of Hobbes and the Enlightenment and denying God for "morality"'s sake or just resigning ourselves to letting pagans be turned over to immorality for their sins?

Mike, I apologize for the poor use of terms. Osteen, society, et al. certainly preach a law, but it is rarely the Decalogue. They teach law, sometimes even the Levitical laws they find in the Bible, but they don't teach the Decalogue, or they treat it like it's probably a good idea, e.g. Osteen and his comments on how homosexuality isn't what's best for most people. Sure, it can be traced to the Decalogue, but he makes it useless by changing it from obligare to advice. That's the problem I was trying to bring up. Antinomian was a poorly chosen word to use there.

Mike Baker said...


With your clarifications, I whole-heartedly agree with you!

Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller once gave a great sermon about how every good legalist minimizes the law so that it is achievable. Instead of the normal uses of the Law: The curb, the mirror, and the guide, the legalist tries to make a fourth use: the ruler! The ruler where you can measure your progress and compare your holiness to others.

In response to this, Christ comes and destroys this tactic. When one would think that Christ would lower the standard, He raises it instead. Instead of making it even easier, Christ returns to the Law back to its impossible standard.

Only then is there no excuse. Only then is there no where to run except to the cross... where sins are forgiven and life is bestowed as pure gift. when we are confronted with this phenomenon, we should follow Christ's example. Rather than just preaching more Decalogue which they will just twist, we should actively engage legalists and push their specific law usage back up to Biblical perfection apologetically.

Ultimately, this is what ended my own legalism... not more Law preaching, but theological training and discipleship in the purpose of the Law.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


1st - First, is it the Church's Job to correct society? I ask that just for the reasons that are blunt - is it the job of the Kingdom of the Right to correct the Kingdom of the Left? Here I am thinking directly and properly of what goes on in the Church. The public square is a different issue, and in the Public Square I don't think we need to use the Scriptures or their moral grounds to correct society.

2nd - Discussions of morality with the world can't rely upon the Scriptures. While the Word of God directs us as Christians in wisdom, it cannot be that which we cite for wisdom. In fact, that would be horrible, because if I am talking to one who doesn't believe and say, "But the Bible says" he isn't going to care.

When arguing morals and things like that we need to argue from reason - from a desire for order, a desire to uphold ideas of justice and security and freedom.

Besides -- I don't think drugs necessarily need to be illegal. Does that mean a Christian should use them? By no means - but to what extent prohibition works, that's debatable. I'd note that I don't think Israel had any drug laws. Or even laws against prostitution, when it comes to that (I can't think of one that criminalizes prostitution, but I could easily be wrong).

The Church's job is not to save this world - it is to preach Christ Jesus to people in the world so that they might be saved and endure unto life everlasting in the World to Come.

Phillip said...

What then of Christian rulers? Can Frederick, John, Philip, Constantine, Charlemagne, et. al. rule by the second table legitimately or would their use of it be as arbitrary as any pagan ruler's laws?

Certainly the Church's proper work is to preach the Gospel, but why can it not also take a stand for right and wrong in society? If society says the 6th Commandment doesn't matter, then where should the church start preaching that it does matter?

Also, does this mean you're opposed to Papal Encyclicals? Many of them are moral proclamations in response to attempts by society to remove the Second Table from it's secular "morality"

Mike Baker said...

1. Mixing of the two kingdoms always harms the church more than it harms the state.

2. The church does not "preach" anything but Christ crucified for the sins of man. Everything points to that and that alone. Now Christians can offer moral advice but the aim is not to reform society. This world is passing away. The aim is always an eternal one.

3. Making a theological arguement on a moral question just does not work. "God says you can't murder babies" is not going to stop abortion in a secular society anymore than "God created marriage in the Genesis" is going to preserve marriage. The ways of God are foolishness to men. A Christian's moral arguements need to be framed in terms of natural law and logically strong propositions if it is to be credibile to the ears of those who are perishing.

4. If we proclaim the Law of God to men, it needs to be the actual Law of God and not our legalistic opinions. Too often, this "law preaching" is actually just traditions of men stealing God's authroity. Remember when the church preached the Crusades to the world? How about Prohibition? How about the idea that Life Insurance is a sin? How about that America and the political state of Isreal enjoy "most favored nation status" with God? I am of the opinion that the church is better when she is silent in the public square than when she is zealously spouting off foolishness.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Phillip, you make a few jumps here.

"What then of Christian rulers? Can Frederick, John, Philip, Constantine, Charlemagne, et. al. rule by the second table legitimately or would their use of it be as arbitrary as any pagan ruler's laws?"

They don't make decisions because they are Christian (i.e. because they are connected to the Church), but because they are rulers. I would hope that any Christian understands their vocation, be it ruler or the meanest job, in terms of God's commands and love for them. But you don't have to be Christian to be "moral". You don't have to be a Christian to desire "civil" justice. You made a comparison between apples and oranges there.

"Certainly the Church's proper work is to preach the Gospel, but why can it not also take a stand for right and wrong in society?" Because the Church is Christ's Church, and it is to do what it is told to do by Christ - preach the Gospel. Now, can leaders within the Church act as citizens, can they give advice to people on secular matters? Sure, if their talents so flow that way.

And when society is in err, where shall the Church start preaching the truth. Where it always does. . . the Church.

As for being opposed to Papal Encyclicals... well, as I stand condemned as a heretic on account of a Papal Bull, I can't say I'm generally a fan =o) But to be more serious... To the extent that they are true encyclicals going around to the various Churches - fine - let preachers teach the Church. However, when they are viewed as things that the public at large ought to heed... preach the Gospel to the public at large, that is what they need.

Of course, Rome thinks differently than the Lutherans... Consider the logic of the Pope on condom usage by prostitutes... the care shown in preventing disease shows some moral thought than can lead to Christianity. I say moral thought doesn't lead to Christ, it leads to moral thought. The Gospel, rather, gives Christ.

The Exiled said...

Do the world a favor, don't become a restaurant critic. Your analogy is weak. You show no understanding of being a food critic, let alone using an analogy correctly. Please stop using your book of sermon illustrations.

You also seem to have no understanding about the Law.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Then do give us a good analogy. Teach us something about either being a food critic, or making a good analogy, or even teach - give understanding about the Law.

Add something. Benefit people. Do good to your neighbor. Show them love.

(And basically, I'd say the above IS what the Law is. Show love.)