Saturday, November 13, 2010

An Example from Cleaning

Today, we are having a cleaning day at the Church. At first, it was being met with much trepidation, because no one could remember precisely who suggested the cleaning day or what specifically we were supposed to do at this cleaning day. And there was concern, who is going to be in charge, I don't want to tell people what to do, oh no, is nothing doing to get done?

It's an hour later. Cleaning is going wondrously. Some had wanted me to tell people what to do - I begged off. Now things are being cleaned that I would have never thought of. Why are these things being cleaned? Not because I guided them to these things, but simply because in their going around, people saw things to clean.

This is why I think the 3rd Use of the Law is highly, highly over-rated.

Do I need to tell people what to clean? Well, I suggested that it would be good to polish the pews - that is something that stood out as a good thing to me. And the pews will get cleaned -- but my encouragement to clean the pews isn't the fullness of cleaning, it doesn't provide a full framework for how cleaning goes. And I didn't need to provide the people here a full framework - they understood they were here to clean, and things are being cleaned.

Oh, I suppose I give a little guidance. One lady hit the Sacristy. Oh, I'll put that thing back here, and that there - oh, and if you would, leave those there (my sermons from the year, which I will file in 9 days - the Monday after the Last Sunday - it's a quirk of mine - helps me shift to Advent. Don't ask). But I didn't need to say, "This is what you need to do and how you need to do it" -- they know and they work.

This is how it is with the Christian life. We don't need to give people 8 principals for this, or micromanaging guidelines for that - we don't need to set up fences so they know how to approach every single issue. They are Christians. Teach them to think like Christians - to be focused on love, care, service, forgiveness. Then you know what? They will go find ways to show love, care, service, and forgiveness that you couldn't have anticipated.

In fact, if you try to teach them what being a real Christian is - you're really only teaching them what "you" are - teaching them to be like you - rather than teaching them to walk around in the good works that God has made them to walk in.

Let people go to work. If something is ill - cut that off. If there is a question about a specific thing - advise. But let people live - and quit worrying so much. If they are living horribly - preach stern Law - 2nd usage. Slay their bad habits. Then preach Christ, and in humility let Christ give them life as He sees fit.

The Cleaning is getting done. The Good Works God wills will get done. And not because I am so smart and wondrous that I can tell people what they need to do.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or perhaps this way - the 3rd use of the Law must always be general, a pattern, a trellis, that can be applied by the individual to any situation they find themselves in. If you think *you* will use the 3rd use to make them better, you are just being an egotistical burden - your mouth writing checks your foresight and wisdom can't cash.

George said...

Your comment is more right than your post! The law always boils down to LOVE, as Jesus Himself noted. The third use is the Holy Spirit's work of helping us to know how to love God and our neighbors. However, if you were inclined to think that the (extreme) ascetic life was the most God-pleasing, the external word (which is what the HS uses, by the way) would tell you that you should rather consider something that helped other people.

Luther is right that we need the law so that we don't go off thinking that we're pleasing God by doing crazy "religious" things. Rather, through the law as (the HS through) Scripture teaches us, we learn what truly is pleasing to God.


ps. Only the Decalogue is Eternal!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

But here is the thing - we need the law so that we don't go off thinking we are pleasing to God. . . we need the 1st use of the Law - a curb. Can the law give me good ideas and shape me (a la 3rd), I suppose. But more often we need just to be smacked around.

George said...

I disagree about the 1st use, then. The first use is the _civil_ use. That is, telling people it's wrong to kill does, in fact, produce a civil righteousness. I know, I know it's fashionable to say that the law causes sin (and it does), but it also "curbs" what Luther calls "gross" sin. That is, the law -- whether written on the heart or on tablets of stone (sometimes these aren't that different) does have an influence on making people do the right thing, even if they aren't really righteous as a result.

Describing which works "please" God is something in the domain exclusively of the regenerate. Without faith no one can please God. Only the faithful want to please God (at least in the real sense).

Phillip Fischaber said...

Much to the disappointment of most Lutheran pastors, the writers of the Book of Concord were right; you need all three purposes of the law. If you don't you will have serious, serious errors. Without a balance of all three uses of the law you will have the worst of legal heresies. Without an exhaustive list of heresies in front of me I can think of none that are not legal or Christological (I include the denial of the Real Presence and the Marian abuses here).

Here are the three uses of the law and their corresponding abuses:

1st use -curb.
If you overemphasize curb, you get extreme Pietism of the worst sort. This goes beyond replacing church with small groups to teaching that you can't be saved if you have fun in life.
If you underemphasize curb, you get antinomialism. Without a curb their can be non law.

2nd use -mirror.
If you overemphasize mirror, you get abject despair. If you continually dwell on your sins and wretchedness, their can be no hope of the Gospel.
If you underemphasize mirror, you get self-righteousness. If you can't see your sin, there's no reason to thunk you need a savior.

3rd use -guide.
If you overemphasize guide, you get Pelagianism. It's this fierce inborn hatred of works-righteousness that leads many Lutheran pastors to essentially reject or try to reject the third use. Pelagianism is wrong, you can never do anything to merit salvation.
However, there is a very deadly heresy that arises if you underemphasize guide you get universalism. If there is nothing you are supposed to do, then everyone can be saved. This clearly goes against Scripture. "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" and "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Belief is an action, it is something that muse be "done." Yes, it is not our works that cause it but the Holy Spirit's, but it is still a "work," an "action." The fact that it is not our "action" does not make it any less necessary for salvation, in fact, because it is not out action, it is more necessary than anything we can do. Many Lutheran pastors, in there quest to avoid the errors of Pelagius and semi-Pelagiianism, err in going to far to the other side and coming dangerously close to unwittingly, accidentally advocating universalism, usually by their words and never their actions. While the proper emphasis may be least upon the third use of the law, to deny the guide aspect of it is as potentially injurious to people's faith as overemphasizing it is.

George said...

OK. now I'm really befuddled. Phillip, I don't disagree that we need the 3 purposes (uses). I also think that the heresies associated with misunderstanding them. However, I don't know that I understand your explanation. Let me try.
1st -- overemphasis --> trying to create a theocracy, mixing the 2 kingdoms.
-- underemphasis --> anarchy and gross vice (think about our own day!)

2nd -- overemphasis --> a conscience that does not find freedom in the gospel
-- underemphasis --> a lack of recognition of one's sin, which usually leads to no taste for the gospel, and despising Christ. Could also lead to pelagiansim because the lack of awareness of sin makes us believe that we earn our salvation.

3rd -- overemphasis --> pietism, the idea that "being saved" is just the first step of the Christian life and the "meat" is growing in sanctification
-- underemphasis --> antinomianism (in the sense that Luther and the reformers understood that term), which essentially says that the law no longer speaks to Christians.


ps. Only the Decalogue is Eternal!

Phillip Fischaber said...


On the first use, there's no reason for it not to be spiritual instead of temporal. Certainly it is necessary for laws of the kingdom of the left-hand; however, in purely spiritual matters the curb can be abused. Saying Christians can't drink alcohol is an example if too much of a curb. Luther's definition of antinomianism would be a prime example of the spiritual lack of curb. If you say Christians don't have to obey the ten commandments, then they have no curb, and certainly spiritual anarchy and gross vice would arise from this.

2nd use, I think you characterized that one pretty well; however, I would not say that underemphasis would lead to Pelagianism, because I think in the extreme it would lead to not thinking you needed anything for salvation. I suppose in lesser cases of abuse it could lead to thinking you only committed "venial" sins and can work them off, if you only looked slightly at your sin; however, if you don't look at your sin at all, you can't even muster a Pelagian desire to save yourself by works. You think you have nothing to need to do works for.

3rd use, again, you moderate my terms, which is fair, but for the sake of example I want to use the clearest cases, which are the extremes. Your point made me think further and realize I should divide this into to parts, so thank you so much for that. In the first half I place "decisions" for Christ. In this abuse of guide, the law requires you to choose God. Basically, it's the American revival approach. The "Cast your vote for Jesus" idea. The law guides you to do the work of choosing Jesus.

The second part of overemphasizing guide would be works righteousness, which probably would also include a mixing of justification and sanctification as so many churches unfortunately do. This would include the Judaizer party, believe and be circumcised. You could have this as the "Jesus &" party. Jesus & circumcision for salvation, Jesus & penance for salvation, Jesus & monasticism, Jesus & feeding the poor, Jesus & taking care third world countries, etc. I place Pelagianism here because it is guiding you to add some sort of work to Christ's crucifixion to be saved.

Underemphasis- I place universalism instead of antinomialism here because a complete lack of guide removes the requirement of belief. I see this at its worst as preempting no law for Christians with no law for anyone. Antinomialism says don't bother stopping to do bad. A lack of guide says don't even bother starting to do good.

I hope this cleared up my point, thanks for the critique, this is the first I've had someone's help to flesh my thesis on the tripartite use out.

As a side note, I don't mean by my examples to attack specific churches, because most of these fallacies cross most denominations (including unfortunately, some in people in ours) or are being fought against inside their denomination.


Phillip Fischaber said...


I didn't look back at your second post before I replied to your third. If you want more on the non-civil use of the first purpose, I'll gladly expound my thoughts on the matter.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

My big qualm is that I think we tend to think of the uses of the Law as distinct - forgetting that they blend and over lap. We do not have three different Laws, but there is one Law, and it is applied in multiple ways - and a statement that one thinks is one use is often applied in the other uses as well.

For example, let me take an an example. You shouldn't go have an affair. Now, this could be viewed as third use - ah, yes, I see this as the pattern that my life should avoid - excellent. However, for the person who has committed this, it becomes second use, accusatory. As well, for the person who was considering straying (actually, increasing his mental straying into physical straying) it functions as a curb, putting the breaks on his plans for sin.

There is One Law. If we try to micromanage the usage, once we get to talking to more than one person, especially in a preaching environment, the Holy Spirit will put it to the use He sees best.

More over, we ought to abandon the idea that my speaking of the Law will give life. Moreover, if we think our preaching of the 3rd use becomes all encompassing or the full "how to" - in our arrogance we have missed the mark.

But I will say this - every heresy is a error of both the Law and the Gospel, for if you abuse one, you will automatically abuse the other.

Pr. H. R. said...

I find that as I become more experienced and deal with actual pastoral situations I realize more and more the need for preaching from the 3rd use of the law.

It turns out that my parishioners are simul iustus et peccator: tahtthe Old Adam is alive and well in my people and "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."

It turns out that a lot of Christians honestly don't know that IVF is wrong; that sexless marriages will fail; that living in mounting credit card debt will destroy their families; that pornography will eat out their souls; etc.

So yes, I find that my people do in fact need to hear from their pastor just what needs cleaning.

"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And yet, that whole list consists of things to avoid -- which I'd contend is really 1st use of the Law -- a curb to protect from harmful behavior.

But telling people how to seek fertility, or how to bring in better sex to their marriage, or how to balance a budget well -- well, that comes up in specific, one on one situations, I suppose. But preaching - not so much.

I find in preaching that many of these topics are addressed in the mirror of existence approach to the Law - behold the world, see how it works, see how it attempts to trap you in sin by appealing to your desires.

Again - I am not going all antinomian - it's just I think 3rd use of the law often needs to be applied directly, not generally. I'm not sure how well it fits from the pulpit.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Quick addendum - how well 3rd use fits from the pulpit if it gets very specific. Show love. Seek to be kind and gentle - these are 3rd use statements, but they are general and can be applied to a multitude of situations. General encouragement - that can be preached. Specific, eh... not so much.

Phillip Fischaber said...

Certainly there is only one law, but it is efficacious in three ways. If you deny one of its efficacies you hamstring its ability to work. That being said, the three uses most certainly overlap one another and harm can be done by separating them completely from one another. You can not rightly interpret the 6th Commandment unless you connect all three uses together, but all three uses must be there. "You shall not commit adultery." This curb leads straight into the guide, "We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other." Luther's explanation of the Commandments is simply expanding the curb of the Decalogue into the guide that the rest of Scripture expounds it into. Scripture is clear that fulfilling the 6th Commandment is not simply not sleeping with a woman other than your wife or even not desiring to do so, the fulfillment of the commandment is in the guide's injunction to go and do good.

"You shall not..." is curb in its purest form. The curb is very important and rightly is the first use because as with a parent to a child when they do something wrong the first injunction is stop. The curb says stop. When a parent yells at a child to stop, the child immediately knows it has done something wrong, and the mirror instantly appears. If you had a curb without guilt proceeding from overstepping the curb then you have arbitrary tyranny, which can't exist in God's law. Once the bad behavior has been stopped, good behavior can be encouraged. Thus the final act of the law is instruction to do good. "We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other." "Lead a sexually pure and decent life..." can't be the focus of the sermon because the focus of the sermon is Christ. If you end your sermon with guide then you've not properly distinguished Law and Gospel. If you proceed from don't commit adultery to "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory," "anyone who's looked at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart," etc. then you have two options. Most pastors would proceed to the Gospel. Because you've done this, Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sins. Or, you can proceed to Gospel then guide and then Gospel. Jesus died to forgive you of your adultery, no instead of recommitting adultery you should "lead a sexually pure life...", but because you can't Jesus died to forgive the sins you will commit in the future just like he forgave the ones you've already committed. It may require discussing something else in your sermon less or preaching this in Sunday School where you have more time or just lengthening your sermons, but the third use can be preached quite well. Some admonitions may convict some people less so than others, but that is determined by the commandment being preached upon. After making himself a eunuch, Origen probably wasn't that convicted by the 6th Commandment, but preaching any of the uses of the law on the subject of the 6th Commandment wouldn't convict him much. You would need a different commandment or the more general "All have sinned" to convict his conscience. It is wonderful to have the third use preached upon, because it convicts us that not only can we not stop doing bad, but we are unable to start doing good.