Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Dangers of Checklist Theology

My friend Rev. Donavon Riley writes the following: All these little hills we're prepared to die on are just that: little hills. All of them the result of shallowness, of ignorance, about the correct teaching (and preaching) regarding justification.

So, while we give away the high ground on justification we storm up & down all these little hills thinking that if we can just take enough of them for our side, i.e., third use of the law, closed communion, women's ordination, etc., we'll win the war. But, what we refuse to admit is that we've lost the war already.

So, rather than pray for the Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us, teach us, enlighten us & so on we fight on in the name of Christ, all the while assuming we have the central teaching of the faith so locked down that we never have to re-visit it. Yet, as we see published across Facebook daily by pastors, professors & laity, justification is six feet deep in the ground stinking of worms... or Worms as it were.

Riley makes a fantastic point. This is the curse of systematic theology - that we will end up shaving and dividing theology into discrete little chunks that we look at and appraise and evaluate, and as long as they are in good shape, things are fine. It's as though we approach theology by examining all the pieces of a puzzle to see if they are in the proper shape... but never assemble the puzzle.

Consider - the Pharisees had all their specific rules and regulations down, but they lost the greater picture all the actual commandments were supposed to point to -- love God, love your neighbor. Instead, their abuse of the Law and creation of new, false laws let them do the exact opposite - come up with reasons to not love God and to not love their neighbor.

Likewise, all theology in the Christian Church is tied to and flows from Justification, the fact that we are forgiven and justified before God on account of Christ Jesus - that we live by faith in Christ. That's how everything ties together.

Now then - how does the "3rd use" tie to Justification? Or "closed communion"? Or "women's ordination"?

This is not me denying that they do -- they most certainly do. But when you argue your position, when you approach these topics, do you give any thought to how they fit, how they tie on into Justification? Or do you simply see if they are shaped the "right" way? If you do not tie them to Justification, to Christ Jesus and His Work, you're simply looking at puzzle pieces to make sure they aren't bent - you've lost the picture of the puzzle as a whole. You've lost the forest for the trees.

With every topic you need to ask yourself, how does this tie into Justification by faith. Otherwise... what's your point?

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A brief answer to a few questions above to cut the knees off of trolls:

1 - The 3rd Use ties to Justification in many ways because it flows out of Justification. If Christ Jesus has given us new life, if the Holy Spirit has made us His dwelling, we will be guided by the Law. Period. It might also curb and accuse us at the same time, but whom Christ Justifies He also enlivens (for where there is the forgiveness of sin there is also life and salvation). Therefore, any approach which neglects this fact and base will distort the 3rd use into some matter of divine persuasion or coming up with good, rational plans for living. Nonsense - the 3rd use is simply the Spirit using the Law to remind us who we *are* in Christ. It's not design to make us become or progress, it shows us who in Christ we *are* as the Justified.

2 - Closed Communion ties to Justification because the only time a person is denied the Supper is when their actions or beliefs (if you wish to divide the two) threaten the doctrine of Justification. The examples in 1 Corinthians come to mind. You have a man who is living in manifest immorality without repentance. This is a denial of Justification - it is denying that Christ has forgiven and given him new life. Therefore, hand him over so he might repent. Likewise, those who do not discern the body of Christ in effect attack Justification -- they are denying the purpose of the Supper (the forgiveness of sins) as well as denying Christ's winning of salvation (as long as you eat this bread and drink this cup you do show forth the Lord's death until He comes) -- to treat the Supper as indifferent is to treat Christ's death as indifferent, or at least less important than the fact that you have temporal wealth and want a full belly.

3 - Women's Ordination ties to justification in two major ways. The first is that you cannot make a "Scriptural" argument for Women's Ordination without attacking the veracity of the Scriptures. You have to look at Paul's injunctions against having women teach and hold the authority of the office by saying something akin to "that's just Paul's opinion." So - what else is just Paul's opinion? 1 Corinthians 15? Galatians? It opens a dangerous slope that all too easily leads to the denial of Justification.

But even more directly, the Scripture that is used *for* Women's Ordination is Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The statement then follows that, "see, there is no difference, so women can be pastors because there is no difference." What this does is that it totally misses the point of the passage... which is in fact about justification. Consider the preceding verse: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." This is Justification talk - the point of this is about how all are saved in Christ, regardless of the very real distinctions in the world. But instead of letting Justification remain the focus (indeed, that we are justified by faith and now works, as is the point of the chapter and book), the verse is abused to become a self-justification for a category of work! Instead of being freed from the law by this passage, it twists it into a new, politically correct law -- and returns us to a slavery of our own devising, a slavery to the whims of society, rather than leading us to delight in Christ and His salvation no matter who we are. You can't do the "scriptural" legwork on women's ordination without either inadvertedly endangering Justification or removing justification as the point of Galatians 3.

1 comment:

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Great post, Eric!

We seriously need to re-visit the central article. But the discussion is difficult to have. I fear that many American Lutherans will not like what they find.