Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Confessions of an Accused Antinomian

I know that in many circles, I'm disliked. I am viewed as a terrible, horrid theologian, a danger. I am told that I am an Antinomian - one who despises the Law of God.

This is an unfounded accusation (as I think will be clear in a moment).

Consider the following. I was pondering life, the universe, and everything, as I am want to do, and I was considering romance novels, or romantic comedies. Now, the table pounders will pound angry fists against many things, especially in the realm of entertainment... but the romance novel, the romantic comedy tend to be low on the list (unless they are rather racy).

And I was pondering our culture, and divorce, and how it seems there are more and more middle aged folks getting divorced, the 40-somethings wanting to strike off and find a new adventure, a new romance... who want their lives to look like the pages of that novel about the girl who finds a new love.

It can be a harmful thing. I've seen families this year broken up by... well... a desire to become the star of their own romantic comedy. There was a disdain of the blessings of family, a disdain of reality all in favor of the whimisical what could be. And this is an actual danger - it's something that we should be wary of.

But here is where the rubber meets the road. I see in these stories a potential danger. So what now. Shall I thus say, "If you are a Christian you cannot watch these things!"? Or perhaps, "A good Christian abstains from things like this!"?


Well, why not. Because I recognize one simple thing - in this fallen world anything and everything can and will be abused. Everything. Even blessings from God. Children are a blessing from God - yet children can be turned into idols. Church is a blessing from God - yet I've known men who have so thrown themselves into their parishes that they have ruined their families.

The key is not to try and find the magical list of what you can do or what you cannot do - the key is not to make the list that says, "These things are morally safe and if I do only things from this list then I am a good, Christian boy" or to have a list of "these are the bad things that only the bad people do."

Those are lies. They are false dreams.

The fact is this. Everything we do is sin, is tainted and twisted and torn with sin.

I preach. I write sermons, I show people their sin and then give them Christ and His forgiveness. What could be more holy that that? Yet, every time I have preached at this Church, before I have entered the pulpit I have prayed wise words given to me by Luther - "Then if Thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Thy glory, and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may also, diligently perform it."

Even as I prepare to preach, Luther points out that preaching itself can and will be the occasion for sin - where I will become self focused, worried about what praise or glory I will garner from the beauty of my words.

There is no list I can follow to avoid this. I am a selfish, sinful man, and all that I do is corrupt, for I am sinful to the core. Do I show love? Sure - but even now, even as I see Christ at work in me and through me, as long as I am in this sinful flesh, yea until the day of the resurrection and the life of the world to come, everything will be tainted with sin. Just the way it is.

And then I hear someone say, "A Christian cannot do X."

To what end is this statement? If I do not do X, am I better? Is my sinful heart thus constrained and made righteous? No. If I do not do X, am I thus made to live a holy life? No. If I do not do X, am I thereby thrust back upon the Scriptures, so that the Spirit might work upon and that by God's grace I might be made to perform it? Well, given that often that X isn't a command in Scripture... no.

Your plans, your lists, your rules that you devise out of your head that you think will keep you free from sin... they all neglect the simple truth. It is out of your sinful heart that sin springs from... and you cannot avoid that. Even if you devise your list, even if you do all things outwardly so well and are always above reproach... you remain a sinner. And if you have not love from Christ - you are nothing.

So I see and hear someone go off on the rant - oh, a Christian can't do X. All I hear is someone subsitituting their own reason for Scripture to put forth an artificial standard of righteousness that ignores sin, that doesn't get to the heart.

It is as though the Health Inspector goes to the restaraunt and harps about how there is a drip of ketchup on the counter beneath the ketchup dispenser - and how this is vile and terrible and good night think about the children who use this dispenser (what about the children) -- and yet in his rantings never checks the kitchen, which is replete with Cockroaches and raw meat left lying about. You lament the small, the trivial -- you ignore that which will actually kill.

No, I am not an Antinomian. I know God's Law, and moreover I know what it says of me, and I know that it is true - that all my righteousness is nothing, is filthy rags. It doesn't matter how much I try to dress them up, or even how nice people say they are -- they remain what they are.

I am left totally and utterly dependent upon Christ. And He gives me mercy. He forgives me. He even makes me to do good works - which are not displays of outward righteousness, but rather He uses me to accomplish His good for my neighbor. I am a flawed tool, but a flawed tool in the Hands of the Master still accomplishes much due to His skill and greatness... and I know that one day I will no longer be broken.

Oh - but if I don't smoke, you say I'll be a better Christian? Where in the Word does it say that?

Oh - but if I don't swear, then I'm a better Christian? So is my anger and disgust towards my neighbor thereby better if I only "darn" them instead of damn then? I see my heart - and I still see anger and hatred towards my neighbor instead of love.

No - it's not that I despise the Law... it's that I hate the way you try to water it down into something that is accomplishable.

"So, should you just go and swear then" -- no, no more than I think someone should go out and smoke 5 packs a day. It's foolish and rarely helpful... but, well... it's not the main thing.

I have a cold. If I work really hard and focus on not coughing loudly... that changes nothing. I am still ill. And if because I focus hard on not coughing I delude myself into thinking that I am healthy... well, that cold may turn into something much worse.

I am not an antinomian because I don't focus on that thing that annoys you, no more than a doctor ceases to be a doctor because he worries less about the cough than he does about what causes it. In fact, because he's a doctor he probably is less worried about the symptom than the disease.

Thus it is. I am a sinner - and I see it constantly. I know the thoughts that have been racing around my head even as I write this -- the unkind ones, the uncharitable ones, the vainglorious ones. Even if by discipline I have kept some of them from shining forth... so be it... they are still there. I remain what I will be until I am raised - a sinner in need of forgiveness.

And thus my focus will always be on Christ and Him Crucified.

God grant that it remain always so.


Anonymous said...

Actually I think you fully proved that "you despise the Law of God." Thanks be to God who gives us the victory and has restored our hearts to love His precepts.

Myrtle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Thank you whats-your-face for your compliments.

As I try to be a good, small catechism sort of fellow, I am putting the best construction on your comments, and assuming that you mean that I despise the Law as a source of my own justification, and that you recognized in this post that I do love the true law of God, which shows me my sin... not the watered down pap some people promote as a way of pointing to their own righteousness.

If that was what you meant, very perceptive and spot on.

Because I do love the law. And as I love the Law in my new being, I despise it when people set up false laws, becoming the money changers of cheap morality in the Temple of God when they should be pointing to Christ.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor,
I did not intend to mask myself with anonymity; I just didn't have the time to create an ID to name myself on your comments.

I was precisely getting at that tension between the sinner who despises the Law and the saint who is already sanctified in the eyes of God and so is thus free from the Law. I love Psalm 119 for this very reason: it convicts my old Adam at the same time it makes my new spirit rejoice that I walk in the ways of the Lord, that His Word cleanses me, that I love His precepts. Wholly (& holy) sanctified... what more can I do that Christ has already not finished for me? And now I'm free to serve in my vocations without the Christian Mother Martyr Syndrome. :)

I enjoy reading your blogposts as they challenge me to re-think my old Adam assumptions; and your sermons provide additional edification to the Word preached to me by my pastor every week. It is my ongoing agreement with my pastor that I not read other sermons though until I have first heard his preached to me. :) He is a faithful undershepherd!

So, forgive my initial anonymity until I can get a named ID. In Christ, Barbara (formerly anonymous)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Excellent! The Christian life is one of tension - at least until the life of the world to come.