Pastor Paul McCain's recent article on the alleged "aversion to sanctification" among Lutherans these days needs to be responded to.
Pastor McCain and I have exchanged emails over this post. I am fairly confident that we have succeeded in talking completely past each other in that exchange. As it happens, a few years ago I had a dialog with the author of the article to which he refers, Professor Kurt Marquart, on precisely this point at one of the ACL conferences in suburban Chicago. I think we had a slightly more satisfactory outcome to our conversation, though I would very much like to follow up with him.
I should say, first, that I had the privilege of briefly being the pastor of one of the villains of the Seminex saga, Dr. Robert Bertram.
He was no antinomian. He and I stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the struggle against the acceptance of homosexuality in the ELCA, and especially in the Missouri-Kansas Synod. He had a healthy concept of the fundamental fact that one who has been brought to spiritual life by the Gospel inevitably desires to respond in obedient gratitude.
Dr. Steven Hein, one of my theology professors at River Forest, was well aware that those who deny that the Law has three uses include not only antinomians, but also those who differ from strict confessional orthodoxy only in regarding what the Formula of Concord calls "the Third Use of the Law" not as a seperate use, but rather as the dynamic consequence of the first two uses. That much needs to be clear at the outset. "Seminex antinomianism" is, at least to a significant extent, a straw man. This is not to say that it did not exist. It is only to say that by no means all who subscribed to the "Valparaiso theology" were antinomians!
Secondly, we need to be clear on a point made eloquently by the sainted Dr. Robert Preus. One does not preach a Third Use of the Law!
One preaches the Law! There is an errant and even mildly heretical tendency among some Missourians to think that a preacher can chose which use of the Law he is preaching. He can't. All he can do is preach God's Word- and that Word is Law and Gospel. One dare not presume to specify how the Holy Spirit will use it! That is simply beyond either the competence or the office of the preacher!
Finally, a point which Dr. Marquart thanked me for raising, and agreed was not only "important" but "essential:" sanctification- Christian obedience- is driven, not by the Law, but by the Gospel. Issac Watts put it well in his hymn:
The Law commands, and makes us know
What duties to our God we owe.
But 'tis the Gospel doth reveal,
Where lies the strength to do His will.
It has been falsely taught that this fact makes it unnecessary to proclaim the Law to believers. It does not. The Law grants content and structure to the response of gratitude which inevitably results from faith- which, as Luther points out, "is already doing good works before the question of whether good works are to be done is even asked." Yeah, there is something almost automatic about the impulse to obey when a a person comes to Christ, and the New Self is born! The function of the Third Use is to give the impulse the Holy Spirit cannot exist in a heart without inspiring form and substance. That impulse does not have to be "guilted" into us! That error is, at base, one of the most serious problems with contemporary American "Evangelicalism." It's an error Calvinist Issac Watts never would have made!
Gratitude, not guilt, drives the Third Use of the Law, as defined by the Formula of Concord! When Pastor McCain says that we need to pay greater heed to FC VI, he is surely right. I have been fortunate in my Missouri Synod associations since I returned to Holy Mother Synod; the pastors I've had preach to me (with one notable exception I'm not going to get into here) have wielded both Law and Gospel admirably. But it might well be that in the LCMS as a whole, the role of the Law in the life of the believer needs greater stress.
But I grew up having my life before God motivated by guilt, and that in the LCMS. Today, a new generation is facing the perversion of the biblical and Lutheran doctrine of sanctification posed by "WWJD?" and The Purpose-Driven Life. I first became a pastor because I fell in love with the God whose Gospel I first truly understood in Steve Hein's doctrine class at River Forest. I spend a great deal of my free time counselling Christians with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in the email group I run for them- children of God plagued by a relationship with Him driven by guilt and fear.
I will resist the notion that guilt is what drives sanctification until my dying breath.
I do not believe that either Professor Marquart nor Pastor McCain mean to apologize for that cult of spiritual death. But its danger may never have been as serious as it is today, given the doctrinal straits of the Missouri Synod and the influence of "Evangelicalism" in our midst.
As serious as the danger of antinomianism by definition always is, the danger of self-sanctification and legalism is just as great- and, it seems to be, at the very least just as great a threat.