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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.

Comments

David Brazeal said…
Great post, Bob. You said it much better than I could've.

I'll add one point. I'm convinced that an attempt to preach the 3rd Use of the Law specifically will almost always end with the Law being weakened. You take a look at modern Evangelical churches, where 3rd Use of the Law is the predominant subject of sermons, and you find that they're not really preaching the Law at all. They're preaching some shadow of the Law that's intended to serve as moral encouragement.

What's a 3rd-Use sermon on the sixth commandment look like? Typically, it looks like this:
- Leave romantic notes on your wife's nightstand
- Get a babysitter and go out on a date
- Husbands, put your wife ahead of your work
- Wives, put your husband ahead of the dishes
- And for heaven's sake, don't sleep with anyone else!

What's a plain old Law/Gospel sermon on the 6th commandment look like?

- Wives, your husband has been given you to care for you, and to honor. When he leads your household in the way of God, you need to honor him and go along, even when you don't agree. Stop your whining that he doesn't understand you, and suck it up and do it.
- Husbands, you are given your wife to cherish above all others. You'd better put your own happiness on hold -- whether it's work, play, or whatever -- to make sure she has her every Godly desire. Stop your selfish seeking after your own pleasure and put your wife ahead of yourself, even if it means your own death. If not, you're sinning and bound for hell.
- Wives, husbands, we are all prone to put ourselves first. We are all selfish and unreliable. We mumble and grumble against our spouse. We talk about them behind their backs. That is not "cute." It is sin.
- Thanks be to God that Christ died to cover that sin in us. He became our own husband, and we all became His bride through the Church. There, he feeds and nurtures us the way a husband should feed and nurture his wife here on earth. He did it perfectly in his life and death, and still does it for us through Word and Sacraments.

Can a Christian not hear the latter sermon and be encouraged to "live out a sanctified life" without a subsequent enumeration of suggested activities?
David Brazeal said…
That being said, I think you and Pastor McCain probably are speaking past one another. It's inevitable that disagreements over empahsis would surface in Christian orthodoxy, given the inherent paradoxes in Christian doctrine. I can one day agree with Pastor McCain's point, then the next day agree with your point, depending on my mood, or what I might have read most recently. It just so happens that I'm in the mood to agree with you today. Aren't you thrilled?
Bob, you are missing the point -- entirely. There is nothing wrong and everything right with preaching sanctification. That is the issue. Nobody is denying that the Law has its way with us as God wills.

Bob and David, given your premises, then we must conclude that Dr. Martin Luther and Dr. C.F.W. Walther were very poor Lutheran preachers indeed. No?

Further, if you really believe a preacher is never to encourage specifically good works, then you better stop reading the New Testament epistles of St. Paul.

Brothers, you are wrong on this one, and rather profoundly so.

Read my sermon I posted on Good Works and tell me where I have erred.
Rev. Paul T. McCain said…
Bob, I hope you are not, with Bertram, denying that there is a third use of the law. That is not Lutheran.
David Brazeal said…
Pastor McCain, as I read your sermon, I realize that my concern may not be with the concept of 3rd-use preaching, but with the way it's usually done. Most sermons that set out to be 3rd-use sermons are nothing more than weak moralisms. They (1) give the impression that the law can be kept, leading to pharisaism, or (2) discourage sinners who see how miserably they're failing to do these things.

In your sermon, it's clear that these works which accompany me in my Christian life are not my own. They are set before me by God, and I am empowered by God to do them. You rightly preach works empowered by the Gospel. You didn't present our good works as a series of "Now, let us..." statements. You didn't give Law, then Gospel -- then withdraw the Gospel from us for another dose of Law.

The Gospel itself fairly oozed from your exhortation. That's as it should be, if a pastor is going to "preach 3rd use." But in my experience, 99% of "3rd Use" sermons have been ham-handed and clumsy, and have failed to make clear that the Gospel is the engine driving this train. At least, that's true of the ones I've heard.
Bob Waters said…
I'm going straight over and looking at that sermon, Pastor McCain. But I'm afraid you've completely missed my point about Bertram- and you're not alone.

To deny that there is a Third Use of the Law may well be a difference of category rather than substance. No, I do not deny that there is a Third Use; I think my post made that very clear. What I deny is that one becomes heterodox because one prefers to think of it as the consequence of the first two uses, rather than enumerating it as a seperate use.

It's the Holy Spirit Who "uses" it!
Bob Waters said…
My response, Pastor McCain: you haven't erred. What you've done is given us a fine sermon about sanctification. In that sense, yes; you have indeed preached sanctification!

You've done something rather difficult, moreover, and done it very well: you've preached a sermon about sanctification in which the Gospel predominates. You've avoided the trap to which David alluded, and which Steve Hein calls "preaching watered-down Law:"
encouraging the illusion that obedience, finally, is possible- except, as you rightly say, in Christ; with His obedience making up for what is lacking in our own. And it is finally all
His obedience. As you rightly say (or rather, as Paul rightly says), it was God Who prepared our good works for us beforehand, that we should walk in them.

But what you've written is not what you've called for. And thank God! All Lutheran preaching of the Law is full-strength, not watered down. It doesn't, to use Dr. Hein's description, cause the hearer to say, "By George, I'm just gonna have to roll up my sleeves and try harder. Such a sermon would be Reformed, not Lutheran. Rather, the Law as presented in a Christian sermon aims to crush the presumptions of the Old Adam to a righteousness of his own. It's desired primary reaction on the part of the Old Adam is Second Use: to paraphase Walther, "If that man is right, I'm doomed!"

Of course the New Man also needs the Law. I think I laid out precisely what he needs it for in my post, and frankly I'm puzzled as to how anyone who read what I wrote could possibly doubt that I believe in the Third Use, however one chooses to categorize it!

I think your error is one of category. There is nothing wrong with your sermon at all. There is nothing wrong with preaching about sanctification. But that is not the same thing as preaching sanctification! Rather, once again, as the late Dr. Preus observed, the task of the Lutheran preacher is simply to preach the Law. It's the Holy Spirit- the same Holy Spirit to inspires the impulse to good works which the Third Use gives form and substance- who administers it.

Our difference is, I think, one of category. But I think your error of category is a potentially serious one. There is too much Reformed preaching going on in Lutheran circles, and as Dr. Marquart acknowledged, it is nothing less than essential that we always bear in mind that it is the Gospel which motivates obedience, not the Law!
McCain said…
Bob, what I did is precisely what I called for. You are accusing me of something I never said. You continue to say I'm calling for a "third use of the law" sermon. And you've got David Brazeal confused by this nonsensical talk. I'm calling on pastors, like you, obviously, and most unfortunately influenced by false teachers like Bertram, to stop playing games and stop, de facto, denying the third use of the law. We are to preach sancification, period. That is the point. You seem to have a problem reading what I said. You are reading *into* what I said, things that I never, ever said. And I do not appreciate it. When did I remotely suggest that it is not the Gospel that motivates us? Stop your silliness Bob.
McCain said…
Mr. Waters, it is false doctrine to suggest, in any way, that we are not to preach about sanctification in our sermons. The solution to "too much Reformed preacing" is not to deny the place and necessity of preaching about sanctification. It is this simple and important point that you are woefully confused about. To say you do believe in the third use of the law and then to turn around and suggest that one is not to preach about good works and urge and encourage Christian to them, in specific and clear ways, is to deny Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. It is that serious.
Bob Waters said…
Hey. Slow down.

You've suggested that we preach the Third Use. I agreed that we need to emphasize the Third Use, but that we can't dictate the use of the Law we preach, but that we can only preach the Law. You chose to describe this as false doctrine- indicting Robert Preus right along with me.

It was the idea that we need to preach sprecifically "Third Use" sermons that I criticized from the outset. I think I was rather clear in that. Why did you find it necessary to describe my rejection of this notion as "a serious error," if is apparently not what you intended to say?

I don't see how I could have made it clearer from the outset that I confess the Third Use. Nor do I know how I could have made it clearer that my criticism was of the false witness routinely borne against Dr. Bertram- who confessed the ongoing significance of the Law in the life of the believer, but chose to treat it as a consequence of the first two uses of the Law as a seperate use- rather than a defense of the "Valparaiso theology" per se.

If I have accused you of saying something other than what you intended, then I apologize. But I think it's clear that your response has been to attack a position which I made it crystal clear from the outset that I did not hold- and thus reinforce the notion that it was precisely what you deny having said that you were, in fact saying. You expressed yourself poorly, and reinforced the false impression your words left by your response.

For my part, I fully confess the Third Use. Once again, as I said initially, I agree that FC VI needs greater emphasis. I agree that the Law gives form and substance to the grateful impulse which, as Luther suggested, springs spontaneously from faith before the question of whether good works are to be done even arises. I don't see how I could have made any of this clearer from the git go, and I'm puzzled as to why, in the face of these statements, you questioned my committment to the Third Use.

I think I've been clear. I don't think you have been anything like clear- especially given your responses. Nor do I think that those responses, frankly, have been responsive to what I have written.

If you agree with my point- that we cannot preach specifically the Third Use- what has this argument been about? Why could you not have simply agreed, since my confession of the Third Use has been reiterated and made crystal clear from the outset?
Bob Waters said…
No, more than that. Having denied that you are arguing for Third Use sermons, you then turn around and do precisely that. I quote you: "To say you do believe in the third use of the law and then to turn around and suggest that one is not to preach about good works and urge and encourage Christian to them, in specific and clear ways, is to deny Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. It is that serious."

I have said from the outset that one is to preach the Law. The Law commands good works. To suggest that one is to specifically target that proclamation to Christians is, by definition, to "preach a Third Use sermon."

You contradict yourself. You have expressed your position in an unclear and self-contradictory manner from the outset. I would suggest that before you accuse others of being confused- much less of contradicting Scripture and the Confessions- you decide whether in fact you believe that the Third Use as Third Use needs to be- or even can be- preached. You have repeatedly suggested as much, yet you deny having said so. And that constitutes, as nearly as I can
determine, the sum total of our disagreement.

Only bear in mind that if your answer is affirmative, it is not only I, but the sainted Dr. Preus, whom you are accusing of contradicting Scripture and the Confessions.

I don't see how I, for my part, could have made my position any more clear. I find yours both unclear and very confusing. I would welcome a clarification.

Do you believe in the preaching of "Third Use" sermons, or not?
McCain said…
Bob, my first post on this subject, "Aversion to Sanctification" and my sermon on Good Works, are quite clear enough without your, no doubt, well intentioned, desire to tell others what it is I said, or meant, or what I "suggested." I don't "suggest" things, I assert things. I'll leave the "suggesting" to you, as you have so ably in this thread demonstrated the ridiculous lengths to which you are willing to go in describing what it is I suggest. If people would care to read my actual comments, instead of your reinterpretation of my remarks, that would be helpful.

You continue to miss the point in rather breathtaking fashion. You, sir, are the one who can not, and will not, affirm clearly that the preaching of sanctification, in clear, specific ways, is part of the duty of the pastor. Do you, or do you not, believe that the preacher should specifically preach about the Christian life of good works? Should he, or should he not, urge his hearers to them and describe for them what the sanctified life is according to God's Holy Word? Do you believe Paul was wrong to do so in his epistles?

I gather from your remarks that you would prefer simply to preach the Law as judgement against sin and then let those who can hear in that "second use" also the third use.

You have given me no reason to believe that you have not embraced a "don't ask, don't tell" policy in regard to sanctification.

As Luther would say, you seem willing to be a fine Easter preacher, but you don't seem willing to be a Pentecost preacher also. You want to preach on Redemption but not on Sanctification. You tell me that I want to "preach the third use of the Law." Of course I do. That's is what preaching the Law is.

You have no room for the third use in your preaching, you would instead like us to believe that the Law which always accuses, only accuses.

Under your odd system, Martin Luther truly would have to be counted as one of the poorest of all Lutheran preachers, and St. Paul one of the poorest of all preachers of God's Law. For you see, both of these men did not hesitate to urge, encourage and point their hearers to the Law not only as showing them their sin, but also very clearly showing them what the new life in Christ is about. And this is the point of preaching sanctification. Please note, I said preaching sanctification.

It seems clear to me that to you applies precisely Luther's warning "They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach... "about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit," but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extol so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, He has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men . . . Christ did not earn only gratia, grace, for us, but also donum, "the gift of the Holy Spirit," so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin." On the Council and the Church, Luther's Works, 41:113-114

Now you have attempted to drag in the sainted Dr. Robert Preus in your defense and explanation. Let me tell you why I find your invocation of the name of the Rev. Dr. Robert Preus to be particularly distasteful, and frankly, disdainful. I was a student of Dr. Robert Preus for three years, as a Sem. I, II and III. Even during my vicarage year, I kept in touch with Dr. Preus. Following that time, I was Dr. Preus' assistant for three years at Concordia Theological Seminary, serving under him as a teaching assistant during my final year in the M.Div. program, then his graduate assistant in systematic theology during S.T.M. studies, and then a member of his faculty as an instructor in systematic theology for yet another year. I had the pleasure as well of working closely with him in editing several volumes of Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, benefitting from many pleasant hours of theological one-on-one discusson and discourse. Further, I had the pleasure actually to hear Dr. Preus preach often through my seminary years. It may be that you had similar opportuities to work and learn closely from Dr. Preus of which I am unaware. But for you to invoke him in this discussion in some effort to prop up your own confusions on this issue is truly out of line.

I would suggest that there is a possibility that I might understand the teaching and confession of Robert Preus just a bit better than you do. Invoking his name to prop up your faulty argumentation, as I notice has also become fashionable among notorious LCMS liberals these days, just doesn't really advance your cause in my book much.

You, sir, seem to have no room in your pulic confession for sanctification. You are quick to protest that you do, but you then inform us all that you do not believe it should be specifically preached about. How odd.

I therefore believe that the remarks offered by Kurt Marquart in regard to an aversion to sanctification developing in our circles applies quite rightly to you. And if you would but take a moment and lay down that axe you've been grinding to go back and actually read what Marquart said, you might find that he is in fact correct, and you are, in fact, wrong. Oh, and please do not report again about a conversation you had with Dr. Marquart as a "proof text" for whatever point it is you are trying to make. Again, I would like to hear how many years you spent in the classroom with Dr. Marquart, as did I, before I am willing to regard your opinions about his teaching as any sort of an authority.

You keep referring to Robert Bertram, who, we should remind readers, was one of the false teachers at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, who "walked out" to start Seminex, the "Seminary in Exile." Now, we are to gather from your remarks, he was simply one of those poor unfortunates who were misunderstood by those mean old fundamentalist Missourians. Is that what you are suggesting?

Scott Murray documents these problems very well in his book, "Law, Life and the Living God."

Of particular importance, and application to you, and others who share your evident low regard for sanctification and preaching of the same, are these comments, offered in a commendatory review published in recent years in the Concordia Theological Quarterly.

Link to the whole review:
http://www.ctsfw.edu/academics/faculty/pless/review_murray.pdf

Quote from review in CTQ:

"The decade of the 1960’s witnessed a new generation of Missouri Synod
theologians, many of whom had done doctoral work in Germany and now
held teaching positions at Concordia Seminary (Saint Louis), Concordia
College (River Forest), and Valparaiso University. Murray includes Edward
Schroeder, Robert Bertram, Walter Bartling, Robert Hoyer, Paul G.
Bretscher, Walter Bouman, and Robert Schultz in this group, although he
devotes most of his attention to Edward Schroeder. Murray traces the
development of Schroeder’s theology from Werner Elert while arguing that
Schroeder went beyond Elert in making the law/gospel distinction “the
biblical hermeneutic of the Lutheran church”(103). Murray concludes that
“in varying degrees the defenders of Valparaiso theology were prone to
attribute to the Gospel parenetic purposes so that the Law’s work was
subsumed under the Gospel. The denial of the third use of the Law leads to a
redefinition of the Gospel to include legal concepts. The Gospel is no longer
the gratuitous promises of God to the anxious sinner” (114). In other words,
the law simply returned in a legalized gospel as the gospel now becomes the
guide to the ethical life.
One of the most insightful and perhaps provocative sections of Law, Life,
and the Living God is Murray’s investigation of the fate of the usus tertius amongst the theologians of the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran
Church in America and more recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America. In particular, Murray uses William Lazareth, Gerhard Forde, and
William Horden as primary examples of theologians from these bodies who
questioned the law’s third use."

In the system outlined by Mr. Waters, Martin Luther must be considered wrong when he wrote in his Large Catechism, "The latter doctrine [of the Law], therefore makes no Christian, for the wrath and displeasure of God abide upon us still, because we cannot keep what God demands of us; but this [namely, the doctrine of faith] brings pure grace, and makes us godly and acceptable to God. For by this knowledge we obtain love and delight in all the commandments of God, because here we see that God gives Himself entire to us, with all that He has and is able to do, to aid and direct us in keeping the Ten Commandments -- the Father, all creatures; the Son, His entire work; and the Holy Ghost, all His gifts.

Let this suffice concerning the Creed to lay a foundation for the simple, that they may not be burdened, so that, if they understand the substance of it, they themselves may afterwards strive to acquire more, and to refer to these parts whatever they learn in the Scriptures, and may ever grow and increase in richer understanding. For as long as we live here, we shall daily have enough to do to preach and to learn this." (Creed, Third Article).

In Mr. Waters system the preacher is to thunder against sin, extol the benefits of Christ and then...well...then say nothing of the benefits, results and consequences of the new life in Christ, say nothing of the fact that we Christians not take delight in the Law, nor is the preacher to speak of how this delight takes place, rather, he should simply say, "I condemned their sin. They should not hear in that also how their new life in Christ looks" -- but Luther was not content in such lopsided preaching. And neither should we?

Have I in any way in any of this suggested that we are to preach like Rick Warren? No. That we are to be moralistic? No. That we are to fail to distinguish law from Gospel? No. That we are to give sermons that are one minute of law, one minute of Gospel and then fifteen minutes of "how tos"? No. Mr. Waters is very facile at setting up his straw men and knocking them down, but he does not address the real issue: an aversion to sanctification in our preaching and teaching! Mr. Waters instead wants us simply to let it be assumed. But what is assumed, is denied.

And now, mindful of Holy Scriptures admonition and encouragement that we are not to answer a person according to his folly, and minful that this is a word of Law that both accuses me of sin [Lord, forgive me for wasting so much time on this blog site], and also offers guidance and instruction as Law [despite Mr. Waters' desire to avoid the third use], I take my leave of this discussion.

Persons interested in what I actually said and what I actually believe, are free to visit my BLOG site. I will leave it to Mr. Waters to continue his misrepresentation and misunderstanding of my remarks. And more's the pity.

May God forgive our error and open our minds to truth, and may He pardon me for any failings or faults in my expression. Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word. Amen.
David Brazeal said…
This layman really doesn't see that much disagreement between your two positions.

Bob, you can see from the sermon itself what Pastor McCain means by "preaching sanctification," and you agree that his sermon is a good one.

Pastor McCain, your sermon makes it clear to me that you're not promoting the error I worry so much about. Again, I think it's a matter of emphasis -- and I'm coming from a position that reacts strongly against the typical so-called "sanctification sermon." Yours is not a typical "sanctification sermon," but a proper one. Bob has even said he agrees.

I'm not one who usually calls for "just getting along" to avoid conflict -- but in this case, I don't think the size of the conflict justifies the heat of the argument. I know you both think the conflict is a big one -- but from here, it doesn't look that big. And I don't think it's because I'm not "getting" anything. I think it's because I'm not emotionally involved in it.

How about this: can we all agree that we need more preaching of sanctification done in the way you did it -- and less of the sanctification preaching done in the way it is typically done in American Christianity?
McCain said…
David, I'll agree with you.
McCain said…
We need more preaching of sanctification done in the way you did it -- and less of the sanctification preaching done in the way it is typically done in American Christianity?

I'll agree with you on this point David. Thank you. I never advocated preaching sanctification in any other than the Biblical and therefore, Lutheran, manner.
Bob Waters said…
Let me say this clearly from the very outset: it is part of the duty of the preacher to urge his hearers- believers and unbelievers alike- to good works. Such urging is, by definition, Law. It is Law which applies to believer and non-believer alike. It is not as if God commands only believers to do good works, even though only they are capable of them.

It is not a proclamation of Law directed specifically to believers.

Now, I attended an ALC seminary. I am not as well trained in all aspects of the preacher's art as Pastor McCain is; indeed, to a considerable extent, I am self-taught, having brought to the task concerns and issues simply not shared by many of my instructors. It occurs to me as a result of this thread that the presentation of sanctification as Gospel- as God's work within us- is even more essential than I had realized, and that although I have done precisely this in the past, I have perhaps not done as much as it as I should have, possibly out of fear of falling off the log in the opposite, and more common, direction. This is a danger of which the direction of my own personal spiritual journey makes me especially leary.

Pastor McCain accuses me of putting words in his mouth. Rather, I have sought to understand those words, and wish that he had been willing to be of more help to me in doing so. To whatever extent that I have done so, I apologize.
I should note, however, that even now, I am unfortunately compelled to "fill in the blanks" myself, and to try to guess what Pastor McCain was actually driving at. I would have preferred that he had chosen to spare me the trouble.

Such a proclamation is by definition directed to believers only, since only believers who are the beneficiaries of God's gift of sanctification, and who walk in the good works which God prepared for them beforehand (Eph.2).

It is no part of the preacher's duty, but in fact a betrayal of that duty, to confuse his urging, insofar as it is a proclamation of Law, with the Gospel as a motivation for obedience on the part of believers. This distinction is close to the essence of the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed doctrines of sanctification.

I find it wholly appropriate for a preacher to describe what the Christian life looks like to his hears. If that is what Pastor McCain means by "preaching sanctification," I have no quarrel with him. But I would suggest that that is not what is usually meant by that phrase in our culture, even among nominal Lutherans, and that at the very least the phrase is ambiguous and regrettable.
I would further suggest that it is not only important, but of the essence, that great pains be taken to avoid lapsing into a pietistic model of preaching the Law as a means of encouraging people to turn sanctification into a self-improvement course. The nature of our sanctification is that it is God's doing in us, and it is driven by the Gospel. The function of the Law in the process is that it gives our response of gratitude to the Gospel form and substance. Great pains must be taken, especially in a Reformed culture in which "preaching sanctification" is precisely a matter of harranguing one's hearers into trying harder, to avoid giving that impression. This is especially the case because such preaching is common even in Lutheran churches, and might even be the most common form which "preaching sanctification" takes among us.


As much as I appreciate (believe it or not) some of the things which Pastor McCain has written in this thread, in a very significant sense this is becoming quite outrageous. More than that, it is, in many respects, becoming offensive and rather absurd. I believe that the Guinness people need to be contacted regarding possible world records in the logical leaps which Pastor McCain has made, especially of late. And the trashing which he gave the Eighth Commandment in his last response is truly astounding. I would not have thought it possible to place the worst possible construction on so much in so short a space. I believe that he owes me a rather substantial apology as well.

I said in my very first post that Pastor McCain and I were talking past each other- a point which I also made in our correspondence before I posted the article which began this thread. It is Pastor McCain who saw fit to accuse me, on the basis of no particular evidence, of having fallen into "serious error."

Interestingly, he continues to do so even at this late date, and in an especially inappropriate manner. It should be noted that I referred to Dr. Murray's book in one of my first emails to him after he published his post on the subject as an example of precisely the appropriate relationship between Law and Gospel as regards sanctification. He did not see fit to even acknowledge that allusion at the time, but simply reiterated his position. I find it odd that he now cites the Murray book as if it is an argument for his position, and against my own!

More about the Murray book, as well as the other sources Pastor McCain cites regarding the late Dr. Bertram, should be said. I am fascinated, by the way, that a parenthetical reference to Dr. Bertram has become such a major point in this thread, but there it is.

As I mentioned earlier, I was Bob Bertram's pastor for a brief time. To take a page from Pastor McCain's own book, as it were, I dare say that I may be a little more familiar with the late Dr. Bertram's position than he is. I did not say that I agreed with that position in every detail; though it is possible that I may not have done so, in at least one of my previous posts I had intended to parenthetically indicate that this was not, in fact, the case. In any event,the thrust of my allusion to Dr. Bertram was that our acquaintance prominently involved our mutual stand precisely against antinomianism in the ELCA- a battle in which Dr. Bertram was very prominent indeed. Indeed, Pastor McCain's own reference to Dr. Murray's book, Dr. Murray very specifically makes the point that the faults he attributes to those belonging to the "Valparaiso school" were applicable to the members of that school "to one degree or another."

My precise statement was that Bob Bertram- and this holds true whatever faults one may legitimately find with his theology- was no antinomian. The false witness borne against him by Dr. Murray and others is, I am sure, inadvertent. To lump all the Seminex folks together and throw the book at them is an overwhelming temptation. But when the subject matter is a specific allegation against a specific individual, yielding to that temptation is nevertheless unjust. I felt obligated to point out that this was being done in an exchange in which I was personally involved. It might even be that Dr. Bertram's position moderated as time went on; that is beyond the scope both of my parenthetical (!) remark. The point of that remark was that an antinomian would not have been nearly as prominently involved as Dr. Bertram was in the latter years of his life specifically in the fight against. I continue to believe that my defense of a friend who was being traduced was appropriate, and that any implications drawn from it concerning my own theology are not.


I might also add- again, without any implication of a universal endorsement of his theology- that to lump the late Gerhardt Forde together with the others in that group as regards the ongoing role of the Law in the life of a believer is an injustice even in spite of the fact that he, too used a "Two Use" model.

Please, Pastor McCain, do not jump to the conclusion that I am suggesting that Dr. Luther was a "Valparaiso theologian." Yet it should be noted that he, too, spoke of only two uses of the Law in the only place where to my knowledge, he enumerated its uses. That he believed in a Third Use is demonstrated amply not only by the quotations you cite, among others, but merely by his explanations to the Ten Commandments in the Catechism. The point is that one ought not to lump all persons having something theologically in common together and treat them as universally possessing all the faults of the worst of them. To do so is neither logically nor ethically justified.

Now, having said that, I made it abundantly clear from the outset that I myself believe in the Third Use of the Law, and objected only to that which is conveyed by the expression "preaching sanctification," regardless of the intent with which it is used: the attempt to manipulatively foster sanctification by a preaching of the Law
intended to inspire guilt and a self-induced attempt, in Giertz's phrase, to "pick the fleas off one's fur coat." I am doubtless at fault for having failed to have indicated clearly enough what it was about that phrase which I found objectionable, though I honestly thought that I had made it abundently clear. Otherwise,I do not know how it would have been humanly possible to have expressed the nature of my difference with Pastor McCain more clearly, and that from my very first post.

Never in this entire thread have I said that pastors should not preach about sanctification. In fact, I praised Pastor McCain's sermon, which I stated in so many words (note the italics in the response in which I did so!) that Pastor McCain's sermon did precisely that, rather than attempting to induce obedience through guilt- by "preaching a Third Use sermon."

Now, rather than continuing to play the only "game" which I can observe being played in this thread- a game of "yes-you-said-it-no-you-didn't-" suffice it to say that I specifically asked the question as to how one can avoid preaching a "Third Use" sermon while targeting the proclaimation of the Law specifically to Christians; after all, the Third Use is the only use of the Law
which is unique to believers! In a dialog, Pr. McCain would have answered that question- in other words, he would have attempted to clarify a position which was being misunderstood, rather than immediately resort to making claims that he was being misrepresented. Once again, he placed the worst possible construction on my remarks, and that as an initial response!

It is regrettable to say the least that rather than attempting to help me understand his position- or at least entertaining the possibility that he was being misunderstood, rather than maliciously misrepresented- he chose to take the easy way out, and simply accuse me of putting words in his mouth. It might have been better if he had at least initially taken my failure to understand him at face value, and explained how he was being misunderstood.

For my part, I'll repeat that I found Pastor McCain's sermon entirely appropriate. If that is what he means by "preaching sanctification," I have no problems with his position at all. If he does not, in fact, intend to suggest that specific preaching of the Law be targeted to believers- "preaching a Third Use sermon-" then my objection to his position disappears.

Incidently, I found Pastor McCain's objection to my invocation of Dr. Preus as distasteful as he found that invocation. Pastor McCain's acquaintence with, and intimate association with, Dr. Preus is utterly irrelevant to the issue, which was simply Dr. Preus's assertion that one preaches only the Law, not specific uses of the Law. If, as seems to be the case, Pastor McCain agrees with that statement by Dr. Preus (assuming that I am characterizing
that statemenet accurately, or does Pastor McCain suggest that I'm misrepresenting Dr. Preus in some way?) to attempt to discredit my position by raising the irrelevant issue of who know Dr. Preus's theology better on an issue concerning which no disagreement exists between us as to its substance is both disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

Whether describing good works as something God does for us and motivates within us is Law or Gospel is a subject which might have profitted everyone concerned, were we involved in a dialog rather than a grand jury session issuing indictments; it occurs to me on reflection, and without help from Pastor McCain, that this might in fact resolve the apparent dilemma to which I referred, and which he declined to address. Is that, in fact, your point, Pastor McCain? If so, it might have helped were you to have spelled this out as a means of distinguishing what you were advocating from "preaching a Third Use" sermon.

I don't think the Confessions are particularly ambiguous on this subject. I don't think Luther is, either. Pastor McCain, your use of language has indeed been ambiguous, whether intentionally or not, and you would have done well to have heeded, for example, the implications of the verb "to urge." We all imply, as well as assert. That's one reason why it's important to be careful in one's choice of words.

Your quotation from Luther summarizes precisely my argument very well: sanctification is driven by the Gospel, not by the Law. It is a matter of grace, not achievement.But "urging" is Law language, and your description of what you advocate certainly sounds like Law.

I am certainly grateful that at this late date you did see fit to unpack, at least to some degree, what you meant by "preaching sanctification." It would have made this discussion both shorter and less ugly had he done so earlier- and that surely would have been the most reasonable course. For my part, I made the nature of my concern with the phrase clear from the very outset. Lest any ambiguity remain, I believe that sermons
such as yours are wholly appropriate; that to describe the Christian life precisely as the gift of God is necessary fitting and proper; and that I have probably understressed this aspect of the preacher's office in my own career. I thank you for having brought this point home to me in this conversation, though I think it might have been done more pleasantly and efficiently had we both been quicker to put the best construction on everything.

I don't think that I should have been left quite so much to my own devices in trying to figure out what, in your case, such a construction might be; that if it is indeed the case (as it has not been in my experience) that sanctification is understressed in LCMS circles, one needs to pay at least as much attention to the
problem of essentially Reformed preaching on the subject of sanctification- and that you owe me an apology especially for that last post.
Bob Waters said…
In reviewing my initial post, I see that I cited Dr. Preus not only to make the point that one does not preach individual uses of the Law, but also to the effect that one does not preach sanctification.

Within the meaning Pastor McCain apparently ascribes to that phrase, I withdraw that statement and apologize for it.
Eric Phillips said…
In an effort to understand what this debate is about, I propose the following summary:

McCain: We need to preach the third use of the Law as well as the other two.

Waters: How would you go about isolating the third use? Preach the Law to Christians at all, and the third use will be there automatically.

McCain: You isolate it by talking about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. Third use isn't just an inference drawn from commands; there's a promise of transformation coupled to it. Observe how I do it.

Waters: You do it very well, but when you attribute all this to the Holy Spirit, you're preaching _about_ sanctification, not _preaching sanctification_. The former is good. It lets us know God's work in us. The latter is bad. It says, "Hey lazybones, hurry up and be holy already! God's gonna be sooo ticked."

McCain (missing Waters' subtle phraseological distinction): We ARE TOO supposed to preach about sanctification! How can you say we shouldn't preach sanctification?

Waters (missing the fact that McCain missed his subtle phraseological distinction): I didn't say that. I said it's impossible to preach the third use without preaching the other two right along with it. So if you _try_ to do this, you'll end up tacking legal requirements on _after_ the Gospel, because you'll start AFTER the Gospel has saved you from the first two uses (because this is "3rd-use" preaching), but the first two uses will get smuggled in too, inevitably--and this time there'll be no Gospel conclusion to save you.

McCain: Oh, so it's always Easter and never Pentecost, is that it? We have to preach sanctification! Oh, and I knew Robert Preus and Kurt Marquart, and you sir, are no Jack Kennedy. I mean, no Preus or Marquart. Maybe you've been hoodwinked by Robert Bertram.

Waters: Now you're just getting personal. I still don't know why you think I hate sanctification. Didn't I praise that sermon of yours? I wish you would just explain your position.

Phillips: Let me summarize. (Return to top).

My conclusion: This is all a big misunderstanding. Both men agree:

1) We need to preach [about] sanctification.

2) This doesn't mean telling people, "Now that you're 'saved,' here's a list of things you have to do to make that salvation _stick_.

3) This doesn't mean telling people, "Actually, you might not be saved at all. Let's see how you live before we jump to any conclusions, mmm?"

4) This DOES mean telling people, "Now that God has declared you righteous, He's going to MAKE you so. His Holy Spirit is transforming you into something wonderful. Desire spiritual gifts. Quench not the Spirit. Love these wonderful new things, and flee your old lusts. This isn't the PRICE of entry; it's the PRIZE!


#4 is what Rev. McCain means whether he's talking about "preaching sanctification" or "preaching ABOUT sanctification." He believes one can preach a specifically "third use" sermon not because he's under the delusion that the third use can be hermetically sealed off from the other two, but because the third use is a _description of_ life in the Spirit, not a _prescription for_ it. The legal requirements that invariably tag along do not damn when the whole point of the sermon is, "Since Christ met these requirements for you, the Holy Spirit is now giving you the ability to follow in His footsteps." Or to paraphrase something BOB said, The function of the Third Use is to give form and substance to the good impulse that the Holy Spirit inspires simply by indwelling the Christian.

They're both good Lutherans.
Bob Waters said…
Thank you, Eric, for what I perceive to be a flawless summary of all that went before.

Pastor McCain?
Rick Ritchie said…
Where you speak of Third Use, Bob, I notice that both you and Pastor McCain seem to use it as shorthand for a way of talking about how Christians will hear the Law to tell them what Good Works to do. So far, so good.

But what I notice is that the actual section in the Book of Concord seems to use the term Third Use of almost ANY use of the Law once someone has become a Christian. Where Bob says of the Third Use that it ends up being a "dynamic consequence" of the other two uses, I follow what he's saying. But here is where the language gets tricky.

On the one hand the Book of Concord seems to agree with him. Article VI paragraph 21 speaks about the Law in a way that I imagine Bob would call a Second Use. It shows us our impurity, and one would assume, drives us to Christ. But this is in the section on the Third Use of the Law. So do we call this Second Use since it drives us to Christ? Or do we call it Third Use because of where it is found in our confessions?

I think that the Confessions use the term Third Use to mean any use of the Law with Christians. Individual Lutherans will usually take this one way or another. Either they will, like McCain, assume that since Christians need sanctifying that the Third Use is about Sanctification. Or they will, like Waters, assume that since the Second Use drives us to Christ, any preaching that drives us to Christ is a Second Use, whether used on Christians or non-Christians.

Could we just agree to use "Third Use" as a term to refer to the whole discussion in Article VI, and see where parties agree or disagree with the confessions?
Bob Waters said…
Well, no. :)

The actual question being discussed by FC VI is a rather specific one, which lends itself to just the interpretation you've given it. Like the Formula as a whole, it was both inspired and given form by specific controversies, and written as responses to those controversies, not to abstract theological questions.

Agricola and his followers taught that the Law was not to be preached among Christians at all; that the Gospel worked repentence in and of itself in the regenerated. The Law, Agricola said, belonged to the realm of the hangman, not the preacher.

When FC VI was written, it was written specifically with the intent of refuting a position which banished the Law in all its uses from the Church.

The thing is, the Third Use is the one use which is unique to Christians. As we have seen in this discussion, the First Use (the "hammer," which restrains external wickedness even among unbelievers) and the Second Use (the "mirror," whereby we are shown our sins, and our need for a Savior, thereby preparing the way for faith) apply equally to unbelievers and to the Old Adams of believers. But the Third Use is unique: it applies not to the Old Adam at all, but only to the New Self. It does not coerce, but informs and guides.
Grace, not compulsion, is the engine which drives it (the point I wanted to safeguard in the discussion which has just ended so badly; in my experience, LCMS preachers- and at no point was I aiming at Pastor McCain here- have not always borne that in mind, but have too often resorted to a Reformed-type attempt to induce a guilt-driven obedience).

So it was natural that while the question which FC VI was meant to answer was about the preach of the Law as such in the Church, the actual substance of the Article would primarily concern the one use which was unique to the Church, and found nowhere else. It's the only use which differs, really, in its application to believers and unbelievers (among whom it has none).

Christians (insofar as they are Old Adam) and unbelievers alike are affected by the First and Second Uses, and in the same ways. Only the Third warrants special notice as to its function specifically among Christians.
Bob Waters said…
Incidentally, in order to avoid bearing false witness with regard to Dr. Preus in precisely the manner Pr. McCain suggested, I have edited the text of the main post to remove any indication that Dr. Preus was opposed to "preaching sanctification." I have retained the point that he opposed what I feared- wrongly, it seems- was what Pr. McCain meant by that phrase.
Rick Ritchie said…
I follow.

To my eye, the confessions spoke of the Law as a "mirror" even for the regenerate (paragraph 21), and don't explicitly state that this is Second Use rather than first. I could see the logic of calling this Second Use since it perfors the same function for Christians as non-Christians. But now I see the structural reason within the article. (Kind of glad to see it because I thought your doctrine made sense. I was just afraid it didn't fit the terminology of the Formula.)

What I think the clue is that the first paragraph speaks of "walking in the Law" where it defines the Third Use. Which thread it only picks up in certain later paragraphs. Other discussions are not to be termed Third Use just because they appear in this article.
Bob Waters said…
Because it wasn't the Confessions which assigned names and functions to "uses."

"Hammer," by definition, is First Use, "mirror," Second, and "Guide," Third. That's what the terms mean.
Bob Waters said…
It might perhaps help to point out that the Formula also discusses both the First and Second uses as they function in a Christian's life as well. But that does not make them the Third!

The Third Use of the Law, both in the Formula and elsewhere, is its function as a guide in the life of a Christian. The Second is its function as a mirror in the life of believer and unbeliever alike. The First is its role in restraining the Old Adams of both believers and unbelievers. Period.

That the Formula discusses the First and Second Uses, and their role in the Christian life, in an article devoted to the Third Use of the Law does not make the First and Second Uses the Third.
McCain said…
My comments on Sanctification and the Third Use of the Law caused quite a dust-up in some circles. That is probably because, as I was reminded by so many, the law always accuses. Pastors who say one should not preach sanctification because then that is just preaching law and leaving people with law, not Gospel, are just plainly wrong. I heard people protest and say, "I believe in the third use of the law" but the comments that followed that assurance left me to believe that they have adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding sanctification. I put it to one person that if what he was saying should be the case with Lutheran preaching, then I must assume that Martin Luther was quite a poor Lutheran preacher! Luther was right that the problem here is that some are fine Easter preachers, but terrible Pentecost preachers. There is a new life in Christ and there is every reason to preach about it and tell people about the shape and form of that life, with *clear, practical and specific* mention of the good works we are given to do.

I see this time and time again in our circles. For every action there is an unequal over-reaction. Some run around declaring that "everyone is a minister" and an over-reaction sets in: Only the pastor can speak absolution of sins. Some are afraid of the moralistic blather that we get from much of Evangelical preaching, sermons that are nothing but lectures on moral virtues with God-talk thrown in to give it a pious air, and our reaction? Over-reaction! Avoid sanctification in your sermon. Do not exhort the faithful to live out lives reflecting who they are in Christ...don't get into specifics! It's really sad.


There is no justification [or sanctification, for that matter] for such a view of preaching. Some pastors told me, "I preach the Law and show people their sins and preach it very strongly against sin. They can hear in that the third use as well." So, what their sermons amount to is, "You are a filthy, rotten, no good, sinner. But, Jesus forgives you." But...they dare not go on to describe the Christian life.

The New Testament provides plenty of parenesis, exhortation to holy living and good works. One person told me, "Preaching is not teaching, it is preaching. The goal of preaching is to send everyone home justified." But of course! Didn't our Lord though tell the woman, "Go and sin no more." Woops, how dare Jesus leave her with a word of Law!

If we miss the meaning of Saint Paul's radical view that we are in Christ, that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, and the tension of life in this now/not yet time when we are still sinner, and saint, then we miss the point of sanctification in the New Testament.

Well, I've said enough on the subject. You can read my post and read my sermon on the issue. And, as the great theologian Forrest Gump said, "That's all I have to say about that." Well, almost. A parting quote...to supporters and my gentlemen opponents alike:

If we...try to express the two statements that are made by the words "justification" and "sanctification" in their proper order and in correct relation to each other, we must be ready to assume the cross of the misunderstanding of this paradox...and the attacks that are bound to follow. ...[Anyone who does this] will have to make up his mind to encounter opposition on every hand, to satisfy nobody, even though in fact he has done nothing and proposes to do nothing except to carry the Pauline paradox of Philippians 2:12 seq. to its ultimate logical, theological and practical conclusions."

- Adolf Koberle
Bob Waters said…
Thank you for that contribution, Pastor McCain.
I love seeing a comment war flare out in all directions. Just for the traffic you sent toward the Alley I should award the Ardie, if it wasn't already promised with the post.

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