Law and Gospel – Thesis I (continued)

After a long haitus, I’m back from Germany (check out the pictures on my facebook). We left off last time in the middle of Walther’s first thesis. To refresh your memory:

Thesis I

The doctrinal contents of all Holy Scripture, both of the Old and the New Testament, consist of two doctrines that differ fundamentally from each other. These two doctrines are Law and Gospel.

Walther begins his Third evening lecture by discussing false doctrine in contrast to pure doctrine. Listening (or reading as it were) to Walther, you can hear the concerns, not of an Ivory Tower academic, but of a pastor and teacher who cares about the spiritual well-being of his flock (Walther at this time was also pastor of more than one congregation in St. Louis) and the flocks that would be entrusted to the care of his students.

To briefly summarize in the words of Pastor Todd Wilken, host of Issues Etc., “false doctrine hurts people.” Walther said nearly the same thing: “This cannot be taken lightly. False doctrine is poison to the soul. If people at a large banquet drink from wine glasses to which arsenic has been added, they can drink physical death from their wine glasses. In the same way, an entire audience can be subject to spiritual and eternal death when they listen to a sermon to which the poison of false doctrine has been added. People can be deprived of their souls’ salvation by a single false comfort or a single false rebuke administered to them.

That’s quite a bold statement. In fact it is one that is exceedingly relevant for the Church today. All to often we want to give a pass to teachers of false doctrine, whether it is in the music we sing, the curriculum we choose for our Sunday Schools, the books we read, the TV shows we watch, or the speakers we invite to our Church’s functions.

Walther then moves back to the topic at hand, that of the two doctrines of Law and Gospel. First he gives a very insightful warning: “There is a general tendency among young people to value the beautiful language and style of an author more than the content of his writing. You must always have a greater regard for the what [quid] than for the of a treatise.” He says this as a preface to his example of Luther’s treatment of John 6, 7, and 8.

After a lengthy quotation, Walther summarizes Luther: “Luther states that ‘Law and Gospel must be proclaimed, and the two must not be mingled.’ A pastor who is not focused in his preaching preaches himself rather than the Christ. But anyone preaching himself preaches people into hell, even when they say of his preaching: ‘Ah, that was beautiful! That man is an orator!’

Walther then gets right to the point in his instruction to soon-to-be pastors. Every sermon must contain both Law and Gospel. “As soon as one of them is missing the other is wrong. For any sermon is wrong that does not present all that is necessary for a person’s salvation. Do not think that you have done rightly if you generically preach Law in one part of your sermon and Gospel in the other. No. A topical division of this kind is worthless. Both doctrines may even be contained in one sentence. But everyone in your audience must have the impression: ‘He is preaching to me!’” On this point, and from my brief experience I have learned how right Walther is. A pastor can do this, not because he has an ear to the gossip of the town, but because he knows himself. He is a sinner. Often times the best and most hard hitting and most comforting Law and Gospel comes right out of the Word of God that the pastor himself needed to hear that week.

The question remains, how the Law leads people into the horrible sin of despair, even though the Law itself is good and from God. Here Walther takes up Luther again in his Commentary on Galatians (if you haven’t read this Luther Work, ask your pastor to borrow his copy… he should have one). To put it simply the Law causes despair, not because of some inherent evilness in the Law, but the evilness of our own fallen nature. Thus it is the Gospel that speaks to the troubled conscience, proclaims that Christ has taken on the very thing that troubles us and speaks to us only forgiveness and God’s Love.

Finally, Walther closes out this thesis in his Fourth Evening Lecture. His beginning is too good to pass up: “If a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions so that peace may at last be established n the Church, yet if he refuses to budge on even a single point of doctrine – to human reason this looks like excessive stubbornness, even like downright evil intent. This is why such theologians are rarely loved or praised during their lifetime. On the contrary, they are scolded as disturbers of the peace or even as destroyers of the kingdom of God… But at the end of the day it becomes clear that the very determined, unfailing tenacity of these theologians as they cling to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church. On the contrary it is this very attitude that – even amid the greatest dissension builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace.

May God grant the Church more “disturbers of the peace” who will bring True Peace that rests in the clear proclamation of Law and Gospel rightly distinguished.

Quotes were taken from the new Readers Edition of Law and Gospel available from CPH pages 24-32. It is my hope that these quotes whet your appetite to read this wonderful work. It is something that not only pastors, but every Christian would benefit reading. Up next, Thesis II.

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