Law and Gospel: One Small Step Toward Unity?

I spent a week’s vacation last week with my family behind the “Cheddar Curtain” in Wisconsin, as well as in southeast Minnesota. Though I was riddled with lower back pain and sciatica, it was a restful week spent reading the first half of C.F.W. Walther’s timeless classic, “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.” I appreciate what Concordia Publishing House has done with the “Reader’s Edition.” Walther’s words are brought into easy to understand English. It is as if the man himself were speaking to me.

What strikes me most about this book is the fact that I am once again convicted of preaching non-specific Law and Gospel in my sermons. Walther makes it quite clear that both Law and Gospel should specifically be preached to the congregation. It should be as if the hearer says to himself, “He is talking about me!” The heart of the matter is that the preacher should say this about his own self first of all. Preacher: Preach to yourself! Convict yourself of unbelief, then bring comfort in the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.

This brings me to a modest proposal I have either for the simmering “Koinonia Project” or for possible continuing education among pastors of the Missouri Synod (but is easily adaptable to other Lutheran synods). Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to have most, if not all, circuits in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod reading and discussing “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” for an extended period of time? Yes, I realize this is perhaps an impossible dream. Many circuits in my beloved synod are dysfunctional. Some don’t even meet on a regular basis. Nevertheless, if pastors were to lay aside all malice, buy the book, and read it together as brothers-in-office, perhaps this exercise could begin to teach pastors anew the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

Sometimes it’s best to start at first principles to get a discussion going. Walther’s lectures on Law and Gospel may be the best place to start. All pastors could use a refresher course in distinguishing Law and Gospel. Once this book is read and discussed, perhaps pastors could move on to something else, like Blessed Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will” or, for something not quite as heavy, Henry Hamann’s “On Being A Christian.” Start with works that may bring easy agreement, then work toward differences after mutual agreement on first principles are made. You can’t get more basic than distinguishing Law and Gospel. Perhaps the Reader’s Edition of “Law and Gospel” is the best way to learn how to walk together using the tiniest of baby steps.

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