Legalism, Licentiousness, And Freedom From Reactionary Aversion Theology

I recently posted an article on Steadfast Lutherans and my personal blog PM Notes titled, “Free The Gospel! The Gospel Does Not Lead To Licentiousness.” In this article my main point was to stress the fallacy that licentiousness is limited or reduced through diminishing or conditioning the Gospel. In other words what typically happens, at least within Modern Evangelicalism and Pietism, is that individuals trace the root cause of licentiousness back to a robust Gospel. As a result, the blame for licentiousness is placed on the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. Somewhere in this line of thinking it is rationalized that if the Gospel is presented as “too free, too unconditional or that Jesus fulfills the law,” that the result will be lax morality, loose living, and lawlessness. It is believed that the freeing message of the Gospel actually produces, encourages and grants people a license to sin. Because of this rationalization the reaction is to wrongly restrict the Gospel and even avert it, so that licentiousness might be prevented or at least limited. In the previous article it was pointed out from Galatians 2:17 that if lawlessness and licentiousness exist, that these perverted freedoms can be traced back to something else other than the Gospel, namely our sinful nature. In other words, a license to sin is not issued by the Gospel, but is forged by the sinful nature that takes advantage of the Gospel.

Frankly, as I have thought about this more and more I believe that this also happens with the Law. In reaction to legalism, I believe there can become an aversion to the Law. For myself, as one who comes out of a church background embedded in extreme legalism, I have often attributed legalism to the preaching and the teaching of the Law. Somewhere in my thinking I believed that God’s moral Law actually produced and encouraged legalism. In other words, this rationale believes that the Law is responsible for bringing forth legalism. As a result individuals react against the Law, even sometimes removing the proclamation of the Law, in order to theoretically avoid the pitfalls of legalism.

Both the aversion to the Gospel in reaction to licentiousness and the aversion to the Law in reaction to legalism have a fundamental and common flaw, they both blame the Law and the Gospel for the error of licentiousness and legalism when in reality the problem is with the sinful nature perverting and abusing the Law and Gospel.

Obviously, aversion to the Law and Gospel are reactionary positions. Therefore, where shall the Christian embed himself in order to not succumb to aversion theology? Peter Kurowski comments on Luther’s perspective on this subject saying,

“…he [i.e. Luther] recognized a theology of the cross that engendered attacks from all sides even though it was God’s greatest display of love. For the legalist, the cross destroys the illusion that we can do something apart from God thus rendering God less than almighty. For the person bent on lawlessness, the cross says ‘look how awful all lawlessness is that the holy Son of God must suffer so for the sin of mankind!’ With the deepest of convictions, Luther believed this message alone could bring about the needed changes in the church, in culture, and in individual lives.”[1]

Kurowski goes on to say,

“Nothing has changed. Only through a paradoxical vision from a meaty, mighty, majestic gospel can the love of the absolute paradox, Jesus Christ, keep societies from being seduced by the self-centered, self-flattering nudity of Lady Legalism and Lady Lawless; the poster prostitutes of secularism.”[2]

My friends the Theology of the Cross is where we find ourselves at rest. For it is only in the Cross that the extremes of legalism and licentiousness are disdained. For it is only in the Cross that we are freed from reactionary aversion theology.

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[1] Peter Kurowski, The Seduction of Extremes (Pleasant Word, 2007), 51.

[2] Ibid.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Legalism, Licentiousness, And Freedom From Reactionary Aversion Theology — 4 Comments

  1. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. […] Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:28,31)

  2. Pastor Matt – thanks for the post. A book I recently read made your point in its first three chapters, “The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther” by Hans J. Iwand

  3. For the person bent on lawlessness, the cross says ‘look how awful all lawlessness is that the holy Son of God must suffer so for the sin of mankind!’ With the deepest of convictions, Luther believed this message alone could bring about the needed changes in the church, in culture, and in individual lives.”

    The “message alone” may shock the regenerate man with legalist or antiniomian tendencies to his senses, yes; but not a culture or a society mired in disbelief, hedonism or Enlightenment love of reason.

    The difficulty, as I see it, is this: The individual (or the society) bent on lawlessness and refusing to recognize that worm on the cross, as the holy Son of God, couldn’t care less. Even the Son’s prayer to His Father asking forgiveness for those driving the nails, did not induce our brotherly reprobates in earshot to return His garment, or to undo the nailing.

    There is no logic to the “awfulness” of the cross. That message, “alone,” still requires a stirring of the heart by the Holy Spirit to see quite beyond what the rods and cones of the darkened eye behold. Those truly “bent on lawlessness” will only perceive a suffocating sap who was caught in a web of betrayal, deceit, and juridical cowardness. The truly lawless … the psychopathic Godless … those with a repressed awareness of personal limits, will think “It can’t, and it won’t, happen to me.”

    If Luther truly believed this “message alone” could revolutionize a culture, it was only a culture already confessing the Athanasian creed as its own, and still capable of shame for its failings.

  4. “In other words what typically happens, at least within Modern Evangelicalism and Pietism, is that individuals trace the root cause of licentiousness back to a robust Gospel.”

    And of course, we find this same “Modern Evangelicalism and Pietism” being preached from LCMS pulpits, too, contradicting the faith of our fathers. May we be blessed with more “Noble Bereans” who listen eagerly for the Gospel from their pastors’ sermons — and then search the Scriptures, to see if what he preached is true! (Acts 17:11)

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