No Law for You (Part Two)

This is part eight of a series of twelve newsletter articles written by Rev. Neil L. Carlson for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Rev. Carlson is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and Zion Lutheran Church in Sidney and Chappell, Nebraska.

In reference to the Antinomians who reject the third use of the Law (the “rule” as many learned it or “guide” as the new catechism calls it) the reformers said, “The law of God serves (1) not only to maintain external discipline and decency against dissolute and disobedient people, (2) and to bring people to a knowledge of their sin through the law, (3) but those who have been born anew through the Holy Spirit, who have been converted to the Lord and from whom the veil of Moses has been taken away, learn from the law to live and walk in the law.”[1]

This second Antinomian issue arose after Agricola and was promoted by Anton Otto, Andrew Poach, Andrew Musculus and Michael Neander. “Poach denied that the Law has any promise of salvation.”[2] Upon first hearing, one might agree with such a statement, until he is reminded of the active obedience of Christ. Christ fulfilled the Law in the place of all men. Therefore, in the case of Christ, there is salvation by the Law—a doctrinal point in which our salvation rests.

“In sermons on the Letter to the Galatians of 1565 Otto rejected the Third Use of the Law.”[3] This is most ironic because the Letter to the Galatians teaches the exact opposite. After speaking of the freedom Christ has given us from the requirements of the Law, St. Paul says, “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:1-2 ESV). As long as we live in this sinful world, the redeemed are sons, who possess the inheritance, but are not completely free to do as they will. The redeemed, in this life, are under the guardian of the Law, because the sinful flesh still clings to us in this life. The third use of the Law guards and guides the redeemed until that day when Christ returns and grants us entrance into the kingdom to come. Then, and only then, will perfection be attained by mankind. Then, and only then, will mankind no longer have a need for the Law. As long we live in this world, the redeemed need to hear the Law to guard them and lead them in the way of the Lord.

Though the word “Antinomianism” may be new to many Lutherans, it has plagued the Missouri Synod for the better part of the last century. The Higher Critical method predominately taught at the St. Louis Seminary in the middle of the last century promoted the idea that parts of the Bible were true and other parts were not, which is contrary to 2 Timothy 3:16. Historically, the first parts of the Bible to be rejected were miracles, because the human mind cannot understand them.

Once this approach is accepted, which parts of the Bible do you think the sinful flesh of man will reject as false? The parts that say, “God is love”? Or the parts that say, “Thou shall not…”? Gospel reductionism has led to a form of Antinomianism. Gospel reductionism is when the Gospel (the good news of our salvation in Christ) is not only the material principle in the Church, but also the formal principle, or the source of all doctrine. When the gospel in the narrow sense forms all doctrine instead of the Bible forming all doctrine, one will end up rejecting the Law of God for the sake of the Gospel. The doctrine of the Law is not against the doctrine of the Gospel. These two doctrines, though distinct, work together. A prime example is rejecting God’s Law against unionism (cf. Rom 16:17, 2 John 11, 2 Cor. 6:14-16, etc.) for the sake of reaching the lost with the Gospel. Preaching the Gospel to all nations is a fine and God-pleasing endeavor, but it cannot be done at the expense of God’s most Holy Word. To do so is to reject the Law for the Gospel, and St. Paul teaches us that the Law is good if used lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8).

“According to Luther, a commingling of the Law and the Gospel necessarily leads to a corruption of the doctrine of justification, the very heart of Christianity.”[4] The old Antinomianism of Agricola turns the Gospel into Law to bring contrition. The rejection of the third use of the Law uses Gospel to guide Christians into holy living. The 20th century Higher Critical Antinomianism removes the Law and thus leads to no need for Jesus to justify sinners. If there is no sin, there is no need for a savior from sin. The Millennial Antinomianism does find a need for a savior, but not from the sin of the hearer. A savior is needed to save us from the sins of others. This leaves the sinner secure in his sins and denies the Gospel of justification by grace through faith, for a gospel of rectification (God making everything that was wrong in the world right again). Luther was wise in his understanding that a confusion of Law and Gospel will destroy the article of justification. As stated in a previous essay in this series, justification is the article upon which the Church stands or falls. The Church must always preach that we receive the forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.[5]

St, Paul rightly states, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:8-9a ESV). As man, even regenerate man, remains sinful in this life the Law is still good and still needed to serve a purpose. May the Church never forget this.

[1]Tappert, Theodore G.: The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959, S. 563

[2] Bente, 396.

[3] Bente, 395.

[4] Bente, 375.

[5]Tappert, Theodore G.: The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959, S. 30

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