19 October 2010

A Warning From Sasse

Herman Sasse writes the following:

"This word [reformation] had a long history before it was first applied to the movement which had its origin in the posting of Luther's Theses. For more than two centuries before, a reformation of the church in the sense of both a moral-religious and a legal-organizational renovation (renovatio being synonymous with reformatio) was being demanded. Theologians and humanistic scholars, clergymen and laymen, prelates and heretics, reform councils and popes, statesmn and monks had formulated theories for such a reformation and had tried to put them into practice. This was the problem which all of them had in common: What can be done in order that the church might once again become what it ought to be according to God's Will? All of them also had in common the conviction that there are ultimate authoritative norms according to which the church must again get its bearings after it had strayed from the right path; that there are commands which it must again obey; and that this obedience, this heeding of the ultimate authority, and the doing of what this authority requires, represents the reformation, or renovation, of the church. Councils and popes, the theological exponents of conciliarism and curialism, the Hussites, the monastic reformers, the humanists, Erasmus and Zwingli, Calvin and Bucer, Carlstadt and Munzer, together with the reform popes, the Anabaptists of Munster, and the Council of Trent - all of them agreed in this. . . " (Here We Stand, pgs 63-64)

This is the danger. Reform is not a matter of simply finding the right rules and all agreeing to follow them. Reform is not accomplished when we kick the louts out, when we all agree to just say the black and do the red. Even if these are good and salutary, they are not reform. Reform is not a specific "act" that is accomplished, that we agree to, and then we can all go home happy and content for having "won" the battle. Rather...

"Lutheran theology denies this characterization [reform as simply a return to Scripture] of the nature of that great event of church history which makes it a reformation, hits the mark. A renovation of the Church through a return to the Scriptures, through a renewed consideration of what God tell us in the Scriptures - this is by no means the essential characteristic of that event of the 16th Century. Reformation, so understood, is a continuous process. It is a continuous process not only in the sense that this renewal from the Word of God ought to take place again and again, but also in the sens that it is actually happening all the time. Every real sermon contributes to such a renewal. This kind of reformation takes place every Sunday - every day, in fact. For the church literally lives by the Word of God. It would not exist any longer, if it did not experience a renovation by the Word of God again and again. (Here We Stand, pgs 65-66)

And what is this Word that we live by? Is it your rules and laws to keep the wicked out as the reformed would say? To make people behave better - either in service or out? Sasse says no.

" For the church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God's law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins. Hence reformation does not consist, as the Middle Ages beleived, and as has even been believed in wide circles of the Protestant world, of an ethico-relgiious correction, of a moral quickening and a spiritual deepening throughout the chruch. It consists, rather, according to its own peculiar nature, of the revival of the preaching of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake. That such a revival of the church's message must have important consequences also in reviving the life of its members and in renovating the external forms of the church is only natural. But these are only consequences." (Here We Stand, pgs 69-70)

If you want the Church to be a better place - quit trying to come up with new standards and guidelines. Quit trying to figure out who doesn't make it into your holy club, whatever your standards of your own personal holy club are. Simply this. Proclaim Christ for sinners slain. When something doesn't point to Christ for sinners slain, say, "That is off focus - our focus is to be here - upon Christ winning us forgiveness."

Then let the chips fall where they may. It is God's Church, He will tend to it. As for you - proclaim and confess Christ. Be not a new Moses yourself, for you are not called to be one. Be a new John, pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Let your own wants and desires decrease, that the focus on Christ may increase.

You will not make the Church perfect. You will not make people perfect. But you are called to proclaim Christ Jesus, who does justify, and who does make perfect on the last day.

5 comments:

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

Aren't you doing (in this post) exactly the thing you are telling us not to do? Are you trying to make us better preachers and a better church with the "be nots" and the "bes"? There are a lot of imperatives going on here. Some might even call this a lot of "law."

Maybe I'm misreading you, but it just seems like you're giving with your right hand only to take away with your left. You're defeating your own argument.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, let's see. To what extent do I do what I speak against?

1. Quit developing new standards to fix the Church. Not really doing that.

2. Quit trying to figure out who doesn't make it into my level of holiness. Not really doing that.

Those are the specifics on "don't"... I guess by implication we might include:

3. Quit kicking out people. Not doing that.

4. Don't try to find right rules thinking that they will fix things. Well, while one might argue that preaching Christ is a "rule", the whole context of the Sasse quotes imply that the idea of a "rule" is something beyond simply asserting that preachers of Christ ought to preach Christ.

5. Don't focus on laws to remove the wicked. Again, I am not asserting any sort of house cleaning.

6. Do not view reform as a specific, individual, one-time act. No, I'm staying that reform will come only with continued preaching of Christ, and that this must always be.

Of course, one would be quite right in noting that there plenty of Law here. The fact that the title is "AnWarning from Sasse" points out that this is going to be focused upon the Law.

The Law is useful. The Law of God is good and wise. But it doesn't create good, it doesn't fix.

I am not an antinomian, I am not advocating the abandonment of any sort of morality. But focusing on morality does not create morality - the Law is but a mirror bright, that brings the inbred sin to light, that lurks within our nature.

The Law kills - it kills things that need to be killed - but it never revives, never creates or reforms. If we place the emphasis of our attempts at reform upon the Law, it will fail.

This is what Sasse warns us of. Thus, be focused on Christ. (But THAT'S law!!! Yes, it is. If you put your focus and hopes of growth anywhere but Christ, you are wrong, repent of it.)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or as another thought to sum up.

The Law *is* used in the reform of the Church. The problem is too many people want to use the 3rd use to bring about reform. That is the error Sasse warns against.

Reform is brought about by the 2nd use and the Gospel.

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Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Eric Brown writes: "The problem is too many people want to use the 3rd use to bring about reform."

Forgive me if my comment is unwelcome or out of place, but I must clarify the language used here. One does not "use a use of the law." Rather, one proclaims and teaches the law of God, and that law accomplishes what it will with its hearers.