Friday, February 27, 2009

Remember John Pless's article which appeared in Lutheran Forum in 2005?

The Old Pietist says he gets letters, lots of them, from crazed lay people who are looking for direction from the pastors of the Church of their youth about this crazy new direction of the ELCA. They look at the things coming out of Chicago and it sounds like New Age, pagan stuff. He got a letter this morning that said the fellow read something recently that made him think about something he read before on the Pietist blog and it seems to him that if someone would use this they could completely discredit the new statement and the recommendations. They are located at.

"The excerpts below are what I think should be reviewed:"

The Use and Misuse of Luther in Contemporary Debates on Homosexuality: A Look at Two Theologians (2004) By John T. Pless

Pless on Schroeder and Luther (excerpt)

Schroeder overlooks the fact that "the perpetual aim of the Gospel" is the forgiveness of sins, not the overthrow of natural orders. Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession declares "The gospel does not overthrow secular government, public order, and marriage, but instead intends that a person keep all this as a true order of God and demonstrate in these walks of life Christian love and true good works according to each person's calling."[34] Rather than rightly distinguishing law from Gospel, Schroeder has done exactly what he accuses those who support the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality of doing - he offers another gospel, a gospel unlike the gospel confessed in Augsburg XVI, that seeks to overthrow the good orders created and instituted by God to preserve His world. Underneath Schroeder's deeply flawed law/promise hermeneutic lies an understanding of creation that is foreign to Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. Others have identified the gnostic character in an approach that parades itself as relevant to current challenges for inclusiveness and tolerance[35]. Such a "serach for relevance" writes Christoph Schwoebel "comes into conflict with fundamental dogmatic tenets of a Christian theology of creation. What seems to be needed in not an ethics of creation, but an ethic of createdness which is informed by a theology of creation."[36] An ethic of createdness so prominent in Luther cannot be sustained by the shallow reductionism of Schroeder's approach.

[34] AC XVIII:5-6, Kolb and Wengert, 49-50.

[35] See, for example, Philip Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) and David Yeago, "Gnosticism, Antinomianism, and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Cost Of A Construal" II Pro Ecclesia (Winter 1993), 37-49. Also note B. Wannenwetsch's critique of the "docetic" turn taken by advocates of homosexual unions in B. Wannenwetsch, "Old Docetism-New Moralism? Questioning a New Direction in the Homosexuality Debate" Modern Theology XVI (July 2000), 353-364.

[36] Christoph Schwoebel, "God, Creation, and the Christian Community: The Dogmatic Basis of a Christian Ethic of Createdness" in The Doctrine of Creation: Essays in Dogmatics, History, and Philosophy, edited by Colin Gunton (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1997), 150.

Pless on Forde & Luther (excerpt)

The law, Forde argues, has two uses or functions.[41] In its civil or political use it regulates human behavior. Here the law works horizontally to protect and preserve life. It curbs chaos and reigns in outbursts of immorality that would destroy the fabric of human community. The law, in its second use, unmasks sin coram deo and reveals the wrath of God against every idol. In its civil function, Forde notes that the law does not have to do with so-called "orientation"-which he deems a rather "modern invention that seems particularly pernicious." [42] Here the law has to do with human actions, with behavior. Yet ultimately the law accuses the sinner before God. But these two uses cannot be so easily segregated. "The doctrine of the uses of the law is simply an attempt analytically to discern what the law actually does. Law does two things to us, come what may. It sets limits to sinful and destructive behavior, usually by some sort of persuasion or coercion -ultimately by death itself; and it accuses of sin. That is simply what it does. We have no choice in the matter."[43]

Forde sees antinomianism, in whatever form it takes, as an attempt to find some other end for the law other than Christ crucified. So, for example, in the current debate on homosexuality, he observes that there are those who attempt to change the content of the law. He writes "...when we come up against laws that call our behavior into question we usually attempt by one means or another to erase, discredit, or change the laws. We become antinomians. If we don't like the law we seek to remove or abolish it by exgetical circumlocution, appeals to progress, to genetics, to the authority of ecclesiastical-task force pronouncements, or perhaps just to the assurance that 'things have changed."[44] But the law will not disappear by exegetical attempts to expunge difficult texts from our hearing, or invocation of the latest scientific research to lessen the claim of Scripture, nor will it be house broken in the name of compassion or tolerance. The law cannot be so easily silenced. We cannot bring and end to the law. Only Christ is the end of the law for faith. Forde then proceeds to take up Paul's rhetorical question and answer in Romans 3:31-"Do we then overthrow the law by faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." Faith does not set the law aside but rather lives with trust in Christ alone. Faith does not overthrow the law but establishes "it in its rightful place."[45]

The "rightful place" of the law then continues as it orders human community and as it accuses of sin, driving broken sinners to Christ alone. It is a pernicious misuse of the law/gospel distinction to legitimize homosexual unions or ordinations. Forde writes "The idea that law could be so altered in content that the civil use would be somehow milder or even contrary to the theological use is quite contrary to the doctrine. Law may indeed be applied variously according to the situation but the basic content remains the same".[46] This point can be demonstrated from Luther's treatise, "How Christian's Should Regard Moses." In this writing Luther develops the distinction between the laws of Moses that pertain only to the political entity of Old Testament Israel (ceremonial and civic ordinances) and the commandments of God which are also inscribed in the heart. "Nature also has these laws"[47]says Luther and they are reflected the Ten Commandments.

"It is not enough" says Luther "simply to look and see whether this is God's word, whether God has said it; rather we must look and see to whom it has been spoken, whether it fits us".[48] One may not simply place the Old Testament prohibition against the eating of pork alongside of the sixth commandment. Forde's argument, consistent with Luther, is that the law of God in creation itself orders human existence in the bi-polarity of male and female. Creation itself is structured heterosexually. The nature of sexual intercourse as a one flesh union of two who are other, who are biologically different demonstrates this. "The two become one flesh, a substantial unity in difference".[49] Civil law rightly has a stake in regulating and protecting marriage for the good of the human race.

[41] I will forgo the question of the law's third use in this discussion of Forde. This issue of the third use of law in recent American Lutheranism is well-treated by Scott Murray, Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002.

[42] Forde, "Law and Sexual Behavior," 4.

[43] Ibid. 7.

[44] Ibid. 5. Also see Forde's description of antinomianism as a "fake theology" in his article, "Fake Theology: Reflections on Antinomianism Past and Present" 22 (Fall 1983), 246-251 and "The Normative Character of Scripture for Matters of Faith and Life: Human Sexuality in Light of Romans 1:16-32" XIV (Summer 1994), 305-314; Also Gerhard Forde, A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, edited by Mark Mattes and Steven Paulson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 33-49 , 137-155.

[45] Ibid.6.

[46] Ibid.8.

[47] LW 35:168.

[48] LW 35:170.

[49] Forde, "Law and Sexual Behavior," 10. On this "unity in difference" note Meilaender: "The mutuality for which we are destined is a loving union of those who are other. And for creatures who are finite, historical, and earthly-for embodied human beings-that otherness has a biological grounding. Homosexual acts are forbidden precisely because lover and beloved are biologically, not sufficiently other. The relationship approaches too closely the forbidden love of self" Gilbert Meilaender, The Limits of Love (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987), 129.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am the layman who became the catalyst for the above material being posted on your blog. My only objection to being labeled as "crazed" is that a few words later you also refer to the "crazy" new direction of the ELCA. I submit that you appear to be lumping my "craziness" in along with the same "craziness" that is driving the direction of the ELCA. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I won't mind being labeled "crazed" if you would drop the word "craziness" and instead use a more truthful and accurate word; such as "heretical" new direction of the ELCA. Also, if had you had read my entire email that transmitted the excerpts from the Pless article, you would noticed that I never said that Pless article would "completely" counter everything in the ELCA report.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...