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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Law-Gospel in Lutheran theology

This distinction is Law and Gospel in the Word of God is vital to understanding how and why I read the Bible, the story of Jesus, and am a conservationist for the environment. This distinction is crucial (literally that means "of the cross") if you want to appreciate God's beauty and wonder. Law and Gospel, in the words of the great Philip Melanchthon, "All scripture should be divided in these two main topics: the law and the promises." (Article 4, Apology of the Augsburg Confession), is all about living life to the fullest as you are created to be.

Our job as Christians, and especially as theologians and preachers, is to always be trying to discover what is Law and what is gospel (promises)? Sometimes God's word challenges, like in a prophetic rant; and, at other times, comforts us as in a soothing prayer. But you never know what's what--it depends upon the situation. That bothers people sometimes.

Isn't it relativistic to say that God's word means one thing at one time and another thing at another time? Well, how else does God become a God of truth, or love, or justice, if God is not willing to speak to our actual human situations? Sometimes we do things that the God of justice desires, so God sends a word of promise (gospel). At other times, we don't. God then sends a word of law. (To send a word of promise/gospel when we work against God's justice would not really help God's purposes much, it seems to me. It would just keep encouraging unjust behaviors and attitudes.)

A lot of Christians, for example, believe that it is unjust to practice non-monogamous, non- married, and non-heterosexual sexual relations. For these Christians only monogamous, heterosexual sexual relations within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage are just. They arrive at such conclusions by reading God's word as law, both the words of the Bible, and the laws of nature. For them, this is God's challenge to us and our sexuality--can we have sexual relations only in this way?

For other Christians, sexual relations outside of traditional heterosexual marriage are part of God's promise. You can, for example, be homosexual and still enjoy sexual relations outside of marriage, because marriage is not allowed to you in many societies. In societies where gay marriage is allowed, now the promise becomes a bit more of a challenge. (Christians have never dealt well with sexual relations outside of marriage; in main part, because marriage is the bedrock metaphor of Christian community, and what Christian theologian, regardless of their sexual orientations, wants to admit there might be some fun outside of Christianity? Hence, sexual fun outside of marriage is a big no-no.)

But no matter how you view marriage, how you discern Law and Gospel in God's Word goes a long way to pinning our behaviors and attitudes. Not just in sexual relations, but all of our activities can have the Law/Promise distinction brought to bear upon it. Should I shop at Walmart or locally? Should I conserve the environment or placate those who wish to destroy it? What do I do with my parents who are now aging? How do I raise my children? All these questions ask us to listen for God's word, and to distinguish between Law and Gospel.

And distinguishing between them is not always easy, if ever...But that's why it's important, because without that distinction, "easy" is just another word for sin.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Here's a sermon that tries to be both a bit of Law and Gospel.

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