Full Text for Law and Gospel in Preaching (Text)

1 CONCORDIA 1 THEOLOGICAL "QUARTERLY 1 GC; :L , .,.;,.a . ,,%. - . Y ' t 8 Volume 45 Numbers 1-2 j . S c! $ JANUARY - APRIL 1981 ..................... Law and Gospel in Preaching Gerhard Aho 1 Experience over Scripture in Charismatic Exegesis .............................. Thomas Bird 5 Luther's Translation of Colossians 2: 12 .... Harold H. Buls 13 Augsburg Confession VII Revisited ..... Kurt E. Marquart 17 Repentance and Faith: Who Does the Turning? ........................................... -- Theodore Mueller 27 Baptism and the Lord's Supper in the Life of the Church ............................... David P. Scaer 37 ...... Evangelism in the Early Church William C. Weinrich 61 Opinion of the Department of Systematic Theology ........... 77 Theological Observer ........................................................ 8 1 Homiletical Studies .............................................................. 89 Book Reviews ................................................................... 117 Book Comments ............................................................. 153 Books Received ............................................................. 1 58 Law and Gospel Preaching Cierhard Aho In Scripture God addresses us as a God of wrath and of grace. S o sharp is the tension between these two roles that He often seems to be two gods rather than one. ?'he Ri blc appears to be full of contradictions until we reflect that t here arc in Scripture two entirely different doctrines. Law and Gospel. -1 hrough wrath and judgment God exercises what 1-ut her calls His "iilien work" and through grace and forgiveness His "proper work." "I t is," says Herman G. Stuempfle. Jr., "by His Word :IS Law that God executes His 'alien work' and by His Word ah Gospel that He accomplishes His 'proper work."'l Stuempfle goes on to point out that i t is in preaching that the distinction between Law and Gospel becomes crucially impor- tant. Although Luther had a high regard for the written Word, the church for him was a "mouth house" rather than a "pen house." Oral proclamation is the primary means by which God addresses people with both His Word ofjudgment and Hi.\ Word of grace. As a summons to repent and believe, the Word's natural and proper form is spoken. This is why preachers must be adept at distinguishing between Law and Gospel.2 Any confusion of the two results in the collapse of' both, as Walther demonstrates in his classic. 7'hu P r o j ~ ~ r Distinc.t~[>n Between Law and Gosj>~d.J If the Law is not preached so as to reveal our utter bankruptcy before God. then our predicament is not extreme and grace is unnecessary. If , on the other hand, the Gospel is presented as in any sense a demand upon us, then our situation is indeed hopeless. for now there is no word that can release us from our impossi ble burden.l The end resut t is either false security or abject despair. Both Luther and Walther continually aver that the distinction between Law and Gospel is a difficult one to maintain. I t is J relatively easy to analyze the differences between Law and Gospel as to their content, function, and manner of revelation. But such theological analysis does not lead inevitably to their right pro- clamation in the sermon. To preach them rightly i t is necessary to 9 listen to the Law and Gospel accents in the text before us. We must also let the Law and the Gospel work in us so that they become the categories in which we live, so that, as Helmut Thielicke puts it, we "really exist in the house of the dogmas" we proclaim.5 Here we are life-long learners. I n the sermon the distinction between Law and Gospel can be maintained bv letting these two doctrines function in a correla- tive wav. Tha;is. the mode in which the Law is preached must find its correlate in the way the Gospel is proclaimed. When the Law accuses us of sin. the Gospel is to assure us of forgiveness. When the Law describes our defeat, the Gospel is to affirm our victory. When the Law demands obedience. the Cjospel is to promise power. I . Guilt-Forgiveness The first Law-Gospel correlate is guilt and forgiveness. The La\* q u i r e s not only an outward rectitude but an inward riehtcousness u pure, joyous love ~~~~~~d God and neighbor. We ;ire prone to smug self-righteousness. A11d so the Law is a powel-ful hammer with which God smashes o u t pretensions. The target of the hammer of'the Law is the conscience. When the Law is t r u l y heard i t produces feelings of guilt. The L.aw not only convicts us of sin; it convinces us of our inability to do anything significant about our sinfulness. The 1-aiv does not induce us t o t r!.: h;~rdcr to \+in God's favor. I t shows us that there is no use in t rying at all.') 'l'he l.,;iw as accuser- is a "terril'ying tyrant barring our way to (;od."- T hc Gospel. on the other hand. assures us of' God's forgiveness. I t thercby comforts the conscience. I t deli\.ers us from guilt by announcing that Christ absorbed all the wrath of God on account of our sins. There is no need to resort to glib evasions. flimsy excuses. or boasts oI' moral supc!.iori!y. WC C:!R face the Law which condcmns us and acknowledge its validity without falling into dcspi~ir-. Since there is "no condemnation fort hose who are in Christ .Jesus" ( Rom. 8 : I ) , we can walk before God and each other as Corgivcn sinners. The ch:illenge in preaching the Gospel as forgiveness lies in finding iniaycs besides atonement. redcmpt ion. propitiation. and justifici~tion. i t is not enough to sa).. "Jes~is dicd ibr your sins," "Cod has justified you." or "Christ has expiated your wrong- doing." Unless we flesh out such statements. sharpening the meaning of the Scriptural terms associated with forgiveness. our hearers may not find meaning. We will lapse into jargon and resort to cliches. Pilrables like that o l the Prodigal Son and the Laborers i n the Vineyard not only announce grace but unfold the dynamics of the forgiveness experience. Forgiveness becomes meaninglul to the hearers also as we focus on Christ. on His per.;on work. He is the paradigm of God's gracious action to\tard us. Law and Gospel 3 2. Defeat-Victory A second 1,a~l-Gospel correlate is defeat and ~ictory. The 1-au not only accuses but exposes. It describes the predictinlent we human beings are in because of sin - alicnatlon, hollowness. emptiness, meaninglessness. anxiety, despair. Here the stress is on the horizontal rather than on the vertical dimension. The Law evokes self-recognition. enabling us to see behind the masks with which we seek to hide our real selves, to the boredom, loneliness. and terror within. We thus become more conscious o f our situation and more sensitive to our plight. -The Law evokes self- awareness by mirroring our misery and describing our defeat. The Gospel, on the other hand. affirms our victor!.. The Gospel does not resolve the tensions or remove the cont rirdictions. But in the midst of our doubts and fears and ~~rlcertitintius it makes hope. healing, and certitude possible. For alienat ion i t offers reconcilia- tion, for meaninglessness. purpose. for loneliness. God's presence, for transiency. homecoming. In a ciorld in which tragedy and triumph are inextricably intert~ined the Gospel affirms that in Christ who conquered all the ebil forces too shall conquer. In that affirmation we can go o n confident11 i n the midst of seerning defeat. 3. Obedience-Power A third I-aw-Gospel correlate is obedience and power. The Law's demand that it be obeyed continues to have relevance for Christians. We strive for obedience to Ciod's will. not to earn God's favor but to actualize our faith. Our obedience is a consequence and not a cause of grace. Obedience is not necessary for salvation, but i t is necessary. Paul devotes a substarltial portion of each of his epistles to the subject of Christian obedience. In our concern to avoid works-righteousness u e sometimes by- pass obedience to God's will. I t is our task in preaching to clarify the nature and content of the divine ought. Because Christians have a propensity to become indolent unless incited and guided by the Law, we must in our preaching issue the call to obedience concretely and realistically. We are to speak the Law that Christians might know more clearly how to express their love to God and neighbor. But while the Law can guide. it cannot empower. It is the Gospel that gives power to obey God. This promise of the Gospel's power is never a must, ought. or Ict us. When the imperative mode predominates in our preaching we are rnoraliz- 4 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY ing. It is the indicative mode that best fits the Gospel pr0rnise.x Exhortations to holy living are therefore to be couched in a Gospel framework in which we are reminded of who we are. Because we are God's people, made new in Christ, we can live in obedience to God's will. We can keep on becoming what we are. This Gospel context makes obedience a delight. The sanctified life is a gift. It is God who works in US "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2: 13, KJV). The Gospel does not demand a response of obedience; it creates that response. The Gospel does this by pointing to what God has made us in Jesus Christ and by promising to us the very power of Christ in Word and Sacraments. These three Law-Gospel correlates can help us to maintain the distinction between Law and Gospel in our sermons. Law and Gospel should sound forth in every sermon. Law alone just adds to the "nausea of words." There is no real joy in preaching Law. The Gospel is harder to proclaim than Law, perhaps because images of sin and brokenness seem closer at hand than images of grace. Yet we will strive to preach the Gospel pertinently and abundantly. The Law is only instrumental, it serves the Gospel. The Law remains God's "strange" Word, the Gospel, His "proper" Word. F00TlriOTk:S I . Herman C. Stuempfle, .Jr., Preuc.hing Lurc untl G'os/1~1 ( Philadelphia: Foriress Prcss. 1978). p. 17. 2 . /blcI. 3 . C.F.W. Walther. Tho Pro/~c>r Distincrion Ber~.ec.n Law and Gosi~el (S t . L,ouis: Concordia Publishing House. 1929). pp. 79-89. 4. St uempfle. Pr~ai,hinl: Law uncl Gospel, p. 1 7. 5. Helmut Thielicke, Thp Trouhlr. rc.ifh ~ h o Church (New York: Harper and Row. 1905). p. 5. 6. Lowell 0. Erdnhl. P r o a c h i ~ , f i r ho People (Nashville: Abingdon. 1976). p. 41. 7. St uernpile. Preac.hin,q Law ant1 Go.s/~el. p. 2 1 . 8 . H. C i n d y Davis. Uesign,fi)r Prcu(hing (Philiidelphia: Muhlenberg Press. 1958). p. 209.