The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part VI


The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

Let me illustrate with a couple of particularly embarrassing examples in my own church’s history.

     (Believe me, you’ve got some parallels in your church, too – no matter which church you belong to.) Two of the lowest points in Lutheran church history have to do with both the Peasants’ Revolt and with our persecution of the Anabaptists in the 16th century. The Peasants’ Revolt deeply frightened Luther (Luther very much feared anarchy as the worst of possibilities). In a letter to the German princes, Luther ordered them to use the sword and to slash and slay anyone who was out on the streets behaving like a revolutionary. (He quickly wrote a letter that appealed to the princes to ignore his first letter, but it was too late!) The peasants, thinking that Luther was backing them, were astounded when they learned that Luther had ordered the princes to “cut, slash, and kill them.” They felt totally betrayed. A real dark chapter in my church’s history.

     In a similar way, to the degree to which Anabaptist Christians represented any sort of “Spirit-given” ecclesiastical anarchy, one that had no place for church order, Luther unleashed on them, too. Lutherans took part in baptizing such people by immersion for about 10 minutes (Reformed and Roman Catholics went along with us in this, but I’m just speaking about my own church here).

     Reprehensible? You bet! Do I want to defend such executions to one of those “angry” at the church? Not a chance! Hate it as I might, I need to agree with the person with whom I am speaking. Same with some of the anti-Semitic things Luther himself wrote in his later life.

     I said that I recommend that we “cop to” some of the evil things the church has done. We might be tempted to start by trying to balance the charges, viz., mention the wonderful things the church has sometimes done. I recommend against that, too — at least in an evangelistic/apologetic conversation. Later on, we might speak about a book like Al Schmidt’s Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Concordia) that catalogs just how our western world’s every corner was affected to the good by historic Christianity. Not now, however.

     But, since hearing Sam Kinison’s brother, I don’t want to leave the matter there. I hope you don’t either. You and I “copping to” the evil done by the church still leaves the “angry one” satisfied, justified in his anti-Christic state, and still miles from the Gospel. If the law has done its work on him, I want next to talk to this guy about the Gospel. I want to talk about Jesus’ claims – and if I can, particularly about Jesus’ claims regarding what He was going to do for sinners (including me and including him!) on the cross.

     Now you Lutheran pastors, don’t talk to me at this point about the Scriptural truths he would learn in your Pastor’s Inquirers Class about the sacraments! This kind of a guy isn’t going to come to your Inquirers’ Class to learn about the sacraments – or to learn about anything else! He’s too angry! Same for you Reformed pastors. This is not the time to start talking to this guy about the Scriptural truths he would learn in your Pastors Inquirers’ Class about the finer points of predestination! This kind of a guy isn’t going to come to your Inquirers’ Class to learn about election – or to learn about anything else! He’s too angry.

So what am I going to do?

     I’m going to talk about the Gospel as if it can be believed in totally apart from the church! You say to me, “Rosenbladt, that isn’t how Scripture presents the church!” I answer, “I know. But first things first! This guy needs Christ, Christ as priest, Christ as having bled for his sin, Christ as giving eternal life to sinners for free.” And in his mind, the church is what is keeping him or her away from Jesus Christ! If he comes to trust Christ and Christ’s sin-bearing death, the guy might later on deal with passages about “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together . . .” But not now. To this guy, the church and its behavior is the “scandal!” (The real scandalon, according to Paul, is that we are sinners under condemnation, and cannot do anything to make things right with the holy God. The true scandalon is that Someone Else is going to have to satisfy God’s justice for us because we are unable –and unwilling – to do that).

     To put it another way, we sinners are in need of a divine Mediator. And without a divine Mediator, we are doomed. Scripture says, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” At the judgment, the law of God will justly declare us condemned. And the Gospel is that God the Son freely agreed to die our death for us, to suffer our deserved condemnation and doom in our place. And He didn’t just agree from eternity to do that. He actually did it. On the cross. For free! And for each one of us. (Rom. 5:8)

     If your friend can see for just a moment that the truth of the Gospel does not turn on Christ’s church, but only on Christ’s resurrection from the dead, it might be the first time he has ever thought such a thought. Will he bend the knee to Christ as His Lamb and Substitute? Who knows? But you will have done him or her a great service. Would that all people who are angry agnostics or atheists were clear that their animosity toward the church for giving them nothing but morality as soon as they became Christians is really understandable. That we would have that same reaction. Believe it or not, that’s progress. I’ve sometimes said to people who reject Christ and His death as for their sin, “Well, you are one of the few I’ve met who has really rejected the Christian Gospel for the right reasons. Congratulations for that! But I recommend that you keep thinking about it. And keep asking the question, “Was Jesus really raised from the dead, or was He not?” Because if Jesus Christ was raised the third day, that is the best reason in the world to believe that He can make good on His claim that His death was a death for your and my sin, and that His cross and blood will be enough for anyone who dies still a sinner. Me. You.

     Lastly, we might be surprised to find that this guy is a Christian. He’s just vowed never to let a church do to him ever again what was done to him earlier. Do you know a church that won’t? (Don’t answer too quickly. There are not a lot of these – no matter what the “label” on the door.) Most of today’s churches will just re-inflame his anger, giving him “law-Gospel-law.” Find one for him instead that will speak to him of Christ—after he is a believer. If you don’t know one, tell him that. At least it’s honest.

Go Back to Part V of The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Home of the Lecture and Permissions Can be Found at 1517 The Legacy Project

Citation link to White Horse Inn, Inc. blog mentioned above where I obtained the transcript and other media for Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”  – Dad Rod Thursdays – The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

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The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part V


The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

Secondly, let’s talk about those alumni of Christianity who are not sad but “mad.”

     It is not all that uncommon. I find that these “angry ones” have usually not switched from Christianity to another religion. Nor have I found that they have switched from one Christian denomination to another. Instead, I find that they are angry at any and all religions and anyone who represents any religious position — but especially Christianity. And that is natural. After all, it was Christianity, as they see it, that “used them up and threw them away.” I suppose the most visible examples would be men like the late comedian Sam Kinison and ex-Roman Catholic George Carlin. You may (and probably do) know better contemporary examples than I know. All of us are in the vicinity of people like this at one time or another, maybe know a few of them as friends, or have at least met one or two in passing. Why do I say that? Because such people are, as I said, not all that uncommon these days.

     Now I certainly can’t this evening exhaust the dynamic involved in such people (again, I’m no clinical psychologist). But I still think a lot of the “mad alumni” also often have a nameable history, just as the “sad alumni” have one.

People like this often speak as if Christianity “baited and switched” them — just like a used car salesman “baits and switches” a young couple at a car lot.

     Christians promised them a new life in Christ in such a way that it was going to be a life of victory, God’s designed route to earthly happiness, a new, divine power that would solve the problems so obsessing them. Then, when the promises didn’t seem to work the way they were supposed to, the church put it back on these believers that they were somehow “not doing it right.”

  • They weren’t reading their Bible enough.
  • They weren’t praying enough or praying right.
  •  They weren’t attending enough church meetings.
  •  They weren’t making right use of the fellowship.
  • You name the prescription, you “fill-in-the-blanks” any way you want to.
  •  Some pastor or layman told them that Christianity was failing them because “they weren’t doing it right.”
  • And often, these believers took that counsel to heart and set themselves to trying to “do it better” or “do it right” so that “it would work.”

But again, Christianity seemed “not to deliver on its promises.” It “didn’t work.” As they see it, they “gave it every shot” and Christianity “failed to deliver.” And then, to boot, they were called guilty “for not doing it right!” These people feel not just disappointed; they feel betrayed, “conned.” And they are deeply angry about it.

Or take another example: those who heard much of Christ and His saving blood and cross in an evangelistic meeting, became Christians, and then heard very little of that wonderful message in the week-by-week pulpit ministry of their congregation. Instead, they heard recipes as to how to conquer sin — over and over and over. These people also often “give up on Christianity.” And they are angry about it! Really angry. And I don’t blame them, really. Nor should you. The church has an obligation to preach the Gospel to these people on a weekly basis. And deep down, they somehow know that. But if that isn’t what happens, they react. I would, too! After all, what does the church have for a man, a woman, a child other than Christ & His work on their behalf? Not much! Not compared to the Gospel of Christ preached as crucified for them and for their sin, Christ risen from the dead for their justification. Not compared to being absolved, not compared to eating the body of Christ given into death for their sin and drinking the blood of Christ shed for their sin.

Is there anything we can do that is of genuine help to such angry “alumni” of Christianity?

I think so. And the answer I’m about to give you comes right from a guy close to one of those angry ones. From whom? From Sam Kinison’s brother, Bill! How so?

One night I happened to be watching a “60-minutes” interview with Bill Kinison.

After Sam was in an auto accident on a lonely highway near Las Vegas, he lay dying. Bill was cradling Sam’s head in his arms as Sam died. Some time later, the interviewer asked Bill about Sam’s hatred of Christianity. And Bill looked at the interviewer and said, “What? You think Sam was not a Christian believer? You’re wrong! Sam died as a believer in Jesus Christ. You’ll definitely see Sam in heaven!  Sam never was angry with Jesus. He was angry at the church!” And I jumped out of my chair and yelled, “That’s it! There it is! There is the answer – and from Sam Kinison’s brother!”

What did I mean, “That’s it!”?

We can respond to the angry and say something like, “Oh, oh, oh, I see! You’re not angry at Jesus Christ. You’re angry at the church!” “Boy oh boy, join the club! So am I! And so are a whole bunch of other Christians!” [Here, if we had time, I would digress on how Christians angry with Christ will be saved by His cross, too. But this is not the time for that.]

Now this response takes more than a few minutes of thought on our part.

That is, “Am I ready to say such a thing?” And that’s not an easy question. For many of us—especially for us clergy—this question can be really difficult. Why? Because there is a predictable psychological profile of the clergy, including our closer relationship with our mothers, but not with our fathers. For most of us pastors, the link between Jesus and the church (a mother symbol) is so tight, so identical, that to be angry with mother church is the same as rejecting Jesus! It is not. But I’m recommending, at least in conversation with “the angry”—that we, all of us—identify with the anger of these people at the church, that we say, “Well, of course you are angry! With what it did to you? It would be insane not to be angry at it! I just misunderstood. I thought you had dismissed Christ, were rejecting His death for your sin. Thanks for clarifying.”

Again, I know that this is tough stuff. It raises questions in us that are not easy ones—particularly for us pastors who were closer to mom than to dad (and, unfortunately, that is most of us pastors). But I recommend that “we take the hit.” It’s not unlike the case with something like the Crusades or the Inquisition. I think most of us don’t want to defend everything the church has done in the past—at least I hope we don’t. And, believe me, the “angry” alumni are listening closely to see whether we are going to defend the church as much as we defend the Gospel. I recommend that we do not defend the church as much as we defend the Gospel! I recommend that we immediately “cop to” horrendous things done by the church. (And, for those of you who are Lutheran, this is not the time to try to catechize this guy into the finer points of Luther’s “Two Kingdoms” theory!)

To be Continued in The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part VI

Go Back to Part IV of The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Home of the Lecture and Permissions Can be Found at 1517 The Legacy Project

Citation link to White Horse Inn, Inc. blog mentioned above where I obtained the transcript and other media for Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”  – Dad Rod Thursdays – The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part IV


The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church

by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt

     As C.S. Lewis put it, “. . . there are going to be a lot of surprises” at the eschaton. There are going to be people there that we just don’t imagine will be there (think of the non-Israelite that C.S. Lewis purposely put in heaven at the end (The Last Battle))! Boy, did that ever “get the goat” of some Christians! But read what Aslan said to him, “I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here?” And then tells him why. There are going to be in heaven believers in Jesus who never darkened the door of a church. (That’s no encouragement not to attend, not to be baptized, not to receive the Lord’s Supper. It is just saying that faith in Jesus saves — saves all by itself, “nude,” “apart from works.”) There are going to be scads of Roman Catholics, people who never listened – not really – to the theology preached by their priests, but just believed in the sufficiency of Jesus’ blood — no matter what their priest was preaching. People of all sorts who just believed in Jesus and His blood shed for them, for complete payment for their sin. There are going to be call girls, there are going to be drug dealers, maybe even a couple of lawyers! There are going to be members of the cults who never really “got” what the cult leaders taught, but just trusted that Jesus’ blood and cross was for their sin and for their hatred of God, for their wickedness. Surprises, lots of surprises. It bugs me to say it, but there might even be a couple of I.R.S. employees, maybe a congressman or congresswoman. (Everyone has some class of people they really don’t want to die as believers in Jesus! Those are mine!)

     But, to put it closer to home, there might even be a theologian or two who believed in Jesus, “bet the blue chips” on the blood of Jesus and nothing else than, or in addition to, that blood. There might even be a despicable leftist socialist college professor or two! Academics who daily sold out the wonderful American Constitution and instead filled their students’ heads with statist drivel and mush. In heaven we will meet cowards, scum, “bottom-of-the-barrel”, reprehensibles, jerks, deadbeat dads, murderers, all sorts of rabble. And they died believing in Jesus and His blood as their only hope.

Ask yourself: Is sola fide true or is sola fide not true in the case of failing Christians?

     Is Paul’s letter to the Galatians true or no? And if Galatians is true (and it most certainly is, but an apologia for that is not our subject tonight!), can a failing Christian be saved simply by the cross and blood of Christ? Or can he or she not be so saved just by Christ’s shed blood alone? If you answer, “Yes, he or she can,” well, that’s the message that’s gotten lost on most “jack Christians” — at least the ones I’ve met.

Many times the law has already done its work on them.

     Boy, has it ever done its work on them! They need more law like they need a hole in the head. The law was (is?) killing them. True, Paul says, the law kills. He writes as if that is what the law is for. The law is designed to crush, to crush human pride and supposed self-sufficiency toward God. It is intended to kill, designed to kill. The Biblical connection is law/sin. What gives sin its power is the law. And moreso, the law is designed to make the problem worse! It is to be gasoline on an already blazing fire! (Want to have sin run out of control? Go to a church in which the law is preached, then the law is preached again and more stringently and deeply, and then the law is preached even more!)

     Think of John Lithgow’s portrayal years ago of a law-preaching pastor in the film “Footloose.” Didn’t you just cringe? I mean even if you’re a Southern Baptist, you had to cringe at that character. Drawing the Christian “line in the sand” at the possibility of a high school dance? Lithgow could not listen to his daughter even if hearing her would have instantly resulted in world peace! Man, was he righteous! In “Footloose,” Lithgow’s wife should have been the pastor!

     [Don’t quote me! I could be thrown out of the Missouri Synod for even joking about such a thing! You Missouri Lutherans, that’s a joke! Chill out! Or, as Phil Hendry says in his radio ad, “It wouldn’t hurt you to laugh!” You non-Lutherans, all of this is an “inside joke.” Ask your Lutheran friends later why that’s a joke in our circles.]

     My point is that the whole film “Footloose” was “Jesusless” — no cross, no atonement, nothing of Christianity, really. Same as “Chariots of Fire” — completely Christless, completely Gospel-less!

     Back to the point, for many of the “jack Christians” we’ve met, the law is all their ears ever heard! For them, the Gospel often got lost in a whole bunch of “Christian life preaching.” And it “did them in.” So they left. And down deep there is a sadness in such people that defies description. If you and I don’t understand that, we should! They were crestfallen. So great their hopes, so devastating the failure.

C.F.W. Walther said that as soon as the law has done its crushing work, the Gospel is to be instantly preached or said to such a man or woman — instantly!

     Walther said that in the very moment that the pastor senses that the law has done its killing work, he is to placard Christ and His cross and blood to the trembling, the despairing, the broken.

  • “Be of good cheer, my son. Your sins are forgiven.”
  • “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
  •  “Fear not, little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
  • “Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden. Take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
  •  “And He, when He comes, will neither break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoldering wick.”
  • “When You return, remember me.” “I tell you, this day you shall be with Me in paradise.”
  • “It is finished!”
  •  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . .”
  •  “. . . He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree . . .”
  •  “God made Him to be sin who Himself knew no sin . . .”
  •  “. . . for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
  •  “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that [faith in Jesus is] not of yourselves, but it is a gift of God, lest any man should boast.”
  •  “And to the man who does not work but trusts the One who justifies the wicked, his faith is counted as if it were righteousness.”
  •  “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law.”
  •  “. . . knowing a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”
  •  “But now a righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
  •  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • “There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

To be Continued in The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church | Part V

Go Back to Part III of The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Home of the Lecture and Permissions Can be Found at 1517 The Legacy Project

Citation link to White Horse Inn, Inc. blog mentioned above where I obtained the transcript and other media for Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”  – Dad Rod Thursdays – The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

The Debate: Part III

Return of the Jedi

Yeah so, you are probably wondering why in the flippity flip flap flew for a post on Law and Gospel am I now featuring images from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi?  My logic and reasoning is as follows.

A.  This is Part III of this post about my paper/thesis for the debate between Law and Gospel distinction.

B.  Return of the Jedi to the original 1983 audience was effectively Star Wars Part III…everyone knew that there were 3 episodes before the “1st” Star Wars (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) that came out in 1977.  So in the spirit of symbolism, with this being Part III of this series I went with what I thought was the greatest Part III of any Trilogy I could think of and logically the first that came to mind was Return of the Jedi.  Yes I even considered Rocky III, Rambo III, Missing in Action III, Robocop III, Alien III, Jurassic Park III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and Back to the Future III.  The closest that came to Return of the Jedi was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which was basically Indiana Jones III

C.  But I already had Indy’s image featured as an image for a previous blog and now I have images for Back to the Future, Ghost Busters and now Star Wars so my Childhood nostalgia is at an all time high and I am feeding off of it like a Walker in rural Georgia.


darthCan you imagine the horror if this was the scene that followed….

darth jar

Ok enough of the Tom Foolery and hysterics….onto the meaty finish to THE DEBATE….picking up right from the Debate Part II we find ourselves here:

The other side of the debate we will refer to in this paper as the “distinction side.”  One of the main reasons why this side affirms that there is a distinction of God’s Law and Gospel is in how the Bible has passages that contain portions of it as “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” and “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ” or more applicably “come to me and I will give you rest.”  When affirming that there is a distinction between Law and Gospel, there is no need to weaken or cheapen either.  God’s Law remains at full value, crushing the sinner, pointing to their need for mercy and God’s Gospel remains at full value giving the sinner the mercy that the Law ignites the sinner’s cry for it.  Not only does it maintain both the value of the Law and Gospel but it maintains the credibility of both as well.  There is no need to read into passages, practicing in eisegeses in order to lower the demand of the Law to a level that we might be able to hope to fulfill or lower the level of grace to the level that only devout self-righteous people can claim as being deserved. Bruce Narramore, professor of Psychology at Rosemeade Graduate School of Professional Psychology addresses the reality that many Christians understand and are familiar with the nature of Gods’ Law and Grace.  Yet Narramore writes that,

many Christians fail to understand, however, that the law is much more than “the law of Moses” and that grace extends far beyond salvation.  Law and grace in their pure forms are actually two systems of relating, with their own set of governing principles.  Law, the more evident system in the Old Testament times, was a preparatory system leading to the grace principles revealed through Christ.  Outwardly, law and grace may produce similar results; inwardly, however, they are diametrically opposed.[1]

Another reason for taking this stance is that it points the need to Christ alone.  There is no hope in fulfilling the Law because sinners cannot and will not fulfill the Law.  Making this proper distinction points the sinner to the one who has fulfilled the Law, Jesus Christ.  Paul Ramsey, associate professor of religion in Princeton University, writes that Norman H. Snaith accurately displays an argument that displays what is necessary to understand when distinguishing what is meant by the righteousness that is needed by man and how he obtains it.  Snaith is quoted to have said “it cannot be maintained that a man can offer unto God any true righteousness of his own, so he is regarded as offering a fictional righteousness, or someone else’s righteousness.  The fact which is regarded as fixed is that God must have some sort of righteousness before He saves.[2]

Some of the examples for rejecting the “no distinction” side of the debate is that the “no” side promotes a cheap version of God’s Law.  Because it points to a dependency on the Law in order to be counted righteous, there is a need to not display the Law in its full sinner killing value.  The no side must not suggest that the Law is impossible to be appeased by the sinner, or there is no hope offered at all.  In order to keep the sinner focused on the need to fulfill the Law, a cheaper version must be presented in order to lead the sinner to believe that he or she is potentially and eventually capable of living within some area of approval by God for their law keeping.  Another reason why the “no” side is rejected is because it promotes dependency on self.  This is the idea that the individual is responsible for doing better, trying harder, living righter as a result of working and fighting to keep the Law.  A third reason for rejecting the “no” side is that it is suggesting that sinners in their work, actions, living can somehow merit God’s favor or his grace.  But as stated earlier, if God’s favor or grace could be merited by the response of the sinner, then it is not grace that the sinner is receiving but something that is earned.  This is rejected because it is understood that God’s grace is unmerited favor.  This side sees the “no” side a promoting the doctrine that one can merit God’s favor or cause God to act based on their doing for God and fail to see that everything is riding on what God has done for them.

The “distinction” side also points out that the error in confusing the Law and Gospel is nothing new.  Rev. Dr. Randrianasolo, pastor of the Malagasy Lutheran Church writes that “Eugene F. Kulg reports that Augustine, while ferociously fighting Pelagianism, “by teaching that faith is formed or adorned by charity was confusing Law and Gospel, thus justification and sanctification?”[3]  The similar point of confusion of the understanding of the Law and Gospel is observed in the Enlightenment.  Randrianasolo points to Mark C. Mattes observation of the Enlightenment and accurately displays that its views of human will are another form of the bondage of the will.  Randrianasolo writes that Mattes refers to Forde when he is quoted to say “That we are bound to the goal of self-expression.”  Instead of evaluating secular political or social commitments in the light of Scripture and the chief article, theologians attempt “to reinterpret the law-gospel distinction in the light of the prior, secular commitments.”[4] Randrianasolo provides the observation that Ronald R. Feuerhahan has meticulously studied the confusion of the Law and Gospel.  He identifies that a different Gospel is preached where what is communicated is a “general Christian message, good works in general, love, justice and peace, sanctification….”[5]  In the article written by Randrianasolo he provides a block quote from Feuerhahn that would be beneficial for this paper.  This quote reads to further explain what is meant to be understood by the confusion of Law Gospel as it reads to say:

Today there is a tendency to separate, not merely distinguish, this “one” faith.  In this way emphasis is given to a common or one faith with reference to the fides qua, that is, the “faith in the heart”, but with no reference to the fides quae, its content. In fact, the latter is not only deemed to be unnecessary but even disruptive.  This is evidence of a type of pietism, which is still present, that is, an emphasis on faith as something in us.  This idea can be chronicled in the modern ecumenical movement as a way to overcome the confessional barriers.  Thus, for instance, very early in the history of the movement, the expression “unity in diversity” came to be used.[6]

Randrianasolo closes out this section in his article by emphatically stating that

there is no church doctrine at all in the confusion of the Law and Gospel.  Everything is relative.  The Holy Scripture itself has neither solid authority nor a bound unity.  It is no longer a foundational text for life and for the context.  Here the context itself contests the text.  Either confusion in Law and Gospel or a clear distinction between Law and Gospel reflects the way one approaches and interprets the Holy Scripture.  That is a hermeneutical challenge.[7]

Randrianasolo writes that according to J A O Preus, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is a doctrine that was formulated and developed within Lutheran understanding.   Randrianasolo presents the observation that “Luther as early as 1532 already gave two sermons on the proper distinction of Law and Gospel.”[8]

In as sermon given by Luther he states that “Man, driven into fear and anxiety by the preaching of the Law, hears this Gospel message, which, instead of reminding him of God’s demands, tells him what God has done for him.”[9]  Jane Strohl, Associate Professor of Reformation History and Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley writes that Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 displayed the distinction between a theologian of the cross and a theologian of glory by stating

He deserves to be called a theologian…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.  A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.  A theologian of the cross calls the thing which actually is.[10]

The history of the doctrine of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel is seen above.   It is not something “new” in a sense for the individual today, but for one who has grown up in a church and has never heard this proper distinction being revealed it will surely feel like a new concept altogether.


After reviewing both sides of the debate, in order to make sense of the command passages of the Bible that are linked with punishment and or threat along with other passages that reference the good grace of God that is unmerited by anything that the sinner does it is determined that there must be a distinction between God’s Law and Gospel and both need to be preached in their full weight and full value.  For this assignment, it is important that it is also the side that says “yes” to a distinction between God’s Law and Gospel also maintains the integrity of God’s character.  God’s holiness stays intact; unblemished by recipients of His grace.  God’s grace stays intact, unblemished by the call for recipients of His grace to fulfill the full weight of the Law.  We are reminded again of what Luther identified in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 as what the Law say and what Grace says.  Kathryn A. Kleinhans, professor of religion at Wartburg College, identifies what Luther writes and then further extrapolates what is to be understood by Luther’s confession.  Kleinhans writes that in thesis 26 of the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 Martin Luther states that “the law says, “do this”, and it is never done.  Grace says, “believe in this”, and everything is already done.”[11] Kleinhans responds to this affirmation presented by Luther with the following

This passage emphasizes several key differences between the law and the gospel.  First, the law takes the form of an imperative (“do this”), instructing our behavior, while the gospel invites us to trust, evoking our faith.  Second, and perhaps most important, the law shows us our inability to keep it (“it is never done”), while the gospel is received as a gift (“everything is already done”).  The law shows us God’s will, but it does not give us the ability to keep it.[12]

The need to make the distinction between the Law and Gospel is crucial in accurately discerning the full character of God.  This concept assists in revealing that God is not confused or two-faced but is full of righteousness, holiness, love and grace.  It is therefore the belief that the thesis has been proven in that when not accurately identifying Law and Gospel, God’s character is not accurately identified either.


                [1] Bruce Narramore, “Discipline by Grace,” Journal of Psychology & Theology 7 no. 4 (Winter 1979): 264, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [2] Paul Ramsey, “God’s Grace and Man’s Guilt,” The Journal of Religion 31, no. 1 (Jan. 1951): 21, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [3] Joseph Randrianasolo, “A Hermeneutical Challenge: The Context Contesting the Text,” Lutheran Theological Journal 46, no. 1 (May 2012): 65, accessed March 28, 2015.

                [4] Ibid., 65.

                [5] Ibid., 65.

                [6] Ibid., 65.

                [7] Ibid., 65.

                [8] Ibid., 66.

                [9] “Assorted Sermons By Martin Luther,” PDF page 36, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, last modified March 3, 2015, accessed May 8, 2015,

                [10] Jane Strohl, “Law and Gospel in Preaching,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 39, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 164, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [11] Kathyrn A. Kleinhans, “Law and Gospel in Context-Response to ‘A Hermeneutical Challenge: The Context Contesting the Text’.” Lutheran Theological Journal 46, no. 1 (May 2012): 73, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [12] Ibid., 74.

The Debate: Part I

Ok, so if you have read my previous posts you just might have come away with the impression that I am not a super serial guy.  You’ve probably read some of my most outrageous ridonculousness and thought “Surely, you cant be serious…” Which of course my instant and immediate response would have to be…..HAVE. TO. BE.


You might have even thought that I take theological matters or working through the mystery of doctrinal doodads and hickeys with the sophistication of this guy


Hey, look….cut me some slack and give me a little mercy…God’s grace has me hysterical at this point in my life and I am the first one to admit it…One morning I was minding my own business beating myself up over not being able to concentrate and be spiritually disciplined enough to stay focused on God for more than five minutes without thinking about how delicious coffee is, thinking myself a worm, thinking myself a failure, thinking God was disappointed in my lack of concentration to have God basically tell me “well….run!” followed up with His laughing into my soul….which to me communicated in a very clear and specific way that He loves me, that I am his, I am his child and that he does not hate me and is not displeased with me all because of Christ and well that had me all like a Tasmanian Devil whirlwind of laughter with tears flowing down to my running shoes that surely had anyone who drove by me that morning thinking I had just broken out of the funny farm…I am sure it sounded like laughter or uncontrolled sobbing because well….it was both…

But in and with all the seriousness that I can fight to muster I would like to over the next few posts present something that I wrote for Seminary in regards to the Law Gospel debate.  I can’t get enough of this topic.  Partly because it is fresh and new to me.  Mostly because it has helped me to understand difficult passages in the Bible and how to reconcile them with passages that sound like good news.  All of which has set me free on a level that I can’t even fathom, like all of a sudden realizing the complete liberty of the thought that there are no speed limit signs on the roads.  I finished reading a book by John T. Pless titled “Handling the Word of Truth” which helps in better understanding a foundational book on The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel written by this guy

Walther_cfw_oldDr. C.F.W. Walther

I am also waiting for my copy of this to come in the mail (Amazon you beautiful beast you)


So without any further a do (that’s a lie) here is the first part of what I wrote for Seminary which is tilted “The Debate.”

I have been inspired by many of you on the twitter….I tried very hard to remember where I heard original thoughts before and give credit to where and who I heard the original thought from…If you see something in the below that you said to me and I am posturing as if it was me that came up with it, forgive me…I am a liar and a self-glory-hog (is this disclaimer I am writing right now me seeking glory for acknowledging my faults before man? Maybe? Yes? No? I don’t know!! I don’t trust me!  Wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death!!?) so the odds are high that I forgot everything altogether and chose to just go with it anyway.  It was not my purposeful intention of not pointing to you, however it is by the grace of God my intention to point to Christ.  Have mercy and may what is below point you to Christ.


     There has been a debate raging as far back as the Reformation over how to accurately distinguish between God’s Law and God’s Gospel.  In more succinct terms it would be a debate over what is the response for the Christian; to do something or to rest in what Jesus has done already.  The side of the debate that affirms that there is not a distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel displays the understanding to say that both God’s demand for holiness and his promise of grace in the work of Christ are both in play for the Christian.  They will reject the idea that there is no responsibility for the Christian to do their part when it comes to how they live their life as a true follower of Christ.  The side of the debate that affirms that there is a distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel are meaning to display that by grasping this concept will assist to illuminate scripture in its proper understanding.  That the call of the Law to be perfect is a call for the sinner to cry out for mercy which He receives in full from Christ.  It rejects the idea that the Christian life revolves around the work of the Christian and instead revolves around the finished work of Christ.

How one affirms either side will have to reconcile how either side of this debate will impact how the Character of God is reflected.  If there is no distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel, if both are applied in their full measure to the sinner, what does it mean about God and who He is?  In same fashion, if there is a distinction revealed between both Law and Gospel, what does it mean about God and who He is?  For the most part, both sides of the debate emphasize that their desire is to display the character of God accurately according to scripture.  It will only be the opposing views of the debate within the realm of Christianity that we will be focusing on.  This paper will display both sides of the debate, the reasons for why they affirm their stance and why they reject the other.  The thesis of this study is to bring attention to the fact that the character of God is reflected in the Law/Gospel debate.  How one understands the character of God is greatly influenced by how one responds to the Law/Gospel debate.  This study will introduce the main responses in this debate and what impact each response has in the understanding of God’s character.  It will be further revealed how a misrepresentation of God’s character is given whenever certain theological traditions fail to respond biblically to the Law/Gospel debate such as a dependency on self, meriting God’s favor, and displaying the concept of cheap grace/cheap law.  Weighing the merit of each response in this debate is important in understanding how one views the character of God.  This will have a direct impact on how the Christian will live their life as a follower of Christ.  Knowing what the Bible says about the character of God and how his character is displayed in His Law and the Gospel will paint a more accurate picture for the Christian and for the Christian faith.

The Debate

     Throughout this section this paper will attempt to identify and flesh out the debate as it is understood as a response to the thesis.  The first understanding of the debate that needs to be addressed is to display how it has a connection with the character of God.  The character of God is illuminated by His Law.  God’s Law is the perfect standard given to display what it means to be Holy.  Not only does it reveal what actions are necessary to avoid in order to refrain from becoming unholy, but it also reveals what actions are necessary in order to be holy.  God’s Law is not simply abstention from unholy acts but perfect performance in righteous acts.  Dr. C.F.W. Walther writes that the Law has the final aim of man’s salvation but it cannot lead man to salvation.[1]  God’s Law is revealed in the Ten Commandments, Levitical law and other commands given throughout the Old Testament.  It can also be found in the New Testament, passages that display Jesus revealing a deeper understanding of the value of the Law that it is not only the outward actions of the person that defile Him according to the Law, but that it is also the heart that can defile one that would justify condemnation from the Law.  Jesus said in Matthew 5::27 that “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  This is one of many passages that illuminate the full weight of the Law.  Which also assists in illuminating a characteristic of God; His Holiness.  His righteousness and justice are also directly related to His Law.

With God being completely perfect, His Law is completely perfect, void of any unrighteousness.  Apart from functioning as a proclamation of God’s holiness it functions as a means to rightly condemn all who fall short of it.  This has a direct effect on sinners.  What does God’s Law mean for sinners?   Quite frankly it means death.  Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death.  The sinner by being a sinner and sinning earns death.  God in his divine holy character, not only hates sin but because He is holy and just He must punish sin.  He is an infinitely holy God and the just punishment for what amounts to cosmic treason is infinite wrath for an offense against Him.  Anything less than his full wrath for the sinner is not justice at all.  Walther writes that “the Law tells us what we are to do.”[2]  However, because sinners are not able to perfectly fulfill the Law, therefore, God’s Law means death for the sinner.  Not because the Law is evil, but because sinners are evil.  The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  God’s character, His glory, His holiness and His justice are illuminated by the full weight and value of His Law.  No mercy, no compromise, nothing less than 100% perfection.  Any 1% less is in foul of the Law and deserves God’s wrath as a just response.

This brings us to the next question.  What is God’s Gospel?  The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.  Walther writes that “the Law issues only command and demands.  The Gospel, on the other hand, only makes offers.  It means, not to take anything, but only to give.”[3]  It is that Jesus living the life that we should have, dying the death that we should have and promising us the resurrection that we will have one day, all of which are given to us as a gift of God’s grace and love.  In a divine act of mercy, God through Jesus atones for those who are given faith in him.  Jesus atones for the sin of sinners.  He consumed the complete and full just wrath for sinners on the cross.  Those who are in Christ, have been given salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  The gospel is God’s one way love to sinners.  It is Jesus acting as our substitute.  Sinners in Christ, are given the righteousness of Christ.  All of the wrath for the sinner’s sin has been purchased by the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Hope in Christ is what saves.  The Gospel can be found in Romans 5:8 as the good news that God chose to display his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died us.  It is also good news that all of this is a gift of God’s grace, given not earned.  We are justified by faith alone.  Romans 4:5 states that “and to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

What does this mean then about the characteristic of God?  Is God “winking” at sin by giving sinners a free pass?  By no means, look at the cross and observe the cup of God’s wrath for sin consumed by Christ.  God’s justice and holiness and Law are still upheld.  Christ fulfilled the Law for us and died the sinner’s death for us.  God’s justice is upheld and his love and mercy for us are proclaimed.  God’s love, grace and mercy are on full display in the Gospel.  To observe God consuming the punishment for our transgressions so that we might be reconciled to him is an act of love unparalleled.  The fact that we are not expected to earn or work towards deserving such a gift is also a display of his merciful character.  The idea that we could ever earn his favor would effectively stop it being his favor.  The moment that His grace can be deserved, is the moment that it stops being grace and is wage.  Being in Christ, being adopted as a child of God, covered with the righteousness of Christ means that not only are we counted as if we never had sinned but we are counted as if we had always obeyed.  That is what the Gospel means for sinners.  God’s love is on full display in His Gospel.


                [1] C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 7.

                [2] Ibid., 9.

                [3] Ibid., 9.