Oh No! I Think We Lost Our Lutheran. Part 2
A post by Neil Hart on homosexuality, LGBT, lesbian and gay stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia.
Hey reader. In Part 1 of this series I drew your attention to the…
The Uniting Church members of the team were cautious about using the ancient texts of the Old Testament to condemn any group of people without undertaking serious interpretation of those passages according to their various contexts. They pointed to the need to be “attentive and respectful of one another as we grow into Christ’s body”. They said…
The presence of the living Lord, as known through Scripture and the church, provides the context within which particular texts are to be understood. In the New Testament itself, Jesus challenged the Pharisees when they wanted to apply the law to him and his disciples’ behaviour of picking corn on the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8). In this instance Jesus spoke a new word into a situation even when it contradicted a part of the scriptures.
As I read this I was reminded of my own study of this passage. Jesus was and is, always and for ever, concerned with the needs of the person in front of him, not a blind and rigid adherence to the law.
The Lutherans on the dialogue team had a different and somewhat surprising emphasis. They said the following about how to understand Old Testament passages which have been used over time to label my gay friends “abomination”.
Humanity at large is the intended reader of the mandates in Leviticus 18, suggested by the Hebrew word for humanity in verse 5. Natural law is in view, applicable among the nations, not simply within Israel.
The prohibition of homosexual behaviour… are not to be equated with the cultic prescriptions that Jesus abolishes. (pg. 7)
What Christ abolished was the ritual law… So the moral law, which is the same as the natural law, continues to remain valid for the church. (pg. 12)
So, it seems that rigid, unbending, for ever and for always adherence to at least certain laws is the order of the day for these dialoguers. I drew attention to the irony that this understanding of scriptural interpretation, far from being Lutheran, is grounded in the Wesminster Confession which is actually a foundational document of the Presbyterian Church, one of the member churches of the Uniting Church in Australia.
I pointed to a 1525 Sermon by Luther where he gives a damning critique of precisely this use of the “Law of Moses”. He couldn’t have put it more directly or simply.
But we will not have this sort of thing. We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer…
…If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service…”
…We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver – unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law.”
The LCA Confessional statements are also clear that scripture should not be divided up into bits that apply always and forever (eternal moral law?) and bits that have been done away with by Jesus (Hebrew ceremonial law). One of the main LCA documents is the Thesis of Agreement. It says…
We believe and confess that Holy Scripture does not only contain the Word of God, but that it is God’s Word as a whole and in all its parts. We reject all attempts made to distinguish between that which is Word of God in the Scripture and that which is not, whether this be done on the plea that Scripture consists of various writings: Old and New Testaments; Law, Prophets and Holy Writings; Euangelion (Gospels) and Apostolos (other New Testament writings); or on the plea that a fundamental distinction must be made in the whole of Scripture between the Law and the Gospel. (Scripture and Inspiration 3)
This same document also gives an explanation of an appropriate way of understanding scripture.
…(Scripture’s) proper and essential content is the Eternal Son of God, the Word who was made man in the person of Jesus Christ …
… We confess that in the entire Holy Scripture, both in the Old and in the New Testaments, even where it is not immediately apparent, God the Father through God the Holy Ghost proclaims the Son, Jesus Christ, as Saviour and Lord.
This lines up perfectly with Luther. We do not have a literal understanding of Old Testament Law as if any of it applied to us in the same way that it applied to the Hebrews. We, like Luther, look to the scriptures to point us to Jesus. We also look to the scriptures, Old and New Testament to give direction. But, as Luther said, in this sense we take Moses as teacher, not as Law giver and the passage in question must line up with the message of Jesus and with “natural Law” .
In an excellent article published in the ELCA’s Journal of Lutheran Ethics Professor Thomas Pearson teases out this idea as he discusses Luther’s use of the term “natural law”. For Luther, natural Law involved human reason mixed with and tempered by the golden rule. Christians should use natural law when reading Moses but they also have an extra and more valuable resource, the ethic of love given by Jesus… Love God and Love your neighbour as yourself.
These become important elements in understanding what is arguably the most important confessional documents of the Lutheran Church, Luther’s Catechisms,
Luther certainly used Moses in his Catechisms. But it was not a retelling of the Law as it was given to the Hebrews. Take, for instance the Sabbath Commandment.
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
As regards this external observance, this commandment was given to the Jews alone…
This commandment, therefore, according to its gross sense, does not concern us Christians; for it is altogether an external matter, like other ordinances of the Old Testament, which were attached to particular customs, persons, times, and places, and now have been made free through Christ.
But to grasp a Christian meaning…note that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians… but first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.
Secondly, and most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we come together to hear and treat of God’s Word, and then to praise God, to sing and pray.
There it is. Freedom to completely ignore the commandment as inapplicable to the Christian. And yet when mixed with reason and the law of love this same command gives helpful direction and instruction as if it came straight from the mouth of Jesus.
Or the next commandment
Honour Your Father and your Mother.
Luther sees no need to repeat or even explain the law of Moses requiring that a disobedient and rebellious child should be stoned to death. (Deut 21:21) He, like us, would no doubt consider this both unreasonable and unloving. Rather, Luther expands on the common sense value of loving, honouring, respecting and obeying ones parents as gifts from God and sees this value extended to others in positions of responsibility and authority.
God… admonishes and urges by commandments that every one consider what his parents have done for him, and he will find that he has from them body and life, moreover, that he has been fed and reared when otherwise he would have perished a hundred times in his own filth.
Therefore it is a true and good saying of old and wise men: Deo, parentibus et magistris non potest satis gratiae rependi, that is, To God, to parents, and to teachers we can never render sufficient gratitude and compensation. He that regards and considers this will indeed without compulsion do all honor to his parents, and bear them up on his hands as those through whom God has done him all good.
The point is, Lutherans have never divided scripture up into those Laws which apply universally, always and forever and laws which were merely ceremonial and done away with by Jesus. Luther and Lutherans have always kept all scripture together in the one consistent basket.
Which laws from the Old Testament apply to us today? None of them. Not one. For , as Luther said, If I accepts one law of Moses than I must accept them all.
Which laws from the Old TestamentT apply to us today? All of them. Because in one way or another all scripture points us to Jesus.
The Lutheran-dialoguers’-Wesminster-seperation of scripture into bits that stand for all time and bits that don’t is really very strange. It seems to have been press-ganged into service for the purpose of separating one group of people from the rest in order to apply the law of Moses in a hurtful and damning way to that group.
I believe the question to be quite simple. It is the question or test that Luther and the confessions would apply to all our teaching.
Has this teaching helped to connect people with Jesus in a way that is helpful for them or has this teaching alienated and hurt them. Has this teaching given them a greater understanding of where they fit into God’s world and plan of salvation or is it a heavy burden that has been placed unnecessarily into people’s lives?
Lutheran dialoguers: If that is the test then you appear to have failed.