Issue 26-1: Lutheran Triumphalism

Introduction

— by Paul Lehninger

According to a quotation making the rounds recently, “Success without decency is a hollow victory”or perhaps a “hollow triumph”? The articles in this issue provide valuable insights as to the nature of Lutheran triumphalism, its relative decency, and its contemporary relevance, especially in light of the forthcoming Reformation 500 observances.

For an explanation of the cover,  click here .

For an explanation of the cover, click here.

Michael Albrecht takes us all the way back to Reformation 100 and carries us through the centuries to the present, demonstrating how in the past century Luther and the Reformation were reimagined to suit Unitarian and Communist ideologies. His description of J. P. Koehler’s term for triumphalism, the “hurrah sentiment,” which causes individuals to substitute a charismatic leader for the gospel as a means of salvation, is especially chilling during election years.

Compelling leaders who champion pseudo-theologies that obscure the gospel have always been with us. Arnold Koelpin argues that a misunderstanding of the two kinds of righteousness lies at the heart of this deception, and he sets forth the example of liberation theology to demonstrate this.

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A more prevalent pseudo-theology in America today is that the music used for worship is a means of grace, or at least a necessary handmaiden of the gospel, and Luther has been quoted and misquoted to support this view. Too often the lines have been drawn between those who believe that the pews will empty unless the language of worship is accompanied by “contemporary” music, and those who are convinced that only chant and Baroque-era compositions have the Holy Spirit’s stamp of approval. Both are forms of triumphalism, and James Crockford does the church a great service in his analysis of the three senses of music. His reminder that, while music is a great gift  from God, like any gift  it can be abused in this sinful world.

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For those of us who have fond memories of the Synodical Conference, Mark Braun and Erling Teigen provide evidence that triumphalism is a debilitating disease that can contaminate even confessional Lutherans when they ignore the symptoms of their illness. Missouri is still medicating (as must we all), while the ELS ultimately had to amputate the gangrenous limb.

While Michael Albrecht took us back to Reformation 100, Carl Springer turns our attention all the way to pagan Greece and Rome. Springer’s pagans dealt seriously with death as well as life.  They celebrated their triumphs thoroughly, but in the background they were always conscious of death, the memento mori. Of course, they had no concept of the Lutheran theology of the cross. This is the only valid answer to the question of Lutheran triumphalism. Surely, “In the midst of earthly life snares of death surround us,” but even more surely, “Who there my cross has shared finds here a crown prepared; who there with me has died shall here be glorified.”


A Word about the Cover

— by Aaron Moldenhauer, Senior Editor, LOGIA

The anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 is a big year for Luther and Lutherans. All kinds of Reformation celebrations are being planned, and many are already underway. Perhaps what will be lost in the celebrations is Luther's own emphasis on humility. Some of the last words from his pen said that "we are all beggars," a final reiteration of his point that it is God who works good in his church through his word. Man is merely the instrument through whom God works, and Luther would remind us that this calls for a healthy dose of humility.

LOGIA XXVI-1 Cover.jpg

The Epiphany issue of LOGIA examines times when Lutherans have forgotten this point and fallen into the danger of triumphalism. The articles in the issue provide opportunity for confessional Lutherans to reflect on our own approaches to confessing the faith, and to ask if we have always done so with the humility befitting fallen sinners redeemed by Christ's grace and enlightened by his Holy Spirit. We feel this is a salutary reminder at the beginning of a year of Luther celebrations.

The cover image is meant to be a visual way to reflect on such themes, and to inspire thought and reflection. How does one picture Lutheran triumphalism? The cover image is one attempt to do so. It is not meant to portray a faithful pastor whose doctrine and life is normed by scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

The artist—a strong confessional Lutheran—had in mind those who heroically profess to be Lutheran while paying mere lip service to the Book of Concord. These are the kinds of Lutherans whom Kurt Marquart criticized for using the Confessions as a kind of "rabbit's foot," ignoring the content of the Confessions and stripping them of binding force while working for triumphal unions based on empty words about confessional subscription (Anatomy of an Explosion, Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1977, 66-76). The image is an intentional parody of the heroic realism of socialist art. We feel that it is an effective image to lead Lutherans to look at their own attitudes and to reflect on how they might continue to speak the truth in love to those inside and outside of the church. And, personally, I find it striking and thought-provoking that the cross is pushed to the background of this image and nearly invisible.

 

Issue 25-4: Simul justus et peccator

Introduction

—by Aaron Moldenhauer

Some years ago in Bible class I led a discussion that as Christians we are simul iustus et peccator. Class members readily and heartily acknowledged that they were sinners. But the group struggled to see themselves as saints and declined to call themselves such. Saints, they reasoned, were holy, while they were sinful. They could not look past their sin to see the righteousness of Christ that is theirs through faith, the righteousness by which they are accounted saints. By only confessing half of the equation, they demonstrated that they had not internalized the concept of being simul.

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While instructing parishioners about being simul is challenging, this instruction pays rich rewards for the person who grasps the simul. Parish pastors do well to offer this instruction both in Bible classes and in private counseling. The simul is especially effective for those who, for one reason or another, question their faith. Pointing the parishioner to the father in Mark 9:24 who cries “I believe, help my unbelief!” can bring immense comfort to one who recognizes that his faith is weak. Walking through Romans 7 with a parishioner beat up by legalistic preaching is an effective means to show them that they are Christ’s, even when they see sin in themselves. Conversely, the simul allows the pastor to preach to the self-righteous that they are sinful without driving them to despair. The simul remains an excellent resource for pastoral care and theology. This issue of LOGIA offers several perspectives on the simul in Lutheran theology.

The simul is deeply rooted in Lutheran theology. From an early date in his life, Martin Luther delights in placing paradoxical statements beside one another. The simul is one instance of Luther’s paradoxical pairs, appearing early in his career. These apparent contradictions appear at least as early as The Freedom of a Christian (1520), where Luther famously asserts that the Christian is both a perfectly free lord of all and a most dutiful servant, subject to all (LW 31:344). In the same work Luther describes the exchange between Christ and the Christian by which Christ shares in the believer’s sins while the believer receives Christ’s righteousness. As Christ and the believer hold all things in common, they are both sinners and righteous at the same time (LW 31:351–53). This identification of the believer as both sinful and holy begins in Luther and persists in Lutheran theology as the simul iustus et peccator. The persistence of this concept is seen clearly in the authors analyzing and using it in this issue of LOGIA.

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In the first article of this issue William Cwirla draws connections between scriptural expressions containing the content of the simul, Luther’s thought, the Formula of Concord, and the parish. His article analyzes how the simul functions in the Formula’s articulation of the third use of the law, and how this relates to conceptions of spirit and flesh, old and new, inner and outer. Cwirla shows the relevance of these doctrines for the pastor. His contribution highlights the often-overlooked truth that the pastor must first see himself as simul. Then Cwirla continues to discuss how parishioners and the church are also simul.

Steven Paulson’s contribution to this issue examines the two kingdoms in light of the simul. Paulson highlights how the simul cuts against natural intuition and experience. By looking at the two kingdoms in light of the simul, Paulson identifies temptations to turn the church into an instrument for social action, a move that can collapse the two kingdoms into one. His article offers a unique look at the role of the church in liberal democracy by applying the simul to the question of the two kingdoms.

The simul Christian lives in a creation that is also simul. Our lives as simul iustus et peccator are lived in this simul creation, and the implications of this setting are explored by Joshua Miller’s analysis and application of Oswald Bayer’s thought on the rupture of the ages. Bayer’s idea of the rupture highlights how sin closes ears to the message that God speaks through creation. The result is that God is hidden, along with his eschatological answer to sin. By casting the believer and creation in this light, Bayer opens up room to understand the Christian life as lament — an insight offering rich applications in pastoral care.

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The simul offers one way to examine developments within the understanding of the office of the ministry. Mark Menacher’s article follows this tack. Menacher cautions against the dangers that come when the simul is forgotten in thinking about the ministry, both on a personal and an ecclesial level. Menacher develops this argument by using Luther and the Confessions as resources for thinking about the ministry and the simul.

Menacher’s article leads into Kristian Baudler’s essay on Luther and the priesthood of all believers. Baudler argues that Luther espouses the idea, and contends that recent efforts to argue that Luther does not hold to the priesthood of all believers serve an ecumenical agenda.

Together, these articles offer a rich array of material for contemplating the simul. The themes of simul and office continue into the Forum section, with diverse voices from Lutheranism represented there. Taken together, the writings in this issue of LOGIA provide resources for a Lutheran perspective that sees oneself as both sinner and saint, and then speaks the gospel to others who are likewise sinners, those to whom Christ grants his forgiveness and so accounts them saints.

Issue 25-3: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Introduction

—by Wade Johnston

This issue was edited as the rhetoric of the United States presidential election primary season came into full swing. Election seasons are often contentious and seldom pretty, but this year’s is vying for a spot in a class all its own. Perhaps as much as any other election, Christians have a vested interest in this one. Much has changed — and more quickly, perhaps than at any other time in the lifetimes of those reading this.  The Bible has not changed, and the doctrine of the two kingdoms remains the same, but culturally and societally life for the American Christian, who holds dual citizenship in the temporal and spiritual kingdoms, has taken on a different sense and feel. It is a salutary thing, then, to review what Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions have to say in this regard and to wrestle with how we apply Lutheran principles to new circumstances.

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A particular strength of this issue is that it helps the reader to see how Christians have wrestled with and applied two-kingdom theology not only in our contemporary American context but also across time and space. Seeing the church wrestle with the two kingdoms in various circumstances and settings helps us identify our own personal, cultural, and contemporary blind spots. Moreover, the experience of fellow Christians in the past and across the globe provides lessons for our own setting.

This issue begins with a call from Gene Veith to remember that God, while hidden in the temporal realm, is nevertheless active in that realm — active especially in his Christians, who need not, indeed dare not, neglect their citizenship in this realm. Through their vocations Christians serve for the benefit of their neighbor as masks of God, through engagement in the world and not withdrawal from it. The temporal kingdom is the realm of the law and reason, and yet the same gracious God who provides us with second- and third-article gifts in the spiritual kingdom graciously, mercifully, and undeservedly provides  first-article gifts in the temporal kingdom.

Michael Berg unpacks the natural human desire for life, liberty, and happiness. From Aristotle to America’s fathers, the desire for happiness and the good life has been a driving force. To what extent people have control of the pursuit of the same and what exactly happiness is has been debated, but that happiness (whatever it may be) is something worth having and to be pursued in so far as we are able has been a given. As Berg reminds us, though, only the cross can provide true, meaningful, and lasting perspective, helping Christians to see meaning even in suffering, which is inescapable in this life and undermines all human ploys for the good life (summum bonum) and enduring temporal happiness.

My own article explores Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms and how he responded to the changing political atmosphere of his day. Challenged by a potential imperial invasion, Luther, Melanchthon, and the Wittenberg circle were faced with the very stark question of whether it was appropriate for Lutheran princes and imperial cities to mount a defense. Informed by the jurists of constitutional arguments — and yet, to the jurists’ occasional consternation, steadfast in their commitment to the Scripture’s teaching regarding obedience and just war — they carefully addressed the issue of resistance, which was later taken up by Magdeburg in its legendary opposition to the Augsburg Interim and Leipzig Proposal.

Voldemārs Lauciņš expands our horizons with lessons from Latvia in the previous century. While this may be new ground for many readers, they will find it fruitful. It is good to realize that the temporal realm is organized differently elsewhere and presents various challenges and opportunities throughout the world.

Jack Kilcrease provides valuable insight for Christians as they wrestle with the end of Christendom. His solution is delightfully unoriginal: law and gospel. This is a most welcome call not to lose sight of the church’s task and message in the light of new challenges. Moreover, Kilcrease reminds us that there are opportunities in the midst of contemporary tumult. After tracing how we got to where we find ourselves today, he notes that even persecution can serve for the benefit of the church, as it has in the past. This need not be an age of retreat and decline. What this age needs is nothing other than what sinners in every age have needed, whether the culture bore vestiges of a bygone realization of it or not: Christ.

Finally, changing gears and focus, Frederic W. Baue, like Lauciņš, expands our geographical horizons, this time to Ethiopia. Readers will be thankful that the gospel is being preached, taking root, and charting its course in Ethiopia.  They will also, keenly aware of the challenges it faces here in America, not be surprised that it faces challenges abroad as well. We rejoice that confessional, liturgical Lutheranism is making inroads and we pray that the Lord will allow it to continue to do so in Ethiopia, America, and throughout the world.

We are excited to bring you these articles in print. We pray that you are edified by them, and we look forward to receiving correspondence. Life in two kingdoms is as complicated as ever and yet the Christian is blessed to live and love both God and neighbor in each. We are not the first to struggle with two-kingdom theology and, unless our Lord comes soon, we will not be the last. We are not alone; throughout the world Christians are struggling to live as citizens of two realms and to serve well in both. This issue strives to remind us of that and to inform our own thinking by casting a broad view geographically and temporally.