“So why aren’t you a Lutheran?”
That was the question asked to a candidate being examined for an interim pastoral position on the floor of Washington Presbytery last night. The statement of faith that we were given prior to the examination was thoroughly Reformed (and quite well written), but his biography informed us that he was raised Lutheran, completed his undergraduate studies at a Lutheran school, and split his time in seminary between a non-denomination seminary and a Lutheran one. Thus the question from a fellow presbyter.
I found his response quite interesting–and not entirely what I expected.
He shared a personal story about how he had really come to faith through a Presbyterian church, but upheld the “family tradition” of attending a Lutheran college. Feeling the call to ministry, he even studied at a Lutheran seminary. “But”, he said, “it did come down to theology.”
Specifically, he shared how the Lutheran approach to the Law felt incomplete to him. Luther–and most of those who bear his name ecclesiastically–emphasize what are called the first and second “uses” of the Law. The ‘first use’ views the Law as that which reveals our sin and drives us to Christ while the ‘second use’ views the Law as the means by which sin is restrained in society. (see the links to my previous posts for more)
This wasn’t enough for him, he said, and it was when he encountered Reformed thinking and the positive approach that it takes to the Law–often called the ‘third use‘–he was captivated by this robust view. Simply put, the ‘third use’ (a distinctive of Reformed theology) views the Law as normative for those whom the Spirit has brought from death to life in Christ. It reveals to us how we are to live in grateful response to the One who rescued us from the grave. (again, see my previous post for more)
The Law indeed still does expose our sin and drive us to the Savior and is also the means by which sin is restrained in society, but this candidate shared that his experience with Lutheran theology and piety produced a frequent sense of penitent guilt and intense spiritual introspection. It was only when he understood the Reformed view that he could see the Law as also a good and heavenly blessing which reveals to us the way in which we are to live as we grow more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.
Related to this was his dissatisfaction with Luther’s “two kingdoms” view (i.e. the separate spheres of the spiritual and secular kingdoms) and the captivating vision he found in Reformed thinking. Whereas the former can produce an insulated and separatist mentality in the church, the latter looks to the transformation of society through the proclamation of the Gospel and the advancement of the kingdom that Christ is building by Word and Spirit. Because Christ is Lord of all, the spiritual/secular divide and the idea that one is subject to him while the other is not is a false dichotomy.
I found his answer to be a refreshing reminder of one of the distinct aspects of Reformed thought. There is a joy to be found in the Law when we see it as the means by which we faithfully serve the Lord and are continually conformed to the image of our Risen Lord. I suppose I’ve often taken this view for a given because I’ve grown up with it, but it was encouraging to hear how invigorating this understanding can be if we’ve never heard it before.
I’m grateful today for that reminder and for the corresponding challenge: to once again humbly seek the will of the Lord who has exposed my sin and revealed his design for my life through his Law.