Last Saturday and today in the “Basics of the Christian Faith” class, we spent some time looking at the comparison between the theology of many Protestant groupings and Lutheran theology. It doesn’t take long before the Protestant theologies propose a “world view” or even more precisely a “philosophy” of their theology. So how do Lutherans compare?
I noted last week that Lutherans don’t have a “Lutheran philosophy” per se. Rather we live with the tensions presented in Scriptures in terms of paradoxes. That is, what we sometimes see is not matched by the reality as seen from God’s perspective. Here are a few paradoxes that we discussed:
- Law and Gospel Distinctions
- Kingdom of the Left (Government/Society) vs. Kingdom of the Right (Church)
- Theology of glory vs. Theology of the Cross
- Hidden God vs. Revealed God
- Now vs. Not Yet
In each case God speaks and acts in ways that seem paradoxical. In Law and Gospel Distinctions, we find Jesus commanding the rich ruler to “keep all the commandments, especially the first” in order to inherit the kingdom (Mark 10:17-22). Yet in Acts 16:25–33, Paul in response an identical question responds with “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” So in one place it is Law that is needed and spoken, in the other it is the Gospel that is needed and spoken.
In the Kingdom of the Left, relationships and order are based on the Law (do this, or suffer the consequences). The Law and the power to carry out punishment under the Law belong to the Government (Romans 13:1-7). In the Kingdom of the Right, relationships are established and maintained by the Gospel (what God does for us in and through Jesus Christ). We live in both the Kingdom of the Left and the Kingdom of the Right. But what applies to the one side does not equate to applying the same to the other.
You hear and read much about “electing Christians” into Government positions, as if that is the “only Christian” thing to do. Yet, carrying out responsibilities in the Kingdom of the Left is not determined by “Christian laws.” Rather by being a leader of people, following the laws of the land, carrying out justice. Even an atheist can do that. And we most certainly cannot impose the Kingdom of the Right onto the Kingdom of the Left. That would change the Gospel into another Law, trying to coerce people into “being Christian”—without faith in Christ, but rather “following Christian laws.”
The theology of Glory vs. the theology of the Cross can be confusing. All Christians believe in the glory of heaven, that is not the issue here. Rather, the problem comes when someone tries to impose that future glory into the present realm. You will hear statements such as, “It is God’s intention that you be rich.” (Note: from my perspective, that seems fitting in light of my first name!) Such a claim shows the theology of glory has imposed itself into this current life. The reality under the cross is that we should expect persecution, suffering, and even death. Living in this world as Christians means life under the cross of Christ.
[Jesus said:] “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” Matthew 5:10-11
[Jesus said:] “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Notice that these realities have present consequences. And Paul wrote much about the present world in which we live and the suffering and persecution of this life.
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. Philippians 1:29-30
Perhaps a challenge is for us to re-read the New Testament and take note of how much is focused on the theology of the cross. I suspect that we will discover in the process how much of the theology of glory is more American independence and individualism and not Biblically sound. In my interactions with Christians from other countries, I have found that this theology of glory stuff does not relate to their experiences and life, but the theology of the cross speaks to the heart. That they know and live with every day.