I am agog, I am aghast, have Protestants confessed at last?
I really am agog and aghast. I am just beginning to read The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther, written in the 1930’s (I think). In the translator’s preface, he writes:
As Dr. Gerhard Forde put it … “The search for the proper distinction between law and gospel is, in essence nothing other than a search for an understanding and use of theological language that gives life beyond the death always administered by legal talk or law. It is a search for a use of language in church discourse, in proclamation, which does not merely talk about life or describe life but actually gives it.” (emphasis added)
Around my parts, we occasionally mock the idea that the Kingdom of God is about words by referring to much of Protestantism as “the kingdom of words.”
By that, we do not mean that all Protestants have nothing but words, but we are saying that the foundation of Protestantism, at least today, is nothing but words.
I do not want to contrast words with works. I want to contrast words with the power of God.
You cannot get your words right enough to please God. As we looked at in “The Kingdom Gospel” and “Our Response to the Kingdom Gospel”, when the Gospel is preached and a person believes it, the response is to surrender to Jesus the King, not learn “thelogical language” that imparts eternal life by “legal talk or law.”
I was so shocked by the paragraph I quoted above that “agog” and “aghast” are appropriate words.
Here is what the apostle Paul thinks of such a theory.
My speech and my preaching were not with enticing words of men’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:4-5)
I will come to you shortly, if the Lord allows, and I want to know, not the [theological] speech of those who are puffed up, but the power, for the Kingdom of God does not consist of words, but of power. (1 Cor. 4:19-20, brackets added)
My blog is on the internet. As such I cannot give you a demonstration of our teaching. I can tell you, however, that it is being demonstrated and has been for over 20 years by over 200 people who have maintained a unity and love that has had effect all over the world.
Especially in Africa, where physical needs are much greater, Africans flock to the message that God has called them into a family that belongs to him. The poorest of the poor learn to share and take care of each other, drunk and drug-addicted husbands repent when they see the change in their wives’ lives, and others risk their lives to go to Muslim families with the Gospel that has given them hope, joy, and a new family.
Yes, famous evangelists do large crusades in Africa to seeming great success. Then they leave their hearers just where they were, struggling to survive in a world more dangerous and unhealthy than their ancient jungles. They hope that the message of prosperity given by men like Creflo Dollar and T.D. Jakes is going to work as well in Gulu as it does in Atlanta.
It works poorly in Atlanta, but it doesn’t work at all in Uganda.
Jesus’ way works awesome. Go into a town, find a man of peace, stay at his house, reach the village through the Gospel of the Kingdom, baptize the believers and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded them. They give up their wicked ways, share their possessions with one another, watch over one another, and soon they are the ones going other tribes to share the Gospel as well.
If you’ve never been to a “third-world” country, which hold the majority of people in this world, then you don’t have a good picture of what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who die of starvation in their own homes either because they are too broke to feed themselves or because they got sick and couldn’t get out to buy food. I am talking about thousands or millions of households where AIDS was contracted by one spouse, passed to the other(s), and the children grow up on the streets or with grandparents who are too old to farm or work for food.
Are we going to tell them, “Here is theological language that gives life beyond the death always administered by legal talk or law”?
Paul complains about people who “profess to know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable and disqualified for every good work” (Ti. 1:16).
What is obviously necessary in Africa is not so obviously necessary in the United States. Far too often we offer people words and promises, then send them home.
Even Jesus didn’t do that!
The Lord said [to Saul/Paul], “Arise, and go into the city, and you shall be told what to do.” (Acts 9:6)
Jesus didn’t save Paul, nor give him any theological language that gives eternal life. He sent Paul to the family of God, make him wait three days, and then returned his sight, washed away his sins in baptism, and gave him the Spirit of God to guide him through the rest of his life.
The start of Paul’s ministry was with the disciples in Damascus.
Yes, Paul eventually ended up in Tarsus, learning apart from the apostles, though he would later submit his Gospel to the apostles. The point I am making is that the Gospel is not words that give eternal life. The Gospel is a proclamation that there is a King who will bring you into his Kingdom and care for you forever.
The proof is always in the pudding. No one knows what the best pudding recipe is until the recipes have been tasted. No one wins a chili cook-off by submitting the most well-worded recipe. At the end, judges taste the chili, and only after tasting is a winner declared.
Who is telling you the truth?
It is the people who produce results:
“You will know them by their fruit. … Every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces rotten fruit.” (Jn. 7:16-17)
Paul’s message came with a demonstration of Spirit and of power. What does that mean?
Do we need to commend ourselves all over again? Do we, like others, need letters of commendation to you, or commendations from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts and known and read by all men. You are clearly shown to be the letter of the King served by us, not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but on the fleshy tablets of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:1-3, emphasis added)
That’s fruit. We saw in the last post that the church has proof to offer to the world: its love and unity. When Christianity is divided into so many denominations, and when there are so many counterfeits (hint toward the next post), then love, unity, and the life of Jesus being lived out in a people are powerful letters of commendation from God himself. It is that letter we should be looking for, not the one from a theological seminary.
Giving people supposedly magic words, then sending them home to trust in those magic words, is not the Gospel in any way, shape, or form. Until the Word of God is demonstrated it has not been preached.
The Word of God joins people to one another. This joining is it’s most apparent and important mark: unity based on divine love. The Word of God draws people into a family. It is inappropriate to confuse that with regular meetings that reinforce the magic words, then send them home again and again and again.
When, dear God, will we learn again to say, “You have come home. You need never go home alone again.”?