Monday, October 5, 2015

Righteousness, Mystical Union, and Moral Formation in Christian Worship – a review

The Lord be with you

I have just finished the article “Righteousness, Mystical Union, and Moral Formation in Christian Worship” by Gifford A. Grobien published in Concordia Theological Quarterly, volume 77:1-2, January/April 2013 (pages 141-163). Grobien is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Supervisor of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. A link to this article is found at the end of this review.

Christians know that God cares how we live. For example, after Jesus absolved the woman caught in adultery he instructed here to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). When addressing the question about whether we should sin all the more that God’s grace may abound even more in granting us forgiveness, Paul responded “By no means!” (Romans 6:2). How we live is important, not only to our neighbor, but to God.

Lutheranism has always agreed with this. In fact, Article 6 of the Augsburg Confession says “good works are necessary.” Of course, the article is very clear that these good works do not, in any way, merit salvation. They are a fruit of our freely given salvation.

Still, Lutheranism is often criticized for actually discouraging good works and falsely accused of having no ethics. Grobien addresses the critics as well as addresses the foundation of a Lutheran ethic. He does so in the following sections of his article:

I. Law and Gospel in Contemporary Lutheran Ethics
II. The Twofold Righteousness
III. Mystical Union
IV. Worship as Formation
V. Ethics and the Ten Commandments

As I read this article it became clear to me how sparse my reading on the topic of ethics, especially among “contemporary” thinkers, truly is. In section I, names like Biermann, Hauerwas, Murray, Tuomo Mannermaa, Schwarzwäller, Saarinen, Joest, Bordeyne and Chauvet appear and Grobien responds to them, but they are names I’m not familiar with. Sure, there were some names I know, like Forde, Elert and Schleiermache, but they were in the minority.

It seems the following quote from the article sums up the foundation for a Lutheran ethic, from Grobien’s point of view.
… Theologically, then, how a person is viewed by God is fundamental to his personhood.
      With the righteous judgment of justification, a person receives standing before God, a new persona, upon which righteous acts are built. The judgment grants a new being, a new nature, which is the life of Christ in the person: “Not I, but Christ in me,” as St Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians. It is the new presence of Christ upon which the new creation is founded. The judgment of justification and the presence of Christ are complementary. The relation with God becomes determinative of the kind of actions the person will produce. The judgment (Urteil) of God gives the person a true, meaningful existence. “The person as source of [his] deeds is minted through a judgment issued over [him], a judgment toward which [he]―in acceptance or refusal―aims and shapes [himself].” It is no longer the person making an image for and in himself, but God dwelling in and making the person after his image. Thus union with Christ offers the new imprint, character, and nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit with new faculties (SD II, 25; IV, 7–8). (152)

Such a new person is created, shaped, sustained, and nurtured by the Means of Grace that are found in the worshiping community. So Grobien writes:
Because the means of grace are the means by which a person is justified, they are also the means by which the new character and nature are given. Worship is the primary context for the granting of new character and the strengthening of it. Worship strengthens and develops the new character not through mere habituation or narrative qualification, but through the operation of grace, which endows and develops a new way of being, a new subjectivity. This formative character of worship centers on the word of God and the sacraments, which are supported by the full activity of worship. (155)

“I am arguing, then, that Christian worship ought to be recognized as a fundamental source for ethics” (156). (He is not just speaking of the sermon, but the entire liturgical service.)

We fallen humans often tend to “put the cart before the horse.” We do this, often, so we can take credit for God’s good work. Therefore Grobien offers this caution:
Such ethical verification does not mean that the presence of Christ is dependent upon the ethical. The presence of Christ depends upon his words and promises. And this presence shapes an ethical stance that receives, is formed by, and begins to act or attempts to act in accordance with the presence of Christ. Christ’s presence brings about a new creation, a change in the character of the gathered, faithful people, so that their perspective, intentions, and actions will begin to be different from the way they were prior to or apart from the presence of Christ. (157)

Some of us preachers shy away from “third use of the Law” preaching because we do not want to give the impression we are saved by good works. It is a legitimate concern. However, avoiding third use of the Law preaching because it can be abused is something like avoiding medicine because it can be misused. Our task is not to avoid questions about “how then shall we live” but to approach them with a sound theology and ethic. This article is a good step towards doing just that.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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