New Traditions and Old

Featured image

Every week, it seems, I read of one or another church planted in some place.  I pay more attention to those planted as congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, since that’s my home (for better or worse).  I’ve seen so many that I can describe them for you: it’s got some enigmatic name: some combination of letters and numbers, some obscure reference to a story in the Scriptures.  Either that, or it sounds like an early 2000s, upscale housing development (Eastpointe, Southpointe, Midpointe).  Second, it’s in a building that doesn’t look like what people associate with “church”: a warehouse, a storefront, some other nondescript building.  Third, they are going to play the worship music you’ll hear on the local Christian radio station, or maybe an uptempo version of an “old” hymn (e.g., “Amazing Grace.”  Although, I acknowledge, you are likely to hear both “In Christ Alone”–the ubiquitously cited great modern hymn–or “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”)  Fourth, the congregation is often going to revolve around the vision and the leadership capabilities of the pastor and the great team the pastor has developed.  Fifth, they are going to have tech and sound people producing slick slides for the pastor’s “message” (often a series of messages based on some hot topic).  Sixth, the pop culture references are going to be coming out of your ears by the end.

Personally, I wonder how effective this pragmatic, relevant, culturally sensitive approach is at “reaching” the “unchurched” or “dechurched,” but whatever.  They aren’t asking my permission to do what they want, and they don’t really care whether I like what they’re doing or whether I think it is faithful to what we as Lutherans have received or whether it can adequately convey the weight of what Lutherans have received from our ancestors in the faith.  They are much more interested in the synchronic nature of our world, than in the diachronic tradition of benighted, premodern Christians.  Fine.

But could they please just acknowledge that they have a tradition and that it’s about 15 years old?  It’s the post-modern, clever, ironic, casual tradition of recent American consumerism.  It’s not the Lutheran tradition of 1800 years, reformed 500 years ago to bring the Gospel to the forefront.  I know, I know: they believe Lutheran theology, and they highlight free grace and mercy.  I suggest that holding to the sound pattern of teaching might be more than just saying the right things.  Language matters and every action teaches something.  I suggest they (since they employ the novelty) give an account of their traditions, and how they better and more adequately convey the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners.  I suggest they show why the liturgy that we have received (not just the “order of worship”) is deficient, even though it has been used in multiple languages and cultures, East and West, and for centuries.  I wonder if they have actually delved into the depths of the Lutheran liturgy and found it lacking, or if they observed merely the externals of it (organ, lackadaisical singing, little enthusiasm) and decided it wasn’t worth examining.  Can they see that from the perspective of the centuries, their complete jettisoning of the liturgical tradition of the Lutheran church for the trappings of modern evangelicalism infused with some Lutheran clichés appears a little arrogant?  As if what has been developed and strengthened and worked out for generations suddenly doesn’t “work” any more, and now they’re going to get it right?

Let me put it this way: nothing comes from nowhere.  From where do the songs come?  From where do the thoughts about the texts come?  From where do the ideas for how to set up a “worship space” come?  From where does the language come to talk about what is happening when congregations meet together?  Does it all have to come from Lutheran sources, as if there is nothing good outside of our tradition?  Of course not.  But when none of your language and none of your songs speak in a Lutheran voice, is it possible–maybe–that you’ve given up more than just the “style” of the Lutheran church?  I realize this discussion is acrimonious, but it’s not just because I’m a jerk who won’t let you “be all things to all people;” it’s also because we can’t be honest with each other about what we’re really doing.  If we could define what we think the gathering of the Church is for, we might have better success talking about what that gathering should look like.

[Just don't tell me it's all about preferences.  If you think that's so, you simply haven't understood the issues.]

Timotheos

Why Sports?

This probably isn’t the best time to have this discussion.  Indictments, criminal and otherwise, are floating around in the smoggy sports air.  Some people, who probably didn’t like sports — especially football — much at all, are using the current troubles to crow their triumphant and smug “I-told-you-sos.”  Others are commenting and opining because it’s their job.  Still others are commenting because it’s what you do on your computer, even though you have no more knowledge of the situation than anyone else does.  And still others are just sitting down in front of their TVs on Sunday afternoon and watching/shouting/cheering/crying when their teams win or lose.

I acknowledge all of that, and I agree that it’s easy to get a little (or a lot) cynical.  It seeps into the college game, and it seeps into youth programs where parents who yell at their pro teams (who can’t hear them) start to yell at their kids or their kids’ coaches (who can hear them).  It’s all a little disgusting.  But sports endure.  More rules, maybe.  More “safeguards” put in place.  More agreements and bargaining and limits on what can and cannot be done by athletes.  But people, even in spite of themselves, still watch.  They still pay to see the games live.  They still buy the jerseys and the hats and the other paraphernalia.  Why?  Why do sports (and for me, it’s primarily football) continue to compel our attention, even when we’re annoyed or disturbed (and sometimes, it still happens, inspired) by the lives of athletes off the field?

I don’t have a full answer to that question, but I do wonder if part of the current problem is that both fans and athletes take sports too seriously.  These are games, after all.  Some people view that to be an argument against pro sports.  I think it is actually the opposite: we enjoy watching sports precisely because they are not serious — not serious, at least, in the same way Christ and family and literature are serious.  Sports are, in fact, like all good things: problematic when they leave their proper realm.

Chesterton once wrote on politics:

Males, like females, in the course of that old fight between the public and private house, had indulged in overstatement and extravagance, feeling that they must keep up their end of the see-saw. We told our wives that Parliament had sat late on most essential business; but it never crossed our minds that our wives would believe it. We said that everyone must have a vote in the country; similarly our wives said that no one must have a pipe in the drawing room. In both cases the idea was the same. “It does not matter much, but if you let those things slide there is chaos.” We said that Lord Huggins or Mr. Buggins was absolutely necessary to the country. We knew quite well that nothing is necessary to the country except that the men should be men and the women women. We knew this; we thought the women knew it even more clearly; and we thought the women would say it. Suddenly, without warning, the women have begun to say all the nonsense that we ourselves hardly believed when we said it. The solemnity of politics; the necessity of votes; the necessity of Huggins; the necessity of Buggins; all these flow in a pellucid stream from the lips of all the suffragette speakers. I suppose in every fight, however old, one has a vague aspiration to conquer; but we never wanted to conquer women so completely as this. We only expected that they might leave us a little more margin for our nonsense; we never expected that they would accept it seriously as sense. [What's Wrong with the World, Part 3, VII]

Now, whatever you want to make of his arguments against female suffrage, I feel like something similar has happened with sports; not necessarily between men and women (although something of Chesterton’s description comes through), but in the argument about whether sports matter.  Certain people (male or female) might act, discuss, argue as if sports really mattered to the world, as much as Huggins or Buggins mattered to the world.  We never expected to be taken seriously.  Suddenly, people have begun to say all the nonsense that we sports fans hardly believed when we said it.  It was always a diversion.  It was always something declaimed as serious and important when it was nothing of the sort.

But now people take it seriously.  I don’t know if the athletes themselves always did.  But sports has, in many ways, become too serious for its own good, as all idols eventually do.  It is no idol to cheer for a team, to find oneself in a community of like-minded individuals celebrating or commiserating together.  It is no idol to care what the team’s record is or whether they make the playoffs.  It becomes an idol when it leaves the realm of the sport and enters the realm of the serious.  It is an idol when it begins to matter in the same way your religion or, to a lesser degree, your family matter.  From the Christian perspective, sport (which, I venture to suggest, has been around since the beginning of creation) is simply one more good thing in the creation.  It is not The Good.  And it would be good if we could remember that again.

Timotheos 

Capon on the Workers in the Vineyard

Opsías dé genoménēs ["when evening came"].  Heaven is Miller Time [I, and God, would pick a better beer, but that's for a different time].  Heaven is the party in the streaming sunlight of the world’s final afternoon.  Heaven is where all the rednecks, and all the wood-butchers, and all the plumbers who never showed up — all the losers who never got anything right and all the winners who just gave up on winning — simply waltz up to the bar of judgment with full pay envelopes and get down to the serious drinking that makes the new creation go round.  It is a bash that has happened, that insists upon happening, and that is happening now — and by the sweetness of its cassation, it drowns out all the party poopers in the world.

Heaven, in short, is fun.  And if you don’t like that, Buster (hetaíre ["friend"]), you can just go to…well, you’ll have to use your own imagination.  You’ll need it: this is the only bar in town.

Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, 397

Extra Stanzas

It is a travesty that so many hymns in Lutheran hymnals end–against the overwhelming testimony of the Scriptures–with stanzas about dying and going to heaven.  So I’m rewriting them.  No doubt improvements can be made, and if you don’t like mine, no big deal; write your own.  Here’s what I’m going to sing, unless you give me something better in the comments!

Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 524 (“How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds”), stanza 7:

And then when I awake in life,
Body and soul unite!
Your good creation put to rights,
And make us whole again.

LSB 563 (“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness”), alternate stanza 5:

When from the dust of death I rise
To greet my Savior in the skies,
Then on new earth my feet will stand,
I will live still from His good hand.

LSB 609 (“Jesus Sinners Doth Receive”), alternate stanza 7:

Jesus sinners doth receive;
Also I have been forgiven;
And when I this life must leave,
I shall find an open heaven.
But my hope is even more:
Jesus bodies doth restore. 

LSB 686 (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”), alternate stanza 4:

On that day when freed from sinning,
Lay my body in the grave.
But my soul shall cry out louder:
“Lord, how long?” and “Lord, please save!”
But we will not wait forever;
Christ the Life will hear our prayer!
And He will, our dear Lord Jesus,
Come and bring the Day to us.

LSB 702 (“My Faith Looks Up to Thee”), stanza 5:

My faith looks up to Thee,
In Christ, my life I see
Hidden in Him.
And when that life appears,
I’ll see Him as He is,
And at His Word I will
Be made like Him.

LSB 730 (“What Is the World to Me”), stanza 5:

What is the world to me?
When will it cease its groaning?
It longs in labor pains
For Christ and His revealing.
Until true children see
The world made new and free.
It ever shall be so:
The world is my home. 

LSB 733 (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”), alternate stanza 6:

And we, when Jesus calls us forth,
From graves as from our beds,
Will wake and live forevermore
Bright, glorious as our Head.

LSB 761 (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”), stanza 5:

I will rest my soul in Thee
While my body lies in dust;
Even so, my hope is this
On Your Word my faith insists:
That my bones shall not remain
In the ground but live again.

LSB 763 (“When Peace, like a River”), stanza 5:

Because in that day mine own eyes shall see
Creation restored and renewed.
I’ll see Christ my Lord, and my body like His.
In that day, finally, all is well. 

Unbound

If I were a book of poetry –
So well loved,
So well thumbed-through –
I could drop a page at any time
Right into your lap.

And startled, you’d take it up
And my words would fill your dry eyes like tears.
And there’d be only the slightest hesitation
As decades fastened with crumbling glue gave way:

The sound of a single feather pulling loose,
The satisfaction of wood hammer on silk string,
A sliver sliding free

A sentence between your fingers,
Oiled thumbprint two-thirds up the page
A few words to hold your tongue,
Caught between teeth and barely moving lips

In absence or silence,
Pages unwritten, blank in my heart

Losing My Religion and Works Righteousness

What are Reformed Baptists?  I don’t know.  People who hold to both the freedom of the will and double predestination?  People who hold to believers’ baptism and TULIP?  Got me.  What I do know is that some of them have it in for Lutherans.  In particular, one Emmitt Tyler II (@titus35_com) has part of his website dedicated to “exposing” what Lutherans “really believe.”  (As if this were something we were trying to hide.  It’s been in the Book of Concord for anyone to read for 500 years.)  He also seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter playing guessing games comparing Lutherans to Arminians and Roman Catholics.  (Incidentally, I find it ironic that Mr. Tyler claims to be all about pure grace and that it comes solely by faith without works, and yet he attributes salvation finally to something we do: http://www.3qgames.com/do.  He puts “do” in quotation marks, but the three “you musts” puts the lie to that.  If the Gospel has “you must” in it, it ain’t the Gospel.  The contradiction is obvious here: “Your salvation has nothing to do with your good works or your effort to keep the Ten Commandments. You’re saved only by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. … If you want salvation, hate your sins and turn to Jesus, trusting in Him alone as your Lord, God, and Savior, and you’ll be saved.” )

The central claim seems to be that Lutherans teach that (1) a person can lose salvation because sin hardens the heart against the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, (2) Lutherans believe in works righteousness: i.e., that it is our works that keep us in faith and sustain our salvation.

In spite of the fact that Lutherans have explicitly rejected the idea that our works either begin, continue, sustain, or contribute to faith or salvation, Mr. Tyler has discovered that this is not really true!  Actually, Lutherans believe the opposite of what they say they believe!  And they’ve hidden it under their false talk of  “salvation by grace through faith alone”!  So: have we?  Do we really believe that works are what keep a person saved?

Here’s the evidence that Mr. Tyler has “discovered” in the Book of Concord, what he calls “The Hidden Catechism” (ooohhhh!).

First, Lutherans have always and openly taught that one can lose faith and salvation.  If people didn’t know that, it’s not because we never said it.  I would suggest both David and Judas as two who sinned and hardened their hearts against the Holy Spirit.  One was brought to repentance and faith again; one despaired unto death.  Now I realize that those who hold to double predestination and the unqualified perseverance of the saints are simply going to reply that David was always going to be saved, and Judas was not.  Thus, delving into the hidden will and counsel of God (which apparently has been made known only to them), they claim that if someone appears to “fall away,” they never really were saved in the first place.  That’s a neat way of resolving it without any Scriptural backing whatsoever.  How does one account for David, who was chosen by God to be king, who trusted God’s promises to him, but who then sinned in coveting, adultery, and murder to such an extent that he doesn’t even realize he is sinning until Nathan preaches to him?  Then he repents and believes the promise that God has removed his sin from him.  Don’t worry! all that (unrepentant) sin had no effect on David’s faith or election.  He was always going to be saved.  Show me the Scripture, not your rationalistic philosophy of salvation.

The second point seems to have clear evidence in both the Formula of Concord and the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (though I wonder if he read anything but one article in the Solid Declaration).  Tyler quotes the Article on Good Works from the Solid Declaration as evidence that Lutherans believe good works keep you in your salvation.  Paragraph 33 quotes the Apology as commentary on 2 Peter 1:10:

Peter teaches why people should do good works: namely, to confirm our calling, that is, that we may not fall away from our calling by lapsing again into sin.  Do good works, he says, so that you may remain in your heavenly calling, so that you do not fall back into sin and lose the Spirit and his gifts, which you have received, not because of the works which follow from faith, but because of faith itself through Christ.  These works are preserved through faith.  However, faith does not remain in those who lead a sinful life, lose the Holy Spirit, and reject repentance (Kolb/Wengert ed.).

So does that mean that once you have faith, then it is your works which keep you in faith?  Well, if Mr. Tyler had bothered to read on a little further:

On the other hand, this does not mean that faith only lays hold of righteousness and salvation at the beginning and thereafter delegates its function to works, so that from then on they may preserve faith and the righteousness and salvation that have been received. [which is exactly the position that the so-called "crypto-Calvinists" (!) had defended at the Altenburg Colloquy in 1568-69]  On the contrary, so that we may be sure and certain of the promise not only that we receive righteousness and salvation but also that we retain it, Paul attributes to faith not only the access to grace but also the basis for our standing in grace and our “boasting in the glory which is to come (Rom. 5:2).  That is, he attributes everything–the beginning, middle, and end–to faith alone (paragraph 34, Kolb/Wengert).

So what were the confessors saying?  It helps to understand that they were arguing against pseudo-Lutherans who were claiming, on the one hand, that good works are harmful to salvation; and, on the other, that good works are necessary even to salvation.  They were holding (and we should follow them) the entire counsel of the Scriptures against all extremes: the Roman extreme that good works are necessary to complete faith with regard to salvation; the Reformed-leaning extreme that good works preserve and exhibit salvation after one has believed; and the extreme that suggests that faith is so solitary that even evil and unrepentant works can never remove one from faith and salvation.

Therefore, we must begin by diligently condemning and rejecting this false Epicurean [Reformed Baptist] delusion that some dream up, that faith and the righteousness and salvation we have received cannot be lost through any arrogant and intentional sin or evil work but rather that when Christians follow evil lusts without any fear or shame, resist the Holy Spirit, and intentionally proceed to sin against their consciences, they nonetheless at the same time retain faith, God’s grace, righteousness and salvation (paragraph 31, Kolb/Wengert).

There is a single source of the Reformed Baptist confusion: an inability to distinguish between Law and Gospel.  There are a multitude of passages in Paul’s letters that exhort or encourage people not to fall back into sin and death.  (See, e.g., Ephesians 5:1ff.; Galatians 5:16-21; 6:7-10; Colossians 3:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).  And what of 1 Timothy 1:19, where Paul says that Hymenaeus and Alexander have “made shipwreck of their faith”?  How could they have faith if they were never among the saved?  How could they “shipwreck” something they never had?  Or 1 Timothy 5:15 where some widows had “already strayed after Satan”?  According to Reformed Baptists, they didn’t really “stray” since they were never “in the fold” to begin with.  Or 1 Timothy 6:10, where some, because of the love of money, have “wandered away from the faith.”  We could find other examples.  But by exhorting Christians in this way not to fall away from the faith, Paul (or the Confessors) do not claim that the opposite is true: that by doing good works, one is preserved in the faith.  The reality is that one is either doing good works from the Spirit and by faith, or one is doing evil, from his own flesh.  There is no neutral position between sin and good works.  Sin is rebellion against God and unrepentant sin is simply unbelief.  Unbelief means no salvation, since salvation is by grace through faith.  Good works flow from faith, and have no other source than the Holy Spirit.  No good works means no Spirit and no faith.

So when the Confessions exhort good works so that one does not fall back into sin, they are simply describing the life of faith lived out in the world, as opposed to the life of the flesh dying in sin.  This is all Law (which does not mean it is bad), and therefore it is not the Gospel which gives salvation.  Because Reformed Baptists seemingly cannot see the distinction between Law (i.e., do good works, because this is what God requires of you) and Gospel (the free gift of righteousness in Jesus because of His death and resurrection), they confuse the exhortation to good works with righteousness before God.  This in spite of the fact that every sentence in Article IV of the Solid Declaration is written against confusing faith with good works.

Finally, the Lutheran position is not worked out in abstraction and speculation.  We begin in the concrete and the physical: from the actual confession of ourselves as sinners and from the hearing of God’s Word in Christ that election to salvation is a free gift given in the flesh and blood of a particular Man.  Reformed Baptists seem to begin from speculation about what God does in His own secret counsel with regard to choosing for either salvation or damnation.  This means that they cannot deal with the actual facts on the ground: some confess Christ as Lord and some of those who previously made such a confession later fall away.  (And some of those who fall away later make the good confession again.)  Instead of observing and seeing the way things are in reality, they have to speculate about an individual’s heart: when someone falls away, she was never really elect.  Where is the Word that says that?  Where does God speak that way?  This is simply human logic dictating what must be or not be in someone’s heart.  It is human rationalizing masquerading as holding to God’s promises about how He will do what He said He would do.  Those promises of God in Christ that are cited in favor of “once saved, always saved” are not promises made in the vacuum of God’s eternal will; they are made to people so that they might believe and be saved.  This is the difference between Reformed and Lutheran doctrines of election: the Reformed hold to election in the abstract, solely in the realm of God’s sovereignty; Lutherans, on the other hand, hold to election as the proclaimed Word of salvation, objectively accomplished once for all on the cross, and directed to individuals in preached Gospel and Baptism.  The Reformed hold that God elects absolutely; Lutherans hold that God elects through His own chosen Means.  They both claim to be unconditionally gracious, but one flows from God’s sovereignty and one flows from the concrete action of God in Christ at particular times and places.

I do not expect that this will convince the Lutheran-obsessed Reformed Baptists, anymore than an apologia would convince a God-obsessed atheist.  But it should be a hint that when every single Lutheran denies works-righteousness and holds for dear life (literally) to the distinction of Law and Gospel, you have misunderstood the teaching (thus, points 1-2 are correct, while 3 is false).  Mr. Tyler, that means you.

Timotheos

Luther on Christ and Us

[Commenting on John 14:20:]

“By faith you also come to be in Me with your death, sin, and every trouble.  If you are sinful in yourselves, you are justified in Me; if you feel death in you, you have life in Me; if you have strife in you, you have peace in Me; if you stand condemned on your own account, you are blessed and saved in Me.”  For, my dear man, where am I if I am a Christian?  Nowhere else than where Christ is.  But where else is He but in heaven, in eternal life, joy, and bliss?  And He, of course, will not be condemned to death as a sinner any longer.  Since no sin can accuse Him, no devil can damn Him, no death can consume Him, no hell can devour Him, I must remain undamned and undevoured; for I am in Him.  “Consequently, sin, death, and every trouble in you are gone.  For all this I destroy in Myself.”  It cannot abide in Him, since He is and remains in the Father.  And it can have no power in us either, because we are in Him.

…Christ is in us, and…we are in Him.  The one points upward; the other, downward.  For we must first be in Him with all our being, with our sin, our death, and our weakness; we must know that we are liberated from these before God and are redeemed and pronounced blessed through this Christ. … We must be His own, being baptized in His name and then having taken the Sacrament.  Thereby sin, an evil conscience, death, and the devil vanish; and we can say: “I know of no death and no hell.  If there is death anywhere, let it first consume and kill my Christ.  If hell amounts to anything, let it devour the Savior.  If sin, the Law, and conscience can condemn, let them accuse the Son of God. … But since the Father and Christ remain alive, I , too, will remain alive; since He remains undefeated by sin and the devil, I, too, will remain undefeated.  For I know that just as Christ is in the Father, so I am in Christ.” …

Just as I am in Christ, so Christ, in turn, is in me. … Now He also manifests Himself in me and says, “Go forth, preach, comfort, baptize, serve your neighbor, be obedient, be patient.  I will be in you and will do all this.  Whatever you do will be done by Me.  Just be of good cheer, be bold, and trust in Me.” [AE 24:141-143]

Elmer Furtick

Looks like Steven Furtick took a page out of Elmer Gantry’s playbook (and I can’t get over how much he looks like Boyd Crowder):

In Scranton, they had unusually exasperating patients.  Scranton had been saved by a number of other evangelists before their arrival, and had become almost anesthetic.  Ten nights they sweated over the audience without a single sinner coming forward, and Elmer had to go out and hire half a dozen convincing converts.

He found them in a mission near the river, and explained that by giving a good example to the slothful, they would be doing the work of God, and that if the example was good enough, he would give them five dollars apiece.  The missioner himself came in during the conference and offered to get converted for ten, but he was so well known that Elmer had to give him the ten to stay away.

His gang of converts was very impressive, but thereafter no member of the evangelistic troupe was safe.  The professional Christians besieged the tent night and day.  They wanted to be saved again.  When they were refused, they offered to produce new converts at five dollars apiece–three dollars apiece–fifty cents and a square meal.  By this time enough authentic and free enthusiasts were appearing, and though they were fervent, they did not relish being saved in company with hoboes who smelled.  When the half dozen cappers were thrown out, bodily, by Elmer and Art Nichols, they took to coming to the meetings and catcalling, so that for the rest of the series they had to be paid a dollar a night each to stay away.

Timotheos

A Case for Christians Carrying Concealed

That’s a lot of Cs.

Having recently obtained a permit to carry concealed, I often think about the consequences of actually having to draw a firearm and pull the trigger.  For a Christian, what is legal (and the legality of firing a gun that will likely kill another person has nearly as many gray areas as there are possible dangerous situations) is not always right–and sometimes vice-versa.  I suppose the following could be taken as an exercise in self-justification.  Nevertheless, besides the legality of carrying concealed weapons (firearms, specifically)–which vary from place to place, and the law of the particular jurisdiction ought to be obeyed: can Christians in good conscience carry a firearm which, if it is used for protection, will possibly or even likely result in the death of another human being?

The lines of disagreement are probably set out in advance.  I would guess that those who are opposed to the death penalty or to war (“just” or not), or who identify themselves as pacifists, are unlikely to grant the premises from which I am working, and so also the conclusions.  These lines have been drawn since the Reformation (at least), and are summed up in Augsburg Confession XVI:

Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.

They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians.

So if you’re an Anabaptist or one of their heirs, you’re probably not going to grant the first premise about the good of secular government and its protective abilities, let alone the later premises of an individual’s love for his neighbor.

But the state of the facts for Christians is that we have, on the one hand, the command not to murder and, on the other, we have the principle that the government has been given the sword to defend citizens against evil and punish the evildoer (Romans 13:4, particularly).  But Romans 13 is not an isolated treatise on the role of government; it belongs within the wider context of “love each other” (13:8), which begins in 12:1 and goes to, at least, 14:23.  The love of God for people is exercised through the governing authorities; that is, God protects His creation and His creatures by means of the ruler(s) of a given nation.  Obviously, a particular ruler may not rule according to God’s will, and may in fact be the agent of wrongdoing.  Even so, the intention of God for government remains.  The abuse does not nullify the use.

There is also no room for the individual to exercise revenge.  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” God says (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

The Gospel forbids private redress [in order that no one should interfere with the office of the magistrate], and Christ inculcates this so frequently with the design that the apostles should not think that they ought to seize the governments from those who held otherwise…Therefore private redress is prohibited not by advice, but by a command, Matt. 5:39Rom. 12:19. Public redress, which is made through the office of the magistrate, is not advised against, but is commanded, and is a work of God, according to Paul, Rom. 13:1 sqq. Now the different kinds of public redress are legal decisions, capital punishment, wars, military service. It is manifest how incorrectly many writers have judged concerning these matters [some teachers have taught such pernicious errors that nearly all princes, lords, knights, servants regarded their proper estate as secular, ungodly, and damnable, etc. Nor can it be fully expressed in words what an unspeakable peril and damage has resulted from this to souls and consciences], because they were in the error that the Gospel is an external, new, and monastic form of government, and did not see that the Gospel brings eternal righteousness to hearts [teaches how a person is redeemed, before God and in his conscience, from sin, hell, and the devil], while it outwardly approves the civil state. [Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI:59-60]

But defense of  those under your care (according to your vocation) is not, in itself, vengeance.  It could certainly become that (see Taken).  Instead, self-defense, broadly construed as protection of your family (and perhaps, in particular circumstances, as defense of those who are being attacked in, let’s say, a movie theater or school), falls under the principle of love your neighbor.  Your neighbor is whoever is in need of your help at a particular moment.  If you are in a position to render aid to someone, you should do so.

Here is the reason why you should do this: In such a case you would be entering entirely into the service and work of others, which would be of advantage neither to yourself nor your property or honor, but only to your neighbor and to others. You would be doing it not with the purpose of avenging yourself or returning evil for evil, but for the good of your neighbor and for the maintenance of the safety and peace of others. For yourself, you would abide by the gospel and govern yourself according to Christ’s word [Matt. 5:39–40], gladly turning the other cheek and letting the cloak go with the coat when the matter concerned you and your cause.

In this way the two propositions are brought into harmony with one another: at one and the same time you satisfy God’s kingdom inwardly and the kingdom of the world outwardly. You suffer evil and injustice, and yet at the same time you punish evil and injustice; you do not resist evil, and yet at the same time, you do resist it. In the one case, you consider yourself and what is yours; in the other, you consider your neighbor and what is his. In what concerns you and yours, you govern yourself by the gospel and suffer injustice toward yourself as a true Christian; in what concerns the person or property of others, you govern yourself according to love and tolerate no injustice toward your neighbor. The gospel does not forbid this; in fact, in other places it actually commands it. [Luther, AE 45:95-96]

For myself as a Christian, for the sake of property, for the sake of money or anything else like that, I ought to be willing to let it go, and I see no way to use violent force to prevent the taking of those things.  But I do not live only for myself; I am a husband and a father.  I have a wife and children.  I would be forsaking my God-given vocation if I allowed someone to come into my house and violate my family or if I allowed a person to accost my family on the street.  In that case, it is necessary to choose which love and which neighbor I will honor.  God forbid that it should come to this, but I will choose to defend those whom God has given to me, and not the one He has not given to me.  Murder is murder, and fear of what might happen is not provocation enough to pull a trigger.  But if it comes down to it, my particular vocation as husband and father demands that I love my wife and children as my closest “neighbors” and not fail to do what God has given me at that moment–not in order to murder someone else, but to defend my family.

This is just a beginning of thinking things through, not from the legal perspective but from the Christian perspective.  Thoughtful comments welcome.

Timotheos