[Read the first part here.]
Why do all, or nearly all, of our (Lutheran–but a very convincing case can be made that the mainline denominations are simply further along the degeneration caused by a Law/Gospel polarity) problems stem from the central issue of failing properly to distinguish Law and Gospel?
Think about your conversations on closed communion, women’s ordination, or any other issue where you (if you are orthodox) say something ought not to be done. What does your conversation partner respond, sooner or later, depending on how much American Lutheranism they’ve absorbed? “You can’t say ‘no’ to that. That’s the Law. We live in the Gospel. You can’t exclude people from the Table–that’s Law. You can’t say women can’t be ordained–that’s Law. You can’t tell me not to use this heretical song in my service–that’s Law. You can’t tell me to give money for the congregation and the poor–that’s Law. You can’t tell me not to divorce my wife–that’s Law. You can’t tell me not to have sex with my girlfriend–that’s Law.” Etc., etc., etc. In all of these things, Law is bad and Gospel is good. Anything that sounds like Law–let’s be clear: is Law–is ruled out and you’re left muttering something incoherent because you know that we’re supposed to be under the Gospel and not the Law. At this point, you’ve got absolutely no retort if you’ve been fully indoctrinated with the Law vs. Gospel paradigm. They’ve won that and every other argument. Why do you think it is that the heretical parties in all mainline denominations have been so successful? It’s not because they’re more numerous. It’s because they have “the Gospel” on their side, and all you’ve got is that stale, old Law. The Law is not nice. It’s not polite. It’s not “open and accepting.” Who wants to be on the side of the Law?
And it’s the Law–God’s Law–that has become the problem, and the sinner is off the hook. You see, we had it backwards in the ’70s. We knew they couldn’t mess with the Bible. We did not realize that it is only the proper distinction between Law and Gospel that will prevent the Bible from being lost. If we had told them to get lost with their Law/Gospel reductionism, we would have been more likely to have kept the Scriptures as the prophetic and apostolic witnesses to Christ, and we also could have retained a strong foundation with which to fight anti-Christian attacks on the Office of the Holy Ministry and the Lord’s Supper.
Thus, if we do not return to a Scriptural, Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel, the altars will be open, the ministry will be open, marriage will be no more (that one’s pretty much gone anyway), and Christians will (continue to) live like pagans. Those are the consequences. Will we stem the tide soon enough? Only God knows. Perhaps the Gospel will, as Luther predicted (rightly) of Germany, move on from Missouri.