Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why are so many Lutherans Seemingly at odds with Good Works? Part 2

Question:  Why are so many Lutherans Seemingly at odds with Good Works?

Answer 2:  Because, as Lutherans, it is often fashionable to trash talk good works.

In any group, it is a goal of its members to conform to the group.  There have been studies that illustrate that this need to go with the flow is so great that individuals will override what they know to be true in order to go along with those that they are associating with.  Lutherans are not immune to this by any stretch of the imagination.

In most circles within Lutheranism that I have encountered, it is fashionable to bash good works.  Its a good way to earn points in Bible Class and appear pious in front of your friends.  After all, if someone trashes the idea of good works and claims that he doesn't do any good works ever, then he must be really pious... maybe even a theologian.  So the key to being a really popular Lutheran is to be a really hopeless case and make sure that everyone knows it.  This is where recognizing your own sinfulness and inadequacy kind of branches out and strays into reveling in your powerlessness to establish your Lutheran authenticity.  After all, Luther really slammed himself alot in public... that must be what it means to be Lutheran!

This is more of a psychological behavior than one informed by theology in many cases.  I think that if it was fashionable for Lutherans to sing badly, you would run across people in church who were intentionally singing off key... and choir practice would be absolutely unbearable.  So when some well-meaning brother is sitting in Bible Class (which is a good work btw) and remarks about how he doesn't ever do anything God pleasing or good, I start to wonder if he is just not paying attention to his actions or if he is trying to cement his Lutheran street cred.  After all, isn't the only true form of Lutheran humor the self-deprecating kind?

Of course talking about what a horrible sinner you are is true and appropriate... but a Christian is also a new creation in Christ that is redeemed and restored who will naturally do good works as a living tree naturally bears fruit.  As a believer, your sinful state does not render that second part impossible.  Yes, your Old Adam still clings to you and you still sin, but you are not JUST Old Adam anymore.  Half of the truth is not the whole truth.  Read St. Paul about the will of the Spirit set against the will of the Flesh.  There is an actual battle going on there... but listening to some well-meaning Lutherans you would think that there is no battle at all because sin and despair always win all the time.

Trust me, it is possible to despair of your own abilities as a poor miserable sinner while fully believing in Sola Fide (which is true) and still not take it to the point that you think that you perform absolutely no good works ever (which is false).


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rather than worrying about doing that which reflects positively on me (that work which makes me look good), simply think about your neighbor and care for them. Who cares what that is called -- let us show love. Simple as that.

Mike Baker said...

I was hesitent to do this in segments because my next few posts will clear this up. Obviously I am not suggesting that we should go around show-boating and hunting for good works.

I totally agree with what you are saying about people making good works overly complicated, but at the same time I don't think that the answer is to walk around and claim that we aren't showing love at all or that we are incapable of showing love.

I run into more than a few Lutherans who claim that they cannot point to a single good work that they have ever done. I have heard claims that, if you can point to a good work, then it isn't a good work.

These ways of thinking aren't true and they turn the already heavy burden of the Christian walk into an almost unbearable yoke of bleak futility (as I will discuss later).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I wouldn't say that if you can point to a work it isn't good, but rather, why are you wanting to point to your works in the first place.

And see, this is the thing. As Christians we can't but help doing good works. They will roll out without thinking... they will just happen. All the time. If you think you aren't doing good works, then that is tantamount to saying that you have no faith, Christ doesn't dwell in you, and that the Holy Spirit has given you no life.

Massive over-reaction to works righteousness is... annoying.

Mike Baker said...

I knew that we agree! :D

Massive over-reactions in general are annoying. ...but I also really feel for the folks who are obviously discouraged.

By grace and mercy on account of Christ both the Christian and his works are to be called both righteous and holy. Understood in light of the work of Christ where EVERYTHING is pure gift in both Justification and Sanctification, recognizing the good works that God has given us enables the Christian to rejoice in His gifts.

aletheist said...

I often point out that the Ten Commandments are declarative, rather than imperative--"you shall not kill" vs. "do not kill." They describe how God's people will behave, rather than prescribing how God's people should behave.