Monday, January 31, 2011

On the Charge of Antinomianism as a Badge of Honor

With my entry, Have You Been Charged with Antinomianism?, on another of my blogs I offered no comment or commentary. I will not post a response or commentary, but I will post some instructive material that is necessary to understand what stands behind the recent discussion on several blogs.

Particularly instructive concerning how many Reformed folks read the Scriptures through their interpretive lens of "the law and the gospel," is the Open Letter to Michael Horton by Frank Turk. The following brief excerpt from a White Horse Inn broadcast of January 2, 2011 is instructive.

Mike Horton (MH): The Gospel can't be lived. It's the Law that's lived. We obey the commands that we find in Scripture, we do not—the Gospel is not anything for us to do. The Gospel is an announcement for us to take to the world, and on the basis of that Gospel we do live differently in the world, but that isn't itself the content of the Gospel: it is the effect of the Gospel.

Kim Riddlebarger (KR): I think you made a brilliant point. I know there will be a number of people who will hear us, who are familiar with us, and they'll say to themselves, "well, there they go, they've been on the air two minutes talking about the Great Commission, and they're back to Law and Gospel again!" But your point is absolutely spot-on: we believe the Gospel, we obey the Law—and if you are not clear about that, then you're going to go off on a mission and as you risk, as Jesus warned, making people more fit for Hell than they were before. If you're telling people that the Gospel is doing certain things, acting certain way, behaving in a certain way, then you're just accelerating their demise and decline.
Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, R. Scott Clark and many others believe that we should regard all the commands of Scripture, including those in the New Testament, other than those that command faith, to be of the law not of the gospel. This is what some identify as "the Lutheran view." Of course, it is not strictly "Lutheran," since many who are not Lutheran but Reformed embrace the view.

In order to understand what is going on, one needs to recognize that there are two series of "threes" that stand behind the view.

First, we need to understand that "the Lutheran view" of the law entails the notion that the law of Moses consists of three distinct parts, what theologians call the "tripartite division of the law."
  1. The ceremonial law consisting of all that elements that concern worship, sacrifice, the prieshood, etc.
  2. The civil law consisting of all the elements that concern Israel distinctly as the covenant nation, such as regulations concerning crime and punishment, clothing, foods--clean and unclean, and the like.
  3. The moral law consisting of all the elements that concern moral and ethical behavior before humans and before God, such as those identified in the Ten Commandments.
Those who hold "the Lutheran view" or the "tripartite division of the law" regard the first two parts of the law as rendered null and void. Hence, Christians are not bound by by either the ceremonial or the civil law. We rightly no longer have concern about mixing fabrics in the clothing we wear, and we offer no animals in sacrificial ceremony.

However, adherents believe that the third part, the moral law, is binding in perpetuity. And when the New Testament commands, exhorts, or warns without specifically calling for faith, those commands, exhortations, or warnings all of these belong to the law  in the sense of "the moral law." They do not belong to the gospel.

What do they mean by the moral law? They believe in the classic "Three Uses of the Law." By this they mean "Three Uses of the Moral Law." When the Reformed and Lutheran scholastics talked about God’s moral law (lex moralis), they taught that there are three basic uses of the law (usus legis). They are:
  1. The civil use (usus politicus sive civilis). That is, the law serves the commonwealth or body politic as a force to restrain sin. This falls under the general revelation (revelatio generalis) discussion in most of the scholastics as well as natural law (cf. Rom 1-2).
  2. The pedagogical use (usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus). That is, the law also shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves. In Muller’s summary, this is “the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ” (p. 320). This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 2-4.
  3. The normative use (usus didacticus sive normativus). That is, this use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works. It “acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom the grace of God works the good” (p. 321). This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 32-52.They believe that all New Testament commands, exhortations, and warnings that do not specifically call for faith belong to the "Third Use of the Moral Law."
Understanding "the Lutheran view's" articulation of these two series of "threes" concerning the law of Moses is vital to understanding why some may regard being charged with antinomianism as a badge of honor. Because, in their belief system, the New Testament's commands, exhortations, and warnings that do not specifically call for faith belong to the law not the gospel, the gospel imposes no moral demands upon anyone. That is the law's work and function, not the gospel's work. The gospel is strictly the announcement of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. The gospel does not issue any requirement upon us except one, faith.

Some who hold that even New Testament commands, warnings, and admonitions belong to the law not the gospel are willing to wear the charge of antinomianism as a badge of honor, because they insist that the gospel lays no moral requirements upon anyone. Only the law places moral restraints and requirements upon us. Yet, some of these same folks are not necessarily shy to reverse the accusation of antinomianism against those who do not hold their view of the law, but when they do, their charge has nothing to do with the moral or ethical demands of the gospel, since the gospel makes not moral or ethical demands. The gospel requires only one thing--faith--faith for justification. Rather, their accusation of antinomianism concerns the moral law and sanctification. Anyone who does not hold to the "tripartite division of the law" and the "three uses of the law" may be suspect. People who believe that the gospel lays commands, admonitions, and warnings upon all who hear the gospel may be charged with being "legalists" with regard to justification, but they also may be charged with being "antinomians" with regard to sanctification.

This is why one who has engaged in the recent discussion returns the charge of antinomianism against evangelicals who do not share his view of the law.

Antinomianism? I’ll show you antinomianism: defiance of God’s holy will as revealed in the fourth commandment. Reformed Christians confess that God has given ten commandments. What about the fourth commandment? Most of the evangelicals I’ve known, who are wound up about the “Lordship Controversy,” are antinomian (lawless) when it comes to the fourth commandment.
Yet, simultaneously, this individual might accuse the same non-sabbatarian evangelical with legalism with regard to justification.

Yes, I realize that it is all quite confusing, but such is the nature of the discussion. I could say much more and may yet do so in another entry. However, for now, does Titus 2:11-14 have anything to say with regard to the notion that because the gospel is of grace that the gospel lays no moral or ethical demands upon us but that all commands, admonitions, and warnings derive from the law?

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Am I misunderstanding this passage to point out that Paul does not say that it is the law that "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age" but that it is the grace of God in the gospel that teaches us these things?

3 comments:

gummie said...

Hi,

I was having the same conversation with a student from WSC about the same issue and I brought up the same Titus passage too.

I was told that he does not have any problems with this passage because what this passage means is that the gospel when received by faith alone, made the gracious application of the 3rd law possible. While I am not so convinced by his explanation, I'd like to hear your response to this answer.

regards
Edward

gummie said...

Hi,

I was having the same conversation with a student from WSC about the same issue and I brought up the same Titus passage too.

I was told that he does not have any problems with this passage because what this passage means is that the gospel when received by faith alone, made the gracious application of the 3rd law possible. While I am not so convinced by his explanation, I'd like to hear your response to this answer.

regards
Edward

A. B. Caneday said...

It seems to me that the problem with the student's response is that Titus 2:11ff makes it clear that it is God's grace (in the gospel) that does the teaching; it is not the law (moral law) that does the teaching.

Therefore, nothing in the passage provides for or allows for it to mean that "the gospel when received by faith alone, made the gracious application of the 3rd [use of the] law possible."

The passage states the the grace of God (in the gospel) teaches, not that the grace of God (in the gospel) applies.

Your thoughts?