Monday, September 14, 2015
I learned something I always knew. . .
I learned that stewardship is always law. I knew this, of course, for a long time but it was the kind of uncertain hesitant knowledge that refuses to allow us to act on it because we think we must be wrong. I have heard stewardship from a Gospel angle so often it tends to make me wince. Every pastor worth his salt knows this is a lie. Stewardship is not a Gospel word. It is and always has been law. You can preach all day long about the joy of giving and about the freedom we have in Christ from that nasty old law. You can laugh it up like one day we will want to give and give and give until we have nothing left to give -- but it won't hurt and it won't necessitate a struggle with the old Adam who still hides within the recesses of our inner darkness.
It is sad how hard we work to mask this truth. We seem ashamed or embarrassed by the law and so we act as if God's law had nothing more to say to us as Christians on the subject of how we use God's resources or how we support His Church -- except do it willingly, joyfully, and without hesitation. Like that ever happens!
Of course it is part of our ongoing conversation about the law, about the third use of the law, and about antinomianism. We Lutherans should not be talking about this but we do and we must. Our greatest fear as Lutherans is to be legalists. So we tend to preach the law softly as if its only job was to push us into the safe and comfortable arms of Jesus where it cannot hurt us anymore. But that is not what we confess. The Spirit is not only at work in the Gospel. The Spirit is also at work in the law. The law accomplishes one purpose always (it accuses) but it does not only accuse -- it also instructs. And we need some heavy duty instruction on the subject of giving.
For although they are regenerate and renewed in the spirit of their mind, yet in the present life this regeneration and renewal is not complete, but only begun, and believers are, by the spirit of their mind, in a constant struggle against the flesh, that is, against the corrupt nature and disposition which cleaves to us unto death. On account of this old Adam, which still inheres in the understanding, the will, and all the powers of man, it is needful that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, in order that they may not from human devotion institute wanton and self-elected cults [that they may frame nothing in a matter of religion from the desire of private devotion, and may not choose divine services not instituted by God's Word]; likewise, that the old Adam also may not employ his own will, but may be subdued against his will, not only by the admonition and threatening of the Law, but also by punishments and blows, so that he may follow and surrender himself captive to the Spirit, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 6:12, Gal. 6:14; Ps. 119:1ff ; Heb. 13:21 (Heb. 12:1). FC Epistome VI.3 The old Adam needs to hear only the law and the new man created in Christ Jesus does not need the law at all but to the person simil justus et peccator the law convicts and instructs.
What do the new people God has created by baptism actually do? Well, this is where stewardship enters the picture. We do what God has created us to do, commanded us to do, willed us to do. We fulfill our vocation (which is less what we do than who we are). Jesus did not come to do away with the law or so that we could ignore it. He came to fulfill it. For us. He came to restore creation and that includes our divinely appointed roles and purposes. From Genesis 1 we learn that man was created to rule (have dominion over) creation. Was it not Luther who said that Adam worshiped at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by being obedient and not eating!
"Today in our churches we have an altar for the administration of the Eucharist, and we have platforms or pulpits for teaching the people. These objects were built not only to meet a need but also to create a solemn atmosphere. But this tree of the knowledge of good and evil was Adam's church, altar, and pulpit." (LW1:95) "So, then, this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or the place where trees of this kind were planted in large number, would have been the church at which Adam, together with his descendants, would have gathered on the Sabbath day." (LW1:105) "The tree was not poisonous; but, as we said above at great length, it was a tree of divine worship, for man to bear witness through his obedience that he knew, honored, and feared his God. For God saw that everything He had made was very good." (LW1:227)
God surely needs nothing from us or from anything of all His great creation. Perhaps God desires from us praise and thanksgiving but He does not need it. We are the ones who need to serve God, to praise Him, and to fulfill our purpose, vocation, and calling. The Law is to be urged with diligence, not only upon the unbelieving and impenitent, but also upon true believers, who are truly converted, regenerate, and justified by faith. FC Epitome VI.2 We get lazy, complacent, and forgetful. The law wakes up the snoozing so that we might reenter our earthly vocation -- to live obediently to God. Living in synch with God's will.
Somehow we got it all screwy thinking that if we don't want to do it, God does not want it and it is not good. None of our works are good (except in Christ and through Him). Even when the heart is unwilling (the old man is operative in us), we do not wait until the motivation is right. We care for our families not only when we want to or when it is easy. We care for them because it is God's will and our vocation and we do it when it is messy, requires sacrifice, and causes us to suffer. We obey the righteous laws of the state not when we love Jesus but all the time -- because it is God's will and our vocation. We support the Church not because God needs the money and we have a spare dime to help Him out -- God needs nothing from us -- but because support of His Church is God's will and our vocation. It is a sin not to do God's will -- to fail to care for our families, to break the godly laws of the state, and not to support His Church. It is always a sin to shirk our duty, our vocation, and our purpose.
That is why we support the Church. And, by the way, what does it say about us when we know the character of God's mercy so clearly in Christ but our fearful hearts remain aloof from doing what we should (at least as much as the Old Testament requirements of the law demanded)? It means we need to hear the LAW. The Law of God is good and wise and sets God's will before our eyes. That is what we sing. Maybe it is time we also believe it. Of course, none of this changes one iota the fact that we are saved by grace through faith and not of anything we think or say or do. But this side of glory the saved still need to hear the law. And do what is good and right whether we feel like it or not.