Thursday, November 1, 2012
How does God work?
Evangelicals gladly assent to Jean Daniélou’s claim that the mission of the church “continues the mighty works, the mirabilia Dei, recorded in the two Testaments” and agree that “God still accomplishes his mighty works, in the conversion and sanctification of souls.”
Few Evangelicals, though, would make sense of his further claim that “The working of God’s power among us is through the sacraments.”
That is indeed the crux of problem -- where does God work? For Rome and Wittenberg and, less clearly, Constantinople, God works through the means of grace. While we certainly differ in the numeration of the sacraments, we are all agreed upon the primacy of baptism and the Eucharist. We also say that the Word is sacramental -- perhaps its sacramental character seen most deeply in penance or confession. There the Word does exactly what it promises and the sin if forgiven. Period. Again, we differ in many respects but are fairly united in our confession that God works through means and the means through which God works are the Word and the Sacraments.
This remains the great shibboleth of Protestantism and why Lutheranism cannot today be said to be Protestant. Protestants refuse to attach God's work to the places where God has attached Himself.
It will be a sign of extraordinary progress when Evangelicals are awestruck at ordinary water and confess with [Lutherans and Roman] Catholics (and St. Paul!), “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
For a group that insists upon a naked Scripture as the locus of all doctrinal truth, it is remarkable how Protestants seem deaf to the voice of Scripture in its manifold statements insisting that God works through these means of grace. Perhaps the most clear reference is I Peter 3:21: Baptism now saves you. Until Evangelicals and Protestants can confess that truth without hesitation or cringing, we Lutherans will remain distant from them. If for this reason alone, it would be well for us Lutherans to be a bit more charitable toward Rome and a little less cozy toward Geneva and its many sibling cities.