The Adventist Church Needs a Martin Luther


(Spectrumbot) #1

Many of us living through October 2017 could not but dwell on the significance of what happened exactly 500 years ago when Martin Luther decided to open up a conversation about the appropriateness of the selling of indulgences to shorten the time the souls of the dead spend in Purgatory. The selling of indulgences was a financial transaction that greatly benefited an ecclesiastical hierarchy that was in constant need of more money to sustain its lavish living style and monumental building projects.

These exorbitant demonstrations of wealth and power had been under attack for some time. Many had spoken against the abuses that were going on, and had stated that the ecclesiastical structure of the Christian Church of the West was in urgent need of reform. These prophetic voices had been silenced, however, by even further abuses of power. Memory of the struggles between popes sitting on different seats anathematizing each other, and the popular knowledge of the prevailing nepotism and simony in the appointment of higher clergy provided strong arguments for the demands of serious structural reforms in the church.

Martin Luther surprised everyone by focusing his arguments not on the ecclesiastical abuses of power but on the theological foundations of the selling of indulgences. He did not propose to defend the need for a different organizational structure that would no longer depend on the selling of indulgences. He proposed to defend in an open forum 95 propositions that debunked the theology that supported the selling of indulgences and other abusing church practices. He claimed to be upholding a biblically based theology that gave God and God's Grace, rather than fear of Purgatory, the central role in the divine/human economy. In the process, Luther took away from the ecclesiastical authorities their claim to be the only authorized channel through which the Holy Spirit could flow.

Luther's decision to post the 95 propositions he was willing to publicly defend on a biblical basis, without recourse to the dictamens of the Church Fathers, did not take place in a vacuum. He was the product of the advances achieved by an already flourishing recovery of the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. The isolation of monasteries and the artificial world of chivalry had given place to the tensions with the world of Islam that was on the verge of engulfing Vienna as its stronghold in Europe. It was no longer a matter of Crusades to the Holy Land, but of expulsing the Turks from Europe itself. Popes and princes were calling for war with the invaders, while Erasmus of Rotterdam was the lonely one calling for sanity and peace. Also changing the European panorama even more significantly was that, having expelled the Muslims from its territories, Spain had opened a new continent to European exploitation. The riches of America were already transforming the European economy, and providing an outlet to those seeking new horizons.

The ferment of the Renaissance of a classical past was brewing effectively, producing a new vision of the human person. It was restoring to each individual human being the glory of having been created in the image of God. On that basis the connection between God and his creatures came to be understood as direct, as most beautifully represented by Michelangelo in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. It was in this culturally rich and expanding European civilization, where universities rather than armies provided the means for the transformation of young people into adults, that Martin Luther developed, reconsidered and ultimately decided to speak out in defense of what, after much careful reading of the Bible in its original languages, he had come to understand as the Gospel.

Reflecting on Luther's desire to open up a conversation with fellow Christians that would recover the message of the Gospel, I cannot but think that the parallels between his situation and the one which quite a few of us face within the current Adventist Church are unnerving.

For some time already several voices have been calling for a reconsideration of the ecclesiastical structure of our church and of the way in which it functions. The lack of transparency, the manipulation of agendas, the withholding of access to documents from those who are asked to vote on them, the misappropriation of monies, the attempts to bring about uniformity in matters of lifestyle and thought, the ostracizing of brothers and sisters on prejudicial grounds, the defense of a patriarchal social order, the instances of nepotism, etc., have been identified repeatedly in the past as evidence for the need of radical structural revisions, and as factors posing the danger of a breaking-up of the church. The church, let it be understood, cannot be a democracy. Her ruler is not the people, but the Lord Jesus Christ. The ecclesiastical structure of the church, however, cannot be an oligarchy or a dictatorship. Those who exercise ecclesiastical leadership, as Jesus said, cannot be masters but must be servants of all, not of their superiors. In our church, as in Luther's church, reforms of a dysfunctional ecclesiastical hierarchy have been called for by many and are urgently needed.

Like in Luther's time, we also live in a fermenting and expanding cultural moment. Scientific explorations both in the micro and in the macro cosmos are continually changing what not too long ago was believed to be the case. Just this week a meteorite from another solar system has been discovered, after it had been traveling in space for millions of years before entering our solar system. While to some these discoveries are reasons for excitement and signs of progress, to others they are sources of great discomfort and evidence of decadence. The expansion of rising social and economic expectations among the peoples of China, India, and Southeast Asia have brought about their reduction among the masses in the First World. The transportation boom is making the preservation of ethnically-defined nations problematic. The rumblings of wars are welcomed by some but are a source of fear to others. The threat posed by the existence of nuclear power is making its control and the definition of its purpose more urgent and difficult. Most significantly, our time is benefiting from the opening of a new continent. It is not America but Cyberspace. The riches of this continent are revolutionizing societal behaviors and upsetting the economic landscape. These developments have been transforming the way in which people see themselves in the world, and call for a convincing reformulation of the Gospel. Facing this challenge, our church has been a prisoner of formulas of the nineteenth century that prevent her to be a witness of the power of the Gospel.

Faith is not a way of thinking but a way of being in the world in which one has the privilege of living. As members of the body of Christ, Christians are called to make him present in the world. He was true to God in his world. We must be true to God in ours, just as Luther was true to God in his. He lived in a church in dire need of structural reforms, but rather than deal with them directly he addressed the proclamation of a gospel that was no Gospel. Now that the Adventist Church is in need of a serious reconsideration of how it functions, what is called for is a theological reconsideration of her gospel.

Even though Luther remained a child of his age in his autocratic ways, his bellicose spirit, and his racial prejudices, he did learn from Paul that a gospel that does not bring about freedom is no Gospel at all. Christians are not meant to live in fear, particularly fear of a sinful past, of a judgmental present, or of the “strong” who enforce their judgments, but to live free in Christ. Luther's short tract “On the Freedom of the Christian” is a magisterial exposition of what must characterize a Christian's life in his/her everyday endeavors, thus demonstrating the power of the Gospel.

In this tract, Luther takes up two statements of Paul to demonstrate the connection between “spiritual liberty and servitude”: “Though I be free from all men, yet I have made myself servant of all” (1 Corinthians 9:19) and “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Romans 12:8). From these declarations of Paul, Luther derives two propositions that seem to contradict each other, but which, he cogently argues, belong together: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.” He ends the tract giving a concrete example of the spiritual liberty and the servitude of a Christian when facing two types of persons. Dealing with a “hardened and obstinate ceremonialist” (read, bound to the traditions of his church) . . . “who refuses to listen to the truth of liberty,” a Christian must “resist, do just the contrary of what they do, and be bold to give them offence.” On the other hand, dealing with “the simple minded and ignorant person, weak in the faith, as the Apostle calls them, who are yet unable to apprehend the liberty of faith, even if willing to do so,” Luther says, “these we must spare, less they should be offended. We must bear with their infirmity.” Freedom and service are not contradictory, but complementing aspects of the true Christian life, one that owes every one love.

Today the Adventist Church needs prophetic voices that will convict her of her obsession with obedience to the Law of Moses and her enchantment with herself and her “Truth.” Just as Luther measured the gospel of his church against the writings of Paul, so now it is necessary to measure what our church is teaching against the writings of Paul. She is negating the centrality of the God who raised Christ from the dead, and paying homage to the Jesus who lived in complete obedience to the Law. Supposedly, it is on this basis that he is able to impart the righteousness he attained from the Law to those who believe in him. This is a denial of the Gospel. Jesus, as Paul makes absolutely clear, was not recognized by God for his keeping of the 10 Commandments, but by his faith. The “obedience of faith,” as Paul does not tire to emphasize, is not related to the 10 Commandments, but to a way of being in the world as a creature who lives by the power of the Creator. As such it is something totally beyond the requirements of commandments. The obedience of faith is exhibited by what Paul designates as the fruit of the Spirit, against which, Paul affirms, there is no Law. He did not think he needed to specify that neither is it the product of obedience to the Law.

Unlike the New Testament scholars who fifty years ago were prone to affirm that Jesus was a Christian who abolished the Law, New Testament scholars these days are more likely to affirm that Jesus was a law-observant Jew. This only says that, like all Jews before the Resurrection, Jesus lived “under the law,” as Paul explicitly states. What needs to be noticed is that, as Paul also says, no Christian, whether Jew of Gentile, lives “under the law.” Making a fetish of the 10 Commandments as eternal (even though Paul also says that they did not exist before Moses), and of the Bible as “the written word” of God (even though the Word of God has always been a spoken word), is preventing the Adventist Church from making the reforms needed before she can accomplish her role as the agent of freedom from sin and eschatological death. These days, when the end of history can be accomplished without God's intervention, the need to place faith in God as Creator is crucial.

As Paul explicitly points out, Christians have as a model the faith of Jesus, which had its type in the faith of Abraham. Reflecting on the experience of Abraham, Paul brings up that he complained to God for not having kept his promise of descendants while Sarah and he still had fertile bodies. In response, God reassured Abraham that Ishmael — his son by a slave in his household — would not inherit him. He was going to have a son born in freedom from his legitimate wife. Paul finds quite remarkable that Abraham believed God. Knowing that all the natural avenues for the birth of such a son were closed, Abraham had faith in the God who, as Paul says, “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17, RSV, or “names the things that are not, as well as the things that are,” my translation). Paul's God is the God who raised Christ from the dead and has control over the frontier that separates non-existence from existence. Faith in this God is the faith that gives a person freedom to live not just out of the past (actuality) but also out of the future (potentiality), thus making the present a life with God.

For the Adventist Church to have a future it must also have faith in the God who has control over the frontier between non-being and being, between potentiality and actuality, and who as such is the Only One with Ultimate Freedom and the source of all true freedom. She must cease living entrenched and fearful, always in need of an enemy to justify its existence. This makes her one more organization structured according to the standards of the capitalist world of the survival of the fittest, always in need to quantify her success. It must let God free her from the restraints of her insecurity and fear. Now that the future of the world more than ever seems to be in human hands, faith in the God who raised Christ from the dead rather than the Jesus who obeyed the Law is of the essence. But the only way to be open to God's future is by being free from the fear that the Law imposes on those who live “under” it.

We need a Martin Luther who will challenge the Adventist Church not in terms of her policies and their manipulation by ecclesiastical authorities, but by openly and plainly confronting her with the Gospel of the God who raised Christ from the dead. The Gospel is power to impart life. On this account, it is the demonstration of God's righteousness, not that of believers. The power of the Gospel gives life to those who with Christ die to the world and are raised, like Christ was, by the power of the Spirit. The Gospel is not about a legal sleight of hand that declares sinners righteous. It is the power to give life to all those who no longer live just in the world of Adam, but have been made alive and are new creations in the world of the Second Adam.

Adventist theology is not to be found in the writings of Edward Heppenstall, Fritz Guy, or Richard Rice. It is found in the Sabbath School Quarterly lessons that come out these days as expressions of the official Adventist Church. When for two quarters in a row the Sabbath School lessons purporting to be dealing with the letters of Paul To the Galatians and To the Romans instead of presenting Paul's teaching inculcate an Adventist ideology about obedience to an eternal law, and that Jesus is the Second Adam, it is undeniable that the ecclesiastical authorities that control the Sabbath School Quarterly lessons are in dire need of having the Gospel preached to them. Paul makes absolutely clear that believers are not declared righteous by Jesus' works of law. Rather, the righteousness of God is manifest vis a vis the faith of Jesus and is effective in all those who have been made alive by the power of the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. This is the Gospel that a world drunk with the power in its hands needs to hear to come to terms with God's purpose to give life to all God's children.

Herold Weiss is professor emeritus of Religious Studies at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8432

#2

All of this praise, obsession, fixation toward Luther is just another clue to the fanaticism in the denomination.

Luther made a hit against Catholic rituals & legalism but was not too keen on the bible books Hebrews, James, Jude & Revelation. Why is that so? Those who have read those books have no trouble understanding why.

Adventists don’t need another Luther. They need Pastors & SS teachers who are not so ashamed of the bible and who are not contaminated by SDA approaches in homiletics/teaching.

Last week in Sabbath school…did your class hear the first 17 verses of Romans read…never mind the whole chapter?

The theme of this article is to counter the exposure to law in the denomination.

Just more indication of members who still have residual Rom 8:7 mindsets.

The above needs elaboration, details, process clues and advice on how one can progress.

Most SDA scholars, pastors, SS teachers need to make a New Year’s resolution for 2018 to reduce their use, parroting, regurgitating of typical religious lingo, clichés and to figure out what NEH 8:8 is really about.

HEADS UP!–I’ll use Farley’s words as an example

These religious contemporary, broad brush, dumbing down , fanatic promoting, ambiguous, abstract, obscure clichés like the above or “JESUS is enough”, “It’s all about JESUS” are parroted to counter/gainsay relevant/significant teaching that the Holy Spirit uses to prepare humans to be fit for eternal life.

If any reader hears this in church, I challenge you to ask the speaker to elaborate or explain why they spoke the words.

The SDA church needs CONVERTED Seminary professors and Pastors who are not embarrassed or ashamed (Mark 8:38) of teaching the bible instead of cut & paste using it as an agenda to spread their warped ideas of soteriology or use it as theological vitamin & vaccination shots to counter the flesh or world influences.


(Sam Geli) #3

Every church could use as many “Martin Luthers” as it can get. Would there have been a Martin Luther as we have come to know him if there had been no Catholic Church in his life? The Adventist church that is presented here in need of a Martin Luther is not the Adventist church of the Global South: Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The church in the U.S. is indeed changing and losing some of its unchallenged dominance over the culture … and I actually think that might be a good thing. My hope is that it will remind Christians that “success” (Joshua 1:8), isn’t measured by money or power or numbers, but rather by the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Where those characteristics are present, the church lives.
The church definitely is not in theological disarray and not shrinking in the Global South: Africa, Asia, and Latin America. My guess is that if Martin Luther showed up to “reform” this church he would have to go to the back of the long line of many who have already started and are succeeding in many places. We in the USA are probably not the future of the church. The growing church of the Global South tends to be deeply traditional on socio-moral issues. The theologians Dr. Weiss refers to who were once so relevant to a few select circles in Adventist academia, Drs. Happenstal, Guy, Rice, are not referenced. These Christians of the Global South: Africa, Asia, and Latin America usually don’t fit neatly into our categories of “liberal” and “conservative,” and it is unwise to predict theological trends as if they do. As the church transforms, our understanding of it must transform too. We need to put greater emphasis on the person of Christ individually, personally, completely.
G.K. Chesterton has said, “Christianity has had a series of revolutions, and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
The church may be “dying” here for some who are looking for a Martin Luther, but from the Amazon to the Sahara to the Ganges, it is very far from dead. Some have looked for Jesus Christ and have found him.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

[Amen, a much needed corrective. quote=“gideonjrn, post:2, topic:14950”]
teachers
[/quote]


(Allen Shepherd) #5

This is a confusing paragraph.

“Rather the righteousness of God is manifest vis a vis the faith of Jesus and is effective in all those who have been made alive by the power of the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.”

So, how are we declared righteous? Faith in Jesus? Faith in his keeping of the law? The Sprit’s action? I am a bit confused by the author’s position.


(Tracy Calvert) #6

The Adventist church did have a Martin Luther, his name was Desmond Ford. His fate was much the same as the original Luther. By definition, isn’t this the fate of all “Martin Luther” surrogates? It is the fate of all who challenge a prophet and a bureaucratic behemoth.


#7

Thank you Dr. Weiss. So much truth. From all I read, there is a scholarship based on a new reading of Paul. Ellen White had seeds of it in her work. Some of the Protestant world is getting it. Our denomination, I guess, is too fearful to really grapple with the powerful truth of a new reading of Paul. [quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:14950”]
Adventist theology is not to be found in the writings of Edward Heppenstall, Fritz Guy, or Richard Rice. It is found in the Sabbath School Quarterly lessons that come out these days as expressions of the official Adventist Church. When for two quarters in a row the Sabbath School lessons purporting to be dealing with the letters of Paul To the Galatians and To the Romans instead of presenting Paul’s teaching inculcate an Adventist ideology about obedience to an eternal law, and that Jesus is the Second Adam, it is undeniable that the ecclesiastical authorities that control the Sabbath School Quarterly lessons are in dire need of having the Gospel preached to them. Paul makes absolutely clear that believers are not declared righteous by Jesus’ works of law. Rather, the righteousness of God is manifest vis a vis the faith of Jesus and is effective in all those who have been made alive by the power of the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. This is the Gospel that a world drunk with the power in its hands needs to hear to come to terms with God’s purpose to give life to all God’s children.
[/quote]

Great conclusion.


(Pagophilus) #8

I never cease to be amazed at the articles on Spectrum.

The author confuses justification and sanctification (as do many in the church and elsewhere). The author cannot understand the nature of the law and the reason for its existence.

If the law (10 commandments) really are unnecessary (there is no law) then a) why was it given? b) why are its laws mentioned positively numerous times in the New Testament (let alone the old), and c) is it OK to go and sleep with your wife, steal your goods and I won’t mention killing, all the while having faith in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour?

Adventists keep making a “fetish” of the 10 commandments because non-Adventists (there’s a perfect label for the author) keep ignoring them or trying to explain how they are not valid or no longer necessary or abolished. This article is lacking in solid Biblical exposition on how the law can possibly be abolished. I dare say if the author tried he would soon reach a dead end, thus he argues philosophically, as in many of his articles (some of which use many big words but make very little practical sense). It seems more as if the author is on a mission and has an axe to grind. What possible benefit is it to everyone to know that the 10 commandments have been abolished? You have removed the boundaries, now what?

If the law is abolished then 1) everyone should be saved, b) heaven will be full of idolaters, murderers, adulterers etc (present, not past), and worst of all, we may all continue to do such things, for if there is no law, there is no sin.

And to include Luther’s name in this makes me wonder how much the author really knows of Luther, his writings, and the progression of his theology over his lifetime. Luther is brought up here as a figurehead, but if what he actually wrote and believed was quoted he won’t back up the author’s ideas.

Understanding salvation (and further, understanding the whole reality of the Great Controversy) requires an knowledge of the sanctuary and atonement. I wonder if the author believes that the death of Jesus was really necessary for atonement, for our salvation, or rather (like the Catholics believe) he believes that it was his merit or good works that does it and his death was not necessary? The Bible tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. And Jesus said that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it. What does that mean? And shall I sin now, that I am no longer under the law but under grace? What is sin if there is no law? Why were Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden? Why did God not simply forgive them? (Did Adam and Eve really exist or are they a myth in the light of our greater “evolutionary” knowledge, designed to teach us a greater lesson and if so, what possible lesson could they teach us if the law is now abolished, which presumably means obedience is not necessary because there is nothing left to obey?)

And if belief is the main component of righteousness, then does the author BELIEVE GOD when God says He created the world in 6 literal days with evenings and mornings, and if you do the calculations, about 6000 years ago? If one cannot believe “God” on such small things then one should close one’s mouth (or chop of one’s typing fingers) on the weightier matters of law, righteousness and salvation.

Get back to the Bible, read it properly, get over your preconceived ideas, let go of the axe you have been grinding.

Adventism doesn’t need a Luther, it needs to stop being lukewarm, lest God will spit them out of His mouth. Believe what God has said. Start at creation. If you can’t get past that how do you expect to get any further? How can “faith” make you righteous when you don’t even have faith in what God has said in His own Word? Faith in what? Airy-fairy faith in a Jesus who did nice things and died, but not one who cleansed the temple, and who said “go and sin no more”?

Enough of this nonsense. To the law and to the testimony. If they speak not according to these there is NO LIGHT IN THEM. NONE!!!

Ford, still flogging the proverbial dead horse. And what is his justification for seeing the little horn as Antiochus? Scholars I presume, not the plain Bible text, for the little horn must come out of Rome not Greece. Now he suggests that the 4th kingdom may not be Rome. And who, pray tell, could it be? Like many of his other assertions, he’s only good at knocking down Adventist interpretations but has no solid solutions. I.e. he’s lost it intellectually.


(Ray Smith) #9

In the words of Andrew Farley, “It’s not Jesus plus the Ten Commandments for daily living. It’s Jesus plus nothing.”

It’s Christ’s fullness that we have received for salvation and for daily living - grace upon grace! The law was given through Moses and thanks be to God we are not under the law.

Grace and truth were realised through Jesus Christ. It’s grace upon grace, not law and grace. This is the grace that teaches us how to live. What this means in practice is that by God’s grace Jesus has written Himself, His righteousness, into our hearts. More than that He lives in us by His Holy Spirit. What greater motivation is there in God’s universe for holy living?

Maybe there is more truth in what Herold Weiss has written than many are prepared to admit. I for one was drilled from childhood in the ten commandments as the transcript of God’s character.

The truth is that Jesus revealed and explained the Father. Jesus is the revelation of God’s character?

Christ is the radiance of God’s glory, in fact, the exact representation of the Father’s nature. How could we ever conceive that ten laws written on tables of stone could be the transcript of the character of Almighty God? Philip discovered that to see Christ was to see the Father.

The righteousness of grace, written into our heart of hearts by the Holy Spirit is the righteousness of Christ from God that is infinitely more glorious than the righteousness that comes from trying to obey the law. The law has not been abolished, just superseded because Christ lives in us. The law can only reveal sin and bring condemnation.

Paul made it clear to Timothy. The law is good if one uses it lawfully. We need to realise the fact that the law is not made for a righteous person but for those who are lawless and rebellious and ungodly and sinners and so the list of rebellion against God goes on.

Christ crucified and risen is the wisdom and power of God. That’s why it’s all about Christ and not Christ plus law.

Rather, for a Christian to flirt with the law is to cheat on Christ.

Farley’s one-liner grabbed your attention. Worked didn’t it?

Andrew Farley’s teaching about the indwelling Holy Spirit is life-changing, especially in the context of this one-liner.

You can easily google Andrew Farley Ministries.


#10

Who needs a Martin Luther when we have SPECTRUM?


(Ted Robertson) #11

Martin Luther began a reform of Christianity from that which went away from the Bible to that which paid attention to the Bible and followed it.

Desmond Ford really just wants the Adventist Church to be more like Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism by embracing historical critical methodology, Preterism, and evolution. He is really more of a counter-reformer.

ADDED EDIT: The detractor writing under the pseudonym “harrpa” defended his fallacious criticism of this post by saying that I had not backed up my criticism of Ford with evidence. So for brevity, here is a bit:

Ford’s interpretations of Daniel are part and parcel of Preteristic interpretations. A recent letter to the editor he sent to Adventist Today should be enough to settle his position as he states, “It is because of the failure of Adventists to recognise the little horn of Daniel chapter 8 as primarily Antiochus Epiphanes that we have fallen into many other mistakes, including 1844 and the Investigative Judgment.” (https://atoday.org/desmond-ford-the-fourth-danielic-kingdom-isnt-necessarily-rome/)

Any quasi-informed biblical methodology dilettante can easily deduce that Preterism is the preferred prophetic interpretation of historical critical methodology. The two go hand in hand. It is also historical critical methodology that embraces ephemeral interpretations of the Genesis account – a position Ford has taken in his concordist book “Genesis versus Darwinism.” (https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/06/03/review-desmond-fords-genesis-versus-darwinism)

Since the time of Teilhard de Chardin, Catholicism has gradually moved toward belief in evolution. Catholic theologians in the majority are historical critical methodologists. Preterism is the preferred school of prophetic interpretation in Catholicism. Mainline Protestantism resembles Catholicism in these areas in general. Thus, my original statement carries weight and is not subject to the non-sequitor ad hominen misrepresentation of the “harrpa.”


(le vieux) #12

Might that have something to do with the fact that he’s been at St. Mary’s too long? There is such a thing as osmosis.

This is one the worst articles Spectrum has published. We do not need a Martin Luther; we need a Moses, along with a few Enoch’s, Daniel’s, and Abraham’s.


(Herold Weiss) #13

I knew I was touching the third rail when I asked the sponsors of the SSQuarterly lessons to be true to the tittle of the lessons these past two quarters. If the lessons pretend to deal with what the letter “To the Galatians” and the letter “To the Romans” teach, then the lessons should make an effort to deal with what Paul actually wrote. I know that the lessons address 13 year old 8th graders. I do not expect scholarly exegesis in them. I do expect honesty with the words of the Apostle. The comments I see have nothing to do with what I claim to be the message of Paul. To make the gospel dependent on Jesus’ perfect obedience to the law of Moses, rather than to the God who raised Christ from the dead, and claim that Paul teaches that is blatantly misleading. To say that Jesus is the Second Adam, when Paul makes perfectly clear that the Risen Christ is the Last (Ultimate) Adam is to turn his view of the Gospel upside down. That is all I am saying.
Since reference was made to last week’s lesson, I would only point out that the whole of Chapters 7 and 8 are explained by the analogies presented at the beginning of chapter 8. The points Paul makes are: 1) a law has power over a person only as long as he/she is alive, and 2) a wife is bound to her husband only as long as the husband is alive. She would be an adulterer were she to go with another man while her husband is alive. She is not an adulterer when she marries another after her husband died. Please read Paul to find out how he finds these two circumstances informing the life of Christians. I will just remind you that the Jews were married to the Law of Moses, and that Paul understands that Christians are those who participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. Are Christians adulterers because they are now married to Christ rather than to the Law?


(Joseph Olstad) #14

I think your emphasis that Paul gave priority to the shift in identity from Law to Christ, especially to participation in His death and resurrection and the consequent outpouring of the Spirit, needs to be reasserted within Adventist circles. I sense that you are pushing this because you see a theological imbalance in the church and our publications on this issue. I agree. However, your tone towards the law is not quite in unison with the way Paul ends his discourse of the law in Romans 7 and 8. As you know, Paul affirms the law as"spiritual" and therefore those walking “after the Spirit” are not in conflict with the “righteousness of the law” being fulfilled in their lives (I don’t need to repeat Paul’s positive adjectives attributed to the law in chapter 7 which Adventists are fond of quoting ad nauseam). Paul’s apologetic for the law in Romans 7 (à la Kümmel) is highlighted by his trenchant argument in identifying the real culprit that leads to death, i.e., the personification of sin (with a capital S) and its manipulation of the law via the flesh. The enemy turned out not to be the LAW but the flesh in Paul’s perspective. A scholar of your repute is obviously aware of this angle (you were required reading for me in my undergrad BTW). Is it that you don’t agree with this angle or are you simply narrowing your emphasis to where you see the neglect? Thank you for your article.


#15

Joseph - A measured and wise response to the original article.


#16

Utterly ridiculous, a total misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and ignorance about Ford’s own preaching of that Gospel.

@tedrobertson1

Documentation includes authors of quotes, not just a web URL. Just sayin’. Judging credibility requires a full citation, not just a few sentences of some unknown person’s opinion without their credibility indicated anywhere as to who they are and their background/scholarship/authority/education/experience/credibility to write that opinion.

You seem hostile about providing the minimal scholarly citation. Why?


(Herold Weiss) #20

Joseph:
Thank you for your desire to have an intelligent conversation about the subject of my piece.
Chapter 7 of Romans makes clear that Paul is speaking to Jews who are now Christians. To them he describes two conditions. One is said to be “while we,” he is also a Jew who is now a Christian, “were living in the flesh” (8:3). He contrasts that stage saying, “but now we were discharged from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life in the Spirit” (8:6). The rest of chapter 7 contrasts this two conditions. The law that held Jews captive, that is a written code, is a law that serves to make sin “transgression” which are countable, and awakens the passions and incites people to sin. Paul also describes it as “the law of sin and death” (8:2). This law is what gives to Sin the power to kill. Moses told the people that if they obeyed it they would live (10:5). Paul confesses that this promise of life was not kept. This law that “promised life proved to be death to me” (7:10).
This law, Paul says, has nothing to do with the revelation of God’s righteousness (3:21). In fact, it “brings wrath” (4:15). By establishing transgressions it gives power to Sin and activates God’s wrath. This law “was ordained by angels through and intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one” (Gal. 3:19-20). That is, its connection to God is not direct. This law is the law that operates in the Fallen World that came about when Adam opened the door and Sin entered and death began to reign in it (5:12,14, 17).
When Paul says, “we know that the law is spiritual; but I am ‘fleshly’, sold under sin,” is he talking about the law that he describes as the law of sin and death, a written code, that brings about death and activates the wrath of God?. Of course, not.
Paul then says “I do not understand my own actions” and goes on to describe the tension created within him by the fact that “I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind” (7;22). He has obviously shifted from describing the situation of Jews who live under the law of Moses and is now referring to his situation as a Christian who has been “discharged from the law” but now has the law of God in his mind." The problem is that while he has been crucified with Christ in order to rise with Christ in the world of the Last (Ultimate) Adam by the Sprit that raised Christ from the dead, while waiting for the Parousia when he will receive a spirit body, he still lives in a fleshly body. The struggle between the law of God in the mind and the law of sin in the flesh is peculiar to Christians who live and are guided by the Spriit. As Paul says, the Spirit renews “from above” their minds so that they “may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). As a Christian, Paul ends confessing, “I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (7:25). This situation, however, is not fateful because as one who has been raised to life in the creation of the Ultimate Adam, he does not live in the fallen creation of Adam where the law of sin operates. “There is, therefore, now (this now relates to the now of 7:6) no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” *8:1-2).
Paul clearly distinguishes two different laws; the written code, law of sin and death that calls out transgressions and operates in the world of the flesh, the word of Adam. Christians who no longer live in the world of Adam have been discharged from that law, and made free. Guided by the Spirit that renews their minds, Christians delight in the law of God, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. This one is spiritual and good.
On the other hand, no biblical author anywhere makes a distinction between a moral and a ceremonial law.
I trust this short elaboration of what the text says, answers your request.
Your reference to your having been required to read my book on Paul of Tarsus in college, reminded me of a Seminary student at Andrews who attended the Spanish church in Berrien Springs. He told me that he was required to read the book and the professor had given them two sheets with review question for the exam they were to take on the contents of the book. He then gave me a copy of the review questions. Of the more than 20 questions in the sheets, not one had to do with the concept of freedom in Paul. I just could not understand how that was possible.


(Michael Wortman) #21

I don’t see a clear distinction between the moral law and the cerimonial law. There seem to be “eternal” principles in both. The truth telling, honesty, respect for life, etc. that are evident in the 10 Commandments could be called eternal. The seventh-day Sabbath certainly is not “eternal,” and seems to fit more appropriately in the set of ceremonial laws, although, I suppose, an argument could be made that the needs for rest and reflection are “eternal.” Some of the ceremonial laws certainly are based on respect and love for fellow humans, and seem “moral” in nature.


(James J Londis) #23

Let me articulate what I believe Dr Weiss is saying in a different way, using the language of morality and ethics. One can see the ethical/moral (EM) strictly in terms of behavior. I “do” what is ethical and moral to the best of my ability, often feeling like my actions are forced because I want a different outcome than doing the “right” thing requires of me. “What ought I to do?” is the primary question of this E/M approach (often called “deontological” or “decisionist” ethics). It tries to address moral perplexity when two or more courses of action present themselves and we are unable to decide which is the right one. One case I read concerned two medical students who had signed an oath they would not cheat and would report any other student who did. One student admitted to his best friend that he had cheated on a recent exam due to pressures from home and the death of his father.
The friend urged him to report himself immediately but he declined, since so many other students were also cheating.

The next day the innocent friend was called into the professor’s office and told he suspected the guilty friend of cheating. He was then asked: "Do you know anything about it?

There are a variety of E/M approaches one could use, including what it means to “obey” the “law” of the school. Focusing on the action itself is attractive because that is the one thing under our control. Even if the purpose or “end” of covering for one’s friend may turn out best for everyone concerned, one cannot control what happens in the future; only what one does now. On this view, the major arguments will orbit around “which laws” and “which rules” will guide us?

The other approach asks this question: “How should we be!” What I do is very important, but in Christian Ethics right behavior cannot be divorced from a “good” or “virtuous” person. Virtue ethicists point out that we seldom encounter morally difficult situations (one exception is in bioethics). So, while once in a while we face difficult decisions, every day and almost every moment we are developing out characters. Are we becoming more compassionate, humble joyful; or more angry, envious and cowardly? What kind of persons do we want to be? In many ways, this question is both prior to and more important than individual decisions. Notice what Jesus says in Matt. 12:33, 35: “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. . . . The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.”

The priority of character and virtue over actions is demonstrated in Jesus teaching throughout his ministry, clearly evidenced in the Sermon on the Mount. As Jesus told us, we become virtuous not just because we develop virtuous habits (Aristotle) but because we choose each day to open ourselves to the love and holiness of God. We develop virtuous habits in the freedom of our relationship to Christ. Actions and behavior bind us to rules and constant tension over what is the right thing to do, especially if we have not cultivated habits of virtue. In our opening case, the first and correct question is not “What shall I do?” but “What kind of person will I become if I evade or lie?”

Paul understood that the “law,” focused so much on behavior (both the moral and ceremonial laws–"do not kill, steal, etc) was a burden that could only be lifted by the freedom offered in the gospel. The obsessive preoccupation with “doing” or obeying the law was to be replaced by a freeing relationship with God in Jesus Christ which would turn us into “new creations” whose virtues were the virtues Christ enfleshed and would be enfleshed in us by the gifts of the Spirit (“meekness, temperance, love, against which there is no law.”) It is not that the “law” was done away with so much as transcended. It is no longer relevant in the “old” sense, only in the new. Cannot kill is surpassed or transcended by “do not hate, do not be angry, live by forgiveness, and so on.”) When one possesses those virtues one feels free because one is acting and deciding out of the depths of one’s being in Christ.

Weiss is asking, I think: “What are the implications of taking that understanding of the gospel seriously in church life, administrative structures, and so on?” Are we really going to hammer people over ( trivial example, yet not so) drinking coffee, deciding to ordain women when the hierarchy says “no way?” Are the virtues Jesus nurtures in those who favor WO less important than a GC decision, poorly managed and informed?


(Kenneth Neal) #24

Another Luther? Perhaps. Certainly another gospel message that is revolutionary! One that brings assurance of salvation like no other gospel, and one that shows the truth about the relationsip between the gospel and the law. Here it is:

  1. Justification and the new birth are one and the same, and are delivered into the heart of every man unbidden and without their consent, as Christ clearly describes to Nicodemus (Titus 3.5, Romans 5.18, John 3.5-8).

  2. Christ is delivered into the heart of every human by birthright (John 1.9, Ephesians 1.18). He is Himself the Law Personified. He writes His law (indeed, He engraves Himself!) upon the heart of every man (2 Corinthians 4.6) whether they consent to this or not (Romans 2.15). Those who do not erase what He writes are one day perfected.

  3. In the judgement it will be made evident that the only reason any man is condemned is because he disposed of the salvation he was in possession of (John 3.19).

Just as Adam’s sin resulted in your condemnation unto eternal death, without your knowledge or consent, so Christ’s death and resurrection resulted in your justification unto eternal life (Romans 5.18, 1 Peter 1.3), without your knowledge or consent. Every human is born saved because what Christ has done overpowers what Adam did! Unfortunately, not every human will remain saved because they can choose to turn away from their own salvation. You are standing in His salvation! You did no more to receive it than Adam did in order to be created. He simply gave it to you because of Who He is and how He loves you! What will you do with it? I pray that you will approach the Light and make it manifest that your good works are His good works worked out in you! John 3.21