Lutheran Distinctions

pouring-colorsMuch of what distinguishes the Lutheran church from other Christian denominations are the distinctions we make about various theological concepts.  By distinctions, I mean that we keep certain things separated from other things.  For example, the Lutheran church keeps Law and Gospel as distinct things.  Law and Gospel are closely related and we cannot keep one without the other, but they are not the same and they should not be confused.  So, what are the primary Lutheran distinctions and how do they influence our beliefs?

(In case you want to read it, I actually did write about this class previously when Bill and I were just starting it.  You can read that post here, “A New Class Begins.”)

The Primary Lutheran Distinctions:
The distinctions we covered in the class were the following:

  • Theology of the Cross and Theology of Glory
  • Law and Gospel
  • The Two Kinds of Righteousness
  • The Two Kingdoms

I’ll touch on each of these below.

Theology of the Cross and Theology of Glory:
Simply put, the Theology of the Glory looks to some work of our own to save us and the Theology of the Cross looks solely to the Christ’s work on the cross to save us.  With the Theology of Glory, it’s not that Christ’s work on the Cross is ignored, but rather it’s not enough on it’s own.  Something of our own work must be added.  This may be our that you have to show God that you are truly sorry through some penance for God to forgive or it may be that we have to live a good life after we are saved in order to keep our salvation.  There are numerous ways this can present itself, but in the end, there’s always some work of man that must be done to achieve salvation.   Lutheran theology (and we believe Scripture) holds to the Theology of the Cross.  We do nothing to contribute to our own salvation.  It is entirely God’s work.

Law and Gospel:
The Law is anything that is asked/demanded of us.  The most obvious Law is the Ten Commandments, but anywhere in Scripture where we are called to act is a form of Law.  Gospel, on the other hand, is God acting for us.  Forgiveness of sins, being made righteous, and being called a child of God are all God’s work for us, Gospel.  The Law’s primary role is to convict us of our sin and show our need for a savior.  The Law never saves.  The Gospel is our salvation.  The Law can also help to guide us in our Christian life, but we should never confuse the Law and Gospel.

For example, we may say, “God calls Christians to give to the poor.”  This is true and good, but we must fight temptation to take the extra step of calling someones salvation into question because they don’t give enough to the poor.  While it is good to give to the poor, we are not saved by our giving, we are only saved by God’s work for us.  In fact, more often than not, the call to give to the poor does more to show us how much we fail at giving and how much we must cling to the cross.

Two Kinds of Righteousness:
What?  Righteousness is righteousness right?  Well, when we talk about the two kinds of righteousness we are talking about our righteousness before God and our Righteousness before man.  The Lutheran distinction here is that before God, we are only righteous because of Christ.  We are clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Phil 3:9).  We do nothing to earn this righteousness.  We are completely passive.

Our righteousness before man, however, is an active righteousness.  People see the external.  They cannot see someone’s heart, their faith, or God’s righteousness.  They can only see the external works caused by the faith God has created in us.  So, we live our our faith before others.  We are doing something, but even this is God’s work in us as he “works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:13).

We should not confuse the two, however, thinking that our works before men somehow contribute to our righteousness before God.

The Two Kingdoms:
The concept of the two kingdoms is that God rules the earth by two means.  On the one hand, he places governments into power to provide order.  On the other hand, he give us the church, which is a rule of grace.  Dangerous things happen when these two “kingdoms” are combined.  When the government controls the church, corruption abounds in the church and the government takes a higher position of authority than the Word of God.  When the church controls the government (as seen in much of European history), the church becomes an institution of law, not grace.  That’s not to say that church can have no say in government, but the church should not seek to control the government.

The Foundational Idea:
Throughout three of the four distinctions described above, you can see a central concept.  A person’s work does not and cannot contribute to their salvation.  Salvation is solely the work of God.  This is based on the foundational idea from the Scriptures that man is by nature a sinner, though and through, and God is our justifyer.  God works in us to bring us to salvation and then sanctify us until, at last, He brings us into glory to be with Him.

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