Framework: Two Kinds of Righteousness

One of the key insights that Luther and others highlighted is this topic. In their study of the Scripture they saw that Scripture talks about righteousness in two different ways: righteousness before God and righteousness before people.

Coram Deo (before God) refers to the righteousness that a person has before God, most commonly called, “passive righteousness.” In other words the person’s works before God do not add one drop of righteousness before God. Our righteousness is entirely Christ’s righteousness, which is received as a gift by faith.

Coram mundo (before humans) refers to the righteousness that a person has before people, most commonly called, “active righteousness.”

Kolb and Arand in their book, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, note:

This view [two kinds of righteousness] provided the theological assumptions for everything they had to say about the relationship between God and the human being. This distinction between the two kinds of righteousness is one of the elements we can describe as the “nervous system” running through the body of Christian teaching as these reformers thought of the public teaching of Scripture. (Kolb/Arand, p. 25)

The implications for such an understanding is fleshed out even more.

The distinction between the two kinds of righteousness allowed the reformers without qualification to extol the gospel by removing human activity as a basis for justification before God. At the same time, it clarified the relationship of the human creature to the world in which God had placed him or her to live a life of “active righteousness” for the well-being of the human community and the preservation of the environment. The two kinds of righteousness, however, are not inseparable from one another. The passive righteousness of faith provides the core identity of a person; the active righteousness of love flows from that core identity out into the world. (Kolb/Arand, p. 26)

Lest we think this is a 21st century reading back into Luther, in our Prolegomena class I assign the students to read Luther’s 1535 Commentary on Galatians. Thus, the student reads the primary source to see that Luther does in fact address the two kinds of righteousness from the beginning of the commentary. And they see how he does that. One example from Luther’s introduction to Galatians:

Therefore I admonish you, especially those of you who are to become instructors of consciences, as well as each of you who individually, that you exercise yourselves by study, by reading, by meditation, and by prayer, so that in temptation you will be able to instruct consciences, both your own and others, console them, and take them from Law to grace, from active righteousness to passive righteousness, in short, from Moses to Christ. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 26, p. 10)

Kola and Arand present an expansion of what Luther means by the two kinds of righteousness:

Although Luther labeled the way we are to relate to God as passive righteousness, this dimension of our personhood also assumed a variety of other names, such as “Christian righteousness,” “divine righteousness,” or “spiritual righteousness.”

The reformers also used a rich and varied vocabulary to highlight the various activities and aspects of human life that constitute righteousness in the web of mutually constitutive human relationships. These include “human righteousness,” “civil righteousness,” “political righteousness,” “ceremonial righteousness,” “righteousness of the law,” “righteousness of reason,” “carnal righteousness,” and similar expressions. (p. 29)

Implications

Passive righteousness in Scripture

As we read the Bible we begin to discover that sometimes the text will emphasize the passive righteous of God. For instance,

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith… (Philippians 3:8-9 NAS)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NAS)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3:21-22)

Active righteousness in Scripture

Now in our relationships to others we see that Scripture talks about what we do in those relationships. Paul gives an extended discussion of this in Romans 12-15, as be begins that section with the words: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…” (Romans 12:1), where passive righteousness precedes active righteousness. The active righteousness of Christians shines through in their good works.

[Jesus said:] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, 20

Negatively regarding the works we do for others and their value before God.

This you know, my loved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)

Positively the active righteousness benefits others. Note that James is saying that the active righteousness before others is informed and shaped by the passive righteousness of faith from God.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit corphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27)

Resources:

Kolb, Robert and Arand, Charles P. The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians Chapters 1-4 (Editor: Pelikan, Jaroslav. Luther’s Works, Concordia). (2007).

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Framework for Lutheran Theology

Theological Prolegomena—the name of our one our seminary courses. That’s a mouthful. So what is it? Crudely translated: “Forward to Theology.”

As I began developing the courses for our seminary my focus was on the core courses in the four areas of theology (exegetical, doctrinal, historical, practical). But as we received interest from people leaving non-Lutheran backgrounds who wanted to study with us, I realized that there was a component missing in the curriculum. That is, they were attracted by many aspects of Lutheran theology, but they retained their old framework of thinking. That is, Lutheran theological topics were stuffed into a framework that couldn’t effectively embrace Lutheran theology.

Thus, Theological Prolegomena was birthed into our seminary curriculum. In our syllabus for the course, here is the overview of what is Theological Prolegomena.

What does it mean to be Lutheran? That question causes much confusion. Some think that it means to follow Martin Luther. Some think that it is inappropriate to even ask the question, assuming that the real question should be about “Christian.” Some think that it refers to denominations. And still others think that it means to be “Protestant” with a few, minor doctrinal differences from all other “Protestant churches.” But each of these miss the point of the question.

This course looks at the underlying thinking that sets the foundation for understanding Martin Luther, but more importantly for understanding those who confess the Christian faith in this unique way. That is, one cannot take the theology of another movement and adjust a few things and become Lutheran. Rather, the foundation of thinking affects every doctrine, and even how to approach the Scriptures, doctrine, and theology. Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians (Luther’s Work) gives the student a primary source related to the topics covered in the course.

But to be Lutheran is more than studying some of Luther’s writings. It involves a shift in how we view God, how we view humanity, and the relationships developing out of those two views. In fact, we do not follow Luther, rather we confess the faith as Luther and Melanchthon and Chemnitz, and a whole stream of others have done throughout the centuries.

Defining Terms

We start with these statements that guide our study of theology.

Material Principle: What matters most?

Justification by grace through faith

Formal Principle: What is the source for determining Material Principle?

Bible

Then we look at three commons terms used in the history of the Christian Church. Sometimes the words have been narrowly defined or applied. But we discuss these terms as they developed in the early church, and as historically applied to Lutherans.

Catholic: “universal”

If the word is not capitalized. Sometimes you will see Church catholic and it means the universal church (all believers in Jesus Christ). If the word is capitalized then it is narrowly referring to Roman Church headed by the pope.

Orthodox: “straight praise” ———> “straight doctrine”

Again, this is used two ways, in the general sense of “straight doctrine,” namely everyone who teaches the “straight doctrine of the Christian Church.” In a narrow use of a church body then it applies to many of the eastern churches, i.e. Greek Orthodox Church.

Evangelical: “Gospel”

In the broad use the word refers to those throughout the centuries who have maintained a proper understanding of the Gospel. In the contemporary environment, the word has been associated with a very narrow segment within the Protestant churches. Interestingly the Evangelische Kirche is the name that refers to the Lutheran churches in Germany.

Thus, as Lutherans we identify ourselves as catholic, orthodox, and evangelical. 

Confessional Phrases

How often have I heard this statement: “I am Christian first and Lutheran second”? Far too often! And worse, such a statement is not even accurate. Rather the statement should be:

“I am a Christian who confesses the faith as a Lutheran” (how we confess)

In other words, we are catholic, orthodox, and evangelical Christians who have publicly stated what we believe the Bible teaches, definitely given in the Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (compiled in 1580).

Some might object and say, “We just believe what the Bible teaches.” Our response to that is, “Okay, what does the Bible teach?” The instant a person answers the question, she or he has given a public confession of what the Bible teaches. Our answer to that question has been in place since 1580 (some documents are earlier) when the entire Book of Concord was accepted.

Thus, we find two phrases repeated in our confessions that reflect all the above:

“The Church has always taught”

“We believe, teach, and confess”

By those phrases, we as Lutherans publicly confess that what we are stating in the Book of Concord is what the Christian Church has taught since the time of the apostles up to the present time. That is why the first three documents in the Book of Concord are: Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. We are not changing what the early church taught. We are not some spinoff of many, but rather we confess the faith as it has been passed on from the beginning of the Christian Church.

Fall Qtr 2015 Finished

Grading completed for Fall Qtr—Yay! Excellent students, great discussions, much learning. Blessed with young students in seminary (almost all much younger than me!);

Great professors of theology:

The Rev. Dr. Curtis Leins
The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Pulse
Dr. Adam Francisco
The Rev. Dr. Craig Henningfield
The Rev. Richard Shields

Pastor Dave Spotts (teaches Greek and Greek reading class)

Thanks to everyone to male ALTS what it is today. Special thank you to Bonnie for making it all work behind the scenes.

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Seminary Update

Longer PerspectiveALTSlogo

The start of a new year is a good time to step back and look at American Lutheran Theological Seminary (ALTS). More importantly we look forward to further strengthening and expanding of our seminary.

We are blessed to have two routes for pastoral service in our church body. One is the the on-campus route and the other is online. Each route offers excellent opportunities for preparing men to serve as pastors; these routes are not contradictory but complementary, each with its own strengths.

On Campus

Through our arrangements with the LCMS, our students have the privilege of studying on campus at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (and Concordia Seminary, St Louis, MO). The students gain the benefit of top notch professors, they also study in an environment with daily worship and daily dialog with other students.

The first two years are on campus with some participation in a local congregation. The third year the student, now called a vicar, serves full time in one of our congregations. The fourth year the student returns to campus to complete the Master of Divinity degree.

Online

Over the past five years we have developed an online curriculum for the Master of Theological Studies. At the 2014 Convention the program was approved as an accepted route for appropriate pastoral training leading to service as pastors in The AALC. The students also have the opportunity for continuing service to congregations as part of their pastoral formation.

While there are differences between the programs, there is significant overlap of study. Each approach has distinct advantages for training pastors.

Current Status

On Campus Status: We currently do not have any students on campus; but we have two candidates for probable enrollment in Fall 2016. If you know of men who might be interested in seminary, please have them contact me.

Online Status: For Winter Quarter we have 22 men enrolled in the pastoral track, three women desiring theological education for service apart from the pastoral office, and two lay leaders. We currently have six professors teaching theology and another teaching Greek. With this approach, we hope to offer every online class at least every other year, and possibly more often.