Monday, July 2, 2007

Sanctification Bandwagon

Bloggers all over have been noting and discussing the lack of sanctification in Lutheran (LCMS) preaching over the last decade or two. Rev. McCain has posted on this recently. I recommend his posts…but can’t find them on his site right now.

Why, though? Why are sermons preaching sanctification missing? Even more, why are there so many of us living unsanctified lives, by all appearances? Two reasons:
1. Lutherans struggle with antinomianism. Debate all you want, but it’s true. Of course we reject it officially. It’s unchristian. But in our practice we struggle against it. Luther’s oft-quoted, yet spurious “Sin boldly” doesn’t help.

And now for the unorthodox reason:

2. We have no saints.

Yes, I know the line about all of us who are baptizing being at once sinner and saint. I know what we say about Grandma Jenkins and Pastor Himmelreich, that they are the saints in glory even now. We have our own hagriographical pieces about Walther and Luther, and if you’re from Ft. Wayne, Loehe.

We have the Ancient and Accepted Order of titling Bible-people “St.” if, and only if they appear in the Bible, unless our congregation is named after him. Thus, St. Peter and St. Lawrence.

But in our commemorations there are no “saints.” We have no saints in our piety. We honor heroes aplenty, but nearly in the same way we honor Washington and Lincoln, giving thanks for the great things God gave them to do, their courage and insight. But we do not seek to emulate our Christian “heroes.” We do not tell stories about them that inspire us to “imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7) We give thanks for the accomplishments and faithfulness of those who have gone before us, but do not honor them as being more sanctified than we are, as being further along the path, as examples to be imitated. We take a modern, critical view of the miracles that they reportedly worked, erasing even more honor. Those in our commemorations become “Great Men and Women of (Christian) History, For Whom We Ought to Give Thanks to God For, But We Ought to Give Thanks to God For Everyone Anyway.”

In Roman Catholic circles one sometimes hears the insulting compliment, “He’s trying to be a saint.” It means of course, the person is living a very pious life. And maybe, just maybe, he’s trying to be perfect.

This insult/compliment is nonsense to Lutherans. How can one “try to be a saint?” The Good Lutheran Response to this is, “You are one already!” Which completely undermines the desire to live a life of sanctification. When the goal of living a life full of grace, a life of complete repentance, a life devoid of sin is taken away, when the examples of men and women who achieved this, or close to it, are removed, when they are not constantly being praised and lifted up as examples to us, as Hebrews tells us they ought to be, what do we have left?

Already struggling against some antinomian currents in our theology, and egalitarianism in our anthropology (we’re all saints and sinners, all the same, really), we have no goal to shoot for. Add to this confusion over the role of the Law in Christian Living (the so-called Third Use) and we’re left with sermons about Justification 52 times a year.