“Preoccupied” with the Distinction Between Law and Gospel?
I would like to express a fraternal concern with a comment made in the latest issue of Concordia Journal about the Lutheran distinction between two kinds of righteousness. It is said to be a "distinction which has sometimes been neglected or overshadowed by our preoccupation with the distinction between Law and Gospel." (CJ, Vol. 33, No. 4, p. 342).
I’m entirely in favor of a much more thorough exploration of, and appreciation for, the distinction between two kinds of righteousness. That is well and good, but, I’m not in favor of doing this at the expense of the distinction between Law and Gospel.
The Formula of Concord asserts that the distinction between Law and Gospel is a: "particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of rightly dividing God’s Word and properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles. We must guard this distinction with special care, to that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other, or a law be made out of the Gospel. When that happens Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely." (Article VI.1).
"These two doctrines, we believe and confess, should always be diligently taught in God’s Church forever, even to the end of the world." (VI.24)
"The true and proper distinction between the Law and Gospel must be taught and preserved with all diligence." (VI.27).
Note also what Melanchthon states in the Apology, Article IV.5-6:
"All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises [the Gospel]. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification,
and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal. Moreover,in this discussion, by Law we designate the Ten Commandments, wherever they are read in the Scriptures."
I would respectfully submit that those who want to rouse interest in the distinction between two kinds of righteousness should avoid speaking in ways about the distinction between Law and Gospel that sound disparaging. I could not agree more with those who have rightly identified a problem in the way the distinction between Law and Gospel has come to be regarded: not as distinction, but apposition in which any and all talk about works is labeled as works righteousness; therefore, all the more reason to make clear what all these distinctions are all about. Here is one of the best articles I’ve read on the distinction between two kinds of righteousness.
Are we "preoccupied" with the distinction between Law and Gospel? If we aren’t, we certainly should be. And this does not in any way preclude us from learning more about, and deepening our appreciation for, the distinction between two kinds of righteousness.The distinction between Law and Gospel is the key to properly understanding the Sacred Scriptures; and therefore the key to understanding the two kinds of righteousness.