Ed Giese's Web Log

The New Obedience

Posted on 2021-06-02 07:30:00 in Spirituality

Just last year, we made obedience a central theme of our preaching at Christ Our Savior. It wasn't exactly an ironic choice, but we realized that, as Lutherans, it was maybe a little unusual. Because Lutherans are so worked up about making certain that salvation -- the teaching on which the church will either stand or fall -- never includes the idea of us earning anything to get it, oftentimes we avoid obedience in sermons because some worry it will leave the impression that, "you do must do this to be saved."

Yet, obedience is a central part of Lutheran teaching. Article 6 of the Augsburg Confession, which is titled The New Obedience, states:

It is also taught that such faith should yield good fruit and good works and that a person must do such good works as God has commanded for God's sake but not place trust in them as if thereby to earn grace before God.

As I was preaching my way through the gospel of Matthew (those were most of) the texts last year, I began to get a sense that the obedience that Matthew felt strongly about is what I would call "healing obedience." It is the obedience of the reformed sinner: the alcoholic, the criminal, the outcast. A Christian saved from such a background clings to obedience as someone who escaped from drowning clings to a life preserver.

Not every Christian brings the experience of a past life of manifest sin to the walk of faith. The gospel of Luke, written as it was under Paul's direction, seems to emphasize what I would call "striving obedience." It is the obedience of the person who was a rule follower, zealous to succeed, but who discovered the emptiness (or wrongness) of his own path. I'm not claiming that such a person did not sin, and doesn't regret past actions -- Paul certainly did! -- but that the personality that was used to striving before depends on obedience differently as part of the walk of faith.

This distinction between types of obedience may seem like a pointless, or needlessly analytical, observation, but I feel that this distinction helps me make sanse of Christian history. It also may help navigate the waters we find ourselves in today. I've never heard anyone make this distinction, though certainly someone else has seen it, even if it hasn't been expressed this way. I am going to explore the area more fully, if for no other reason than the idea of the new obedience lets us know that the old obedience was always lacking somehow. There is something left in the gospels that I am not seeing. I'm going to pray for guidance and inspiration to see it.

Some of the questions I want to answer with the Bible:

  • What are some examples of the two kinds of obedience I mentioned?
  • Are there other kinds worth mentioning? What are they?
  • Obedience is always good, but what about imperfect obedience? Do the two types of obedience fall short in different ways?
  • Can the church, consciously or unconsciouly, favor one type of obedience, by, say, designing its doctrine around strivers or reformed sinners? Do different church bodies today "specialize" in different types of obedience?
  • Is our current cultural moment, obsessed as it is with the unbridled freedom of the individual, interacting with these types of obedience to deform them and make our walk of faith less effective? How?

I could think of more questions, but these are enough to go on for now.