Sunday, January 10, 2010

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

or, The God of Order, Revisited

Order is Heaven's first law. As the law of the physical universe is mathematical, the law of the spiritual universe is logical. That which has no place in system, is not of God, is not truth. All his works reflect his unity and self-consistency. -- C. P. Krauth, Conservative Reformation p. 176

I found this quote on Pastor Weedon’s blog and I wrote in his comment box that I thought I’d put a brief remark or two about it here. This is going to be brief because I’ve already written three posts about the God of Order, here, here, and here.

What started me writing about it, being blown away by all its implications, was an excellent podcast (I mean an even more superb one than usual!) by Matthew Gallatin, which I hope you will take a few minutes (14) to listen to. Matthew puts deep things into words all of us can easily understand, so do not let the subject matter intimidate you.

This statement by Krauth represents the fundamental difference between Western and Eastern Christianity. It is from here that West diverges from East, and from this all the other differences in theology stem. At least, that's what Matthew Gallatin thinks and I agree, finding he has made an excellent case for his point.

There is no question, of course, that God is a God of order. (That's why true doctrine does not, ever, contradict itself.)  The question is whether “order is Heaven’s first law.” Whether it is THE thing in which God’s perfection is first and foremost manifest, whether it is the primary thing about God.

This idea comes from Plato, ironically enough, through the Platonizing influence of St. Augustine of Hippo. (Ironically in view of how often Western commentators imagine Orthodox Christianity has uncritically gobbled up pagan Greek philosophy.)

God as Eastern Christians know Him, revealed not by Plato but Jesus Christ, is above all else the God of Love, the God of self-emptying, self-forgetting, other-directed, pure and perfect Love, and this Love is Heaven’s first law.   Love, not mathematics, is the first law of the physical universe, and Love, not logic, is the first law of the spiritual universe.  It's in His infinite, unconditional Love that God's perfection is manifested.  (Matthew 5, last several verses).

That’s a profound difference. It has implications for every facet of theology. Take, for example, creation. The God of Love created humankind as an expression of His Love, created us to make us godlike and blessed forevermore. The God of Order created humankind because without us, His perfect Order would be incomplete, imperfect.

Or take the doctrine of sin. For the Eastern Christian, sin is most fundamentally a betrayal of Love. For the Westerner, it is most basically a disruption of God’s Perfect Moral Order.

Or take God’s response to sin. The God of Love, immediately upon the fall of Adam and Eve, devotes Himself to healing us and restoring us to intimate, free, loving communion with Himself and each other. The God of Order has to be concerned first of all with mending the breach sin has created in that Order. His perfection is at stake and He must defend it as his first order of business.

And restoring good order involves punishment, and not just punishment for chastisement, as in Orthodoxy, but punishment for the sake of the good order. How is punishment supposed to restore order? I do not know! I've spent years trying to decipher that. But I think it’s because the pain and suffering of punishment are thought to “balance out” the guilty pleasure one had taken in sinning. The one is supposed to make up ("pay for") the other. In Eastern understanding, there is no way  for anybody (including Jesus Christ) to make up to God for past sin. There’s just nothing that could undo it except forgiveness. 

Or take eschatology (the doctrines concerning the last things: the end of the world, judgment, heaven and hell). The ultimate destiny the God of Love has ordained for us is perfect, free, loving, intimate oneness with Him, participation together in His very Life. The goal for us of the God of Order is that we should attain to a state of moral perfection.

So every doctrine, from the beginning to the end, is different depending upon whether we choose the God of Plato or the God of Jesus Christ.   But do listen to Gallatin's podcast, as he puts things far better than I can, and more simply and more clearly and with many biblical references in the bargain.  He explains all this in detail.

“God is love.”

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. (from I Corinthians 13, emphases mine)

From Matthew 232 (See also Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28):

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' [fn4] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

P.S.) Orthodoxy, in common with today's scientists (!), doesn't really believe in "Laws of Nature", either, but I'll save that for another post in a day or two.


Dixie said...

One thing that was quite unusual to me when I was looking into Orthodoxy is how frequently we talk about a loving, self-emptying God. Of course this is because at the center of our faith is the Trinity and everything radiates out from that...God is Love because that is how He exists in Trinity.

I had to kind of smile a bit regarding the first law of God as a God of order. My German mother would have loved that! Love is good, sure, but order makes love possible. (Just joking, of course--although order really was a big thing for her!)

Great post, thanks for redirecting me to the old Matthew Gallatin podcast. It was good to listen to that again.

William Weedon said...

I do wonder, though, if it is a distinction without a real difference: for He who orders all things according to His Logos IS love in His nature. Order is just how Love arranges according to Who He is, no?

William Weedon said...

P.S. Dixie's observation is really on target though. One can't help note the biggy in Western liturgy is the address: O Almighty God... It runs through the overwhelming majority of prayers. The East does a far better job with O Lover of Mankind.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dixie, I had thought of that, of how dear order is to Germans!

Pr. Weedon, not so. There's a whole universe of difference, which Gallatin goes on to explore in about a dozen more podcasts in this series.

It's hugely important whether the order in the creation serves love or love is in the service of order. It matters infinitely which is the controlling, "top-dog" principle. It makes for two whole different worldviews and sets of doctrines.

See the note I've left on your blog.

Anonymous said...

The flood of misrepresentations is so vast that I really did not want to even begin a response. “Ours is a God of Love, and yours is a God of Order.” That’s just too simplistic, and it is wrong. First, about Krauth. I do not know much more about him than the posts on Rev. Weedon’s blog and a few other bits and pieces. I know that he is (was – rest eternal grant him, O Lord) highly respected as a teacher and theologian by many Lutherans. As such, I am certain that he would not try to arrange the laws or qualities of God in an order of importance. I suspect he simply meant that God’s desire for order is the first thing we learn about Him after He created heaven and earth. If we assume that he was a Christian, we have to assume that he was thoroughly convinced of the fact that God is Love. I think I can safely assert that Krauth was not a major shaper of the Western Church. Further, it is extremely rare that “Order” is even mentioned in our churches outside of the context of congregational practice urged by St. Paul.

Secondly, I did listen to Matthew Gallatin and I think he misrepresents both St. Augustine’s theology and its influence on the Western Church. Space does not permit more than the following quotation from “On the Trinity”: “Wherefore, if Holy Scripture proclaims that God is love, and that love is of God, and works this in us that we abide in God and He in us, and that hereby we know this, because He has given us of His Spirit, then the Spirit Himself is God, who is love.” If we try to analyze someone’s writings, be they by Krauth or St. Augustine, without knowing the context, we are often misled, because we attribute opinions on one topic to an entirely different one.

I cannot speak for the entire Western Church, but as far as the Lutheran part of it is concerned, I know that the chief doctrine is the Gospel (some would say it is Justification, but that is actually a part of the Gospel). It is impossible to understand, proclaim, or believe the Gospel without being convinced that God is Love. So let us not get into the argument about “our God is Love,” and your God is Order.

But St. Augustine, Luther and I take issue with Matthew Gallatin on the matter of coming to faith. According to Gallatin, it is a choice made by people on the basis of their free will. This ancient error of Pelagius was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431 under the leadership of St. Augustine. As you see from the dates, the council was held before the split between the churches. Luther and Erasmus had a lengthy polemic on this topic. The Lutheran view is that Scripture teaches the complete depravity of fallen humanity that makes it impossible for anyone to make a conscious effort to accept salvation. Why this matters is another chapter in the book of Salvation.

Finally, it is an axiom of the Christian faith that the Holy Spirit is active in guiding the Church until the end of time. The Spirit knows of no East or West, and He is the same Spirit Who hovered over the chaos at Creation and He who guided the Apostolic Church and guides the Church today. Unfortunately, whenever people are involved, things do not work our perfectly. Therefore, many people have influenced the Church for good, and many for evil. But if we are to “test the spirits,” we should not do it on the basis of “who” said “what”, but on “what” was said and how that compares with what Scripture teaches.

εἰρήνη καὶ χαρὰ
George A. Marquart

Dixie said...

Hey George! I have been reading your comments over at Pastor Weedon's blog and believe that you accurately represent Lutheranism as it was taught to me. I'd like to address just a couple of things. I will save the meat for Anastasia as she is much more knowledgeable and articulate.

The Lutheran view is that Scripture teaches the complete depravity of fallen humanity that makes it impossible for anyone to make a conscious effort to accept salvation.

The Orthodox wouldn't see things in quite the same light. With regard to total depravity we believe we still bear the image of God and therefore total depravity is taking things too far. In fact during our services the priest or deacon will sense the icons first and then the people...and that is because we still bear the image of God, although we surely acknowledge God's likeness in us a terribly damaged.

With regard to free will...the Orthodox always presuppose action by the Holy Spirit. We are Trinitarians, par excellence. The Good News can't be received, can't be understood, in fact, there is no Good News without the Holy Spirit. So there is no Pelagianism going on in Orthodoxy. But free will to choose (always the action of the Holy Spirit presumed) or to reject this news? You betcha. Free will is an important tenet of Orthodoxy.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you, George, for your thoughtful and detailed reply.

I do know Krauth is very respected and respectable, although not infallible, and I simply think he has made a mistake here. No, I don't think he just meant that's the first thing we learn from the story of creation; that would reduce his words to something so unimportant as hardly to be worth saying - or quoting. He just goofed. He misstepped. it can happen to anyone, no big deal. (IS it?)

And I think it would be a distortion if we were to think the "God of Love" were not orderly, or that the "God of Order" had no love (but see below).

But the question remains: what is "Heaven's first law"? And it does make a vast difference whether that first law is Order or Love, because whichever it is, the other will be subordinate to it.

And if Love is subordinate to Order (or anything else) then it is not the infinite, unconditional love revealed in Jesus Christ, which Christians know and live in Him. It is conditional upon the requirements of good order, and bounded by them. And then all the things I've described snd more will follow.

So which is it?

(I'm cross-posting this on Pr. Weedon's blog.)

Anonymous said...

Dixie, thank you for your kind words. I hope Anastasia will forgive us for discussing Lutheran beliefs on her website.
The “image of God” argument has always troubled me, because under it people are often portrayed as being far nobler than experience would seem to justify. I am writing as one who has lived under Nazism and Soviet Communism. So I looked into the matter a bit and found that the Hebrew word (צלם (tselem)) used in Genesis is only used in the Old Testament to indicate a concrete image; never an abstraction such as “quality of character”. Therefore, I suggest that Genesis refers to God, when he formed Adam from earth, creating him quite literally in the physical image of the incarnate Son of God, the second Adam. There are a few uses of the Greek word for image (from which we get the word “icon”) in the New Testament that may support this view: 1 Cor. 11:7, 2 Cor. 4:4, and Col. 1:5. But this is just an aside - my personal opinion, which might be wrong.
As to the Lutheran doctrine of the “depravity of man,” these and other Lutheran doctrines are easily found in the “Book of Concord” web site: is a brief quote from the Solid Declaration of the Book of Concord: I. Original Sin. “3. That original sin (in human nature) is not only this entire absence of all good in spiritual, divine things, but that, instead of the lost image of God in man, it is at the same time also a deep, wicked, horrible, fathomless, inscrutable, and unspeakable corruption of the entire nature and all its powers, especially of the highest, principal powers of the soul in the understanding, heart, and will, so that now, since the Fall, man inherits an inborn wicked disposition and inward impurity of heart, evil lust and propensity; that we all by disposition and nature inherit from Adam such a heart, feeling, and thought as are, according to their highest powers and the light of reason, naturally inclined and disposed directly contrary to God and His chief commandments, yea, that they are enmity against God, especially as regards divine and spiritual things.” And about Free Will: II Free Will or Human Powers. “12. Therefore the Scriptures deny to the intellect, heart, and will of the natural man all aptness, skill, capacity, and ability to think, to understand, to be able to do, to begin, to will, to undertake, to act, to work or to concur in working anything good and right in spiritual things as of himself.” These are just snippets which are unlikely to change your mind. But these writings reflect the result of much study and debate among rational, pious people of the Lutheran persuasion. They are based on clear statements of Scripture about the nature of mankind after the Fall and what St. Paul calls “being slaves to sin” as far as the Will is concerned. The “image of God” argument is really not that persuasive because it requires some assumptions that Scripture does not support.
Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

You are always welcome to discuss Lutheran things here.

Please forgive me if I don't necessarily join in each time.

Dixie said...

George, thank you for you input. Yes, it is highly unlikely we will change each other's minds on the matters under discussion. In fact, I am, by far, not one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes presenting the Orthodox point of view. However I will make a couple of points.

I can appreciate that you are convinced by first hand experience with communism that men are totally depraved and no longer bear the image of God. But surely there are things in my own heart that are far worse than the communists.

Your idea that the image of God means a physical image is shared by some early church fathers (Saints Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Palamas) BUT they don't stop there, they also say our souls bear his image as well. and Genesis 1:26 - 27 is the Scripture passage that is used to support this. You say that the Hebrew meaning of image in that sentence represents something "concrete: and not "quality of character". I don't understand why the image of God on our souls can't be concrete. We are talking about very concrete things, body and soul. Besides until the Reformation both East and West taught that we bear the image of matter how distorted (by communism or by the blackness of my heart).

Pulling from the letters between the Tuebingen Lutherans and Patriarch Jeremias II, the Patriarch references St. John Chrysostom's explanation of Eph 2:1-2. "You observe that it is neither by force nor by compulsion, but by persuasion He wins us over 'when you were dead.' Indeed, then there is corporal and there is also a spiritual dying. The former is a matter of nature not of deliberate choice, whereas the spiritual dying, being a matter of deliberate choice, has criminality and has no termination."

The Patriarch goes on to write, "One wills and chooses to do not by force but of his own free will whatsoever he would do, either the good or evil. Therefore, Paul says in the second chapter of his Letter to the Romans: 'but by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself!'"

This is but a small sampling but the Scriptures do support the Orthodox point of view. Where I think this takes us is which interpretation is the correct one? Now I am certain you have your reasons for trusting the Lutheran interpretations. For me, however, I am going with 2000 years of understanding as held and taught by the Holy Orthodox Church...even though my mother was a German and I really like Germans. ;)

Anonymous said...

Dixie, I really appreciate the content and the spirit of your response. My mother was a Lutheran, a descendant of Saxon immigrants to Russia. My step father, whom my mother married when I was 4 years old, was Russian Orthodox, of German descent. With this background, I have sympathy for both sides in this argument.

I did not mention my experience with communism to prove man’s depravity, but to support what Scripture says about it. If Scripture said that mankind is not totally depraved, then I would have to believe it in spite of any evidence in the world to the contrary, just as you and I believe in the “one holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church” even though we do not see it.

Thank you for letting me know about the early Church Fathers’ views on the “image of God.” I suspected that if there was even a grain of truth in what I thought, surely I would not be the first to come up with it after roughly 2000 years of Christendom. But I guess that it is Gen. 2:7, where God breathed into man so that he became a living being, that also supports the view of man being made in God’s image. By the way, neither I nor any Lutherans deny that man was made in God’s image. Where we disagree is on what happened to this image and the nature of people as a result of the Fall.

As to the definition of concrete, I used the word simply to distinguish between an image that one can touch or see, and an image that is a trait or a characteristic. What Scripture calls “a graven image” is concrete, even when you see it in your mind. Although a masterpiece of art (even music) is concrete, the beauty in it is abstract. Body and soul, by definition are concrete, even though the soul is invisible to people, but their characteristics are abstract. This is simply how the meaning of these words is defined.

When you write, “Besides until the Reformation both East and West taught that we bear the image of God,” this is not quite true. The Bible says it, does it not? Therefore even the heirs of the Reformation believe it. What is in questions is what is the nature of man as a result of the Fall, regardless of what kind and/or amount of image of God remains in man. In its simplest terms, “Is conversion totally a work of God, or does man contribute to it?” The Eastern Church has fairly consistently held that man must make a conscious decision to accept God. The Western Church has waffled on the subject to the point that by the time of the Reformation, the idea of “cooperating with grace” was close the Eastern view. As I mentioned earlier, that is what the Pelagian controversy was all about, and the Church then (before the schism) decided that the views of Pelagius were to be condemned. One of the reasons so little is known abut this in the East is that the Council of Ephesus, an Ecumenical Council, condemned Pelagius without spending much time on the details of the controversy. The details came out later, in the Council of Orange, but that was a Western council.

Continued on the next posting, because I have apparently run out of space.

Anonymous said...

Continued on the next posting, because I have apparently run out of space.

But Scripture is absolutely clear on the matter of Free Will. Here are just a few passages:

Genesis 6: 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
Jeremiah 10: 23I know, O Lord, that the way of human beings is not in their control, that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.

Matthew 13: 10 Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ 11He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” 14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

John 6: 43Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.

Romans 8: 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Ephesians 2You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

And continued again.

Anonymous said...

That brings us right to Jeremias II. Did anyone ask us if we wanted to be born by our mothers? Why should the birth through water and the Spirit be different? The fact is that the vast majority of God’s children come to faith as infants in baptism. Nobody asked them if they want to be baptized. Some people call that “force and compulsion;” others call it the grace and mercy of God. It is also true that East and West agree that faith is a gift from God.

Finally, please don’t think that either I or those who call themselves Lutherans believe that anyone’s ultimate fate will be determined by whether we believe in Free Will or not. Faith is not what we believe, but a gift of the Holy Spirit which makes us members of the Kingdom of God. My guess is that Abraham never thought of free will; nevertheless, God “reckoned his faith as righteousness.” But we Lutherans believe that being saved by God without our help is both Scriptural and a great consolation in time of doubt, because we are only too well aware of our own shortcomings. We simply cannot be certain that God has made us His children if it depends on our efforts. But the promises of God, the Faithful One, cannot fail, and therefore we rejoice with St. Paul, “Who will separate us from the love of God?”

Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart

sorry about taking up so much space.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

You are welcome to take up lots and lots of space here, George and Dixie.

You may (or may not) be interested in some entries in this blog pertinent to your discussion. If you check the archives for late October of 2007, you will find a 5-part series I entitled "Free Will in Conversion" which runs from October 25 through November 1. It presents Orthodox perspectives on many of the points being made here.