Friday, June 22, 2018

Gerhard Forde's 1970 article “Lex Semper Accusat?”

1970 Lex Semper Accusat?” was published in dialog 9/4 (Autumn 1970):265-274. Republished in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (33-49, quotations from this printing)

Forde’s antinomianism is clear in this social justice piece.  In the article Forde is explicitly distancing himself from Confessional Lutheranism and historic Christianity.

The title translates "Does the Law Always Accuse?"

The title comes from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4 “Of Justification” part 38.
38] Paul says, Rom. 4:15: The Law worketh wrath. He does not say that by the Law men merit the remission of sins. For the Law always accuses and terrifies consciences. Therefore it does not justify, because conscience terrified by the Law flees from the judgment of God. Therefore they err who trust that by the Law, by their own works, they merit the remission of sins. [emphasis added] 
The phrase in the context of Ap 4.38 refers to one of the main things the law of God will always do while we live in this world as sinners. The phrase does not refer to an eternal use of God’s Law. But it does refer to the fact that God uses His Law to drive us as to repentance. Forde distances himself from the use of the Law to preach repentance. And he misrepresents how the Confessors and Reformers as if they taught God uses His Law eternally to accuse.

Forde says his article is designed to “help Christians to find their bearings in a confusing time”, (33) that he wanted to show how the development “theological understanding of law...may have the current difficulties and if so, how these might be sorted out.” (33, italics original) Forde asked “What ought the Christian attitude to law and the rule of law to be?”(34)

Here Forde lays out his concept of “The Reformation View.” He states:
 “The reformers, it should be noted, did have devices by which they sought to establish a more positive attitude to law. This came in their distinction between the uses of the law. The accusing function of law related to its theological use, i.e., its use for man’s relationship to God. Here the law always accuses. That is to say that man can never use the law to earn his way to God, to establish his own righteousness in the final judgment.” (34, italics original)
In contrast to this theological use Forde distinguishes a different use:
“The situation was quite different in relation to human society, however. Here one encounters the law in its civil use. Here the law is understood as a force, backed by the power of the state as God’s representative in civil matters to restrain evil and to preserve human society. In this it could be argued that there was at least beginnings of a more positive evaluation of the place of law. Christians must have respect for law as the means through which God intends to preserve and extend human society.” (34-35)
And at this point Forde includes a footnote:
“Some of the reformers, of course, liked to speak also of a third use of the law, the law used as a guide to conduct for the redeemed Christian. Since, however, this is a rather specialized use, pertaining to the Christian life alone and not to the attitude toward the laws of society in general, it can perhaps be left out of account here. I say perhaps because some would no doubt dispute this”(footnote 2, p. 25, italics original)
From there he directs the reader to Werner Elert’s Law and Gospel, and to Paul Althaus’ The Divine Command.

What should be apparent to Confessional Lutherans readers is that Forde is mixing the Kingdom of the Left and the Kingdom of the Right under the generic term law. He has not represented the classical Lutheran or the classical Reformed distinctions between the uses of the law.

It is this mishmash of categories and historical positions which Forde contrasts with what he labels the gospel. If the law is no longer the condemnation of sin, then the gospel can no longer good news regarding freedom from Satan, sin, and death. Forde's law and gospel find no harmony with Christ's decree:
 “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:46-47)
Forde's article has a purely social justice goal, an antinomian end.

Forde maintains that the law is not eternal:
“There is no escape from the law in this way [theology, philosophy, liberalism, or revolutionary ideas]. But there is an end to law far more real than that, the end that comes with the breaking in of the new in Christ, the end of the old Adam and the creation of the new. It is when man realizes that there is really and truly an end, a goal, a telos, that he can begin for the first time to listen to the law, to let is speak to him and hear what it has to say. When one sees the end, the goal of it all, has happened and is on its way through God’s initiative one can begin to see the law in a positive light. For then one sees that the law is not forever; it is for this age, for this world.” (48)
“If the law is eternal, if there is no distinction between this age and the next, there is no way to speak of the goodness of our actions in and for this age; everything is judged by the moral absolute.” (48)
Forde also asserted that the law is not for spiritual use, but for civil use only.
“When it [law] has an end, however, a real end, one can see its positive use. In view of the end in Christ we can see that the law is intended for this world and that a new kind of goodness is possible, a goodness in and for this world, a ‘civil righteousness.’ Faith in the end of the law establishes the law in its proper use.” (49, italics original)
“[T]he proper use of the law [is] for taking care of this world, in the name of purely natural and civil righteousness and not in the name of supernatural pretension.” (49)
Forde established his rejection of the use of the law in Christian preaching of repentance. The law is meant only for civic good. He fails to bring forward Biblical categories or Lutheran Confessional understanding.

Recent Discussions

May 5, 2015 by Scott Keith “Do You Really Think You Can Use God’s Law?” The Jagged Word a 1517 Legacy Project Blog

August 14, 2017 by Steven Hein “About Preaching Good Works” 1517 Legacy Project Blog

Jordan Cooper April 9, 2011 “Lex Semper Accusat: A Response to TurretinFan” Just and Sinner Blog 

Mark Surburg, September 4, 2017 “Mark's thoughts: About Steven Hein's "About Preaching Good Works"” Surburg’s Blog

Dr. David Scaer “Lex Semper Accusat - Really?” Symposia 2018 Concordia Lutheran Seminary-Fort Wayne, Indiana