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Lawfulness in Luther's Catechism

Lawfulness in Luther's Catechism

I have recount on more than one occasion my discovering and reading Luther's catechism. In rejecting the Baptistic tradition of my upbringing, I read the works of John Calvin and Martin Luther with much interest. They persuaded me of infant baptism, and eventually, Michael Horton persuaded me of Covenant Theology (strangely a variant of such that I now mostly reject).

Nonetheless, my interest in Luther's Catechism remained. And to this day I am not familiar with many places in which I disagree with the Large Catechism. Reading once again through Jordan Cooper's Hands of Faith has reminded me of why I enjoy the book so much. For in Luther, I find a teaching on the Ten Commandments that very much matches my own and the Reformed tradition. Though I rejected Luther at first for various 2K and New Covenant Theology variants, I eventually found Theonomy of interest. And yet now I sit wondering why it took me so long to return to Luther's Catechism as perfect that it was. Cooper perfectly explains why:

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"When examining the language of Luther in the catechisms, it will be apparent that these commands of God do not serve a purely negative function in his catechetical instruction, but also lay the framework by which the Christian is guided in the world before others." (64)

If this sounds like Luther embraces the third use as a summary explanation of the Commandments than you'd agree with Jordan Cooper who also states:

"Luther summarizes the Ten Commandments in a third-use context." (67)

There is much more than can be said about Luther's exposition of the Ten Commandments, exposition that neither runs parallel or contradictory to Cooper's main thesis itself. But Cooper helpfully shows how Luther extends this application of "active righteousness" (coram mundo) beyond the Ten Commandments and even into the Apostles' Creed. Cooper states:

"In a traditional law-gospel-reductionist schema, one would expect Luther to open his section on the Creed by commenting that in the Creed, sinners are shown the gospel of free grace...The purpose of the Creed, for Luther, is not merely to forgive us for our failure to obey the law...but rather, it gives us the power to begin to obey God's commandments." (68)

Jordan quickly communicates that "the law cannot grant the ability to perform what it commands" (an allusion to Romans 8:3)—much to my frustration. Yet, I can fully agree with the summary that:

"The gospel presented in the Apostles' Creed is said to grant both the forgiveness of sins and the ability to begin to fulfill the commandments of God." (69)

Up unto this point, there are many areas in which Reformed believers can learn from Luther and the passive/active two kinds of righteousness presented by Cooper. Though disagreements will remain concerning baptism's role in this passive righteousness (justification by faith), Cooper's work expanding Luther should go a long way to encourage the reading of the Large Catechism. And so I will be doing precisely that. Next time, I will do a review of Jordan Cooper's Hands of Faith before turning my eyes of Luther's Large Catechism.

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