Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Correcting Some Anti-Antinominanism

There has been a heavy anti-antinomian thunderstorm coming from good confessional writers these days, and heaven knows it has been a welcome rain. We cannot condone sin in the name of the Gospel any more today than they did in the 16th century days of Luther's antinomian nemesis Agricola.

A most recent downpour against the antinomians came in the form of a re-posting, on facebook, of a lecture from the late and revered Professor Dr. Kurt Marquart on the subject. It's from January of 2005 and can be accesssed here. Despite the fact that it's always a safe thing to praise Dr. Marquart, and therefore always treacherous to question what he says, I happen to think that some of what he said was in need of correction. I was there, actually, back in the days when the Symposia were held in the Wambsganss gym. And I responded with a published article in the Easter 2005 issue of Gottesdienst.

Here it is:

The Third Use of “Gottesdienst
Burnell F Eckardt Jr.
Gottesdienst, Easter 2005 (Liturgical Observer)
Gottesdienst, Gottesdienst, Gottesdienst!  Such a popular word among us Lutherans this has become, and all to the glee of us editors of this journal.  In January, Professor Kurt Marquart gave a lecture on “The Third Use of the Law as Confessed in the Formula of Concord” at the 2005 annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (to see it online, go to In it, he sought to “deconstruct” what he calls “the linguistic myth that the German word Gottesdienst means God serving us in Word and Sacrament.”  In fact, said he, “the word means nothing of the sort. It simply means worship. The genitive is objective, not subjective.”  How delighted was I to see heads at once turning in our direction to get our reaction.  Delighted, I guess, in a rather vain sort of way, because it suggests to me that this journal has succeeded to some degree in debunking even Dr. Marquart’s definition, simply by virtue of our popularity.  Why, Gottesdienst does not simply mean worship!  It simply is, as everyone knows, the name of this journal!  Who cares what else it means!
But seriously, folks—that is, you whose heads were turning, and anyone else whose head might by now be turning—Dr. Marquart’s definition is indeed the common one, and the term with that definition is of course a very common word among the Germans.  Yes, he’s right: Gottesdienst simply means worship, and you can’t really make the case that when Germans use that word they really mean “God serving us.”  OK, but so what?  Is it somehow impermissible to propose a better etymological meaning, so that the term can serve us well in our catechetical stress on divine grace and monergism?  Have we erred if we choose to ascribe the subjective genitive to Gottes (God’s) with respect to dienst (service)?  That is to say, Gottesdienst, taken purely and without respect to usage, does beg the question whether we are referring to our service toward God or to the service which God renders toward us.  And while it is true that common usage accepts only the former, some of us like to take advantage of the etymological opportunity provided by the ambiguous nature of the genitive to catechize our people regarding the heart of worship, namely, that it is primarily all about God’s service to us in Word and Sacrament.  So what’s wrong with that? 
For what it’s worth, Philip Melanchthon happens to be one of us who subscribes to this “linguistic myth,” in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession: “Faith . . . is perfectly confident with respect to this, namely, that God makes a present and gift to us, and not we to Him, that He sheds upon us every treasure of grace in Christ . . .  Faith is the worship [Gottesdienst], which receives the benefits offered by God” (Ap IV, 49 [Trigl 134-135], emphasis mine).  Or again, “faith justifies and saves, not on the ground that it is a work in itself worthy, but only because it receives the promised mercy.  And throughout the prophets and the psalms this worship [Gottesdienst] . . . is highly praised” (Apol IV, 57 [Trigl 136-137], emphasis mine).  To be sure, Gottesdienst is also used by Melanchthon according to Dr. Marquart’s common definition, but for him to look askance at any alternative definition with a dismissive “nothing of the sort” seems a bit of an overreach, to say the least.
Dr. Marquart himself cites a number of passages from Luther which employ a wider definition than the common one, as the Reformer calls labor and service to the neighbor a kind of Gottesdienst.  Does he honestly think Luther’s usage here was the common definition? 
But Dr. Marquart’s sights, I think, are on a bigger target than abuse of terminology.  First he quotes Luther, “There is hardly a greater sin than the laborious and invented divine worship [Gottesdienst], which happens with howling and growling in all churches and monasteries” (St. Louis edition 19:1138).  Then he follows with “Why is this important? There is a very real danger that people form the impression that what is really important to God is liturgical falderal and pomp and circumstance in church, and that their own daily labours in their temporal callings are trivial and unworthy by comparison.” 
Say what?  Liturgical falderal and pomp? 
Now I begin to wonder.  Maybe after all he does have Gottesdienst in mind, not according  to the common (first) use, nor the alternative etymological (second) use, but the third use we most commonly employ (as in, “Have you renewed your Gottesdienst subscription yet?”).
I mean, just what sort of liturgical falderal and pomp does he have in mind?  Bowing and scraping, perhaps?  Genuflecting, that is, as we do, before the Body of Christ?  That sort of falderal and pomp?  You know, the falderal and pomp of the Magi before the Christ Child?  Or smells and bells, maybe?  Incense?  Like what the Magi gave Jesus, or what Isaiah saw in his vision?  That sort of falderal and pomp, h’mmm? 
Now since we at Gottesdienst (third use) seem to be getting tarnished with Dr. Marquart’s careless brush, it behooves me to speak up.  Since everyone knows (see above) that we speak routinely about things liturgical, and since we are also routinely blamed for dealing in falderal and pomp, though usually under other similarly flattering designations such as, most commonly, “high church,” we need to make a defense of our kind of liturgical falderal and pomp.
“High church” is really a misnomer, for a number of reasons, not least because our churches usually don’t employ thurifers, subdeacons, and deacons, and they often have no idea of the difference between “Low Mass,” “Sung Mass,” and “High Mass.”  Not that we have any problem with High Masses, mind you; actually we find that kind of falderal and pomp quite fine, and wish there were more of it, because it’s the kind that tells us that when we are in church, there is something very important, something otherworldly going on here.  I’m reminded of the envoys St. Vladimir sent to Byzantium in the late tenth century, who returned with the amazing report that they could not tell if they were in heaven or on earth during the liturgy.  I suppose someone could snort that it was only liturgical falderal and pomp, but I find myself reticent about sneering at dignity, especially since I have seen it for myself, and am well aware that it was the expected and common kind of liturgy throughout most of Christendom for centuries. 
But most people who live in post “enlightenment” days now have the curse of anti-liturgical worship hanging heavily over them, especially in America, and find themselves very comfortable and content with pole buildings for churches, bare brick or whitewashed walls, corpus-less crosses (if any), large projection screens replacing altars, rock bands replacing organs, and pastors vested in gowns of academia or in business suits.  That’s the sacrilegious milieu with which they have learned to feel at ease, and anything which departs from this new norm is likely to strike them as falderal and pomp.  Well, excuse me for bad taste, but I’ll take the falderal and pomp any day of the week.
That falderal and pomp, at least our version of it, exists for the sole purpose of giving honor to Christ, and calling attention to His presence.  When we are in church, we are coram Christo—before His throne—and we will surely benefit when our ceremony makes us more instinctively aware of this, that we might be the more ready and eager to receive there His inestimable gifts.  You don’t adorn the court of the Queen of England in rags, and you certainly don’t bedeck the Church of God with junk.
Besides, I suspect that the “howling and growling” Luther had in mind is not at all the same as the falderal and pomp to which Dr. Marquart refers.  The monks, after all, were guilty of works of supererogation, thinking themselves holier by virtue of their many prayers and fastings, that is, in view of their kind of Gottesdienst, which is the common (first) use of the term.  They could have benefited from the alternative etymological (second) use, to say nothing of this journal’s (third) use (as in, “Brother John, have you seen the latest Gottesdienst yet?”).  Why, come to think of it, the common (first) use may well have contributed to the very howling and growling referenced
in Luther!  I say, let’s have more, not less, of the second and third uses of Gottesdienst.
It turns out, though, that Dr. Marquart’s preference for the first use of Gottesdienst seems in line with his complaint, which appears to be at the heart of his paper, in which he assails what he calls modern “antinomians”: “Sometimes we are told that sanctification is best left to itself, that conscious attempts to please God lead to hypocrisy, and that if we just preach the Gospel, sanctification will happen automatically. No, we are not automata.”  But just who is saying that we are?  We of the falderal and pomp camp?  Are we the “antinomians” he is chiding?  He doesn’t say.  And, well, maybe we aren’t in view here, but no one else is mentioned, which is what has me a bit nervous, even if Dr. Marquart insists that his use of Gottesdienst is only the common (first) use, which would at least rule out any direct reference to us (third use, as in “I just can’t wait to receive the next issue of Gottesdienst”). 
In any case, and for the record, we certainly aren’t going around saying Christians don’t need to hear the law, nor are we averse to exhorting to love and good works, which, Dr. Marquart notes, “require conscious effort, not unthinking, automatic compliance with inner instincts!”  We are not those who, according to his remonstration, “think one should not frighten or trouble the people,” or who say, “Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a whoremonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all!”  That’s not us, I can tell you.
On the other hand, I do question one thing he said: “It is true that the Law ‘always accuses.’  But this refers to the chief, or second use of the Law, which cannot be separated but must be distinguished from the third use.” 
I’m not sure I understand this.  Can we decide which of the Law’s three uses come into play at which time?  Can we say, “OK, folks, I’m preaching third use now, so you can calm your conscience”?  (R: “Whew, that’s a relief!”)  I never thought of the multiple uses of the law to be like the multiple uses of a kitchen gadget.  I’d be more inclined, therefore, to leave the saying alone, without qualifications.  Always means always.  Come to think of it, if you say (rightly) that the third use of the law is its application to Christians, then must you not also say that the law precisely in its application to Christians accuses them, and that, always?   What, don’t you think that “the New Testament exhortations to love and good works [which] require conscious effort, not unthinking, automatic compliance with inner instincts” are accusing us, even as encouragements?  They sure prick my conscience!  The new man in me certainly doesn’t need them; he’s already obedient; but the sinner in me just as certainly does, lest he get the upper hand.  He must be drowned anew, by daily contrition, so that the new man arises, etc., as the Catechism also says.
I think we have to leave it at Lex semper accusat!  The law always accuses, period.  It always accuses because I am always a sinner as well as a Christian.  The “automatic compliance” is, as a matter of fact, always in the inner man, which needs no command but is already obedient; yet since the inner man is never all there is to the Christian, who remains simul iustus et peccator (there’s the rub), therefore he needs constant exhortation.  And that is exactly what the third use of the law is all about.  It does not direct the new man, because he needs no direction—anyone who denies this fails to see just who the new man really is—but it certainly exposes the Old Adam for the phony he is, and forces him into compliance, quite against his will.  No one is only new man, however, and therefore lex semper accusat.  Semper. 
So just who is the new man, then?  It is Christ Himself, conceived and born within us through the Holy Spirit.  And how does the Spirit do this?  By Word and Sacrament, that is, the second use of Gottesdienst
Honestly I doubt that Dr. Marquart meant specifically to criticize Gottesdienst (third use, as in, “Have you seen the remarks in Gottesdienst about Dr. Marquart’s lecture?), but I also hope these remarks will, er, deconstruct the myth that all we care about around here is the childish thrills of smells and bells.  And my fear is that this indiscriminate bludgeoning of phantom antinomians, coupled with an undefined complaint about too much falderal and pomp going on, will have the undesirable effect of producing condemnation of precisely the kind of Gottesdienst whose main purpose is the preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Blessed Sacraments, at which, yes, we will all do well to bow and bend the knee; for these alone are the means through which faith is kindled and enflamed, faith, which is “the highest Gottesdienst” (Apol III [IV], 10 [Trigl 158-159]).


  1. The law always accuses, to be sure, no argument. But does that mean it ONLY accuses? That seems to be the issue there.

    1. Good point, but I don't think it's the issue. The law certainly does more than accuse, though I have occasionally heard 'always and only'. But I prefer to think of the third use of the law as the indicative use: that is, it is descriptive of the Christian life, or better, of the life of Christ in the Christian.

  2. I think this article nails it. Even in the third use the law is accusing ... and it is doing so precisely because it is instructing the Christian. How can there be instruction in righteousness without at the same time accusing the flesh that it is not doing the Law?

    If the third use is redefined as instructing only, then it is not the “third use” that the Formula is teaching.

  3. Enjoy your wit, Fr. Eckardt...third use of Gottesdienst. Funny. Come to think of it... (Wife, did we renew my subscription to Gottesdienst, yet?)


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