We examine two theses:
Walther, Theses II
Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all the articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.
In my experience and observations over the past 35 years, both of these theses identify critical problems in rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel. Many years ago I was present for a sermon by a distinguished Lutheran scholar. Every thing he said in the sermon was doctrinally correct. A student following the key points could easily pass systematics tests by following how well he articulated the doctrines. Many pastors at the event praised him greatly for such a “fine sermon.” What they meant is that he spoke clear doctrines.
And yet, as the second half of Walther’s 2nd thesis notes, the preacher did not rightly distinguish Law and Gospel. That is, the average person in the congregation walked away shaking his head wondering what the guy was talking about. I was recently ordained and this stuck out in my mind.
Walther, Thesis III
Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.
This thesis overthrows the arrogance that we often demonstrate as we begin our pastoral ministry. Sadly even older pastors struggle with this. We want the knowledge, expertise, the attention, the praise of how well we have distinguished Law and Gospel. Yet, this thesis turns thing upside down. It is not great knowledge, it is not being the most gifted, recognized scholar, but the one who walks through angst/Anfechtung/tribulation on the under side, who is then taught by the Holy Spirit, and who rightly distinguishes Law and Gospel.
Our temptation is to try to learn this by vicarious means… i.e. listening to someone else’s experience. But it doesn’t work that way. David could write Psalm 23 because he had experienced that valley of death. We, too, become more skilled in this by our own Anfechtungen. Even more, we now have hearts that are more attentive to where a person is and what is needed in preaching, teaching, and individual ministry. Always with the Holy Spirit guiding, encouraging, encouraging, teaching.