Saturday, February 10, 2007

Does "Lex Semper Accusat"?

It is precisely at this point in our discussion of the law that our nomenclature becomes important. Since the law of Christ is covenantal (i.e. formulated for the redeemed new covenant community) it therefore has no "first," pedagogical use, for, according to Gal. 3:19 - 4:7, the primus usus legis has already been fulfilled and displayed in Israel's infancy for all to see. It must be remembered that, in the taxonomy that I am suggesting, it is a particular law’s design, not the myriad of its possible applications, that is the issue. While God’s moral will expressed in creation and written upon man's conscience certainly has an accusatory function, and while the saints often recognize their own failure to bear up under Christ's yoke (easy and light though that burden may be), this is a far cry from the Lutheran insistence that lex semper accusat. Law does not "always accuse," for the hands that guide the church are nail-pierced, and the lips which instruct her have already cried aloud, "It is finished!"

Furthermore, the distinction between the civil and spiritual kingdoms that is the by-product of the church's unique semi-eschatological situation precludes the law of Christ from having a "second," civil use. The new covenant community, being dispossessed of its heavenly homeland, has returned to a pilgrim ethic akin to that of the patriarchs before the giving of the Mosaic law (Heb. 11:13; cf. I Pet. 2:11). We exist as members of two kingdoms, that of cult and that of culture. The latter is ruled by God as Creator, the former by Christ as Redeemer.

Logic (and math) would dictate, then, that if the law by which Jesus directs his pilgrim people has no "first" or "second" use, it by implication has no "third" (in fact, if there is no first or second use of the law of Christ, then to speak of Christian obedience as "the third use of the law" would be tantamount to Bobby Brady claiming that he is the third oldest child in a family with no siblings).

The purpose of the law of Christ is to instruct those who have been united with him and endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, it is instruction that is meant to be obeyed, not feared. To insist, then, that Paul's command to "reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God" (Rom. 6:11) is "law" whose accusatory nature allows it to find its way into the "Reading of the Law" section of the worship service, is to undo what Christ has done at Pentecost and place the church back in her infantile condition during which she, with Moses, "trembled greatly with fear" (Heb. 12:21).