I was privileged to be invited to speak at the Theological Symposium at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I graduated from there in 1978. The place hasn’t changed much but I have. Thirty four years of parish ministry and serving on the Boards of Human Care and World Relief and now the Board of International Missions has given me perspectives about life and salvation, service and duty, mercy and justice, that I did not have when I left. I am more “liberal” about some things and more “conservative” about others. Issues that I saw as fundamental and stuff upon which the Kingdom of God might stand or fall have faded and now the only thing that is important is the doctrine of “justification” which I believe is the doctrine about everything.
From “justification” comes the word “justice”. That is what the symposium was all about. My area was “Justice as Aid”. Thinking about this word one comes to find very quickly that it gets confusing. Justice is sometimes thought of as equality, fairness, reparation, reciprocity, just desserts, and even as redistribution. All of these of course have problems.
One of the presenters has made me think of “justice” as being the freedom to discharge our duties under the 10 Commandments. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection the Christian is the perfectly free Lord of all and subject to none, and the servant of all subject to everyone. Here is what Luther wrote –
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
These two theses seem to contradict each other. If, however, they should be found to fit together they would serve our purpose beautifully. Both are St. Paul’s own statements, who says in I Cor. [9:19], “For though I am free as all men, I have made myself a slave to all,” and in Rom. 13[:8], “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved. So Christ, although he was Lord of all, was “born of woman, born under the law” [Gal. 4:4], and therefore was at the same time a free man and a servant, “in the form of God” and “of a servant” [Phil. 2:6–7].
Because God judges us “not guilty” for the sake of Christ what bound us and destroyed us, the Law, now becomes a joyous duty for the new creation “in Christ”. We are free to discharge our duties under the Law as Christ lives out his life in us, and if you want to know what those duties are turn to the table of duties in the Lutheran Service Book. We have the positive duty to honor God and worship him, and the positive duties to our neighbors under the second table of the Law. That is behaving justly.
But there is more. Our neighbors have the right to have those duties under the Law discharged for them, and under the “Law of Love” their claim of their own “rights” is a charitable act to us. The problem is for our life in a fallen world defining what those rights are. Authorities have the right that we will honor and obey them. Spouses have the right to be honored and cared for. All men have the right to have us protect their bodily life. All men have the right to have us protect their possessions and their names.
These are some of the thoughts that were brought to the fore by John Witte Jr. We have been using this blog site to try and get people to understand why people in Minnesota and North Dakota should get involved in the lives and needs of partner Christians around the world. We want them to be involved in Project 24 and 1001 Orphans and in our churches mercy and mission work through offerings and personal support.
Paul spent most of his ministry trying to convince Gentile Christians that it was a duty to give Aid to people half a world away that they would never meet and if they did might not like them much. He called their duty to send money to these people a “liturgy (service)” a “fellowship” (the same term he uses for the Lord’s Supper), a “Grace”, and a chance for “thanksgiving being rendered to God”. It is behaving “justly”.
We are going to spend some time on these justice issues because they are interesting and provocative and important.