Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Root of the Conflict

--The cross alone is our theology.

Quoting from Dr. Steven Hein's paper "Tentatio":

Affliction and suffering are greatest in matters of conscience that challenge Christ's Word of Grace - either that we have it or that we need it. When we become Christians, we become temples of the Holy Spirit and by faith we are joined to Christ. But it is the Unholy Spirit who takes up residence in the conscience as its Master. The mirror is the Devil's tool. He would either keep it ever from you or ever before you. Self-righteousness or despair is a game he will always win; either because you can do what conscience dictates or because you can't. The Master of the conscience would make grace either unnecessary or unavailable.

The human conscience is the Devil's lethal playground. Tie your religiosity to matters of the heart, conscience and what can be experienced from within and you are flirting with spiritual disaster. This is the Hound of Hell's home turf. It is not the allures of the flesh with which Satan launches his greatest assaults, it is in the conscience where he is most devastating. With the Law written on the heart, Satan works from the inside. With Christ it is the opposite. He works from the outside through the Sacred Things. Let your conscience be your guide - the cheerful song of Jimeny Cricket and polite civil religion - is Satan's victory either by self-righteous smugness, or bottomless, dark despair. The Law written on the human heart and sweet reason - with or without smug human pride - will damn us all. Theologians and servants of the Word need to take note: the post-modern demand for internal religious experience as the only criterion for spiritual relevance (that has many obliging churches - some called Lutheran - growing and multiplying like rabbits) will lead the naive seeker into a tentatio that is wicked and deadly.

The root of the conflict with the Devil and all tentatio is the Gospel. Luther confessed to a friend in correspondence: The Prince of Demons himself has taken up combat against me; so powerfully and adeptly does he handle the Scriptures that my scriptural knowledge does not suffice if I do not rely on the alien Word. The Devil, in Luther's view, is more adept with the Word of God than he was. Notice, here the brute authority of Scripture is of no use. The Bible has the words that will damn us all and the devil knows just what they are and how to apply them. But, maintained Luther, the Devil is overcome by the alien Word. Where the Gospel has free course, there the Devil is surely most present and active...yet overcome. The sacred things of the Gospel - Baptism and the Supper - bring God's favor and our alien righteousness. Here he is present in the midst of our turmoil with visible, tangible props making it possible for us to resist the Devil with the promises of Christ. Infant Baptism performs the Joyful Exchange for the empty handed and the ignorant. Together with the proclaimed Gospel and the Supper - here is where God may be found...for us. These are the Gateways to Heaven where we meet not the omnipotence of God, but his graciousness - not a mighty display of his power, but a generous display of his saving gifts. Fellowship with the gracious God is from the heart, but always at the same time, extra nos in his appointed means.

Hein, Steven A., "Tentatio," Lutheran Theological Review, 10 (1997-98), 29-47.

Hein, Steven A., “Tentatio,” Logia (Eastertide, 2001), 33-41.

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