Dr. John Kleinig, our plenary presenter at Doxology, is one of Lutheran theology’s gems. He is a brilliant theologian, a strong presenter, and above all, a pastor’s pastor. I was so appreciative that he was willing to fly here again from Australia to speak to us. It was a privilege sitting at his feet.
So imagine my surprise at this “pastor’s pastor’s” invocation of the term “heresy” in one of his presentations on positive presentation of the 10 Commandments. He didn’t shout the term like some Middle Ages inquisitor. He used it rather matter-of-factly. It was what he was describing as heresy that really caught my attention.
In the context of talking about the Third Commandment and God’s gift of a Sabbath rest, he identified the very popular notion among Christians today that we always have to busy as…heresy.
Now, understand, the same man who identified this notion as heresy was also mildly critical of Lutherans for not being concerned enough about good works. (He’s very, very right, by the way).
It’s a delicate balance, especially in Lutheran theology and in the face of this popular heresy of “every Christian a busybody,” to maintain both the values of God’s gift of rest and the values of good works. (Another well known LCMS Lutheran recently chastised us pastors for not preaching good works enough in his blog. He was right, if not a little more direct than a mild-mannered man like Kleinig. Sometimes taking your medicine isn’t fun).
I think many Lutheran pastors today sense that Kleinig is right to call “Christian busybody-ness” a heresy. Ergo, we overcompensate and ignore good works so as not to contribute to the heresy, even though there is a Scriptural/Lutheran approach to preaching the Christian life and, yes, “good works.”
So how did Kleinig reconcile this problem? With the Scripture, of course. The Gospel of Matthew states 12 different times that people “brought [someone] to Jesus.” 12, aside from being symbolic, is a fairly large number for any Gospel. It’s enough to establish a consistent theme. People were bringing others to Jesus. Perhaps we need to more carefully define a “good work” this way. A good work “brings others to Jesus.” Any old person can do humanitarian acts, but are they “bringing others to Jesus” when they do them? Or is it for some other rationale?
This notion of “bringing others to Jesus” demonstrates why “Christian busybody-ness” is a heresy. One of the chief ways in which we can bring someone to Jesus, (especially when they are unwilling to let us bring them), is by prayer. While we still talk very piously about prayer, it is interesting to note that this modern heresy often deemphasizes prayer by suggesting that “being busy” with a person is far more important than praying for them. A heresy contradicts a Biblical teaching. That is the word’s definition. Both the teachings of a Sabbath rest and prayer are often trampled by the modern heresy of “Christian busybody-ness.”
Prayer is a good work. The prayer of a righteous man availeth much. It is not “doing nothing,” unless you imagine the God to whom we pray as lacking the power to do anything for the person for whom we pray…(yet another heresy).
One more Biblical teaching which this heresy tromps on is the doctrine of Christian vocation. God, in His goodness, has placed us into vocations in life where we can practice good works. While we should be willing to engage in good works for all, our modern setting often overlooks and dismisses the work of people in their vocations. Husbands and wives who love and honor each other are engaging in good works. Fathers who seek to bring their children up in the knowledge and love of the Lord are doing a good work. Good, Biblical citizenship (America’s biggest problem?) is a good work when done to demonstrate the love of Christ. Listening to your pastor and hearing the Word–a good work.
The truth is, we Lutherans, leaning on Scripture, have a vastly rich understanding of what a good work really is. It isn’t about “looking busy” or “being a busybody.” It’s about living the life that is hidden away in Christ…so that the person who receives the fruits of our labor sees only Christ. Good works bring people to Jesus. He does the healing. Our busy-ness does not. To Him be the glory. This is a truth we can preach.
Eph. 2 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Eph 2:8–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.