I can’t put this down. Gerhard Forde’s interaction with Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation is now one of my must-reads for preparing men for eldership. Read Calvin’s Institutes first and then this. Most modern church “leadership” books seek to empower men for ministry. Luther (and Forde) seek to kill them for it. Dead men make better gospel preachers.
Thesis 22 of the Disputation reads, “That wisdom which perceives the invisible things of God by thinking in terms of works completely puffs up, blinds, and hardens.”
Forde comments on pp92-93:
Religiously we like to look on ourselves as potential spiritual athletes desperately trying to make God’s team, having perhaps just a little problem or two with the training rules. We have a thirst for glory. We feel a certain uneasiness of conscience or even resentment within when the categorical totality of the action of God begins to dawn on us. We are always tempted to return to the safety and assurance of doing something anyway. Generally, it is to be suspected, that is all we planned to do, a little something. But to surrender the “wisdom” of law and works, or better, to have it taken away, is the first indication of what it means to be crucified with Christ.
Though beyond Forde’s scope in the book, the “little something” in Baptist life often takes the form of altar calls, sinners’ prayers, church membership and (strangely!) baptism. The gospel’s demand for repentance and faith is nothing less than the demand for death and resurrection. Bonhoeffer (another sturdy Lutheran!) wrote famously, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship). And we don’t like leaving people to die.
We want them to come down here. Pray this. Do that. Do something, anything (but not too much) so that we have something to show for the effort. Yet, Jesus left Nicodemus in his “night” (Jn 3.1-15). He watched the young ruler walk away sad with his bulging pockets (Mt 19.21). They must be left to die if they are to live.
Forde concludes (p102):
The theologian of glory finally is “frightened to death,” if one may so speak. The terror is in the fact that the end of sin has come and the Old Adam and Eve can no longer survive. Then one is a candidate for being born anew. That is the gateway to being saved by the creative righteousness of God.