Are There Degrees of Glory in Heaven as a Reward for Good Works?

Started by racin_jason, February 15, 2024, 02:15:18 PM

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racin_jason

In our Men's Bible Study this week, as we have been plowing through Hebrews, we discussed Hebrews 10:35: Do not, therefore, abandon that boldness of yours; it brings a great reward . Our Bible Study consists of mostly Lutheran laymen, as well as a sprinkling of a few from other traditions, including a retired pastor from the Vineyard movement. The question came up "Do we get rewarded for extra works" (you know, Jewel-in-the-crown type of stuff). The Vineyard pastor, who I have a great deal of respect for and who I consider a friend, said "yes, we do get rewards for extra-efforts". And referred to Paul and the Book of Revelation as well as the Parable of Talents" 

I countered that this was not a Lutheran teaching, even though there are undeniably passages in the Bible that seem to indicate salvation as a reward and even degrees. Instead, we are more shaped by the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who receive the same wage regardless of hours worked. We agreed to disagree.

But later in the morning he sent me this link, saying "See? Lutherans believe it too". 
 https://forwardinchrist.net/reward-for-good-works/?fbclid=IwAR28NPfcrrrmjvmggnqTQTYnczz1YH73HvhKvvRnJ3xvUS7yLTHfPZ9dglY

It's from a WELS pastor. When I did more research online, I could find a few other WELS pastors who taught this. But no ELCA or LCMS sites.

I find the notion of degrees in heaven repellent from a law/gospel point of view. It seems to me we are trading one set of laws for a new set of rewards that work withing a framework of the law, rather than the transformational, unconditional good news of the gospel. But hey, that's me.

Can anyone here speak to this little situation here? Either their personal thoughts on the teaching or where the teaching stands in the tradition of Lutheran theology? 

This seems to me an important teaching, and I am surprised there is not much out there on it. 
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Brian Stoffregen

Interesting that he offers scripture passages for grace, but none for greater rewards - just "common sense" reasoning. I recall that Luther called this "the devil's whore." 

If we don't care if someone receives greater honor than others, e.g., sitting at the right and left of Jesus; why does it even matter? (Our good deeds do matter to those who receive them.)
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

Weedon

The Lutheran Confessions clearly state: Afterward, because works please God on account of faith, they earn other bodily and spiritual rewards. For there will be distinctions in the glory of the saints. Ap III:226

John Mundinger

Quote from: Weedon on February 15, 2024, 03:07:30 PMThe Lutheran Confessions clearly state: Afterward, because works please God on account of faith, they earn other bodily and spiritual rewards. For there will be distinctions in the glory of the saints. Ap III:226

Personally speaking, the last seat in the back row of heaven is decidedly preferable to a front row in hell and I would be eternally grateful to occupy it.
Lifelong Evangelical Lutheran layman

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought.  St. Augustine

Tom Eckstein

Quote from: Weedon on February 15, 2024, 03:07:30 PMThe Lutheran Confessions clearly state: Afterward, because works please God on account of faith, they earn other bodily and spiritual rewards. For there will be distinctions in the glory of the saints. Ap III:226

Will, I think the best way to understand your quote from the confessions is to view it within the wider context of the biblical narrative where we find:  1) the works done by believers have different degrees of glory and importance (1st Cor. 3:10-14, 12:28 & 14:1) and 2) God gets all the glory for the various works done by believers (1st Cor. 10:31; 2nd Cor. 10:17-18; 1st Tim. 1:17).

I especially think of these words from Revelation chapter 4:  "Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads ... the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.'"

So, as far as "rewards" in heaven, 1) there will be no sin and so we will not envy each other, and 2) we will all give God the glory for the works we did out of love for Him.
I'm an LCMS Pastor in Jamestown, ND.

Tom Eckstein

Quote from: Weedon on February 15, 2024, 03:07:30 PMThe Lutheran Confessions clearly state: Afterward, because works please God on account of faith, they earn other bodily and spiritual rewards. For there will be distinctions in the glory of the saints. Ap III:226

One other thing I should mention.  If one does a good work (e.g., preaching the Word, which is a glorious work!) from a spirit of self-righteousness and pride, such a work, although good and glorious in itself, is not pleasing to God in that He despises the MOTIVE in which it is done.  In contrast, a woman who changes her baby's diaper in response to Christ's love for her and out of love for Christ and her infant does a work that is truly pleasing to God and will be rewarded.
I'm an LCMS Pastor in Jamestown, ND.

Mike in Pennsylvania

As to the idea of degrees of reward in heaven, I've heard this more from pietist Lutherans than others.  They usually make two points.  1. Everybody in heaven is simply happy to be there, and knows whatever reward they and everyone else gets is just and proper.  2. Nobody begins to be smart enough to calculate where among the billions of Christians since the 1st century we would rank, so there's no point in trying to "get ahead" of others.  Simply live your life pleasing to God, and leave the rewards to Him.
Makes sense to me.
NALC Interim Pastor

Weedon

No one but a fool would suggest that rewards in heaven are something we can calculate or in any way control. They are entirely God's business, and He is superabundantly kind to "crown His own gifts" in us (Augustine). But that the saints will have different degrees of glory due to the faithfulness of their use of the gifts God has entrusted to them is really beyond dispute.

John Mundinger

Quote from: Weedon on February 15, 2024, 04:59:37 PMNo one but a fool would suggest that rewards in heaven are something we can calculate or in any way control. They are entirely God's business, and He is superabundantly kind to "crown His own gifts" in us (Augustine). But that the saints will have different degrees of glory due to the faithfulness of their use of the gifts God has entrusted to them is really beyond dispute.

I think that is a conversation that is better deferred to the other side parousia, when we will be able to understand it in the correct context.  On this side of the parousia it just serves to tempt folks to focus on earning a few extra degrees of glory.  That would be inconsistent with the theology articulated in the rest of the Confessions.
Lifelong Evangelical Lutheran layman

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought.  St. Augustine

Weedon

Not at all, John. It's simply the doctrine of our Church, taught explicitly in the Scriptures. I have had no problem teaching it my entire ministry. It's a beautiful thing to contemplate the joys of the Kingdom where there is no envy or chagrin, but only joy and delight in another's glorification.

Weedon

P.S. Lewis, in one of his books envisions a taste of heaven (well in more than one book). Along comes this glorious lady. She looks so beautiful and her joy is clearly overflowing. The visitor asks his guide: "Is that? Is that?", thinking it was the Virgin Mary. The guide laughs and tells him that that's Mrs. Smith (or something like that) who lived down the block from him.

John Mundinger

#11
Quote from: Weedon on February 15, 2024, 06:47:16 PMNot at all, John. It's simply the doctrine of our Church, taught explicitly in the Scriptures. I have had no problem teaching it my entire ministry. It's a beautiful thing to contemplate the joys of the Kingdom where there is no envy or chagrin, but only joy and delight in another's glorification.

That makes sense in eternity.  In this age, it comes with a healthy dose of temptations to competition, jealousy and work ethic.  And, if we aren't careful, the conversation could be confused with a Mormon understanding of eternity.
Lifelong Evangelical Lutheran layman

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought.  St. Augustine

Weedon

John,

I think it makes eminently good sense in this world too: the Bible reveals to us that there will be various degrees of glory, and since we will be raised without sin we will delight in each other's glorification and praise God for it. So even here and now we get to "practice" for eternity as we learn to put all jealousy and envy to death and learn to take delight in whatever gifts and grace God has bestowed upon someone else. Instead of moaning that Philip Magness plays the piano so much better than I ever could, I am invited to DELIGHT in his gift and praise and thank God for the way he uses that gift to bless and serve the people of God. It's a foretaste of enjoying the degrees of glory when we here in this age learn to thank God for those who excel us in this area or that, and who do what they do in order to give God the glory!

John Mundinger

Quote from: Weedon on February 15, 2024, 07:14:08 PMSo even here and now we get to "practice" for eternity as we learn to put all jealousy and envy to death and learn to take delight in whatever gifts and grace God has bestowed upon someone else.

You seem to forget that this side of eternity is hopelessly corrupted by original sin.  We can't even "practice" for eternity in this forum.
Lifelong Evangelical Lutheran layman

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought.  St. Augustine

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

Salvation is by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, numerous texts also teach that the Lord will judge and reward us according to our works. Other passages distinguish rewards and also punishments in eternity. I trust someone in the forum will bring forward the various passages. I taught on this recently but I don't currently have access to the notes.

Perhaps there is a helpful publication that does this legwork. God bless.

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