Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Machen: "Christ will do everything or nothing..."

It seems to me that the central contention facing today's church is the same one that the saints have striven to clarify throughout church history. It was the issue of Luther's day. It was that for which Cranmer was burned at the stake by the Roman Church at Queen Mary's hand. It is what dogged the Apostle Paul's ministry in the form of "another gospel", the reason for his epistle to the Galatians. It centers on the critical answer to the two questions, "by what means is man saved" and "by what means does he remain saved and walk as a Christian?"

Here is an extended excerpt from the book Christianity and Liberalism, in which J. Gresham Machen highlights what was and is at the heart of this doctrinal struggle:

But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers ? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul's lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer's own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical--not even, perhaps, the temporal--order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God's law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern "practical" Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity. 
As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Restoration and the Word...

The question, “what is necessary for reforming or restoring the Anglican faith and practice?”, has take up a number of posts here, as well as my commenting on other blogs discussing the same issue.  It is very much on the minds of Christians who have an affinity or identification with the church of Cranmer.  There are a number of blogs/organizations that are dedicated to getting back to first principles as taught and understood by the English reformers of the 1500’ and 1600’s.  Yet that task runs into the problem of how to agree on “divining” the positives and negatives of the various English Divines' teachings.  The result of that difficulty is a seemingly endless ‘back and forth’ between various camps, be they Anglo-Catholic, Reformed/Puritan, Evangelical, high church, low church, etc... I have no idea how to navigate these discussions with others except to continue to put out my own thoughts and listen and learn where I can.  As I have written earlier, I'm pessimistic about any meaningful restoration of Anglicanism that (in my understanding of things) reflects the theological intent of the early reformers (English and non-English) and some of those who followed.  

The list I would draw up of those to be consulted in order for us to lay hold of the theological development of the English reformation would include some who would be accepted by most... and some not.  But here are several:  Cranmer, Luther, Hooper, Bucer, Knox, Calvin, Jewell, Grindal, Bullinger, Whitgift, Hooker, Ussher, Davenant.  I include some non-English, as their theology had a more or less significant impact on that of the English church.  I leave out those following the 1500’s because the above reformers were more diligent and equipped than most today in understanding and weighing the teachings of those that went before.  This list comprises men who would by and large support a Protestant/Reformed position, as I think that is a fair reading of the direction of the English Reformation.  Some might ask, why not include Queen Elizabeth?  She was protestant, and as monarch played a significant role in the reintroduction of the Book of Common Prayer and the establishing the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  Yet I see her impact as mixed, given the differing priorities that flowed from her position as both head of the civil realm and the “Supreme Governor” of the Church.  

A final thought... on what I see as maybe the greatest lack in today’s Anglican churches.  That is an under-valuing of Scripture, God’s Word, as our ultimate guide in doctrine.  Everything in faith and practice ultimately flows from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as God’s sovereign and gracious redemption of sinful man.  All doctrine has to do with this glorious Word whose story is revealed in Scripture through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus himself drew the attention of his disciples to this very thing after his resurrection.  And that is why various churches have instituted confessions - to clearly put forth the essential doctrines of this great salvation.  And to the degree they agree with Scripture they are dependable guides for the ministry of the Word and the life of the church.  

Some words of Martin Luther from his “Treatise Concerning Christian Liberty”:

“Christ was sent for no other office than that of the word; and the order of the Apostles, that of bishops, and that of the whole body of the clergy, have been called and instituted for no object but the ministry of the word...
“But you will ask, What is this word, and by what means is it to be used, since there are so many words of God? I answer, The Apostle Paul (Rom. i.) explains what it is, namely the Gospel of God, concerning His Son, incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified, through the Spirit, the Sanctifier. To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone and the efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation.”

This Word is the message, the doctrine, the gospel... the teaching of Christ’s church.  And as Luther wrote, it is the food of the soul unto justification and sanctification.  The food of this Word is ministered through preaching and received as eternal life by hearing with faith.  The food of this Word is ministered through the sacraments and received as grace unto salvation by faith.  The food of this Word is ministered through the shepherding of the flock and received as guidance for the soul through faith.  Everything in the church flows from this Word, Christ crucified and risen, given to his people. And for this spiritual food to benefit the Lord's people it must be faithfully and regularly communicated and fed to them by those called and ordained by the church as ministers of the Word.

XIX. Of the Church.
THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Martin Luther - The Christian, Law, and Gospel

Verse 16, chapter 2 of Galatians: yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (ASV)

The following are excerpts on chapter 2:16 from Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians.  His "commentary" was actually a series of lectures given at the University of Wittenburg:
The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that he is a sinner, the kind of a sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing. "Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." Those who seek to earn the grace of God by their own efforts are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and provoke His anger. The first step on the way to salvation is to repent.
The second part is this. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through His merit. He was crucified and killed for us. By sacrificing His Son for us God revealed Himself to us as a merciful Father who donates remission of sins, righteousness, and life everlasting for Christ's sake. God hands out His gifts freely unto all men. That is the praise and glory of His mercy.
False way of salvation - The scholastics explain the way of salvation in this manner. When a person happens to perform a good deed, God accepts it and as a reward for the good deed God pours charity into that person. They call it "charity infused." This charity is supposed to remain in the heart. They get wild when they are told that this quality of the heart cannot justify a person.
They also claim that we are able to love God by our own natural strength, to love God above all things, at least to the extent that we deserve grace. And, say the scholastics, because God is not satisfied with a literal performance of the Law, but expects us to fulfill the Law according to the mind of the Lawgiver, therefore we must obtain from above a quality above nature, a quality which they call "formal righteousness."

We say, faith apprehends Jesus Christ. Christian faith is not an inactive quality in the heart. If it is true faith it will surely take Christ for its object. Christ, apprehended by faith and dwelling in the heart, constitutes Christian righteousness, for which God gives eternal life.  Christ, apprehended by faith and dwelling in the heart, constitutes Christian righteousness, for which God gives eternal life.

We teach this: First a person must learn to know himself from the Law. With the prophet he will then confess: "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." And, "there is none that doeth good, no, not one." And, "against thee, thee only, have I sinned."
Having been humbled by the Law, and having been brought to a right estimate of himself, a man will repent. He finds out that he is so depraved, that no strength, no works, no merits of his own will ever deliver him from his guilt. He will then understand the meaning of Paul's words: "I am sold under sin"; and "they are all under sin."
At this state a person begins to lament: "Who is going to help me?" In due time comes the Word of the Gospel, and says: "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified for your sins. Remember, your sins have been imposed upon Christ."
In this way are we delivered from sin. In this way are we justified and made heirs of everlasting life.

In order to have faith you must paint a true portrait of Christ... Christ is no law giver. He is the Lifegiver. He is the Forgiver of sins. You must believe that Christ might have atoned for the sins of the world with one single drop of His blood. Instead, He shed His blood abundantly in order that He might give abundant satisfaction for our sins.

This imputation of righteousness we need very much, because we are far from perfect. As long as we have this body, sin will dwell in our flesh. Then, too, we sometimes drive away the Holy Spirit; we fall into sin, like Peter, David, and other holy men. Nevertheless we may always take recourse to this fact, "that our sins are covered," and that "God will not lay them to our charge." Sin is not held against us for Christ's sake. Where Christ and faith are lacking, there is no remission or covering of sins, but only condemnation.  After we have taught faith in Christ, we teach good works. "Since you have found Christ by faith," we say, "begin now to work and do well. Love God and your neighbor. Call upon God, give thanks unto Him, praise Him, confess Him. These are good works. Let them flow from a cheerful heart, because you have remission of sin in Christ."

To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody who has no sin, but somebody against whom God no longer chalks [marks] sin, because of his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious trouble. When a person is a Christian he is above law and sin. When the Law accuses him, and sin wants to drive the wits out of him, a Christian looks to Christ. A Christian is free. He has no master except Christ. A Christian is greater than the whole world.

The true way of becoming a Christian is to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by the works of the Law...
We know that we must also teach good works, but they must be taught in their proper turn, when the discussion is concerning works and not the article of justification.
Here the question arises by what means are we justified? We answer with Paul, "By faith only in Christ are we pronounced righteous, and not by works." Not that we reject good works. Far from it. But we will not allow ourselves to be removed from the anchorage of our salvation.

The Law is a good thing. But when the discussion is about justification, then is no time to drag in the Law. When we discuss justification we ought to speak of Christ and the benefits He has brought us.
Christ is no sheriff. He is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29.)
We do not mean to say that the Law is bad. Only it is not able to justify us. To be at peace with God, we have need of a far better mediator than Moses or the Law. We must know that we are nothing. We must understand that we are merely beneficiaries and recipients of the treasures of Christ.