The Reformation Redirection

Happy Reformation Day. If you’ve been following MBird for a while now, then you’ll not […]

JDK / 10.31.13


Happy Reformation Day. If you’ve been following MBird for a while now, then you’ll not be surprised that we get pretty fired up about Reformation Day, but we might celebrate it a bit differently than you might think. For one, our major concern here is not about any particular church vs. another, or even a set of particular doctrines over and against others. Now, to be sure, we have our commitments in these areas, but fundamentally we are concerned about celebrating Reformation Day because of our need–shared across each of our contributors–to hear the pure and unadulterated Good News–the Gospel—of God’s justification of the ungodly on a day-to-day basis (if not hourly!). The events surrounding the Reformation ensured that this message would never be lost, and its ministers have never tired of preaching this message of Amazing Grace.

2322237279260221_I2sfsZlq_cThis is why we care about the Reformation. Sure, there were liturgical changes, there were political and social revolutions, there was the cessation of some of what Luther would call the menschenlehrer–the teachings of men—that were certainly to good purpose (one thinks of the canceling of indulgences, for one!), but all of these are penultimately important in light of the fundamental redirection of the church, because the Reformation was nothing if not a complete reversal of the direction of devotion; no longer would people be singing of salvation as something done by us or something done in us, but something done for us.

The ramifications of this cannot be overstated and are still being worked out in fear and trembling! The idea that God condescended to a lost humanity on its behalf in spite of itself, freely giving of his mercy and grace without anything asked in return, well, that just seems too good to be true; however, that’s the very incredulity that marks the beginning of an awareness of why the Gospel continues to capture the hearts and minds of “those who have ears to hear.” Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Good News that Jesus was and is not a life-coach, a mentor, a guide, a model, or even a judge for that matter (cf. John 3:16-19), but a savior. We thank God for the Reformation simply because by the rediscovery of the Gospel, the redirection of the church was secured as always being (in its best iteration!) a hospital for the sick, a refuge for the outcast, and a comfort for those who mourn. Thanks be to God!


Don’t take my word for it, hear how Luther recounts his Gospel discovery in his recollections from 1542-43:

No. 5518: Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel
Winter of 1542–1543

“For a long time I went astray [in the monastery] and didn’t know what I was about. To be sure, I knew something, but I didn’t know what it was until I came to the text in Romans 1 [:17], ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ That text helped me. There I saw what righteousness Paul was talking about. Earlier in the text I read ‘righteousness.’ I related the abstract [‘righteousness’] with the concrete [‘the righteous One’] and became sure of my cause. I learned to distinguish between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the gospel. I lacked nothing before this except that I made no distinction between the law and the gospel. I regarded both as the same thing and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except the times in which they lived and their degrees of perfection. But when I discovered the proper distinction—namely, that the law is one thing and the gospel is another—I made myself free.”

Then Dr. Pomeranus (aka. John Bugenhaggen) said, “I began to experience a change when I read about the love of God and what it signifies passively, namely, that by which we are loved by God. Before I had always taken love actively [namely, that by which we love God].”

The doctor [Martin Luther] said, “Yes, it is clear—by charity or by love!—that it’s often understood [in the Scriptures] of that by which God loves us. However, in Hebrew the genitives of ‘love’ are difficult.”

Then Pomeranus added, “Nevertheless, other passages afterward make these clear.” Indeed!

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


13 responses to “The Reformation Redirection”

  1. mark mcculley says:

    Of course the Reformers did not teach that God loves all sinful human creatures. The Reformers denied the universal fatherhood of God. They taught that as many as believed the gospel were those God loved by giving His Son to die for them.

    We live in a time when most evangelicals are neither Lutheran nor Calvinist but reassure themselves with their family virtues and patriotic rituals. Reacting to what they call “secularism”,even the baptists and the mennonites now often sing the praises of the pope and anything which is “religious”.

    Let us remember that the pope is still the single greatest cause of Christian disunity. Not only does the pope continue to reject the authority of the Bible and justification by faith alone, but also insists that any Christian unity must recognize the authority of papal tradition. The success of Calvin and Luther, limited though it was, was that they refused to collaborate or be included in the false unity which taught that the grace of justification was given by water baptism and then maintained by our own works, instead of the death of Christ alone, outside of us.

    Despite their many failures, at this point we must appreciate the fidelity of Luther and Calvin to the theology of Romans 3:20-21–”For through the law comes the knowledge of sin, but now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed.”

    The Magisterial Reformers understood that grace through our works is a rebellion against God’s way of grace. Justification through our law-keeping means not more obedience but more sin. Romans 5:20–”But law came in, with the result that sin increased.” Not the knowledge of sin increased; sin increased! The result of unity around the law-salvation of the pope is always more sin. To be protestant means saying that we are justified not by our life together or by our works, but only because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    We have “become the righteousness of God in Christ” by God’s imputation of the one man’s obedience, even unto death. The Christian life is not the way we make payments back on our justification; the Christian life is the party the Father gives the returning prodigal. Neither our justification nor our life as Christians depends on our moral progress. Indeed, all our works are only acceptable if we are already justified before God.

    This is good news! This is radical grace, not the grace with strings attached and “fine print” later. Our unity depends only on the cross where the Son of God died for all those elect sinners who will be called out and gathered as God’s ecclesia.

  2. JAbernathy says:

    I can’t follow Hauerwas fully here, but I appreciate his willingness to shoulder blame:

    Also, I’m no historian, but “The Reformers denied the universal fatherhood of God. They taught that as many as believed the gospel were those God loved by giving His Son to die for them.” rings untrue. Was Kuyper a Reformer? Or is there a single passage of Luther or Melancthon suggesting ‘Limited Atonement’? Or, for that matter, an indisputably ‘L’ one by Calvin?

    • mark mcculley says:

      What “rings untrue”? Surely you are not denying that Kuyper also taught a “special grace” and not just a ‘common grace”, are you? Not all who are born are born again, and not all are brothers and sisters. Anybody who has read Luther’s Bondage of the Will or Calvin’s commentaries knows that they taught the unconditional election of some sinners to be justified from God’s wrath. An universal ‘redemption” which does not actually redeem is not actually a redemption.

      You are free to disagree with Calvin and Luther of course, but then that puts in question any claim you might make about loving the Reformation. As much as I disagree with Stan (Hauerwas), at least he is honest enough to hate the Reformation and to teach justification by God enabling us to work.

      • JAbernathy says:

        ‘Is there a single passage of Luther or Melancthon suggesting ‘Limited Atonement’? Or, for that matter, an indisputably ‘L’ one by Calvin?’

        Election and Limited Atonement are two very different things. The latter was deduced from the former in a very bizarre way that few besides Dutch Calvinists (and some of their American counterparts) can ascribe to. The former enjoys a much wider credibility. And I second the First Things article linked below

  3. mark mcculley says:

    Though we remember the failures of the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, let us not ourselves become elder brothers who refuse to enjoy the prodigal’s party. Though we have good reasons not to attend their meetings (see I Corinthians 14), we do well to remember that we are justified in spite of our meetings and our religion, alone by what Jesus Christ did, and not by what Christ has been doing among us. We are not saved because of our faith, because our faith is not Christ’s righteousness, even though our faith is God’s gift to us based on Christ’s righteousness.

    Apart from the death of Christ, you and I have no more “spiritual capital” than those who still go to war to support capitalism. Being in some small group together is no sign of assurance based on our moral progress! We have been called out, set apart, constituted as holy, but not because God is going to enable us to meet the requirement of God’s law.

    Grace for God’s elect means grace for some women caught violating family values, parties for some parasites back for more money, food for some brothers who send brothers down to Egypt…. Grace for some of the protestants who made martyrs of the anabaptists. Grace for some who used to be legalists who put their hope in their martyrdom….

  4. michael cooper says:

    I am struck by the distance between Luther’s teaching and what is generally available “out there” in Protestant church circles today. There seems to be five general strands: 1. prosperity gospel (believe God’s promises, give to my church, and God will make you rich); 2. general main-line liberalism ( God is love and where Love is, God is, so love everyone and everything, according to your own idea of what that looks like); 3. tattooed-preacher indie churches ( God is so cool and you can be too if you follow our how to be cool program which we will not call a program because that is not cool); 4. old fashioned socially conservative churches, who are trying to be a little bit cool to keep up, but who have a “how to be a good Christian” program that they still call a program; and, 5. “Grace” churches ( we never ever say what you should be doing as a Christian because that is Law and thank God we are not like all those other churches that preach Law, but we have a long list of stuff we don’t do because it is Law to do those things).
    I don’t see any of these strands of Protestantism teaching “the gospel” as Luther understood it. He had this keen sense of the just wrath of God against real sin, and advocated for the continued teaching of God’s Law in the Ten Commandments, and especially to children through catechism, in order to foster an understanding of God’s just wrath that was satisfied with the death and resurrection of His Son. For Luther, preaching “the Cross” was the best way to have people understand the just wrath of God against sin. This “gospel” of Luther was not that Christ has died in order to show me that God is with me even though I don’t meet the world’s demands, my parents’ demands, or fulfill my own ambitions. Seeing the gospel in those terms can lead us to see “the Cross” as God’s message that He loves us, even when the “law” hates us unjustly, a message that is foreign to Luther and all of the Reformers. The Reformation gospel message, boiled down to its essential core, is that we are rightly judged guilty before a holy God and deserving of punishment, but that this same God has taken that guilt and just punishment upon Himself in Christ, and has, out of His great love for us, thereby saved us from our just condemnation. And all of this is a final, complete and free gift, period. That “gospel” message sounds abstract, cruel, silly, unnecessary or just odd to most “modern” ears (as it did to most sophisticated Greeks and Romans even in Paul’s day) but that was “the gospel” that Luther and the Reformers were willing to, and often did, die for.

  5. Paul says:

    I am responding to the first comment above. Luther never taught double predestination or limited atonement. That Christ only died for some is not the good news that was recovered in the reformation. There is an article on this in First Things by Michael Block.

  6. Steve Martin says:

    Amen, Paul.

    God in Christ Jesus loves and died for, and forgave everyone, on the Cross.

    That some hear and come to a living faith…and others do not, is the mystery we are stuck with.

    Personally, I could never say to someone (truthfully), “Ya know…Jesus might love you. And He might have forgiven your sins.”

    • mark mcculley says:

      Of course it’s not about what you personally could say or even which God you would personally worship.

      So Steve could you say to anybody and everybody—“God loves you even if you perish, because the love of God does not necessarily mean anything when it comes to death and life.”? Could you say to any and all—“Christ died for you to take away the penalty for all your sins, but that does not mean that you won’t someday also pay the same penalty?

      The problem with not telling the truth about what the Bible says about God’s love is that you also end up not telling the truth about what you are saying. Unless you are an universalist, Steve, you yourself have got some “fine print” in your message. How is it that anybody could perish if indeed God gave His son so that nobody would perish?

      Of course, I know you never claimed to be rational. The propitiation is God’s love for God’s elect.

  7. The propitiation is God’s love for *all* mankind. Not only for “the elect.” We believe, on its face, 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And He died for all.” Same in John 3:16: “loved the world.” And especially 1 John 2:1″ He is the Propitiation not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” These are very clear passages that do not require any explaining. And so, in the Lutheran church, when we sing “Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending,” we sing not “… for favored sinners slain,” but “for our salvation slain.” It is our prayer that all would believe this for their eternal comfort!

  8. mark mcculley says:

    jerry: the propitiation is God’s love for *all* mankind. Not only for “the elect.” We believe, on its face, 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And He died for all.”… These are very clear passages that do not require any explaining

    then jerry explains— the propitiation is God’s love for *all* mankind. Not only for “the elect.

    II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but who for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

    Mark: I suppose this means that any Lutheran who perishes will be able to comfort themselves with the love of God which has nevetherless not saved them from perishing. We can think about a “for” which is not substitution.I can score a goal for my team, without any idea that I am the only one playing the game. I score the goal for the sake of others on my team, and not only for myself, but that does not mean they do nothing and I do everything.In II Corinthians 5:14-15, it is not the “for” which get us to the idea of substitution.What gets us to substitution is “therefore all died”

    It is a mistake to take the verse out of context. It is also a mistake to reference the death of the all to some conversion experience that believers have.The death of all is not their repentance. Nor does “those who live” refer to faith or to conversion.The idea is not that Christ died one kind of death and as a result believers die another kind of death.The idea is not that Christ rose again from death and as a result believers now experience regeneration and the possibility of pleasing God.

    Rather, the idea is that the death Christ died, to propitiate God’s wrath because of imputed sins, is the death which is counted by God to the elect.The elect do not die this kind of death. Their substitute died it for them. Christ alone, by Himself, without them, died this death.And it is that death, not some other kind of death, which the text teaches “all died.”

  9. mark mcculley says:

    Miroslav Volf.In his book, Free of Charge (Zondervan, 2005, p147) writes: “Since Christ is our substitute, after reading ‘one has died for all,’ we’d expect him to continue, ‘therefore none of them needs to die.’ Had he written that, he would have expressed the idea that theologians call EXCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION. According to this view, Christ’s death makes ours unnecessary. As a third party, he is our substitute, and his death is his alone and no one else’s.But that’s not how the Apostle thought. Christ’s death doesn’t replace our death. It enacts it, he suggested. That’s what theologians call INCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION.”

    Volf along with some other double-talking theologians is wrong about this text.. The question is what we mean by substitution.Nor can the problem here be fixed by simply noticing that Christ died only for the elect. Not all enemies of the gospel are Arminians who condition the salvation of a sinner on the sinner. There are many universalists who say that God will save everybody because Christ was the substitute for everybody.

    If Christ’s death replaces people’s death, why does the text say that all died? My answer is that “all died” is how the text tells us that the death of Christ replaces the death of all. Since the death of Christ comes to count as the death of the elect, once the elect have been joined to that death, another legal death is not necessary. The first death (the physical death of Christians, in this age) is not condemnation for those who are in Christ

    Since God has (or has not) already imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, in time Christ’s death will be counted as the death of the elect. The forensic death of the elect is a death like Christ’s death because it IS Christ’s death. The death of II Corinthians 5 is not some other death. It is one death, the death of Christ, counted by God as the death of all the elect.

  10. […] What’s the big deal about the Reformation anyway? “The Reformation was nothing if not a complete reversal of the direction of devotion; no longer would people be singing of salvation as something done by us or something done in us, but something done for us.” […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *