The Scope of the Problem

jesus-is-your-sanctificationThe central question of theology in and around the Reformation, in my opinion, was not the issue of Eschatology nor Ecclesiology nor even Justification. It was the issue of Original Sin.

It is a truism at this point that of the Reformation scholars, while Calvin and Zwingli were operating from the central principle of the Sovereignty of God, and the Anabaptists like Menno Simmons and Jacob Hutter were concerned principle with Holiness and Sanctification, and even the Romans as revealed in the Council of Trent were concerned with the Authority of the visible church, Luther was concerned primarily concerned with the question of Justification.

For Luther, the central question that Christianity surrounds is around the problem of how one is to be saved. All of Lutheran theology is viewed through that lens, and it is of whole cloth, there are no false systematic distinctions within his thought, and how it is developed by the primary Lutheran thinkers like Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard. There are certainly theses around which thoughts and doctrine are gathered, particularly in the Confessional documents, but these serve to, well, confess rather than create an artificial system of theology. And no matter the topic, they are properly understood as they were written and accepted, as being seen and formulated through the lens of Justification.

So we are all clear.

However, the main battles I think were fought over the question of Original Sin. That is, each of the above listed theologians had dissimilar views on the nature of Original Sin, and that view and presumption manifested in how they approached everything else, including their central principle.

So it is, in my humble opinion today around the various factions and divisions within the Christian Church. Your understanding of the problem drives your understanding of the solution.

If you believe that by your own cooperation and action you become a significantly better person through some level of an act of your will, that is going to drive how you approach the Christian life.  You may believe that if only you had slick marketing, you could “increase the Kingdom.” You might believe that if only you followed the newest, most radical, evangelism program you could “reach the lost.” You may even believe that if only you taught everyone to become “Sacramental Entrepreneurs “ that this would finally usher in a time when your evangelism efforts would finally bear the fruit that you so desire.

However, if you confess what the Lutheran Confessions and the Scripture say about Original Sin you might believe that, as the Small Catechism puts it “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”

If that is the case, only a radical act of God can change anything. Only He saves. Only He sanctifies. And thus, only His Word and His Sacraments can offer anything worth offering.


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