Grace in Protestant and Catholic Theology

 

Grace is a central teaching of the Christian faith.  Grace is a gift from God and apart from God it is not possible achieve sanctifying grace.  In this regard the Church echoes the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 where he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (NRSV).  The theology of grace developed from Apostolic times to the present, but the concept of it being a gift has remained.  However, in the 16th century there was a sharp divergence in the concept of grace.  The Protestant reformers held to a different view of man that had been taught for the first 1500 years of the church.  Along with this different view came a different view of grace.  From the beginnings of the church’s history, grace has had at its center the consent of the free will of man and this view remained the same until the Protestant Reformation.

 

DEVELOPMENT OF GRACE IN THE EARLY CHURCH

            Before the development of grace in the early church can be discussed it is important to define terms.  In describing grace Dr. Scott Hahn writes that grace is, “The supernatural gift that God bestows entirely of his own benevolence upon men and women for their eternal salvation. Justification comes through grace, and through the free gift of grace the ability is bestowed to respond to the divine call of adoptive sonship, participation in the divine nature, and eternal life(Hahn Grace).  Within this definition we see the essential characteristics of what grace is.  It is a free gift that God gives us, and we have the ability to respond.  Some, especially most Protestants, would say that grace is indeed a free gift, but we do not have the ability to respond properly.

Early in the history of the church we see a correlation between faith and works.  This does not mean that the church teaches a works-based salvation like some falsely believe, but it does mean that grace helps perfect the will (STIII, Q62, A2).  St. Justin Martyr was an in his Dialogue with Trypho in the second century that grace helps us understand the will of God to do what pleases him (Roberts 258).  This concept is further elaborated upon by St. Irenaeus in his great work against the Gnostics titled Against Heresies.  St. Irenaeus also wrote in the late 2nd century about the errors of the Gnostics.  The Gnostics believed that they were saved based on secret knowledge passed down from secret teachings of Jesus.  St. Irenaeus employed a device that became known as the rule of faith.  In this rule St, Irenaeus pointed out that the true churches can trace there lineage back to the apostles, and he also gives a listing of the Bishop of Rome up until that point.  What is interesting in his explanation of grace and how it varies from his opponents.  Regarding grace St Irenaeus writes, “in the exercise of His grace, {God} confers immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love” (Roberts 331).

In both examples cited it is imperative to have faith.  Faith shows us where our hope is founded, and hope leads to charity which shows us how to love God the way He wishes to be loved (Hardon Ch. 10).  In sacred scripture there are many passages that show what it means to love God.  In the story of the rich young ruler Jesus tells the man that following the commandments on their own is not enough.  He lays down a challenge is Mark 10:21 and tells him to “Sell what you have and follow me” (NRSV).  This challenge seems superficial, but it is a statement of faith.  If we believe Jesus is who he says he is then the Christian life is more than just faith, and more than just doing good things.  Through faith grace is conferred, but to remain in a state of grace we must cooperate with the grace given, and that may mean giving up what we have to follow him.  Conversely in this story Jesus affirms the necessity of keeping the moral laws, but emphasizes that with out faith, or following as it is stated here, it will not get one to eternal life.

 

EARLY HERESIES AND GRACE

            Though the relationship between faith and works regarding the increase of grace was clearly established early in the church’s history there were heresies that arose.  One such heresy denied the existence of original sin.  Original sin is the doctrine that says because of the fall there is a stain on our souls and describes our fallen nature (CCC para 408).  As with all Catholic doctrine, original sin was seen as a teaching very early in the church’s history.  Tertullian is credited with one of the earliest references to original sin.  In his work The Doctrine of Man and Sin Tertullian makes the connection to the fall and the tendency, or concupiscence, of man to sin.  However, he also states that the soul is still a creation of the divine and it is possible for man to use free will to cooperate with God (Tertullian).

For the most part this remained the view of original sin and grace in the church for the next two centuries until a man named Pelagius started making waves.  He was a British born lay theologian who went to Rome in the late 4th century and started a movement known as Pelagianism (Cross 1257).  Pelagius started denying the established dogma of original sin.  Regarding Pelagianism Dr. Patricia Ireland writes that it is a, “philosophical theology which denies both the need for divine grace and the doctrine of the generative transmission of original sin (Ireland 38).

The ideas that Pelagius put forth were problematic to say the least.  If the tenants of Pelagianism were carried to their logical conclusion, why would Christ have to die on the cross for the sins of the world?  In Ephesians 2:5 St. Paul writes, “even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (NRSV).  The views of Pelagius regarding original sin and grace not only were contrary to this verse but were contrary to the fathers who wrote afterward.  In this system man becomes the cause of his salvation.  This is seen in the summary of Pelagianism by a disciple of Pelagius named Caelestius.  He summarized the view by saying that man was born in the same condition as Adam and did not have a tendency to sin.  He went on further say that he knew some who were spotless and never sinned (Ireland 38).

The teaching of Pelagianism was damaging and caught the attention of the great church father St. Augustine.  In 420 St. Augustine replied to the two letters of the pelagians with his and addressed it to Pope Boniface (Smither 192).  He did this to inform the Holy Father of the dangers of the heresy that was being propagated.  In response to Julian, a Pelagian teacher, erroneously stated that the Catholic Church taught that free will was taken away by the fall.  St, Augustine countered and wrote that free will remained, but what was taken away was the full righteousness to immortality in Heaven (Augustine 378).  This is remedied by grace, and original sin is washed away in the sacrament of baptism.  Regarding this Augustine writes, “All these products of concupiscence, and the old guilt of concupiscence itself, are put away by the washing of baptism (Augustine 386).  The Pelagian view saw salvation as a reward for moral behavior and discipline apart from grace (Ireland 38).  St. Augustine, and by extension the church, saw salvation as living in detachment from the world through grace.

In the 5th century a weaker form of Pelagianism began to circulate and was advocated by Cassian at Marseilles.  This was a hybrid of sorts between the views of Pelagius and St. Augustine’s strong correction of the heresy (Thein 643).  Semi-Pelagianism held that man was able initiate salvation apart from grace, and that everything that happened after salvation was the work of grace.  The central point in both systems is the ability of man to choose apart from divine grace as the cause for good human action (Armstrong 51).  This compromise of an early heresy compromised the supernatural end of man and made it an object of mere human effort (De Lubac 65).  In further response to these heresies of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, the Council of Orange was convened.  The council clarified the church’s view of original sin, the need for grace, and formally condemned Pelagianism as heresy.

 

A MATTER OF HE WILL

            With Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism defined as heresy the church’s view of grace and the will remained unchallenged for some time.   St. Thomas Aquinas reiterated this view in his masterful work the Summa Theologia where he writes, “grace may be taken in two ways; first, as a Divine help, whereby God moves us to will and to act; secondly, as a habitual gift divinely bestowed on us” (STII, Q111, A2).  However, in the 16th century an event occurred which changed the church and the world.  On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg Germany.  This event sparked the Protestant Reformation and it would not only sever the unity of the universal church, but the unity of grace and free will.

The reformers provided a new definition of the will and grace.  For the first 1500 years of the Christian era it was believed that sanctifying grace was given to man and man had the choice of whether to accept it or not.  By continuing to cooperate with the grace of God one is transformed into the image of Christ and increases in holiness.  Martin Luther, and later John Calvin, introduced the concept of total depravity.  This is the concept that man is no longer able to use his will to accept grace because of the fall.  Since the fall man’s nature is so corrupt that he is not able to merit anything in the sight of God (Ryrie 341).

The definition above is quite tame compared to that of Martin Luther.  In his work The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther was in a heated debate with Erasmus.  Erasmus held to the Catholic view that grace is presented by God, and man has the free will to accept or deny it.  Martin Luther took exception and described Erasmus’s pamphlet on free will as a diatribe.  Martine Luther writes regarding free will “free choice is already vanquished and prostrate” (Lull 168).

John Calvin built upon Luther’s concept of depravity.  John Calvin write am influential book titled Institutes of the Christian Religion which became known as the first systematic theology of Protestant thought.  Regarding total depravity Calvin writes, “Therefore man’s own wickedness corrupted the pure nature which he had received from God, and his ruin brought with it the destruction of all his posterity” (Calvin 23.8).  So far Luther and Calvin seem to be on the same page, but this is far from the case.  Calvin would elaborate on his theory of depravity and add to it his doctrine of predestination.  God willed the depravity of man as an act of his divine will and will save whom he wished to save.  With these developments the role of efficacious grace was done away with, at least in some Protestant circles.

At this point it may be helpful to clarify some terminology regarding grace.  Sufficient grace is a grace that does not involve consent.  This is a grace that does not need the cooperation to produce God’s desired effect.  The issue that is disputed by the reformers involves efficacious grace.  This is actual grace that is feely consented with by man to produce the desired effect.  The reformers denied the freedom of the will in regard to efficacious grace.  By contrast Catholic theologians have always upheld the freedom of the will and efficacious grace (Pohle 222).

This denial of efficacious grace would cause havoc with other doctrines as well.  Historically the church taught original sin, and how through it we had a sin nature, but we were still able to use our will to cooperate with the graces that God bestowed.  This allowed one to grow in holiness and be further conformed to the image of Christ.  Sanctification was a process by which we pursued Christ and allowed his to change us through the moral virtues and thee three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.  Regarding this concept Dr. Patricia Ireland writes, “Through the efficient grace merited by the obedient will of the Son of the cross, the sinner summons the courage to bend the afflicted will towards heaven and responds in freedom to accept God’s call to an everlasting, radiant life” (Ireland 21).  This was the view of St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, and many others through history until Luther.

In Luther we find the doctrine of imputation and the idea holiness was not something that was a process, but that it was spontaneous.  The will is mute and does nothing to help develop virtues or fruit of faith.  In Luther’s view Christ is our righteousness and all that he is ours.  All fruit of faith is as a result of being saved and not a response to grace.  The concept of reward and merit become warped in this view as man really does not have to live a Christian life to share n the kingdom.  This is where an irony enters into Luther’s thought process.  In his work Two Kinds of Righteousness he, on one hand, says that faith alone is all we need to be transformed into the image of Christ.  However, just a few paragraphs later he implores hi readers to ask God for the grace needed to live a life of obedience (Lull 139).

 

CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT VIEW OF PREDESTINATION

            The concept of total depravity brought forth an even more extreme doctrine of predestination.  The Catholic church has always taught predestination, but it is different from its Protestant counterpart especially in reformed circles.  The Catholic view utilizes efficacious grace as a means by which God directs an action.  St. Thomas Aquinas states regarding predestination, “Hence the type of the aforesaid direction of a rational creature towards the end of life eternal is called predestination. For to destine, is to direct or send. Thus, it is clear that predestination, as regards its objects, is a part of providence” (ST1, Q23, A1).  God works outside the confines of time and knows how each of us will respond to efficacious grace.  This does not make grace any less important, and it certainly does not mean that God is subject to man.  Quite the contrary actually as God knows us in such an intimate way that he directs us to act by sending graces.  He directs, and he guides, but we must cooperate.  In the catholic view man is predestined to freedom to love and serve the Lord (Denzinger 81).  Anything we do originates in God.

The Protestant view of predestination is quite different from the Catholic view.  In developing their view, the reformers sought to protect the sovereignty of God.  This is admirable, and it is something that surely must be defended.  However, the pendulum shifted so far to the opposite side that predestination did not look like anything that had previously.  In discussing predestination, the Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote, “The supreme Disposer then makes way for his own predestination, when depriving those whom he has reprobated of the communication of his light, he leaves them in blindness” (Calvin 24.12).  Calvin goes on to say that God only enlightens those whom he predestined to be saved (Calvin 24.17).  To Calvin if one is not predestined to Heaven then they are predestined for hell.  This view not only varied from the Catholic view, but also from the view of fellow reformer Martin Luther.

Luther, though he did not focus on predestination, did teach that some were predestined for heaven.  One of the many differences between Luther and Calvin is that Luther did not believe that anyone was predestined for hell.  Salvation is predestined to those who seek God.  It is here that Luther, not only seems to contradict himself, but diverts quite strongly from Calvin.  In his Lectures on Genesis Luther writes regarding Calvin’s view, “For thoughts of this kind, which investigate something more sublime above or outside the revelation of God, are altogether hellish. With them nothing more is achieved than that we plunge ourselves into destruction” (Lull 526).  Predestination is reserved for those who seek God, who are baptized, and seek the sacraments.  However, according to Luther the will is so depraved that one is not able to seek these things on its own.

Our Protestant brethren who adhere to the view of Calvin reject the notion of efficacious grace.  Though it may seem that Luther had believed in a type of efficacious grace, that thought comes to an end when the imputation of Christ is discussed.  Christ died for us and our dung covered souls are covered with a robe of righteousness that was purchased for us on the cross.  When God the Father looks at us on judgement day he sees Christ as a result, and not our depraved souls that are unable to change.  This view is incapable, and historic, view of the Catholic church that shows a way of perfection.  Through efficacious grace the church teaches that grace is infused and sanctification is process that takes place over time.  Not a once and for all type of event.  Regarding this Dr. Ireland writes. “Sanctification is incompatible with the Catholic teaching on the way of perfection as integral to unity with God” (Ireland 19).

 

CONCLUSION

            The topic at hand is one that has written about for centuries, and one that has filled many volumes.  The Protestant view of grace has some merits, and at times can be convincing.  However, it is fleeting and appeals to one’s emotions.  Christians are a people of the truth, and if we are going to seek truth we must seek it with zeal.  It is appealing to see grace, salvation, and sanctification as a one-time judicial type vent where we are judged righteous based on Christ’s merits.  However, according to Luther and Calvin this does not change a man from the inside out.  Man is still covered with dung, but merely has the appearance of being clean.  In trying to illustrate his point Luther wrote to his protégé Melanchthon, “No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day” (Lull 457).

The view of the Protestant reformers regarding grace were revolutionary, but not in a good way.  They disregarded the constant teaching of the church from the time of the apostles and developed a brand of belief that made their lives easier to live.  The Catholic teaching regarding efficacious grace has remained constant since the earliest days of the church.  The grace of God is an unmerited gift, God presents grace through various means including the sacraments, man makes the choice whether to cooperate with the grace, and as a result of cooperating man merits and becomes more like Christ.  Man is transformed to holiness over time.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Armstrong, Dave. More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. Dave Armstrong, 2007. Print.

Augustine of Hippo. “A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians.” Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. Robert Ernest Wallis. Vol. 5. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997. Print.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000. Print.

Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church 2005: n. pag. Print.

Denzinger, Henry, and Karl Rahner, eds. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Trans. Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954. Print.

Hahn, Scott, ed. Catholic Bible Dictionary 2009: n. pag. Print.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart.  St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  New York: Alba House, 2009.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984. Print.

Lull, Timothy ed.  Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2005.  Print.

Pohle, Joseph, and Arthur Preuss. Grace, Actual and Habitual: A Dogmatic Treatise. Toronto: W. E. Blake & Son, 1919. Print. Dogmatic Theology.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972. Print.

Smither, Edward L.  Augustine As Mentor.  Nashville, TN:  B&H Academic, 2008. Print.

Tertullian.  The Doctrine of Man and Sinhttp://www.tertullian.org/articles/roberts_theology/roberts_08.htm, accessed September 19, 2018.

Thein, John. Ecclesiastical Dictionary: Containing, in Concise Form, Information upon Ecclesiastical, Biblical, Archæological, and Historical Subjects 1900: n. pag. Print.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne. Print.

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Blessed Be the Lord Who Saves

Blessed day by day be the Lord,
who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation.
God is a saving God for us;
the LORD, my Lord, controls the passageways of death. -Psalm 68:20-21

Today’s Bible reflection is taken from the second part of the responsorial Psalm.  Though it is short there is much contained within its words.  We are reminded that is God who saves, and it is He who controls our eternal destiny.  He has done much good for all of us, he gave us life, and we are to respect and be in awe of him.  In short, blessed be the Lord.

We have a tendency as humans to want to do things on our own.  This is fine and dandy if it is something like riding a bike, but not something we should be doing in terms of our salvation.  The fact of the matter is that we can’t get to heaven on our own.  God is our salvation as the Psalmist says.  Are you trying to do it alone?  Christ established the church to guide us on the road we should go and teach us the truths about God.  It is God who saves and we do not save ourselves.

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Quote

“Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.”
-St. Augustine of Hippo

The Deeds of Jesus

Every Sunday in the creed we declare that Jesus is our Lord, but what does that mean?  What implications does that have on our lives?  In the Gospels Jesus tells us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31), love God (Matthew 22:37), and show mercy (John 8:11).  How do his words correlate to his deeds, and what does that mean for us as his followers?  This post will take a deeper look at the scriptures referenced to illustrate how the words that Christ spoke correspond with his actions.

Jesus often spoke of what we now the call the perfect commandment.  Jesus spoke about loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as yourself.  The first verse mentioned above is Mark 12:31 which states, “The second is this ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” (NRSV).  To love your neighbor means so much more than greeting them when they are in their front yard.  Whether they treated him as he deserved or not, Jesus showed compassion to everyone (Collins 51).  He healed the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:13, St. Peter’s mother in law in Matthew 8:14, and healed a multitude in Matthew 14:14.  In healing the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:13, Jesus shows that his salvation is for Jew and Gentile alike.  In addition, this was a member of the occupying government and an enemy of the Jewish people.  He shows us what we must do with those we do not agree with.  We must still them as people as they are created in the image of God.

To go along with loving our neighbor, Jesus tells us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NRSV).  How is loving God a deed of Jesus?  As the Son of God he is the only way to the Father, and Christ said we can only know the Father through him (John 14:6).  To love God with all your heart is to go where he leads and to do what he is telling us to do.  In short, we must follow his will if we love him with our whole being.  Jesus demonstrated this is many ways, with the most notable being his Passion.

In the garden of Gethsemane, we see the human will of Jesus manifesting itself.  He is so terrified about what he must endure that he begins to sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44).  This is a medical condition known as Hematidrosis, and occurs when an individual in experiencing extreme stress.  He prayed that he may not have to endure, and this shows he is human.  He was scared, and above all it means he can relate to what we go through.  Though he was terrified, Christ knew his mission and because of his overwhelming love we are redeemed.

In John chapter 8 Jesus encounters a group of Pharisees who are circling a woman and looking to stone her for the sin of adultery.  According to Leviticus 20:10 this was the consequence for such an action, but adultery takes two people.  The woman was about to get stoned, but where was the man?  It is speculated that the man was in the crowd that was wanting to stone the woman, and this was a way to trap Jesus.  He knew what was going on, and said if someone present has never sinned then he could throw the stone (John 8:7).  Jesus told her to stop sinning, and did not condemn her.  He forgave her for the sin by saying “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11 NRSV).  Jesus showed mercy and did not just talk about it.  We see this several times in the Gospels, but this example is significant as the penalty was death for such a sin.  He gave the woman a new life and hope, and tells us to do the same.

 

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Works Cited

O’ Collins, Gerald. Jesus: A Portrait. New York: Maryknoll, 2013

Salvific Work of Christ and Human Freedom

Within the course of salvation history there have been many questions about the work of Christ and the role of the human freedom, or free will.  There has been no shortage of theories, and Church history shows that there have been many heresies from those trying find a synthesis between the two.  There seem to be two extremes when it comes to this issue:  Those who think that Christ will save us no matter what e do after coming to faith, and those who think that one must continually work to attain salvation (Pelagianism).  Saint Pope John Paul II wrote two encyclicals titled Redemptor Hominis and Redemptoris Missio that deal with this important issue.

The Pope reaffirms the teaching of Christ in John 14:6 that He is the way and the truth.  He echoes the words of God is creation where he saw the things that he created as good.  The work of Christ is expressed as an act of love, and a love that the Father had from the beginning with creation.  It was through this act of love that man was restored and made whole.  Regarding this Pope John Paul II writes, “He and he alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant and the later covenants that God again and again offered to man” (Redemptor Hominis Para 9).  Man is unable to enter into relationship with God unless it is through Christ (Redemptoris Missio Para 5).  What Christ did for man was the greatest act of love that ever done.  It is one that our feeble minds can barely start to fathom

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            The Pope firmly establishes that it is Christ who is the only way and is the source of our salvation.  The work of Christ on the cross was an act of love that echoes back to the point of creation, and he reconciles man to himself.  How about human freedom?  The freedom of man is a source of controversy for many.  Our lives as lack meaning if we do not have love.  We were made to love and live in communion with each other.  Through His life, death, and resurrection Christ has shown us what love is.  This love changes the lives of the apostles, and they passed that on and it changed the world.  God offers this newness of life to every man, but man has the freedom to reject it.  In this regard Pope John Paul II writes, “Faith demands a free adherence on the part of man, but at the same time faith must also be offered to him” (Redemptoris Missio Para 8).  Freedom is not the ultimate end as the world teaches it to be.  Freedom is the choice to do as we ought to.

Freedom is only a gift if one knows how to use it for everything that is true good (Redemptor Hominis Para 21).  When we encounter Him that is truth we can either accept of deny what he says.  He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NRSV).  Once we reach this realization Christ calls us to a higher standard of living.  We are bound to regulate of lives with this truth, and we have the freedom to do so or not (Redemptoris Missio Para 8).  Human freedom is a part of the redemption.  By his work on the cross, Christ redeems us by an act of love and we are called to love others and do what Christ commands of us.

Works Cited

John Paul II. Redemptor Hominis 1979 Web. Accessed December 20, 2017.

John Paul II. Redemptoris Missio 1990.  Web.  Accessed December 21, 2017.

Martin Luther and the Cross of Christ

Martin Luther is a name that all Christians have heard, but most take the name for granted.  They know him as the leader of the Protestant Reformation, and rightfully so as his theological endeavors led to a split from the Catholic Church.  Though this was a sad time in history, Luther was a brilliant theologian and he blessed Christendom with many theological insights.  One such insight into the cross of Christ, and to Luther authentic Christian theology was included the theology of the cross.

In the time of Christ, the cross was an instrument of torture and death.  People were left to hang for hours until they suffocated.  It was a brutal death and was mostly used to serve as an example to political rivals.  In the view of Luther, the cross represented two different things.  Firstly, the cross represented the evil of sin and the promise of the judgement of God.  However, as sinners we are forced to face the judgement of God.  In his holiness we become afraid, and we when we confront this fear we come to recognize it as something entirely different.  We come to recognize it as the mercy and love of almighty God.  In this regard, the cross becomes good because it represents the very instrument of our salvation. We see this in Luther’s Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians where he writes, “Christ is Lord over the law, because he was crucified unto the law.  I also am Lord over the Law, because by faith I am crucified with Christ” (Luther 44).  Here we see Luther’s theology of the cross played to its logical conclusion.  In the crucifixion, Christ makes something good out of a horrible situation.  An instrument that was used to torture and kill is now seen as an instrument of love and mercy.  The salvation received is passive on our part because Christ did all that was needed.  We accept salvation when the law drives us to desperation (as it did for Luther) and thus to faith in the mercy of God revealed in the cross.  Basically, Luther was teaching that a Christian was one who had the righteousness of Christ imputed to him.  Regarding this Luther writes, “In short, Christ was charged with the sins of all men, that he should pay for the with his own blood.  The curse struck him.  The law found him among sinners” (Luther 68).  In exchange for taking our sin upon his shoulders, the Father now sees us as righteous.  According to Luther, when this happens the righteousness of Christ is imputed into the Christian.

This was a great consolation to Luther and not a terror.  Luther was plagued by fear and anxiety for many years.  In his early years as a monk, Luther fell into nominalist tendencies.  He was trying to do everything within his being to please God, but when we do it on our own we are doomed to frustration and not feeling good enough.  This is what happened to Luther, as he thought that doing works would then lead to God giving him grace.  This is what Luther called“an experience in hell” and led to Luther hating God.  His insight into the cross of Christ allowed him to see the victory that the cross stood for.  It was now a symbol of great joy, and no longer a cause of pain and anxiety.

WORKS CITED

Luther, Martin.  Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Project Gutenberg. Web. Accessed December 9, 2017.

Patristic Theories of Redemption

The fathers of the early church fought very hard to preserve orthodox teaching regarding the person of Christ.  There were numerous assaults on his divinity and nature, and the Council of Chalcedon seemed to put the issue to rest for good.  The teaching that Jesus Christ, was eternal, always existed, is fully divine, and fully human was now put to rest.  Though this was crucial part in the Christological story, it was not complete.  The Church fathers wrestled with various theories regarding Christ.  These theories did not deal with who Jesus was, but dealt with what he did to redeem us.  In this paper, three patristic will be discussed along with what is common among them.

One of the redemptive theories discussed in the Patristic period was the Pedagogical or Christ-the-teacher theory of salvation.  This theory teaches that Christ with a new knowledge, or law and demonstrated this with the example of his life.  The idea that Christ is our example is a theme throughout much of the New Testament.  There are many passages, but 1 Peter 2:21 specifically mentions that Christ is an example for us to follow.  That passage of scripture states, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps” (NRSV).  The concept of a new knowledge from God is also present outside of scripture in some of the earliest Christian writings.  Regarding this Joseph Mitros writes, Such expressions such as ‘Immortal knowledge’ ‘new knowledge’…recur quite often in the Didache, the First of Clement and the Shepherd of hermas” (Mitros 418).

Another theory set forth in the patristic era was known as the recapitulation theory.  This theory was made popular by St. Irenaeus, and taught that Christ rescued humanity by “recapitulating in himself the whole human race” (Mitros 416).  St Irenaeus found support for this theory in the writings of St. Paul.  One such passage from Paul is Romans 5:18-19 which states, “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (NRSV).  Since Adam was the cause of the fall, Christ came to live the life that Adam should have.  As a result, we are now redeemed and restored to the life we once had prior to Adam (Mitros 427).

A third theory that arose in the Patristic age is the transactional theory.  It is known better as the Christus Victor theory.  This theory claims that a ransom had be paid to Satan for the redemption of humanity.  The ransom was supposed to be part of a kind of contractual obligation between God and Satan.  There are no passages in scripture that speak of such a contract, but there was an understanding in the early church about the term slavery.  Humanity were slaves to Satan, and Christ died to redeem them.  In this regard Joseph Mitros states, “Now, the term of redemption, understood within the context of slavery, meant a liberation of a slave upon the payment of a ransom to the owner” (Mitros 422).  Gregory of Nyssa elaborated this view by introducing the concept of a fishing hook.  Just as in fishing, Satan clamped down on this hook (i.e. Christ), and found a surprise.  This surprise was the claims of all the souls taken from the devil.

There are many other theories that were developed and discussed during the Patristic era.  As has been seen, there is quite a range in belief and teaching.  However, there is one constant that stands out among them.  The redemption that is found in Christ and seeks to transform individual persons (Lecture Notes).  That is what the fathers sought to do in these various theories.

Works Cited

Mitros, Joseph. “Patristic Views of Christ’s Salvific Work,” Thought 42 (1967), 415-447.

3 Ways To Share The Gospel To Culture

-Featured Guest Post by Jeff Perry-
Presenting the gospel has always been a recurring topic among Christians. I asked a handful of individuals what the gospel was in their own words?

The gospel helps us pray, and get into the Word more and become more like Christ.”

The gospel directs our hearts to love as Jesus did.”

The gospel saves us so we can glorify God

The gospel leads us to remorse and salvation.”

Do you see the confusion? Look again and notice how these answers are EFFECTS of the gospel. Each answer using an action verb; helps, directs, saves, and leads. Paul say’s we are saved by Grace not by works.

What Is The Gospel? The Announcement Of Jesus

  • Creation couldn’t save itself, so God came down in the flesh of Jesus. The promised One (Gen 3:15) to save back His people. Jesus lived a sinless life and willfully went to a cross as the propitiation (In place of) death, the wage of sin. Not only did He sacrifice Himself as payment for sin, Jesus proved His sacrifice was enough with the resurrection. We can be confident Jesus paid the price towards a holy God. By faith, we reunite to God through forgiveness because the debt has been paid on our behalf.

The fullness of the gospel goes beyond understanding and reasoning. Psalm 147:5 “Great is our LORD and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit.” The overlying principle is God’s availability and willingness of reuniting with those who want too.

1, Know The Gospel

We just covered our first step to apply the gospel to culture, knowing the gospel. How can we give something we don’t have? Misunderstanding the gospel will result in a misrepresentation.

2. Know The Culture

This leads us to our second step, contextualization. This is a fancy word that implies, “To know the moment.” In the book Center Church by Tim Keller, this is a continual theme. His definition is best.

“Contextualization is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.” ~ Tim Keller

Contextualization is translating and adapting the communication and application of the gospel to a particular culture without compromising the meaning and details of the gospel itself.

  • This does not mean we are surrendering the gospel and changing Christianity to fit within the world view. Instead we adapt the gospel to a particular culture or audience.

In other words, contextualization confronts and completes each society’s cultural account with the gospel as the solution.

3. Share It

The best way to share the gospel to culture, is to share the gospel to culture. Let us be intentionally active. Steps 1 and 2 are meaningless unless it is used. In military terms, we can know the mission and the target, but without activating the missile the mission fails.

How can you be intentionally active within your culture?

~Grace & Peace

 

More Information

Jeff Perry is a writer at Absolute Aspiration.  The goal of his work is to encourage others to share the Gospel of Christ to a hurting world.  You can follow Jeff on his website or on Twitter.  He lives with his wife and three children in Buffalo, New York.  They attend church at the Chapel in Cheektowaga.

True Freedom

It has been a little while since the last blog entry.  My wife and I had the opportunity to go on a well deserved family vacation out of state.  With that being said, in the United States we celebrate out birthday as a nation.  So to my fellow Americans have a safe and happy 4th of July.

There are many definitions for freedom, but on of them is “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved (Merriam-Webster.com/freedom).”  Many are walking around saying that they are free, but are they truly free?  I submit to you that without Christ they are not truly free.  It is popular in our society for many to say “This is a free country.  I can do what I want.”  True…but you are also free to suffer the consequences of such actions.  If one is not living in Christ, and living in sin then the said consequence is death.  Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (ESV).”

We all have sinned, and that consequence is that our physical bodies will die.  That is a reality, and there is nothing we can do to change that.  It will happen.  There is much more to live than the physical, and the reality is that sin would not be so appealing if the wages were paid immediately.  What will happen when we die?  Our physical bodies are decomposing, but what about our soul?  Without Christ will spend eternity away from him.  As a result our sin has still enslaved us long after we sop breathing.  Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Christ died for our sin and it is a free gift if we believe.  Romans 10:9 also states, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is LORD,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This is a short post compared to ones I normally write.  Though it is short it is my prayer that you see that true freedom is found only in Christ.  It is through Christ that we have salvation and the forgiveness for anything wrong we have ever done.  As a result we are no longer slaves to out sinful nature.  We will still sin, but we have an advocate.  1 John 2:1-2 states, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God bless you all, and remember that true freedom is found only in Christ.

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