On Christian Freedom

Continuing in the series of posts from Martin Luther as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I  share some highlights from Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian.  This treatise was dedicated to Pope Leo X, and was Luther’s final attempt to be reconcile to Rome.

One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ… Let us consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and where that Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul.  If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing, since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word.

The Word of God cannot be received and cherished by any works whatever but only by faith. So [the soul] is justified by faith alone and not any works; for if it could be justified by anything else, it would not need the Word, and consequently it would not need faith. Wherefore it ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him. No other work makes a Christian.

To those who ask, “If faith does all things and is alone sufficient unto righteousness, why then are good works commanded?” Although a man is abundantly and sufficiently justified by faith inwardly, in his spirit, and so has all that he needs… yet he remains in this mortal life on earth.  In this life he must control his own body and have dealings with men.  Here the works begin, here a man cannot enjoy leisure; here he must indeed take care to discipline his body by fastings, watchings, labors, and other reasonable discipline and to subject it to the Spirit so that it will obey and conform to the inner man and faith and not revolt against faith and hinder the inner man, as it is the nature of the body to do if it is not held in check. Since by faith the soul is cleansed and made to love God, it desires that all things, and especially its own body, shall be purified so that all things may join with it in loving and praising God. Nevertheless the works themselves to not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things.

The following statements are therefore true: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.

Which Authority…

I’ve had a little email back and forth this weekend with an old friend over the authority of Scripture, combined with a little discussion about the role of our Presbyterian Book of Order.  My friend has stated publically that we cannot speak “unequivocally” about what the Bible says.  The authority with which we speak on matters of scripture is completely conditional and never unequivocal, he says. When we believe we can speak unequivocally on behalf of scripture they have made an idol out of something.  In other words, we can never really say for certain and with authority any one thing about the God’s word, because it is all dependant upon our particular cultural context.

The problem with such Post-Modern, Deconstructionist Relativism is that it gives us nothing to say at all.  The Bible is simply the story of God revealing Himself to a particular people, but it does not speak authoritatively to us today.  We can gather principles, but no clear word to apply to our lives.  As Francis Schaeffer said in “How Then Should We Live?”, they “do not see the Bible as giving truth which can be stated in contentful propositions, especially regarding the cosmos and history, that is, as making statements which are open to any verification.  And for many of them the Bible does not give moral absolutes either.  For these theologians, it is not faith in something; it is faith in faith.”

Hard enough as that is to accept, my friend later went on to say that he fully embraces the Book of Order (the constitution of the PC(USA), and the new revisions to the constitution in regard to its position on the Word of God.  There is a full embrace of the Book of Order, but a qualified embrace of the Word of God.  Something is wrong here.

I mentioned to my friend that I had little to no faith in our Book of Order, because I have seen it used to punish and drive away innocent and faithful members and pastors.  This prompted a response that I was close to “renouncing jurisdiction,” an action that would permanently remove me from the church and my ministry.

So let me clarify my position.

I do not believe that I speak unequivocally about Scripture; Scripture does. Scripture tells us with one voice that we were created for God’s glory, but all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Scripture tells us with one voice that God has given us new life in Christ, and that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. Scripture tells us with one voice that the Christian life is lived in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, overcoming sin and immorality – for this is God’s will for our lives. Scripture tells us unequivocally that as sure as Christ came once before, He is coming again to judge the world and to recieve his own.

God’s Word does not change, even though the heavens and the earth will pass away (Psalm 119:89, Matthew 24:34-35).  The Book of Order changes every time we have a General Assembly. 

Like Scripture, does the Book of Order lead me to a saving knowledge of God and His love for me in Christ Jesus my Lord?  No.

Like Scripture, does the Book of Order contain the full revelation of God, and as such, is man’s only rule for faith and life? No.

Like Scripture, does the Book of Order, by the power of the Holy Spirit, reveal my sin, and lead me to trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ?  No.

Therefore, my heart and my mind must be held captive to the Word of God.  As a Presbyterian, I am goverened by the church’s policy and will abide by its discipline as I perform my ministry in the Presbyterian Church.  I do not renounce the jurisdiction of the church, rather I claim that the church is first and foremost under the jurisdiction of Christ Jesus her Lord and King, and must not stray from His will, as revealed to us in His Word.  Counsels of men are prone to sin and error, only God’s word is infallible and inerrant.

You tell me, which should I accept without qualification or scruple?