Happy Augsburg Confession Day!

On this day 482 years ago–June 25, 1530–the Reformation princes and free cities confessed their faith before Emperor Charles V at the Diet (the governing assembly of the Imperial states) held in Augsburg, Germany.  The 28 articles drawn up by Philipp Melanchthon (not Luther!) became known as the Augsburg Confession.  It was the first confession of faith of the Reformation and, to this day, it is perhaps the most succinct and definitive summaries of Lutheran theology.

Part of its genius is that it spells out what did NOT change in the Reformation churches–the continuity with historical Christianity that later protestants would throw out–as well as precisely what elements in the medieval church did need to be reformed.  The Augsburg Confession is still startlingly relevant to today’s controversies of theology and practice.

Honor the day by reading it:  Augsburg Confession – Book of Concord.

Vocation & economic productivity

Greg Forster, in the context of a discussion about Europe’s economic woes, makes some fascinating connections between the doctrine of vocation and economic productivity:

A historically unprecedented phenomenon has been unfolding—in Europe for the past five centuries, in America for the past two, and more recently everywhere across the globe except sub-Sarahan Africa. That phenomenon is explosive economic growth. After millennia of basically stagnant wealth levels from the earliest recorded history forward, God’s world is at last beginning to flourish economically.

Just in the past two decades, the percentage of the population in the developing world that lives in dire poverty (less than $1 a day) has been cut in half. Contemplate that for a moment.

This economic flourishing was originally produced by a confluence of factors, the most important of which was Christianity. Late medieval Christianity developed an increasing emphasis on universal human dignity and (consequently) the intrinsic goodness of economic activity. The Reformation dramatically expanded these trends and added critical new dimensions—especially the idea that your daily work is a calling from God and the primary way God makes human civilizations flourish.

All this culminated in cultures that made productivity—improving the lives of others by responding to their authentic needs—central to both individual and national identity. Scriptural treatment of this topic is extensive.Everything from the image of God to the Trinity to the prophets and parables is implicated in understanding productivity.

Christians believe human beings are made in the image of a Father who creates from nothing; this explains why human work creates wealth rather than just moving it around. Christians believe in a divine Son who joined in mystical union with temporal and material humanity. Material activities like economic work are not separate from, and inferior to, “spiritual” activities. And Christians believe in a Spirit who liberates us from selfishness; this explains why life works best when people orient their daily lives around serving others.

The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

Where this happens, economics is reduced to the purely material. If the proper economic goal for individuals is to enjoy leisure rather than to be productive, then of course voters should demand endless, unsustainable entitlement programs. If the fundamental purpose of business is to make money rather than to serve customers, then of course businesses should game the system to enrich themselves—and nations can try to get rich by playing games with the money supply.

The idea that policy should encourage financial rewards for productivity, and culture should set the expectation of productive work from all who are able, simply makes no sense in this context. Once you forget the Creator, you quickly forget that wealth needs to be created.

via Productive for the Glory of God, Good of Neighbors – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

Follow the links.  (There is even one to something I wrote on vocation.)

HT:  Justin Taylor


Who split the Church?

I’ve been reading some Reformation Day reflections by Roman Catholics, some of whom have expressed a little grudging appreciation for Luther, while blaming him for splitting the Church.  (You can find some here.)

But Luther was excommunicated.  Why?  Because he criticized the sale of indulgences.  In the case that precipitated his nailing the theses to the door, a salesman named Tetzel was participating in a manifestly corrupt venture–having to do ecclesiastical bribery and simony–that was theologically untenable.

Here is an excerpt from Tetzel’s sermon “On Indulgences” (1517):

Consider that for each and every mortal sin it is necessary to undergo seven years of penitence after confession and contrition, either in this life or in Purgatory. How many mortal sins are committed in a day, how many in a week, how many in a month, how many in a year, how many in the whole extent of life! They are nearly numberless, and those that commit them must suffer endless punishment in the burning pains of Purgatory.  (via Primary Sources.)

This was no Purgatory as “taking a shower” before entering Heaven, as in some contemporary Catholic apologetics.  Nor was it ascending Dante’s mountain.  It was penal fire that people were taught might last hundreds, even thousands of years.  (7 years per sin; do the math.)  And this was for sins that were forgiven!  Sins that were repented, confessed, and absolved STILL had to be punished.

Luther believed this teaching and this practice obscured the Gospel.  He just wanted to debate it! His attempts at reform were repudiated.

The Church of Rome, meanwhile, upped the ante.  Luther said that these teachings could not be supported by Scripture.   The reply was that they rested on the authority of the Church and of the Pope, which, in practice, trumped Scripture.  Luther, still thinking of the obvious distortions in the indulgence traffic, could not accept that.

So Luther was cast out of the Church, which refused to even consider his concerns, and things escalated after that.   Luther was given a death sentence, and many who agreed with Luther were burned at the stake.  Then new ecclesiastical orders were set up, now that Rome cut the ties.

(The Church, in effect, later conceded many of Luther’s points.  Exchanging indulgences for money was later forbidden.  The duration of Purgatorial punishment has since been softened, saying that no one knows how long it will last and that time doesn’t exist in the afterlife as it does on earth.  The number of years each indulgence remits–some were for tens of thousands or even millions of years–has been reinterpreted to mean that it is the equivalent of that period of time devoted to earthly penance.

Still, the doctrine of Purgatory remains, along with the need to be punished for each forgiven transgression, as does the doctrine of Indulgences, including the notion of the Treasury of Merits, that the Church administers all of the surplus good works of the saints, which can be credited to the account of those in Purgatory.  Also, much of Roman Catholic devotional practice–such as the repetition of specific prayers, each of which earns an indulgence–is tied to this theology.)

At any rate, isn’t it clear that the Church of Rome at that time, in the way it handled the controversy, split the Church?  Not Luther, who never intended such a thing, though his protest was certainly a catalyst for what happened?   And since, for Roman Catholics, the church doesn’t err, shouldn’t they consider Protestantism one of its good creations?

Bringing the Reformation to Protestantism

The original Reformation, whose anniversary we mark on October 31, began in 1517 as an attempt to bring medieval Catholicism back to the Gospel, the Bible, and Vocation. It has occurred to me that today the various Protestant churches need that same Reformation.

THE GOSPEL. Luther nailed his theses on the church door to challenge the practice of selling indulgences. In effect, people were told to give their money to the church, whereupon they would get to go straight to eternal happiness in Heaven. Today, in many Protestant churches, people are being told to give their money to the church, whereupon they are told that they will get health, wealth, and temporal happiness in this world. But the Prosperity Gospel is not the Gospel!

Neither is the Social Gospel of the liberal mainline Protestants, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an earthly utopia. Neither is the Social Gospel of many conservative churches, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an American civil religion.

In sophisticated theological circles, both of mainline Protestants and among a surprising number of evangelicals, the Gospel has to do with inclusion, of being accepted into the church community. The “New Perspective on Paul” says that the Apostle did not teach justification by grace through faith apart from the Law, as Protestants used to all agree. Rather, by “Law,” he just meant the setting aside of the Judaic ceremonial law. He was concerned with inclusiveness, of allowing Gentiles to become full members of the church alongside of Jews. Not salvation from the guilt and sin that comes from violating the moral law. Similarly, the business of the church today should be including everybody, not proclaiming a supernatural salvation grounded in redemption from sin.

The actual Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has, through His life, death, and resurrection, atoned for the sins of the world. The Protestantism that has drifted away from this Gospel is in need of Reformation.

THE BIBLE. Medieval Catholicism did believe in the Bible. They just didn’t use it much. Today’s mainline Protestants don’t believe in it at all. Many conservative Protestants believe in it–acknowledging its authority, inerrancy and all–but they have stopped reading it in their services and their sermons sometimes have not a shred of Scripture in them. Instead, the preaching is about self-help, pop psychology, politics, or generic inspiration. Sometimes the message is “believe in yourself” or even “have faith in yourself.”

The Reformers taught that the Word of God is not only authoritative, but a means of Grace. They preached the Law, to bring their listeners to repentance, and then they proclaimed the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ. In the words of Walther, they preached faith into their listeners’ hearts.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from the Word of God is in need of Reformation.

VOCATION. Medieval Catholicism believed that the highest holiness required rejecting marriage, economic labor, and participation in the state. Instead, they required their clergy to take vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience to church authorities (to whose laws they were subject instead of the laws of the land). The Reformation taught that God calls all Christians to love and serve their neighbors in the vocations of the family, the workplace, the state, and the church. God Himself is present in vocations. Vocation was the Reformation doctrine of the Christian life.

Today, many Protestants are torn between a hyperspirituality that denies the significance of earthly life and a hypermaterialism. They do not know how to express their faith in their vocation as citizens. In their work, they either try to formulate a distinctly Christian way of exercising their professions, or they consider their work to be nothing more than a way to keep themselves alive and prosperous until they can go to church and engage in “church work” through the week. Meanwhile, the Christian family is at risk, as the divorce rate is as bad or even somewhat worse than that for unbelievers, a clear sign that Protestants have forgotten the vocation of the family.

The doctrine of Vocation solves the Christian’s problems of cultural engagement, political involvement, and being “in, but not of” the world. It does so by affirming the spiritual significance of the “secular” order while preventing the Church from being secularized.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from Vocation is in need of Reformation.

Reformation Week on “Issues, Etc.”

The web-based radio program Issues, Etc. is planning a special series of programs for an early Reformation week, October 18-22, at 5:00 p.m. Central Time. The structure is following the chapters of my book Spirituality of the Cross.  Here are the topics and the guests:

October 18 – The Doctrine of Justification with Dr. Carl Fickenscher
October 19 – The Means of Grace with Pastor Paul McCain
October 20 – The Theology of the Cross with Dr. Scott Murray
October 21 – Vocation & Two-Kingdom Theology with Dr. Steven Hein
October 22 – Worship with Pastor Will Weedon

Contemporary Reformation

If the Church were to go through another Reformation today, what do you think needs reforming? What are the issues today?