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In Protestant Christianity, the relationship between Law and Gospel— God's Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ —is a major topic in Lutheran and Reformed theology. In these religious traditions, the distinction between the doctrines of Law, which demands obedience to God's ethical will, and Gospel, which promises the forgiveness of sins in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ, is critical. Ministers use it as a hermeneutical principle of biblical interpretation and as a guiding principle in homiletics (sermon composition) and pastoral care. It involves the supersession of the Old Covenant (including traditional Jewish law, or halakha) by the New Covenant and Christian theology.
Other Christian groups have a view on the issue as well, or more generally views of the Old Covenant, though the matter has not usually been as hotly debated or rigorously defined as in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions.
Sometimes the issue is discussed under the headings of "Law and Grace", "Sin and Grace", "Spirit and Letter", and "ministry (διακονíα, diakonia) of death/condemnation" and "ministry of the Spirit/righteousness".
A specific formulation of the distinction of Law and Gospel was first brought to the attention of the Christian Church by Martin Luther (1483–1546), and laid down as the foundation of evangelical Lutheran biblical exegesis and exposition in Article 4 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531): "All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal.".The Formula of Concord likewise affirmed this distinction in Article V, where it states: "We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence..."
Martin Luther wrote: "Hence, whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture."Throughout the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy (1580–1713) this hermeneutical discipline was considered foundational and important by Lutheran theologians.
This distinction was the first article in Patrick`s Places (1528) by Patrick Hamilton.
Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811–1887), who was the first (and third) president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, renewed interest in and attention to this theological skill in his evening lectures at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis 1884–85.
The Formula of Concord distinguished three uses, or purposes, in the Law in Article VI. It states: "[T]he Law was given to men for three reasons ..."
The primary concern was to maintain that the Law should continue to be used by Christians after they had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to counter the doctrine of Johannes Agricola, who taught that the Law was no longer needed by regenerate Christians."Confessional Lutheranism teaches that the Law cannot be used to deny the Gospel, neither can the Gospel be used to deny God's Law.
The three uses of the Law are:
The distinction between law and gospel is a standard formulation in Reformed theology, though in recent years some have characterized it as distinctively Lutheran.Zacharias Ursinus sharply distinguished the law and gospel as "the chief and general divisions of the holy scriptures" in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. Louis Berkhof called the law and the gospel "the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace," since law and Gospel are found in both testaments.
In his 1536 book Institutes of the Christian Religion , the Reformer John Calvin distinguished three uses in the Law. Calvin wrote the following: "[T]o make the whole matter clearer, let us survey briefly the function and use of what is called the 'moral law.' Now, so far as I understand it, it consists of three parts."
This scheme is the same as the Formula of Concord, with the exception that the first and second uses are switched.
In later Reformed scholasticism the order is the same as for Lutherans. The three uses are called:
The Heidelberg Catechism, in explaining the third use of the Law, teaches that the moral law as contained in the Ten Commandments is binding for Christians and that it instructs Christians how to live in service to God in gratitude for His grace shown in redeeming mankind.John Calvin deemed this third use of the Law as its primary use.
Scholastic Lutheran and Reformed theologians differed primarily on the way in which the third use of the law functions for believers. The Reformed emphasized the third use (tertius usus legis) because the redeemed are expected to bear good works. Some Lutherans saw here the danger of works-righteousness, and argued that the third use should always return believers to the second use and again to Christ rather than being the ultimate norm.
Additionally, some have suggested that the third use of the law is not found at all in Luther but comes from Philip Melanchthon. Although some Lutherans have rejected that view, [ citation needed ]it has caused others to dispute the validity of the "third use" of the Law entirely. Paul Althaus, for instance, writes in his treatise on Law and Gospel: "This [ethical] guidance by the Holy Spirit implies that God's concrete commanding cannot be read off from a written document, an inherited scheme of law. I must learn afresh every day what God wants of me. For God's commanding has a special character for each individual: it is always contemporary, always new. God commands me (and each person) in a particular way, in a different way than He commands others.... The living and spiritual character of the knowledge of what God requires of men in the present moment must not be destroyed by rules and regulations." Such theologians believe the third use leads to or encourages a form of legalism and is possibly an implicit denial of sola fide. Conversely, Reformed Christians have sometimes seen this two-use scheme of some modern Lutherans as leading to a form of antinomianism.
Some believe that "for Luther the pedagogic use of the Law was primary, while for Calvin this third or didactic use was the principal one; yet [historically] both the Lutheran and the Reformed traditions maintain the threefold conceptualization."
John Wesley admonished Methodist preachers to emphasize both the Law and the Gospel:
Undoubtedly both should be preached in their turn; yea, both at once, or both in one. All the conditional promises are instances of this. They are law and gospel mixed together. According to this model, I should advise every preacher continually to preach the law — the law grafted upon, tempered by, and animated with the spirit of the gospel. I advise him to declare explain, and enforce every command of God. But meantime to declare in every sermon (and the more explicitly the better) that the flint and great command to a Christian is, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’: that Christ is all in all, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; that all life, love, strength are from Him alone, and all freely given to us through faith. And it will ever be found that the law thus preached both enlightens and strengthens the soul; that it both nourishes and teaches; that it is the guide, ‘ food, medicine, and stay’ of the believing soul.
Methodism makes a distinction between the ceremonial law and the moral law that is the Ten Commandments given to Moses.In Methodist Christianity, the moral law is the "fundamental ontological principle of the universe" and "is grounded in eternity", being "engraved on human hearts by the finger of God." In contradistinction to the teaching of the Lutheran Churches, the Methodist Churches bring the Law and the Gospel together in a profound sense: "the law is grace and through it we discover the good news of the way life is intended to be lived." John Wesley, the father of the Methodist tradition taught:
... there is no contrariety at all between the law and the gospel; ... there is no need for the law to pass away in order to the establishing of the gospel. Indeed neither of them supersedes the other, but they agree perfectly well together. Yea, the very same words, considered in different respects, are parts both of the law and the gospel. If they are considered as commandments, they are parts of the law: if as promises, of the gospel. Thus, 'Thou shalt love the Lord the God with all thy heart,' when considered as a commandment, is a branch of the law; when regarded as a promise, is an essential part of the gospel-the gospel being no other than the commands of the law proposed by way of promises. Accordingly poverty of spirit, purity of heart, and whatever else is enjoined in the holy law of God, are no other, when viewed in a gospel light, than so many great and precious promises. There is therefore the closest connection that can be conceived between the law and the gospel. On the one hand the law continually makes way for and points us to the gospel; on the other the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law .... We may yet further observe that every command in Holy Writ is only a covered promise. (Sermon 25, "Sermon on the Mount, V," II, 2, 3)
Certain recurring grammatical patterns in the Old Testamentand in the New involving the sequencing of imperative and indicative predicates are taken by theologians as central to the relationship between Law and Gospel. Daniel Defoe discusses three pairs of these predicates in his second and final sequel to Robinson Crusoe , Serious Reflections (1720): "forbear and live", "do and live", "believe and live". According to Defoe, the first was established with Adam in paradise, the second as the Law with the children of Israel, and the third as the Gospel of Jesus Christ
However Luther viewed all imperative commands as law, even the command to believe the Gospel. In The Bondage of the Will he writes,
"[T]he commands exist to show, not our moral ability, but our inability. This includes God's command of all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, an impossible act of will apart from a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit uniting us to Christ .." p. 149
We embrace a parallel principle in our division of God’s word into law and gospel. The law (e.g., “God hates sinners,” Psalm 5:5) cannot be used to deny the gospel (“God loves sinners,” John 3:16), neither can the gospel be used to deny the law. Law passages teach the law, while gospel passages teach the gospel.
Lutherans and Reformed in Dialogue
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Calvinism is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice set down by John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians.
Justificatio sola fide, meaning justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine commonly held to distinguish many Protestant denominations from the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The doctrine asserts that it is on the basis of their faith that believers are forgiven their transgressions of the law of God rather than on the basis of good works which they have done. This forgiveness is known as "justification". In classical Lutheran and Reformed theologies, good works are seen to be evidence of faith, but the good works themselves do not determine salvation.
In Western Christian theology, grace is "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it". It is not a created substance of any kind. "Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life." It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to people "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved" – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.
Antinomianism is any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious or social norms, or is at least considered to do so. The term has both religious and secular meanings.
The five solae of the Protestant Reformation are a foundational set of principles held by theologians and clergy to be central to the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Reformed branches of Protestantism. Each sola represents a key belief in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. These Reformers claimed that the Catholic Church, especially its head, the Pope, had usurped divine attributes or qualities for the Church and its hierarchy.
In Christian theology, justification is God's righteous act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin while, at the same time, declaring the ungodly to be righteous, through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice.
Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy.
Covenant theology is a conceptual overview and interpretive framework for understanding the overall structure of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of a covenant as an organizing principle for Christian theology. The standard form of covenant theology views the history of God's dealings with mankind, from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation, under the framework of three overarching theological covenants: those of redemption, of works, and of grace.
Imputed righteousness is a concept in Christian theology proposing that the "righteousness of Christ ... is imputed to [believers] — that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith." It is on the basis of this "alien" righteousness that God accepts humans. This acceptance is also referred to as justification. Thus, this doctrine is practically synonymous with justification by faith.
The two kingdoms doctrine is a Protestant Christian doctrine that teaches that God is the ruler of the whole world and that he rules in two ways. The doctrine is held by Lutherans and represents the view of some Calvinists. John Calvin significantly modified Martin Luther's original two kingdoms doctrine and certain neo-Calvinists have adopted a different view known as transformationalism.
The theology of Martin Luther was instrumental in influencing the Protestant Reformation, specifically topics dealing with Justification by Faith, the relationship between the Law and the Gospel, and various other theological ideas. Although Luther never wrote a "systematic theology" or a "summa" in the style of St. Thomas Aquinas, many of his ideas were systematized in the Lutheran Confessions.
The Mosaic covenant or Law of Moses – which Christians generally call the "Old Covenant" – has played an important role in the origins of Christianity and has occasioned serious dispute and controversy since the beginnings of Christianity: note for example Jesus' teaching of the Law during his Sermon on the Mount and the circumcision controversy in early Christianity.
Wesleyan theology, otherwise known as Wesleyan–Arminian theology, or Methodist theology, is a theological tradition in Protestant Christianity that emphasizes the "methods" of the eighteenth-century evangelical reformers John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley. More broadly, it refers to the theological system inferred from the various sermons, theological treatises, letters, journals, diaries, hymns, and other spiritual writings of the Wesleys and their contemporary coadjutors such as John William Fletcher.
Lutheranism is one of the largest branches of Protestantism that identifies with the teachings of Martin Luther, a 16th-century German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation. The reaction of the government and church authorities to the international spread of his writings, beginning with the 95 Theses, divided Western Christianity.
The Lutheran sacraments are "sacred acts of divine institution". Lutherans believe that, whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component commanded by God along with the divine words of institution, God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component. They teach that God earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. They teach that God also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession.
A sacrament a Christian rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. There are various views on the existence and meaning of such rites. Many Christians consider the sacraments to be a visible symbol of the reality of God, as well as a channel for God's grace. Many denominations, including the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed, hold to the definition of sacrament formulated by Augustine of Hippo: an outward sign of an inward grace, that has been instituted by Jesus Christ. Sacraments signify God's grace in a way that is outwardly observable to the participant.
New Covenant Theology is a Christian theological position teaching that the person and work of Jesus Christ is the central focus of the Bible. One distinctive result of this is that Old Testament Laws have been abrogated or cancelled with Jesus' crucifixion, and replaced with the Law of Christ of the New Covenant. It shares similarities with, and yet is distinct from, Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology.
The Two Kinds of Righteousness is a Lutheran paradigm. It attempts to define man's identity in relation to God and to the rest of creation. The Two Kinds of Righteousness is explicitly mentioned in Luther's 1518 sermon entitled Two Kinds of Righteousness, in Luther's Galatians Commentary (1535), in his Bondage of the Will, Melanchthon's Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and in the third article of the Formula of Concord. It is also the implicit presupposition governing Luther's Freedom of a Christian as well as other works.
In Reformed theology, baptism is a sacrament signifying the baptized person's union with Christ, or becoming part of Christ and being treated as if they had done everything Christ had. Sacraments, along with preaching of God's word, are means of grace through which God offers Christ to people. Sacraments are believed to have their effect through the Holy Spirit, but these effects are only believed to be beneficial to those who have faith in Christ.
Protestant theology, also known as Evangelical theology, refers to the doctrines held by various Protestant traditions, which share some things in common but differ in others. In general, Protestant theology, as a subset of Christian theology, holds to faith in the Christian Bible, the Holy Trinity, salvation, sanctification, charity, evangelism, and the four last things.