Sunday, October 12, 2008

Roundtable 38: Sin (SA III.I)

In the third part of the Smalcald Articles, Luther walks through a series of basic points of doctrine, asserting the Lutheran "non-negotiables" on these points. As you read the third part of the Smalcald Articles, it is important to keep in mind that the SA was prepared as "talking points" that the Lutherans would be bringing with them to the Council that they were told would very soon be called by the Pope, as long promised by Roman and Imperial leaders. They were further assured that if a council was held, the Lutherans would be permitted to present their views for a free and open discussion. Luther was skeptical, as well as his Elector at this point in time, John Frederick, but as John Frederick finally agreed to participating in a council, he ordered Luther to prepare the SA.

The promised council did not take place, and it was not until the Council of Trent began on December 13, 1545, long after the Smalcald Articles were composed, that Rome finally answered Lutheranism. Of course, it was not a free council as hoped for, but one entirely under the control of the Roman Church. Nevertheless, these points of doctrine, included as they are in the Book of Concord, remain critical for understanding the differences between Lutheranism and Romanism, and for understanding the truths of God's Word on these key points.

And so here Luther begins with a clear definition and explanation of what sin is. Underlying so much of the disagreements with Rome is the understanding of sin. For Romanism, original sin is a deep flaw in human nature, not actually sin. But Scripture teaches that original sin is, as Luther puts it here, the "chief sin," the "Erbs√ľnde" or "haupts√ľnde," the original or chief sin. All the actual sins that we see in our lives and the world around us are fruits of this "chief/original" sin. Luther offers a list of them here: "unbelief, false faith, idolatry, being without the fear of God, pride, despair, utter blindness, and in short, not knowing or regarding God." Notice how Luther is speaking here first of man's attitude over against God as a result of original sin. From unbelief spring forth all that most people would first identify sinful behaviors.

Sin is in fact so deep a corruption, that human reason can not comprehend it, but we must, rather, believe what God's Word reveals to us about it. Luther cites several Biblical texts:

Psalm 51:5: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."

Romans 6:12-13: "12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness."

Exodus 33:3: "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."

Genesis 3:7-19: The account of the fall into sin.

Luther then condemns a series of teachings of the Roman scholastic theologians, as "error and blindness." These errors lie behind much of the faulty teaching in Rome concerning what man is still capable of even after the fall. It is why Rome teaches that initial grace is necessary to spark activity in the latent abilities still remaining within man; namely, his reason and will, so that man is then able to choose to do good and to spurn evil. Of particular note is the scholastic error that: "If a person does as much as is in him, God certainly grants him His grace" (par. 8). This attitude by the Roman Scholastics explains the notion in Roman Catholicism that non-Christian pagans, as long as they strive to do their best, can be saved.

Rome's errors regarding sin are the foundation for all errors in Rome regarding the salvation of man and so Luther labels all such errors as "heathen teachings that we can not endure." He echos what the Augsburg Confession and its Apology had also made clear, to whatever extent man's sinful condition is properly understood to be total, entire and complete, but merely a matter of innate powers in need of grace to initiate a response that is within the inherent powers of man, "then Christ has died in vain."

Rome, to this day, still continues to regard original sin as a defect common to humanity, but not actual and personal sin. See, for instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and note especially the portions I have italicized for emphasis.

"405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle."