Saturday, February 7, 2009

Roundtable 40: Repentance (Smalcald Articles III.iii)

Over the years of the Middle Ages the Gospel was corrupted perhaps most dramatically and visibly in regard to the doctrine of Repentance. Medieval Romanism had developed a view that man is not totally corrupted as a result of the Fall into Sin and as a result there was within man still a spark of spiritual ability that could be aroused and awakened by a "dose" of grace, and following that "dose" of grace, the life of the Christian is marked by man doing what is within him to merit and earn God's continuing grace and favor. The entire Roman Sacramental system had developed around this error. The Smalcald Articles, Article III, Part III, sets forth a proper, Biblical understanding of repentance and grace.

Aside from the important doctrinal content of this section of the Smalcald Articles we have some of the most powerful autobiographical content by Luther in the Book of Concord. He describes his own experience, in the third person:

"As for Confession, the procedure was this: Everyone had to list all his sins (which is impossible). This was a great torment. If anyone had forgotten some sins, he would be absolved on the condition that, if they would occur to him, he must still confess them. So he could never know whether he had made a sufficiently pure confession or if confessing would ever come to an end. Yet he was pointed t his own works. He was comforted like this: The more fully you confess, and the more you humiliate yourself and debase yourself before the priest, the sooner and better you render satisfaction for your sins." (SA III.iii.19).

The Gospel rediscovery on this point is that confession is being moved by the holy will of God, the Law, to see our sin, to confess it and to cling only to Christ for His grace and mercy. This repentance continues until death, throughout our lives, as we wrestle with the sin that remains in us. The Holy Spirit continues to work in us, every day, and Luther asserts that "this daily cleansing sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person pure and holy." (SA III.iii.40).


Ron Jung said...

I love Luther. I say this coming not from a Catholic background, but an evangelical/fundemental/Weslyan background. The emphasis on Man's ability to stay free of sin combined with the expectation of having an experience contrived by one's own participation in worship services, grovelings, etc. does not give assurance of forgiveness- it leads to both self-righteousness and withdrawl from the "sinful world". The older I get and the more I read of Luther, the more I love his teaching.Or rather, the more I am drawn to Christ and the teachings of Scripture.

Caspian Rex said...

Sometimes I shudder to think how close I have been in my life to converting to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy! By the grace of God, I have never done so, although I have been sorely tempted. But when I look at what Luther says about the "Papist" approach to penance, I thank God that I remain a Protestant!

dmenzo said...

I am a catholic,therefore also christian. Please know that I try not to judge other faiths in a mean spirited way.
I would like to mention that after reading this page (on behalf of a friend who is lutheran)I find it confusing on where Luther differs in his teaching or belief on repentance, from the teaching of my Roman Catholic faith, or better yet on Christ's teaching. Are we not all taught that purity of the soul, humbleness, and repentance is what hopefully helps us to reach Heaven with God's graces? It sounds like we are saying the same thing. Practicing the teaching set forth to St. Peter, from Jesus, giving St. Peter the right to set laws on earth that would be honored as law in Heaven, the catholics do go to confession to a Priest, and it is a feeling of humbleness and gives me a new strength to try again to stop sinning when I confess my sins, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, or the grace of God. Does Luther still believe in trying to "sin no more" as Jesus said once, "now go and sin no more." or does Luther teach, "we are sinners, so God just accepts us even if we continue to repeat that sin over and over because he just knows we are sinners.... but we love God. Is that good enough and so we don't have to try to improve, because we are already sinners?
If we are not "self rightous" then shouldn't we try to achieve humbleness and purity of the soul as best we can to please God?
I love God and so I try to please him, even if I really mess up, I just try and try again to do better, hopefully with God's grace.