Tag Archives: Martin Chemnitz

Scripture over tradition, yes, no, maybe, what makes me happy?

A very large part of the debate between Lutherans and Roman Catholics was and still is, the importance of Scripture versus that of tradition. Luther and others, Martin Chemnitz in this particular case, felt that the Roman Church was much more interested in elevating the importance of tradition and the ruling of the Church, via the Pope and the Cardinals. This was in reality, probably much more of a hot button issue in the debate than the discussion over indulgences. The debate over the unique and sole authority of Scripture certainly being inclusive of the debate over indulgences.

I’m reading Chemnitz’s “Examination of the Council of Trent” (Part 1 Translated by Fred Kramer, published by Concordia Publishing House copyright 1971). This council was called by Pope Paul III, as a reply to the Lutheran Reformation in 1547. The original intent was to try and reconcile some of the issues, I do believe it was a good faith attempt by the church to examine if maybe, just maybe, Luther might have a point in some areas. The result didn’t come close, in fact it hardened the position the Roman church held before the Reformation.

But as Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon left the scene a new voice stepped in to further the cause of the Reformation and Christianity. Martin Chemnitz wrote extensively and persuasively in order for the Lutheran Reformation to continue to advance Christianity. Well could be if it weren’t for Chemnitz, the Lutheran Reformation might have been a brief bright flash in the Church, only to be repressed by the Roman Church or limited to an obscure corner of the church.

Chemnitz argued that none of the early church fathers had favored the canon of Scripture that had been organized by the church in the 4th century. While there was a time that the apostles and early church leaders did not have canon and had to preserve and pass on Scripture orally, they never intended for that to be the practice. They had written down the books of the New Testament and as much as possible intended all Christians to rely on the written, universally agreed on, books of the New Testament.

Chemnitz writes: “…Irenaeus says: ‘The apostles delivered to us in the Scriptures what they had preached.’ And for what purpose? What use did the apostles want the church to make of this their Scripture? Irenaeus answers: ‘That that which they delivered to us in writing might in the future be the foundation and pillar of our faith,’ namely, of that faith which the church received from the apostles and delivered to her children. Therefore we have in the Scriptures which the apostles delivered to us by the will of God the foundation and pillar of the only true and life-giving faith of the primitive church, received from the apostles. It is called the foundation of faith, because faith is learned, known, built up and received from it. It is called a pillar because through it that faith which alone is true and gives life is proved, confirmed, defended against all corruptions, and preserved. A faith, therefore, which is built up, received, proved and confirmed from any other source than from the Scriptures transmitted by the apostles is not the true, life-giving, apostolic faith of the primitive church. This lies most clearly and firmly in the argumentation of Irenaeus. And later he says that those are heretics who do not agree with the apostolic writings, and he describes the marks of the heretics in these words in chapter 2: ‘When they are proved wrong from the Scriptures, they turn and accuse the Scriptures themselves, as if they were not correct and were without authority [wow! where do we see that today? Everywhere including the churches from across the spectrum who don’t like to get too dogmatic. Basically so much of Christianity today that likes to pick and choose and make it up]. “both because they speak now one way, now another, and also because the truth cannot be found from Scripture by those who do not know the tradition; for (so they say) the truth was not given through epistles, but through the living voice” etc [kind of the same whiney make-believe rationalism of today].

Chemnitz goes on to quote Irenaeus that the apostles had passed on God’s word and did not intend to leave room for tradition and additions to God’s word, that their writings were to be the foundation of the church: “…Irenaeus shows in this statement for what purpose the apostles delivered their doctrine to us in the Scriptures and what use they wanted made of this Scripture in the church, namely, that it should be the foundation and pillar of our faith who have not heard the living voice of the apostles. And he adds that those are heretics who either cast away those Scriptures or turn and accuse them of speaking inconsistently and say that the truth cannot be found in them, unless besides these Scriptures the traditions are added which are treated as having been handed down by the apostles orally.”

Chemnitz put a lot of weight on Irenaeus’ word on Scripture. Irenaeus was a very early defender of the Christian Church, going back to the second century. He was also a leader in opposing the heresies of the period. He took Scripture seriously and did not take lightly any attempts to dilute what was written by the apostles only about 100 years earlier and passed on through the church from all over the Christian world, Asia, Europe, Africa, which generally subscribed to the canon of the New Testament.

 

Original sin

Part of my responsibility in preaching is to preach about Law and Gospel. A good Lutheran sermon always contains discussion that we are condemned under the Law, we all break the Law, we all offend God, when I say all, I mean ALL. That therefore means all those who are human and are alive and have ever been alive (except of course Jesus). No one is exempt and so the pushback I always get is that there must be some, yup like babies, that aren’t sinful. Some Christians will even assert that there is an “age of accountability” and for those who fall below that age they are not sinful. I mean how could cute, sweet infants be sinful? I have to wonder if the person that brings this point has ever had to deal with a baby. Does a baby mean to be selfish, angry, demanding? Of course not they will respond, that’s just their nature. Uhm yea, and that’s the point. We are all naturally sinners, King David writes: “ESV Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This is Scriptural, there is no reference in Scripture about an “age of accountability”. This is just a way for man to overcome an uncomfortable truth, from birth to death we are immersed in sin and death in this life, that is our condition. You don’t slowly develop into being a sinner, you are one right out of the gate.

And of course you always have the “…well I’m a good person…” Really? In general I’m sure you love your momma and don’t kill people, I’m really not trying to offend, but for every person who thinks they’re a “good” person, I bet I could ultimately turn up five people who would not think they’re so good, would have some problem with them. That’s the human condition, not so much that any of us are “bad”, we are and we do sin, we do things that offend a pure, holy, just God. We sin because we are born of two sinners, into a sinful world, a world of death and defect. None of us can be anything else. So you oh so sensitive souls who take offense at every little slight, first off, get over your sensitive little self. Second, deal with it, you are in this world, with us people and you are as sinful as anyone else. This state of sin cannot but separate us from God whose nature is completely opposite to ours, completely holy.

Having said this, there is a qualification. While we all remain sinners until the day someone’s throwing dirt on our face, some of us have been brought back into relationship with God. There is only one way we can be brought into relationship with God, and that is through the righteousness of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are still sinners, but because Jesus paid for our sins through His sacrifice on the Cross and in His perfect righteousness we are saved and restored into right relationship with God.

Martin Chemnitz was the next generation of Lutheran theologians after Martin Luther. Chemnitz picked up Luther’s mantle and wrote and taught extensively on Lutheran belief, or as he and Luther would have taught what was original, genuine Christian teaching. In the following Chemnitz writes about what “original sin” is, that which we are all under and is only healed through baptism in Jesus. Also why sin separates us from God and why that separation needs to be closed in order for us to be in God’s will and not condemned to the sin, death and lostness of the world. We can reject God, but that leaves us in the human condition of sin and death, and that only results in condemnation. If we reject God, there is only one option, we are all condemned by sin and if we stay in that condition and reject Christ we are condemned to Hell. By our rejection of God, because Hell is the final end for all who want their way and not God’s.

To rewind, this is from Chemnitz, in “The Doctrine of Man” (p 196), giving a description of our spiritual condition from birth to death unless it is remedied by baptism, the faith that God gives us and maintained through confession, absolution, taking the true Body and Blood of Jesus and hearing the preached Word of Law and Gospel.

Chemnitz writes about the condition of those who are not in Jesus: ” Original sin is darkness of the mind, aversion to the will of God and stubbornness of the heart against the Law of God. These evils are not called actions, but out of them arise the actual sins, both inner and outer. In the mind come persistent doubts and blasphemies. In the will arise false security, neglect and mistrust of God, admiration of self and the placing of our life and wishes before the command of God. Then come great confusions and a flood of vile affections. Let us not imagine that original sin is an inactive thing. For though indeed a few men are held in check by honest discipline, nevertheless there are great doubts in the minds of men and many inner drives pulling them away from God and running contrary to His Law. It is as Jeremiah says: The heart of man is wicked, brazen and inscrutable (Jer 17:9)”

“Thus with the original depravity there are always actual sins, which in the unregenerate are all mortal. And the total person is damned with his fruits, as John says: ‘He that believeth not the Son … the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3:36)…”

Of course we have those who will just reject God’s say. “Who’s to say what is good or bad? I didn’t vote for God!” They will ask up to the point when someone does something to them, then of course it requires a federal investigation. If it happens to you, eh, too bad for you. get over it. If it happens to me? Well of course that’s wrong, I demand justice! This is of course the immature, selfish, sinful nature of the world. The dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, if I can take from you to bad for you and good for me. That’s why there is God, He is a God of justice, completely holy and wrathful against those who sin and offend. He is there to assure that ultimately those who offend, who reject Him, who make themselves their idol, their ultimate end, that they will not be allowed to offend again. That His people will be saved to eternal life. They will no longer be subjected to the evil, sinful lusts of those in the world who truly believe that it is all about them. In Christ we have the promise of eternal life the way it was meant to be, the new world of the resurrection. Yes there is a God, who does love us, who did give His Son to save us. Who also is not going to tolerate anyone else presuming to be God, to set the rules, to determine what is “fair” and “unfair”. It always amuses me to hear someone say something to the effect that they don’t need God, they can operate their own life, it’s not fair, I didn’t vote for this. There really are presumptuous, arrogant people like that. But if we’re all honest, we’re like that to some degree. The world and all who are in it are sinful by nature and man is just fine with that, we want it our way. We are all condemned by original sin which is our nature, God will not tolerate that. He did give us a way to be in relationship with Him even in this lost world and that is through Jesus. So you can live in your fantasy world that denies the sinful world around us and that you don’t need to be saved. Or you can really decide to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading you and to start living true life in Jesus. You are a sinner and you need to be saved in Jesus.