Will a church ever turn people away

Justification and freedom

2. Key points of Reformation theology

Before going into the key points of Reformation theology again in detail on the basis of five classic formulations that use the particle "alone" (solus) are introduced theologically, must be used again in the doctrine of justification as the core idea of ​​the Reformation, which was paraphrased in the previous section with four terms of contemporary everyday language (love, recognition or appreciation, forgiveness and freedom).

2.1 On the concept of justification - the key to the Reformation

"Justification" is a term we still use today. We say: "This judgment is justified" or: "He can justify his behavior." We want to express that, despite all inquiries, something is okay, right. In relation to our own behavior, we try to justify why we did or did not do something. The doing or not doing of others can also be justified. It is always about the justification to a judging authority, for example to a court or another person or to ourselves. The idea of ​​justification shows: We have to answer for our actions and non-actions.

But we also judge: "That is unjustified!" Or: "Your behavior cannot be justified." Then we mean that there are insufficient reasons for considering the matter in question to be correct. In our everyday world, the process of justification only reaches its goal if people succeed in showing what they are doing as appropriate and right, or if one can otherwise recognize that they are right with their doing or not doing.

The Reformation doctrine of justification breaks through the logic that only he who is right is justified. It assumes that people cannot justify themselves in one central respect and do not have to justify themselves. They cannot and do not need this before God. Yet they are "justified" by God, not because they are in the right of themselves, but by grace. "Justified by grace" means: loved despite everything that is not lovable about me, accepted although I am unacceptable. The terms "loved" and "accepted" make it clear: It is not about a seal of quality that God gives people with justification. It is about a relationship established and faithfully maintained by God. God wants to have fellowship with everyone, no matter how they behaved towards God, other people and themselves. And the words "in spite of" and "although" indicate: With justification, God does not confirm something that is the case, he does not recognize people because they deserve recognition. God's love and acceptance is not a response to what is lovable and acceptable in human beings. It goes much deeper. It means people as a whole, also in their brokenness and self-centeredness. The reformers said: God justifies the sinner.

The reformers' doctrine of justification got its special shape through their engagement with the biblical texts, especially with the theology of Paul. The verse from Romans: "So we now believe that man should become righteous without the works of the law, solely through faith" (Romans 3:28) became their key to what justification means from a Christian point of view.

The Reformers were convinced that this "justification" by God can fundamentally change the perspective on the life of every person. It does not describe a special theological thesis, but the basis for a comforted, healed, sustained life. The question of justification represents "the main pillar ... on which our worship of God rests - reason enough to exercise the greatest attention and care here!" [6].

The following pages are intended to show to what extent the justification of man by God is a help in life. An orientation towards the so-called »exclusive particles« is advisable: solus christ - "Christ alone", sola gratia - "by grace alone", solo verbo - "alone in the word", sola scriptura - "solely on the basis of the script", sola fide - "only through faith". All five terms aim at that soli Deo gloria - Glory to God alone. In terms of content, they describe the core elements of the doctrine of justification. The »alone« exclusively accentuates each core element and thus excludes other things. "Alone (from / in / due to / through)" always means "not (from / in / due to / through)" here. In their exclusivity, these particles represent the punch line of the evangelical understanding of the doctrine of justification.

This with the particle "alone" (solus) The key points introduced did not appear in a detailed four- and five-part form until the nineteenth century. But they go back to texts of the sixteenth century [7]. So far there has not been any scientific research into how the three-part summaries of Reformation theology from the sixteenth century relate exactly to the four-part and five-part forms. However, since these are always models of order that were not applied by the first generation of Reformation theologians, the exact chronology of the models is irrelevant here. In the following, Reformation theology is discussed in five Key points unfolded in order to emphasize the importance of the orally preached biblical word with the reformers.

In terms of content, all exclusive particles have to do with the relationship between God and man. They specify this relationship by making statements about God and about humans and about the relationship between God and humans. You are doing what God has already done for this relationship. And they show what people still have to do and what they simply have to let happen. Overall, they make it clear: The relationship between God and man is fundamentally due to God's love for man. It is not man who has to strive to come to God. God has already come to man. Man can rely on that.

2.2 Solus Christ - Christ alone

2.2.1 Theological basic idea - no longer separated from God

Faith in Jesus Christ has been the hallmark of Christianity from the start. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ is a Christian. There was no difference in the confession of this faith during the Reformation. But what specific meaning does Christ have for Christianity?

Christianity began with belief in Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. The disciples lived with Jesus and heard from him that God was close to them. Even more: Jesus spoke of the fact that God is present in his own person in a special way. In meeting him, people experienced the wholesome closeness of God.

Jesus' death, his miserable dying on the cross, seemed to question this closeness of God in him. A person who dies on the cross and thus suffers a particularly shameful death for antiquity cannot be a man of God, he must rather be someone abandoned by God. With Jesus 'death on the cross, the disciples' trust in God's closeness in this person ended. Jesus seemed to be wrong about his message.

But then something unexpected happened. The New Testament texts describe that those who followed Jesus had the experience: This person who we know is dead - he is alive. He still meets us now, not just with his ideas about God or as our personal memory. He meets us in a lively, direct way. The disciples described this encounter as an encounter with the risen One. They started telling others about it: He was dead, but he was raised by God. And that also meant: His message of the special presence of God in his person was not an error. He did not wrongly invoke God, but by raising him from the dead, God confirmed Jesus' claim. God was actually very close to people in Jesus. He was and he is the Christ, the promised Messiah. He rightly called God his Father, he is the Son of God.

The cross was reinterpreted based on the experience with the risen One. It was evidently not the place of distance from God, as it originally appeared, but the place where the closeness of God to people is shown in a special way. If God is particularly close in this person, then also in his suffering and dying and in his death. Suffering, dying, and death must now be understood as places where God is still close. This made it clear: In Jesus Christ, God got so involved with people that he took away everything that separated people from him. The first Christians thought especially of the sin of man as the distance of man from God, as a disturbed relationship with God, and of death as the place of final separation from God. That is why they confessed: In Christ God acted for the salvation of mankind, he took away sin and death once and for all as separating from God.

The New Testament texts are convinced that the healing action of God in Jesus Christ means all people. You don't have to belong to the Old Testament people of God, to the Jewish people, you don't have to be circumcised and keep the food commandments. God's action in Jesus Christ wants to benefit all people.

The reformers remember with the formula solus christ of this special meaning and exclusivity of Jesus Christ. Because in Jesus Christ God acted comprehensively and meant all people, one will say: "Christ alone". Luther emphasizes: Jesus Christ is alone the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world. Calvin confesses: »All our salvation, everythingwhat goes with it is alone decided in Christ. "[8] And the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism is similarly exclusive:"What is your only consolation in life and in death? That my body and soul in life and in death do not belong to me, but to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. «[9]

But isn't this exclusivity of Jesus Christ presumptuous? How can one act like that and deny other religious reasons for a healthy life? Today, in the situation of religious pluralism, such a position seems arrogant and marginal. Before going into this important question in more detail, it should first be explained in more detail which questions and debates at the time of the reformers the solus christ answered.

2.2.2 Where is God clearly to be found? - in Christ alone

People ask about God. They ask about the reason for their existence and the goal. They are looking for content and orientation. The reformers were convinced that man cannot know God by himself. "But what God is we don't know from ourselves any more than a beetle knows what a person is." [10] But how does a person then know about God?

The reformers assumed that one already knows about the existence of a god by looking at this world. Actually every person - they were convinced - has some kind of knowledge about God. But the reformers also saw that the course of the world is ambiguous. Some things happen that make it easy to believe in a loving, good God. If you look forward to the day in the morning, this belief is easy. But other things - like natural disasters and atrocities that people do to each other - happen in this world, which makes believing in a loving, good God unbearably difficult, even impossible. Some people think God is punishing them or has turned away. God seems to be silent, maybe not to exist at all. At the time of the Reformation, the irritation was that diseases and wars unsettled people and that the end of times seemed to be near. Where can man then recognize how God feels about him? The reformers' answer is: in Jesus Christ. In him one can see God in the heart, he is the "mirror of the fatherly heart" [11]. In Jesus' dealings with his contemporaries and in his self-giving on the cross, God turns to people. In him you can see that God loves people and never leaves them alone.

In Jesus Christ, therefore, the relationship between God and man is newly constituted. The Reformers describe this by saying that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner in justification. What is meant here is the diagnosis that man does not and cannot meet God's standards of justice, but rather constantly contradicts them in his behavior towards God and man. But God's righteousness does not consist in punishing man for it, but in giving him credit for the fact that Jesus Christ met these standards of justice in his life and death. God's righteousness consists in imputing the righteousness of Christ to man and looking at man only in the horizon of the Christ event. Imputing the righteousness of Christ means forgiveness of sins.

In order for people to see this, they need to hear about Jesus Christ. The church must not concern itself with this or that, but must tell the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what the Church is for. Everyone should be able to hear the story of Christ. However, the church must not think that it can administer and supervise Christ's work of salvation: "Every true Christian, living or dead, has been given by God to share in all the goods of Christ and the Church, even without letters of indulgence." [12]

2.2.3 Who should a person believe in? - in Christ alone

One of the central criticisms of the reformers was directed against the late medieval veneration of saints and the piety of Mary. For certain emergencies one prayed to each other saint, Mary was called upon intensively for help, it was easier to entrust one's own worries to her maternal care than to the distant God. The merits and intercession of the Saints and Marys should help people to partake of divine grace. The veneration of Christ and God took a back seat: "In the same way, a few centuries ago, the saints who had passed out of this life were made companions of God, so that they are now worshiped, invoked and praised in his stead." ]

The reformers criticize this invocation of other mediators to God. Because through Christ alone and sufficient salvation has been achieved, other mediators of salvation are expressly excluded. The reformers also reject the idea of ​​a "treasure of the church" at the time, in which the merits of Christ and the saints are collected and from which the church distributes something to sinners that is counted as good works or penance - this was the basis for indulgences, the criticism of which stood at the beginning of the Reformation. "The true treasure of the church is the holy gospel of the glory and grace of God." [14] No mere man, including those we call saints, does not sufficiently fulfill God's commandments. They are just as sinners as any other human being. That is why they must not be worshiped or called for help. Faith should only be directed towards God, as he revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ: “But one cannot prove through the Scriptures that one should call on the saints or seek help from them. ›For there is only one reconciler and mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ‹ ... who is the only Savior, the only supreme priest, mercy seat and intercessor before God ... This is also the highest worship service according to the Scriptures that one may seek and call upon the same Jesus Christ from the heart in every need and concern. "[15]

2.2.4 Current challenges

2.2.4.1 Challenges within the Church - proclaiming Christ

Jesus Christ is at the center of the Christian faith. Jesus of Nazareth is not a theological idea, but a historical person who is believed by Christians in a certain way, precisely as Christ. Belief in this person needs to be instilled. One can only believe in Christ if one has heard of him. But one only hears about him in concrete terms in the Christian Church. The church preserves the memory and belief in Jesus Christ, it transmits the story of his life and death. It is there to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to people in word and deed. Because you can't tell yourself.

The challenge within the church then reads: How can the church be designed in such a way that it actually speaks of Jesus as Christ, that is, as the one in whose person, word and work God is present as nowhere else? This does not mean that Jesus Christ has to be mentioned in every sermon sentence, in every church event.But without reference to Jesus Christ, to the place where God has revealed himself in a special way according to the Christian understanding, the church will not endure.

2.2.4.2 Social challenges - face each other honestly

In view of the secularization of our society, a focus of the church on Jesus Christ does not seem helpful. Shouldn't it be enough if people still believe in anything at all, in a higher power or in some way "God"? Doesn't the church preaching of Jesus Christ destroy existing faith by demanding theological focus? A belief that really sustains a person's life always has a certain shape. A diffuse belief in "some higher power" only helps diffusely. The church need not be afraid to express its specific faith. It is precisely in this way that it can help people to develop a faith that is so concrete that it lasts and supports in concrete situations.

In a multi-religious society in which the need for interreligious understanding is evident, the orientation of the Christian faith in Jesus Christ seems to be a hindrance to interreligious dialogue. For other religions, Christ does not have the same central meaning as it does for Christianity. Some ask: Wouldn't it be better to keep silent about Christ in the context of interreligious dialogue and to look for religious similarities?

Interreligious dialogue does not work, however, when one side hides its peculiarities and does not reveal itself for what it is. An interreligious dialogue only takes place when the interlocutors meet genuinely and authentically: Just as I consider my convictions to be true, the other person has the right to consider his convictions to be true, and vice versa. The challenge is to speak of Christ, but in such a way that the other person's faith is not devalued or declared untrue. Just as belonging to Christ is the only consolation in life and in death for the Christian, so also for the follower of the other religion is his specific faith. This can be recognized on both sides of the conversation.

2.3 Sola gratia - by grace alone

2.3.1 Basic theological idea - God leans towards people

The fundamental insight of the reformers is that God's attention to people in Jesus Christ comes only out of grace. We know the term "grace" in our parlance when a prisoner is pardoned; he cannot undo his guilt and is still released. Those who ask for mercy hope that the other will treat them differently than they deserve.

With their emphasis on grace, the reformers follow the church father Augustine, who was the first to develop a detailed doctrine of grace. His central idea is: grace is only "grace" when God does not owe it to us in response to our merit, but when he gives it to us undeservedly. For humans this means: he is not able to bring about God's affection and forgiveness through certain actions or behavior, be it towards God or towards his fellow human beings. He cannot force eternal life with God. The Heidelberg Catechism answers the 21st question: “What is true faith?” In this sense: “True faith is not only reliable knowledge through which I consider everything to be true that God has revealed to us in his word, but also a heartfelt trust (Romans 4,16-18; 5,1), which the Holy Spirit works in me through the Gospel, that God has given forgiveness of sins not only to others but also to me, eternal righteousness and happiness out of sheer grace, only for the sake of the merit of Christ. "[16]

The word "grace" originally means "to bow down". God is gracious to people, means: He inclines towards people. He turns to people out of freedom and love. This love is entirely based in God himself. It focuses on us as a whole person, not just on what is worth love about us. According to the Reformers, God's love differs from human love in this. While human, natural love is kindled by what is lovable, God's love is directed towards what is unlovable and only then creates it as something lovable to God: “God's love does not find what is lovable to it, but creates it. The love of man arises from what is dear to them. "[17] Similarly, Calvin writes:" The Scriptures say it out loud everywhere that God does not find anything in man that could stimulate him to do him good, but that he is out of pure Graces with his kindness. «[18]

2.3.2 Grace as a mark of divine action as a whole

For the Reformers, grace was the hallmark of divine action as a whole. They even saw the creation of the world as an act of grace: “I believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. What's this? Answer: I believe that God created me with all creatures, gave me body and soul, eyes, ears and all limbs, reason and all senses, and still maintains ..., without all my merit and worth "[19]; "Without all my merit and worthiness" means nothing other than "by grace". The old philosophical question: "Why is there something at all and not rather nothing?" Is answered by Christian faith as follows: This world exists because God wanted it out of freedom and love. He created the world because he benevolently allows others to exist next to him. There is just nothing on the creature's side that could have caused the Creator to create the creature. God created creatures out of the will to pass on his love. That this world exists is due solely to the grace of God.

And the afterlife that Christians hope for is also a gift from God. As in the event of justification, man is also completely dependent on the grace of God in death. As a dead man is no longer able to maintain his relationship with God or with his fellow human beings. In death man loses all relationships. But God holds on to people out of love. Therefore he gives him new, eternal life.