Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Jesus Family Tomb

It recently has been said that the Jesus and his "family" have been found in a tomb in Jerusalem. The tomb supposedly contains the remains of Mary Magdalene, Joseph, Judah (who is supposed to be the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene), and Matthew.

It is interesting how every year at about this time the Discovery channel and liberal media try and lob stones at Christianity. To do this, they think they have to go after Jesus.

I am just curious - why is Jesus always the the cause of controversy? Why not Mohamed? His followers have run a plane into the World Trade Center, and are currently committing suicide while murdering thousands of innocent people. Maybe it's because Islam is a religion of "peace?" One thing Mohamed and the liberals have in common is that they discredit the bodily resurrection of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, if you want to be believe that Jesus was buried and did not rise, why would Jesus be in a tomb with all these others? Jesus really was crucified. Jesus' disciples, the Romans, the Jews, and Josephus (a 1st century Jewish historian) admit this. So lets say Jesus was buried in Jerusalem. It's kind of funny to think that Joseph, Mary Magdalene, Matthew (the tax collector) and Judah (whoever he is) were all buried in the same place! And now in the year 2007 we've discovered this! What's funny is that the liberals try and take something out of Scripture to support that Jesus had a son named Judah. Why don't they believe what the Scriptures say about the resurrection! Jesus Christ has risen! He appeared to Peter, to all the disciples, to more then 500 people, to James, and then to Paul. And these disciples who once were direction less and scattered, began to preach the gospel fearlessly. Paul used to persecute Christians and approved the stoning of Stephen. What caused him to go plant churches in eastern and western Europe and to write the Bible? The testimony to Jesus' resurrection is strong. History would not have progressed the way it has if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Christianity would not have even begun if Christ did not rise from the dead. We, as spiritually reborn Christians, would not be who God has made us today if Christ did not rise from the dead. And further, God would be a liar if Jesus was not raised from the dead.

In conclusion, there is no separate DNA sample to test the remains in the tomb. Jesus, or anyone related to him are not present today for us to do scientific analysis. The fact that there is remains with questionable inscriptions proves nothing. The most DNA evidence can do for this tomb is show that some of these people are related. Ben Witherington, Bible scholar has also noted, "In addition mitacondrial DNA does not reveal genetic coding or XY chromosome make up anyway. They would need nuclear DNA for that in any case. So the DNA stuff is probably thrown in to make this look more like a real scientific fact. Not so much."

Further, just because there are questionable inscriptions with the names of Joshua and (Jesus) Joseph does not prove anything, since those were some of the most common names of that time. Witherington says, "This is the modern equivalent of finding adjacent tombs with the names Smith and Jones."

For a more detailed analysis, Dr. Jeffrey Kloha, Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri has a very insightful response here:


Saturday, February 24, 2007


The moment you received the Spirit of God into your hearts you were adopted into God's family, born again, made new, and were promised an eternal relationship with your Creator, Jesus Christ.

Some of us may feel distant from our biological family, but the good news is that our spiritual family in Chirst will outlast our physical families. Your brothers and sisters in Christ will be with you now and for eternity.

This relationship we have with each other as the people of God is called fellowship. We have fellowship here as we speak as the people of God gathered around His Word and Sacrament. However, the Scriptures speak of fellowship as being something much more deeper then what we have right now. Fellowship means to love and experience life with other believers. We sometimes think of small talk after church, coffee hour, and other social events as fellowship. However, the Scriptures call on us to be close in God's family, and truly get to know and love one another.

The first thing a we must do is choose to belong to a church. Some Christians think that all they need is Jesus Christ and their Bible. Some go to church hopping for years and never truly belong to a church family. Others think that it does not matter one way or the other if they attend church or not. This is incorrect. A Christian without a church is a like an orphan. God desires that we belong to His family, and that means to be in relationship with other believers.

The church is described as the bride of Christ in Holy Scripture. If I were to claim that I wanted to follow Christ but was in no need of a church, that would be the same as me telling Jesus that I loved Him but I wanted nothing to do with His bride! It would be like me telling my brother-in-law Robin who just got married in Seattle: "Robin, we've been awesome friends over the years and I love you lots, but - I'm not too sure what you see in your new wife.:)" To put it in another way, it's like saying, "I'm a football player, but I don't want to be a part of the team."

The second thing God calls on us to do is share in God's family. The Christian life is not a solo act. God's hope is that you would be encouraged and influenced by His people and that you would in turn have an impact on them as well. In Acts 2:44 it says: "The Lord's followers met together and shared everything they had". Here we have the example of the first Christians recorded by the Historian Luke.

Moving forward about 300 years, we come to the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. Up to this point, Christians were being martyred and tortured. The ones that stayed alive maintained a lifestyle that was separate from the lifestyle of the world. Christians did not participate in worldly things, were not concerned with image, status, or pleasure. When Constantine became a Christian that was the beginning of institutionalized Christianity. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Pretty soon everyone was a "Christian" in name. The Christians from previous generations were not too pleased with this. They responded radically by fleeing to the mountains where they sought what is now called an ascetic life in places of solitude. This is when the church experienced her first monks, and the first monasteries. In the church's history, errors from time to time crept in. Unfortunately, human nature responded radically to these errors at times, and here we have our first example. Going off and living in the mountains will not fulfill God's hope that you would experience life with and love other believers. How can one love others if they fail to talk with others? This is not to say that there have not been monks that have not been great Christian missionaries. However, it is to say, that through the majority of the church's history, monks set themselves up over and against the average Christian, isolated themselves from the body of Christ, and were unable to edify the body of Christ.

The third thing we are called to do is to share our experiences. Martin Luther was once a monk and he shared his experience with the rest of the church and informed them of the downfalls of entering monasteries. From sharing each other experiences we can learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ and therefore grow in our faith and in the knowledge of how to serve our Savior.

We all have experiences. I was raised in a Catholic home, baptized as an infant, but unfortunately was not instructed with the Word. Looking back on things I am now able to learn from the downfalls of being baptized as an infant but being raised in a house with nominal believers. I can then tell my brothers and sisters in Christ the downfalls of raising kids with no instruction in the Word. We all have experiences and we are called to share them with one another so they we can build each other up, and learn from our experiences.

The fourth thing we're called to do is share our homes. 1 Peter 4:9 calls on us to open up our homes to each other. Did you know that in the first 300 years of Christianity there were no church buildings? Followers of Christ met at each others houses and had church in a very intimate and personal way. Many of you are in small groups studying the Bible and are experiencing the intimacy of sharing experiences with other believers. In those small groups, you can learn to identify, belong, be held accountable, ask questions, and share with other believers.

Small groups are quite significant in the life of the church of God on earth. I would not be standing here today if it wasn't for small groups. If the University Ministry at the University of Washington didn't have small groups, I probably wouldn't have heard the gospel from men I could relate to. As I said earlier I was raised without instruction in the Word of God. By the time I was in high school I was influenced by my peers who were not following Christ. There wasn't anyone at church who I could relate to. Everyone who I got along with was either on the football team or people I met at high school parties. In the distracting culture we live in where the world makes image, status, and gossip gods, it is difficult to get plugged into God's Word without believers one can relate to. I knew that if I was going to become a follower of Christ it was essential that I found other men my age who were walking with Christ.

By my sophomore year in college I finally decided to pursue God's Word at the University Presbyterian Church. I was put into a small group with other men who were my age who were all committed Christians. The small group leader turned out to be the most inspirational guy in my life. My life has never been the same since. With all the peer pressure, and struggles that young students go through, it is quite essential for our children to find fellowship with peers they can relate to.

The fifth thing God calls on us to share is our problems. Galatians 6:2 says to bear each others burdens so that in that way we can fulfill the law of Christ which is love. How many of us go through life without problems? Life is not an easy ride. There will be ups, downs, problems with people, emotional stress, financial problems, and times of insignificance. God calls on us to not deal with these problems away from His people, but calls on us to come to our brothers and sisters in Christ and share them. God speaks through His Word, but God also speaks through you. You are God's Holy people, you know God's Word, and you are called to edify one another, and bear with each others struggles.

The worst thing one can do is bottle things up inside and not share. I once had a friend in college who was struggling with a certain sin. This particular sin kept occurring over and over again in his life to the point where it was tormenting him. Cory felt like such a hypocrite that when it was time for our college retreat, he didn't attend. He felt like such a sinner that he didn't want to pretend like he was part of God's Holy family.

This was not right. And the reason why I know this is so, is because later my friend decided to abandon his relationship with Christ altogether. Sin stunts our growth. And it has caused many to fall from faith because our sinful nature decides that fighting sin is not worth it.

God's hope is that we would not hide from Him, be ashamed of ourselves, and hide from the people of God. His hope is that we would confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. His hope is that we would receive absolution and affirmation that our sins are forgiven in Christ. James 5:16 says to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that we may be healed. Do not bottle things up inside. Turn to each other, and share your troubles and problems so that you can healed.

God's children are not only called to share, but also to have a partnership with one another. In a family there are family responsibilities. You moms out there probably hope that your kids would work with you to accomplish the chores that need to be done around the house. The garbage needs to be taken out, the carpet needs to be vacuumed, and the dishes need to be done. It is the same way in the family of God. There are responsibilities that we all have, and we're called to have a partnership with each other to fulfill God's mission through us. We're called to have effective elders, an effective praise band, effective small group leaders and so on, so that our responsibilities in God's family would all be fulfilled. A couple years ago the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in one season. They unfortunately blew it in the playoffs, but nevertheless tied the record for most wins ever in a season set back in 1906. To do this they had to have partnership with each other. They had to have good starting pitching, good base running, good hitting, good closing pitching, etc. It is the same way in the body of Christ. We all have different roles, and functions, but we remain one body.

An intimate stage of fellowship that occurs in the lives of believers is called kinship. Kinship is not a common word we hear often anymore. However, it means loving other believers like we love family. You mothers out there love your children deeply. You probably love them to the point that you would sacrifice your life for them. That's how much you love your children. God's Word says in 1 John 3:16 to "Lay down our lives for each other" like you would lay down your life for your family. God calls on us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ like we love our families. The martyrs over the past 1,977 year history of the church are examples of Christians who not only laid down their lives for their faith, but they also laid down their lives for my faith, and your faith.

The Great Commandment is to love our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. Jesus said that the second commandment which is not inferior to the first is to love your neighbor as yourself.

The most intimate time of fellowship between believers is when they partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ as brothers and sisters. Paul describes Holy Communion as a vertical as well as a horizontal communion with each other in the body of Christ. When he rebukes the Christians in Corinth he calls them out for being divided and showing favoritism at the Lord's Table. When we share in the Lord's Supper together, we foreshadow the feast in heaven that is to come when Jesus welcomes us bodily into his kingdom. How intimate and special it is then, when we gather around His table today.

If congregations are places filled with love, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, our witness to visiting non-believers will be strong. In the 90s, Christian Schwarz did a study of over 40000 churches on all six continents in order to determine what qualities were present in growing congregations. One quality that came up over and over again of churches that were experiencing spiritual and numerical growth was: loving relationships. If people find community, hope, and joy through relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ, they will stay at the church they attend.

How unfortunate it is when divisions occur among people in God's family. What a terrible witness it is to non-believers when they see us fighting, insulting and disagreeing all the time. Some Lutherans refuse to even pray with other Christians if they are not in agreement with them in all points of doctrine. This means that if your brother in Christ believes that woman should be able to vote at voters assemblies and you don't, then you can't pray together. That means when you meet with your family who is Baptist on Easter you can't say grace before dinner because they don't hold the same theology as you do. How horrible! What a terrible witness we are to non-believers when we exalt ourselves over one another in this manner!

God calls on us to love each other. 1 John 3 says that those who do not love their brothers are not Christians, and are still in death. 1 John 4 says if we can't love our brothers whom we can see how will we love God whom we do not?

And the best way you can love is to share Christ's love with unbelievers, lead them to a relationship with Christ and increase the amount of people in our church family.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus has loved, so continue to love one another. By your love, the world will know you are Christ's disciples. Amen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Good Ole Hymn

The Gloria in Excelsis is a Christian hymn that comes to us from the fourth century (or perhaps even earlier) and is still sung in Lutheran worship today. And there is a beautiful relationship between its contents and the Lutheran understanding of worship expressed in The Defense of the Augsburg Confession (Ap), IV, 154. For those of you who do not know, the Defense was written by the Lutherans in 1531 against the Roman Catholics who disagreed with many of their positions. The Gloria in Excelsis and Ap, IV, 154 both contain the person and work of Christ at the center, where sinners seek mercy and the forgiveness of sins from Him. Ap, IV, 154 says concerning the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50, “[She] came with this conviction about Christ: that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from him. This is the highest way to worship Christ.” It truly is the highest way to worship Christ when we approach Him with contrition and faith in order to receive the forgiveness of sins. The Gloria in Excelsis truly captures this evangelical Lutheran understanding of worship as it exclaims, “Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God: You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us…You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord.”

Where did the Gloria in Excelsis come from? Also known as the Hymnus Angelicus (The Hymn of Angels), it is first found in the Apostolic Constitutions (VII:47), and Athanasius references it. The Lutheran liturgical historian, Luther Reed, documents that it “was a ‘private psalm’ sung in Greek in the morning office but not as a part of the Mass.” Liturgical historian Theodor Klauser states that it was not until Pope Sergius of the 7th century that it became an integral part of the Mass. This was due to it being an enthusiastic hymn of praise, which was not suitable to the popular Roman understanding of worship at that time, which was more somber. Prior to this, Pope Symmachus (5th century) only allowed the Bishops to chant it, while the Priests were only allowed to do so on Easter. Reed records that it was even later (11th century) that celebrants began chanting the opening phrase during the Mass, while the choir chanted the rest.

What is contained in the Gloria in Excelsis? It begins by quoting the angels in Luke 2:14 who exclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest." It immediately centers everything upon the Triune God. Reed states that it “lifts the worshipers from thought of self to contemplation of the divine.” It also echoes the words of the angels so that the worshipers on earth join the angels who are worshiping God in heaven. Luther realized this and it caused him to say that the Gloria “did not grow, nor was it made on earth, but it came down from heaven.” The middle section contains a confession of the deity of Jesus Christ where it says that He is the “Only begotten Son.” Here it recognizes that the God-man Jesus Christ is the only person who can forgive our sins. It does this again when it quotes John the Baptist from John 1:29 who said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" It also recognizes that Christ did not remain dead. But he arose from death and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. The Dean of Chapel at Concordia Seminary, James Brauer, affirms this when he wrote, “Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end of him. Rather, he now sits at the right hand of the Father, watching over the universe, over the church, and – joy of all joys! – over us.”

This glorious hymn of praise theologically contains the person and work of Jesus Christ and ascribes salvation through the Triune God alone. It causes our hearts to be lifted up to heaven, worshiping God by ascribing to Him glory, the forgiveness of sins, mercy, and holiness. Reed writes, “The Gloria in Excelsis is not merely a hymn of praise to the Father, but a‘jubilant anthem of redemption…’ it grounds our faith and worship again on the incarnation, the atonement, and the perpetual intercession of our Lord.” It seeks mercy and forgiveness from the Triune God alone and is therefore in accordance with the evangelical Lutheran understanding of worship as articulated by Melanchthon in Ap, IV, 154.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Should Christians Convert Muslims?

In the Time Article of June 2003, Should Christians Convert Muslims, journalist David Van Biema raises questions about foreign Christian American missionaries attempting to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan during a time of war. After the terrorist attacks on September 11th in 2001, the Bush administration responded by sending troops to Afghanistan and later Iraq. Following this, Christian American missionaries saw the potential for a way to share the gospel without increased government interference. Van Biema illustrates that the perception of the average Muslim experiencing war and receiving evangelism from Americans might be an attempt at colonialism and triumphalism. Additionally, Western culture brings with it libertinism and immorality, so it is difficult to see why would a Muslim would want to convert to Christianity when all he or she sees in America is immorality and public sin. For the Muslim, the state and mosque work together. There is no separation like there is with church and state in America. Therefore, it is understandable that Muslims would be resistant to Christians with a message of repentance. Since there are sensitive issues facing Muslim countries, Christian would do well to study the issues so that they can be as sharp as snakes but innocent as doves. Van Biema raises the questions concerning this situation and gives the impression that he has some disdain for conservative Evangelical missionaries. But he is not a Christian. Van Biema has made this clear in a past article in Time Magazine where he stated that Gnosticism and orthodoxy are two Christian options (December, 2003). For the Christian, the question is not “whether or not” we should do mission. It is a matter of “how.”

What is not mentioned in the article is that perhaps now is the perfect time to go about sharing the gospel in these two Muslim countries. Christian missionaries have faced immense persecution and still do today in Muslim countries. They have had to go about sharing their faith undercover for fear of death. Now that there is less governmental interference in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is an opportunity for Christians to share the gospel.

In sharing the gospel, though, there are some red flags for Muslims that Christians need to be aware of. Considering that George Bush is a professing Christian and made the mistake of prematurely calling the war in Iraq a holy war in September of 2001, one would expect Muslims in Iraq to have resistance to American missionaries. The questions a Muslim might have are: Do you think your American Christian culture is superior to mine? Why do you want me to convert to your Western Christian culture when it is filled with pornography, co-habitation prior to marriage, feminism, and lack of respect for parents? When Christian missionaries do have the opportunity to share their faith, it is imperative that they make some disclaimers. They must make it clear that Americans need the same gospel of Jesus Christ as Muslims. The American culture is actually hostile to the gospel, and Christian leaders in America are no longer respected nor have a voice in the political realm. The sins of American culture must be disassociated with message of the gospel. The missionaries’ goal is not to create Western culture, but to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a different culture. The Christian missionary must be careful not bring up political issues since they will be hindrances to the gospel. Martin Luther’s understanding of the two kingdoms are quite useful here to the Christian missionary. The kingdom of the left is the political realm. The kingdom of the right is the realm of the church. Sometimes, American Evangelicals have combined the two and have sought to make America the Christian nation that it supposedly once was. Evangelicals must realize that the New Covenant is not a theocracy. They must rid themselves of this notion if they want to be effective missionaries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Van Biema’s article fails to raise another question. How much different would missions in Muslim lands be if there were never a 9/11 or a war in Iraq? As one who is Lebanese and aware of Middle Eastern culture, I agree that there is more tension in Iraq as a result of the war and the competition between the West and Islam. However, there would still be the same resistance towards American missionaries if 9/11 or if the war in Iraq never happened. Christianity would still be associated with American culture, and libertinism would still be associated with Christianity. There would still be tensions between Islam and the West, and the Crusades of the 11th century cannot be overturned. I concede that tensions have increased now, but many of the same questions would face American missionaries. I also contend that now is an opportune time to take advantages of the paths God has allowed to be present to proclaim the gospel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is true that many Americans do not want to be associated with conservative Evangelicals. However, this should not cause Evangelicals or other conservative Christians to not preach the gospel. Missionaries must rise to the challenge of preaching the gospel in America and in foreign countries no matter who is in opposition to them. And they must combine faithfulness and bold witness even unto death. As described in the article, martyrdom is a painful thing for mission teams and for families, but it is necessary. Martyrdom is not always a bad thing. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). All of the Apostles except John and many of the early Christians from Ignatius to Cyprian were martyred. The church father Tertullian stated that, “The blood of Christians is the seed of the church” (Apologeticum, 1). The more they are persecuted the more they grow.

Van Biema states that liberal Christian organizations, Charles Kimball, and Robert Seiple are all discontented with aggressive Evangelical tactics. Conservative Evangelicals are not as shrewd as snakes if they operate with a colonialist mentality. However, Charless Kimball does not share the same worldview as conservative Evangelicals or conservative Lutherans. He denies the Trinity and states that it is confined to the book of John. Kimball also states that God has revealed salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ, and if understood properly, Mohammed can be considered a prophet of God. Seiple comes to the issue with another slant, desiring democracy and freedom of religion to be installed in Iraq. For Seiple, such preaching of the gospel by American missionaries may hinder the installation of democracy. Christian missionaries must be careful not to give into voices that have another agenda not shaped by the revelation found in the Holy Scriptures. At the same time, they should be sensitive to tensions, so that they can be effective witnesses.

In conclusion, the mission of God should continue in Muslim countries even now providing that missionaries give a clear witness to the gospel and to the distinction between the two kingdoms. Such bold witnessing should continue even in the face of national tension. Peter and John boldly proclaimed to the priests of Jerusalem, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The resurrection of the dead was offensive to the Sadducees, and the incarnation was offensive to Jews, but the Apostles preached the gospel even in the midst of tension. This bold witnessing flies in the face of those missionaries who are creating Jesus Mosques while claiming that confessing Mohammed as prophet is contextualizing the mission. To be sure, Christian missionaries must provide humanitarian aid to the people. But this must be combined with bold witnessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Was Luther Augustinian?

Was Luther Augustinian? The question is difficult to answer from a historical perspective because more concrete evidence must be documented to show that Luther was influenced by Augustine. We know Luther read a lot of Augustine, but that does not necessarily mean that his theology was influenced by him. From a theological perspective we could survey Augustine and Luther’s theology and see if they are similar, but that would not answer the question of influence. Two people can be in agreement, but not influenced by one another. Simply because Luther quotes Augustine more then any other church father combined (which he does) also does not prove anything. Luther could have quoted Augustine frequently to promote his own agenda since Augustine was respected. In the following paragraphs I will show the opinions of notable historians who have attempted to answer the question whether or not Luther was Augustinian. Further, I will examine the question and attempt to show that Luther was influenced by Augustine in his early theological career, and it was Augustine who helped Luther combat the Scholastics.

Heiko Obermann, Professor of Church History at the University of Tubingen has tried to promote a different idea. He has stated that Martin Luther was simply a product of a modern Augustinian school (schola Augustiniana moderna), a form of Scholasticism that began in the 14th century and continued into the 17th century. This means that Luther was indebted to the Augustinian Gregory of Ramini, and the Reformation was due to a late Medeival Augustinian Renaissance. His theses have been convincingly challenged by David Steinmetz, Professor of History at Duke University. Steinmetz has shown that one of the distinguishing marks of Ramini’s school was a concern to quote theologians of its own school. But in Luther, we find not a single quotation of theologians of Ramini’s order. Steinmetz wrote: “If Luther is in fact a representative of the schola Augustiniana moderna, one of those distinguishing marks is great care in the accurate citation of sources and a concern to quote the theologians of its own order, this silence is – to say the least – remarkable” (Steinmetz, David. “Luther and the Late Medieval Augustinians: Another Look,” (Concordia Theological Monthly 44 (1973): 255)).

Obermann’s view also does not take seriously Luther’s real struggle with sin, the Catholic Scholastics, and his own personal theological breakthroughs. Further, the Finnish Lutheran, Uura Saarnivaara, has recently come out with a Augustine/Luther survey. He has shown that since Augustine’s doctrine of justification is different then Luther’s, Luther could not have been influenced by Augustine. In fact, Saarnivaara even goes as far to say that Luther’s obstacle to discovering the gospel was Augustine. Saarnivaara’s survey is nice, but it does not answer any historical questions. Disagreement on the doctrine of justification in two different historical contexts does not mean disconnection.

In Martin Luther’s early theological career, it is safe to say that he was influenced by Augustine from his Romans lectures (1515-1516) to his Heidelberg Disputation (1518). In his Romans lectures we see Luther responding to the errors of Scholasticism and beginning to understand that salvation is by grace and not by works. The Scholastics believed that original sin was washed away at baptism, and actual sin was removed through penance. Luther struggled with this since after penance his sin would remain and his conscience would be disturbed. Luther said in his Romans lectures, “[The Scholastics] imagine that original sin, just like actual sin, is entirely taken away, as if sins were something that could be moved in the flick of an eyelash, as darkness is by light” (Quoted in Kerr, Hugh T. Readings in Christian Thought: 2nd Edition (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 140).

Luther was greatly aided by Augustine who taught that sin and its effects remain in the Christian, even while Christ reckons the Christian as righteous. In 1532, Luther would look back on this as significant for his theological career (Plass, Ewald M. ed. What Luther Says (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1959), 315).

The Scholastic theologians like Gabriel Biel (1420 - 1495) and Duns Scotus (1265 - 1308) had a negative impact on Luther since they were modern day Pelagians. Luther wanted to be righteous before God, but his conscience could not be at peace under their system. Biel held that it was possible to love God without the assistance of divine grace. Scotus argued that this natural ability was intensified by the infused habitus of love leading to works that were meritorious. To combat these modern day Pelagians, Luther was greatly aided by the champion of orthodoxy against the first Pelagians. With Augustine’s help, Luther articulates a Christian understanding of being sick and righteous simultaneously: sick because of sin, and righteous because of the promise of the Great Physician to heal him completely on the Last Day. Luther said in his Lectures on Romans,

“[The Christian] is at the same time both a sinner and righteous, a sinner in fact but righteous by virtue of the reckoning and the certain promise of God….I did not know that though forgiveness is indeed real, sin is not taken away except in hope, i.e., that it is in the process of being taken away by the gift of grace which starts this removal, so that it is only not reckoned as sin….All the saints had this understanding of sin, as David prophesied in Ps. 32. And they all confessed themselves to be sinners, as the books of Blessed Augustine show” (Quoted in Kerr, 140-141).

At the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther expounds on Augustine’s theology and calls him the “most trustworthy interpreter” of Paul (Luther’s Works: Volume 31, Career of the Reformer I (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 39).

This is primarily because Augustine understood the malady of sinful nature, and the reality of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Augustine was not only helpful to Luther in understanding human nature, but also in understanding that the Law is fulfilled when what has not been done is forgiven. For Augustine, salvation was by grace alone and not by works. For Luther, this teaching was a light in the darkness in the midst of a works righteousness atmosphere. In the light of this, the Swiss historian, Philip Schaff has gone as far to say that Augustine was the first forerunner of the Reformation (Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post Nicene Christianity (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 1021).

After Luther discovered that a man was not made righteous through a process, but was actually counted righteousness because of Christ’s righteousness, he had to come to terms with Augustine’s doctrine of sanative justification. In 1531, Melanchthon sent to Dr. John Brenz a letter that Luther endorsed. The letter said, “Augustine does not do justice to the meaning of Paul, although he comes closer to it than do the scholastic theologians” (Quoted in Plass, 315). Luther came to believe that a person was counted righteous because of the righteousness of another: Jesus Christ. He continued to believe that man was simultaneously sick and righteous. But he no longer believed that his righteousness before God was in himself but outside himself. Luther used to believe, like Augustine, that man was fifty percent sick and fifty percent righteous. But now he believed that man was one hundred percent sick and one hundred percent righteous. This one hundred percent righteousness was due to Christ who was outside of him and the object of his faith.

What was Luther specifically responding to that caused him to make this jump? The Scholastics were teaching a merit of congruity (mertium de congruo) and a merit of condignity (meritum de condigno). A merit of congruity was a good work that earned a reward solely on the basis of God’s grace. A merit of condignity was a good work that earned a reward on the basis of its intrinsic worth. But if a merit of congruity had to be earned on the basis of the natural man, grace must be earned. This was a semi-Pelagian teaching. For Biel, a person did what was in him according to his nature, and then God infused him with a disposition (habitus) of love which caused him to be able to earn more rewards (merit de condigno). In 1518, when Luther was enamored with Augustine, Cardinal Cajetan demanded that Luther doubt whether this disposition (habitus) was present in his life (Kolb, Robert & Wengert, Timothy. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 123, n. 65).

One can only imagine the aggravation that this caused Martin Luther.

In the Scholastic doctrine and Augustine’s doctrine, justification occurred inside man. Although they were completely different, and the Scholastics were far removed from the spirit of Augustine, Luther had a theological responsibility to respond. His theological development on the basis of Paul caused him to teach that justification occurred outside of man. The merits of congruity and of condignity could be thrown out as a theological categories not threatening the doctrine of justification or the spirit of Augustine. If Augustine were responding to the Scholastics would he have grown more in his understanding of Paul? Luther thought so, for he said on March 25, 1539, “If [Augustine] were living in this age, he would agree with us" (Quoted in Plass, 316; Also quoted in Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church: The German Reformation (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916), 535).

Schaff also agrees: “Had [Augustine] lived at the time of the Reformation, he would in all probability have taken the lead of the evangelical movement against the prevailing Pelagianism of the Roman Church” (Schaff, Nicene and Post Nicene Christianity, 1026).

Schaff said concerning Luther: “Of all the fathers he learned from Augustine. For him he had the profoundest respect, and him he quotes more frequently than all others combined” (Schaff, The German Reformation, 534). It is true that mere quotations do not prove that Luther was influenced by Augustine. But considering the enormity of quotations, combined with Luther’s early soteriological insights, and his favorable disposition towards Augustine, it would be hard to maintain that Augustine did not influence Luther in a positive way. Schaff says that Luther considered Augustine, “The best commentator and the patron of theologians” (Schaff, The German Reformation, 534). Luther said, “[Augustine] pleased me and pleases me better than all the doctors; he was a great teacher, and worthy of all praise” (Schaff, The German Reformation, 534).

Augustine’s doctrine of salvation by grace alone to the exclusion of works was very influential in Luther’s theological career. Further, it would be hard to divorce Luther’s doctrine of the bondage of the will and predestination from Augustine as if he had no influence. In conclusion, we can say Luther was Augustinian because he emphasized the grace of God over and against similar Pelagian enemies. And finally, he did this using an Augustinian method: by Scripture via the Apostle Paul.