Article 4: On Justification
Likewise, they teach that human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works. But they are justified as a gift on account of Christ (Latin: propter Christum) through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. God reckons this faith as righteousness (Rom. 3 and 4)
Here it is. This article has been lauded as the one on which the church stands or falls. Such a claim of course raises eyebrows and ignites serious arguments. Is this the way in which evangelicals part ways from other views of soteriology? Is this the great and wide gulf that forever will define Protestantism as different from and opposed to Catholicism? Is this the limit, fons and radix of all Christian doctrine? Does the Augsburg Confession even attempt to make that sort of claim? Or is such a position fiction invented by 19th century Protestants? Is it a sort of mass hysteria on the part of Lutherans, that they all have the same feelings of inferiority or helplessness? Should they just get real?
Today, there is a grand call that theology should not find a center in any particular doctrine. This comes from both ecumenical corners (saying that there are mulitple centers or norms) and from contemporary academic theology that finds the doctrine of justification antiquated or even oppressive. How can we justly say to those who have not that they are to be treated as nothing before God, that nothing of theirs counts? Does not the righteousness by which God makes us righteous involve endorsement of crucifixion and child abuse?
But here it is. Justification by faith alone. Today it raises more questions then answers. There is consensus, says the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification that the condemnations of this article no longer apply to Catholics and vice versa. There will never be a grand old day of the doctrine so long as it remains isolated from preaching, so long as it is not seen in its seriousness as the task of proclamation rather than an invitiation to speculate or describe the steps or order of salvation. The righteousness of God that is given to us in faith is Christ's alone. Perhaps before thinking about justification as a doctrine today, we need again most of all to simply here that Christ is our righteousness, that he is our hope and salvation, that he is the one who comes to us and gives and shares with us the sort of life he has: that life that is lived out of Holy Saturday and Good Friday, that life lived out of death and forgiven out of sin. Then we could begin to step back and start to think and confront the myriad of questions before the doctrine of justification.
The law of prayer is said to be the law of faith. Here in Article 4 we have something like the law of proclamation is the law of doctrine.