Wednesday, January 01, 2003

A note on method: Entries on the Lutheran confessional documents are interpretive pieces, sometimes informed by historical or other theological works, but more likely simple reflections. We will begin by working through the Augsburg Confession and Melanchthon's Apology. Quotes are from the Kolb/Wengert translation of the German text. It is sometimes important to compare the Latin and German texts.

"II. Concerning Original Sin

Furthermore, it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this same innate disease and original sin (Erbsunde) is truly sin and condems to God's eternal wrath all who are not in turn born anew through baptism and the Holy Spirit. Rejected, then,, are the Pelagians and others who do not regard original sin as sin in order to make human nature righteous through natural powers, thus insulting the suffering and merit of Christ."

The second Lutheran confession in the AC regards original sin. The first article is actually on God. Thus article I argues who God is, and article II argues who we are. We are born in sin. Note that this statement is made in and of itself, it is an article of faith, but what interests even more is the final argument, that by not confessing original sin, or through the belief that human nature can be righteous through it's own power, the greatest offense is this- "insulting the suffering and merit of Christ." That is to say, Christ suffered and died for sinners. If we are righteous by our own powers, Christ died in vain. An important dialectic to keep in mind as a matter of faith and preaching. We proclaim and confess ourselves as sinners not because it is great that we are so, but because Christ died specifically for sinners, and we should give thanks for this and hold to this belief tightly specifically because it is our Savior who died for our sins. As Melanchthon comments, "We cannot know the magnitude of Christ's grace unless we first recognize our malady." Or later, "the benefits of Christ cannot be recognized unless we understand our evil" (120). When you hear preaching that emphasizes the importance of grace, how wonderful it is, how beautiful, but that preaching doesn't at the same time remind and convict of sin, then half of the preaching has not been done, and in fact, there has been no preaching at all, for what can grace mean for us unless it is saving us from something, healing us of something, and how can we rejoice in how great Christ's grace is if we don't know what dire straits we were in prior to that grace?

It is essential that we hold onto this doctrine, and teach and preach it. If we do not, if we fail to preach the condemnation of sin and our life as sinners, we will not and cannot know the benefits of Christ, nor will we rejoice in the magnitude of these benefits. Flowery words about God's grace and blessings will be very simply, hot air.

Melanchthon provides an enlightening list of those things that are clearly sin. "Doubting the wrath of God, the grace of God, and the Word of God; being angry with the judgment of God; being indignant that God does not rescue us immediately from afflictions; grumbling that the ungodly experience more good fortune than the upright" (118). These are parts of original sin, and they are so original that most of the time I forget that these are some of the deepest of sins, because they are violations of the first commandment.

Are we hearing and teaching this doctrine in our church?


  1. I disagree with Melancthon on that last part. Jesus himself cried out "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?" according to the gospels. Did he not also ask for god to "take this cup from me" in the Garden of Gethsemane? The only conclusion one could come to if we took Melancthon approach would be that Jesus himself sinned a great sin on the Cross!
    Was the prophet Jeremiah sinning when he asked "why do the wicked prosper"?

    Yes we need to be aware of how great sin is, but Christ on the Cross amongst many other examples shows us that not all grief, not all bewilderment, not all anger and despair is sinful or parts of original sin.

    P.S. Can I consider myself a Lutheran if I hold this view about Melanchthon's perspective? Or does that render me a heretic? And this is actually a real question, because I'm thinking strongly about becoming Lutheran.

  2. I think you can. Lutheranism (at least of the ELCA variety) is an open confessionalism rather than a closed one.