The Cause of the Lutheran Confusion about Law and Gospel
by Pastor Riley's Blog
If, to quote Karl Barth again, “the Law stands beside the Gospel on the same footing, as a part of the selfsame eternal treasure,” then the juxtaposition, “on the same footing,” of obedience to the commandments and trust in the promise cannot possibly be avoided.
What this juxtaposition led to is clearly indicated in church history. The “obedience” of the Enthusiasts, who were not content, like “the placid flesh” in Wittenberg, “to chalk up their carousing to Christ’s charge” (that is, to put all their trust in the forgiving grace of God), but also wished to do something, eventuated in the carnage of the Peasants’ War and the “Kingdom of God” in Munster. The obedience to moral law, which the German Rationalists put “on the same footing” alongside their faith in God, ended in atheism and ethical nihilism.
Nor is it a secret any longer to what the “Social Gospel” (which is an offspring of the Calvinistic interpretation of the Gospel and of faith), and belief in the “Social Gospel,” will lead. If the Golden Rule constitutes the essential Gospel, and if the keeping of this Rule is Christianity, there is no longer any need for the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world.
In fact, we no longer need Christ even as a Lawgiver. For the Golden Rule is also known to the heathen: it is, as old Lutheran theology always insisted, a part of the law written in the hearts of all peoples. And the two-fold commandment to love God and fellowmen is familiar also to the Jews, for it is recorded in the Old Testament.
The tragic experience of modern Christianity, which has turned the Gospel into a system of morality, should influence all of us — both Lutherans and Reformed — to heed the admonition of the Formula of Concord which warns against a false conception of the Gospel whereby “the Gospel is again converted into a law, the merit of Christ and the Holy Scripture obscured, Christians robbed of true consolation, and the door opened again to the papacy.”
It must be conceded that the old Confession of our church indicated here, with prophetic insight, the symptoms of the grave disease which was later to afflict evangelical Christianity.
It would pay to to investigate carefully and discover whether it did not also point correctly to the cause of this disease. The cause would ultimately be found, not in the errors of Pietism and the Enlightenment, but in the fact that Luther’s understanding of the Gospel and of faith was obscured, as early as the sixteenth century, by a new confusion of Law and Gospel.
– Hermann Sasse, “Here We Stand,” pg. 131-133.