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Common Ground: CCC 1949-1986

by PastorMinton on November 22nd, 2017

PART THREE: LIFE IN CHRIST

SECTION ONE: MAN’S VOCATION

CHAPTER THREE: GOD’S SALVATION: LAW AND GRACE

ARTICLE ONE: THE MORAL LAW

The Scriptures contain three distinct types of God’s Law: moral, ceremonial and civil. The civil laws were only applicable to the kingdom of Israel in the Promised Land. The ceremonial laws involved the sacrificial system and the Levitical priesthood, but both of these have been fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That leaves only the moral law as applicable to human life today.

The one issue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics on the issue of God’s Law is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the New Law: “The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit received by faith in Christ, operating through charity. It finds expression above all in the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount and uses the sacraments to communicate grace to us” (paragraph 1983). “The New Law is a law of love, a law of grace, a law of freedom” (paragraph 1985). “Besides its precepts the New Law includes the evangelical counsels. ‘The Church’s holiness is fostered in a special way by the manifold counsels which the Lord proposes to His disciples in the Gospel'” (paragraph 1986, citing Lumen gentium 42 section 2).

First, Law and grace are typically placed at odds against each other in the Bible. St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans is a great example of this (4:13-17):

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the Law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the Law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the Law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the Law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in Whom he believed, Who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

While God’s Law is good, His grace is better. The Law cannot give life (Galatians 3:21). Only the Gospel can give life (2 Timothy 1:10). Jesus Himself says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). The Scriptures speak of both Law and the Gospel of grace. The Law that we can’t keep, but the Gospel of God’s grace where Jesus fulfilled the Law.

Second, no human law focuses on love, grace and freedom. Human law may focus on love and freedom, but there is no room for grace. The Law works against grace. The Law doesn’t allow grace. The Law is black and white. Grace is gray. The Law doesn’t allow shades of gray. The Law offers freedom for those who uphold it. Freedom only comes to those who perfectly uphold it. Those who fail in any single point lose that freedom (James 2:10).

Third, the addition of the evangelical counsels allows the Pope and the Magisterium of the Church to declare their own authority over the Scriptures. This became one of the greatest points of conflict in the Protestant Reformation. Not just the Lutherans, all branches of the Reformation bucked the system of evangelical counsels that were no more than the personal wishes of the Popes and Church councils. Luther, Calvin and many other Reformers blasted the evangelical counsels as being the same heresy as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. The Catechism defines evangelical counsels, “The precepts are intended to remove whatever is incompatible with charity. The aim of the counsels is to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if it is not contrary to it” (paragraph 1973). And, even though they talk about the evangelical counsels being on par with (or above) the Scriptures, they go on to say (paragraph 1974, citing St. Francis de Sales, Love of God 8.6):

[God] does not want each person to keep all the counsels, but only those appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, opportunities, and strengths, as charity requires; for it is charity, as queen of all virtues, all commandments, all counsels, and, in short, of all laws and all Christian actions, that gives to all of them their rank, order, time, and value.

So, if the evangelical counsels are equal to or greater than the Scriptures and you can pick and choose which ones you keep and disregard, what does that have to say about the Scriptures? No wonder the Reformers encouraged sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) in their teaching. Focusing life on God’s unchanging Word, they had a firm foundation upon which to build the Christian life and lead people to live out their justification throughout their sanctified lives. When our foundation is firm, we can live securely in Christ our Savior. We will not flounder among the tempestuous waves of uncertainty and doubt.

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