Monday, 3 January 2011

What Is The Gospel?

Speaking of "the great matters"...

The that doctrine which teaches what a man should believe in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins from God, since man has failed to keep the law of God and has transgressed it, his corrupted nature, thoughts, words, and deeds war against the law, and he is therefore subject to the wrath of God, to death, to temporal miseries, and to the punishment of hell-fire. The content of the Gospel is this, that the Son of God, Christ our Lord, himself assumed and bore the curse of the law and expiated and paid for all our sins, that through him alone we reenter the good graces of God, obtain forgiveness of sins through faith, are freed from death and all the punishments of sin, and are saved eternally.

The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, V:20

Nails it, eh?


ELP said...


And Bonne Année!!

Stephen K said...

Pastor Mark, in the wake of your latest blog leader I've just read the very interesting essay by Keith Mathison on "Sola Scriptura" listed in the link index to the side where he distinguishes various theologies of revelation. The inherent interpretative chaos of “solo Scriptura” is evident, and the apparent increasing recourse made (and arguments generated!) amongst Catholics to Papal and conciliar pronouncements does seem to reflect a subordination of the written New Testament to the “ecclesia” (i.e. “Tradition 3”) However, do you consider that the classical Reformational “Tradition 1” (Scripture interpreted by the tradition of the Church) was ever, even from the very beginning, able to be unentangled with a view that revealed truth was also in the content of oral pre-scripture teaching? I can’t quite see that the germ of such an idea and practice of it was not inevitable. If Scripture is to be everywhere and always interpreted by the Church (i.e. tradition), then it comes down, in practical terms, to the identity of revelation with Church teaching, or if you like, the equal force of Scripture and Tradition. Thus, one may wish to start with Tradition 1, but it seems it must quickly morph into Tradition 2.

The result is, I think, a recipe for very subtle thinking and confusing language. For example, at first glance, the Second Vatican Council, in Dei Verbum, expresses the relationship almost as if it were having a bet each way: on the one hand “...sacred tradition hands on in its full purity God’s Word entrusted to the apostles.....thus....these successors can in their preaching preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known” [9] and, later “this teaching office is not above the word of God but serves it..[10] and the note in the Walter Abbott edition says that the text was worded not so as to exclude the opinion that all revelation was contained in the Scripture. On the other hand it is clear that it continues the dual approach in regarding both as elements of God’s word: “Sacred tradition and sacred scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God...” [10].

I think the whole question highlights the difficulty we humans experience in trying to straddle the various dimensions in which we understand anything and operate: the present vs the eschatological; the individual vs the community; the ideal of our aspirations vs the imperfect of our capacities; the purity of a notional objective ‘truth’ vs the power of subjective meaning. With these dichotomies in mind, I suggest that, chaos notwithstanding, the adoption of “solo Scriptura” is understandable and no more burdened with contradictions than the alternatives. Those who leave one church for another (in any direction) seem to me to be leaving one pasture for another (i.e. one not necessarily greener). Just some thoughts.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Bonne Année mon frere!

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Mathison expanded that essay into a book which is worth getting, "The Shape of Sola Scriptura". Basically, the alternatives boil down to solo scriptura ("me and my Bible", the typical Baptist view), sola scriptura (the magisterial Reformation position), or sola ecclesia (the Roman Catholic view).
Most Catholic polemicists confuse the first and the second, either out of ignorance or to advance their own argument surreptitiously.

The conclusion you come to about solo scriptura is the one I came to many years ago in regard to sola scriptura, and that view has only been confirmed since. Solo scriptura is really unhistorical, imo; it is a true innovation, and therefore something to question very closely. I hope that makes sense. Keep reading.


Lvka said...

What Is The Gospel?

Good question.

what a man should believe in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins from God, since man has failed to keep the law of God and has transgressed it, his corrupted nature, thoughts, words, and deeds war against the law, and he is therefore subject to the wrath of God, to death, to temporal miseries, and to the punishment of hell-fire.

Short answer to long question.

Pr Mark Henderson said...


The Gospel is the good news of what God has done for us, not something we do for him; strictly speaking what you mention in your post are the fruits of faith or good works. They are good things indeed, but not the basis of our salvation.

Yes, the repentant publican is a good example of a justified man; note, he had nothing to boast about, but appealed to God's mercy.

As you are an Orthodox Christian, may I suggest you read St Mark the Ascetic in The Philokalia?

Blessings for the New Year!

Lvka said...

The Gospel is the good news of what God has done for us, not something we do for him

Maybe it's both?.. (Otherwise, the Gospels "waste" so many pages on non-Gospel, that one has to wonder whether they merit their name in the first place..)

Lvka said...

You still haven't grasped what I wanted to say: neither you, NOR your fellow Lutherans, NOR the Catholics you oppose..

You don't "do" anything to be loved and accepted and welcomed by God. God already IS love. "A meek and contrite heart God will not despise". You don't earn His love, but not in the Lutheran/Protestant sense that He doesn't love you and can't love you [unless you accept Christ through faith, or whatever].

"While we were still in our sins Christ died for us" (You know that and yet you still don't know what it actually means: you think you do, but you don't).

The answer to your long question is very simple: we just simply go to God with our broken repentant heart, and God hears us: we don't justify ourselves by any means whatsoever (whether by faith, or works, or what not). "Anyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved". -- yes, it's THAT simple.

You don't have to be Westernly-"acceptable" to God to be actually acceptable to God. You don't have to be perfect or holy or declared such to stand before Him Who is wholly perfect and perfectly holy: that's because His holiness and perfection include such things as unconditional love and forgiveness even of one's worse enemies, God-haters, and mockers -- just think of Christ on the Cross, the martyrdom of Stephen (celebrated not too long ago), or Christ's words in the last part of Matthew chapter 5.

God is a loving and forgiving Father, pouring rain and shining the Sun on sinners and righteous alike, loving and forgiving his enemies, not desiring that any should perish, but have eternal life, rejoicing for the found lost sheep more than for the ninety-nine righteous ones, etc.

He loves you because He is love, and forgives you because He is forgiveness, and is good and kind to you because He is Goodness and Kindness itself -- I don't know, am I breaking through to you? Does any of this make ANY sense to you?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Perfect sense, Lvka - we're closer than you seem to realise!

You are quite right when you say our faith does not save us - faith is simply like the open hands of a beggar waiting to receiv good things (salvation) from God.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Lvka said, "the Gospels "waste" so many pages on non-Gospel, that one has to wonder whether they merit their name in the first place..)"

If by non-Gospel you mean Law, that's because we are such hard-hearted sinners who need to be brought to repentance. But, yes, you are quite right, the Gospel, in the sense of the Good News of what God has done for us through Jesus should predominate in the church's preaching and teaching.

Stephen K said...

Pastor Mark, whilst I would not assert anything like Lvka set out so clearly (because I don't feel qualified to assert anything of God) I can say it resonated. Many years ago I heard two lectures by Fr John Powell SJ called "The Heart of Man" and "The Heart of God". I have the tapes to this day. In his lecture on God he likened God to the Sun, which just.....shines. We, on the other hand, do not influence the shining, only we can go inside or put up parasols etc. This image of God as Love, unconditional love, made a most powerful impression and an image across which the common insistence on rule or doctrinal orthodoxy - for the purposes of virtue and grace - seems to cut in a counter-spirit. So, I dig Lvka's way of putting it. It was John Powell's explanations that I consider have been most influential in having prepared me, raised as a Catholic, to read open-mindedly what Luther said about justification. But Lvka's condensation rings true to me. Just a personal response.

Lucian said...

No, its purpose is not just for repentance: Christ said "DO", and He wasn't joking. Repentance isn't reduced to just sorrow or regret, but implies an actual change in one's life. Yet when we run to God, it's not this that we invoke, but His goodness, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and long-suffering, and the prayers of His Saints and Angels. NOT the fruits of our own grace-supported labors (which are nothing else than Heaven itself; they are not something we do to get into Heaven, they ARE Heaven: God IS love, even of enemies; etc.)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Stephen,

Doctrine, which simply means teaching, has a somewhat different role in the Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith than in Roman Catholicism. Doctrine, in Lutheranism (I dislike that term, because it implies that Lutheran Christianity is an ideology, an "ism" like the many others that have trapped human beings, but I'll use it anyway) is simply meant to support the proper preaching of the Gospel, which is "the power of God for salvation" as the apostle Paul put it.
In RCism it has tended to function primarily as a fence or boundary that rules people either "in" or "out".
Put another way, doctrine is like the skeleton that holds up our bodies - it's absolutely necessary and organic to the Christian faith, but it is not an end in itself, but rather serves to promote life in all its fullness as God intends us to have.
Yes, I like the image Fr Powell used. The tragedy is that so many have their parasols up against God's love. As a pastor, I encounter this all the time with people who are for one reason or another estranged from God and/or the church.
Studying Christian doctrine is a great adventure - I seriously suggest you embark upon it! (If you haven't already, that is.
Thanks for your comment.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Again Lucian, I think agree with everything you've said - except the part about invoking the saints and angels prayers ;0)