vrijdag 2 augustus 2013

The Glory of the Cross 5

The Reformers, Faustus Socinus, and John Owen
When considering the doctrine of the atonement, there are no essential differences between Rome and the Reformation. The Reformation did not wish to break with the Catholic Church, but instead wanted to rid the church of its deficiencies. Initially, the Church of the Reformation did not consider itself a new church, but a reformed Catholic Church. In conformity to what the Catholic Church had taught, the Reformation confessed the living God to be the triune God, Jesus Christ to be God and man in one Person, and the death of Christ to be vicarious.
In developing the doctrine of the atonement, the Reformers followed in the footsteps of Anselm. Having said that, however, there are several differences as we flesh out this doctrine. For Anselm, there was the choice between sin being punished and the vindication of God’s honor. The Reformers posited that Christ satisfied the claims of God’s justice by bearing the punishment for sin vicariously. He took upon Himself the curse of the law and, as the representative of His people, was summoned before the justice of God so that they could be acquitted. God does indeed punish sin, but He has done so in Christ. Thus the claims of God’s holy justice have been fully satisfied. The Reformers emphatically appealed to the Scriptures. In distinction from Anselm, they did not speak of the atonement divorced from the actual Person of Christ. This will become evident when we compare Lord’s Days 5 and 6 of the Heidelberg Catechism with Cur Deus Homo.
The Reformers established an intimate connection between the doctrine of the atonement and the doctrine of justification. They taught that the blood of Christ is the only foundation for our salvation, and that it is only by faith that we are partakers of this. Only when we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, who vicariously made satisfaction for us, can we stand before God. In his exposition of Psalm 22, Luther states, “This is the mystery that is so rich in its divine grace for sinners, whereby through a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but rather Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ is ours and no longer Christ’s. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness so that He could clothe and fill us with it, and He took our unrighteousnesses upon Himself so that He could deliver us from them.... And in the same manner that He was sorrowful, suffered, and was crushed because of our sins, in like manner we rejoice and glory in His righteousness.”
In a letter to George Spalatin (1484 –1545), Luther wrote, “Teach Christ and Him crucified. Learn to pray to Him and say, despairing of yourself, ‘Thou Lord Jesus art my righteousness, but I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken upon Thyself what is mine, and hast given me what is Thine. Thou hast taken upon Thyself that which was not Thine, and given me what I was not.” Calvin testified, “Our acquittal is in this that the guilt which made us liable to punishment was transferred to the head of the Son of God (Isa. 53:12). We must specially remember this substitution in order that we may not be all our lives in trepidation and anxiety, as if the just vengeance which the Son of God transferred to Himself, were still impending over us.”
In the sixteenth century, the doctrine of the atonement, as it was confessed by the Reformers in conformity with Anselm, was criticized by Faustus Socinus (1539–1604). Socinus held that a virtuous walk of life and love for our neighbor constituted the meaning of the Christian faith. The doctrine of faith had to be reduced to a minimum. Christ was to be viewed as an example and teacher of a certain lifestyle, not as the Savior who vicariously took upon Himself the guilt of sinners. Socinus accused the Reformers of carelessly adopting the concepts of “satisfaction” and “merit” from Rome in order to explain the significance of the work of Christ. Socinus emphatically opposed the idea that guilt is transferrable. He was of the opinion that the forgiveness of sins excludes the necessity of the atonement. Whoever forgives relinquishes his righteous claims and will forego punishment. For Socinus, God’s love is evident in the fact that this is precisely what He did. God pardons sin upon the basis of our contrition and our intent to improve our lives. Socinus referenced the parable of the prodigal son; his argument was that  we do not encounter a mediator in this parable. The thinking of Abaelard resurfaced with Socinus in a more radical form. Socinus’s insights were incorporated into the rational forms of theology centuries after him. For example, the view of the suffering and death of Christ as articulated by Socinus is commonplace in modern theology.
In the sixteenth century, Calvin opposed the views of Socinus. During the seventeenth century, John Owen (1616–1683) opposed Socinian theologians in England. Both Calvin and Owen emphasized that God’s grace and love do indeed exclude our merits, but this is not true for the merits of Christ. God’s love never functions at the expense of His justice. In His love, God Himself has paved a way of atonement in which His justice is fully vindicated. God was under no obligation to do this, but He purposed this in His sovereign mercy. Regarding the argument that there is no mediator in the parable of the prodigal son, a few comments are in order. The parable teaches us that there is mercy with God and does not directly address the basis for the forgiveness of sin. It is, however, of paramount importance to understand that the Lord Jesus Christ told this parable in response to the criticism of the Pharisees that He received sinners and ate with them. The Father displays His good pleasure toward sinners in His Son. Not only did He make known the way of atonement and redemption through His teaching, but He ultimately suffered and died Himself so that He could remove sin and make atonement for man’s guilt.

Three Approaches in the History of the Christian Church
Upon scanning the entire history of the Christian church, we can distinguish three approaches to interpreting the crucifixion of Christ. Sometimes the entire focus is upon the effect of Christ’s crucifixion upon mankind. The cross will then exclusively be designated as a revelation of God’s love. From this vantage point, the cross shows us how much God hates sin and spurs us on toward contrition and returning to God. Secondly, the cross of Christ has been understood as the victory over the powers of the devil and sin. The cross delivers man from sinful and demonic forces. And finally, the death on the cross is portrayed as the way whereby the wrath of God toward the sins of mankind is quenched. Only when we discuss the cross from this final vantage point will we do justice to what the Bible tells us about the holiness of God and the gravity of sin. Only then will it become completely clear why Christ had to come to earth in order to redeem sinners.

This is not to suggest that the first two viewpoints do not contain elements of truth; they certainly do. Their deficiencies lie not in what they teach, but rather in what they fail to emphasize. The final view, however, principally encompasses also the first two views. Whoever is reconciled to God and delivered from the wrath to come is also delivered from the power of the devil and will mourn his sins. This is clearly stated in the Heidelberg Catechism. In response to Question 1, “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” this answer is given: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.”