Justification and the Law


Justification and the Law
An inquiry into the relation of the doctrines of justification and the role of the Law of Moses in Christian ethics

Huizer Art Center Publication

Robbert Veen

Huizer Art Center Publishing Trompstraat 65 1271 SZ Huizen info@huizerartcenter.nl

By the same author: Fulfillment of the Law, Huizen 2005 ISBN 1 – 4116 – 5927 - 9 The End of the Law?, Huizen 2005

This edition 2005 @ by H.A.C. and R.A. Veen Printing on demand: www.lulu.com
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Introduction ...................................................................... 9 1. Christian morality in tension ...................................... 11 2. The central function of Paulinism ............................... 17 3. The new image of Paul............................................... 23 4. Cognitive and moral autonomy................................... 27 5. The conceptual logic of justification............................ 33 6. Justification as the ethical condition .......................... 49 7. A common understanding of justification................... 57 8. Justification as the pattern of sanctification ................ 63 9. Sanctification as prerequisite of justification.............. 73 9.1 Augustine: making man righteous........................ 74 9.2 Thomas Aquinas: cooperative grace ................... 77 10. The distinctiveness of Mennonite faith .................... 83 11. Sanctification as basic pattern of justification .......... 95 12. Ambiguities in the Anabaptist Confessions of Faith 115 13. Evangelical duty versus external legality................ 121 14. The social ethics of salvation ................................. 131 Selective bibliography .................................................. 141



In a series of three books my goal has been the development of a thesis by John Toews from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, that deals with the relationship between the faithful community and the Torah of Moses. In 1982 Toews presented his design for a theology of law in the New Testament. In my view, this opened up a debate around basic issues of the contents and method of Christian ethics that needed to be explored. I would summarize his position in this manner: In the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth the Torah is normatively interpreted for the community of Jesus’ followers, who affirm His messianic position, and the nucleus of this interpretation is the love of God and neighbour. From this thesis we can develop a number of implications, that I have tried to explore in my dissertation Obedience to the Law of Christ.1 In this present volume, chapters 1 and 2 of my dissertation have been revised and combined to make a statement about the various ways in which the doctrine of justification determine how the role of the Torah is defined within Christian ethics. The main issue remains the same. If the above thesis by John Toews is valid, how did it come about that the Christian Churches ignored this central position of the Torah? What doctrine took the place of the Torah in grounding Christian ethics? Moreover, how did we arrive at the almost insurmountable schism between the demands of the Kingdom and the exigencies of ordinary life in the modern state? Is a Christian primarily a citizen with a specific religious attitude? Is he a citizen of the Kingdom of heavens, that awaits the return of Christ while living in the remains of an old order, destined to fade away? It seemed necessary to look with a fresh mind at the Pauline epistles and the gospels, as well as at the historical context of the Reformation theology to answer these questions. After all, in modern Christianity, there seems to be no place for the concept of a true obedience to the Torah as an integral part of Christian ethics.2
1 2

Obedience to the Law of Christ, diss., Maastricht (Shaker), 2001. In this volume I try to deal with some minor aspects of dogma history. In


That is true to some extent also for the Churches that originated in the so-called Radical Reformation, despite their insistence on sanctification as the corollary of (extrinsic) justification. It was necessary to consider the basic shapes and inner logic of the doctrine of justification by faith as the doctrine that expressed most forcibly the need to abandon the Torah. Here the (magisterial) Reformation formulated its basic concept of the essential form of Christian ethics, only partially followed in this respect by the Churches of the Radical Reformation. Such introductory questions needed to be addressed in order to gain a perspective on the meaning of our questions about the function of Torah and the shape of Christian ethics. After such an introduction, I could begin to deal with the exegetical questions that form the heart of this dissertation. The debate around the 16th century doctrine of justification is one of two historical perspectives that I presupposed in my readings of the NT, in order to redefine the basic principle of a Biblical ethics. The dissertation, as well as the three books that emerged out of it, are to me a way of preparing the ground for a different approach to Christian ethics. It is my belief that a Christian Halakah, a code of moral rules according to the principles and methods of rabbinical ethics, needs to be worked out. Robbert Veen Huizen, December 2005

Fulfillment of the Law (Huizen, 2005) I presented my reading of Matthew, Mark and James, and in The End of the Law? (Huizen, 2005) I discussed Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans.


1. Christian morality in tension
A Christian theology might be tentatively defined as the labour of reflection on the ideology and practice (or discourse and behaviour) of a living faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, exemplified in a particular tradition and embodied in historic communities that shape their lives by it. It is a normative labour as far as it is the task of theology to judge the authenticity of that faith against its only standard: the Scriptural tradition. I do not aspire to execute any abstract program of Christian theology. Instead, I am committed to the (Mennonite) tradition in which I stand because it will provide me with a basic perspective. Now, a perspective both limits and enables one’s sight. For that reason part of the task of the theologian is always the critical examination of his or her primary perspective. As C. Norman Kraus put it: we must have an “examination and elucidation of this system of meaning and discourse” that belongs to the Church as a community of “shared experience and discourse.”3 In other words, we must come to an understanding of the limitations of the historical perspective in which we try to see our object under examination. Nevertheless, the main function of a perspective is that it allows one to see. It is not a blindfold, and therefore elucidation of a tradition by itself is like describing the eyes instead of the vision. A Mennonite theology must go beyond self-description and seek to verify the truth-claims of its particular version of the Christian faith, and it must do so by comparing them to their given source and standard in Scripture. It must first be a biblical theology concerned with truth, not a descriptive theology concerned with clarification of a given terminology, even if embedded in a way of life. Nevertheless, even in such a biblical theology traditional bias and the needs of one’s Church are likely to play a part. It is for that reason that I turn first to an assessment, however fragmentary, of the perspective that I bring to my present inquiry. The necessary starting point for an inquiry into Christian ethics in my view must be the simple definition of that ethics as obedience to the Christ of Scriptures. But what does that mean? It seems obvious to theologians and laymen alike, in all

Cf. C. Norman Kraus, God our Savior, Scottdale, 1991, p. 13.


major Christian traditions with the possible exception of extreme liberalism, that Christian ethics is at least formally determined by such obedience to Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. The Christian life is certainly never thought to be without some kinds of specified duties, even in those traditions that emphasize justification through grace. It is primarily the material elements of this obedience and the explanation of its possibility that are contentious. I would express this formal starting point for a connected series of questions from a Mennonite perspective as follows. • First, Christ is seen as a new “Torah” (though not taken the way Judaism did its Torah), a source of understanding of God’s righteous demands, and not as an example of a “good man” to be followed. The embodied Torah is equally present in His teachings as in His life, and since the two cannot be separated, there is no room for an imitatio Christi that would ignore the teachings. • Second, the authority of the teachings rests in the authority of the Teacher. If Christ commands to love the neighbour, it is our duty to do so because He commands it. His messianic status is paramount in understanding the meaning of the commandments. • Third, if He teaches a new Torah, in addition to being the embodiment of the Mosaic Torah, the question remains open whether the obedience required can be construed as a following of rules and principles of behavior along the lines of Jewish halakah. Mennonite ethics usually followed the familiar pattern of the distinction between a legalist and a moralist view on ethics. As I have tried to show in my exegesis of Matthew 5 and 18, (in the first volume of this series, Fulfillment of the Law) there can be little doubt that Matthew thought Christ’s new halakah was congruent with the structure of the written Torah and with oral tradition in general. In addition, the persistent critique of Pharisaic hypocrisy, if we want to avoid declaring this a polemic bordering on anti-Semitism, can only be understood as a specific Matthean hermeneutic insight: that the test of any rule of law is its possibility to be done, and that its truth therefore rests on the integrity of the one teaching it. The authority of the Messiah, as enacted in His full and complete submission to His heavenly father, can then be the basis for the Christian’s obedience to the messianic Torah. However, one might argue against this by stating that surely


all of this emphasis on obedience and the importance of the Mosaic law can be seen as a further development of relatively late strata in the New Testament. Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians express a rejection of the Mosaic law as way of salvation and as guideline for behaviour. After all, did not Paul state clearly “righteousness is now revealed apart from law and prophets”? But the evidence in the New Testament does show differently. The canonical letter of James does speak about the law of freedom, apparently referring to the Mosaic law (not to be diminished to the “imperative side of the gospel” - Goppelt), and even to Paul some kind of inner congruence with Christ’s command is called being ennomos: “in the law of” Christ. Going forward in time to the gospels, especially that of Matthew, this emphasis is still clearly present. The antitheses to a particular this-worldly and lax interpretation of the Mosaic Law in the Sermon on the Mount describe God’s radical commandment as the result of the breaking in of the eschatological Kingdom, showing that probably the earliest sources of the New Testament also contain such an ethical emphasis without ever breaking the link to the Old Testament. Obedience to Christ, submission under God’s sovereignty in the kingdom that He preached, allowing for rules of behavior to be set by the learned or by the “discerning community,” seem to be the alpha and omega of early Christian ethics. An independent stress on obedience as compliance with an external command, some have argued, is a post-biblical phenomenon and a return to Judaism. According to the author of the 2nd-century letter of Barnabas, Christians need to seek out the “ordinances” (dikaioomata) of the Lord. In 2:6 Barnabas mentions the “new law of Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity.” Evangelical law, as it was sometimes called much later, though resting on grace and God’s redemptive initiative in history, was still a ‘law’: a code of defined behavior. Such differences in emphasis, wavering between narration and reenactment of salvation, on one hand, and stress on a new code of behavior on the other, can be put into historical order with the aid of a model of social development. The position I referred to above would then indicate some paradigmatic milestones in the development of Christian ethics between Paul’s original law-free gospel, through Matthew’s theological reflection on Christ’s messianic teachings, onto Bar-


nabas’s establishment of a Christian way of life that again acknowledges a formal statute of (evangelical) law.4 They indicate movement between the law-free paraenetical ethics of Paul and the formalization and institutionalization of the ethics of the Church during the time when the parousia seemed to be very far removed and the Church was trying to establish its foundations in what was later called early Catholicism. To the extent that Christians in the Roman empire were a persecuted minority consisting of gentiles without Jewish training, far from the influence of a Palestine being ransacked in the aftermath of the Jewish revolt of Bar Kochba, their morality must have been an adaptation of and addition to civil morality. It is not insignificant, though not decisive, how we look at this from the historian’s point of view. The common understanding of this development is part of a received set of presuppositions within the area of New Testament studies that provides a frame of reference for theology which has hardly been challenged since the days of 19th-century modernism, and which has been especially firm since Harnack’s thesis that the 2nd-century Church developed forms of legal organization by adapting synagogal and Roman rules of law.5 In that approach, the distinction between obedience as a particular Christian virtue and the gospel of grace and redemption came to the fore. For our time, it is in particular Bultmann’s Theologie des Neuen Testaments that provided a monument for the conviction that the law-free gospel of Paul and its justification of the ungodly is the center of the New Covenant and was seriously corroded by the return to Jewish moralism and legalism at the end of the 1st century. With Bultmann and Käsemann, the Lutheran absolute antithesis between law and grace and the secondary role of
The author’s main aim has since long been recognized as dissuading Christians from succumbing to the attractions of Judaism. This ofcourse presupposed both in the historical reality of the Church of his day as in the intended audience of his letter, that there was common grojnd, spec. In the deep respect for scriptures and in thearea of moral exhortation. Barnabas integrated a Jewish text in his letter in chapters 18-20 which shows precisely that. Equally important is that the distinction between moral and ritual commandment is not made in Barnabas, though the ritual commandment is spiritualized. Cf. alsoGraham Stanton, “Other early Christian writings”, in Barclay, Early Christian Thought, pp. 181-184. 5 Cf. A. Harnack, Verfassung und Recht der alten Kirche, Leipzig, 1910. Harnack of course argued that the transformation of the charismatic Church into a Church governed by rules and appointed ministers was both necessary for and beneficial to its survival.


sanctification and the law was expressed for a second time. 6 In the Reformation era, the importance of duty and obedience was not denied, but it was hardly ever stated as an independent requirement,7 and it was emphatically not taken as a way to salvation. Opposition to Church law, sacramentalism, the penance practice of the Church, its claim to be the source and place of redemption, and its doctrine of merit, was worked out in a radical fashion. Christian ethics was grounded upon a doctrine believed to be the core message of the Pauline gospel: justification by faith. Because justification was an act of God and received in faith, the ethical situation had changed decisively, making Christian obedience a responsive act of gratitude to a salvation already received, in opposition to a continuing effort to achieve a prescribed behaviour and through it earn redemption. Obedience in faith was defined in opposition to another type of obedience: obedience to external rules of behaviour with the intent of amassing merit, doing “good works” with the intent of earning salvation. Faith was the single most important act of obedience; it grounded a life of spontaneous submission to the revealed will of God in the

There were of course important differences between Bultmann and Käsemann. The latter published a lecture entitled “Das Problem des historischen Jesus” in 1954 (Reprinted in Käsemann, Exegetische Versuche, pp. 187-214), in which he argued that the center of the New Testament is not only the proclamation and preaching of the gospel, but also includes historical facts. The historical Jesus could not be ignored in matters of faith, as Bultmann had tried to do. In this re-evaluation of the historical, Käsemann effectively inaugurated a new era of theological research. The new pupils of Bultmann all remained faithful to the existentialist interpretation of the gospel, with the exception of Käsemann who returned to a position more orientated towards the historical basis of the gospel. 7 We must be mindful of the difference between Lutheran and Calvinist theologies here. Both had accepted that the law had several functions in the life of the faithful. To Luther, there were two: (1) the usus civilis, in which the law became a source-book for ordering society and (2) the usus elenchticus sive theologicus, in which man became aware, through the law as indictment, of his inner sin and guilt before God. Calvin added to these two the (3) usus in renatis, its use for the reborn. God has written His law in their hearts (cf. Jer. 31) but the written law may still grant them insight into the contents of the divine will, may drive them toward obedience. Menno did accept the second of these, but rejected the first and third and instead focused on the meaning of the gospel as law of Christ, i.e., evangelical obedience superseded the Mosaic law in his view. In that sense, he declined to accept the tension between gospel and law within Christian faith and laid heavy emphasis on the covenantal character of the Christian Church.


specific circumstances of life, summed up in the command to love one’s neighbour. The latter was a response to God’s grace, whereas the former was an autonomous effort of man to earn salvation under the guise of obedience, which by its own logic would lead man to a defiance of God’s will and the intent to define for himself what was right and wrong. Paul’s reference to justification, which figured so prominently in Romans 1-4 and in the letter to the Galatians, could be read as a firm doctrinal basis for a theology of justification that separated the status of the faithful (having been justified) from their condition and behaviour. The hermeneutic landscape had changed considerably by then. A widespread 16th-century criticism of prevailing Catholic practices and the general apocalyptic and introspective mood of the age was read into the historical situation of the early Church. Christianity, so it seemed, had moved away from the “Jewish” ethics of obedience that could only lead to feelings of guilt and despair and its “works of the law” as a means to escape from judgment, by shifting the emphasis to faith as a passive reception of amnesty and God’s Grace in Christ. The sharp antithesis between works of the law and free grace was decisive for all the various Reformation groups, including the Anabaptists. Thus, Sola Gratia could become the identifying trait of the whole of the Reformation, notwithstanding the fact that there were important differences of emphasis in this regard between the Anabaptist, Hutterite, Lutheran, and Calvinist ways of approaching this matter. Calvin’s insistence on sanctification as the goal of justification, and as its inner telos, was one such characteristic source of difference. Luther’s insistence on the justification of the ungodly and Menno’s demand that redemption was granted to the penitent sinner who showed the reality of his faith in saintly living were competing perspectives. A tension between law and Grace pervaded all of these movements.


2. The central function of Paulinism
Basically the Reformation’s solution to the tension between law and grace has been Paulinist in its contents, and that goes for both the Lutheran and the Calvinist positions. The terms of the discussion, and even the basic answer to the questions, were given to the Church through the apostolate of Paul and the way the Church tried at some junctures of her history to renew her understanding of him. This is true also for the earlier doctrinal establishment of Catholicism with Augustine, and most certainly holds for the Reformation understanding of Paul by Calvin and Luther. Paul, as no other, shaped the doctrinal framework of the Church by being the author of a set of important decisions for the Church: by rejecting circumcision for non-Jewish Christians, by opposing the validity of the Jewish law for Christians, and in the establishment of a pagan Church that soon found new experiences and ideas that severed her completely from the synagogue as early as the time of the Neronic persecutions (67 C.E. In the affirmation that redemption rested on the Cross of Christ accepted in faith, and not on the “works of the law,” it was Paul who determined how the gospels were read and how Jesus of Nazareth was understood. But how exactly then was Paul understood with reference to Christian ethics? And how could he have become the main supplier of Christian ethics? We must take into account that it would have been far more obvious to accept the Sermon on the Mount as the decisive constitution of the Christian life than any moral exhortation that derived from other sources. The RomanCatholic solution was to define the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount as the exemplary ethics of a specific class within the Church, devoted to a rigorous evangelical discipline. However, to those for whom Paul was the basis of all theology in the 16th century, it seemed clear that Jesus, despite the Sermon on the Mount, did not teach an ethics at all, did not give His disciples a code of commandments. When doctrine arose, a salvation economy was worked out. It was held that after His resurrection Christ was revealed as the One who gave his life as a propitiatory sacrifice for all mankind. Through Christ, God had provided believers with the gift of justification. From that central assertion, the problem of ethics was determined by the Pauline


polemic against Judaizers and Jews about the now discarded role of the law. Anselm’s doctrine of atonement, e.g., that emphasized vicarious suffering and a substitutionary sacrifice, became a guiding principle in the Church’s thinking about redemption. Christ’s statements about the law, and in particular his Sermon on the Mount, were understood to be an explanation of the radical demand of the law, to show that the Pharisees underestimated and weakened its demand by the introduction of human teachings. The Sermon on the Mount lost its status of ethical instruction and became a preparatory statement, defining man’s need for redemption instead of being an instruction to the way of life of the redeemed. Christ’s “ethics,” if there at all, implied only condemnation, preparing humankind for the unfolding of the gospel of grace. After it had come to its full expression in the gospel of Paul, the Sermon on the Mount could in retrospect be seen as the epilogue of the law. Having dispensed with the possible primacy of the ethical appeal of the gospels8 through this distinction between preparation and fulfillment, the Reformers still had to deal with the undoubted presence of paraenetical material in the gospels and Paul’s letters. But the ethical contents of Paul’s letters could be read from that same perspective as a set of guidelines for the life of faith - an “inner” morality could be stressed, joined to a doctrine of works of gratitude and a concept of the rule of law in Christian society. The otherworldly direction of this ethics could be upheld, because for the present world it was not Christ’s demands but compromise with societal powers that was taught. Christian ethics became a dualist ethics, defining a spiritual principle of love alongside a “carnal” principle of worldly rule. The division between law and Grace echoed that between Church and state. Paul’s polemic against a salvation doctrine that mixed grace with obedience to Torah for gentiles, advocating instead a life in the Spirit, was construed as the doctrinal basis of Christian morality. The this-worldly emphasis of the Sermon on the Mount and of some of Paul’s paraenesis could be relegated to the realm of utopia if it was not read as an epilogue of the law, and the inner experience of guilt and forgiveness thus became the centre of a Christian’s selfconsciousness. Sanctification as the corollary of justification

Which might have led to a concept of ‘evangelical law’ or even the introduction of self-righteousness through works.


was thereby effectively removed from the daily practice of Christian living, and the ordinary life of the believer was solely determined by the exigencies of life under the rule of the state. Within mainstream Protestant thought, Luther’s discovery of the justification of the ungodly remained the secure centre of the gospel and the basic feature of the definition of ethics. Calvin’s doctrine of sanctification counterbalanced that stress in part, as had Luther’s concept of “living faith,” which had included much of what Catholics regarded as a secondary principle and condition of salvation: love. Works in the sense of “good works,” acts of ethical compliance with the gospel, summarized in love for the neighbour, were conesquences rather than conditions of faith and justification. Ethics became almost identical to the responsible life of the citizen; or sometimes it became the saintly (or heroic) ideal that could be achieved by some through grace as a particular sign of the coming kingdom. This-worldly obedience to the political powers and an ethics of conformity to them were placed side by side with the aspirations of individuals toward the higher evangelical ideal. Christian ethics became divided in itself. In any case, ethics remained a consequence of salvation granted. The deed that was in conformity with God’s demand was (1) a consequence of God’s grace operative inside oneself and (2) in itself not an act in harmony with a given rule of behaviour, but one whose value was decided by the purity of its inner intent inner faith became in itself the defining principle of a good deed. From that vantage point, some elements in Paul were stressed to the detriment of others. Paul had preached - so it was taught - submission to the state (Rom. 13), the acceptance of slavery (Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22), the submission of women to men (1 Cor. 14:34, 35; Eph. 5:22; Col.3:18), and a hierarchy within the Church which made it clear that the social and political critique and teachings on salvation of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels were merely an interlude, an “interimethic”,9 that no longer had a place in the life of the Church after

The term “interim ethic” must be understood in its wider sense of ethics for the present day on this side of the eschatological fulfillment. A. Schweitzer, I believe, coined the phrase to indicate the eschatological ethic of the Sermon on the Mount that derived its legitimacy from the nearness of the Kingdom. It was therefore a heroic ethic to be applied during the short time before that kingdom became a reality.


the resurrection. Paul’s ethics was about accepting the status quo, relying on the gradual Christianization of the world, of fulfilling the demands of the kingdom through a step-by-step improvement of civil society. Eschatology was the dimension into which the full demand of the Kingdom could be projected. So the Kingdom might come, some day, and in the meantime Christians would need to work with what existed within their societies, accepting together with all other citizens of the state the moral demands of the era and the legal (and penal) system of their societies. In the era following the Reformation, such doctrines lent themselves readily to secular versions: obedience to Christ was transformed into a commitment to civil virtues and allegiance to the state, because that had been the concrete shape of the ethics of the former era; justification was transformed into a statement about the inherent goodness of humanity. (Wesleyanism had tried to maintain a special status of conversion within the wider body of Christian society by stressing the path of inner experience.) So the general modern image of Christian ethics emerged: the Christian was to be obedient to civil powers while working on his inner sanctification. Ethics was now primarily about what you were and not about what you did, and justification dealt with that. The gospel shaped the character, and character produced morality. To work at the improvement of society from within became the secular fulfillment of the eschatology that had motivated Paul’s ethics. The Reformers themselves were sometimes more precise than their common understanding allowed for. Calvin expressly emphasizes that justification and sanctification belonged to one and the same process. Even though to be justified does not mean to have become ‘just’, it does mean: esse in ipso motu seu cursu ad iustitiam ( “to become taken up in a motion or drive toward righteousness”).10 The notional element of forensic imputation guards the extrinsic character of the ground for justification, so that only the foreign righteousness of Christ can be the ground for salvation, but it does not imply a mere outwardness of the result. In Pesch’s terminology, the forensic and effective dimension of justification cannot be seen as an antithesis in Calvin’s view. Paul’s exhortations could then be understood as expressive of this sanctification as the other side of the coin. This connection was all too easily lost from sight

Cf. Pesch 130, WA 39, 1, 83


even to some extent in Calvinism. In Lutheran orthodoxy this became particularly clear. In Melanchthon’s “Loci” of 1521,11 justification gets hardly any stress, but where it occurs the effective dimension is made secondary to the forensic. Now justification only means imputation, and sanctification is primarily dealt with as an eschatological reality. In the wake of this development Paul came to be read, especially in the late-18th and 19th centuries, either as the champion of inwardness and of the secondary nature of (external) morality and law, or as a hurdle of foreign Jewishness that needed still to be overcome. The interpretative principles in the Lutheran reading of Paul (anti-works, antilegalistic, stress on autonomous freedom) were now severed from their Pauline context and used against what was seen as Jewish remnants in Paul's theology and paraenesis. Some maintained that this was actually Paul’s intent all along. He had emphasized the priority of grace and the secondary role of ethics - by denying any meaning for “works of the law” and by stressing a “being-declared-righteous” that was extrinsic. This second stage of the Paulinist “revolution” in Europe was decidedly ‘spiritualist” in nature, either in its breaking away from the Jewish Paul or its affirmation of the Hellenist Paul. What to the Paul of the Reformation had been the extrinsic work of the Spirit within man following justification came to denote the inner autonomous ground of morality. (In Immanuel Kant e.g.) This modernist and rationalist appropriation of Paul or rather the new understanding of the interpretative tendency of the Reformation, now existed alongside a further development of the 16th-century Lutheran approach (in Schleiermacher e.g.) , which however took on elements of this spiritualizing tendency as well. Faith became identified with the conscience of man and as the extension of human reason or intuitive faculty. But modernity in the 19th century was equally adamant that in Paul the emancipation from legalism and outward moralism had been completed. Whenever he was not read as the champion of inner morality, he was mostly rejected as too Jewish.


Cf. Pesch 133



3. The new image of Paul
The images of Paul that motivated these developments have now all been overturned again and the anti-Jewish bias of the 19th century has been severely weakened. Biblical exegesis learned to view Paul more as he must have sounded in his own day and age. A new image of Paul emerged - and it must be admitted, again there were pressures from contemporary history behind it. Against the traditional understanding of Paul, these three dimensions of interpretation came especially into play in the decades after the second World War: (1) A new reading of Paul’s context brought an increasing understanding that there were important elements missing and misrepresented in the traditional reading of Paul.12 Specifically, the historical situation of the newly formed Church communities that Paul’s letters wanted to address, which in the case of Romans and Galatians was concentrated in the issue of communion between Jewish and pagan Christians, was now better understood. It led to reevaluation in particular of Romans and Galatians, the prime sources for understanding Paul’s view on Christian ethics. The pastoral and occasional nature of his writing was leading theologians away from their concentration on Pauline “doctrine,” and studies in canon history affirmed that Paul could not be considered the single normative source for Church doctrine. There were other, differing voices as well, whose contributions had been drowned out in the chorus of Paulinists that had soon emerged in the 2nd- and 3rd-century Church. (2) A profound reappraisal of Judaism brought an increasing awareness that the Church was unable to define its own mission without carefully developing an understanding of the ongoing status of Israel and her Torah.13 That was an insight that with some difficulty could be found in Paul as well,


Cf. James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, 1982, published in Jesus, Paul and the law, Louisville, 1990. Dunn mentions E. P.Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Comparison of a Pattern of Religions (London, 1977) as the most decisive study in this reappraisal of Paul. (2) 13 Cf. Paul M. van Buren, A Theology of the Jewish-Christian Theology, New York, (1980-1990, in three volumes) as the most elaborate development of this thesis.



especially in the Romans 9-11 passage. That has led to a new appraisal of the Jewish roots of the Church and Paul’s theology. Apart from that, it was affirmed in the field of Biblical theology that Rabbinic tradition needed to become part of the tools of New Testament exegesis. Its approach showed Paul not only using Jewish forms of exegesis and staying closer to 1st-century Jewish thought and imagery than ever before imagined, but it also showed how favourably Paul viewed the ongoing meaning and existence of the Jewish people. Pagan Paulinism was not up to the demands of theology that this essentially Jewish Paul had set. (3) An emphasis on the social and political dimension of theology led to an increasing stress on the social dimension of faith and ethics,14 which was in part adopted from the various “liberation theologies” that came to the fore especially after the 1950s. In anthropology, human individuality was seen as intrinsically connected to the self-definition of the community to which the individual belonged. Social-justice perspectives made it harder and harder to overlook or spiritualize the thisworldly ethics of the Sermon on the Mount. Within this perspective the traditional motives for the classical interpretation of Paul as polemics against works-righteousness became less important – but it must be asked if this does justice to the apostolic witness. Within these contemporary dimensions of a renewal of theology - very broadly defined here as a new exegetical perspective and a new general orientation on ecclesiology and social identity - the questions concerning the foundations of Christian ethics can and need to be asked again. The first dimension accounts for the re-examination of the Pauline concept of justification and its relationship to moral obedience. Recent scholarship has shown that the Protestant schematics of received grace being followed by paraenetical
In the USA this emphasis was already present since the 1880s and 1890s in the so-called Social Gospel movement. Especially in the period between 1900 and 1914 it was highly active, as were many such similar movements in Europe. They did not lead to as much reappraisal of Paul as can be said of the political gospel movements of the 1960s. The former were to some extent influenced by socialism and the questions of capital and labor; the latter were more concerned with the indigenous images of social justice as the people themselves would define them. The former movement can be summarized in Rauschenbusch’s famous dictum: “The Kingdom of God is a social idea.” It must be realized by human beings, working together.


teaching as to proper conduct was not instigated by Paul at all. It was at best a secondary motif in Paul’s continual presentation of the “Triumph of God” over sin and death. Justification and sanctification were more intrinsically connected, and the concept of obedience in concrete acts (easily dismissed as “works” and as opposed to “life in the Spirit”) was far more central to Paul than it had seemed to Luther. Paul advocated a kind of “Christian halakah” based partly on Christ’s teachings, partly on Rabbinic tradition, and partly on the developing lifestyle of the early Church in its contacts with Greek religious culture and Roman law. In fact, the central disagreement of his day was shown by James Dunn to be that on the issue of table fellowship between Christians of Jewish and gentile descent. That surely seems to break down the traditional image of Paul’s ethics completely. Paul’s doctrine of justification was now being read as having originated primarily in its ecclesiological dimension and in its use as a polemical device to restrain Jewish Christians who tried to combine Christ and Torah into a higher unity. That perspective also changed current views on Paul’s basic terminology. As James Dunn especially tried to show, the “works of the law” were no longer the moral duties through which one acquired merit, but specifically those commandments that defined the separate status of Israel: circumcision and food laws in particular. Paul’s insistence that there was no salvation based on works of the law implied that belonging to Israel was not the prerequisite of salvation; but it did not mean what the Church had said throughout her history, that moral action was not a prerequisite of salvation - why should Paul after all have said such a thing? Based on what and against whom? Nobody was holding that salvation was earned; some might have argued that a deed could be virtuous by dint of its moral effect on others, enabling them to serve God better through example, or by counter weighing other offences. The late mediaeval doctrine of merit was not in place in the 1st century. Read like this, Paul could no longer serve to ground an ethics that dispensed with concrete acts of obedience, since his polemics was not aimed at obedience as such, but against a salvation doctrine that continued to exclude gentiles, as well as against a pagan doctrine that set aside the whole of the Mosaic law. Judaizers and Gnostics were therefore both excluded. In


this rereading of Paul, the whole emphasis of the Reformation reception of Paul on the antithesis between grace and law falls away or is at least seriously compromised. The second dimension - stressing the common ground between Israel and the Church - leads to a new appraisal of this basic concept of obedience, for so long defined with reference to that righteousness of works of the law which was identified with Pharisaism and Rabbinic Judaism. It was Lutheranism, along with its philosophical expression in Kantianism, that had established the idea of moral autonomy as the basis for ethics, with its sharp distinction from mere “outward” obedience or legalism. That concept of autonomous moral liberty became the cornerstone of modern political thought, and efforts were made to see in Paul’s writings the defence of a more inner, spiritual morality. The foundational notion of modern society, as expressed in Hegel’s philosophy of Right, became the notion of freedom. Even if going beyond the confines of individual autonomy, Hegel reasserted the rational autonomy as that of a life within the confines of the state, which expressed, maintained, and grounded rational freedom and superseded individual ethics in a life that conformed to “realized” (not simply commanded or valued, but institutionalized) patterns of behaviour and political institutions that safeguarded the autonomous liberty of the state as a whole. The third dimension, finally, inserted the concept of social identity into the debate: justification was a matter of being a righteous community. Only then could the individual be “righteoused” too. It signified a move away from the focus on the individual’s conscience and guilt-problems. Man was essentially defined by the group to which he needed to belong. The Church could be viewed as “counter-community” (Lohfink), or as anticipatory realization of the coming Kingdom (Yoder). All of these influenced the way Pauline exegesis went forward.


4. Cognitive and moral autonomy
Besides these revisions of Paulinism in our era, there was a major attack on the presuppositions of modern theology as it shared them with general Western culture and philosophy. Modernism and liberalism in their individualistic, spiritualistic (mystical), and socialist shapes, had in a way taken over presumptions of modern European philosophy - especially the basic notions of autonomy and freedom. In liberalism, Christianity changed from being a redemptive religion into being a religiously inspired secular ethics. Philosophically, these basic notions of rational freedom and moral autonomy (the project of modernity) were criticized sharply in modern Jewish thought. E. Fackenheim and E. Levinas, e.g., both developed a decisively anti-modernist position. Levinas’ claim that the concealed fundament of the modern state and its principle of autonomous rationality is actually the heteronomy of the moral relationship - appearing phenomenologically in the presence of the Other as Face - not only brought Rabbinic Judaism onto the scene of contemporary philosophy, but it reminded many Christian theologians of their Jewish and Old Testament roots. Justification as forensic declaration of acquittal might be seen as an escape from the heteronomous obedience and responsibility that were inherent in the order of creation (Torah) itself. These new insights might be affirmed against the 16th-century antinomies between grace and law and its connected anthropology of sin, as well as against the dominant paradigm since the Enlightenment, that of rational autonomy and moral freedom. The basic paradigm and stumbling block for theologians since the Lutheran Reformation had been increasingly that of autonomy. Of course they had not all sought its centre in humanity as had Kant, but most often in the faithfulness shown in God’s extrinsic act in history: the Cross of Jesus Christ. Their polemic was aimed primarily at Augustine’s theory of justification as initial grace, evoking the cooperation of man grace that perfected the human endeavour of love. On that account, moral autonomy, even if ultimately grounded by God’s grace as Augustine had seen it, was rejected. But faith was predominantly expressed as an individual, inner experience and condition, even though doctrinally faith was a gift and part


of God’s sovereign dealing with humanity. Faith as individual act of consciousness (an affirmation) was the centre of a cognitive autonomy, and increasingly so in the various shapes of Puritanism. The quest for the certainty of salvation seemed to signal a return to Christian morality, because only in the life of good works could there be a corroboration of faith. Even those Lutheran thinkers who emphasized obedience and ethics had to do so after the Enlightenment, within the general framework of thinking that identified reason and consciousness as the prime expression of autonomous liberty in man. Paradoxically, the extreme stress on the extrinsic source of imputed righteousness came to be bound up with an equal stress on the inner conscience as its recipient. The opposition to the imperial authority of the Pope and the priests that had prepared the Reformation - in the Sacramentalists’ movement, in the Modern Devotion, and in other sects of the 15th century was transformed in Kant’s philosophy of morals into general and principled rejection of the moral use of all heteronomous law, through this intermediate stage which combined cognitive autonomy with moral heteronomy. The 19th-century modernists deliberately attempted to reinterpret Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings to reflect this basic moral autonomy.15 The pervading tendency was well expressed in the work of Schleiermacher, who defended the thesis that all theological statements were actually statements about human religious consciousness, yet maintained that in the most inner dimension of human consciousness there was an awareness of absolute transcendence which could not be reduced to human autonomy. (If the latter was lost to sight, religion was reduced to anthropology as in Feuerbach.) Inside himself, man experienced his finitude in such a way, that he became aware of the absolute as its condition. The Lutheran paradox of extrinsic righteousness imputed to me from the outside and still
Exemplified, e.g., in a theologian like J. A. L. Wegscheider. Forgiveness of sins is reduced to a growing of hope and confidence with the increase of virtue. Substitutionary sacrifice is contrary to reason and therefore to be rejected; the death of Christ is merely the symbol of the love of God; grace equals a specific form of providence. Justification is true only in so far as it teaches that man is acceptable to God, not through singular deeds and merit but only through an inner conscience directed towards God (Wegscheider uses the term ‘Gemut’). Such a direction of consciousness needs to be ‘exercised.’ In Barth’s judgment: “This is the theology of pure rationalism.” (K. Barth, 1946, p. 407)


experienced within my innermost conscience developed into the paradigm of all human religious consciousness in Schleiermacher’s theory. The relative autonomy of conscience and faith of the 17th century was followed by the absolutist humanism of the 18th. In the era of the Enlightenment the concept of autonomy moved from being one of man’s basic (ontic) characteristics vis-à-vis nature and society to become the ontological notion that defined man and society. Instead of having concrete freedom, to the degree possible for a finite being, man was freedom realized. All in all, this development could not but obscure all elements both in the gospels and in Paul that stressed submission to God and heteronomous obedience. The metaphor of living-in-the-spirit, which Paul had derived from Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant, was continually being read to mean inner, autonomous morality instead of a “movement” of the Spirit extra nos that guided our actions (as if or in reality) from without. And Christ’s teachings were now seen in particular as a breaking away from orthodoxy; i.e., they were valued only in so far as they included a break with established orthodoxy and not in their positive end result. There were other developments as well. Moral autonomy in particular became since the 18th century (Socinians!) a paradigm for a new type of secular theology. Man could only be expected to obey a divine commandment if he at the same time was able to understand such a commandment - or even more, if he was able to construe, purely by the light of his own reason, that he might have issued it himself. Practical, moral autonomy became wedded to cognitive autonomy. The moral life for Kant was now about making choices on the basis of rationally defendable principles. In 19th-century modernism that took its cure from Kant, Christ soon became the example of moral living, both in the sense that the pattern of his ethical life (with a stress on his non-conformity with Pharisaic rules, but as equally congruent with acceptance of social morality) ought to be copied, and in the sense, that he was Himself a mere example of the ethical life that was to be followed. The “positive” or “mythical” form of religion, in which Christ had been this concrete individual man and God (the two-nature doctrine), was to be redeemed by the universality of Christ-in-us. But that implied that the particular nature of Christ’s moral teachings as obedience to the extrinsic reality of the approaching Kingdom


was transcended by the pattern of the inner motivation for “good behaviour”. Concrete ethics was found in keeping the morality of the surrounding culture - since society as such, and not the Church, was the (universal) community that grounded and defined ethics - with the gospel as a particular motivating narrative to do so. In 19th-century modernism it was Paul who got the reputation of turning the moral gospel of Christ into the “magical” (Schleiermacher) doctrine of the God-man becoming the cultic sacrifice for mankind. In the Netherlands, the highpoint of modernism was around 1860 with the work of Reformed theologians J. H. Scholten (1811-1885) and C. W. Opzoomer (1821-1892), and the Mennonite teacher S. Hoekstra (18221898). Hoekstra especially tried to keep the middle ground in the effort to find the synthesis between Christian tradition and modern secular culture, by trying to integrate neither Fichte’s nor Hegel’s idealism into theology – which would lead to variations of pantheism and spiritualism – but by trying to integrate Kantian philosophy. He tried to construct a formal religious a priori based in man’s personality. That personality was not a formal construct but a living person, seen as a developing entity under psychological laws. This made it possible for him to speak about remorse, contrition, rebirth, and the like in a psychological manner. Other Mennonite themes from the past could surface again, like the notion of the redeemed community, now interpreted as a social environment in which man was able to progress in his own inner development from guilt to new moral freedom. Even the idea of the personality of God could find a place with him. Hoekstra’s interpretation of Paul is interesting in this context. Righteousness, according to Hoekstra, does not mean virtue, “but the spiritual condition of someone who is justified by faith, that is, of him whom God has forgiven his sins.”16 The status of the believer is seen as “psychological” or as “spiritual condition,”and not as legal status. Beyond this psychologically based affirmation of Paul’s doctrines, Hoekstra’s rejection of other elements in Paul’s theology is also that of the 19thcentury scientist. The main thought in Christian theology might very well have been that Christ’s blood has been shed unto forgiveness of sins, but “on a scientific standpoint, this is untenable if only because the concept of the relationship

S. Hoekstra, Christelijke Geloofsleer, Amsterdam 1898, part II, p. 202.


between God and the human world as a covenant is only adequate to the rather anthropomorphic concept of God in ancient Israel… [on the contrary this relationship] proceeds from God’s eternal being with strict necessity…and from our spiritual nature. There can be no ‘blood of the covenant’.”17 Hoekstra the psychologist cannot affirm the historical and legal language that the Biblical concept of justification presents to him. In sum, the doctrine of salvation in the Church is a “conglomerate of untrue, often even absurd theses, a doctrine that cannot fail to impress anyone who is not under the spell of theological misconceptions to be lacking in seriousness.”18 To suffer and die for the sake of religious convictions was a pattern of life for Christians and Christ alike. However, the essence of that was a “revelation of their powerful faith and their real moral character.”19 The experience of faith has now become part of man’s psychological nature, historically a recourse to the actual faith of the first Church, and redemption through the Cross has become a general martyrdom for religious convictions, showing the moral fiber of the martyr. The Christ of scriptures was a mental projection of human religious needs and aspirations unto the history of this singular man, Jesus of Nazareth. Behind this tension between an orthodox Paulinism without ethics20 and a liberal moralism (accepting or rejecting some image of Paul) without doctrine lay a cultural difference. From the days of the Enlightenment, Christian culture had become ruptured. On the one hand there was the modernist effort exemplified in Hoekstra and Kant to show that classic Christian symbols were actually in full alignment with the dictates of autonomous reason or else should be rejected as part of an antiquated belief system; on the other there was the conservative attempt to preserve a Biblicist outlook by
Hoekstra, ibid, p. 227 Hoekstra, ibid, p. 233. 19 Hoekstra, ibid, p. 234 20 That of course was the modernist’s way of putting it. After 1870 the response to modernism gained momentum in the movement of Confessional Theology, propagated by A. Kuyper (1837-1920) and H. Bavinck (1854-1921) Against modernism and “mediation-theology” he emphasized that Scripture remained the objective principle of knowledge, based on objective revelation through the Holy Spirit. The subjective principle of cognition was faith, the witness of the Spirit within us. The ethical-psychological method of Hoekstra and others was rejected.
18 17


defending an ultimate congruence with modern rationality or (as in Neo-Calvinism and Confessionalism) propagating a division between Christ and culture. The modern distinction between “fundamentalism” and “liberalism” as tendencies within theology has its roots in the Reformation and Enlightenment periods. But both these tendencies have something in common on which their conflict is based: that we are autonomous, whether in the reception of faith or in the liberty with which we accept and follow the moral demand. In either case we define that moral demand for ourselves. The 19th-century clash between the older Lutheran Orthodoxy and Pietism on the one hand, and the morality and psychology of the Enlightenment on the other, share the basic presupposition that ethics must in some way be grounded on autonomous freedom, either restricted to cognitive and experiential autonomy of faith or broadened to equal moral autonomy or self-determining freedom.


5. The conceptual logic of justification
I have chosen a particular perspective from which to tackle the problems of this development. This study starts with the relationship between what God has done in Christ (usually referred to by the term redemption or “justification”) and the new situation man is brought into and/or what man should be doing as a consequence of that (sanctification, renovatio in Lutheranism, the realm of Christian ethics). My basic question was this: is our response to God’s revelation in Christ a form of obedience to a law – whether after Mosaic law or a “law of Christ” - or a new “spirituality” that grows from the narrative of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, that shapes the source of our attitudes and behavior from within? Does justification lead to life under a new law, a renewed ethics, or a transformation of life? Some combination of these? Or all of the above? Coming from a (Mennonite) tradition that has always stressed the notion that “knowing Christ is to follow Him in life,” i.e., faith is obedience to (the law of) Christ and thus obedience makes one understand who He is, this question takes on a specific shape. We ask whether it is possible to maintain a moral and a cognitive heteronomy in Christian ethics, as indicated by the dictum of Hans Denck. Following Him (moral heteronomy) leads to knowing Him (cognitive heteronomy). Is righteousness in man a passive result of God’s declaration of amnesty and being taken up in the movement of the Spirit? Then we have an extrinsic act establishing cognitive and moral autonomy. And is therefore Christian ethics a pneumatological motivation within an ever changing ethical situation at best? Or does the New Testament teach obedience to the law of Christ, implying the ability to comply with the known will of God through a free act of our own volition? Or does this opposition between the two wrongly state the issue? Because we might see later that to Paul, at least, the presence of the Spirit in man actually constitutes a fulfilling of the law. With regard to the ecclesiological emphasis of our time, the same questions take on a slightly different shape. Is righteousness about moral qualities and behavior (a condition) or does it signify entrance into the covenant community changing our situation? Is it about obedience to the Mosaic law, as interpreted by the ordinances and the law of Christ, mentioned


in the New Testament i.e., a new kind of messianic Torah for a new type of community? And then of course the decisive question: if so, what is this “law of Christ”? What are the ordinances and instructions that shape the life of the Christian community? Against such an emphasis on the difference and concreteness of Christian ethics many have protested. Is Bultmann right in his assertion that the post-Pauline Church slipped back into a moralizing and judaizing attitude that produced a Christian casuistry and lost sight of the righteousness that God revealed in Christ? (Bultmann, 1953, 545) We can also put the question into more classical theological jargon: how are justification by faith and sanctification and/or the Christian life of good works related to each other? In the domain of general ethics, the question might be put differently: is there any specific Christian character in ethics when it is based on justification by faith? Or are Christians committed to the same standard of right and wrong as they find in the societies they are in, better motivated perhaps than others to do the good and avoid the bad? All these questions can be summarized into one: what does Christian obedience mean? We should at this stage first try to understand in broad terms the meaning of the term justification and the inner logic that showed itself in its reception history from the 17th century up to now. Let us consider first what we ordinarily mean by justification by faith, starting with the Reformation period. McGrath21 gives us three distinctive characteristics of the primary Protestant doctrines of justification, as established in the literary output of the theologians of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches over the period 1530-1700: 1. Justification is defined as the forensic declaration by God, proclaimed through the gospel, that the believer is righteous because he is in the right place, rather than by the process in which he is made righteous. Justification involves a change in his status or situation rather than his nature or condition. (In other words: it is basically the divine verdict that someone will be pronounced acquitted in the future judgment and the change in situation for the present that is its consequence.) 2. A deliberate and systematic distinction is made between justification (the external act by which God declares the sinner
Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, A history of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, Cambridge, 1986, vol. 2, p. 2.


to be righteous) and sanctification or regeneration (the internal process of renewal within man). Although the two are treated as inseparable, a notional distinction is thus drawn where none was conceded before. 3. Justifying righteousness, or the formal cause of justification, is defined as the alien righteousness of Christ, external to man and imputed to him, rather than a righteousness which is inherent to him, located within him, or which in any sense may be said to belong to him. God’s judgment in justification is therefore synthetic rather than analytic, in that there is no righteousness within man which can be considered to be the basis of the divine verdict of justification; the righteousness upon which such a judgment is necessarily based is external (extra nos) to man. The most important element in this context is the clear delineation between justification and sanctification whereas Augustine still understood justification to mean primarily: justum facere, i.e., to be made righteous whereby the two concepts remained one. The point of the separation is of course that now no intrinsic righteousness of man can be seen as the basis of God’s declaration of righteousness so that the practical life of sanctification is now no longer a road to salvation but a way of life of the redeemed. In part this functions to fend off notions of self-redemption or a human assistance in God’s work of redemption, and it also fit better into the comparatively gloomy view of human nature that was pervasive in that age. The anthropological notions of the 17th century were well expressed in the doctrine of the fall, which was taken to imply the absolute corruption of man’s nature (though some argued not in man’s essence, but in his accidental qualities). To be able in one’s power to obtain the status of righteous was consistent neither with the high notion of righteousness in itself nor with the prevalent view on man’s inaptitude. Justification by works would imply, so it was understood, that man had “earned” it through his own merits, which was deemed also to be unacceptable within the anthropological understanding of man’s inability to comply with God’s demand and the radical nature of that demand, in itself involving the complete inner submission to God’s will that was taken to be part of the messianic, radical understanding of the law. If justification addressed the situation of man and not his condition, this implied a twofold understanding of sin. Sin in


general is defined as defectus naturae et actionum in naturis intelligentibus, pugnans cum lege (“a defect within the nature and actions of intelligent beings that conflicts with the law”). As peccatum imputatum the original sin is guilt, which is attributed to the nature of man. Man’s actions based on his nature are perverted by the objective situation of his standing guilty before God and if he acts without taking that into account, all his subsequent actions are sinful again. Besides that there is peccatum originale inhaerens (the original sin) that is the reality of sin in man. It was explained as an attitude and direction of human activity that is opposed to God. Through it, human nature was corrupted: Peccatum originale est reatus et corruptio totius generis humani ex lapsu illo primo inde ab origine conceptionis inhaerens. That’s why man was (1) deprived from the good and (2) inclined to all evil.22 This meant that sanctification that related to human behavior, and therefore involved the second notion of sin, could only be seen as a secondary result of justification and as separated from it both in time and in substance. Any connection between the two was of a logical nature, as if a practical deduction: if we are righteous before God by declaration, let us then conform to that and act righteously in every-day reality. Righteousness in practice was motivated by our response to received righteousness: gratitude. But even then, the logic did not fail to produce a still greater emphasis on grace. The “works of gratitude” themselves had to be caused by God, humanity still being unable to respond freely to God’s grace after having been declared righteous. Otherwise the forensic nature of that declaration and eo ipso God’s sovereignty would be compromised. The logic of justification therefore tended to destroy all human liberty in so far it involved spontaneity and thereby reduced man to an object in the hands of God. The doctrine of predestination, especially in its form as “double predestination,” expressed that. Man was elected by God’s sovereign grace either to be saved or to be doomed for eternity. The emphasis shifted from justification by faith to justification of the ungodly expressing a sovereign act of God that remained extrinsic (solo verbo) to the believer expressing the pattern of Christian life even after conversion. The inability to serve God was not removed after
The source of these quotations is: Heppe, die Dogmatik der EvangelischReformierte Kirche, 1958, pp. 254-258.


conversion. The general dynamic of this doctrine can be summarized with reference to Bultmann’s theology as an indicative-imperative transition, whereby elements of the imperative were continually being integrated into the indicative to the point that their distinction got blurred. With such a logic in place, a particular reading of Paul could be developed. Especially Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians were read in this light. It became necessary to make a clear distinction between justification of the sinner (God’s extrinsic and sovereign act dealing with the human situation) and evangelical obedience or sanctification (man’s response, or rather: God’s continued work in the believer, dealing with his condition), even if that distinction could only be made in “conversation” and could not be found in the texts. As we will see, this distinction, though perhaps meaningful in discussion, tends to weaken the intrinsic connection between the two that is apparent in Paul’s terminology and treatment of the matter. Sanctification must neither be interpreted after the pattern of justification so as to maintain a sense of their unity, nor the other way around. What we seek is a concept that will hold the two together in their intrinsic unity without blurring their distinction. What kind of connection is made between justification and ethics? We can clearly hear the distinction between justification and sanctification, e.g., in the words of John Calvin: “I trust I have now sufficiently shown how man’s only resource for escaping from the curse of the law, and recovering salvation, lies in faith; and also what the nature of faith is, what the benefits which it confers, and the fruits [my emphasis] which it produces. The whole may be thus summed up: Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father; and, secondly, being sanctified by his Spirit, we aspire to integrity and purity of life [my emphasis]. “23 So “integrity and purity of life” is something we aspire to on the basis of our having been justified, “being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ.” The concept of sanctification seems to be added to that of justification. The reconciliation referred to

Calvin, Inst. III, 11, 1


here is therefore not a restoration of man’s ability to perform God’s will, that would unite the forensic and the intrinsic meaning of justification, but it does provide the basis for our “aspiring” to it. Calvin wants to make sure it is understood that justification by faith and sanctification by the Spirit belong together, but still he emphasizes that justification is the main pillar of the Christian faith.24 Justification is a full reality at the moment when faith begins (even though it is predestined from eternity), and sanctification starts as a correlated process. The grace of God is not an aid in acquiring inherent righteousness since God’s grace is not a perfection of nature but a radical renewal - but it is an imputation of an alien and undeserved righteousness, a benefit which is conferred by God and experienced by man through faith, i.e., the righteousness of Christ. Or in another imagery: sanctification is in no way a prerequisite of justification, but rather a fruit which it produced over time. It is understood that sanctification has its origin extrinsically, just as justification does. In that way the concept of justification becomes the criterion or the fundament of what can be said about the role of ethics in Christian life, and it determines both the form of evangelical obedience and the shape of the community that is constituted by it. Justification, understood as declarative amnesty, as extrinsic to man, becomes the logical pattern of sanctification. It is this doctrine of justification that provides a specific basis for Christian ethics, since it makes the forensic declaration of righteousness the main pillar of faith and makes sanctification into a process that transforms man from the outside by constant reference to this imputed righteousness. But we must take note that Calvin’s language has no problem with a word like ‘aspires’, which connotes human effort though he states that the process is a gift. Because extrinsic justification defines man’s basic ethical situation, the language of sanctification and obedience can still refer to human endeavor, because it is
A characteristic passage in Calvin is the following: “The shortest transition, however, will be from faith to repentance; for repentance being properly understood it will better appear how a man is justified freely by faith alone, and yet that holiness of life, real holiness, as it is called, is inseparable from the free imputation of righteousness. That repentance not only always follows faith, but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy.” [Italics mine] (Calvin, Institutions, book 3, pg. 682) The connection between justification and sanctification is affirmed, but their relationship is structured along the lines of condition and effect. Menno stresses the simultaneity of both.


understood that this is a consequence of God acting within man, and not man acting on his own. Though Calvin purposed to keep justification and sanctification together, the way he understood both makes it possible to apply the logic of the connection in a different manner. In other words, once you disengage the contents of sanctification from the concept of justification, you possibly lose sight of their intrinsic relationship. In modern, postEnlightenment Protestant thinking, this logic of extrinsic connection has been used to define a new mode of “obedience” as obedience to the voice of inner conscience or moral self-awareness and to express the whole as a relationship between a motivational event or reality and a universal, human ethics. Especially in the early 19th century, the demand for liberation from all external bonds and authorities grew to the point that even Christ as Model or Ideal of human life was put forward only as an external motivation to discover the inner Moral law. Love was set against any kind of external obedience to law. Sola fide was exchanged, one might say, for sola corde (only through the heart), and a moral and inner certitude replaced the response of faith to the Biblical Christ. What was lost here was the Reformation’s insistence that both justification and sanctification were processes and events that originated outside of us, extra nos. (But modernism at least addressed the problem that justification and sanctification were only extrinsically connected.) The logic of justification in the early Reformation had stressed an inner morality consistent with the pattern of faith as gift, as opposed to any kind of outward legality. In this first stage, the doctrine of justification defined the ethical situation as basically extrinsic, as a situation in which man is placed of which his inner faith is merely the awareness; now that same logic (in its third, pietist-modernist stage) produced interiority as the basic inner value and justification as an inner process leading man to autonomous morality. The cognitive autonomy of consciousness that experienced outward grace was gradually strengthened to imply moral autonomy, the inner experience of the “voice of conscience.” When the Enlightenment declared the main essence of humanity to lie in his freedom and defined that freedom in the manner of Leibniz as “having the ultimate ground of being in itself” or in the language of Spinoza as


(participating in) the absolute substance as causa sui, all relational (extrinsic) aspects of human nature were relegated to a place of secondary importance. The relation to God, as the “external” relation per se, external from the human side, that is; immanent from the side of God, was replaced by the God-in-us perspective. In the19th century this development reached its culmination when German idealism made the Spirit, God in His immanence in creation, into the most basic ontological category, and defined it by freedom. The measure of all things was now not only man in his finite, concrete nature (as the 17th-century preenlightenment had tried to show), nor man as a creature of both intellect and corporeality (Kant), but man in so far as he was able to be in the manner of a self-relating closed, monadic identity. Fichte’s concept of the universal monadic ego and Schelling’s vision of the absolute Being beyond our intellect were sides of one and the same coin. Hegel’s conception of the Absolute Spirit as immanence in the world trying to overcome the vestiges of transcendence, which would lead to a secular fulfillment of Paul’s vision of God’s being “all in all,” was the most forceful statement of that enterprise. Through this momentous change in the basic paradigm of theology in the 18th and 19th centuries, not only was the specific nature of Christianity severely weakened, but the logical connection itself between jsustification and ethics, the concept of faith as obedience, was impaired. Justification now became more objectively the cosmic drama of the narrative of Christ, with pedagogical or psychological value only. To quote just one example, Joseph Fuchs wrote: “The specific and decisively Christian aspect of Christian morality is not to be sought first of all in the particularity of categorical values, virtues and norms of various human activities. Rather it resides in the believer’s fundamental Christian decision to accept God’s love in Christ and respond to it as one who believes and loves, as one who assumes the responsibility for life in this world in imitation of Christ, that is, as one who has died with Christ and is risen with him in faith and sacrament thus becoming a new creation.” 25 The point of this passage is that the specific Christian character of ethics resides in the motivational power of the Christian faith as a force that pervades our whole person and

In: Hauerwas, Kingdom, 1983, 57


brings us to give an answer to Gods Grace. Justification had made all of morality, all “good works,” immaterial to salvation, but had kept in its early stages and in Calvin the connotation of (evangelical) obedience. The extrinsic righteousness of Christ led to our being set on the road of obedience to God’s demands, not society’s. But now the concept of justification is seen as a force that motivates and stimulates Christians to a better behavior that was in itself formally defined according to the values and standards of western culture, even if that culture was no longer permeated by Biblical values. Christian values are then not different from other human values in our different societies and are not the private domain of Christians. In a sense, as soon as the connection between biblical sources and Christian ethics was given up because that would constitute “moralism” or a return to a Judaistic worksrighteousness, as soon as justification became an internal event within man’s consciousness and sanctification a matter of character and no longer of outward obedience, there were specified Christian values but no specified Christian behavior. These values could only “work” when they were ingrained in society and practiced in Church. But they got the status of ideas and goals that were ultimately successful only if they were in themselves in conformity with the demands of universal reason. The utopian dream of rationalism replaced concrete obedience to rules and institutions. National societies replaced the counter-community of the Church as the primary environment of Christian values. The development of western European anthropology, with its modern insistence on inner freedom and the role of the state as the embodiment and guarantor of that freedom, took over from scripture as the material source of Christian ethics. That development not only made the Old Testament law and the idea of commandment in itself immaterial for salvation, which was the polemical edge of its inception phase, but it also declared the striving for all works that accord with the principle of obedience to law, or by which man strives for merit, or, in more modern language, that include self-conscious acting according to external rules of behavior, to be in opposition to the very essence of salvation. Salvation was freedom, not bondage, not even to Christ. The antithesis between a cursing law and a liberating grace precluded any possibility of accepting evangelical obedience as an analogy to Torah-


obedience, i.e., as “law of Christ” or as “messianic Torah The more general problem in this connection is whether we can truly ground a Christian ethics by defining it as behavior in accordance with the values prevalent in a society or seen as foundational to the well-being of that society, and our deeming the traditional Christian values to result from compromise in the confrontation between gospel and society. If the elements of forensic and external imputation are taken away from the doctrine of justification because the prevalent anthropology of society has changed, then the result seems to be that the connection between justification and sanctification falls away or is at least modified beyond recognition. If justification is thought of as extrinsic, then sanctification is equally extrinsic, i.e., a process that leads man into a sanctity that is not necessarily identical to that of surrounding society, though Calvin is more adamant that Christian ethics retains its specific character than is Luther. Our disagreement with Calvin might be about the source and the nature of Christian ethics, not that it has a specific character. Calvin applied the logic of justification to the issue of practical sanctification in such a way, that he needed the law to provide its contents, thereby preserving the specific character of Christian ethics. Because however the law also had to function as the incentive for accepting the gospel, as indictment against humanity, the function of the law became intrinsically ambiguous. Justification and sanctification could then never be understood as parts of the same process. When the Reformation made sanctification into the secondary corollary of justification, it provided later centuries with a problem: their change in the appreciation of justification was prompted by changes in anthropology since the 17th century, in particular the Enlightenment, because if justification is intrinsic, a mere corollary of human self-improvement under the guidance of reason, then sanctification implies commitment to society’s values. It might very well be the case, that the change in the understanding of sanctification reversely influenced this reinterpretation of the extrinsic justification into the motivational background of moral behavior. Society’s values changed as well, making a life in accordance with predetermined values of a pre-Enlightenment age more difficult to hold on to, though some tried. The result of the particular connection made between justification and sanctification by 17th-century Reformation


theology was that, with the change in anthropology and social morality, justification had become a motivational pedagogy leading to Christians observing the political and social values of the day. That was particularly true for the 19th century, but this connection between theology of grace and society remained in full force as a prime concern for Christians. In our less optimistic age, political responsibility has become the major paradigm of love for the neighbour, and as a result the Church is seen by many as an instrument of social critique. Liberation theologies of various kinds preach the primacy of action over liturgy and prayer. With respect to the doctrine of justification, and its insistence on the primacy of grace, this meant a decisive change. Salvation was not the free gift of God to the body of believers, and through them a present reality, but consisted in gradual changes within society. Grace could no longer be the pure inner reality of faith, but must be present and active in a real progress in society toward a greater degree of real, social justice. So salvation is never a present reality, it is something we hope for and strive for. It is fundamentally a thing of the future. “Hope” has become one of the major paradigms for Christian thought and living.26 This tendency is reinforced by an alternate change in theological paradigms: the notion that reality counts as it is experienced and not as it is evaluated by faith. Bultmann had argued in 1962 that faith in the existence of God was only possible against experience.27 Now the paradigm shifted away from faith to experience: either grace is a visible experience in the social and political dimension of life, or it is abstract and/or absent. Starting with experience implies starting with man. The quest for God’s grace must begin with determination of the selfexperience of man and his view on his condition. We can only determine in what sense God’s grace is the answer to man’s predicament if we have first established what man’s condition really is. Grace is then defined as liberation from whatever ails and oppresses man. If man is approached from his own (self)experience, his liberation must be empirically concrete, with a
Cf. Pesch, op. cit., 385. R. Bultmann, the translation of this 1962 address was published in 1964 (Jesus Christus und die Mythologie, Hamburg) p. 99, in Bultmann, Existence and Faith, Hodder and Stoughton, 1961
27 26


view to changing the real conditions in which man lives as a social and political being. But the definition of his predicament is then not informed by insight into what grace is, but just the other way round. In this development, four stages can be clearly observed. The classic debate – 16th century In the first stage, justification by faith as opposed to justification by works was the point of disagreement among Catholics, Anabaptists, and Protestants, specifically as regards the objective nature and externality of justification. Differing anthropological and conceptual differences were largely responsible for the variance among their basic views. The Reformed view ran like this: If I was a sinner and justified as such, my faith made me the recipient of external forensic justification; a declaration which set me free. Sanctification was a direct consequence of the life in the spirit that was made possible by the initial amnesty of God’s grace. Justification was the condition of ethics, defining the new situation in which I was placed before God. I remained a sinner, so moral behavior could not involve autonomous action in compliance with the known will of God as expressed in commandments. Still, the motivational force of justification led to specific Christian duties that were added to our common duties under civil government. The Scholastic stage – 17th century Drawing on the same pessimist anthropology and continuing along the lines of searching for the ultimate expression of God’s sovereignty, the Scholastic phase of Lutheran theology came to stress the extrinsic imputation as a declarative, not constitutive act, thereby severing the intrinsic link between justification and sanctification. One of its expressions was double-election theology, in which all vestiges of human cooperation and liberty were denied. One of the responses it provoked was Puritanism, which tried to reconnect the two by stressing the inner experience of faith-conversion as a subjective process The turnover in the 18th and 19th century In its tertiary stage, the doctrine was taken up into a decisively different anthropology, which stressed man’s moral and spiritual freedom. Justification came to express an element of the inner life of man, i.e., the common morality of humanity • • •


could be expressed in a Christian fashion without its being a Christian prerogative. Christian morality was about affirming man’s inner moral nature. In this liberal or Enlightenment stage of the process, specified Christian duties were non-existent. The social and political virtues of the various Christian societies were normative sources for our knowledge of the good. This was the era of modernism. Social and political critique – 20th century Then there was the dawn of a fourth stage. In the sixties of our century, this conformity with social virtues of the day was transformed into a more or less radical position of social critique. Liberation theology defined the life of faith as social activism, striving for the concrete improvement of society, holding on to the hope of a just society but also demanding that part of this hope be realized in the present-day. The exegesis of Paul’s letters in the New Testament remains a source for this fourth approach to Christian ethics. It has been said recently that Paul is an “antinomist” 28 who wants to have nothing to do with laws, whether of a legal or a moral nature. Christian ethics is about being “taken up in the movement of the Spirit," without rules of conduct, not as a task to be performed, but as a reality of the heart.29 Paul’s exhortations are not commandments, but descriptions of Christian spirituality that intend to let others become involved in a new reality. The objective nature of this involvement lies in the social and political critique to which it leads and the rejection of inner experience, including the life of faith, that would stand in the way of this movement toward social reality. Zuurmond’s position conforms to the paradigm of the post-60s theology that we sketched briefly above. This position breaks away from traditional Reformed thought by stressing three things: 1 Justification by faith is not an amnesty for my private sins and is not experienced in an individual emotional
Zuurmond, Vrijheid, 1990, p. 85 Ibid., 83.The position that ethics, as a knowledge of the good that leads to improvement in doing the good, has been disrupted by the justification of the ungodly is a particular emphasis of the school of E. Kasemann. Leander E. Keck, e.g., speaks about the breakdown of ethics. If Christ is the ‘end’ of the law, the goal of ethics is already achieved. (Rechtfertigung, ed. J. Friedrich, 1976, p. 199)
29 28


event. This of course addresses not the doctrines of the Reformers themselves, since Calvin, e.g., is very much concerned with the extrinsic character of the imputed righteousness, and not with the emotional condition in which it is received, but its anti-Wesleyan intent leads to an exaggerated objectivity. Still, at the same time this objectivity is also a matter of experience in the sense that it is oriented toward the real political experience of freedom. 2 Justification by faith does not refer to “private” faith, but faith is understood as a personified power that works within the congregation. So in conjunction with the removal of the individual experience, the emphasis now falls on the social dimension of the gospel, and faith is “objectified” to become a descriptive term of a historical movement or a tendency in what happens. 3 Justification is not about the final state of man before God, not something that will be real in the future, but is about the present of a community: it is about creating the conditions in which we can live as free human beings.30 That sentence refers directly to the a priori value of being a “free human being” and takes the social dimension as the condition for experiencing that freedom. If “hope” plays a role here, it is still an expression of the reality of salvation in terms of hope. Thus it is to be distinguished from the orientation to the future that is, e.g., present in classical Marxism, in that it does not accept a preliminary stage on the road to salvation. As a consequence of such a position, and increasingly so as the doctrine moves from its classical to its modern variants, there emerges a clear antithesis to morality as such, let alone biblical morality, which is argued as non-existent. Morality belongs to “this” world as long as it expresses itself in the imperative. The new life can only be expressed by transcending the command and its shape of obedience and heteronomy, i.e., only by using a morally inspiring narrative. Christian freedom was once understood as freedom from powers of sin leading to a particular kind of new obedience, but this obedience was declared to be a gift of God in faith, i.e., in the “inner man”, and not a task or duty presented as a goal for man’s activity. This understanding of obedience as “internal” was the key for the development that followed. The moral

Zuurmond, ibid., 78-79.


perspective that goes with it would describe obedience as an act of the will in conformity to the will of another, making the question of who is obeyed, who is Lord, the primary one. Obedience implied submission to authority. But the modern notion of freedom as exercised within a community is felt to be inconsistent with a morality that defines a priori limitations to the exercise of that freedom. It is sometimes held, as a popular belief and axiom, that there can be only legal restraint, which must ultimately be grounded upon the necessity to ensure that different freedoms do not destroy each other. The freedom that is exercised in the shape of submission to scripture must of necessity now seem to be an alienation and a bondage under external powers. In conformity with Luther’s renewal of Paulinism, modern Lutheran theologians like Bultmann not only reiterate the position that “good works” are mere straw since they only address the outward behavior (the “legality”), but add to this that the underlying attitude (the motivational side of acquiring merit to Luther, of being self-centered in Bultmann) is itself sinful. Zuurmond posits a pneumatic ethos as a direct opposite of “morality” whereby the latter only has meaning in those practical circumstances where decisions must be made concerning right and wrong. So freedom is not understood as self-centered, as in the early half of the 19th century in German idealism. Rather, it is the eccentric rather than the egocentric freedom of man that places him in essential relationships, that is deemed to be the core essence of this human freedom. The modern concept of individual, inward autonomy is changed to mean independence from everything that is not contributive to the welfare of the social whole to which one belongs. It is that social whole that becomes the bearer of a collective autonomy. The pneumatic ethos in Zuurmond’s reading of Paul is a social ethos, but, in distinction from Yoder, it is no longer a morality. It is a description of God’s work in man beyond his inner experience focusing on the community, and not a concept of a condition granted to man enabling him to respond in a specific and prescribed manner to God’s will. The general outcome of this entire development of the concepts of justification and sanctification, as they moved beyond Calvin’s effort to separate them “in conversation” but hold them together experientially, is that Christians would have


no special insights toward a better morality, they would only be motivated differently in seeking to conform to the standards of modern society. The contents of such ethics would still be derived from a universal human condition and be grounded in the practical possibilities of political freedom, not in the commandments of the eschatological Kingdom. The Kingdomethos would be a force that moves us beyond such matters of morality and legality and, to some extent, beyond all practical matters of good and evil.


6. Justification as the ethical condition
The most fervent advocates of the doctrine of justification (now stressing the justification of the ungodly as in Rom. 4:5) can be found in the school of Rudolf Bultmann, in particular E. Käsemann. Here we find the statement that this doctrine really is the canon in the canon, repeating the Lutheran insistence that justification is the issue on which the Church stands or falls. In particular this defense of the Lutheran thesis contends that justification is not part of Paul’s disagreement with Jewish Christians on the issue of “boundaries”, as has been defended recently by Sanders, and James Dunn; at the same time it tries to develop a position that goes beyond the anthropocentric (existentialist) presuppositions of Bultmann’s own position.31 I will illustrate the inner structure of the modern argument in favor of the individual justification-doctrine by briefly summarizing the position of one of Käsemann’s pupils. In 1976 Leander E. Keck published his contribution to the Festschrift in honor of E. Käsemann under the title: “Justification of the Ungodly and Ethics.” The article deals with a lot of issues, including the question of what is to be seen as the center of the New Testament and the role of canon history in finding the core message of the gospel. I want to focus, however, on the main issue of the article, which is the question of how justification and ethics are related. According to Keck, the doctrine of justification deals with the core problem of Christian ethics. Paul’s key contribution to ethics is not that he answered the questions that have traditionally been seen as the definition of ethics since Kant: What must I do? and, How can I know it? Paul focuses on the third question of Kant’s ethics: What is man? Paul “transforms the situation of the doer.” That is consistent with the former conclusion that a major difference between Anabaptism and the Reformation lies specifically in the area of the anthropological presuppositions of the doctrine of justification and ties in with the postEnlightenment emphasis on justification as about character or being and not about deeds. The key problem in ethics, according to Keck, is the dichotomy of “condition” versus “situation.” Is it true that justification changes the situation and

Cf. Pesch, 1981, p. 356-359


not the doer himself? To 1st-century Judaism, the answer to the first two Kantian questions would have been: Torah. The Mosaic law both tells us what to do and how to prepare for doing it. The Torah is many things, civil law, cultic law, ethical exhortation and moral pedagogy. It therefore details a system of restoring the unwitting sinner, the one who sinned because of ignorance. It was equally positive that sins, perpetrated with intent and knowledge of evil had no means of being atoned for unless they were punished and in that sense it kept a condemning edge, though Rabbinic literature expanded the efficacy of repentance to such a degree that it worked for almost everything. Now to Keck, the issues of law and of ethics become interwined to form one and the same argument. Paul took up the matter of law by arguing that (1) all are under the curse of the law since no one is able to do all that the law has commanded (Gal. 3:10), and (2) the law gives us knowledge of sin, but it does not give us the power to abstain from evil. The law is weakened by and even perverted by the flesh. The power of sin actually abuses the law to promote sin. That is not a problem of the law in itself, but a problem of the human condition vis-à-vis the law. “The utter perversity of sin is manifested precisely in its ability to work death by means of the good and life-promising law.”32 So the problem with the law and all ethics of obedience is that its situation (the being “under” the law; freedom having to obey) does not harmonize with the condition of the moral subjects under it. Still, the law makes a promise of life. It states that disregarding what needs to be done has serious consequences, and it posits that doing what is commanded is validated by God, who controls the consequences of any act. In short, law and ethics both make an assumption with regard to the “moral order” as a concurring “situation” that takes the weak condition of man into consideration. “A God who would or could not vindicate the good and the right of which He is the ground is either immoral or incompetent.” Seen against that background, divine Mercy must then consist in forbearance and patience in the face of human failure. Grace can be seen as a moderation of the human situation with respect to obligation. Jew and gentile are only different in this respect because the Jew has the knowledge of the good in the Torah and can

Friedrich, op. cit. p. 202.


therefore rightfully pass judgment on others because of their ignorance of the law, and the gentile is “still asking the ethical question,” but apart from that both “construe the ground of the good to be commensurate with what they are trying to do.” So the law makes the question: What to do? the most basic question and separates people into those who know and those who do not know the answer to it, the latter then being unable to comply with the demand. We must note in passing that to Keck the law still figures prominently in this model of “moral order” as a system of rules of behaviour, punishments and rewards. No effort is made to understand the law from its inner core as means of reconciliation, as if Leviticus 16 dealing with the Day of Atonement were not an integral part of it. From the outset, the law is not taken as “Torah” (instruction), but as “lex.” If God nevertheless vindicated the condemned Jesus, Keck continues; if God resurrected a Jesus who despite his complete compliance with Mosaic law had become cursed under that same law by hanging from a tree because that was the punishment for those who broke the law and opposed it, then there is a righteousness beyond law and ethics. The situation rather than the condition of man has been changed decisively. Christ’s death proves that the situation of man under the law will not work the good, because it cannot address human weakness. So now the good as known is no longer a reliable guide to answering the question of what to do. The problem of ethics is no longer solved by changing the condition alone (by preparing man for obedience) because that is a hopeless enterprise, nor by ignoring the human condition and changing the situation (by removing the law), but only by changing man’s moral condition and his situation under the law both at the same time. More to the point: the clue to the improvement of the condition of man is no longer given in the situation of man under the law. Right relationship to God is no longer based on the presumption that knowing the good is knowing the Creator. God is not the guarantor of the moral order if God justifies and resurrects someone whom the law must condemn. So it is no longer our achievement that grounds moral judgment, since Jesus in terms of the moral order failed to accomplish anything. If God vindicates Jesus, then it must be said that God justifies the ungodly, not those who are perfect in terms of the moral


order or the law. For Jesus was vindicated Himself after taking the place of sinners, effectively by dying the death of a sinner. The right relationship to God is therefore not based on trust in God as the basis of the moral order, but on trust in a God who transcends that moral order and in doing so frees mankind from its obligation, because that obligation only strengthened the power of sin under which man suffered. If this is the new basis for ethics, then the moral demand gets a new face. The justification of the ungodly becomes the decisive context of ethics and as a consequence ethics is no longer an issue of harmonizing the situation of man before God under law with the human condition. It means that the good can now be done • without calculating the effect of the good that is to be done; (because there is no moral order any more that can ground such calculation) • with the understanding that doing it does not add to or supplement what one is; (so the situation of man before God is detached from his actions) • in freedom from self-regard and egocentric motivations; • without fear of the judgment of others; • with a new ability to return good for evil and to accept suffering. (That implies an enablement to live beyond the dictates of moral law in sacrificial love.) So Keck can conclude: “...for Paul ethics is not a matter of paraenesis for the justified, but rather the justification of the ungodly transforms the ethical situation of the doer with respect to the obligatory good and its ground.”33 We have been investigating the general structure of the various doctrines of justification for a specific purpose: to find the inherent logic with which these doctrines approach or define the problem of Christian ethics. In the Reformed tradition, justification by faith basically means the imputation by God of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, who thereby receives amnesty for his sins and is declared guiltless in the sight of God. Having obtained such a once-and-for-all pardon, man gets the possibility to start a new life, on which, however, his salvation does not depend. The moral order, as Keck would say, is rendered invalid. Ethics, then, in practice involves obeying both human and divine authority, but the criterion for

Friedrich, op. cit. p. 209.


Christian ethics remains the inner submission of man to God’s grace. The imperative in a way follows the indicative. Such is the basic pattern of the Reformed understanding of the doctrine. A bleak anthropology and misgivings about human spontaneity and liberty accompany a tendency to increase the inherent force of the concept of God’s sovereignty to the extent that, finally, we play objective parts in an unfolding divine drama. Catholic teachings emphasize, however, that this justification is not merely declarative, but also constitutive. Justification refers, beyond amnesty, to a process of transformation from the condition of wickedness to the state of righteousness and to God’s grace in preparing man for a renewal of life. In this perspective there is no contradiction between affirming God’s grace and demanding works of obedience as well. Grace is seen as enabling and perfecting, human response and cooperation is still needed to obtain full salvation. But this grace is dispensed through the institution of the Church: in sacraments and works of obedience to Church law. Mennonite doctrines, though using much of the language of Reformed (Lutheran) teachings, are closer to Catholic doctrine on this point in their 16th-century shape. Menno Simons in particular combines justification as God’s forensic act in grace that changes the status of the believer, and as the operative grace that transforms and re-creates man, into one single experiential concept: repentance, the betterment of life. The amendment of life becomes indistinguishable from conversion and faith. In the balance between sanctification and justification, sanctification becomes not only the dominating concept, but it also serves as the point of departure for the understanding of the basis, nature, and goal of justification, without becoming identical to it. Most importantly, the Anabaptists did not share the anthropological assumptions of the Reformers, and instead accepted an amended Augustinian doctrine: the liberty of fallen mankind was restored to allow a free decision for or against God to take place. Their insistence on believers’ (adult) baptism and their doctrine of a possible relapse of believers into sin was grounded in that. In that sense, they had a Christological basis for their anthropology and did not use the categories of natural theology: it was Christ who in his propitionary sacrifice made free acceptance of the gospel, conversion as an act of human will, possible.


Later we find in various Confessional statements the increasing tendency to express a separate doctrine of justification conforming to general evangelical-Protestant teachings, but at the same time maintaining the emphasis on sanctification, repentance, and renewal that separated Menno’s teachings, e.g., from those of Luther. The emphasis on the visible Church and concrete obedience in the sense of submission of the free and unhindered will of man under God, is made possible again by the specific notion that Christ’s work implied a liberation of the will for all of mankind. The experiential and ethical side of the life of faith cannot be separated from the declarative element of amnesty and pardon that is part of redemption also. In contemporary theology, the school of Bultmann, in particular his pupil Käsemann, have maintained a vigorous insistence on the justification of the ungodly as the main emphasis of the biblical message. That has consequences for ethics, since it redefines the moral situation as such. The believer must be removed from the old moral order where his deeds are weighed against the standard and where knowledge of the good is the essential prerequisite of doing what is demanded. The essential feature of Christian ethics is the doing of the good because of its inherent nature and not on the basis of obedience to God, or on the basis of the acquisition of merit, or on respect for the standard. We argued that L. Keck, who defended this doctrine in the early seventies, has actually made a Kantian approach to morality the basic notion behind Paul’s doctrine. The social dimension of ethics and the insistence on obedience fall away because of the identification of ethics with the concept of law in Paul. In the one example of a modern Anabaptist theology that we will discuss (J. H. Yoder’s), Christ’s teachings of a new righteousness are developed as a Christian ethics, giving paramount importance to the Sermon on the Mount though again restating general allegiance to a justification-by-faith position. By taking up the exegetical insights of the seventies, Yoder manages to steer clear of the older grace-law antithesis still found in the Bultmann school. The law gives life, and does so for the Church as well, the voluntary nature of keeping the law and the changed social situation (the law is to be fulfilled by a community that rejects all social distinctions) defines the social ethics of the Church. So here justification comes to mean the process of peaceful integration of Jews and gentiles into a


community that serves God according to the messianic pattern. In this approach, the justification of the ungodly is only minimally present and we can see an overemphasis on the element of sanctification, though it is not connected with individual achievements, but to social ethics.



7. A common understanding of justification
Most often we find that a discourse on justification starts with an anthropology. We state as our first premise that man is a sinner and that this is a defining trait of human beings. His tendency to evil is so ingrained in his being that no effort on his part will be able to solve the problem of his inner weakness and immoral tendencies. At most, he is able on his own to curb his immoral desires outwardly or to be restrained by fear of violent retribution. Even in his positive tendencies, in his love for offspring and parents, there are traces of egoism and selfserving evil that make him less than perfect even in that. If man is understood like this, he is part of the problem of evil in this world and not part of the solution. “Nobody is righteous”, Rom. 3:10. Most often this is accompanied by an exaggeration of the demand of the Mosaic law. William Romaine could write about young believers’ ignorance of the full demand of the law, tempting them to legalism: Secondly, from their ignorance of the law. They are not acquainted with its nature; for it demands what they cannot pay. It insists upon an obedience, spiritual, perfect, and uninterrupted; for the least offence, if but in thought, it comes with its fearful sentence. "Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." On him who does not continue in all things, and not one man ever did, this sentence takes place; and if he was to live a thousand years, he could not do anything to repeal it. The law will always be to him the ministration of condemnation, and the ministration of death, and that is all it can do for him. It provides no remedy, and gives him no hope, but leaves him condemned to the first and to the second death; and yet, such is the blindness of the sinner, that he will be still leaning to the law, and afraid to trust wholly to the righteousness of Christ.34 Man obviously does not live up to the perfect standard that God has set for him; creation is a broken reality, in need of redemption. Not only in his individuality, but more particularly in his social organizations, ranging from the “natural” life of families, tribes, nations to the social institutions of the state that are meant to curb his evil passions, man is unable to redeem

Cf. William Romaine, (1714-1795), The Legal Spirit Slaine.


himself. And even if he did reach a condition of controlled evil, this would not alleviate the more basic fact that man as such is estranged from his creator in his innermost being. Not only part of him, but his whole being is alienated from its intended condition. Man is a sinner before God and not only before his fellow-humans. Man is unable to do good. And the solution does not lie in the institutions that restrain him, but in a change of both his condition and his situation before God. As the “Puritan Catechism” states: 17. Q. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that state whereunto man fell? A. The sinfulness of that state whereunto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, (Romans 5:19) the want of original righteousness, (Romans 3:10) and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin, (Ephesians 2:1; Psalms 51:5) together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it. (Matthew 15:19) We are guilty, unjust and corrupt, weak and unable to redeem ourselves. We are under the power of sin and even our conscience is unable to be our guide. After all, I might know what is good, and yet find myself unable to do it (Cf. Romans 7). Sin is the human condition: it is the inability to do good and the corruption of my will and conscience so that I do not do what I can know as good. We can find the same kind of anthropological condemnation of humanity in other catechisms as well. The gospel Luther taught may be summarized by this quotation from his Small Catechism: For when we had been created by God the Father, and had received from Him all manner of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil, so that we fell under His wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, as we had merited and deserved. There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God in His unfathomable goodness had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness, and came from heaven to help us. Those tyrants and jailers, then, are all expelled now, and in their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation, and has delivered us poor lost men from the jaws of hell, has won us, made us free, and brought us again into the favor and grace of the Father, and has taken us as His own property under His shelter and


protection, that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.” Here we find a different emphasis, not on our condition, but on our situation. It is release from captivity, from the bondage of sin and death and salvation from eternal damnation that gets the prime attention. The situation described therefore does not sound like an anthropology at all, but like a fundamental theological statement of our situation before God. Sin therefore, defines man not only in his anthropological condition but also in his theological situation. The first describes man’s inability and corruption as something intrinsic to man, the second his status of alienation from God and of being captive to forces outside himself. Both the human condition and the human situation are therefore to be defined as ‘sin.” Still, whether the statements focus on the condition or the situation of man, the complete weakness and absolute inability of man to stand before God equals the emphasis on the brokenness of creation and the power of sin that was expressed in the Westminster catechism. God is unable because of His character of absolute righteousness to let pass the sins of man. There is an absolute necessity for justice. He must remain true to the law and punish the sins of man and can only do so by condemning man to (eternal) death. If God wants to redeem man, He cannot overlook the demand of justice. It is not his “metier” to forgive, as Voltaire had put it. The price that God demanded for this satisfaction must be fully congruent with the debt that mankind had incurred for its sins. Most of all, sin was an offense against God’s majesty and honor. Divine grace had to comply with the demand for justice in order to be operational in the forgiveness of humankind. And now comes the main point. Into this dismal state of affairs God wanted to bring a decisive change; faith affirms a historical initiative on the part of God. There is another basic determination of mankind: man is a created being, intended by his Creator to be good and to live by his relationship with God. The existing anthropological condition of man is neither his original state nor is it desired that he remain like that. If man was unable by his own obedience to God’s revealed will to redeem himself, then only God’s initiative could bring it about. God therefore had to reveal Himself both in His justice and in His infinite mercy and did so through the Cross of Jesus Christ.


For sin to be removed, it had to be atoned for. Only death could remove intentional sin. On the cross, Jesus Christ died as the expiatory offering for all and the substitutionary offering for all believers, at the same time satisfying God’s demand for justice and expressing His merciful love for mankind. Behind this is a reference to the idea that grounds the sacrificial theology of the Old Testament: that sins (unintentional transgressions against the covenant law) can be symbolically imputed to an innocent animal and then are removed through the death of the animal, i.e., are removed from history and are no longer part of the (moral) life of the perpetrator. Extending this imagery to include all sins (and not merely sins by mistake; intentional sins were ultimately atoned for by the death of the perpetrator) and combining it with the notion of the martyr’s death that atoned for the sins of the whole people, the human sacrifice of Christ could be seen along those lines as expiatory sacrifice. This sacrifice for all sin had to be the eternal Son of God, because only a divine intermediary is able to die in someone else’s place and to be completely innocent and free from sin at the same time. Through Christ, then, the ethical condition of man changed, since all guilt and sin have been removed to satisfy Gods justice, and for all those who accept in faith that God has worked through Christ, this expiation becomes a personal reality: God reckons our faith as righteousness, by imputing Christ’s righteousness on the Cross unto the believer granting him a new life in communion with his creator. No effort on man’s part is necessary to obtain this forgiveness, only the sovereign act of election and redemption by God. The believer is therefore justified by faith and not by works of the law. A typical expression of this atonement theory can be found in this quotation from a modern Baptist preacher. “The real issue is this—What did Jesus Christ do? Did the Son of God die to make salvation a possibility for all men, or did he make an infinite satisfaction to divine justice, accomplishing the eternal redemption of his people? The modern theory of the atonement is this, the Lord Jesus Christ died at Calvary to make it possible for all the people of the world to be saved, though he did not actually secure and make certain the salvation of any. And when any sinner believes on Christ, the blood of Christ becomes powerful and effectual to save him. This notion makes the blood of Christ a dormant and useless thing until the sinner's faith makes it meritorious and


effectual. But what does the Word of God say? If there is anything plainly taught in the Bible, it is this, the Lord Jesus Christ did actually put away the sins of his people, and did actually obtain eternal redemption for us when he poured out his life's blood unto death at Calvary (Rom. 3:24-26; II Cor. 5:21 Heb. 9:12,26).”35 The doctrine, summed up catechetically and in its general Protestant version above, is not a marginal issue within Christianity. According to Alister McGrath, a variant of such a doctrine of justification is the “real center” of the theological system of the Christian Church, which betrays a certain Protestant emphasis.36 Without “proclaiming, in word and sacrament, the truth of what God has done for man in Christ,” the community of faith cannot exist. To be more precise, the doctrine aims at explaining how God has set man into a new relationship to himself. It is a description of God’s redeeming acts in Christ and therefore expressive of the essence of the gospel. Before we go into the issue of sanctification, the ethical condition that is defined by this doctrine of justification, we need to understand in particular how this doctrine differs from competing approaches to salvation. McGrath may be right that this doctrine is at the center for Protestants of Lutheran and Calvinist persuasion, but it might also be called the greatest stumbling block, since no other issue has so divided the Church as this one. Justification has been discussed as identical to, or at least as intrinsically connected to deification through the Spirit (Eastern-Orthodox tradition) and righteousness through faith and works (Anabaptist tradition); as grace perfecting nature (Catholic tradition); in connection with the nature of repentance and conversion, becoming the bone of contention between Lutherans and Anabaptists; as a prerequisite of sanctification with the rise of Calvinism; as a secular optimist ideology of man’s divinely received goodness in modernism; as part of the vision of the eschatological Kingdom in contemporary social theology. Each of the three words in “justification by faith” has been understood in as many ways as there are participants in
Don Fortner, Enemies of the Cross. Internet publication. 4 July, 1999 found on http://www.sovereign-grace.com/145.htm. 36 Cf. J. Heinz, Justification and Merit, Michigan, 1981, pp. 33- 37 who shows with quotations from Catholic authors, that the issue is not considered as central to the Christian faith by all.


the theological debate. We must give our inquiry a more specific starting point: what then is the general outline of the Reformed view on justification?


8. Justification as the pattern of sanctification
The question before us is how Reformed doctrine explained God’s response to the situation and condition of man. The Reformation took the doctrine of justification by faith to be the center of Pauline theology and thereby as the center of the gospel of Christ. “Justification” was considered a “legal fiction” because it involved the act of amnesty on the part of God, based on the righteousness of Christ as its external ground, that was imputed to believers. It was not a declaration of righteousness based on any intrinsic quality of the believer. Imputed righteousness remained very much disconnected from any objective and empirical achievement by the believer, since man could not win God’s favor through works of the law or by any other merit (not even in the sense that the intrinsic righteousness of the elect after being sanctified by God in the eschatological future was the real basis of His declaration in the present). In the words of the 17th-century Westminster Confession of Faith, God justified by “pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their person as righteous.”37 It was similarly stressed that not even faith, through which justification was gained, could be counted as a work of merit, since faith was a gift of God and not “an act of believing or any other evangelical obedience.” Of course, we must not take this notion of legal “fiction,” which means to exclude any intrinsic righteousness of the believer, to imply that justification has no basis in reality at all. God justifies man based on a substitutionary atonement that is very much real. The declaration of amnesty is a judgment in truth, though the righteousness on which it is based is alien and imputed and is intrinsically that of another person, i.e., Christ. The so-called imputation is, however, not merely declarative,

The German word Rechtfertigung as used by Luther and Melanchthon has a decidedly legal sense that is somewhat lost in modern usage. To justify also meant: to declare or prove one’s innocence in a court of law. To justify on the side of the judge implied the execution of justice on the culprit. A ‘sharp’ justification meant torture; ‘painful’ justification implied execution by hanging. Christ, in such parlance, is then the one who is subjected to a punishment brought upon Him by the execution of justice. (Cf. Pesch, 1981, p. 135)


but also constitutive.38 It signifies the beginning of a process of sanctification of which man’s evangelical obedience is the visible sign. If “imputation” is not about reality but a mere legal fiction, then it would make no sense to speak of Adam’s sin being imputed to his posterity (so Rom. 5:12, 15 in this way of reading), nor of the imputation of the sins of the believers unto Christ. In these cases it would not be sufficient to take imputation to mean “declaration” only. So the language of “legal fiction” must not lead us astray here: Reformed doctrine might use legal metaphor, but it is very much aware that it is precisely that. The legal metaphor is a description of a spiritual reality. To Luther, the declaration is a creative judgment, a “making righteous by declaring righteous.” As a consequence one might say, that to Luther, not only justification is by grace alone, but also sanctification is by grace alone. The pattern of justification (extrinsic, solo verbo, on the basis of God’s sovereign act alone) was the pattern of sanctification as well. What was then the connection between justification as extrinsic act and the works of faith? In principle, the forensic and the effective dimension of justification were not separated sharply in Luther’s or Calvin’s time. Justification could also comprise the entrance of the believer into the community of the Church, in which the justified could be counted as one of the just and be transformed by the creative force of the Spirit. The strict usage would refer to imputed righteousness, meaning that God would not remember the sins of the believer, would give to him the righteousness of Christ, and would reckon him to be righteous because of Christ’s righteousness. Though Luther sometimes accentuates this forensic element, there is at least an eschatological dimension of justification in its wider usage, in which the
Melanchthon, especially, made the forensic-imputative interpretation of justification into the cornerstone of his theology. Man was declared righteous. Osiander had emphasized against Melanchthon that man was also made righteous. Along the same lines the Council of Trent had used the concept of justification to be inclusive of sanctification. In the logic of Melanchthon the language of sanctification, renewal and transformation was a consequence of justification, Osiander had taught that it was simultaneous. Only Catholic doctrine seemed to have made the declaration of righteousness into a means of becoming righteous, thereby taking up the logic of justification into the wider concept of sanctification. If sanctification means a subjective-moral improvement, it would be at odds with imputative justification, but Catholic doctrine usually refers to an objective-ontic sanctification that is effected by God.


believer will become intrinsically and fully righteous (cf. Pesch, 1981, p. 130). Besides that, however, Luther often expressed that faith is the most basic act of a person, and has its centre in his behaviour. To Luther, the declaration of righteousness was a creative judgment.39 As we have seen, such a doctrine, which flows from the founding event of Christianity, must of necessity become the only foundation of discipleship and Christian obedience, the very heart of Christian ethics. From this central doctrine, all forms of obedience are seen as the fruits of gratitude, resulting from the fact that the justification takes us out of fallen creation and sets us apart. One of those fruits might be a specific ascesis: we make use of the world as if we do not use her to the full (1 Cor. 7:29-31) and the children of the wedding party will fast after the bridegroom is no longer with them (Cf. Matth. 9:15). All our works get the character of witness, they are demonstrations of our trust in God, anticipatory to His promise of a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). Prayer, obedience, and patience are the ingredients of this sanctification that is expressed more as inward than as outward reality. Ascesis then becomes a general attitude of response to a changed situation: our being in the world as a provisional state. The Reformation, of course, particularly opposed the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, which it considered to be unclear (Luther against Augustine) or false (Luther against Thomas Aquinas) on the issue of man’s cooperation with God’s grace, allowing human merit to become grounds for redemption. That is presumably why the doctrine got such a polemic edge in the expression “by faith alone,” which formula was nowhere in the Bible except in Luther’s translation and possibly also in James’s rejection of popular Paulinism. The centrality of the doctrine is therefore in this sense a specific characteristic of the Reformation. Yet, without this doctrine or any other vision of what God has done for man in Christ, there can be no Christian Church, as McGrath has reminded us. For in the gospel, as Paul put it, the righteousness of God is revealed from (God’s) faith to (human) faith and it is that
Cf. E. Schlinck, Theologie der lutherischen Bekenntnisschriften, Munich, 1948. “Denn Gottes rechtfertigendes Urteil ist niemals ‘nur’ Urteil, sondern dieses Urteil setzt Wirklichkeit.”, p. 140.


message which has the power of salvation to every one that believes (Rom. 1:16, 17). Such a clear statement on the core message of the gospel could hardly be ignored. The emphasis on the revelation of God’s righteousness and the act of justification as extrinsic to the person of the believer has profound consequences for theology and ethics. Through it, the Church inherited the problem of the disjunction of the teachings of Christ with the doctrine of His person and work. The life of Jesus and His relationship to 1st-century Judaism, and the gospel of God’s Kingdom as He preached it, could then only be understood as a preparatory stage in the unfolding of the gospel as Paul understood it to be. Paul’s word of the risen Christ, that we “do not know Him any longer according to the flesh” summarizes that viewpoint. One of its main characteristics is the position that the Sermon on the Mount was meant to increase the awareness of our inability to perform works of the law, and was not meant to function as a code for actual obedience. Furthermore, beginning from such an interpretation of justification, the development of an early Christian ethics and casuistry, as exemplified, e.g., in James, Barnabas, and Clement, can then only be seen as a return to legalism. The soteriological emphasis of Paul is perceived to give way to a disconnected doctrine of “good works.” This vestige of Judaism must then be a return to (in a theological sense) pre-Pauline ideas of unclear Jewish-Christian origin, or the result of the Christian-Jewish debate, and in either case a major deviation from the gospel. For any doctrine of good works that does not begin with justification as an extrinsic act of God leads to a denial of God’s saving act in Christ, and it therefore endangers the very heart of the gospel. Human righteousness and divine redemption are seen to be mutually exclusive. This does not mean that the value of good works is denied, but that they are interpreted as a consequence or expression of faith. Faith itself is “the true fulfilling of the First Commandment” (Luther).40 Without faith, good works do not justify. But with
Cf. Luther: “And this faith, faithfulness, confidence deep in the heart, is the true fulfilling of the First Commandment; without this there is no other work that is able to satisfy this Commandment. And as this Commandment is the very first, highest and best, from which all the others proceed, in which they exist, and by which they are directed and measured, so also its work, that is, the faith or confidence in God’s favor at all times, is the very first, highest and best, from which all others must proceed, exist, remain, be directed and


faith, good works are not performed as if they stood on their own. Faith is the commander in the process, work only the witness. The work itself needs no commandment, it occurs by itself with the Christian. And all emphasis on works in the synoptics is merely intended to warn the believers not to neglect their obedience. All deeds of man need an inner connection to the principle of faith that “outward” works of prayer, fasting, acts of repentance etc. never have. Whether they are considered to be effectively provoked by gratitude or obedience, they have faith, i.e., the inner certainty and acknowledgment of God’s righteousness in Christ, as their principle. They are outward expressions of an inner acceptance of an objective reality, and that inner reality is the will of man which is obsessed with God’s will, not the will of man acting independently and of its own accord in conformity to the will of someone else. They are in that sense emphatically not intended as works of obedience. Christian ethics as concerned with works of faith implies nothing less than a change in the ontological status of human freedom. Nevertheless, works are the sign of living faith (James 2) that works the good through love. So the result of living faith is a life of works that show and express the inner faith. In principle, therefore, justification, though in itself an extrinsic act of God and a legal fiction, is not just an objective change of our legal position before God. It leads by necessity to a subjective transformation as well, which is then shown by outward acts insofar as they are in conformity with faith. This can be shown from a passage from Luther’s introduction to the letter to the Romans, where he states: “Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It does not stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to
measured. Compared with this, other works are just as if the other Commandments were without the First, and there were no God.” Luther (1520), pp. 112-113.


do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever.”41 If faith in this sense is the source of good works, it is indeed something else than obedience, which must be aware of what is demanded before doing it. Obedience, by contrast, would not be constant, and would not work without being asked, and, most importantly, it would include an awareness of being motivated to act from within. The commandments are seen as the extrinsic and direct motive for obedience, and the concept of such an obedience seems to imply a self-centered awareness of duty. In this self-awareness of acting upon a commandment, faith seems to be violated, since it necessitates that man be directed to himself instead of to God. If faith is the transformation of inner man (hearts, spirits, thoughts and powers), then the works of faith can never be separated from life. Faith, then, is the total condition of inner man in his transformation by God, and as such is the standard of good works. John Dillenberger said it as follows: “In faith, man stands before God in the light of grace. For him, even at his best, there is no other possibility. Hence, for Luther, good works are not determinative of one’s relation to God; they follow from faith as day follows night, as good fruit comes from a good tree. Where there are no works, there is no faith; the seriousness and joy of belonging to God are not known.”42 So works flow from faith and are the consequence of it. It is obvious that Luther was adamant that works and faith go together. But the problem lies in the relationship that the believer has with his works: However, the temptation of the believer is to look at the works, which he does in faith, and suddenly to reinstitute works and merit as a new form of slavery in the very citadel of the freedom of the gospel. For Luther, the ethical rigor of the New Testament and of the law should convince the Christian that he, too, is still sinner. The emphasis on “faith alone” is meant to intervene where
Martin Luther's Definition of Faith: An excerpt from "An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans," Luther's German Bible of 1522 by Martin Luther, 1483- Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith, Dr. Martin Luther’s Vermischte Schriften. Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63 (Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp.124-125. [EA 63:124-125] August 1994 42 From: Introduction to Martin Luther: Selections from his writings, John Dillenberger, Anchor Books, 1991, p xxix.


man might try to impose “works of grace” as a new kind of obedience that does not flow from faith, but replaces it. But in this sense, faith as “joy” and the feeling of intimacy with God is set up as the standard of behavior: It implies taking the ethical demands of the New Testament, of Christ in the gospels, merely as a pedagogical measure to instill in us even further the impossibility of obedience. Obedience is replaced by the inner feeling of submission; instead of acting against my own will by accepting God’s will as higher authority, I must “dislocate” my own will, or mortify my “flesh” and let God act through me. Moreover, the very looking at one’s works spoils them. Genuine works point to God, not self. This is why Luther can declare that, apart from faith, all works are nothing but “truly wicked and damnable sins.” On the external, moral level, they may be better than other courses of action. But in terms of their total orientation, that is, in terms of one’s status before God, they are of no effect. On that level, everything is a matter of relationship, a relationship into which man enters by virtue of God’s unaccountable activity. Confronted by God, man cannot depend on a combination of works and faith, or faith and works, but only in faith not without works, or of faith active in love. The Christian is to live and to struggle, to be a Christ to his neighbor, and above all to trust God.43 The reference to the works of faith is in a way ambiguous. It is not claimed that faith enables man to work out his salvation in obedience to Christ.44 The reason we are commanded to do good works, or rather, bring forth the fruits of faith, is faith itself, not the desire for redemption or reward. The Catechism of Heidelberg states (Sunday 32, resp. 86) that good works are helpful to be assured of a justifying faith. If works of gratitude are there, then the reality of faith that is their cause is also there. At a formal level, the logic of this argument is shaky. The
Ibidem Menno argued (Works, p. 111) “That the Lutherans teach and believe, that we are saved by faith alone, without any regard to works.... Faith is of such a matter that no work can be suffered or allowed beside it.” But the argument is not scholarly, but taken from its practical result, that an appeal to salvation ‘through the blood of Christ” was in fact connected to “carnal vices.” That would make justification by faith alone into “an occasion of their unclean and sinful flesh.”
44 43


syllogism that would deduce the existence and reality of faith from the existence of the works of faith is valid only if the works of faith are there only if faith works, if we have a correlation between the two.45 The works of faith must then be recognizable as by faith alone, and not able to be produced by secular motivations. If we lose the conviction that there is such a thing as a specifically Christian act, then this correlation is lost, and the deduction will not work. We cannot deduce the reality of faith from doing good as such. But the 16th and 17th centuries apparently did not have this problem, so it could be argued that good Christian works were present but were merely testimonies of God’s work in us. As Calvin stated in his Institutions: “Conscience being thus founded, built up, and established is further developed by the consideration of works, inasmuch as they are proofs of God dwelling and reigning in us [italics mine]. Since, then, this confidence in works has no place unless you have previously fixed your whole confidence on the mercy of God, it should not seem contrary to that on which it depends. Wherefore, when we exclude confidence in works, we merely mean that the Christian mind must not turn back to the merit of works as an aid to salvation, but must dwell entirely on the free promise of justification. But we forbid no believer to confirm and support this faith by the signs of the divine favor towards him. For if when we call to mind the gifts which God has bestowed upon us, they are like rays of the divine countenance, by which we are enabled to behold the highest light of his goodness; much more is this the case with the gift of good works, which shows that we have received the Spirit of adoption.” (Inst. III, 14, 18) The outward reality of the works of obedience is there to give

If ‘p’ stands for faith and ‘q’ stands for the works of faith, then we can say: p<=>q, q, =>p. This would imply that having works of faith is so much a part of the life of faith in itself, that the presence of particular works indicates the presence of that faith, which is the sole cause of their presence. If the major, however, is a relationship which defines faith as the independent condition involving a divine act which remains extrinsic to man and works of faith as the outward effect, remaining outside the definition of faith, then we get the invalid form: p->q, q, =>p and indeed, works of faith are then impossible to distinguish from other kinds of works and their presence does not imply anything with regard to the presence of faith. To deduce faith from the presence of works would involve the invalid logical form of affirmatio consequentis.



testimony to the reality of faith,46 not to give that assurance to others as signs of the authenticity of the faith, nor are they the intended goal of faith, though that goal is expressed in Paul, e.g., in Rom. 6:4. And of course they are certainly not intended to secure salvation as a necessary addition to the effect of faith. As the fruits of faith, the works of gratitude are not performed for their own sake; in fact they are not performed at all. It should be asked whether we have here a reference to works of obedience, since obedience in a general sense implies an activity of the human volition in compliance with the will of another. The activity of the will is there in order to achieve the intended work, not to produce it as a mere sign of its own presence or to signify its extrinsic source or motivation. If the works of faith do not have that character of submitting my freedom to the known will of God, it is doubtful whether we can speak of obedience in this sense of the word. But if there is no specific Christian character to our works, which would formally be expressed by faith-obedience, the question is what Christian faith can have to do with ethics at all. We are left then either with a reference to the narrative context of Christian acts, as if there is a moral order in which moral acts would work better, e.g., to produce the Kingdom of God which Christians alone know about, or, we would have a reference to the motivation of Christians to do good. The definition of that good would be left to contemporary society. The contemporary development of Protestant ethics has shown how difficult it is to determine the specific Christian contents of ethics. Secular humanism has been able to ground approximately the same historically Christian values on the basis of human dignity or the requirements of rational freedom.

According to Luther faith and works are combined into the concept of “living faith.” Faith lived through love fulfills the commandments and demonstrates its genuiness. Good works are necessary for to testify to faith, but they are not necessary to effectuate salvation. Cf. J. Heinz, Justification and Merit, p. 49 and the sources referred to there.




9. Sanctification as prerequisite of justification
The Council of Trent opens its statements on justification with the thesis that man cannot “be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ.”47 The grace of God, according to the second canon, is not merely lending assistance to man’s effort to live justly and merit the eternal life. All of this seems to be in accord with basic Reformation teaching. The opposition to Reformation doctrine, however, comes through clearly in canon IX, where it says: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such a wise as to mean that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” By taking up Luther’s emphasis on “faith alone” and opposing it to the notion of a cooperative work of “grace and charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Spirit and is inherent in them” (Canon XI), the subjective transformation of man’s condition is emphasized above the legal and objective transformation of man’s position before God. Catholic doctrine presents us with a view of God in the end establishing righteousness in a believer, not merely declaring him righteous from the start.48 Obviously, different notions of righteousness and justification are involved here. In Roman Catholic doctrine, justification is the opposite of wickedness and as such something we do (Jer. 22:3); it is, though resting on God’s grace, our own. In Reformed doctrine, justification is the opposite of condemnation, and righteousness is only attributable to Christ. In Roman Catholic doctrine, being righteous is the opposite of being a sinner. In the one, justification is used legally; in the other, intrinsically or ethically, we might say, if such terminology would not add to the
47 48

Sixth Session, canon I CF. J. Heinz, Justification and Merit, p. 37: “The recognition that the nonreckoning of sin represents one aspect of justification has long been demanded of the Catholic theologian by the Church dogma. In the same breath however, the dogma forces him to identify this forensic declaration completely with effective sanctification.”


confusion by being ambiguous in itself.

9.1 Augustine: making man righteous
The etymology of the word iustificatio that Augustine introduced proved to be of the utmost significance for the development of western theology. Augustine takes it to mean: justum facere, to “make righteous”, iustitia therefore refers to a quality within man and not God. And what a justus, a righteous man, was, could be gleaned from Cicero and through him from Aristotle: iustitia meant reddens unicuique quod suum est (to give to each his own), or what is most often referred to as distributive justice. The Latin verb iustificari then takes on the meaning of being righteous instead of being righteoused, whereas the Greek verb dikaioun connotes being considered or estimated as righteous.49 So the question now became, how does God make man righteous? First of all, faith must be given to man since man’s freedom is not perfect. Man’s free will is taken captive by the Fall of Adam and cannot attain righteousness unless it is set free from its captivity under sin by divine action. This is not a denial of free will, since it functions within man as the ability to choose between good and bad, and on that basis he will finally be judged. Grace must come in, however, to heal this defective freedom and make it capable of striving for the good and desiring salvation. Faith as a gift from God does precisely that. God operates within man’s rational soul to make him believe the gospel. However, man also has to receive this gift and appropriate it for himself. The divine operation leads to cooperation between man and God. Justification by faith is therefore initiated by God but its goal is to restore man’s own will to desire to do the good. Only when man cooperates with divine grace will he become perfected and righteous. So we must distinguish between the act of justification that initiates a process within man that produces faith and restores his freedom, and the process of justification in which man cooperates with God in his own sanctification. Augustine expresses this cooperation in several places. Let us quote Augustine’s own words here: “Now no man is assisted unless he also himself does something; assisted, however, he is, if he prays, if he believes, if he is “called according to God’s purpose;” for “whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the

McGrath, Iustitia Dei 1986-1, 15


image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” We run, therefore, whenever we make advance; and our wholeness runs with us in our advance (just as a sore is said to run when the wound is in process of a sound and careful treatment), in order that we may be in every respect perfect, without any infirmity of sin whatever, a result which God not only wishes, but even causes and helps us to accomplish. And this God’s grace does, in cooperation with ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as well by commandments, sacraments, and examples, as by His Holy Spirit also; through whom there is hiddenly shed abroad in our heads that love, “which maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” until wholeness and salvation be perfected in us, and God be manifested to us as He will be seen in His eternal truth.”50 The work of divine grace in man’s justification therefore boils down to “assistance” of man’s liberated freedom, the initial justification being precisely this liberation of free will that is required to even desire to do righteousness. This cooperation of God is not exclusively based on faith in Christ, as Augustine states: And this God’s grace does, in cooperation with ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as well by commandments, sacraments, and examples, as by His Holy Spirit also.” Commandments, which allow man to acquire merit before God, though still seen as a gift of God to the sinner. Sacraments, baptism in the first place, without which there can be no salvation. Examples of holy living, to be emulated by the believers after their conversion. And the Holy Spirit, which sheds the love of God in our hearts and is given to us in justification. Justification therefore comprises the process of sanctification as well as the ethical and spiritual renewal of the sinner through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Finally, man receives faith and love by divine action, but if God has not given him perseverance, he will miss his final goal of becoming a righteous person, i.e., justification. Now what effect does this doctrine have on the basic shape of Christian ethics? Augustine makes a difference between the

Fathers, Nicene & Post-Nicene, s.1, v.5 (15) (CD-Rom edition in PDF)


substance of an act (officium) and its inner motivation (finis). Righteousness is the possession of good will (on the basis of effective or operative grace) and the actualization of that good will through cooperative grace. Only a Christian, therefore, is able to do a good work in the face of God. A correct inner motivation is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit that causes love to be the inner motivation of that work. If man’s ability to perform a good work is dependent on his inner motivation, and if that is only restored by the act of justification, then righteousness is only possible on that basis. Of course pagans are able to perform good works according to their substantive character, their officium. In other words, they can follow a rule of behavior which produces a correct deed. But they do not acquire merit before God, since the source of these acts is not the aim of achieving divine righteousness but their own defective free will in independence from God. Only through justification is man able to submit his will totally to the will of God so that the source (motivational power) of his acts is God alone, and only through this can there be a righteous deed and, ultimately, a righteous creation again. The inner motivation is deemed so important here that it becomes the criterion for the distinction between good and evil. Up to a point, then, the outward reality of a moral act is denied to have significance. It is then obvious that such a position can hardly be called “legalist,” as if it only accentuated the outward character of a human act. But it posed the question of what constituted the proper inner motivation and how man acquired it. Luther’s answer, that a good deed flows from faith, is not unlike Augustine’s position in this respect. We see in Augustine the emergence of what we might call the typical Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith. Righteousness is the opposite of wickedness; it is a real and inherent property of man, intrinsic to his nature as the ability to do righteousness, understood as to give to each his own. Since man’s liberty has been defective since the Fall of Adam, he needs God’s grace to be restored. God’s gift is the gift of faith, whereby we can seek God and strive for perfection. Then, in a secondary act, God’s cooperative grace steps in to assist man’s restored liberty toward the state of perfect righteousness, which will eventually be reached fully in the future. Justification by faith could therefore never mean: justification by mere knowledge or intellectual assent. Faith that saves is a trust in God that transforms man from the condition


of wickedness into the condition of grace that works righteousness. But how can man in his state of depravity be said to possess this faith? If God gives this faith, man is no longer depraved and wicked, but justified intrinsically, and if God did not add justification to the gift of faith, the faith that is left would merely be an intellectual assent that does not save. Augustine, then, takes justification to be all about God’s grace, declaring man righteous and making him righteous intrinsically. The cooperation that is demanded of man is in itself a gift of grace and not a human contribution which God only needs to perfect. Despite this stress on grace, however, Augustinian ethics is primarily concerned with the change in man’s condition and not with his situation. Grace acts more like a teacher, restoring freedom, guiding man through the sacraments towards an improvement of his inner will. Justification is not the decisive pattern of sanctification, but only the removal of an obstacle that lies in its path. Christian ethics is about self-improvement, even if such is only possible through the grace of God, and it is an inner reality, not shown in the material nature of the specific Christian acts that are required. One and the same act, in conformity with the rule of behavior, could denote a good deed with merit for a believer and still be a sin for a non-believer who lacks the proper motivation.

9.2 Thomas Aquinas: cooperative grace
We must turn now to the position of St. Thomas Aquinas.51 The notion of cooperation does not seem to (formally) diminish the sovereignty of God’s grace or its necessity. Without grace man is unable to do any good; he is not only not perfect, but lost. He cannot acknowledge what is needed for salvation without grace, he cannot acknowledge even what is his natural good, he cannot love God above all else, and he cannot earn eternal life. Man needs grace in two forms: as healing “form” and as divine movement. Only God’s grace as movement is necessary to be prepared for the reception of grace as form, to endure within the state of grace and to avoid sin. The theological basic statement is therefore: nothing can be done
What follows here is in essence derived from the summary in Pesch (1981), pp. 80- 107.


without grace, but with grace, it is man who is doing it. The basic necessity for God’s grace is the radical submission of man under the power of sin. Grace changes this situation by effecting a change within man’s soul. God creates the conditions under which man can receive this changing effect. Grace is a relationship between God and man that effects something in man precisely because it is God’s activity. Grace is therefore a movement within God toward man, and results in a “quality” or a changed condition in man. If God’s grace had no such effect, and if man was not brought into such a condition, then God would in a way hold himself back precisely where He gives Himself fully. We would be able to withstand God’s grace, or else the concept of grace would lack the correlated notion of power. The Christian existence needs to have a quality of spontaneous self-movement in the love of God, otherwise the notion of a personal communion of life between God and man would become illusionary. So grace is understood as doing something within man and providing thereby the basis for what man can do himself, because the ultimate goal of grace is a free response from a liberated human being in moral action, and not only in acknowledgment. God’s grace, therefore, is the arrival of God’s eternal love in the center of human existence, by which man is removed from the limitations of his nature unto a communal life with God. God’s grace is completely sovereign in this work So what about the cooperation of man? God’s grace works twofold: as “assistance” and as “form.” (1) As assisting grace, the operative principle is the way God causes in man an act of volition by which he turns from evil to good. As cooperative principle, however, the volition that is set in motion by God commands other activities that work together with the primary volition. (2) The form-principle of grace as operative, however, gives a new being; cooperative grace, the response of man worked by God, leads to a new activity by man under the guidance of his new being. The justification of the sinner can be called an effect of operative grace: turning man from evil to good, transforming him into a new being. Merit, on the contrary, is the cooperative side of both aspects of grace: the activities that follow the primary volition toward the good, and the deeds of man that are under the guidance of his new being, all of which are workings of grace under the double aspect of coming to man from the outside, but as God’s activity having an effect in the innermost self of man.


In the Summa Theologiae II, 2ae, we find Quaestio 113, entitled: “About the effects of grace.” Article 1 discusses our topic: “Whether justification of the ungodly (impious) means remission of sin?” This first article deals with the question of whether the justification of the impious lies only in the remission of sins. If justification signifies a transformation of man, a change in a man’s soul, the removal of guilt that is extrinsic or forensic cannot be equal to it. Every change or transformation means a change from one condition into its opposite. But a remission of sins does not signify such a transformation into the opposite. If we look at the removal of guilt in a different light and see it as a purification, Scripture seems to attribute that to faith, as in Acts 15:9. By faith their hearts have been purified. The soul of man is made free from sin by the act of faith. Thomas answers this question and the objections by stating: If we speak about justification in the passive mood, it signifies a being-changed into righteousness (justitia) in the same way as heating signifies a change to being hot. Such justice can then be considered under three aspects: (1) as a certain condition in which a man lives, including a certain relationship in which man stands to his fellow-men. And (2) as a direction of man’s reality with respect to the common good of all men, as social justice. There is still a third sense of justice: (3) the right relationship between man and God. This third sense of justice is either something which belongs to man by his nature, as could be said of Adam after his creation, or it could be said to come to exist in a man who is transformed from one extreme into the other. And that is what is meant by the phrase: justification of the impious. The word “justification” derives its meaning from the goal of the act; the being righteous, and not from any intrinsic (forensic) meaning of the act itself or its source. I John 3:4 makes it clear that injustice means sin, disobedience. Being transformed into a state of justice must mean: the removal of that state of sin which is disobedience. In that sense, justification does mean the remission of sin, but not into a condition of innocence or removal of guilt, but into a positive new condition: being righteous. So evidently, Thomas agrees with Augustine that justification must mean that a man is being made righteous intrinsically. The removal of sin can then only be a condition to be fulfilled in God’s economy of salvation, in order to produce


that condition in a man. If we can take Augustine and Thomas to be our only sources here, it is the basic view of the Roman Church that forensic declarative righteousness is combined into one process together with effective sanctification, a transmutatio quaedam de statu injustitiae ad statum justitiae,52 as Thomas puts it. Bonaventure called it a repair of the soul. Justification as an act of God within man is not extrinsic because an act of God toward man can never be extrinsic! How could God be limited by our nature in His effects on us? One might argue that only when a new paradigm for human consciousness (as monadically closed unto itself) was about to break into European culture could the possibility of a forensic and outward justification be expressed as the most fundamental. Luther’s emphasis on the paradox that we are justified precisely “as” sinners brings out this duality of our extrinsic status and our intrinsic condition quite sharply. The Reformation’s opposition to medieval Catholic teachings on justification and grace was in part prompted by the new paradigm of human consciousness and the anthropology of man’s utter depravity. But in its medieval shape, justification meant a change in the human condition first, and a change in his situation before God second. But there remained also this basic difference: whereas Catholic thought focuses on the inner condition of man53, aspiring to an inner submission to the will of God while considering the outward deeds to be important too, Protestant thought focused even more on this “inner” reality while grounding it on the absolute extrinsic nature of justification as the new situation of man before God. The inner morality of Catholicism that was bound to outwards acts of piety was replaced by the destruction of external morality in Protestantism. Both agree that the external moral deed cannot be the bearer of a specifically Christian character. (Augustine after all sought the difference between good acts of unbelievers
As a rough translation I propose: “A transformation of sorts from a state of injustice to a state of justice.” 53 The gratia infusa then led to a state of grace, habitus infusa that could be understood on the basis of grace, as an intrinsic righteousness of man. E. Jungel has argued, that this in fact open the doors to a rejection of the justification by faith position and made in effect som,ething other than God’s sovereign grace the formal cause of redemption. Cf. Jungel, Evangelium pp. 162-163.


and those of believers in the intent behind the deed.) Both agree that obedience to God is not shown in outward acts as such. Both agree that the difference between believers and non-believers cannot be ascertained on the basis of “works.” But to Catholicism, the nature of the inner response and transformation is first of all about the real human condition and not the human situation. In our survey of the issue we have found so far that both Protestant and Catholic doctrine ground man’s redemption in the work of God’s grace in Christ, but differ on the meaning both of justification and of faith as part of that redemption. Protestant doctrine takes justification as the declaration of amnesty that is based solely on Christ’s righteousness, which in turn provides the condition and pattern of sanctification; Catholic doctrine speaks of a transformation from being wicked to being righteous, effected by God’s grace. In the one, God’s grace intervenes from the outside and grants a radical change in the inner life and the status of the believer; in the other, grace operates within human nature and offers symbolic aid through the sacraments: grace perfects nature. 16th-century secular anthropology seems to provide one cause for the difference. The assessment of the intrinsic depravity of human nature, the relocation of the center of man in his moral selfawareness and the closed nature of human individuality, provided the background. We must turn now to the Anabaptist position and see how it is related to the basic model of the Catholic and the Reformation positions. We will try to show that in Anabaptism the separation between condition and situation that defined the common ground between Catholics and Protestants is dropped in favor of a different model. What Anabaptists defended against is the insistence on the “inner” nature of either condition or situation that led to the schematics of inner condition and outer situation, or inner situation and outer condition. Both faith and its corollary in works were ”external” in the sense that they were both commanded.



10. The distinctiveness of Mennonite faith
The Anabaptist position is most often portrayed as a response to the Lutheran doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” and we will try to approach it from that perspective.54 The controversy over the relationship between justification and sanctification can be considered at least in part to be the cradle of the Anabaptist movement.55 As Balthasar Hubmaier wrote in 1526: “Faith alone and by itself is not sufficient for salvation. ... Faith must express itself also in love to God and the neighbor... Faith must be active in love (Gal. 5). Therefore faith by itself is like a green fig tree without fruit, like a cistern without water, like a cloud without rain.... O, we wish to be good evangelical Christians; we boast about our great faith, but have never touched the works of the gospel and faith with the smallest finger. Therefore we are nothing but mouth Christians, ear Christians and paper Christians, but not action Christians.... I confess this article with all my strength: that faith by itself alone is not worthy to be called faith, [ital. mine] for there can be no true faith without the works of love.”56 The “absence of a visible renewal and sanctification of individual and corporate life” (Voolstra) was the main point of dissent between Lutherans and early Anabaptists. There was no argument over Luther’s insistence that acquittal before God’s judgment was only based on Christ’s sacrifice and merits and that this act of God had changed the situation of man’s striving for the good. Anabaptism firmly sided with those who held that faith, and faith alone, was the basis of man’s relationship with God and his fellow-man, defining as it did his
It is clear however from studies by Goertz, Voolstra and others, that the influence of the Sacramentarians and late-medieval piety on the Anabaptist movement was substantial. The polemical situation in which the Anabaptists found themselves was determined by their fragile contact with the magisterial Reformation in the Swiss and Dutch contexts in particular. 55 Cf. S. Voolstra’s inaugural address, published in English as “Justification and Sanctification,” The Conrad Grebel Review, Ontario, Canada, Fall 1987, pp. 221ff., where he states: “The controversy over the meaning of justification and sanctification, centering on the relationship between faith and works, also gave life to the Anabaptist movement.” In this statement, the controversy did not spring up after Anabaptism was established as a movement, but it was in part the cause of its existence. 56 Quotation from Westin, “Quellen” (461-462) in: Anabaptism in Outline, ed. Walter Klaassen, Ontario, 1981, p. 43-44.


ethical situation. But the corollary and aim of that faith was to the Anabaptists “becoming like Christ through learning obedience with him to all that God has commanded.”57 The laxity of Roman-Catholic moral and ethical behavior was in part responsible for the Anabaptist movement.58 The Anabaptists’ view on the external nature and descriptive contents of obedience was decisively different from Luther’s, who had emphasized the certainty of salvation and the quieted conscience. Lack of assurance was to him an incentive for adding good works to faith, whereby faith lost its central position and justification was annulled. In Luther’s view, the kind of emphasis that the Anabaptists placed on works was equal to Schwärmerei, a sentimental fervor. But to early Anabaptists and in particular to the later Mennonites, a faith without moral improvement of life would hardly deserve that name, and an insistence on man’s inability to obey after conversion was tantamount to a denial of God’s transforming grace. As Keeney expresses the issue: “The gift of faith not only changed the status of man before God, it was also active in transforming the individual.”59 That was an emphasis that remained close to the Catholic doctrine of man’s cooperating with grace, but emphasized in contrast the gift of faith and God’s initiative in transformation. As we will see, the notion of the shape of human liberty and the consequences of the Fall of mankind were controversial as well, Anabaptists in general affirming with Augustine the renewal of human liberty to mankind as a necessary prerequisite of divine judgment. But this renewal was never understood to amount to an autonomous liberty that had to act on its own in conformity with grace to achieve its purpose. Without ignoring these differences, it is believed that the early Anabaptists agreed generally with the overall Protestant position. According to Walter Klaassen, to name one classic example, the Anabaptists had no argument with the core doctrine of justification as presented by Luther, Calvin and other Reformers.60 The difference was that they rejected the Lutheran view that since faith was the basis of salvation, moral behavior as well as works of righteousness were secondary, or
57 58 59 60

S. Voolstra, ibid, p. 223. (see note 74) W.E. Keeney, Dutch Anabaptist Thought, p. 115 ibidem Walter Klaassen, Anabaptism, 1973, p. 28


at least relatively unimportant. The ethical requirements of the gospel were not seen as the preparatory indictment of the law in its effect on the human conscience but as the visible sign of the reality and authenticity of faith. Faith meant to be called into a covenant relationship with Christ, within which our obedience was the very first requirement. Faith in the context of ethics was not the standard of all behavior as something that belonged to the inner self, as in Luther’s insistence on faith as the first commandment, and it was not the inner criterion for outward action as in Augustine, but only its presupposition. Faith as a gift of God enabled man to be obedient. Obedience, as the visible sign of faith, was faith shown outwardly, and this drive to externalization was taken as the essential feature of inner faith. 61 Obedience and faith were sometimes practically synonymous, as is shown, e.g., in Menno Simons’s Fundamentboek, where the gospel is more often conceived of as to be obeyed (including the response of faith) than as to be believed. Obedience was not understood as an inner acceptance, but as a manifest outward response and as existing only in outward actions in conformity with the commandments of Christ as set forth in the New Testament. This outward response proceeded from sharing the nature of Christ. If man shares the divine nature, “he too must be characterized by a love for God and man which results in obedience to the commands of God and is evident in his relationships with men.”62
Klaasen agrees in this assessment with Robert Friedmann’s earlier attempt in the 1950s to distinguish the Anabaptists from the Lutherans, Zwinglians and Calvinists by the lack of systematic theology (Anabaptists would have an implicit theology) and from the Catholics by the rejection of priestly institutions. Friedmann’s posthumous Theology of Anabaptism (Scottdale, 1973) presented this case. Others have stressed that the Anabaptist movement belonged to the Reformation but was distinguished by its radicalism in the issue of the separation of Church and state, opposing it to the “magisterial Reformation”. George H. Williams presented that viewpoint in his The Radical Reformation (Kirksville, 19923). J.A. Oosterbaan presented a third option, defining the Anabaptist movement as a “Reformation of the Reformation”. Now the Reformed Churches stand in the middle of a spectrum defined by the Catholic Church on the one side and the Anabaptist movement on the other. Cf. Oosterbaan’s article “De reformatie der Reformatie” in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 2, Amsterdam, 1976, pp. 36 - 61. The essential characteristic of the Mennonite Church, as seen from this third option, is that of the renewed man, that lives in full obedience to God. 62 W.E. Keeney, Dutch Anabaptist Thought, p. 115


It is important to note, according to Klaassen, that notwithstanding this emphasis on the saintly life, the Anabaptist doctrine of justification was “in no essential different.” The difference would reside in the emphasis only. The innovation of Anabaptism in the beginning of the 16th century was not in the formulation of the doctrine itself nor in the acceptance of its importance, but in the added understanding of faith as a free and unforced obedience to Christ and the resolve not to let that faith retreat either into sacramentalist objectivity nor into the pure inwardness of man’s self-consciousness. 63 Undoubtedly this insistence on man’s obedience implied the perception that man was able to submit to God’s demand, so that it came into conflict with the anthropological presuppositions of the magisterial Reformation, to wit, their development of the doctrine of the fall of mankind and its corollary: God’s election. But to Anabaptists there could be no shrinking from the consequence of the fact that there was such a thing as a demand for obedience: if obedience was not possible, Christ’s teachings on a “more perfect righteousness” (Matthew 5:20) would have been a mere pedagogical preparation for Paul’s central message of justification by faith that was interpreted by Lutheran Scholasticism and modern evangelicals alike as salvation through assent, which of course, besides falsifying the real condition of redemption, made Paul’s gospel more important than Christ’s teachings. This consequence was rejected. Christ’s teachings were read as straightforward demands that should be obeyed, not as preparation to the doctrine of grace. Christ not only did the will of God unto the Cross and thereby imputed righteousness to the faithful by paving the way for a new covenant, he also taught it as a commandment for those who accept His call to discipleship. The life of Jesus in the flesh was understood on the basis of Menno’s incarnation doctrine to imply that Christ should be taken as the Example, in the sense of the Imitatio Christi of Tyhomas a Kempis (translated in Dutch as Navolging van Christus, the “following” of Christ). According to Keeney, the sentimentalist individualism of Thomas a Kempis and the
John H. Yoder expressed this succinctly when he wrote: “ For Roman Catholics this act of justification may be found to be in correlation with the sacraments, and for Protestants with one’s self-understanding, in response to the proclaimed Word; but never should it be correlated with ethics.” This third option was however, the view of the minority that constituted the Mennonite movement. (Cf. Yoder, Politics, p. 8)


Brethren of the Common Life was transformed by the Anabaptists into a similar moral emphasis applied now within the framework of the Church and in conflict with the world.64 There was a Catholic mood to all of this, even though there was no hint of an explicit infusion doctrine. Justification in its Anabaptist version retained much of the Augustinian sense of becoming intrinsically righteous. Man really did become righteous because of his faithful following of Christ and his participation through spiritual rebirth in the divine nature (and not by his reception of sacraments or by doing the outward works of penance), and that necessitated a further presupposition: that the beginning of that discipleship was a free act of the will to submit to God, implying adult baptism and the rejection of the radical doctrine of sovereign election. It was held by many that his state of righteousness could be lost. The esteem for human liberty was so high that they accepted that the possibility of choosing against God and falling into disobedience was still there, even after conversion. Faith as a condition of covenant relationship was perpetually based on a connection between inner resolve and outward action. To the experience of a life of faith belonged the capacity for repentance, which implied in its turn that perseverance was essential. Justification was not a metaphysical or legal condition that was there beyond the grasp of the believer. Acts and perceptions of God’s involvement in life strengthened the inner conviction, which itself motivated outward action. Faith was about living the life of faith, not about a state of mind in man’s inner being untouched by the conditions of everyday life, nor was it based on heavenly bookkeeping that assigned status without an experiential reality in the believer’s life. That God’s action of justification was extrinsic did not mean that man’s reception remained a pure inner acceptance. On this issue, therefore, Anabaptist doctrine remained quite close to traditional Roman Catholic teachings. Its view on justification was not based so much on the inner experience of guilt and the inability of man to achieve righteousness, which had especially prompted Luther’s thinking, as on the experience of repentance and contrition as a means of restoring communion with God. To the Anabaptists, justification was not a possible escape from the painful duty of achieving

E.H. Keeney, Dutch Anabaptist Thought, p. 116


righteousness, but a powerful aid in achieving it. The Anabaptist tradition, for a variety of reasons, was necessarily ambiguous in some respects because of this origin within the Reformation. While the Anabaptists, with the Reformation, stressed the importance of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the basis of man’s renewal, they denied Luther’s view and emphasized evangelical obedience and perseverance to the point where it seemed (to Luther at least) to become the primary prerequisite of salvation. Sometimes they were represented as a charismatic movement, but equally well they could be portrayed as a legalist form of Christianity with emphasis on sanctification and individual holiness. To modern Mennonite theologians since the beginning of the century, there has been the tendency either to represent Mennonites as Protestants who emphasize obedience but cling to justification by faith as Luther taught it, or as having freed themselves from the issues of guilt and salvation to produce a more this-worldly ethics of moral involvement, especially in the radical peace movement and in post-Mennonite liberalism.65 The question must be asked: how can we understand the Mennonite position? Is it a Reformed position with an added emphasis on sanctification? Or did it remain a Catholic position, because of its more optimist anthropology and its insistence on the intrinsic reality of justification? As a matter of fact, this ambiguity about the Mennonite position in these matters is not a new phenomenon, and we should pay some attention to wavering attempts to establish a clear position. Anabaptist teachings in the 16th century ranged from spiritualist and charismatic to legalist and moralist, to which the Dutch Mennonite movement, especially, added its involvement in modernism and liberalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. In recent times efforts have been made to provide one single definition of the Anabaptist movement. After World War II this discussion evolved from a theological into a
I would use the term ‘post-Mennonite liberalism’ to describe the shape of theology and congregational life that has evolved in the Netherlands since the early decades of the 19th century, which seemed very much concerned with finding in itself and identifying in the surrounding world the secular expression of a part of Mennonite doctrine, especially with regard to the separation of Church and state, the voluntary character of faith, and the insistence on an ethical life. Such (now) civil virtues came to be expressed without recourse to essential Christian doctrines, and made theology at times seem like a social or moral ideology.


historical discourse and introduced the notion of a “polygenetic” origin of the Anabaptist movement. We will discuss two documents that still provide some unifying vision of the Anabaptist movement. First we’ll discuss “The Anabaptist Vision” by Harold Bender, and then we will return to the Schleitheim articles that in a way began the development that we are examining. The position that ethics, or Nachfolge (discipleship), was the core doctrine of Mennonitism was put forward by Harold S. Bender in his speech of 1943: “The Anabaptist Vision.” That was a programmatic and theological statement, destined to celebrate Mennonite particularity in the face of the fundamentalist seduction. In his lecture Bender stressed a variety of emphases: the ethic of love and nonresistance along with the ecclesiological view of nonconformity to the world, especially in matters of violence and rejection of state authority. But it seemed as if Mennonitism was an ethically revised Lutheranism, apart from differences in ecclesiology that were not portrayed as decisive, with the exception of the issue of adult baptism. But can it be shown that Mennonite Anabaptism is irreconcilable with mainstream evangelical Christianity, especially because its biblicism is not the flat-Bible literalism of the inerrantists, and its doctrine of justification is not centered around justification of the ungodly by faith as purely extrinsic, and it does not accept the Puritan emphasis on the inner struggles of conversion?66 Bender emphasized these three key issues: “Having defined genuine Anabaptism in its Reformation setting, we are ready to examine its central teachings. The Anabaptist vision included three major points of emphasis; first, a new conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship; second, a new conception of the Church as a brotherhood; and third, a new ethic of love and nonresistance.”
In the late 1800s North American Mennonite leaders came under the influence of revivalism and Sunday school and mission movements that tended to move them away from the emphasis on peace and nonresistance as the focal points of Christian (social) ethics. T. Schlabach showed this ”shift away from the references to the nonresistant gospel” in a study of the language patterns in the Mennonite Quarterly Review, July 1977. In his Keeping Salvation Ethical (Herald Press, 1997), J. Denny Weaver documented this theological shift from an identification with a nonresistant Christ to an adoption of a penal substitutionary theory of atonement.


Bender explained this first emphasis in this manner: “First and fundamental in the Anabaptist vision was the conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship. It was a concept which meant the transformation of the entire way of life of the individual believer and of society so that it should be fashioned after the teachings and example of Christ.[26] The Anabaptists could not understand a Christianity which made regeneration, holiness, and love primarily a matter of intellect, of doctrinal belief, or of subjective "experience," rather than one of the transformation of life. They demanded an outward expression of the inner experience. Repentance must be "evidenced" by newness of behavior.” That leaves open the issue of what it was that had to be “evidenced” by newness of behavior. Repentance is a change of attitude towards one’s actions and a resolve to mend one’s ways, congruous with an exercise of the will. The word implies a certain distance from Lutheran insistence on the primacy of faith. Bender dealt with that issue: The great word of the Anabaptists was not "faith" as it was with the reformers, but "following" (Nachfolge Christi). And baptism, the greatest of Christian symbols, was accordingly to be for them the "covenant of a good conscience toward God" (1 Peter 3:21), the pledge of a complete commitment to obey Christ, and not primarily the symbol of a past experience. The Anabaptists had faith, indeed, but they used it to produce a life. Theology was for them a means, not an end. Bender could then summarize his view by differentiating between the three strands of Reformation theology: “As we review the vision of the Anabaptists, it becomes clear that there are two foci in this vision. The first focus relates to the essential nature of Christianity. Is Christianity primarily a matter of the reception of divine grace through a sacramentalsacerdotal institution (Roman Catholicism), is it chiefly enjoyment of the inner experience of the grace of God through faith in Christ (Lutheranism), or is it most of all the transformation of life through discipleship (Anabaptism)? The Anabaptists were neither institutionalists, mystics, nor pietists, for they laid the weight of their emphasis upon following Christ in life. To them it was unthinkable for one truly to be a Christian without creating a new life on divine principles both for himself and for all men who commit themselves to the Christian way. “ The problem is that Bender’s emphasis on discipleship seems


to give so much importance to the Church as a means for growth in sanctity that it completely obscured the Lutheran insistence on the personal nature of faith as an inner experience. Was Anabaptism only a (works-) ethic? In reviewing Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision,” Stephen Dintaman spoke about its “essentially behavioral” definition of Christian behavior was stressed among Christianity.67 theologians who adhered to Bender’s vision, and while discipleship was stressed, they gave only “passing, nonpassionate attention to the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit in the inner transformation of the person.” “The Anabaptist Vision,” according to Dintaman, gave us (1) “little insight into human behavior.” Its Arminian emphasis on free will tended to obscure the bondage of the will and weakened compassion for human frailty, as exemplified in addiction and other forms of bondage under sin. It led (2) to an “inadequate awareness of the liberating work of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.” The gospel should not be reduced to Jesus’ teachings about peace, leading to “peace and justice social activism.” The gospel is not about peace ideals, but about the work of God that has brought peace through the blood and in the body of Christ. Finally, (3) our “sense of the spiritual presence and power of the risen Christ” has been impoverished. A “pre-Pentecostal” discipleship refers to a failure that was corrected only by Jesus’ spiritual presence after His resurrection. Dintaman evoked both positive and negative responses. Richard Showalter responded in the fall of 1994 by explaining that Dintaman had merely emphasized the inner experience that Bender had presumed to be the heart and the backbone of his behavioral vision.68 Bender had insisted that the Anabaptists gave outward expression of the inner experience. His Anabaptist vision was undergirded by “a vision of the spiritual presence and power of the risen Christ.” Dintaman was right that this element in Bender’s vision was not heavily emphasized and had been overlooked by subsequent theologians.
S. F. Dintaman, “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision,” The Conrad Grebel Review, Spring 1992, pp. 205- 208. 68 R. Showalter, ‘The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision’: A Critical Assessment., The Conrad Grebel Review, fall, 1994, pp. 14- 18.


Still, it was there as an integral part of “The Anabaptist Vision.” In the same issue of The Conrad Grebel Review, a radical new approach was opposed to Dintaman’s call in the desert. Pastor Mitchell Brown argued for a new radical theology that returned to the biblical image of Jesus and would not allow dogmatic faith to gain supremacy over discipleship. Dintaman’s plea for affirmation of the basic truths of Pietism must be denied. Pietism, in Friedmann’s view as quoted by Brown, is characterized “by the subjective experience of the fact that the sinner, though incapable of doing any good, is yet saved through the atoning death of Christ and the subsequent joy which goes with such experience.” Anabaptism, on the contrary, is radically different, and understands rebirth to be about the “resolution to a new way of obedience to the “law of Christ.” The emphases on justification through faith alone, in Lutheranism, and the enjoyment of its fruit, in Pietism, were foreign to the early Anabaptists. Anabaptist faith was more about the fear of God, a reverential trust and obedience that indeed chooses for a ”spiritual poverty,” as Dintaman called it. Anabaptism has to choose: either spiritual fullness along the lines of Pietism and Lutheranism, or the fear of God, “existential” Christianity. The question that concerns us now is whether the 16thcentury Anabaptist view of justification makes it at all necessary to turn to the Lutheran and Pietist perspectives to complement the Anabaptist Vision. If there can be such a thing as a “spirituality of obedience” (C. Norman Kraus), there would be no need to resort to Pietist inwardness. If Anabaptists understood Christ’s work of atonement as including “enlightenment and enablement,” then they did not return to a works spirituality. They rather took out the elements of mysticism and returned to a sober look at Christian praxis. Against Luther, they maintained that the Christian did not only live by faith, but lives his faith.69 As a matter of fact, historic research after Bender’s speech came up with part of the answer. After historians had developed a more “polygenetic” view of the origins of Anabaptism, rejecting Bender’s implicit thesis that Anabaptism was in its authentic form only a Swiss movement, it became obvious that 16th-century Mennonites in general did not share
C. Norman Kraus, “Spirituality for the 21st Century,” The Conrad Grebel Review, Winter 1995, p. 31.


the doctrine of justification by faith alone that was developed by Luther and Calvin. Their concept of the “Besserung des Lebens” comprised both justification and sanctification.70 Justification meant becoming righteous through a process of learning and experience under the guidance of God’s Spirit. Faith was understood as intrinsically connected to obedience, conversion, contrition, and penance, leading to a saintly life (Menno Simons), based on the cooperation of grace and human will in the innermost soul (Hans Denck), the recovery of “innocence” which leads to “works of faith” (Hubmaier); justification and sanctification therefore were seen as one (experiential) process. But most importantly, this process of regeneration was not developed purely as an individual’s experience. It is in the ecclesiological dimension of justification that the Mennonite movement developed its peculiar characteristics. Justification was a process involving a redeemed community that was set aside from this world as the bride of Christ, trying to remain pure and sanctified to the day of His return.


Cf. Goertz, Die Taüfer, 1988, p. 67.



11. Sanctification as basic pattern of justification
Let us turn now to the writings of the Dutch reformer Menno Simons to see how the Anabaptist position on justification connects justification and sanctification. Hans-Georg Tanneberger has shown in his 1997 dissertation on the “Anabaptist perceptions of the justification of man’’ that Menno Simons and Dirk Philips had stressed the following theological keypoints: • Grace as an universal offer to all people • The liberty of the human will, as a result of the redemptive work of Christ • The structure of justification in two parts, the acceptance of the gospel in faith and the moral labor that followed it • The impossibility that sins, committed in full awareness of their injustice, could be forgiven.71 The notion that man could be reborn, and could live outside the domain of sin, was ultimately based on a Christology of a monophysite nature. According to Menno, who followed Melchior Hoffman in this respect, Christ was not of Mary’s flesh, he was God made flesh, or having become flesh, but that “flesh” was of a heavenly nature. Hoffman claims that “even as the dewdrop falls into the oystershell and therein is changed into the pearl”, so the eternal Word came into Mary’s womb through the Holy Spirit and became flesh and blood without partaking of the flesh and blood from Mary’s body. 72 In the words of Auke de Jong: “The Word of God did not unite with the flesh of Mary, but it became flesh itself. The unity of Christ as a Person can be guaranteed in that way, but also the complete newness of the person of Christ. He does not participate in the human and sinful nature of Mary. Christ, true God and true Man, is only öf”God, and not of Mary. … Fallen man has to be reborn from Jesus and become equal in form to Him.” 73 To participate in Christ as a member of his Body, the Church., meant to share a new life-principle beyond the clutches of death and sin. So how did man gain such a grace?
71 72

H.-G. Tanneberger, Vorstellungen, p. 218. W.E. Keeney, Dutch Anabaptist Thought, p. 89 73 Cf. Auke de Jong, “Menno Modern?” in Onaangeroerd Tegoed, Zoetermeer 1996, pp. 59, 60.


Of course man needed a Redeemer to gain the new life. And the Redeemer could only redeem others if He himself was sinless, as Anselm had demonstrated. If Jesus however had the same nature as humanity, how could Jesus be sinless? But if Jesus was not conceived from Mary, but in Mary through the Holy Spirit and born out of Mary and not from Mary, then it could be asserted that Jesus was completely human and yet without the corruption of Adam. The human nature that Jesus had was therefore pre-lapsarian, and untainted with sin! Underlying this was the physiological theory, also held by Thomists, that in human generation the woman was passive and contributed no substance to the child. If the Holy Spirit was the active principle in Jesus’ generation, then Mary did not contribute her substance to His human nature. While this theory still allowed for the acceptance of the justificationdoctrine – because a sinless Christ could be the substitutionary sacrifice – it also prepared the way for a doctrine of sanctification. Participation in Christ meant having a restored nature, a breaking down of all natural bondage, to begin with the bondage under the nature of Adam after the corruption of his nature. Just how this intrinsic link between justification and sanctification was worked out we will have to show now on the basis of Menno’s own wording of the issue. In the first chapter of his Foundation of Christian Doctrine, Menno begins with the assertion that “now is the time of grace”, referring to the age in which the gospel is offered to people who have received the full freedom of accepting that gospel, being restored by Gods grace sufficiently to make a responsible decision. The margin shows Rom. 3:24 to be the likely source for that contention. Now Rom. 3:26 is one of the classic loci of the doctrine of justification, since that verse states that all will be “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” Vs. 26 speaks of “this [present] time” in which God’s righteousness is declared, and it is probably this notion of the present that prompted Menno to write of the “time of grace.” The “time of grace” then, is linked to Menno’s own understanding of justification. But in his own text, Menno apparently speaks outside of the context of this quotation. The time of grace is a time “…to awaken from the sleep of our ugly sins, to have an upright, renewed, broken and contrite heart, to indite our souls before God with our previous reckless, impertinent way of life, that we crucify in the fear of God our sinful and evil flesh,


character and nature and die unto it and rise with Christ to a righteous, repentant and new being, as He said: the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near: better your life [KJV: repent ye] and believe the gospel (Mk. 1:15).”74 It is obvious, then, that to Menno “being justified” means something like “being righteoused” (Sanders), since the process he speaks of is called “awakening,” “renewal,” “repentance,” that together lead to a righteous life of a repentant and new being. Whereas we would expect Menno to take Rom. 3:24, 26, together with vs. 28 (man is justified by faith without works of the law), as referring to the doctrine of justification in a Lutheran sense, the entire passage in Paul (including also Eph. 4:22 and Gal. 5:23 in the margin) is taken as an introduction to Christ’s own gospel of repentance, summarized in Mark 1:15. That verse however speaks about the nearness of the kingdom of God and the acceptance of God’s sovereignty in all aspects of life. Faith is here the active following of Christ and obedience to the divinely appointed King. The reference to Mark 1:15 is also relevant, because it provides the basic structure of repentance faith obedience that is so characteristic of Menno’s position. The term repentance that KJV uses there is transformed, or rather elucidated, by Menno’s saying: “improve, make better your life.”75 It is clear, from such a treatment of the locus
The English translation of Menno’s works corrected this reference to Mark 1:15 according to KJV and so it reads: repent ye and believe the gospel. Menno’s particular emphasis is then lost, because the original reads: “betert u [better your life] ende gelooft den evangelio.” In Anabaptist parlance, though, particularly among conservative groups like the Amish, ‘repentance’ and ‘Besserung’ (Old Dutch: beteringe) are saying about the same thing. 75 Cf. S. Voolstra, "'Van ware penitencie"', Doopsgezinde Bijdragen * 248265. “The evangelical-Anabaptist Reformation makes the contritio interior the precondition for an anticlerical and anti-sacramentarian, semi-pelagian religious practice, which is characterized by the aspiration to freedom from sin and the performance of evangelical works in accordance with faith in Christ. True penitence on the part of both believers and servants of the Church confers a biblical validity and effectiveness on baptism, communion and Church as media of salvation. Strict discipline is intended to preserve the pure Church as the place where assured salvation is to be found and the place where penitent religious conventions can be practiced. In this way, the content of belief remains traditional, although the form of belief is renewed in accordance with the biblical model. It was not the principle of the division between Church and state which constituted the most important impediment to the Anabaptists' ability to fulfill the role of public Church, but the emphasis


classicus of the justification doctrine, that Menno sees “justification” as equal to “becoming a righteous person,” as being “righteoused” and not as being (extrinsically and legally) pardoned. It requires repentance and contrition and in that sense it is an active answer to a call and not the passive It is obvious also that such an reception of a gift.76 interpretation of Paul was used to bring it into harmony with the implications of Christ’s call for repentance in Mark 1, which is accepted as the more important, so Paul is read from the gospel’s perspective. That can be shown especially by seeing how the concept of faith came to include a whole series of human responses to the gospel. The necessity for repentance as a condition of faith is stressed, e.g., in chapter 2, “On true repentance,” where Menno states that those who maintain that they have been given amnesty for their sins cannot glorify in that gift unless they have true repentance. Luther was wrong to reverse the biblical order of repentance which leads to faith. It was wrong also to hold that repentance was merely a response to God’s law, after which faith as a response to grace took over. Repentance was the continuing condition for the continuing renewal of faith. It is not enough, Menno states, that we say that we are Abraham’s children, but we should live like one of them. Repentance in that sense is distinguished from contrition, insofar as it indicates a deliberate and constant change in one’s way of life, which is not the same as contrition as committed reflection on the past life in the light of God’s judgment.77
on true penitence and the corresponding aspiration to perfection.” 76 For a contemporary (conservative) Mennonite treatment of repentance in conformity with Menno’s original doctrine see e.g., L. M. Haines, Redemption Realized, Northville, pp. 114- 121. His position is decidedly against the ‘faithalone’ position. 77 S. Voolstra has argued that Menno in his reaction to Catholic practices wanted “more penitence, not less. His objective was to restore to the contritio, or the true, heartfelt repentance, the profundity and intensity which it had lost.” His rejection of the priestly confession had nothing to do with the general reformers’ thrust to lighten the burdens of faith. Voolstra, Justification and Sanctification 1997, p. 40. So the argument here is against the sacrament’s actually reducing the burden of confession, not against the practice of confession in itself, that served the purpose of bringing sin into the light and to intensify repentance. (ibid, p. 39) Contrition must not be equated with a feeling of sorrow. Precisely because confession was the means of deepening it as experience, we must emphasize its character of reflective meditation on one’s own life in the light of God’s word which was its inner core.


Trust and obedience and endurance in trials are also part of the life of faith and are integral components of the appropriation of redemption.78 Nonetheless, redemption in the sense of acquittal is also highlighted by Menno, and in that sense the doctrine seems for a moment close to Luther’s again, but after what has been said before it can be no surprise that the meaning of this amnesty is changed: it is present not so much in a legal as in a practical and exhortatory sense, as shown, e.g., in 1 John 1:2: if we “do” the truth, then the blood of Christ washes away our sins. Acquittal therefore comes to mean: being cured of an ailment so as to be able to live a new life. It is the starting point of a new life, not its quintessence. Having said that, however, in the third chapter of the Fundamentboek we find many sentences that are in apparent conformity with classical Reformed doctrine, e.g., where Menno states that faith is a gift of God and no “work” to boast of (fol. 9b),79 or when he speaks about those who are justified by faith and have peace with God and then again quotes Rom 3:24 to emphasize this point. This verse apparently contributed to his
The importance of the notion of obedience in this connection was also stressed by Voolstra (1997, p. 53): “The reinstatement of the penitent in a state of grace, the justification of the sinner, is not unconditional. Without contrition, without real penitence, there can be no absolution, which is no longer granted by the priest, however, but by Christ himself. Faith is a process of penitence and reformation of the life being led. Faith is not faith unless it becomes effective in love. And this love is principally a deed of obedience, besides being a creed and a fruit of trust. Love is also a commandment. Grace which fails to bring about any change in how life is lived is only cheap grace. Grace is not absolution alone, but also starting to behave as a liberated person. Law and Gospel, law and Grace, penance and faith, justification and sanctification, God's work and human activity are closely interconnected in the theology of Menno Simons and are sometimes difficult to distinguish. His traditional, penitential piety is made to serve a practical objective, namely the raising of the evangelical quality of Church and society, a renewal which demands obedience.” 79 Grace and faith are given in Christ, according to Luther. It is a gift that is part of the act of justification and the means by which it, or rather Christ, is apprehended. Faith to Luther is neither Augustinian intellectual assent, nor affirmation of key doctrines, nor inner response to Christ in a free choice, but an existential in Heidegger’s sense of the word, of the reborn and elect. (It is at once the mode of their being and the way by which they know and experience that.) In that sense, justification is not “by” faith, but by Christ, (known to us and grasped in life, partially) through faith in Christ. Cf. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, II, p. 10 –20.


understanding of “justification” in a real sense of transformation and renewal of man, as well as in the sense of Christ’s work of redemption as a forensic justification appropriated solely by an acknowledging faith. The Beteringe des Lebens therefore cannot be described as anything but a combination of justification and sanctification. To conceive of it like this implies that the combined elements were understood in a different manner, as immediately implying one another. And so we find, again and again, that the same gift of faith that is the cause of salvation is thought to have a threefold fruit by which the tree is known: forgiveness or pardon for one’s sins, a renewed inner man, and eternal life. Because of the context, it is doubtful whether this “pardon” Menno refers to, means to the same concept that in the Reformation was called justification. A pardon can be interpreted as an amnesty for past sins alone, clearing the way for new obedience. Sin after conversion would then of course need a new pardon, which was obtained by boete (contrition), confession, and repentance. So justification by faith implied obtaining amnesty at the beginning of the new life in faith, but did not necessarily entail a once-and-for-all pardon, stretching to future sins as well. So here again, though the language seems close to Reformed doctrine, which seems to imply that Menno only added a peculiar emphasis on one concept, or chose to combine the two concepts but maintained their Lutheran meaning, it is doubtful whether the substance really is in harmony with it.80 It seems more appropriate to state that to Menno the concept of justification became an integral part of his concept of sanctification, and that he in making this connection changed the meaning of both. The same goes for other concepts involved: their integration into the logical pattern of the concept of sanctification changed
The reason that Menno’s teachings on justification were so filled with references to the experiential side of faith can be explained by two factors. One of them is his insistence that the sacrament as objective process could not grant the assurance of salvation that his parishioners were seeking. Menno’s theology in that sense is a ‘practical theology’ developed from his ‘pastoral experience.’ (Voolstra, 1997, p. 41) The other is the view on anthropology that in Menno’s case was enhanced by his teaching on the incarnation. Menno reasoned that Christ’s flesh could not be anything other than a new creation by God, so Jesus did not share the flesh of his mother Mary. That prepared the ethical insistance on the removal of sin in a practical non-forensic sense. Only a completely perfect Christ could bring about such a total transformation. (Cf. Voolstra, 1982)


their intrinsic meaning. Faith, e.g., is always understood in an experiential and “ethical” context. In the same passage Menno immediately uses the Jamesian pattern of “true and living faith” (James 2:14-26) that works through love (Gal. 5:6), brings forth fruit, and proves its nature. Faith itself ”steps into the path of justice in freedom.” Such true faith can be called a gift of God, and such faith is the source of life for the just. It is clear that though Menno affirms that justification is a work of God based solely on the sacrifice and merits of Christ and that faith is not a “work” but a gift of God, the faith he is talking about is connected to repentance, renewal, the power of the new life, working through love, and showing itself in obedience to Christ. The New Testament did in fact become for Menno a nova lex evangelica because Christ’s commandment is life, Christ alone is the lawgiver and Teacher of the New Covenant. We must take note however that this also means to Menno, that Moses and the law of Israel have served their purpose and have no direct relevance for the Christian Church. Nevertheless the law can aid us in understanding our sins, and help us keep ourselves dead for the flesh and the impulse to sin. Menno obviously meant to say that justification means becoming righteous, and faith was the gift of enablement that made it possible for man to be righteous, to be someone who is just and lives by faith. The elements of active trust and endurance then completely overshadow the element of acknowledgment (assensus) that was present in some traditions of the Reformation. The basic question of the Reformation, how can I be sure of salvation, was replaced by another: on what basis can I act in conformity with God’s demands? To the Anabaptists it was the certainty of the moral life and not the certainty of the moral conscience that was the real goal. Certainty of faith was not a result of an inner struggle with God’s grace, nor a deduction from the fruits of faith, but self-experience through hardship and persecution in an effort to live the life of obedience through faith.81
To Luther, certitudo (objective certainty) derived from the word of God and went hand in hand with a lack of securitas (subjective certainty). Pharisaism, which derived certainty from its own actions, was the height of injustice and lack of faith. Man cannot rest in his understanding of the law or his accomplishments in fulfilling that law. Though certitudo is said to be based on the external Word, the mode of our certainty is purely subjective, i.e.,


Menno Simons, though seemingly affirming the doctrine of grace as held by the Reformers in some of his statements, does so with a different logic, in a different context, and with a different reason. His motivation is not opposition against Catholic teaching on the necessity of the cooperation of man through works, since that is how he understands the meaning of faith (as obedience and trust) and being justified (becoming intrinsically righteous) in the first place, though his language may be different. It is not the restoration of what was perceived as Pauline doctrine on the antithesis of grace and works, or of gospel and law, that drove his thinking in the way it did for Luther. Faith is a gift of God, surely, but one that transforms man if it is really present and sincere; though to Menno it is also certain that the cleansing of sin is done by God on the basis of Christ’s work without any use of sacraments and is not earned by meritorious works. Still, there can be no real faith without the cooperation of man’s will, so being justified is one of the consequences of a life of faith and not an extrinsic condition for it.82 Menno’s reason for opposing Catholic teaching lies elsewhere: in the definition of those works that are required as an essential feature of the faith that justifies, not in the idea that man cannot cooperate with God or should not perform good works. In his “Of the Correct Christian faith” (78a, b) Menno states that Catholic teaching makes redemption dependent upon obedience to the Pope and the use of the sacraments. The falsity of that doctrine to Menno is in the contents, not in the formal definition of obedience and its relationship to salvation. His quarrel with Rome is about the sacramental context of obedience, not about the principle that faith and obedience cannot be separated and that only a faith that
knowledge or persusasion. Dialectically, the objectivity is based on subjectivity. Menno’s insistence on certainty derived from faith-experience is subjective insofar as the inner word must accompany the external Word. But it is objective in the sense that the results of faith are there for all to see and judge. 82 Such a doctrine, which accepts both imputed righteousness and external grace and an infusion of grace and works of righteousness – though from faith, caused by justification – cannot but be described as semi-Pelagianism. The analytical distinction between external (forensic) justification and its fruit in a life of holiness is its counterpart and extreme opposite. But as I set out to show, Menno’s position is not that of Wesleyanism, in which the believer needs to add to the primal justification in order to be fully saved and to “earn” – ultimately by grace, as in Augustine – his redemption.


expresses itself in charity and good work is the right one.83 Of course Luther agreed on the principle that faith leads to good works. But he would have denied that faith is an act of obedience.84 In conformity with this, Menno’s, Denck’s, and Hubmaier’s doctrines are determined by what Goertz calls the “anticlerical situation.” In that perspective, Menno sees Rome as demanding works that are extraneous to the faith and obedience that are demanded in scripture. The quarrel is therefore not about the principle, but about the contents. As for the doctrine itself, we are not convinced that Anabaptist thinking really amounts to a denial of justification by faith and should be read as a straightforward Catholic position of “justification-by-works-helped-by-grace.” It seems more appropriate to think of Menno’s position as acceptance of the core essence of Lutheranism, but denying the specific anthropological presupposition that went along with it and rejecting the division between the forensic and the experiential side of justification, all of which led to a change in what was seen as the core essence of the gospel, a shift from justification to sanctification, sanctification thereby becoming the main paradigm of all other concepts. Four major differrences arise between Anabaptists and the magisterial Reformation: the anthropology of sin, the issue of inner conscience, the meaning of justification as
Luther differed on the principle of good works with Catholic doctrine precisely because of its motivation and the lack of faith that was expressed in it. So he can state in the Sermon on Good Works “When we reject the great, pretentious works of our time, which are done entirely without faith, they say: Men are only to believe and not to do anything good. For nowadays they say that the works of the First Commandment are singing, reading, organ-playing, reading the mass, saying matins and vespers and the other hours, the founding and decorating of Churches, altars, and monastic houses, the gathering of bells, jewels, garments, trinkets and treasures, running to Rome and to the saints. Further, when we are dressed up and bow, kneel, pray the rosary and the Psalter, and all this not before an idol, but before the holy cross of God or the pictures of His saints: this we call honoring and worshiping God, and, according to the First Commandment, “having no other gods”; although these things usurers, adulterers and all manner of sinners can do too, and do them daily.” Sermon on Good Works, p.123 (211). Faith then as an act of “obedience” to the first commandment is immediately taken in the sense of certainty and trust and as such becomes a form or quality of human actions. 84 To Luther faith in this context is the certainty or inward trust that God finds pleasure in what we do connected to our acceptance that Christ is the One that God has sent. (John 6:28) Cf. Sermon on Good Works, p. 112 (LWW, VI, 204)


renewal, and the matter of what constitutes the condition of salvation.

(1) The difference in presupposed anthropology
It seems obvious with regard to anthropology, e.g., that the 16th-century Anabaptists did not agree with the magisterial Reformation’s view that man’s nature was to be identified with his alienated and fallen state. Such a presupposition is alien to their minds, and if they had accepted some such doctrine they would have used the notion of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice to neutralize it by arguing that Christ changed that condition for all mankind by defeating the power of sin, releasing all of mankind from its bonds and setting them free to obey again.85 On the basis of the bleak anthropology of man’s utter depravity, however, sovereign election had to be the answer; making God’s election necessarily an act outside of human history (before creation, as some of the Biblical texts do state), with the ethical consequence that any righteousness that man could hope to achieve within history is then completely useless and condemned from the start, merely by being part of man’s effort. Man in his fallen state can do no good whatsoever, granted, but what about man in his transformation by the grace of God? If God must be shown to be sovereign in His election, can He not also be sovereign in his enabling mankind to obedience? In the diagnosis that mankind is unable to do God’s command, even to a Christian there is perhaps both an abstract exaggeration of what constitutes sin as well as an acquiescence in the apparent lack of evangelical virtues in those who became members of a state-Church by baptism in infancy and subsequent confirmation. The Anabaptists differed profoundly on this issue. They saw Christ’s propitiatory work as effective in that it restored humanity’s freedom to choose to obey God. In this respect they
On the other hand, Mennonite theology does not amount to Pelagianism, since it does not accept the latter’s basic thesis that man is able on his own account to achieve salvation and live according to God’s will. Pelagianism lies in the assumption of the plenary ability of man; his ability to do all that righteousness can demand, i.e., to work out not only his own salvation but also his own perfection. Experientially however, the notion that man is restored to full freedom by Christ’s sacrifice would amount to the same thing, since the recognition of Christ’s work has no role to play in it. Here enters the importance of the notion that freedom is restored only in so far as the ability to repent is concerned. Freedom brings insight into man’s predicament and his need for grace.


disagreed with Augustine, who thought this part of Christ’s work was effective only for the elect and not for all of mankind. It would have made no sense, however, for God to condemn mankind on the basis of its inability to do any good since the Fall. Then we would have indeed the mere declarative situation that all are condemned because of the sin of Adam which is imputed to all his descendants, and they are not condemned because of their own sin.86 (This will prove, however, to be an incorrect reading of Romans 5.) For how can anyone be condemned for the failure to do the good if that failure is not part of his own choosing? This difference in anthropology was pervasive amongst Anabaptists. To cite just one other 16th-century example, we could refer to Caspar Schwenckfeld. He had converted to Lutheranism as early as 1518, but, according to G.H. Williams (1993, 202), his interpretation of justification was different from that of Luther. He thought he had learned from Luther: “that the sons of Adam, after they have by faith been incorporated into the Second Adam, are capable of exercising their free will to do good” which essentially reiterates Augustine’s notion of grace restoring man’s defective freedom to its intended condition. In that way, the doctrine moved away from its Lutheran emphasis on forensic justification of individual man to a progressive and experiential sanctification of the believer as part of the Church. The logical pattern that correlated a pessimist anthropology with a doctrine of election and/or predestination thereby stopped short. On the Cross, Christ restored man’s freedom of will and effected the removal of all sins in the world. On the basis of this “Christological anthropology” the emphasis again could shift from reception of faith to response to revealed grace. Menno was not the only defender of this position. Most 16thcentury Anabaptist soteriology, according to G.H. Williams87 presupposed the expiatory removal of original guilt for all mankind. Its anthropology was therefore not a natural theology based on essential misgivings about human nature, but a part of Christology. The result was a different view both of human

Still, Paul states in Rom. 5:12 that death reigned over Adam’s posterity because ‘all have sinned’. The imputation of Adam’s sin to his children is not a matter of being ‘reckoned’ unjust with no basis in man’s actual behaviors. But as an attribution of guilt it is the basis of our being left in the power of sin. 87 Williams, Radical Reformation , p. 1270


responsibility and of the ability of humanity to serve God. So man was able to do good works and could be taken to account if he did not. Here Anabaptism moved away from Augustine. In opposition to the father of Catholicism, this expiation was not merely for the elect, and it was not sufficient to know this, which contradicted Augustine’s more intellectual notion of faith. His formula for this doctrine : “Justification derives from the knowledge of Christ through faith” separates knowledge from the life of faith. It clearly shows that justification, though resting on a divine initiative, received its full meaning only in the experience of regeneration and discipleship that followed suit. Such a doctrine of justification as restoration of creation, in this case, free will, was directed against the doctrine of the complete corruption of man’s free will, developed as a battle cry against forms of (semi-)Pelagianism, which required the Reformation to add predestination of the elect to the doctrine of justification. Anabaptism therefore could base its concept of faith as obedience on the notion that if man was able to seek God, it could be enough that God prompted him to do so. The human response could be a free conversion of man to God, accepting the offer of God’s grace in Christ in an act of the will that was in all respects of his own doing. After conversion, this basic freedom remained intact, so man could live out his life of faith in obedience and accountability. Anabaptist theology, by stressing Christ’s intervention as objectively effective for all of mankind, could go for the maximum of human freedom and responsibility. The pattern of ethics was not the inner reception of outward justification but the outward act of inner obedience in conversion and baptism.

(2) The emphasis on the real versus the inner man
A related bone of contention is the anthropological emphasis on the inner man, the guilty conscience as well as the certitude of redemption which is so characteristic of 17th-century theology in the wake of conditions that simultaneously produced Cartesian rationalism. Any righteousness that can be attributed to man, which the Reformers actually allowed and called iustitia inhaerens objective (righteousness that is inherent in man objectively), is not then the inherent righteousness of his works, but only a subjective certitude about the sincerity of faith and the reality of his state of grace, through the testimony of his works and walk in life. This is called iustificatio iusti (the justification of the righteous), and this


is what Menno seems to stress, with the exception that it was not correct to speak of the testimony of good works, or the fruit of (i.e., attitudes flowing from) faith, but of the fruits (i.e., concrete and distinct acts) of obedience. But more important, to Menno the issue is not about certitude at all, but about external visibility; not about a subjectively experienced reality with primary reference to the status of faith, but about the objective way of life that is visible to all. So here Menno does not side with the interiorization of faith that resulted from disagreement with what was perceived as a Catholic stress on outwardness. Menno rejected the sweeping anthropological statement concerning man’s sinfulness and modified the equally abstract confirmation of the internal experience of shame and guilt, which in combination had produced such a bleak picture of human inability.

(3) The justification of the sinner
A third difference is apparent when we look at the iustificatio peccatoris (justification of the sinner, cf. Rom. 4:5), which is at the heart of the Reformation. In Reformed doctrine there is no infusion of righteousness (actus physicus, i.e., a real transformation) but only a forensic act, a declaration. It is a change of outer man (mutatio hominis exterior), not of inner man. The effective cause of that declarative righteousness is the righteousness of Christ, or rather His objective work on the cross as substitionary atonement. The righteousness of Christ atones for our lack of it, insofar as righteousness is demanded of us. So His righteousness takes the place of ours, and He stands in our place in God’s judgment. This righteousness is nothing but that demanded under law. The result is not the removal (remissio) of sin, but its forgiveness, (i.e., taking away the punishment), which makes adoption by God possible. So justification is achieved by imputation, forensic declaration, with Christ’s righteousness as its real basis. Here we might have only a distinction within the terminology. Justification does originally mean both: the declaration of man-being-righteoused before the day of judgment frees man from the fear of that judgment and makes possible his position as adopted child of God in the present. That this cannot be separated from the renewal of man through the spirit, so that God’s judgment has also a basis in man’s righteousness, expresses the other and real


consequence of the fact that Christ’s Spirit dwells in us. Menno emphasizes the result of the imputation: if we cannot call the imputed righteousness our own in any sense, it does not help us at all to know of Christ’s righteousness. It needs to become our own, and it must be attributed as well as imputed to us. Anabaptist logic would have it thus: if Christ’s righteousness is “my own” (because Christ is called “our” righteousness), then this must be visible in my life, and not merely in my inner conscience, else we take Christ’s righteousness to be effective only in God’s court of law and not in real life. We thereby make our inner resistance to God’s grace a real obstacle to God’s Spirit.

(4) The condition of salvation
Now there is the final matter of the condition: faith in the work of Christ is in some sense the condition for being justified. It is of course not the effective cause, as if faith could force God to justify, but it can be called the instrumental cause of redemption. An effective cause could only be righteousness under law or good works. Therefore, it is not faith that justifies, but Christ’s righteousness justifies through faith as its means of accomplishing it. If that is so, it is improper to speak of faith as the effective cause (“by faith”) of being justified. The phrase “justification by faith” suggests that faith is the effective cause, even if faith is understood as a gift. (Living) faith that is not seen as the cause of redemption can then only be understood as the sign and inner experience of being justified by God, part of that process which is in itself the result of its declaration by God. We then take “by faith” to refer to the material cause. Such a faith is then the result of Gods redeeming act working upon a human being. As soon as we emphasize that justification is by faith, we set up faith either as an effective cause and in that sense an active condition, or as a material cause, as a passive condition. Menno might have agreed with Luther that faith cannot be either the effective or material cause of redemption, so both would contend that “by faith” refers to the instrumental cause. Faith is what God gives when He redeems and justifies and at the same time, it is what He uses to make a human perfect before Him. Nevertheless, to Menno this concept of faith as an instrumental cause would not be the sufficient condition of redemption since it would limit what God is prepared to do for humanity.


It is different if we define faith not as a belief, or even as trust in God’s promise that is there in single moments of persuasion, but widen the concept to include also the works of faith, the life of hope, endurance, and perseverance; if we speak about faith not as assent or certitude of the mind but as a life of submission of the will in concrete acts. In that sense, faith could perhaps be called, from an Anabaptist perspective, the condition of salvation and the instrumental cause of it. It is not as if salvation can be earned, but because salvation is “worked out” – becomes effective, in such a life. Faith can be that condition in two ways: as the condition of our knowledge of salvation in others, or ourselves and as a condition already met, because the life of faith is identical to the life of salvation. That left Anabaptism with a dual strategy: they could say, with Luther, that faith was the sign of grace received (cognitive condition), and they could argue that this was not enough, that faith was also the shape of the saintly life (material condition). The former looked at faith as the acknowledgment of God’s action in Christ, which was the primary gift of God, and the latter took faith to be the life of faith that originated in the acknowledgment of God’s act but was experienced fully only through repentance, renewal and perseverance. On the basis of the above, the general Anabaptist position in the 16th century can be described as the outcome of these three factors working together: 1 Because Man is not considered to be totally depraved and corrupt as a result of the fall, because only body and soul but not the spirit was corrupted (Hubmaier), or because he is considered to be freed from those consequences by the propitiatory work of Christ for all of mankind (Hoffmann), he is able to be free and active in his decision for Christ (hence adult baptism). Faith is then understood actively as a response of submission to God’s revelation in Christ. It is made possible by the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ for all mankind but is only effectively realized in those who obey and accept it. To them, Christ’s work can be said to be a substitutionary sacrifice as well. 2 Because Anabaptists agreed that faith as defined by belief and assent is not the instrumental (nor the effective) cause of being justified, but merely a sign of being made righteous by God, they could further argue that it is not an effective condition of justification (so the slogan justification by


faith cannot be used to describe it). Against that they stated first of all that faith and living justly must go hand-in-hand, which was the Calvinist solution. On the other hand, if faith is defined within the Anabaptist perspective as the real experience of the life of faith, involving contrition, repentance, endurance, obedience, and the like, it can be properly called a condition of salvation, because then it is taken to be identical to repentance (cf. Mark 1:15), which is a condition of salvation or of spiritual rebirth, in which God’s grace enables man to make a new life, “industrious in good works.” 3 What the Reformation approached as an issue of certitude, speaking about the testimony of works with regard to the reality of faith, is then taken to mean: the reality of works and faith working together, which is not that different from Calvin’s understanding of the relationship between justification by a living faith, working through love.88 The works were acts of faith, not so much the fruits of faith; put differently: faith was the power of “good works,” not its inner motivation or its pattern. It is this anthropological presupposition of the relation between inner and outer man and the emphasis on faith as certitude within inner man that is taken differently. What of course is also denied is the further consequence of the Reformed logic of justification that we mentioned earlier: that if faith must be maintained as a condition and instrumental cause of justification, it cannot be the work of man at all, therefore faith itself is nothing but a gift, which can then, within the doctrine of predestination, be taken as the sign under which the elect are called within history. In opposition to that, the Anabaptists held that the subjective factor had dignity as both an active and a passive response to God’s side: acting outside and inside man (Christ’s work and the Spirit’s renewal). To take faith as a gift only, and not as a response, overemphasizes that
Calvin’s appraisal of the Anabaptist movement was perhaps guided mostly by the aberrations he saw in its spiritualist (South-German) version, which went through Lutheranism first (Hubmaier of course came from Zwingli, not Luther) and laid heavy emphasis on spiritual rebirth and the new life. Calvin had no sympathy for that kind of fanaticism: “Some Anabaptists in the present age mistake some indescribable sort of frenzied excess for the regeneration of the Spirit, holding that the children of God are restored to a state of innocence, and, therefore, need give themselves no anxiety about curbing the lust of the flesh; that they have the Spirit for their guide, and under his agency never err.” (Cf. Calvin., Inst. III, 3, p. 693. Cf Also Beachy, Grace, p. 17.)


faith can only be an inner reality in the sense of Calvin’s empty jar, in which grace is received from the outside. Though it can be argued simply that while God gives us the gift of faith, this gift implies that we believe. It then becomes a question of how we view this fact that “we” believe, i.e., what degree of relative independence we give to this fact. It has to be stressed that this acceptance of the role of man’s liberty was nowhere leading to the view that redemption was based on man’s activity in itself. But obedience was emphasized to a degree unknown to other reformers, because God’s grace was seen to be effective in the transformation of human life, and not only presented as declarative formula. We will analyze here one typical example to show how faith and obedience were connected in Menno’s thinking. Menno stated, in his “Reasons for Teaching and Writing”: 1. Behold, most beloved reader, thus true faith or true knowledge begets love, and love begets obedience to the commandments of God. Therefore Christ Jesus says, "He that believeth on him is not condemned." Again at another place, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life," John 5: 24. 2. For true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation. 3. All those who have a faith as is here mentioned, namely, a faith that makes desirous to walk in the commandments of the Lord? To do the will of the Lord, and which shows itself in all


righteousness, love and obedience, also acknowledge that the word and will of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ is true wisdom, truth and life, yea, unchangeable and immutable unto Christ Jesus shall reappear in the clouds of heaven at the judgment day; they do not scoff at God’s word as if it were a vapor, as do the ignorant world, saying, "What can water avail me?" but they will diligently try to obey the word of Jesus Christ in every particular, even at the risk of death according to the flesh..89 [italics mine] In this arrangement of the text we see something of the characteristic style of Menno’s work. Every statement is followed by a series of biblical quotations which are then used to develop the argument further. Let’s look at the first instance. The thesis is: Behold, most beloved reader, thus true faith or true knowledge begets love, and love begets obedience to the commandments of God. Faith leads to love, love leads to obedience. What is the biblical source? Therefore Christ Jesus says, "He that believeth on him is not condemned." So what is the implicit reasoning here? That obedience equals “not being condemned”? A statement like that would need some support! It is given, again implicitly, in the next quotation, where the “hearing of the word” is mentioned as a prerequisite of salvation. So we have this train of equations: faith begets love which begets obedience to the commandments which begets salvation (as implied in the quotation). The text quoted mentions two components: believing on him (the first in Menno’s train), which leads to salvation, the implied conclusion of the series. If someone who believes is not condemned, then to Menno this situation of being saved implies the presence of a faith that (1) is active in love and (2) is active in obedience, and only then can it indeed lead to “no condemnation.” Behind the quoted text that mentions belief as the condition of salvation, Menno discerns a train of concrete conditions that are implied in this full and complex concept of faith that now emerges in the commentary. The same comes to the fore in the next verse where a similar train is assembled: hearing His words = obedience (hear the word, believe in Him, implying obedience, hath everlasting life).

Complete Works of Menno Simons, 1871, II, p. 246


In the passage as a whole is the same equation: (1) obedience to commandments equals (2) works of love, equals (3) righteousness, love and obedience and these are the major steps in the argument. The basic argument is simply this: evangelical faith is faith practiced as concrete obedience, sealed by baptism on the risk even of death. The common element of all of these steps is the word obedience that occurs in all three paragraphs. Though there is an apparent lack of structural words, the implicit threading of quotations and equations of terms is in itself a coherent way of making an argument. It is typical of a mind that is constantly commenting on texts and formulating the result of readings, not a mind that forms concepts or complex syllogisms which may move beyond the confines of the text. This mode of biblical exegesis , producing glosses on scriptural texts by which concepts were given logical coherence, involving all kinds of logical connections, was of course typical of the age. All of the above explains why Menno, through his synthetic way of reading Scripture, cannot conform to Lutheran doctrine, which emphasizes “by faith alone” to such an extent that not only does it negate the necessity of the specific works that Rome demanded, but it seems to imply that faith is something in itself, completely apart from works. Works are then rightly understood as works of obedience, as the compliance of the free will of man with the will of his Creator, not as works that flow from faith as an inner power, working mysteriously within man’s soul. Menno Simons could only agree with Luther insofar as these “works” that are not necessary for and are even hurtful to faith are the works prescribed by un-evangelical obedience to the Roman Church. Arguing, however, that works of obedience are not necessary is to him similar to arguing that a dead faith can also save. The contention that faith is an inner source of works of gratitude means positing obedience as a state of mind in the inner man. That would mean blurring the difference between submission and obedience, instead of emphasizing actions in the outer world, where obedience and suffering count and are visible to others. The analytical distinction between obedience and faith is therefore countered with the synthetic reading of faith and obedience into one composite concept, closer to biblical thought-categories and providing a synthetic framework in which various texts can be harmonized, and most importantly, providing a conceptuality


that can be correlated with a way of life as a whole. So, moving beyond Luther, it is not merely the case that Menno wanted to see works as proof of a living faith. He disapproves of the notion that obedience can be an inner assent or motivation without an obedient concrete act, that is, one that conforms to an “ordinance.” What Menno therefore takes aim at is a potential exaggeration of Luther’s position that would hold not only that no works are necessary for salvation, not even those that rightfully belong to the new life of faith, but even that all attention paid to works is harmful, that they cannot be part of our life in faith as such, i.e., as ordinances with some specific and individual status as precisely this concrete demand. For the works that are thereby denied, and the shape of obedience that is relegated to a “Jewish” works-holiness, are to Menno precisely the heart of Christian ethics as it appears under the New Covenant as obedience to the ordinances of Christ. How can a believer not obey Christ’s commandment to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, which is a clear ordinance in the New Testament? If there is disobedience to this outward commandment, how can there be real and living faith? Ultimately Menno’s position can be described in this one sentence: if we do not accept in faith Christ as our Lord, how can He be our Savior? 90

Cf. J.C. Wenger, The Doctrines of the Mennonites, p. 62. Wenger summarizes Menno’s point of view: “It is faith that saves and faith alone, but where there is no discipleship there is no saving faith.” [Ital. mine]



12. Ambiguities in the Anabaptist Confessions of Faith Menno’s solution of combining justification and sanctification into one concept of obedience in faith, stressing that God sanctifies the believer (i.e., through inner, transforming grace shown in outward behaviour), was not followed consistently, which contributed perhaps to some ambiguity in the formulation of the Mennonite position in later centuries. To be sure, the basic understanding of what Menno would have called “true and living faith,” that is, an active faith, experienced in contrition, repentance, and renewal, and in a justification that is a real transformation from being wicked into being righteous, has been reaffirmed many times in confessional statements of the Anabaptist movement. But there is nearly always the presence of an added Lutheran emphasis on forensic justification, as if Mennonite doctrine could never fully accept the inner connection between justification and sanctification out of which the movement as a whole was born. E.g., according to article 6 of the 1963 Brief statement of Mennonite Doctrine, issued by the Mennonite General Conference: “We believe that Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, a free gift bestowed by God on those who repent and believe.”91 Salvation by grace through faith could certainly be part of any formulation of a justification by faith doctrine, as is the notion of salvation as a free gift. Possibly the expression “through faith” avoids the problematic elements of “by faith” which might refer to faith as effective cause. But the recipients of this gift are characterized as “those who repent and believe,” bringing into play all the elements of renewal and regeneration that are connected with the notion of repentance and obedience. So here we do not have Menno’s insistence that justification only makes sense as an element of sanctification, but a kind of return to Lutheranism, which deems sanctification to be an independent consequence of extrinsic justification. Menno’s synthetic way of thinking was here subjected to analytic modes of thought. It is the same with other statements of faith. The Mennonite Confession of Faith, adopted in the same year by the Mennonite General Conference, first states less ambiguously that ”salvation is appropriated (italics mine) by faith in Christ,”

Loewen, 1985, 78.


which is on the surface a derivative of the “by faith alone” position. Yet again, the term appropriated puts an emphasis on the experiential side of faith. The article (6) even returns to the language of repentance where it later says, “Those who repent and believe in Christ as Savior, are born again and are adopted into the family of God.”92 Nevertheless, these modern confessions of faith clearly have tried to incorporate the language of justification by faith into the former Anabaptist emphasis on the “improvement of life,” which shines through so clearly in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527: “Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life.” 93 But then, of course, the Schleitheim Confession had no need to argue the Anabaptist position to outsiders, but was meant to be a statement of unity amongst diverging Anabaptist congregations. One gets the impression that the separate emphasis on justification in later confessional documents was the answer to a question put to Anabaptists by believers who were concerned about Anabaptist loyalty to the justification doctrine. The Brethren in Christ “Statement of Doctrine” of 1961 even uses the analytic distinction of judicially and experientially to separate God’s accounting us as guiltless and “as recipients of the imputed righteousness in Christ” from “spiritual birth and the new life.” It is the Evangelical Mennonite Church that went the farthest in its effort to remain within mainstream Protestant thinking, and in 1936 it adopted a separate article on justification that equates justification with pardon of sins, righteousness being “reckoned” through faith. But even here repentance is placed next to faith as a sacred duty (art. VII), and regeneration (i.e., being born again not as a synonym for conversion but more akin to amendment of life) is called a prerequisite of salvation (art. VIII), which in a sense counteracts the original thrust of the justification by faith alone doctrine.94 So we must doubt very much, precisely because of the way Mennonites have reasoned about their faith since Menno through their various statements of doctrine, whether this appearance of the language of justification by faith in Mennonite work and confessions, does indeed represent a
92 93 94

Ibid., 74. Ibid., 79; [Ital. mine] Ibid., 214.


shared doctrine of the Magisterial and the Radical Reformation. We found in our brief survey of Menno’s Fundamentboek that some of the language seems to refer to the Lutheran doctrine of salvation without works, but that that impression is misleading if the key concepts of faith and righteousness are used differently. The same goes for the various Confessional statements that either by juxtaposition or in separate articles both affirm and restrict the doctrine of justification by faith, in a sense, try to avoid the stress on “by faith alone” that was so characteristic of Luther while at the same time adopting its basic assumption. This duality sometimes breaks out in minor controversies among Mennonite scholars today. One illustrative example might be worth mentioning here. In 1962, J. C. Wenger of Goshen Biblical Seminary presented his “Grace in Anabaptist Theology” at the 7th Mennonite World Conference (held in Ontario with the theme the “Lordship of Christ”). Quoting Menno Simons, Wenger argued that the Anabaptists knew about the sufficiency of grace and did not teach a justification by works, or a synergism at all. Menno had said: “You see, kind reader, we do not seek salvation in works, words, or sacraments, as do the learned ones, although they accuse us of that very thing; but we seek them only in Christ Jesus and in no other means in heaven or on earth. We rejoice exclusively in this only means. We trust by the grace of God to continue thus unto death.”95 .A response was written by Alvin Beachy, at that time a minister for the General Conference Mennonite Church in Souderton, Penna. He argued that he agreed with Wenger that Anabaptist sources do not in general teach synergism. Nonetheless, this does not mean, as Wenger implied, that the Anabaptist doctrine of grace fits in without problems with mainstream Protestant thought. Beachy goes on to show that it was the anthropology of Anabaptism that made them reject the bondage of the will, and as a consequence the doctrine of double predestination. (The election of the believers was also taught by Menno, e.g., in his meditation on the 25th psalm, but not as a consequence of anthropology.) A doctrine of justification that starts from the freedom and not from the
Complete Works, pp. 504- 505. Quoted in the proceedings of the Conference, p. 436.


bondage of the will leads to a totally different result, much closer to Thomas Aquinas’s position.96 Dutch Anabaptist thought, especially, emphasized the demand for repentance and contrition as a condition of regeneration. But if this capacity for repentance is in itself a consequence of God’s initial grace, it prevents the accusation of legalism. To Menno, the initial grace effects a restoration of freedom, making repentance possible; to Marpeck, the initial grace only makes man aware of his guilt and depravity and in need of Christ. Marpeck therefore stands closer to Luther in the end, than does Menno. Another Anabaptist emphasis that seems to vitiate the need for grace is that on Nachfolge, or discipleship. According to Beachy, the Anabaptists could stress this because their concept of regeneration involved “a concept of salvation which is predominantly the divinization of man, combined with a Church-Christ mysticism which was intensely strong in both Menno and Dirk (Philips).”97 Present holiness and justification, therefore, went hand in hand, and the presence of the Holy Spirit as the source of the “victorious life in Christ” made all the difference. Both the Catholic doctrine of the fragmented presence of Christ in the Church’s sacraments and the Protestant one-sided doctrine of justification were challenged by this return to the New Testament’s dual perspective of justification and sanctification. The faith-alone position moved in another direction, much different from Mennonite theology. Luther’s emphasis on justification by grace, received in but not grounded on the experience of faith, gave way to a more scholastic position, defining faith as assent to a rationally understood doctrine. With Augustine, the relative intellectualizing of his concept of faith was partly negated by his insistence that faith needed the other theological virtues of love and hope to become perfect in man. To Reformation doctrine, no such refuge was open. If man was unable to cooperate with God then God’s sovereign initiative was all-important even in this matter of understanding and believing doctrine. If salvation is dependent on the correct understanding of doctrine, then of course God’s sovereignty must be seen to achieve the certainty required here that man

Alvin Beachy shows from Marbeck (sic) that some Anabaptists agreed in general with the notion of ‘first grace’ that is like a light that shines unto every individual, and for which every individual is responsible for submitting to it. Ibid, p. 438. Their use of the doctrine was different. 97 Ibid, p. 439.


could not. There must be an infallible basis for the understanding of doctrine, and faith itself must be proven to be authentic by its conformity to the confession. The Westminster Confession speaks about this saving and authoritative doctrine as “expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequences [...] deduced from Scripture.” And then it was not far to the conclusion that only God could have produced such a book of perfect doctrine. In a way, this approach to the infallibility of scripture both promoted and hindered the development of the doctrine of justification by grace. For on the one hand it seemed to finally state the grounds that made Paul’s gospel authoritative and central in Protestant theology. Paul’s gospel was not a part of a developing self-understanding of the early Church, but a textbook of perfect statements that we needed to understand and affirm in order to be saved. But on the other hand it changed the meaning of faith in Christ into assent to doctrine, which deepened the gap between faith as mental attitude and faith as a way of life. In that sense, Lutheran orthodoxy returned precisely to the conception of faith that it had discovered in Catholic scholasticism, and which needed “love” as an addition to signify the whole status of sanctity in man. We have found, so far, that the Anabaptist doctrine of justification implied the transformation of man (as in Catholic doctrine and particularly in Augustine) but denied the anthropological presupposition connected to the fall as implying the total degeneracy of man, and thereby also gave a higher status to man’s free will. It resisted Augustine’s notion that human liberty was restored only in the elect. From then on, justification and sanctification have remained in a tense relationship, as we have seen by studying the shape of the doctrine in Menno and the more recent confessions of faith. We have found, on the other hand, a Reformation consensus on justification by faith alone that stresses God’s initiative and denies the cooperation of man in the work of his salvation. It sees works as part of the effect of the gift of faith, as a sign of its existence, but not as an accomplishment of man. Grace does not help man help himself, grace does it all. Anabaptism, on the other hand, while not refuting the sufficiency of grace, saw it work in different ways. Their doctrine made them vulnerable to the accusation of legalism, and even amongst Mennonite scholars, the Dutch variant of Anabaptism is


sometimes referred to as such.


13. Evangelical duty versus external legality
So what did the Anabaptist movement do with the issue of commandment and law? Having established that the experiential life of faith as obedience was the core issue in Anabaptism (expressed in the concept of discipleship), we turn now to the question of what sources Anabaptists recognized as formally defining Christian ethics. In general, the early Anabaptists, and especially Marpeck and Menno, were in agreement with Luther and Calvin that sinners must be “broken” by the law, led to contrition, as a part of receiving faith. The sinful human will was in rebellion against God, even though the Anabaptists in principle accepted the notion that the human will is capable of responding positively to God. Repentance and contrition were given emphasis in the Dutch Anabaptist movement at least equal to that of Luther and Calvin. The difference emerged, however, when the question at issue became what happened after a person had responded to grace. Luther maintained that the prosecuting, condemning role of the law continued to be important in the life of a Christian. The openness and need for grace had to be reaffirmed over and over again through the condemning judgment of scripture. The pedagogical use of the law was thereby emphasized to have a leading role in the Christian life. Anabaptists, however, were not content to speak only about faith that saved, but added the notions of regeneration and obedience. We have already made this clear from our study of the Fundamentboek by Menno Simons. The law to them, therefore, could function in the sense of a very real demand that was replaced by evangelical obedience, to be sure, but not invalidated on principle. At the same time, the Mosaic law not only condemned the sinner, but also drove him to Christ and made him worthy of forgiveness. For Dirk Philips, the law teaches knowledge of sin, the fear of God, and from this follows the broken and contrite heart that is acceptable to God. The beginning of faith was therefore not the confession of being a sinner, but repentance emerging in a changed way of life. On that basis, Anabaptists could have gone into the direction of Calvin’s third sense of the law, his “usus in renatis.” Though the Spirit of Christ in the believer replaced obedience to the law, it did make the believer fulfil the Mosaic law as seen in its


moral aspect. Knowledge of the written law was therefore indispensable as an aid to understanding what God wants from us. “Could,” we said, but in actual fact it hardly ever happened like this. The law had almost no direct pedagogical function, and most often a preparatory and condemning one. Illustrative of this negative appraisal of the Mosaic law is this quotation from Pilgram Marpeck: “This Jesus Christ is the free Son of God and man, and He is without commandment or prohibition against His own, the faithful. For the rebels and transgressors of the commandments, however, the commandments of God are only the commandments of man, and the whole law only the law for damnation. For, where there is no sin or wickedness, no command or prohibition is needed; there is freedom from all law. Where commandment or prohibition rule conscience, heart, and even God’s law, one is not free, but is in bondage to sin and wickedness. There no free grace, peace, or joy in the Holy Spirit but, rather, the threat of punishment, fear, sorrowing, and anxiety about the vengeance on sin through the coming wrath of God. Because of this fear, external works and fruits of sin are at times neglected. Such fear of God is the beginning of true repentance, the hope to become free of the law of sin and to become free, through faith in Jesus Christ, in the word of grace. Such fear is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of God in His Son, who is the wisdom of His Father. In this manner, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sets one free. He alone, through His Holy Spirit makes godly the heart and the entire disposition of man. He erases the handwriting of the devil so that it is no longer the law that reigns, but grace and freedom in Jesus Christ, according to the nature of the true love of God and neighbour. This love in God is the real freedom. Without any coercion, this love truly fulfils all commands and prohibitions of the whole pleasure of God. That is the true freedom in Christ Jesus. Whomever He thus sets free is truly free, for whoever remains in His words is His true disciple.”98 So for the regenerate the law has no function at all; for the unregenerate, the law is there to instill in them repentance that leads to the fear of God, which in turn leads to the acceptance of the gospel in faith. Evangelical obedience does not follow the

Pilgram Marpeck in a letter called, Judgment and Decision, 1531, in Klaassen, 1978, p. 315.


pattern of the law in so far as it does not result in compliance with ‘mitzvoth’ as rules of behavior, but nevertheless obedience and submission to the moral standard and ordinances contained in the written record of Jesus’ teachings are part and parcel of the life of the Christian. That is why in the 6th ordinance of the Church of God, according to Dieter (Dirk) Philips, the “keeping of all of Christ’s commandments” has no reference to the Mosaic law at all, but instead to the maximum moral requirements of “godly life,” confession, forsaking all things, meekness, fasting and praying without cessation, and other similar virtues, all of which could be summarized by the “Rule of Christianity” (Gal. 6:16) that Christians are to follow the Example of Christ.99 So it is clear that it was not the Mosaic law as a collection of requirements, but the life and teachings of Christ that took primary place in exhortation. Luther’s decision to have a Christian follow the public law and obey the same statutes and legal practices as the rest of society was thus denied by the Anabaptists. Calvin’s reinstatement of the Mosaic law as the written record of the divine will that was now inscribed into the hearts of the faithful under the New Covenant was discarded as well. Only the shape of obedience under the New Testament was seen as the complete and sufficient description of Christian morality. Marpeck and Philips in particular seem to agree that the law as external obedience had no place in a Christian life, not as the model of evangelical obedience or as the pattern of societal rule of law. In that sense they radicalized Luther’s position. An obedience to the “law” (a Mosaic law applied only externally within society’s understanding) in that sense would even be tantamount to disobedience to Christ. Nevertheless, the pattern of obedience is still there. The concept of discipleship (Nachfolge) that is at the heart of Anabaptist ethics is not directed at achieving ethical transformation (in other words it is not a variation of Pelagianism), but it does presuppose an ability to comply with an external will by demanding obedience. Such an obedience is real, but distinct from what was seen as compliance with outward rules of behavior and at the same time different from the mystique of inner regeneration. Yoder put it like this: Because the Messiah came and poured out God’s Spirit,

English edition of the Enchiridion, p. 396, Funk, 1910.


obedience is possible [emphasis mine]. The obedience which was a potentiality became a reality in him. Pelagius affirmed (if the biased sources we have can be trusted) that there is something good left in human nature; an affirmation about Man. The "possibilists" [referring to Anabaptists, Jews, and Wesleyans to name a few, RAV] on the other hand are making an affirmation about God. The affirmation that obedience is possible is a statement not about me nor about human nature, but about the Spirit of God.100 So a true obedience is possible on the basis of God’s activity in man, not on the basis of a “neutral” anthropology; but what is its shape? Nachfolge is not about spontaneous good works flowing from faith or works of gratitude, nor is it obedience out of fear to a specific set of rules. It is neither inner spontaneous submission nor external legal compliance. “Evangelical” deeds of gratitude may be motivated by faith, but they are neither exclusively defined by faith nor only possible on the basis of the motivation of faith, so therein does not lie the distinctive pattern we are seeking. Their contents remain to some extent linked to those of the social environment, can be understood as response to prevailing morality. But Anabaptist obedience as Nachfolge Christi is about non-conformity to that environment. The source for the specific contents of Christian ethics in the Anabaptist perspective is not the contents of the law, nor the inner structure of faith, but the shape of the new community that is headed by a crucified Son of God. We will try to show that part of the answer lies in the ecclesiological emphasis of Mennonite christology. Its emphasis stems in my understanding exactly from where it will prove to be in Paul’s theology: in the distinctive shape and goals of the community that is defined by the obedience to Christ. It is the ecclesiological dimension that sets the Anabaptist ethics apart from all others. Yoder put this difference in the following manner: “What I propose to call "the nomic element" is therefore epistemologically more important than in the other traditions, since for them the need is only to motivate an ethic of social conformity, whereas the Anabaptists’ ethic must both motivate and inform a costly counter-cultural life style.” 101

John Howard Yoder, unpublished. A paper presented to a seminar of Jewish and Christian Theologians, at José C. Paz (Buenos Aires), Argentina, November 18, 1970. 101 Ibidem.


The “nomic” element is what we have been describing as the specific shape of non-conformist radical obedience. Yoder insists rightly upon the fact that the understanding of the gospel as to be obeyed is connected to the different life-style of Christians, and we would dare to add here that this life-style is realized in the distinct and separate community. The basic elements of this nonconformist community were exemplified for the 16th century in specific do’s and don’ts, such as not swearing oaths, adult baptism, repentance, and the amendment of life, all grounded in the commitment to follow biblical teachings as the highest authority in life. The basic pattern of evangelical obedience in Anabaptism was the corporate identity of a nonconforming community, committed to follow the example and the teachings of Christ as their mission in the world. We have expressed some surprise that Anabaptists, despite their emphasis on obedience to Christ, have not accepted Calvin’s usus in renatis of the Mosaic law for the faithful. Nevertheless, their concept of Nachfolge does imply obedience to an external will, expressed in commandments, and not an inner spontaneity in following the covenant ordinances of the New Testament. Their use of the “law of Christ” still has a “nomist” shape. That this ‘nomic’ element was not expressed as a form of affirmation of the law (in the sense we now have learned to take it as “Torah,” instruction) can on closer investigation really be no surprise. First of all, they shared the perspective of their era on what Jewish law could possibly mean. That Torah as “instruction” also comprised grace was not fully understood. That is something Christian theologians have learned very slowly over the centuries, as anti-Jewish bias gradually broke down. Second, Mennonite tradition must have been influenced strongly by the prevailing Lutheran antithesis between Grace and law, and it had to contend with an interpretation of the law that made it a valid source or functional equivalent of statecontrolled public law. Against that use of the law it supported the Lutheran insistence that the law was a preparation for the gospel, but they differed on the way it functioned. With Luther they agreed the law condemned, showed our guilt, and led us into accepting God’s forgiving grace, to which Anabaptists added: and led to a renewal of life or repentance as a prerequisite of faith. Nevertheless, Mennonites came to


emphasize obedience in faith to such an extent that the gospel in fact came to function as the law of the redeemed community. In the Mennonite experience, the Church was a visible community of people, a brotherhood consisting of people that did not belong to the pagan society in which they lived. In fact, the Church was defined by separation from this world, identified by baptism, discipline, morality and martyrdom. The state belonged, together with all other forms of secular power, to the old order that was on the verge of disappearing. Separation from the world was the basis of all its institutions. The Church must be visible in this separation from the world as a City on a Hill, and its members could not reside in the valley of worldly society. Let us show this more directly from a peculiar document in Mennonite history. The Schleitheim Confession of 1527, more than any other document of Mennonite faith, exemplifies the basic tendencies of its peculiar ethics and its ecclesiological dimension. The meaning given to baptism showed the primary insistence on morality and separation. Baptism should be given to those who had been taught repentance and the amendment of life and who desired to walk ‘in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”102 That this was not a mere moral rigor was expressed by demanding a true faith in the atonement, which after all defined the ethical situation of the believer. Rejecting infant baptism was vital to the Anabaptist understanding of the nature of the Church. Baptism was not entrance into civilized Christian society; it was rejection of the believer’s natural status as citizen of the state, because it signified his death with Christ and his resurrection unto a new life. The only biblical way to deal with sin and evil in this world was to separate or flee from it. No fellowship with unbelievers was possible and allowed. Furthermore, entry into the community of the faithful was to be voluntary. Only an adult can enter a covenant with a doctrinal and moral commitment. Rejection of the state implied also rejection of the violence that the state had in its employ to sanction and force people into submission. The rule of Christ as explained in Matthew 18 was seen as the paradigm of resolving differences and maintaining a biblical standard of behavior. To be part of the Church meant to be a brother or sister, not a citizen. Inadvertent error and sin must somehow be dealt with. It implied that the behavior of anyone had influence upon the

Schleitheim Confession, Loewen, 1985, p. 79b.


entire community, which was devoted to holiness and purity. Celebration of the Lord’s Supper had to be postponed until such time as these differences were resolved by the disciplinary process of Matthew 18. That meant that the ‘sword’, i.e., the entire system of punishment, sanctions, rewards, and other means of force and persuasion by which society organizes itself, was rejected without compromise, as an “ordering of God outside the perfection of Christ.” Instead, “mercy and forgiveness” are seen as the better way to deal with sin and sinners, and for Christians the only way. Christians were not allowed to seek punishment or to settle strife and disputes between people by judicial process. Because the sword was an instrument of society to regulate its affairs, all those with any political power had to use it or affirm its use. No Christian, therefore, could be a magistrate, if he was to follow a King in exile. After all, “the rule of government was according to the flesh.” Christians, however, had a citizenship in heaven. Besides that, the rejection of violence led to the position of nonviolent resistance that was based on Christ’s commandment to love the enemy. The decision not to engage in any kind of violence, that violence that was deemed necessary to preserve the integrity of the national state, brought Anabaptists in continuous conflict with the governments of western Europe. The process of truth within society was rejected as well, in conformity with that principle. The oath was said to be “a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises.” It meant that truth could only be found where the sword was used as threat, and in the understanding that it was normal within society for individual interests and liberties to clash with one another. It also referred to the system of mutual services that an ordered society produced by contracts and enforced by state power or by social sanction, as in the case of promises per se. The oath, therefore, stood for the way truth and trust were enforced within societies and thereby transformed into a matter of outward behavior. Against that, Mennonites maintained that all swearing is forbidden, because “we are not able to change the smallest part of ourselves.” A promise or an oath implies society’s fiction of total self-control and the universal necessity of truthfulness, which is contradicted by the very fact of a system of sanctions. Human beings who are not able to control themselves or the conditions in which they live and act are unable to affirm the future act of


their own volition. But they are able to speak truthfully according to what they are, their yes should be yes, their no should be no. Truthfulness is demanded as a matter of personal integrity, but not as a public matter of social duty. The visible community of the Church is dependent on this practice of truthfulness without force and risk. More important, the system of oaths implies unconditional affirmation of the authority of the state to demand public truth, even if that affirmation would then be used to exercise violence, making the swearer of the oath into the accomplice of state violence. To swear to the truth making God a witness and guarantor of one’s utterance means implicating God in the performance of human (in)justice. John Calvin attacked Anabaptists for making a division in this regard between Christ and the Old Testament: “The Anabaptists, not content with this moderate use of oaths, condemn all, without exception, on the ground of our Savior’s general prohibition, “I say unto you, Swear not at all: Let your speech be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:34; James 5:12.). In this way, they inconsiderately make a stumbling-stone of Christ, setting him in opposition to the Father, as if he had descended into the world to annul his decrees. In the law, the Almighty not only permits an oath as a thing that is lawful, (this were amply sufficient,) but, in a case of necessity, actually commands it (Exodus 22:11).103 It is true that Mennonites presupposed a direct authority of the New Testament in distinction to the Old Testament. Submission (not obedience) to the official state as a form of love for the enemy, accepting the secondary status of human government in this world while we await the return of Christ as the rightful King and accepting the official state’s moral intention to do good, is not the same as the duty to obey the state as if it were a God-given instrument to produce righteousness in this world. To be a part of the economic system without making that into the foundation of human solidarity (Matthew 22:21), and to accept the authority of the emperor without accepting the status he claims for himself (1 Tim. 2:2; Titus 3:1), is not identical to affirmation of and obedience to the state. Even in the form of passive refusal to obey, whenever the government demands something that contradicts biblical commandments, the state is

John Calvin, Inst. II, ch. 8, p. 450


still affirmed as the basis of our citizenship in this world. The alternative that is to be rejected here is insurrection against the state, because to use violence against a state that is rejected precisely because she uses violence against people would not only directly oppose biblical precepts, but would be self-contradictory. It is this view on the distinct natures of Church and state that drove Anabaptists, more than anything else, to move away from affirmation of the Old Testament as a direct source for morality. The breaking of bread, the most powerful symbol of the unity that is sought for within the Church, also implies a break with the old order. Unity in society at the level of the state expresses the delegated power of a plurality of independent liberties. The unity of the state is the symbol, and also the reality, of our common interest in an ordered state of things, in which each of us can exercise the maximum of individual freedom. Morality and legality are means to an end. So the state starts with individual freedom and has its final goal in it. The Church, however, is considered to be a collective of people “who must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by (adult) baptism.”104 This unity is in itself of a moral nature. Believers share one bread because they are united into the one fellowship with Christ and follow His ways. They show explicitly in their lives that they are committed to obedience to Christ’s commandments, and they do so within the Church as their primary place of allegiance.To be a part of Christ’s body is a condition of the morality that we exercise over against the powers of the world.105

104 105

Loewen, Mennonite Confessions of Faith, p. 80. In like manner, Paul in Romans 12 first establishes the inner nature of the Church as a collective devoted to Christ and ordered along the lines of faith, not those of power and interests.



14. The social ethics of salvation
Let us turn now to a contemporary Mennonite theologian to elaborate on the ecclesiological dimension of the Anabaptist concept of justification. The question we take with us from the previous paragraphs is this: how can one understand the new ethical situation from an Anabaptist perspective, in which justification is about obedience in faith as well as extrinsic amnesty, and where the evangelical law does not signal a return to (mere external) legalism? As we will see, Yoder is concerned with the constitution of the community that has the obligation to fulfill the ethical demand and the radical different and concrete nature of Christian ethics, in contrast with and opposition to general cultural demands, because here lies the possibility for Christian ethics to retain its particular character. In chapter 11 (“Justification by Grace through Faith”) of his Politics of Jesus, published four years before Keck’s article on justification in 1972,106 Yoder affirmed the centrality of the doctrine of justification and the distinctiveness of the Mennonite emphasis on regeneration and sanctification. He agrees with what he holds to be the consensus within Anabaptist tradition as a whole, that there is a “personal character of the righteousness God imputes to those who believe,”107 apparently agreeing here with Klaassen’s statement that this Reformed doctrine was shared by the Anabaptist movement, in conformity with other contemporary statements which seemed close to the evangelical-reformed doctrine. Now the Reformation doctrine is again challenged on the issue of the relationship between imputed righteousness and ethics, faith and works. What went wrong? “The act of justification or the status of being just or righteous before God is therefore radically disconnected from any objective or empirical achievement of goodness by the believer.” This statement is laden with implications. As we will see. (1) it is precisely this disconnection between the evangelical good and the moral order that is the primary focus of Leander Keck, who took this to be the core message of the entire New

See par. § 5. Justification as the definition of the ethical condition for the discussion of Keck’s article. 107 J.H. Yoder, Politics, 1994, pp. 212-227.


Testament. At stake here is one of the consequences of the adoption of justification as the foundational message of the gospel, i.e., the setting aside of Christ’s ethical teachings as in a way preparatory for Paul’s gospel. Yoder expressly negates the dissolution of the moral aspect of the gospel, emphasizing instead its character as social ethos of the redeemed community. And furthermore, (2) we find here again the argument against that Lutheran retreat into inwardness which made faith into a state of mind rather than a way of life, and a criterion of good works instead of a prerequisite. The personal character of the imputation is not to be understood in 16thcentury concepts. So here the notion of contrition and repentance is reevaluated to signify primarily a rational awareness of the righteousness of (social) action, especially in connection with issues of peace and violence. The gospel ethics is aiming at achieving peace along the path of mediation, nonviolent resistance and sacrificing love, not the inner peace of conscience. As Yoder argues, insistence on justification by grace alone and by faith alone, “apart from any correlation with works of any kind,” implies the loss of a radical ethical and social concern. The ethical tradition that Paul acquired from his contemporaries is then nothing but a vestige of the old world, destined to fade away into oblivion. If the real basis of Christian ethics is the Christian community in which the possibility of acting under God’s commands is being shown, then there is a ‘moral order’ in this world that defines the context of Christian acts: the Church. In such a Church, the old order of power politics is reversed, but it is still a moral order. By reading Paul’s statements in Galatians and Romans to be primarily about the ”new moral order, i.e., the reality of the Church of Jews and gentiles, Yoder can retain the concrete meaning and force of the Christian way of life as separate and distinct. All of the above statements about what Paul had in mind by justification of the ungodly have come under fire with the advent of new scholarship, some of it already available in the early seventies, but apparently its results were evaluated differently by Keck and Yoder. Yoder’s remake of classical Anabaptist polemics is enhanced and deepened by his use of new exegetical insights into the social dimension of the concept of righteousness in the New Testament and a new appreciation of the ecclesiological or political dimension of the gospel, and, in Yoder’s specific case, very much deepened both by the


doctrine and the experience of the peace witness or non-violent resistance. Still, even Yoder tries to establish a moderate position, which, like the majority of Mennonite creeds, does not stray too far from the central emphasis of mainstream Protestant (evangelical) Christianity. The gospel is first interpreted as a social ethics for the present, and only then as a proclamation of individual salvation as well. The latter, however, must be taken without the normal stress on individualism that has become characteristic of the modern age. which is so deeply determined by the “Introspective Conscience of the West,” to quote Yoder’s main source: K. Stendahl. Yoder then asks the question as to whether the righteousness of God and man is better conceived of as having primarily social or cosmic dimensions. Righteousness is then not first and foremost a matter of individual morality, and the moral order is not the cosmic causal order, ruled over by God, who rewards every individual good act and punishes every bad act, over against which Keck sought for a transformation of the ethical situation of the doer. Yoder is asking here, first of all, whether the question: Who is doing the good? cannot be answered better by a reference to a community instead of man in his individuality. Second, Yoder affirms the general outcome of studies in Paul by Davies, Sanders, and Dunn, that Paul did not see the law as a system of duties, or as an instance that made people know their guilt, but “The law was rather a gracious arrangement made by God for ordering the life of his people while they were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah.”108 law makes its opposite more visible, but it is an exaggeration to say that this was its primary purpose. Knowledge of sin was not the purpose of the law (as Keck emphasized), but the ordering of the life of a community in order to realize the good. In the same line of reasoning that moves away from

Yoder moves a little too fast here by incorporating the Pauline concept of the law as preparatory (Gal. 4) into his thesis regarding the Jewish experience of the law. Later on he chides Luther for interpreting the pedagogos of Gal. 4 as the schoolmaster instead of as tutor, which is a necessary correction, but the Jewish experience was not that the law kept the people under restraint until the coming of the Messiah would bring spiritual freedom. The law itself was freedom! In fact, there was serious debate about the ongoing function of the law even after the Messiah had come, with some arguing that the Messiah would restore the Torah to its full force.


individualism, faith can now be understood to be basically the affirmation of the coming of the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth. It is not about a sense of sinfulness and trust in God’s promise to justify the ungodly, at least not primarily. The subjective meaning of faith is built upon this core affirmation of the present Kingdom. Paul did not debate with those who viewed the law as the means of salvation, since Jewish Christians, and nonChristian Jews, for that matter, did not believe that in the first place. Paul did not want to use the law as the schoolmaster that showed us the judging impact of the righteousness of God before allowing man to enter into the new covenant, because the law did not function like that. Paul’s polemics with regard to the law was solely about the social form of the Church, and the law was opposed when it was used to form a barrier between Jews and gentiles. So what then does justification mean, and how does it relate to ethics? Following Markus Barth and Hans Werner Bartsch, Yoder concludes that justification means ”setting things right,”: between God and man, between Jews and gentiles, bringing peace to a divided humanity. Justification is aimed at establishing a new kind of community “where the brokenness of humankind is set right and where persons who were not born under the law obey it from the heart.” In that perspective the law continues to have a function in the live of the believers, as Keck also argued, but with a completely different function in mind.109 Both argued that the relationship to the law was changed. But Keck sees this difference in the removal of the “moral order” in which knowledge of the law would lead to doing the good, implying the right to pass judgment on others and the necessity of being self-aware in the doing of the law. It is still the individual in his moral situation who is addressed by justification. Yoder concentrates on the transformation of the moral order, i.e., in the breaking down of social barriers and a new obedience to the law that is of a voluntary nature. We could conclude that where Keck argues that justification abrogates the law as a moral system of obedience, Yoder argues that justification allows us to view the law (God’s righteousness) as

Keck wrote: “Thereby (by his trust in God, RAV) the believer is redeemed from the curse of the law but not from the law itself.” Sin is redefined to mean: all that is not out of faith (Rom. 14:23). (Friedrich, Rechtfertigung, p. 208)


moral demand and ordering of life for the new community in which the social barriers between Jew and gentile are torn down. Keck argues for the annihilation of any moral order, and Yoder argues for a radical transformation in the moral order. The justification that gives us this different way to view the moral demand is not the abolishment of that demand, , but first and foremost the changed social situation in which the Torah functions as guide: the collective nature of the community’s obedience, the inner preparation for it through celebration and prayer, the institutions of social solidarity and sharing, and the key commandment to endure under suffering and love for the enemy. The differences and the continuity between Yoder’s approach and that of his 16th-century forebears are obvious. The rise of 20th-century Biblical scholarship has indeed shed a different light on Paul’s teachings, far less influenced by the polemics of the Reformation against medieval Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. Krister Stendahl.”110 is quoted by Yoder as one example of a modern approach to Paul that liberates him from what he considers the greatest prejudice of the 16th century: the preoccupation with personal guilt and the axiom that such a problem must find its solution in the “introspective conscience of the west According to Stendahl, Paul did not share this preoccupation, and neither did the Anabaptists. The anguish of personal guilt is conspicuously absent from his thought. Neither did Paul share Luther’s conception of the Torah as law and the origin of outward legalism. The law was intended to make life possible, not to lead into condemnation. Law and gospel are not diametrically opposed in the way that Luther had found and

Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, Harvard Theological Review, 1963, pp. 199- 215. The main thrust of his argument is that the polemics against Judaism was interpreted in an age in which sin and conscience were the leading concepts. The secondary status of that polemics in Paul was turned into the major thrust of his gospel by the Reformers. Paul’s theological program is more that of salvation history and is concerned with communities, not so much with individuals. Cf. also E. Käsemann, Paulinische Perspektiven, Tübingen, 1972, pp. 108-139. Käsemann defends the thesis that the doctrine of justification builds the core essence of the NewTestament, though it should be understood as being about God’s kingdom and not about personal guilt (ibid, p. 133). “Die Rechtfertigung bleibt jedoch Mitte, Anfang und Ende der Heilsgeschichte.” (ibid, p. 135)


experienced in his own life. Furthermore, faith to Paul was not the triad of knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia) that Protestant Scholastics made it out to be, but the affirmation and practical acceptance of a specific content: that Jesus was the Messiah sent by the God of Israel to open the covenant to gentiles. This affirmation of Christ’s Lordship, as expressed so concisely in Peter’s confession in Matthew16, provided the basis of the subjective meaning of faith that was its consequence. So faith was first of all a matter of obedience, insofar as it meant accepting the One whom God had sent as His final self-disclosure, which had as its first consequence the emergence of a community of faith that transcended the boundaries between Jew and gentile (Yoder, 1994, 216). The main issue now in Paul’s rendition of the gospel was his insight that with the coming of the Messiah the covenant with Israel was expanded to include gentiles as well. The Church was to be the social community that embraced both Jew and gentile. Though their relationship to Israel’s Torah was to remain different, the basis of their respective relationship to God was to be the same: Christ’s person and work. Redemption was a reality within the believing community, and not an inward state of mind in the individual believer. This believing community was not a universal sum of individual believers, but a particular community that was determined by a specific salvation history and historic mission. Its historic basis was the reconciliation of Jew and gentile, the breaking down of their social barriers and the institution of peace between them. There was now only one humanity, created after the pattern of Christ as the New Adam. Social distinctions such as those between master and slave, man and woman, Jew and gentile, and holy and profane had lost their ordering function. According to Eph. 2:11-26, one might argue that this meaning of reconciliation is interlocked with reconciliation to God. So also can the “justification by faith” in Gal. 2:14f and the notion of the “new creature” in 2 Cor. 5:17 be read as referring to a change in the social structure of mankind as well as to a transformation of individual men and women. Justification in Galatians, then, means essentially the same as the “making of peace” in Ephesians. The “new creature” of 2 Corinthians then refers primarily to a renewed humanity, not a reborn individual.111

By reading 2 Cor. 5:17 as: If anyone be in Christ: a new creation. or: If


From such a redefinition of the social dimension of the concept of justification we can more easily make the step towards the problem of (social) ethics. Yoder stresses that Paul means by that concept: the coming into being of a “new community where the brokenness of humankind is set right.” And this ”setting right” is the better understanding of the biblical concept of justification. The result of it is “that persons who are not born under the law obey it from the heart.” That means that Jesus’ gospel is not preparatory, is not meant to radicalize the demand of the law to such an extent that man is convinced he is unable to obey it. On the contrary: Jesus’ ethics is precisely the way of life of such a redeemed community that is able to show through its works that “reconciliation is a real experience.” Paul’s position and that of Christ are then perfectly in harmony, and thus we avoid one of the first consequences of the doctrine of justification, that we need to separate between Jesus’ radicalized teachings on the law and Paul’s preaching of Grace beyond the law. If justification is in principle about God ”setting things right”, primarily social, but also individual, then the center of the gospel is the Church itself, as a community that realizes the unity of mankind under the sovereignty of God. This “unity of mankind” has an important ethical consequence, which Yoder states as follows: “But it is par excellence with reference to enmity between peoples, the extension of neighbor-love to the enemy and the renunciation of violence even in the most righteous cause, that this promise takes on flesh in the most original, the most authentic, the most frightening and scandalous, and therefore in the most evangelical way.”112 The Church’s position and way of life with regard to this vital element of social ethics, i.e., love for the enemy, then becomes the visible consequence of the reality of justification by faith. Here righteousness, acquired by faith, worked out in faith, lived in faith, becomes a practical experience. What we have is discipleship, Nachfolge, not a metaphysical drama felt in our
anyone is in Christ, new is creation. Instead of the older translation which add the personal pronoun: if anyone be in Christ, [he is] a new creature. Yoder gives as his basic argument that ktisis ordinarily does not mean creature, but the whole of creation, e.g., in Mark. 16:15; Col. 1:15, 24; Rom. 8:19-22; Heb. 9:11). 112 J.H. Yoder, Politics of Jesus, (1972), p. 231.


inner being. Paul’s theology, if read like this, actually becomes a cornerstone of the ethics of Jesus, supporting it, instead of relegating it to a preparatory stage. It is Jesus’ ethics, whether it be applied to marriage, labour, or the prohibitions of falsehood and slavery, that is seen at work in an unbroken and undivided humanity, is part of the “promise of a new humanity enabled and created by God.” With regard to ethics, Yoder’s insistence on the ecclesiological dimension of justification not only brings in an emphasis on social virtues, but it also gives him a basis for changing the shape of ethics itself. That can be seen from a brief inventory of themes in one of Yoder’s major lectures: “Why Ecclesiology is Social Ethics.”113 Jesus’ ethics is now not received as part of secular ethics, involving a standard that can only be met up to a certain level. The realism that permeates Christian ethics in our times, in which we tend to negotiate about the level of obedience which can still be considered practical, now falls away. If it is the community that the demand addresses, its radical nature can be maintained. The Church must be the place that celebrates the victory of God over the powers of sin and death, and in doing so it prepares its members to act in conformity with the gospel of non-resistance and love for the enemy. If that is so, the Church’s praxis is a school for a changed type of humanity. The absolute demands of the Sermon on the Mount become a feasible option as soon as we discard the severity that would confront a lonely individual trying to abide by it. Only if the Church can be such a place of learning and celebration of the new spirituality can it help individuals to dispense with the utilitarianism and realism that most often obstructs their practical obedience to the gospel. To accept non-resistance without the help of a community, to practice sharing of bread and money without the implicit solidarity of a community that aids me when I am in financial distress, weakens the practical possibilities of compliance. The community of Christians that celebrates the victory of Christ not only removes the social barriers between Jew and gentile, friend and foe, but it reaches out toward humanity as the first fruits of the kingdom of God. It is in itself the beginning of what is to come, it is the redeemed community. Justification, as a
J.H. Yoder, Royal Priesthood, pp. 102- 127. The lecture was delivered in 1980 at Princeton University.


part of that, expresses the condition of this ecclesiological reality, defining the basic situation in which Christian ethics is strictly defined as Discipleship, in opposition both to the realist and the utopian of this world. Yoder makes it clear that he intended to correct the onesidedness with which justification was understood only as a subjective experience based on Christ’s sacrificial death, and not also as a social ethic based on the institution of a justified, redeemed community. In other words, the model of atonement that he favors is not that of Anselm’s satisfaction theory, nor Abelard’s moral influence theory, but more that of the Christus Victor motif in a new version. If Christ is already King, this world will fade away, and acting in conformity with Christ’s life and self-surrender and in obedience to his word is the expression of that victory on the stage of world history. Christian ethics is the social ethics of the Church as the one specific and separate community amongst the families of humanity that already shows the signs of the coming Kingdom. Not only does Yoder confront the individualistic nature of the classic interpretation of justification; he also denies the liberal assertion that the doctrine is a religious way of stating that man is good. In the eyes of Lutherans, Yoder’s view that it is possible, though in a fragmented and imperfect manner, to do the will of God, must seem Pelagianist. But Pelagius affirmed the possibility of doing good as something innate in man, untouched by the fall. Yoder is arguing that the experience of the outpouring of the Spirit makes obedience possible. This claim can be made based on the Christological statement that the Spirit of Christ dwells in the Church (and not the inner self, as we discussed above). And only on the basis of a faith that breaks away with all trust in the humanly possible is Christian ethics also an obedience to the Christ of scripture. In Yoder’s words: “The ethical content, the concrete decisions which obedience calls for, were different [between Anabaptists and the magisterial Reformers – RAV]. The good works, which testify spontaneously to the faith of the Lutherans, of the ethic of gratitude of the Calvinist, found their content in the orders of creation and preservation, with socially conservative implications, supporting the existing governments, economic institutions, the patriarchal family, etc. While the faith to which Sattler calls his readers finds its criteria in the example and the


instructions of Jesus, with effects that if not directly revolutionary (because they are non-violent) had to be nonconformist. He rejected the Sword, the Oath and the state Church. What I propose to call “the nomic element” is therefore epistemologically more important than in the other traditions, since for them the need is only to motivate an ethic of social conformity, whereas the Anabaptists’ ethic must both motivate and inform a costly counter-cultural life style.”114 Sattler’s solution is not a form of legalism that makes obedience the precondition of salvation, but it is a way of thinking that finds ‘Biblical prescriptiveness’ to be in conformity with the nature of redemption. No freedom that was merely expressed in the form of a general commandment to love one’s neighbour could suffice in finding the exact will of God to be obeyed by the community of the faithful. In various ways justification and sanctification have been connected throughout the history of Protestant theology. There is a sanctification that follows extrinsic justification according to the Reformed pattern. There is a justification that enables man to sanctify himself in the Catholic pattern of thought. In addition, there is finally a Mennonite pattern: justification and sanctification are both combined into one experience of faith that is effective in the concrete obedience of a community to the divine commandments.


J.H. Yoder, unpublished paper, presented to a seminar of Jewish and Christian theologians, in Buenos Aires, Nov. 18, 1970 under the title: “The Forms of a Possible Obedience.”


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