“What then was the message of Luther which set the world aflame? It was not something that Luther originated but something that he discovered; the Reformation of the sixteenth century was a rediscovery of Paul, and through Paul a rediscovery of Jesus. At the centre of the message was the doctrine of justification by faith. Some men would be horrified by this use of a theological term; they seem to have a notion that modern Christians must be addressed always in words of one syllable, and that in religion the scientific precision of language must be abandoned. I am by no means ready to agree” (Machen, God Transcendent, p. 88).
As even one of Machen’s own poets have said:
We’re back to the small words, cuz many say you can’t handle the big words.
They say “reprobate” is for the big birds, and the church nerds;
Like dictionaries only chill in the suburbs.
They say you wouldn’t be able to study words like “sin debt;”
“Propitiation” ain’t for you yet.
Back to J-Mach:
“It is perfectly true that the Bible and the people ought to be brought together. But what is not always observed is that there are two ways of achieving that end. One way is to bring the Bible down to the level of the people; the other way is to let the people be lifted up to the level of the Bible. For my part, I prefer the latter way. I am by no means ready to relinquish the advantages of a precise terminology in summarising Bible truth. In religion as well as in other spheres a precise terminology is mentally economical in the end; it repays amply the slight effort required for the mastery of it. It should be used even in many cases where it is not found in the Bible itself, but only summarises what the Bible teaches. But in the case of ‘justification by faith,’ the terminology most emphatically is found in the Bible; and when Professor Goodspeed in his translation of the New Testament renders the word which means ‘justify’ by ‘make upright,’ he is misrepresenting at its very centre the book which he is purporting to translate” (Machen, God Transcendent, pp. 88-89).
What – were there no Christians from the time of the apostles (or immediate post-apostolic times) until Luther? Or even from Augustine until Luther? Or even from Wycliffe/Hus until Luther? Was Luther novel?
(Just to explain: This is in reference to the charge of novelty that we sometimes encounter.)
Well yes Marc, but you see even the great Augustine (and recall that great men have great weaknesses) was a little weak in the area of the sacraments and things (are they not little things?) like baptismal regeneration and saying it was essential for salvation. But that was early on in his life I think. But ultimately it doesn’t matter anyway “since [he was] able ‘to retrieve the core of the gospel from the murkiness of [his] own legalistic understanding of baptism'” (cf. http://www.outsidethecamp.org/efl181.htm).
Wycliffe, Hus, and Savonarola are said by some to be “precursors” to the Reformation began by Martin Luther. I’m not too familiar with the theology of these three precursors, but if they had any “doctrinal wrinkles” similar to the great and mighty Augustine they could always “iron them out” — not to repent and believe the gospel mind you, but to iron out their doctrinal imperfections since sinlessly perfect doctrine is not a prerequisite for salvation, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. You get the picture.
Ah, I see the picture. The process of “progressive doctrinal sanctification” is the process by which a believer progressively “irons out the wrinkles” of such doctrinal imperfections as inefficacious universal atonement, salvation by works, etc. Or, if we go with Machen, those initial wrinkles a believer has could be quite daunting, including the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, and the plenary inspiration of the Bible. Some of these “believers” are going to need quite a big iron for these wrinkles.
A big iron indeed.