Monday, July 30, 2007

Christology and Justification

Over the past few years, I have gotten into animated discussions about whether justification is the chief article. Usually what happens is I say something about justification being the chief article to which the other party says something like, "No, Christology is the chief article." Then we argue about whether the Smalcald Articles (SA, Part II) indicate the chief article to be justification or christology. Other places in the confessions clearly indicate that when the Lutheran Reformers refer to the "chief article" or the "article on which the Church stands or falls," they are referring to justification -- In the words of the Apology, this article of justification by faith is the chief article of the entire Christian doctrine” (Tappert, p. 540).

In reflecting upon these discussions, there appears to be a tendency among "Christology" proponents to change the chief article from justification to christology. First, this assertion sets up a false dichotomy. Second, this represents a not-so-subtle shift in their understanding of justification. To say that Christology is the chief article is to separate Christology from Justification.

Christology deals primarily with the person of Christ. Justification encompasses both the person and work of Christ. Making Christology the chief article permits the adherent to hold various opinions as to the work of Christ (eg, justification, deification, moral example, etc.). Holding to Justification as the chief article necessitates holding to a correct view of who Christ is.

Asserting the primacy of the article of Justification maintains the intimate connection between christology and justification. Asserting the primacy of the article of Christology allows for the corruption of this intimacy between the two articles.

This intimate connnection between justification and christology was exquisitely expressed by our Lutheran fathers. The genius of the Augsburg Confession on this point is revealed in the placement of Justification as the fourth article. Justification is the linch-pin between what precedes and what follows it. The first three articles set the stage for the work of Christ (AC IV). Articles V and following flow naturally from the article on Justification -- the Ministry (V) is the office through which God proclaims Justification; the new man produces fruit (VI) because of his justification; as new-born children of God we are gathered into the body of Christ (VII/VIII); the work of Christ is applied through the ministry in the Church by means of the Sacraments (IX-XIII); etc.

The Article on Justification is the chief article not because it is better, superior, or more important, but because it is the focal point to which all other articles lead to and flow from.

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