Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Repentance and the Church Fathers

“The Gospel of Repentance is the traditional view of Christianity.” Jesus says of his mission, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." And he told the Galileans, " I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Jesus' gospel was all about repentance! What gospel did Peter preach to the masses on the day of Pentecost? The Bible tells us that when the people heard the apostle testify, "... they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” What gospel did Paul preach to the pagan Athenians on Mars Hill? He told them very directly, God “commands all men everywhere to repent.” Later, Paul preached the same gospel of repentance to King Agrippa: "... I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision but declared first to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance."

The traditional view was turned upside down when the Formula of Concord (1577) declared:

"We believe, teach and confess that the gospel is not a proclamation of repentance or retribution, but is, strictly speaking, nothing else than a proclamation of comfort and a joyous message which does not rebuke nor terrify but comforts consciences against the terror of the law, directs them solely to Christ's merit, and lifts them up again through the delightful proclamation of the grace and favor of God, won through Christ's merit" (Formula of Concord, V,7).

What happened? Undoubtedly, the Lutheran theologians were reacting strongly to the abuses of the indulgences. The preceding paragraph was quoted in support of an argument that there is a negative correlation between repentance and the belief in the salvific value of the death of Jesus on the cross. It therefore seems prudent to ask what is the background.

The apostolic fathers believed that salvation was based on repentance and not solely on the ground of the death of Jesus on the cross. Robert Kraft has stated: “There is no indication in the Didache that an initial repentance connected with the idea of personal sinfulness for which Jesus' death atones was considered basic to the Christian life.”

The belief of the apostolic fathers was probably influenced by the writings of Saint Luke. I plan to further develop this argument by researching Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, and I Clement.

Copyrighted 2005


Anonymous Anonymous said...

7] Likewise the term repentance also is not employed in the Holy Scriptures in one and the same sense. For in some passages of Holy Scripture it is employed and taken for the entire conversion of man, as Luke 13, 5: Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. And in 15, 7: Likewise joy shalt be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth. 8] But in this passage, Mark 1, 15, as also elsewhere, where repentance and faith in Christ, Acts 20, 21, or repentance and remission of sins, Luke 24, 46. 47, are mentioned as distinct, to repent means nothing else than truly to acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to desist from them. 9] This knowledge comes from the Law, but is not sufficient for saving conversion to God, if faith in Christ be not added, whose merits the comforting preaching of the holy Gospel offers to all penitent sinners who are terrified by the preaching of the Law. For the Gospel proclaims the forgiveness of sins, not to coarse and secure hearts, but to the bruised or penitent, Luke 4, 18. And lest repentance or the terrors of the Law turn into despair, the preaching of the Gospel must be added, that it may be a repentance unto salvation, 2 Cor. 7, 10.

(Formula of Concord, fuller exposition version). It't not anti-repentance; it just insists that repentance can never amount to self-justification by the act of what we do. It is not truly the "gospel" to try to terrify someone into repentance.

11:26 PM


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