Bible scholar Matthew Levering recently penned, “Was the Reformation a Mistake.” As a theologian, he is very nuanced how he parses the many issues involved in that question. After reading his take on Justification and Merit, it’s easy to see why there is an argument.
Professional historians ask, “Was the American Experiment a Mistake?” If you ask the millions of lives touched by the good news of our form of government, millions would say, “?&!! No! The same could be true of believers before and after the Reformation.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus links Himself with the Old Testament Lord. If you compare the woes of Jesus with those of the Old Testament prophet, they are essentially the same. Whatever era you live in, God doesn’t appreciate separating the heart and your lifestyle. Jesus is not the revised edition of the God of the Old Testament. He always hates sin and always loves righteousness. Jesus cannot be separated from Christ just as mercy and justice are one.
Are we saved by works? Never in a million years.
Martin Luther felt so strongly about the “faith alone” and absolutely no works principle he violated his “scripture alone” principle. The German scholar added “alone” to Romans 3:28. Some theologians are similar to lawyers, if you are creative and smart, you can build a case for just about anything.
The Council of Trent’s answer to Martin Luther might sound strange to Protestant ears: Canon I. Taylor Marshall (cf. “The Catholic Perspective on Paul”) provides these quotes:
Canon I. If any one says that man may 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—let him be anathema 31…..We are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification—whether faith or works—merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.32
Because our righteousness is much more than legal fiction, separating faith from works is as impossible as separating the God of the Old Testament from the New, or Jesus from Christ, or Justice from Love.
Judgment Day is coming but so is the Day of Grace and Mercy. Pope Benedict (cf. “Introduction to Christianity”) sums it up beautifully:
The example always adduced is the profound contrast between Maran atha and Dies irae. The early Christians, with their cry “Our Lord, come” (Maran atha), interpreted the second coming of Jesus as an event full of hope and joy, stretching their arms out longingly toward it as the moment of the great fulfillment. To the Christians of the Middle Ages, on the other hand, that moment appeared as the terrifying “day of wrath” (Dies irae), which makes man feel like dying of woe and terror, and to which he looks forward with fear and dread. The return of Christ is then only judgment, the day of the great reckoning that threatens everyone. Such a view forgets a decisive aspect of Christianity, which is thus reduced for all practical purposes to moralism and robbed of that hope and joy which are the very breath of its life.