CHRISTIANITY DAILY

Do We Have Free Will, or Are We Under the Bondage of Will? A Look at Martin Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, Part II

Continuing from the previous article, here is the question that arises: If that is true what is the free will for man? What on earth is the free will to choose whatever I do and wherever I go?

Luther says that if we are to use the term “free will” at all, we should limit it to our everyday freedom in those things that are below us but not attempt to extend it to those things that are “above us” (LW 33,70). What does that mean? It is simply, once again, an attempt to give account of the way things are. In our daily life and affairs we do relatively what we please and God does not noticeably interfere, whatever we may believe about him. We come and go as we will; we decide what to wear, what to eat, what to do or not do, and so on. We may even decide to be moral or religious. We may even decide that Jesus is a wonderful person and stirring example, and so forth.

In dealing with the problem of the free will of man, there is one fact that we have to remember. The issue of the free will or the responsibility has always reared its ugly head in every time whenever the church was corrupted and Christians receive ethical and moral criticism in society.

Pelagius arrived in Rome about AD 410 to find a morally lax clergy and church members who used the fact of human weakness as license for immorality. The rich people fell into overeating, over drinking, adultery, and magic, as well as the common people falling into sexual corruption. The church could not be the light and the salt in the midst of this societal situation, and the Roman church was corrupted. He began to preach and teach a very strict, rigid moralism, emphasizing the natural, innate human ability and autonomy to attain salvation.

Erasmus was a man who experienced the corruption of the church in the Middle Ages. Examining the Roman Catholic Church, Erasmus was infuriated with the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, especially those of the clergy. He called for reform in the Roman Catholic Church. He simply wanted moral reform in the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason, he began to preach and teach man can attain salvation with the free will to keep the law.

Pelagius and Erasmus wanted ethical and moral reform in the Roman Catholic Church through their emphasis on human responsibility based on the free will of man. In regards to this, Augustine and Luther’s response was not one of criticizing the reform of Pelagius or Erasmus itself, but that they were instead, pointing out the problem in the theological basis for the reform.

At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther and Erasmus were like this. Erasmus was a Renaissance rationalist who asserted moral reform on the basis of reason. On the other hand, Luther loved the truth of God's Word as that was revealed to him through his own struggles with the assurance of salvation. Therefore Luther wanted true reformation in the church, which would be a reformation in doctrine and practice.

Although this controversy happened almost five hundred years ago, it is significant for the church today. Many people point out the abuses of church practices by corrupt clergy and the moral depravity of the Christians in Korea.

In response to this, some theologians stress on ‘A church of responsibility for society’ and, ‘Christian responsibility’ in Church and Theology. They blamed the moral laxity of Christians on the doctrine of divine grace alone. On the other hand, the other theologians criticized that the grace of God is also weakened by the emphasis on the responsibility.

However, we need to listen to the cry for reform instead of passing theological judgement on the ‘responsibility of man’. However, this reform is not only limited to moral and ethical levels, but also would require a reformation in doctrine and practice on the basis the Word of God. This is because salvation is not a problem of ethics, but that of eternal life, the Kingdom of God.

Until now, we examined the question of free will. Now, we will examine how Luther talks about the free will of man in theses 13~18.

Jin O Jeong

Reverend and Doctor Jin O. Jeong is an assistant pastor for Korean congregation at Zion Lutheran Church, Belleville, IL. He graduated from Luther University and received a Ph.D from Yonsei University. He was also a Research Fellow at Hebrew University and Visiting Scholar at Yale Divinity School. Tel: 618-920-9311 Email: jjeong@zionbelleville.org

Web Analytics