Pride, Part 64

While Luther found no real grounds of unity with Catholicism because of the difference between God-centeredness and man-centeredness, that difference has been shrinking for many years. John Owen and many others thought of true Arminianism as being the heart of Catholicism and so fought Arminianism as a step back toward Rome. Some did not see a major distinction between Arminianism and Pelagianism. Today we think of people who fight against Arminianism as something less than gracious or charitable. The majority view seems to be that Arminians and Calvinists preach the same Gospel but have differing distinctives. Perhaps, however, the real issue is God-centeredness and it has dropped out because man-centeredness has taken over again. Pride can seek unity under the name of charity and graciousness as well.

“In Luther, the theocentricity of primitive Christianity returns; and it is the determining factor of his whole outlook. His opposition to Catholicism is due ultimately to nothing else but this. In the Catholic conception of Christianity, it is in the last analysis man who occupies the centre of the religious stage; in Luther’s reforming conception it is God. Luther seeks to eradicate every vestige of the egocentric or anthropocentric tendency from the religious relationship. There is no place for the slightest degree of human self-assertion in the presence of God. Here, man must be content to receive undeserved the gifts God wills to bestow on him, and to obey without thought of reward the commandments God pleases to give him. In other words, he must let God really be God, the center around which his whole existence moves. This theocentric emphasis can be described as the fundamental motif of Luther’s entire thought.” (Let God Be God! An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther)

Luther thought of Catholicism as being man-centered in its theology and practice. If we take away certain rituals of Catholicism, does it really differ from Arminianism at its heart? If we take away the veneer from a lot of Reformed theology, does it differ in the essence from the man-centeredness of Catholicism and Arminianism? What is the essence of Arminianism if it is not free-will? Yet for Luther this was nothing less than human self-assertion in the presence of God. The Gospel of grace alone is a Gospel that looks to God to bestow repentance and salvation on human souls apart from anything they can offer in terms of merit or worth. Luther would have looked on our day and have seen very little but human self-assertion in Arminian and Reformed theology. Faith is that which receives grace from God and it is not that which does things on its own power. Faith receives grace from God because that is the only thing it can do when the soul is emptied of all of its power and merit of man-centeredness.

As we look out upon the landscape of all that is Christianity in name today, we see a religion that has all but been swallowed up by man-centeredness. This may sound like the words of one in despair, but it is a settled belief. There is a lot going on in the name of God and of Christianity, but that does not mean that proud hearts have been broken and God is living in those hearts. There was a lot going on in the name of Christ in the days prior to the Reformation as well. But Luther saw how man-centered it was and began a battle against man-centeredness until his dying day. Well, one might say, this sounds like the beginning of a diatribe against Arminianism. No, whatever else this is it is an effort to point out the pride of the human heart and how we must be centered upon God. Much if not most of what is going on under the guise of Reformed theology today also has a lot of man-centeredness in it as well. The pride of the human heart can find places to hide among all branches of theology. The pride of the human heart can find words like humility to hide behind as well.

It is not humility that looks at Arminianism and Catholicism wants to be friendly with them. It is not humility to want to be friends with Calvinism either. All of those can be nothing but pride hiding under the guise of humility and graciousness. If we want to seek the living God in truth and love, we must be prepared to fight man-centeredness wherever it is found. We must be prepared to fight “the slightest degree of human self-assertion” if we truly desire God-centeredness in our own hearts, churches, and then our land. We must be prepared to fight with traditional language or against traditional language. Man-centeredness will hide in our own hearts and in the theology and practices of ourselves and others unless we become ruthless to our own hearts and to all man-centeredness no matter what dress it has clothed itself in. Pride, however, will say that we must be like Jesus and be gracious in all ways. Humility, however, will say we must be like Jesus in denouncing the proud in religion too. Jesus fought tenaciously against pride and man-centeredness in religion. It costs a lot to deny self and follow Jesus.

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