Religion: Reconnecting with God (Laws of life)

(2. Guidance in the Pentateuch: Rereading Moses with Luther)

Judaism, which understand itself as God´s distinct people and their “constitution as God´s own people” (Seebaß 1996), has as one of its central precepts the Halakha, meaning the walk, way, route, or path sometimes translated as law, which guides religious practice and belief and many (if not most) aspects of daily life.

St. Augustine (Neo-Platonism) confesses about reconnecting (re-ligare) with God:

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

Confessions Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5

Francis Pieper points out that this interpretation remains open:

The derivation of the Latin word religio (whether from relegere or religare) has always been a debatable question.

Christian Dogmatics” Volume 1, Pg. 7

Thomas a Kempis: Imitatio Christiis a very influential guide in this regard – even if he leads into the wrong direction and not only those from the Roman Catholic realm. Even Luther´s Small Catechism & the Large Catechism can be misread as all of Christian teaching, whereas it remains a basically legalistic („gesetzliche“) Introduction (Prolegomena) to the Christian faith as Wichmann von Meding points out rather convincingly of what we are supposed to do, hold and believe:  

Ein jeder lern sein Lektion, dann wird es wohl im Hause stohn!

Kleine Katechismus 2014,898

A blind man can´t guide another, otherwise both with fall into the pit & sinners can´t save themselves and the Law doesn´t save, but only reveals our sinfulness. This revelation of the Law – finally through His Son IX – who did not come to abolish, but to fulfill, teaches the Law in all its severity: “Listen to Him!” Doers of the Word will live… That holds true to the ends of the world – for Jews and gentiles: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Mt.28,20) Do this – and You will live! Corollary: Don´t do this – and You will surely die and perish forever!

Therefore, religion in the sense of “reconnecting with God” seeks a way to heaven by prayer, meditation, fasting, pilgrimages i.e. by doing “according to the book/Law”. However, this does not bring sinners to heaven, because they can´t keep the law. They fail and the law continues to accuse them (rightly and justifiably so!) of their failure to abide b it: Lex semper accusat!

A spiritual practice moves a person along a certain path towards a goal – narrow, steep, dangerous, daunting, and obviously only a few make it… The goal is variously referred to as salvationliberation or union (with God). A person who walks such a path is sometimes referred to as a wayfarer or a pilgrim

Religions have sacred histories and narratives, which may be preserved in sacred scriptures, and symbols and holy places, that aim mostly to give a meaning to life. Religions may contain symbolic stories… that have the side purpose of explaining the origin of life, the universe, and other phenomena… (providing) norms and power for the rest of life… Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience—varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture.

Different religions … contain … elements ranging from the divine, sacred things, faith, a supernatural being or supernatural beings or some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life.”  

Wikipedia on “religion”

This legalistic way is not specifically Christian, never mind the salvific Christian way as Francis Pieper explains:

What religion means to the heathen is the exact opposite of what it means to the Christians. Since the heathen know nothing of the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 2:6–10: “neither have entered into the heart of man”), but have some knowledge of the Law (Rom. 1:32: “knowing the judgment of God”; Rom. 2:15: “work of the Law written in their hearts”), their entire religious thinking moves in the sphere of the Law. Religion to the heathen means man’s endeavor to placate the deity through his own efforts and works, through worship, sacrifices, moral exercises, ascetic discipline, and the like. The religion of the heathen is therefore a religion of the Law.

Christian Dogmatics 1953

This is the common denominator of all religions – Jewish, Muslim, Enthusiasts, Legalists, moralists, iconoclasts and other “Schwarmgeister” (Karlstadt, Müntzer, and those erecting heaven on earth in Münster etc). They go the way of the divine law – convinced just as the humanist Erasmus and other Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians:

“We can, because we must” or as in the corollary: “We must, therefore we can!”

De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio 

They trust in the divine Law as route to salvation. Where the Divine law is revealed by meditation (Quakers/Yogi etc), angels/dreams (Koran cf. Salman Rushdie: “Satanic verses” 1988: or the celestial press (Book of Mormon). Yet, this is necessarily doomed to failure because the Law can´t save our souls. It just can´t, because it is not made that way and we can´t use it salvifically either. We just can´t.

Dr. Martin Luther recognizes this conundrum: “Thou shalt be perfect/holy!” even as he confesses the sinful reality: “I can´t – not even nearly!” That brings him close to despair until the Gospel is revealed to him and it is as if paradise opens up…

Read more here: The Gospel way sola fide

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Bibel und Übersetzung, Gedankensplitter, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Theologie and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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