How The Formula Of Concord Was Forged
Melanchthon And The Majoristic Controversy
After the death of Luther, Philip Melanchthon’s weakness led to the Smalcald War, the defeat of Lutherans in 1547, and the hated Interims. Goaded by the treachery of Charles V, the treacherous Maurice turned on the Roman Catholic ruler and gave the Lutherans a sudden military victory in 1552.
Unfortunately the errors promoted by Melanchthon’s longing for unity with the Reformed and the Roman Catholics left the Lutherans with many different doctrinal problems advocated by Luther’s heirs.
Melanchthon’s example can serve as a warning to all Lutherans, since many today still follow his misguided footsteps. First: Melanchthon’s desire for unity caused nothing but conflict and disunity with his ambiguous and deceptive doctrinal formulas. Second: Melanchthon’s unionism caused indifference about Scriptural doctrines and tolerance for error. Third: Melanchthon’s example taught the Crypto-Calvinists who followed him how to undermine true Lutheran doctrine while pretending to be faithful.
Melanchthon generated groups of false teachers at Wittenberg and Leipzig, who are generally called Philippists: the Interimists, the Synergists (who denied the Lutheran doctrine of conversion), and the Crypto-Calvinists. The leaders of these groups were: Joachim Camerarius, Paul Eber, Caspar Cruciger, Jr., Christopher Pezel, George Major, Caspar Peucer (the son-in-law of Melanchthon), Paul Crell, John Pfeffinger, Victorin Strigel, John Stoessel, and George Cracow.
The Gnesio or pure Lutherans fought against the Philippists, but sometimes went too far and fell into error themselves. They were: Amsdorf, Flacius, Wigand, Gallus, Matthias Judex, Moerlin, Tileman Hesshusius, Timann, Westphal, and Simon Musaeus.
Another group emerged from the battle between the Philippists and the Gensio Lutherans, called the Concordists, because their work led to the Formula of Concord and the Book of Concord: Brenz, Andreae, Chemnitz, Selnecker, Chytraeus, Cornerus, and Moerlin.
The Majoristic controversy about good works provides a good example of how the three Lutheran parties addressed a doctrinal issue. A Philippist, George Major received a well deserved upbraiding from Luther about his vagueness on the Lord’s Supper (see first article in the series). After Luther died, Major began teaching that good works were necessary for salvation.
Major’s error was originally introduced by Melanchthon and never fully repudiated by Philip. Luther preached often about Christians doing good works as a result of salvation, but he always opposed any thought of good works making one worthy of salvation. Melanchthon’s language built a bridge to Roman Catholics, who teach that we add works to faith to make us deserving of God’s grace.
The Gnesio Lutherans saw the danger of Major’s propositions, which introduce the monster of uncertainty. If a man repents on his deathbed and can do no works, is he still lost? How many good works are enough?
The Formula of Concord (Article IV, Of Good Works) rejected Major’s claim that “good works are necessary for salvation” and any efforts made to rescue Major’s mischievous language. The Concordists also had to reject the odd claim of Nicholas Amsdorf that “good works are injurious to salvation.” Amsdorf meant that we should not rely on good works for salvation, but his formulation created confusion and needed to be refuted.
The Formula of Concord addressed the doctrinal issues concerning good works, described each position honestly, and refuted erroneous language. We cannot judge doctrine by how nice someone is, or how good his intentions are, or his pedigree in Lutheranism, but by the Scriptures alone. Facing the issues will cause immediate strife, but long-term peace and unity. Avoiding a resolution of the doctrines in dispute will create an appearance of calm and unity, but a future of discord and dissolution.
–Pastor Gregory L. Jackson