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After The Death Of Luther —

How The Formula Of Concord Was Forged

(Ten parts)

Part Five:

Melanchthon And The Synergists

Luther said that the devil attacks Christianity from three columns. One denies the divinity of Christ; another His humanity. The third column denies in some way that He has earned salvation for us. After Luther died in 1546, all three columns were attacked in earnest.

George Major, following Melanchthon, declared that “good works are necessary for salvation.” The Synergistic controversy is another way of saying that man must do something or contribute something for salvation. Luther taught clearly and vehemently that man’s will is passive in salvation, giving all the glory to God who works through the Law to make the heart contrite and through the Gospel to create faith.

Melanchthon listed three causes of salvation in his 1543 doctrinal book, Loci Communes: 1) the Word of God; 2) the Holy Spirit; 3) the human will, assenting to and not resisting the Word of God.

Melanchthon’s love for philosophy led him to allow reason the wrong place in interpreting Scriptures. Instead of letting his reason serve the Word of God, Melanchthon let his reason judge the Scriptures. In addition, he was always looking for ways to harmonize Luther’s doctrine with contrary confessions. Roman Catholicism teaches that the human will cooperates in salvation.

Melancththon’s synergistic statements grew bolder after Luther’s death, and he was joined by John Pfeffinger, Victorin Strigel, and others. The Gnesio Lutherans opposed them with Luther’s doctrine.

Strigel wanted to speculate about why some were saved and others were not. Those who dwell on this question, whose answer is known only to God, will fall into rationalistic answers, such as double predestination (Calvin) or some form of synergism.

Liberal Lutherans who have drifted dreamily away from Luther’s doctrine have been attracted to synergism. Rather than give credit to the power of the Hoy Spirit working in the Word and Sacraments, they honor their will, their ability to make the right decision, and their strength in remaining believers. In this way the third column has repeatedly thrown Lutherans into doubt and confusion.

The Gnesio Lutherans opposed the Synergists, but Flacius took an extreme position. In pointing out the lack of spiritual powers of the unconverted man, Flacius stated that the “substance of man” was sin.

The Formula of Concord settled the issues in Articles I and II. The Concordists distinguished between man’s nature and original sin in Article I. In the second article of the Formula, they stated that the unconverted man has no power or ability to understand spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 2:14). “God the Holy Ghost, however, does not effect conversion without means, but uses for this purpose the preaching and hearing of God’s Word, as it is written, Romans 1:16.” (Concordia Triglotta, p., 787).

Clearly, Melanchthon’s unionism and compromise led to many errors. At the same time the Biblical doctrines of Lutheranism are all linked together in one great unified expression of the Triune God’s holy will: sola scriptura, Law and Gospel, justification by grace through faith, the efficacy of the Word, the Means of Grace, election, and so forth. These great treasures are given by God to be preserved in truth and purity.

–Pastor Gregory L. Jackson