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After the Death of Luther –

How the Formula Of Concord Was Forged

(Ten Parts)

Part Seven

Agricola And The Anti-Law Party

John Agricola, a close friend both to Luther and Melanchthon, created problems about the relationship between Law and Gospel which are still plaguing Lutherans. Unlike the others, Agricola began his attack upon justification before Luther died in 1546. Those who follow him to this day are called Antinomians (the anti-Law party).

Agricola began his attack in 1525 by saying that contrition is caused by the Gospel, not by the Law, so there is no need for the Law. “The Decalog belongs in the courthouse, not in the pulpit. All those who are occupied with Moses are bound to go to the devil. To the gallows with Moses!”

Luther saw that the professed desire to get rid of the law would also get rid of Christ, who fulfilled the Law. In fact, the Law does not disappear among Antinomians, but reappears in a worse form, man-made Law, legalism. In some cases, in the name of objective justification, Antinomians declare they now are forgiven sinners and energetically break all the commandments.

Agricola felt slighted at not getting a professorship at Wittenberg in 1526. He attacked Melanchthon, but Luther settled the dispute. Ten years later Agricola and his large family camped out at Luther’s home for six weeks. Luther obtained a teaching position for Agricola at Wittenberg, and Agricola began a series of secretive attacks and squabbles.

In 1537 Agricola anonymously published arguments against Luther and Melanchton on justification, focusing on the Law. Luther addressed the questions openly, but Agricola did not come out into the open. When his lecturing privilege was withdrawn, Agricola came out and asked for reconciliation, agreeing to repudiate his errors. Agricola fell into his old errors soon after, and recanted again. However, he still taught his erroneous views secretly. Agricola pretended to be a friend of Luther and used his inside information against Luther in his secret strategies.

Luther lost patience with Agricola finally and refused to meet with him. Agricola continued to teach his false views until his death in 1566. His Antinomian agitations and authorship of the Augsburg Interim in 1548 (Part Two of this series) earned him a place in history for treachery, deceit, arrogance, vanity, and insincerity.

The Antinomian troubles continued with Wittenberg faculty members (Philippists) and others denying the Third Use of the Law (guiding the life of a Christian, because of the sinful nature). Another error, caused by the imprecise language by Melanchthon, argued that the Gospel alone caused contrition.

The Antinomian crisis shaped the Formula of Concord through Articles V (Law and Gospel) and VI (Of the Third Use of God’s Law). The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is the essence of teaching the Christian faith. Law/Gospel problems will always afflict Lutherans. Therefore, we can look at the two articles in the Formula of Concord as a great blessing, a part of our confessions worth studying again and again.

In addition, we need to temper our enthusiasm for non-Lutheran devotional guides, evangelism material, Bible studies, and child-rearing programs by remembering that the Reformed usually confuse Law and Gospel. They often make “the Christian life” a cause of salvation, not the result of salvation, subtly making works necessary for justification. If we follow their words, says Luther, we turn Christ into Moses and Moses into Christ. The Gospel brings us only comfort and peace (John 3:16) without any demands of the Law.

— Pastor Gregory L. Jackson