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Proper Interpretation between Law & Gospel
Proper interpretation of the Bible, including the distinction between Law and Gospel, is a very serious matter. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Be diligent. . . handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Below are statements, many direct quotes from official documents, showing how various denominations and groups officially teach Law and Gospel. Readers of GOOD NEWS are encouraged to compare all religious teachings with the Scriptures, including everything taught in this journal. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1).
Denomination Teaching What Difference Does it Make?
In their official publication, The Longer Catechism, Eastern Orthodox theologians ask: "How have we salvation by Christ's life?" Their answer is that we have salvation through Christ's life "when we imitate it" (Question and Answer 198). Christ does call us to imitate His life, but we can only do this after we have received salvation from Christ (Ephesians 5:1 - 2). If we must imitate Christ in order to be saved, then our salvation depends on how well we keep the Law, and not on what the Bible teaches: on the the cross, Jesus accomplished everything for our salvation when He announced, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Christ fulfilled the Law for us! Requiring that we imitate Christ in order to receive salvation changes the Gospel into the Law. "But if [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6).
The 1992 official edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about the "Law of the Gospel" which "requires us .. . to put into practice the words of the Lord" (paragraph 1970). Rather than clearly distinguishing between Law and Gospel, Roman Catholic theology confuses the two when it speaks of the "Law of the Gospel." Mixing the Law with the Gospel is like adding water to an automobile gas tank. Even in small amounts, this mixing of water with gasoline destroys the power of the fuel. In the same way, even a small amount of Law mixed into the Gospel destroys the assurance of salvation that the pure Gospel offers: "But if [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6).

Roman Catholic theology focuses on the Law and clashes with Christ's announcement from the cross that everything needed for our salvation "is finished" (John 19:30). What Christ accomplished for us on the cross is the heart of the Gospel.
Reformed The founder of Reformed theology, Ulrich Zwingli, stated 470 years ago, "In itself the Law is nothing else than a Gospel; that is, a good, certain message from God by means of which He instructs us concerning His will" See Daniel Schenkel's Wesen des Protestantismus, Vol. 1, p.173. Karl Barth, the father of "Neo-orthodoxy" and the most influential Reformed theologian of this century, wrote: "We hear the Law of God when we hear the Gospel. The two dare not be separated. When we say 'faith,' we must say 'obedience.' When we say 'Gospel,' we must also say 'Law.'" (Freie Reformierte Synod Barmen-Gemarke, 1934, p. 30). Saint Paul considered mixing Law and Gospel so serious that, of those who did this in Galatia, he said twice, "Let them be accursed" (Galatians 1:8 - 9). Therefore, it is shocking to see that Zwingli and Barth intentionally confused God's Law and Gospel. In so doing, the sinner never experiences the comfort and hope of the pure Gospel. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery [the Law]" (Galatians 5:1).
Evangelicalism represents the "popular" or "cultural" Christianity of Protestantism in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe. Members of this movement claim to be nondenominational, but have roots primarily in Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal churches. While many Evangelical pastors and teachers proclaim Christ's death and resurrection, they focus on the Law to make people feel sorry because their sins killed Jesus and He will return to judge them. They fail to focus on God's gracious forgiveness through Christ's death and resurrection. Evangelicalism treats the Gospel as fear-inspiring information rather than "the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). Even in situations where both Law and Gospel are proclaimed, preachers and teachers who emphasize what man must do (Law) instead of what God has already done in Jesus Christ (Gospel) will leave sinners with no assurance of forgiveness. Emphasis must always be on Jesus and the Gospel. "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
Lutheran As they faced persecution and death for their faith five hundred years ago, the first Lutheran Christians searched the Scriptures and then boldly stated, "We believe and confess that these two doctrines [Law and Gospel] must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world," but they said this must be done "with due distinction." In their confession of faith, these first Lutheran Christians also pointed out that "this distinction between the Law and Gospel is thoroughly and mightily set forth by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7 - 9". Finally, they said, "In order that both doctrines, Law and Gospel, may not be mingled together and confused (so that what belongs to one doctrine is ascribed to the other), it is necessary to urge and to maintain with all diligence the true and proper distinction between Law and Gospel. This careful distinction is made to avoid anything that might give occasion for a confusion between them by which the two doctrines would be tangled together and made into one doctrine. Such a confusion would easily darken the merits and benefits of Christ, [and] once more make the Gospel a teaching of the Law . . ." (Lutheran Confessions - Solid Declaration, Article V. 24, 26 - 27). Based on Biblical teaching, Lutherans insist that a clear distinction of God's Law and Gospel enables a sinner to realize he is justified by God's grace, through God's gift of faith, and not by his own works. Consequently, the sinner has "peace with God" (Romans 5:1). Even though Lutherans have the clearest official position on the necessity of distinguishing Law and Gospel, many Lutheran Christians either do not understand this Biblical teaching, or they are indifferent to it. A recent survey in the U.S. revealed that 60% of Lutheran Christians believe that "the main emphasis of the Gospel is God's rules for right living." This indicates that the majority of Lutherans in the U.S. are confused regarding God's revealed plan of salvation. This confusion could lead to their eternal destruction. And how will this tragic situation be resolved? When missionaries, pastors, and teachers joyfully proclaim "repentance [Law] for the forgiveness of sins [Gospel]" in Jesus' name (Luke 24:47), then people will have peace with God. For only through God's Law and Gospel can souls be cleansed, healed, and prepared to stand before God's judgment throne, justified!

Excerpted from Good News magazine. You can receive Good News by calling 1-800-778-1132.

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