Diminish Christ; Diminish Salvation
Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor
18 February 2019
Christological heresies affect our salvation because the diminishment of Christ makes our salvation uncertain. If Christ is less than divine, then He accomplishes a less than divine salvation, that is, he can accomplish only a purely human salvation. Then a huge burden is placed on us humans. If Jesus accomplishes only a salvation consisting of human merit, then His merit is merely His own and cannot serve us and give us salvation. We are abandoned to following the example of his merely human merit by producing enough of it for our own purposes. We are left truly naked and alone in the presence of God with a burden we cannot bear (Gal 2:15-16).
John Cassian (c. 360 - 435) pointed out that Nestorianism revived the older heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagius (d. c. 418), a British monk, argued that humans had the spiritual resources in them to fulfill the law and will of God. Pelagianism was primarily a heresy of salvation because it taught that man was capable of saving himself with sufficient moral effort. But this heresy of salvation also called into question the character and meaning of the death of Jesus. Why does He need to die if we are equipped with the moral aptitude to satisfy the law on our own? If we are uncertain why He needs to die, we are easily led to be uncertain who it is that died. If moral persons get right with God by dint of their own ethical aptitude, then why shouldn't a purely human Christ do likewise? The value of the life and death of the Messiah then is entirely exemplary; by seeing His sacrifice and piety we are encouraged in our moral efforts. Again we are left to our own devices. And if we are candid with ourselves, we will conclude that the case is hopeless and despair over our salvation.
Nestorianism (c. 428) returned the element of despair to the theme of salvation by splitting the person of Christ into two persons; one human and one divine, who work in concert by a spiritual "Vulcan mind meld," rather than a real personal union. In the true personal union, one person consisted of two complete natures, divine and human. For the Nestorians, the person of Christ was not the God-Man, but a two-headed hydra, a god and a man, in consultation at best or at odds at worst. The works of the man were the works of the man. The works of God were the works of God. The works of man would not be salvific, because they would be purely human works. The works of God would not benefit humanity, because the human would not participate in them. This leads back to the acute problem of salvation for us humans, for we are again left to our own devices as we have diminished the divine and human wholeness of the person of Christ. A diminished Christ diminishes salvation.
We may ask what all this talk of Nestorianism and Pelagianism (we really hate -isms and would rather not hear of them) has to do with our present church situation. You should recognize in their main teachings the outlines of what in many places claims to be Christianity: a Christ cut down to human size and a salvation devoid of divine value.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  John Cassian
"We said in the first book that that heresy of Nestorianism, which copies and follows the lead of Pelagianism, strives and contends in every way to make it believed that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when born of the Virgin was only a mere man; and that having afterwards taken the path of virtue He merited by His holy and pious life to be counted worthy for this holiness of His life that the divine majesty should unite itself to Him. Thus by cutting off altogether from Him the honor of His sacred origin, it only left to Him election on account of His meritorious works.Their aim and endeavor was this, that by bringing Him down to the level of common men, and making Him one of the common herd, they might assert that all men could by their good life and deeds secure whatever He had secured by His good life. A most dangerous and deadly assertion indeed, which takes away what truly belongs to God, and holds out false promises to men; and which should be condemned for abominable lies on both sides, because it attacks God with wicked blasphemy, and gives to men the hope of a false assurance. A most perverse and wicked assertion since it gives to men what does not belong to them, and takes away from God what is His.
"From this dangerous and deadly evil this new heresy of Nestorianism which has recently sprung up, is in a way stirring and reviving the embers, and raising a fresh flame from its ancient ashes by asserting that our Lord Jesus Christ was born a mere man. So why is there any need for us to ask whether its consequences are dangerous, when in its fountainhead it is utterly wrong? It is unnecessary to examine what it is like in its results, because at its beginning it leaves us no reason for examination. For what object is there in inquiring whether like the earlier heresy, it holds out the same promises to man, if (which is the most awful sin) it takes away the same things from God? So it would almost be wrong, when we see how it begins, to ask what there is to follow; as if some possible way might appear in the outcome, in which a man who denies God, could prove that he was not irreligious."

John Cassian, Seven Books on the Incarnation, 5.1
Psalm 111

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
Lord Christ, send faithful preachers to Your church that we may not be misled and seduced by false teaching, but rather lead us to confess Your full and substantial divinity and complete and whole humanity united in one person for our salvation. Lead us to the true hope that is centered in You. Amen.
For all those who are suffering from inclement winter weather, that they might be kept out of danger
For all those who travel, that their ways would be safe and their homecomings joyful
For Ileene Robinson, that the Lord would grant her healing and the peace that surpasses human understanding
Art: Wartburg Castle

Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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