Friday, June 26, 2009

Nature and Grace

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pp. 435-437:

Thus the church exists in the midst of the world with an origin, essence, activity, and purpose of its own. While in every respect it is distinct from that world, it never stands apart from or alongside the world. Various schools of thought in Christianity have indeed construed the church and the world as existing in an absolute ethical antithesis to each other, equating creation and re-creation with sin and grace. But these schools, however powerful they may have been now and then, have nonetheless never controlled the history of Christianity and could only lead a sectarian life alongside the churches. Apart from these schools, there are only two ways the relationship between the church and the world can be defined, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant way, the supernatural and the ethical way. Rome does not view the natural as sinful in the manner of Anabaptism and thus does not advocate avoidance and separation, but it does teach that the natural is of a lower order, easily becomes the cause of sin, and therefore needs the restraint of the supernatural. Just as the image of God as a supernatural image is added to "the natural man," so grace is mechanically added to nature from above, the church to the world, the higher to the lower morality. Those who want to live according to the ideal of Rome have to become ascetics, suppress the natural, and devote themselves totally to religion. Those unable to do this obtain the necessary space for the natural and find in the supernatural the boundary that marks the limit of space.

The relationship between the church and the world that Protestantism adopted as true was very different. It replaced the quantitative, supernaturalist antithesis with an ethical one. The natural was not of a lower order but in its kind was as sound and pure as the supernatural, inasmuch as it had been created by the same God who revealed himself in the re-creation [of the world] as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only it had been corrupted by sin and therefore had to be reconciled and renewed by the grace of Christ. Grace, accordingly, serves here not to avoid, to suppress, or to kill the natural, but precisely to free it from its sinful corruption and to make it truely natural again. True, in applying these principles Luther stopped halfway, left the natural untouched, and restricted Christianity too severely to the domain of religion and ethics. But Calvin, the man of action, who came after Luther and could therefore compare or constrast himself to Luther, continued the work of reformation and tried to reform all of life by Christianity. "Avoidance" is the cry of the Anabaptists; "ascesis" that of the Roman Catholics; "renewal" and "sanctification" that of the Protestant, especially of the Reformed, Christian.

This last view is, without doubt, the richest and most beautiful. There is only one God, after all, both in creation and in re-creation. The God of creation and of the Old Testament is not lower than the God of the re-creation, than of the Father of Christ, than the God of the new covenant. Christ, the mediator of the new covenant, is also he by whom God created all things. And the Holy Spirit, who is the author of regeneration and sanctification, is the same as he who in the beginning hovered over the waters and adorned the heavens. Creation and re-creation, therefore, cannot be contrasted in terms of being lower and higher. They are both good and pure -- splendid works of the one Triune God. Moreover, while it is true that the sin that entered the world has corrupted everything -- not only the spiritual life, the ethical-religious life, but also the whole of the natural life, the body, the family, society, the whole world -- yet that sin is not substantial or material but "formal" and hence not identical with the created world but dwelling in and attached to the created world and can, therefore, always be separated and removed from it by the grace of God. Substantially and materially the creation after the fall is the same as before the fall: it remains a work of God and is therefore to be honored and acclaimed. To regain that fallen world, God introduced the forces of grace into his creation. Neither is grace a substance or matter, enclosed in Word or sacrament and distributed by the priest, but a renewing and transforming force. It is not per se supernatural but only bears that character on account of sin and hence has it, in a sense incidentally and temporarily, for the purpose of restoring the creation.

This grace is distributed in a twofold form: as common grace with a view toward restraining [evil] and as special grace with a view to renewing [the world]. Both have their unity in Christ, the king of the realm of power and grace. Both are directed against sin; both ensure the connectedness between creation and re-creation. Neither has the world been left to itself after the fall, nor deprived of all grace, but it is sustained and spared by common grace, guided and preserved for special grace in Christ. Separation and suppression, accordingly, are impermissable and impossible. Humans and Christians are not two separate entities. The creation is incorporated and restored in [the process of] re-creation. Persons who are born again are substantially no different from what they were before regeneration. Incorporated into the church, they nevertheless remain in the world and must only be kept from the evil one. Just as Christ the Son of God took a full human nature from the womb of Mary and, having that nature, did not regard anything human and natural as strange, so the Christian is nothing other than a reborn, renewed, and hence, a truly human person. The same people who are Christians are and remain in the same calling with which they were called; they remain members of a family, members of a society, subjects of the government, practitioners of the arts and sciences, men or women, parents or children, masters or servants, and so forth.

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