Over the past thirty years, nominalism has entrenched itself in all parts of society. Once only relegated to academia, colleges and universities have done well in evangelizing society. So what does this have to do with grace?
This philosophical cancer comes in at least two flavors. The most common that comes to mind is the rejection of universals, or in the case of everyday conversation: absolute truth. We are not interested in this flavor today. The second poison is a little more subtle(making it effective) and actually was part and parcel of Luther’s (and the reformers) understanding of grace. It denies metaphysical properties or abstract objects.
We would all agree that each person is a particular which in philosophy means a kind of entity. Modern society would agree with Luther in understanding this distinction. We also naturally understand that we have real properties that provides distinctions and effects upon us. Being tall, short, rotund (me), white, black, etc. are examples of properties or accidents of particulars. Luther holding high the Cartesian inspired banner of nominalism denies properties, though no reasonable person would admit this out of fear of looking foolish. For most, it is abstract or immaterial not physical properties that are the issue. I could make a case though, for the physical issues being ignored if we consider unisex clothes, the push for a genderless society, and/or even the difference between a father or mother. This not our discussion topic today though.
Luther looked at grace as a gift of God but not having the real property or quality to effect a change. Basically, he stripped grace of its power. Maybe this understanding helps you understand why Luther said that Baptism does not cause an effective change but we are snow-covered dung. With this understanding, the implications for all Sacramental Theology is cataclysmic which also explains why he thought of only Baptism and the Holy Eucharist as Sacraments – albeit only because of Scriptural evidence. I know, you are thinking, “But his whole theology rests on faith (BTW, lively faith not a dead one based on doctrine and dogma) inspired by grace” – go figure.
Hopefully, we have taken a moment to pause and consider whether we are practical nominalists. Few of us would deny that grace and sacraments are effective. Few of us would rely on just ourselves when struggling with an area of vice but would immediately turn to prayer asking for the grace to overcome. Yet, most of, I would argue, treat grace as if it was cheap or just another religious word.
The Lord gives us grace but do we respond to it in His time or ours. For some reason, we think that grace just hangs around until we are ready to respond or we are “ready for it.” Are we forgetting our Lord’s words parable of the old wine skins or Matthew 6:34 which proclaims a practical application of grace?
Ever had an experience with another person in ministry when God is pouring out His lavish grace and they look at you and say, “I’m not ready for this”, “I like my life as it is” or “Why do I need to change this or that part of my life “? Without being harsh, Scripture has a phrase for this, “a dog returning to its vomit.”
Why do we prefer to live in the wretchedness of our own brokenness and vice? Why, when the Lord pours out an abundance of grace do we reject it? Who are we to tell the Lord or the community (means family too) He has given us to love us and assist us that we are not responding to grace?
The beauty of what we believe concerning grace is a treasure to be sought with all our might. Grace is real (not a cause and effect theory), effective, transforming, life-giving, beautifying, explosive, dynamic, and the list goes on. More importantly, it’s FREE and not taxable! But we MUST respond in docility and humility. We need it!
Our hearts are wounded and whether we like it or not, there is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. Those of who think that holiness is a private affair or we should be independent of a community that we are responsible to have fallen for a pernicious and perditious lie. It is telling that monks may not become hermits until they have successfully demonstrated growing in holiness while living within community. Besides, our Lord wants us to be healed for holiness.
Take heart! His grace is ever new each and every day. Let’s work together to respond to the grace He has for us today and let tomorrow care for itself. And after this reflection…I am off to confession. Got grace? Does the person (body and soul) good.