“That final and ultimate proof that Protestant modernism is the end result of Christian legalism is clearly demonstrated in its confusion of the Law and the Gospel. If Jesus Christ is to be understood basically as a teacher and giver of the Law, then there is no need for the old church dogma about his person and work. Such a moralistic view of Christianity no longer requires a definition of the Gospel which depends on Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection. With this kind of understanding, the church is nothing more than a one huge, immense reformatory school. Her claim to existence would depend on the principles of morality she promotes and the ethical behavior which they produce. If it seems that Christianity does not live up to the expectations of these moral principles, then all the evidence is in place for doing away with Christianity. We would fair better to look around for another reformatory school other than the church to accomplish what we want. Every attempt which history has undertaken up until this time to actualize the rule of God or Christ in the world by obtaining recognition of divine Law or the Law of Christ [lex Christi
has ended up in tragedy for the church.
“This is as old as the medieval church’s massive efforts to exercise worldwide dominion in the name of Christ. It happened again in the later theocratic experiments during the Reformation
and now more recently in the efforts of modern Protestantism after the Great War [WW I]. Each of these programs attempted to gain the ascendancy for Christian principles in politics, or what were considered Christian principles. Each time these experiments came to a bitter conclusion resulting in profound disappointment and even defections from the church. How many people are there today who have left the church with a sense of deep disillusionment when they realized that these moral ideals were absent in the church. In looking for these high ideals they went after a new order in government and society and these took the place of the church in their lives. There is another option. Rather than renouncing the church, the church should be assigned obligations which have nothing to do with what she really is. Then she would no longer be in a position to surrender, to give away or loose anything. It happened once before in the time of the Reformation. Our fathers fought against the Enthusiasts who had turned the Gospel into new laws for directing life in society and the state. Luther’s one time colleague, Andreas Carlstadt [ca. 1480-1541], and the fanatical Thomas Muenzer [ca. 1489-1525] come to mind. They applied the Gospel to their experiments. This was their motto: `The Gospel does not tolerate new government regulations,’ [Nec fert evangelium novas leges de statu civiles.
] Attempts to introduce what was alleged to be the Law of Christ [lex Christi
] only resulted in wild abandonment, murder, arson and anarchy with complete lack of civil restraint. No further proof was needed to conclude that what was proclaimed was not the Gospel. To such civil disobedience the Lutherans responded: “The Gospel does not introduce any new laws about the civil estate, but commands us to obey existing laws (Ap XVI, 3; Tappert, 222-223).” The Apology of the Augsburg Confession is not endorsing a conservative, uninvolved, laissez faire
attitude for Christians to take in political or civil sphere, as if everything that happened there was of equal moral value. Rather the Apology wants it self-understood that the Gospel is something entirely different from the Law. Where this is forgotten, the Gospel ceases to be the Gospel and the church ceases to be the church. That’s the way it is, whether one likes and knows it or not. The situation under Pope Gregory VII
is a case in point.
“If legalism ends in this way, then isn’t there some justification for antinomianism? Whoever thinks that antinomianism is the alternative to legalism should face up to the fact that he also has confused the Law and the Gospel. Tertullian [ca. 160- ca. 225] noted this confusion in Marcion [d. ca. 160]. But we must ask this question: Wouldn’t Marcion be right, if the Gospel’s essence is the forgiveness of sins and Jesus is no law giver? Then we have to give the benefit of doubt to the antinomians of the Reformation era. Weren’t they justified in their program in holding that the law belonged to the civil sphere, that is, the government. They could even quote Luther: “The Decalogue belongs to city hall and not in the pulpit.”
They used his characterization of the Law to support their view that there is no other Jesus than a “sweet” Christ. Whenever the Law and the Gospel are separated from each other, wherever the connection between the Law and the Gospel is lost, then what Luther said proves itself to be true: Where either the Law or the Gospel is lost, then the other is also thoroughly destroyed. Every form of antinomianism necessarily destroys the Gospel. Where the preaching of the Law does not work the recognition of sins, how is it possible to experience or understand the forgiveness of sins [Gospel]? Already it was Marcion who no longer understood that redemption meant the forgiveness of sins. If in our time the church neglects the preaching of the Law, the proclamation of the unchanging commands of God to people and nations, then one day the Gospel will inevitably be lost. The contemporary danger of a practical antinomianism is overpowering. How easy it is for the church of an age stridently to forbid the preaching of God’s commandments and to derive the definitive ethic for all human behavior from resources stemming from the world itself, and then to retreat to the gospel, as if the church’s task was proclaiming that God forgives a world which according to its own laws is decaying in sin. No, the forgiveness of sins can only be preached to the penitent. No church can call upon the Reformation and even upon Luther to exempt it from preaching the Law to everyone within the nation and state. Simply for the reason that the reformers were careful in stating that the preaching of the Law consisted in the civil use of the Law, the usus legis elenchticus
[the first use law] as well as usus legis in renatis
, the application of the Law to the regenerate.
The regenerate have come to know that the Gospel is more than and something other than the divine Law, because in the Gospel God is not doing a foreign work, but his own work by which he justifies sinners and makes them alive.
“Between the Scylla of legalism and Charybis of antinomianism leads a narrow and dangerous path which the church must follow in her ethical thought. Whether she finds the way depends on the purity of her proclamation and on this depends her existence. It is my wish that the World Conference of Churches meeting at Oxford  would be so endowed that churches of Christendom would serve in some way as a light house on this way. Each of the churches must find its own way. They can only find their ways by turning away from the world’s tempting siren calls and in this benighted century to listen to the voice of him who speaks to Christendom the same message which he spoke to the apostles and the reformers and which they believed: “I am the way.” [John 14:6]”
“Law and Gospel” by Hermann Sasse (1936) translated by David Scaer, will appear in “Letters to Lutheran Pastors” vol. III (CPH).
 Lex Christi
is the technical term especially in Roman Catholics for Christ’s gospel interpreted as law and associated with the Sermon on the Mount. DPS
John of Leyden’s establishment of a religious government in Muenster was one of many attempts during this time. DPS
Gregory VII (d. 1085), known as Hildebrand. Instituted reforms with respect to Simony and other matters and met with opposition from William I of England and Henry IV of Germany. Henry held two synods at Worms and Piacenza (1076) and declared the pope deposed. His political situation grew tenuous and he finally submitted to Gregory however. ODCC p. 708. MH
 “I assume that you received some time ago a copy of the disputations against the new spirits who have dared to expel the law of God or the Ten Commandments from the church and to assign them to city hall. I never expected that such false spirituality would occur to the mind of man, much less that anyone would support it.” LW 47.107; the comments Carlstadt used to support his position are found in LW 47.107 and WA 39.344. MH
It is more likely that Sasse here is referring to the second use of the law, lex semper accusat
, and not the third use, the application of the law to Christian life in a positive. While his use of the `regenerate’ suggests the third use, his argument fits the second use. DPS