Monday, 22 September 2014

Lutheran Legalism and the Spirit of Individualism

Luther's theology was one of legalism, placing an emphasis on faith and doing good works, rather than love. Legalism is of the carnal flesh which cannot please God in any way. Therefore, because it is of the flesh, it can only serve the flesh and is hostile towards God.

Jesus made it clear that no one can serve both God and mammon. A person will serve one and hate the other. Since to serve the flesh is to serve mammon, legalism is that which serves mammon through serving the flesh. Legalism is that which sets up a set of values or standards that one should live by according to what one sees fit for oneself. The root of legalism is self-righteousness and pride, believing in one's own "goodness". Setting up one's own standards need not be "religious" to amount to legalism. Indeed, legalism can manifest in the "secular" context. It do so through the spirit of individualism that is rampant in secular societies. 

Before general acceptance of the Protestant theology of work, work was generally accepted to be that which is done for others. It was communal, not individualistic; an obligation, not a right. This was based on doctrine of the need to serve others out of one's love, rather than a secular duty or work. Work was for the good of the community. That which was done to serve others, and not oneself was deemed to be that which was good. 

Luther's theology of legalism was that which transformed his society into one that embraced the doctrine of individualism. Work became seen as that which is done for oneself.  An individual was seen as entitled to rewards for one's contribution to society.  Work became separated from serving others, and serving others became a 'choice' rather than an obligation done out of love for others. That which is deemed good eventually became that which allowed oneself to serve one's interest, and perhaps serve others, but never at the expense of one's own interests.

Such individualism legitimised private property and usury which were seen as "lawful" according to the legalistic flesh which hates justice when it is against one's interests, but loves justice when it is against others. It hates grace and love when it is directed at others, but loves grace only when it is directed towards itself.

 Such is loveless legalism.