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From the Confessions: The Augsburg Confession
Concerning Monastic Vows
Finally, even though the violation of a vow might be condemned, it does not follow that the marriages of these persons must be dissolved. Augustine denies that they ought to be dissolved in Marriage Matters, and although others disagreed, his authority is not lightly to be esteemed. Although God's command concerning marriage delivers many from their vows, yet our teachers introduce another argument concerning vows to show that they are void. For every service of God chosen by men to earn justification and grace but that is not ordained and commanded by God, is wicked. Christ says, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt 15:9). Paul teaches everywhere that righteousness is not to be sought in ceremonies and acts of worship that are devised by men, but that righteousness comes by faith to those who believe that they are received of God through grace for Christ's sake.
Pulling It Together: The Lutherans believed that marriages could not be annulled by monastic vows. Indeed, the opposite is the case: marriage vows annul monastic obligations. Nearly a thousand years earlier, Augustine came to the same conclusion. Yet this is not the chief reason why monasticism should be overturned. If a contract is entered into because of false promises, that agreement is invalid. This was the case with monasticism, for that vow was based upon earning God's grace through an austere lifestyle. This is plainly a gilded assurance, for we cannot do anything that merits God's favor. Even if a service is truly rendered unto God, yet while imagining that the religious service acquires righteousness with God, that act of worship is in vain. God is not gracious to us because we are good folks, go to church, feed the poor, forfeit all our worldly goods, or enter a religious vocation. God freely acquits us of our sin through faith in him to do so. He forgives us for Christ's sake alone—not by our religious practices, no matter how strict or sincere they may be. Since there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, there is no need to earn his forgiveness, even if we were able to do so.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for not giving me what I deserve, but instead granting me mercy because of your immeasurable love. Amen.
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In Harmony with the Word is an eight-session Bible Study focusing on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7. It is written at an introductory level, to be led by a lay leader or pastor in a small-group question and discussion format. The study would serve as an excellent resource for monthly women's group meetings, or in an informal small-group setting.