Sunday, November 2, 2014

Synergism as against Justification

"Synergism From the Greek sun- (together) + ergos (working). Synergists believe that in spiritual things humans are not wholly dead to being good, even if perhaps almost so; that human beings have a limited but nonetheless natural -- not Spirit-given -- capacity to work with God to make themselves holy. For them, the Spirit helps us to make ourselves like Christ in this life. This makes salvation at least partly into a work of the human will rather than solely a free gift of grace from God. Synergism may convey what a person senses is happening to them, but it does not convey what is actually happening. It is what inner change looks like from where we're sitting. But we're too close to what's going on to be able to see the real picture. To get beyond this, we must get outside of ourselves, and into the full Scriptural vision of what God is working toward. One of the best and most faithfully Christian synergists was the great Catholic scholar Erasmus, who lived in Reformation times and got into a famous dispute with Luther over the powers of the human will." ..........The Speaking Tree

Christian Salvation is a misunderstood concept with a very heavy leaning on the ministry of Christ rather than the involvement of the individual. The fallen state of humans derived from the Genesis story of the Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is literally taken with a heavy Augustinian connotation of original sin as the basic state of human being in this creation. This is refuted in the above quotation.

This has been strongly defended through the Doctrine of Justification in the Lutheran theology.
Michael Horton minces no words about the meaning of justification.
"It is the act of God by which a person is, in a purely external and forensic sense, declared just by reason of the atoning merits of Christ, with no cooperative (“synergistic”) action on the part of that person......." [1]

Even in 1999, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" by the Catholic and Lutheran World Federation, took the theological view that salvation was purely through the external agency of Christ. I quote the passage from the Vatican document confirming this position.
" ...............In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works." [2]

This position isolates the Divine realm to an external realm from the human being and thus contradicts the very fundamental nature of human nature as an image of the Divine. This error creeps in when a human creation is allocated to the beginning of time and a withdrawal of Divine agency until the arrival of the redemptive incarnated Son.
Christ birth, death and resurrection is the template after which every human soul has to follow in the process of redemption towards the pure realm of Kingdom of God.

There are many examples in the history of the Christian doctrine where people like St. John Chrysostom, St. Theophylact of Ochrid, Apostolos Makrakis, and many other non-Reformation readers of St. Paul who believed that they found in his Epistles ample support for their theology of synergism or “cooperation with grace". [3]

As we have referred to Erasmus and his understanding, it would be good to see the way he looks at the synergistic action of man's free will and Divine grace. He writes:
"In each individual action two causes come together, the grace of God and the will of man: in such a way, however, that grace is the principal cause and the will secondary, which can do nothing apart from the principal cause, since the principal cause is sufficient in itself. Just as fire burns by its native force, and yet the principal cause is God who acts through the fire, and this cause would of itself be sufficient, without which the fire could do nothing if he withdrew from it"  [4]

I would like to point out that individual will is essentially a perceptual entity moderated through the human mind of how Divine Grace is received at a subjective level. The increased awareness to fathom the greater depths of Divine grace so as to synchronize the individual will generated through the human mind and Divine will is opportunity that is ever presented through various spiritual practices. This increased awareness is the vigilance which Christ talks of through parables.

This is the reason for Jesus telling the parable of the Ten virgins
" At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps." ..........Matthew 25: 1-4
The synergistic participation and marriage of the individual will and Divine grace as the bridegroom is beautifully illustrated in this parable.

Hence salvation is a synergistic process by which the individual will through increased awareness is able to comprehend the Divine will and thus elevate the individual's consciousness to the state of original purity.

Love to you all

[4] "A Review of Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation" - Fook Meng Cheah


  1. Christ's ministry doesn't hold much unless it is reflected in every single moment of living. The Divine grace should collaborate in the human to attain spiritual happiness.

    Nicely written Thank you