We are all familiar with the expression "development of doctrine" to refer to the emergence of the dogma in the Early Church concerning God as The Trinity and Jesus as One Person made known in Two Natures. Here, "development" does not mean changing the content of the teaching concerning God and Jesus found in the Bible in terms of adding extras to it; but, rather, it is the statement of the biblical doctrine in a new form using non-biblical technical terms (e.g. homoousios) to make clear against errors the very truth of the biblical doctrine.
Perhaps we are not so familiar with the claim that the 16th century doctrine of Justification by faith alone is also a development of doctrine (see further Peter Toon, The Development of Doctrine in the Church, Eerdmans, 1979 for the discussion of this via Robert Rainy's, The Delivery and Development of Doctrine). Here again in this case the doctrine (as found in the Statements of Faith of the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican Churches of the 16th century—fir which see Schaff, Creeds of Christendom) is seen as a systematic statement of what is already stated in the Bible in a general but non-technical form.
The doctrine of justification by faith alone (both in its initial undeveloped form from Luther in 1520, and then its developed form by Melanchthon and Calvin and in the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican Confessions of Faith) had a tremendous impact upon those national Churches in Europe and in Britain which received it, and the impact was not only in the area of soteriology (i.e., not only in stating what is the Gospel and how may a sinner be saved by grace), but also in the exposition of the doctrines of the Church, Sacraments and vocation of the laity. One easy way to see this impact is carefully to study the content of the services of The Book of Common Prayer, produced for the Church of England between 1549 and 1552 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Put negatively it was the major reason for the rejection of much of the worship and doctrines of the late medieval Church in Europe.
The developed doctrine of Justification is rooted in the content of St Paul's Letters, especially to Galatia and Rome, and through them in the doctrine of Christ and his fulfillment of the O.T., and it brings this content together in a systematic way—against late medieval formulations—to make the following claims:
- Justification is first of all acquittal, that is God forgives the sins of the believer for the sake of Christ, who died to make atonement for sins;
- Justification is also the imputation or reckoning by God the Father to the sinner of the "human" righteousness of Christ Jesus, who throughout his life and in his death was perfectly obedient to the Father's will.
- This non-imputation of sin and imputation of the righteousness of Christ Jesus is provided by God only to the sinner who believes the Gospel, who trusts in the promises of God, and who has living faith in Christ Jesus as the Savior and Lord. And this faith is itself a gift of God in that it is inspired and energized by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel.
- God the Father declares the believing sinner righteous in his sight because that sinner is perfectly represented before him by the exalted Lord Jesus, the New Adam, High Priest and Mediator.
- God the Father also makes this declaration because it is his definite will—reaching back into his predestination and beginning from the very moment of declaring righteous—to make the believing sinner wholly righteous in fact, by adopting him as his child and giving him the "Spirit of adoption," the Holy Spirit, to enable him truly to be made righteous through faithfulness and obedience as a disciple of Christ, so that at the last, when divine redemption is completed at the last day, he shall be righteous in soul and body, together with the whole elect people of God.
- The process of being made righteous and the becoming righteous at the end time may be described through the use of the words "sanctify" and "sanctification" and its beginnings, which occur at Justification and Adoption, may be called "new birth" or "spiritual regeneration." This is undertaken and pursued within the fellowship of the people of the new covenant, within the Body of Christ.
- Baptism is the outward and visible sign of God's action in Justification, Adoption and Regeneration, and at the Lord's Supper the believing sinner is continually strengthened by God in his vocation of sanctification, conformity to Christ Jesus, and glorifying God by his good works.
- In the true Christian person, the faith, which initially believes the word of the Father through Jesus for forgiveness and acceptance (Justification), matures as faith that is faithful and obedient to the same living God, the God of the new covenant, which is the final phase of the covenant of grace, made originally with Abraham. However, faith always remains and continually believes and trusts in God the Father through Jesus Christ, even as it seeks also to be faithful.
- Any teaching that makes human works, deeds or actions a basis or partial basis for Justification, Adoption and Regeneration is false and to be rejected; however, the duty to love God and the neighbor with the love of Christ is a daily privilege and duty of the justified sinner who is being made righteous, as an adopted child of God.
- Thus Justification by faith alone lies behind and under-girds the proclamation of the Gospel to sinners, the administration of the Sacraments and the vocation of all baptized Christians to be holy. It is thus "the Article of Faith by which the Church stands or falls."
What seems to be clearly true in 2007 is that the Churches in Europe and in the U.S.A. which descend from the Lutheran Church, Reformed Church and Anglican Church of the sixteenth century have for the most part forgotten, neglected or departed from this dogma of Justification by Faith alone, and thereby appear to have given up their essential or primary reason for existence as Churches separate from the Roman Catholic Church! And when they officially discuss this doctrine with Roman Catholics or the Orthodox, they tend to modify their original dogma so as to make it more conformable to the R. C. doctrine from The Council of Trent via Vatican II.