Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The triumph of conscience. . .

Conscience was once considered to be the domain of God rather than man.  Conscience was the voice of God planted within us without our desire through which God called His people to account.  This intuitive implantation of the commandments within the heart and mind of the person was supposed to flower as a moral guide to proscribe evil and prescribe good.  Generally speaking, we no longer use conscience in this manner.

Conscience has become not the voice of God but the voice of the true man, informed by naked desire and constrained by no sense of intrinsic right or wrong, the person listening to his or her conscience is not noticeably different than the unbridled reign of unmasked desire.  This conscience is what is ruling the day and defining everything from offense to truth.  In essence, conscience has become the spiritualized enthronement of desire.

Many blame Luther for this.  After all, he was the one who invoked conscience when faced with Charles V and the powerful forces of church and state to hold his view up to scrutiny.  Yet Luther is not to blame for this for the very idea of conscience so rampant today was completely foreign to him as it ought to be to his heirs.  Luther can be blamed for many things but this is not his creation.  It is a thoroughly modern and anti-Scriptural ideal.

Lutheran did not locate the compass of truth within the conscience of the individual but squarely within the Word of God.  He did not set conscience over the Word as the primary religious, moral, and political value. What we today have fallen into as we make individual conscience the supreme arbiter of truth and goodness, was unknown to Luther; he had no intention of propagating this crucial value of the modern democratic creed into the public or religious square. For Luther, acting against conscience meant acting against the conscience that is “captive to the Word of God”.  Neither conscience nor reason can trump the Word of the Lord for Luther.  Would that we learned what He meant.

When, for example, the ELCA invented the conscience clause to allow not only disagreement but distance for those who rejected the votes of the CWA 2009, it was literally affirming the idea of conscience above the Word of God.  While some presumed that such conscience would be a temporary disagreement until time or argument wore down the opponents, the whole idea literally removed the truth of the issues decided upon out of the Word of God, out of the domain of creed and confession, and allowed the individual conscience to be the supreme voice of truth and the final arbiter or what was right or wrong.  It affirmed the modern heresy that all truth must be submitted to the individual conscience for affirmation or rejection and apart from the will and desire of the individual to recognize such truth, it has no standing, value, or influence.  So we have invented the anti-Scripture of the individual conscience, a fundamental human right to choose, affirm, reject, and submit to everything.


James Kellerman said...

I like comparing conscience to a compass. Generally speaking, a compass has been designed by its creator to point in the correct direction, but if it is demagnetized or placed in an electromagnetic field, the compass will end up pointing whatever way it has been influenced to point. A compass works well only if it has not been monkeyed around with by its environment, and a wise user of a compass will periodically check to see that that is still the case. Similarly, a conscience will point in the right direction unless it has been desensitized to sin by the bearer of that conscience or placed in an environment that tells it right is wrong and wrong is right. Consciences are more apt to go astray than compasses are, since we are more likely to be influenced by sin than compasses are to encounter some distorting electromagnetic field. If we calibrate compasses from time to time, we should spend even more time re-calibrating our consciences to be in line with the Word of God.

Chris said...

The deification of the conscience is exactly due to Martin Luther when taken to its logical conclusion. You may say that Luther NEVER intended to take it that far, but intentions, as we all know from the proverb, are the cobblestones that lead to perdition.

James Kellerman said...

Chris, I recently looked at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church had to say about conscience. It gives a broad role to the conscience--certainly no less than Martin Luther and probably more. When Luther spoke of conscience, he was being a good son of the church and was not treading into new territory. In the couple of centuries that followed, Luther's and Lutheranism's view of the conscience was not a major point of contention with Rome. And if there was any difference between Wittenberg and Rome, it was that the former wanted consciences to be more finely calibrated with God's Word so that it would spot sin where Rome saw none.

The real change occurred with the Enlightenment, not the Reformation. But the Enlightenment is an entirely different thought structure from the Reformation, indeed, is a repudiation of it.