The Marrow Controversy -- By: Michael D. Makidon
JOTGES 16:2 (Autumn 03) p. 65
The Marrow Controversy
Director of Publications
Grace Evangelical Society
A common belief exists today that one of the byproducts of the Reformation was unity on the doctrine of sola fide. After all, the message of faith alone in Christ alone was the very cry of the Reformers. However, just as there is presently debate on what constitutes justification by faith alone, so there has been since the days of Luther and Calvin. It was their successors, Melanchthon and Beza respectively, who added “faith that saves is never alone” to sola fide.
This doctrinal disunity in Europe continued for nearly two centuries until the Marrow Controversy erupted in 1720. Although this debate over what constitutes faith alone did not occur until the early eighteenth century, the Marrow Controversy began brewing nearly two hundred years prior. Beginning with Melanchthon and continuing with Calvin and Beza, the Marrow Controversy merely illustrates the great debate that has always existed among those who profess to believe in faith alone in Christ alone.
II. Sixteenth Century Lutheranism
In 1546, with death looming over his head, Martin Luther called together his closest Wittenberg colleagues, including Melanchthon, who would become Luther’s main interpreter after his death.1 He remarked,
Hitherto you have heard the real, true Word, now beware of your own thoughts and your own wisdom. The devil will kindle the light of reason and rob you of your faith. This is what happened to the Anabaptists and the antisacramentarians, and now we have nothing left but instigators of heresy…I foresee that, if God does not give us faithful ministers, the devil
JOTGES 16:2 (Autumn 03) p. 66
will tear our church apart through the sectarians and he will never cease until he has accomplished it...If he cannot do it through the pope and the emperor, he will accomplish it through those who are still in accord with us in doctrine.2
It would not be long before Luther’s prediction would become a reality.
Soon after Luther’s death, the Lutherans began arguing over the doctrine of justification. The strict Lutherans held that Melanchthon’s belief that good works were “a result and witness to it [faith],”3 was in basic disagreement with Luther. This caused a schism between the strict Lutherans who believed in justification by faith alone and the Philippists, those in agreement with Mela...
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