brief background on free will

The Reformation of 500 years ago was filled with endless controversy. One of the most heated and most significant controversies, which continues to exist even today between Lutherans and almost all other Protestants, is the issue of the “will of man.”


During the Reformation, a group emerged that gained great influence, a group led by teachers who denied the Sacraments and set forth a very vigorous campaign to promote the false teaching that, in spiritual matters, man has a free will. This is against John 1:13, and other verses in the Bible. Luther took the opposite position and maintained that, spiritually, man’s will is not free, but is in bondage to his flesh. In order to settle this controversy, the Roman Catholic leaders asked the leading European academic of that day, Erasmus, to write against Luther. Because Erasmus did not want to get into the mess, and since he also did not care to take on Luther, he thought he would begin arguing over what he felt was a very innocuous and insignificant topic: the will of man. Actually, the Lord led him to take up this subject because it became a watershed issue in the Reformation, forcing the Lutherans to dig more deeply into the Scriptures. Later Luther said to Erasmus regarding the latter’s selection of discussing man’s will in spiritual matters: “This [selection] I highly laud and praise in you that in contradistinction to all others you alone have attacked the real matter at issue, that is, the heart of the case, and have not wearied me with those irrelevant points about popery, purgatory, indulgences, and similar trivialties rather than the real causes. With these nearly all have hitherto hounded me in vain. You alone have seen the heart of the matter and have held a knife at my throat. For this I heartily thank you” (What Luther Says, #4649).


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