Frequent Modern Reformation contributor, Dr. Korey Maas (assistant professor of theology and church history at Concordia University in Irvine, California) has given us permission to post an article he wrote entitled Natural Law, Lutheranism, and the Public Good.
In this article he explains the important connection between natural law and God’s revealed will. Too often in contemporary discussions of the place of natural law, some opponents to natural law assume that natural law is somehow opposed to God’s revealed will. Dr. Maas shows how they are connected.
“Where [Moses] gives the commandments, we are not to follow him except so far as he agrees with the natural law.”~ Martin Luther (AE 35:173)
Martin Luther’s penchant for provocative exclamations is well known. It may nevertheless seem especially shocking that the great champion of “Scripture alone” could appear so blatantly to qualify the authority of the biblical commandments. Perhaps equally puzzling, though, is his qualification’s appeal to “natural law,” a phrase likely unfamiliar to many readers because it has all but disappeared from contemporary Lutheran discourse.
That it is so infrequently discussed, or even mentioned, might give the impression that there is something inherently un-Lutheran about this concept. As even the above quotation suggests, however, neither an acknowledgment of nor appeals to natural law are foreign to Lutheranism. Moreover, the case for embracing natural law, especially in civic life, may be stronger today than it has been throughout the history of Lutheranism, or even most of the history of Christianity.
What, though, is this natural law? While details differ among its theorists—diversely represented not only by two millennia of Christian theologians, but even by pre-Christian pagans and modern agnostics—certain commonalities emerge. The natural law consists of an objective and universal moral code, the fundamental precepts of which are embedded in human nature, and which are discernible by the natural reason common to humanity.