Saint Augustine of Hippo once prayed, “God command what you will and grant what you command.”
This prayer is said by some to have started the Protestant Reformation more than a thousand years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg Church door. This simple prayer sparked the Pelagian controversy in about AD 400. What was such a big deal about it that it could spark two huge controversies?
At the heart of the prayer is a question that stirs you to ponder God’s grace and man’s own ability without God’s grace. How would you respond to this question, “When God commands people to do something, does that mean they have the ability within themselves to do it.” Or to ask it another way, “Does God ever command people to do something they do not have the ability, within themselves, to do?”
This is sure to spark worthwhile thoughts and great conversations that I hope will lead you to see more of the greatness of God’s grace and our dependence upon Him.
The British monk, named Pelagius, disagreed with Augustine’s thoughts in the above prayer which is what led to the Pelagian controversy. He taught that people do indeed have the ability within themselves to do anything God commands without grace. But the church collectively upheld Augustine’s teaching and condemned Pelagius’ teaching as heresy two times, at the Council of Carthage in 418 AD. and the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. It is important for us today to remember what God’s word says about the greatness of grace.
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
(Lyrics from Amazing Grace by John Newton)