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Martin Luther: Civil Libertarian?

 

Presenters:

Rev. Jeff Pederson, Lutheran Church of Peace (ELCA)-Platteville

Mike Trinklein, Writer and Producer of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World

 

Overview

Rev. Pederson offered a chronological summary of Luther’s life, from birth to death, his education, writings, and interest in finding peace with God, mentioning also Romans 1:16-17, “The just will live by faith” and how these words changed Luther.  The reason for the Reformation, stated Pederson, was the timing, as the times were that of change.

Trinklein, referencing the previous summary of Luther’s life and activity, presented on what I would call the worldly/secular results of Luther and the Reformation. The presentation itself was engaging and drew attention to what Trinklein considered the reasons for a number of the freedoms we have today in the U.S., including especially freedom of speech, free press, minority rights, right to education, separation of church and state (noting, however, that this is not identical with the teaching concerning the “two kingdoms”), and individualism (i.e. of religion).

 

Evaluation of the content

luther1Pederson, in his chronological overview of Luther, noted key events of the Reformation and that which led up to it, including Luther’s vow to become a monk, studies, “tower experience,” 95 theses (referencing their posting, but not stating any, 1517), debates (i.e. Erfurt), Diets of Worms (1521), Marburg (1529) and Augsburg (1530).  Pederson also spoke briefly about the circumstances of that time period, which were that of change.  It is that “time of change,” stated Pederson, that was the reason for the Reformation.

Such a time, I would argue, was not the reason for the Reformation.  The reason for the Reformation was God’s doing, not Luther’s or merely the timing itself.  Luther and time had something to do with it, to be sure, but only on account of God’s working through these for His purposes.

Such a statement is that of faith, recognizing God’s work in the world through the work of man and time for the clear preaching of the Gospel.  Why that time and that place?  God knows. A closer look at Luther’s writings reveal that it was not Luther’s reformation, but God’s, as God’s Word was clearly articulated and made known, in contrast to the corrupted teaching of the Roman church and others (i.e. Zwingli, radical reformers).

The second presenter, Trinklein, had mentioned Luther’s focus as an interest in ‘right relationship with God’ (historically not a Lutheran statement), but he took much greater pains to emphasize, not Luther’s theological endeavor, but the secular results/effects (i.e. changes), even going so far to (immediately/directly?) link Luther and his personality to the freedoms experienced today as we have them in our American context.

Thinking about this, the statement could be made that Luther’s example of how he “stood up” to the ecclesiastical and ruling authorities, his emphasis on education, his use oLuther-God speak.jpgf the media (i.e. printing press), and his forthright speaking to the issues of the day were precursors of our freedoms today, though such freedoms were not in place in Luther’s day as they are ours.

Considering Luther as a precedent for American Freedoms, however, apart from the historical connections, seems a bit presumptuous.  Trinklein offered little or no direct line of historical continuum between Luther and the Reformation to our day (i.e. historical legislation noting that our freedoms were a direct result of Luther).  He had mentioned, though, that the father of Mike King, having learned of Martin Luther while in Germany, changed his son’s name from Mike to Martin Luther as a result of his work in the Reformation.

Such a connection, if used to link Luther to current civil rights issues, is misplaced, as the father of Mike King, as presented, took to Luther on account of the freedoms derived from the movement rather than on account of what Luther was actually preaching, teaching, and writing according to the Word.

This was the grand omission of Trinklein’s presentation and to a large degree, the deficiency of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World.”

Minimizing the very words that Luther spoke and wrote in order to draw attention to the “bigger picture” of societal change, or to see Luther primarily as the catalyst and example for change, is to misunderstood Luther and to present a caricature of Luther that is not accurate. Though Trinklein (and others) see Luther primarily as one who “set in motion societal change” and some current American civil liberties, such a limited view not only distorts the contribution of the Reformer, but gives precedent to the worldly while giving lip service to the heavenly.

LutherPreachingLuther’s interest was that of the Gospel.  What was opposed to it in the church, Luther wanted reformed.  Luther hadn’t set out to “change the world.”  His interests were theological.  His oral and written words derived from this interest, and such was the foundation for what he wrote and spoke.

To relegate Luther and His interest in God’s Word and the very Gospel itself to mention, while at the same time emphasizing the possible results of such work, societally and secularly, but not theologically, is to use Luther as a means to one’s desired end.

Rather than champion Luther as a “civil libertarian,” read his writings.  The freedom that the Gospel speaks of is not temporal liberty from worldly oppression and peace in the world.  More significantly, and eternally, the Gospel revealed in the Bible, and that which Luther proclaimed, frees the conscience and declares peace with God and freedom from sin’s penalty, which is eternal death, through the death of Jesus Christ.

Whether freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to education, etc. exist or not, the Gospel cannot and will not be silenced.  American Christians do not rejoice for primarily the freedoms of this world.  They rejoiromans 1-16ce in sins forgiven through Christ and the certainty of their eternal inheritance.

Emphasizing the freedoms of this world and downplaying the true freedom of and in the Gospel (before God and man) is the way of the world.  It is not the way of the Lord Christ. Nor was it the concern of Luther.

 

Link to presentation on the campus of UW-Platteville

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Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive

Heidelberg Disputation

Thesis 28

 

God is loveThe love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it…the love of God which lives in man loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive…Christ says: “For I came not to can the righteous, but sinners” [Matt. 9:13]. This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35], says the Apostle. (LW 31, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518)

Heidelberg Disputation

 

The Great Exchange

 

LutherPreachingThrough faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. Therefore the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Rom. 1[:17]: For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed …; as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by his faith.’” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3[:28], such a faith is called ”the righteousness of God”: “We hold that a man is justified by faith.” This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more. (LW 31, Two Kinds of Righteousness, 1519)

Two Kinds of Righteousness

The one thing necessary

Freedom of  a ChristianOne thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”; and John 8[:36], “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”; and Matt. 4[:4], “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing.  On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word, as he says in Amos [8:11]. Likewise there is no greater mercy than when he sends forth his Word, as we read in Psalm 107[:20]: “He sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.” Nor was Christ sent into the world for any other ministry except that of the Word. Moreover, the entire spiritual estate—all the apostles, bishops, and priests—has been called and instituted only for the ministry of the Word. (LW 31, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520)

It is clear, then, that a Christian has all that he needs in faith and needs no works to justify him; and if he has no need of works, he has no need of the law; and if he has no need of the law, surely he is free from the law. It is true that “the law is not laid down for the just” [I Tim. 1:9]. This is that Christian liberty, our faith, which does not induce us to live in idleness or wickedness but makes the law and works unnecessary for any man’s righteousness and salvation. (LW 31, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520)

Free resources from Lutheran Press

Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article I–Christ and Faith

 Tappert1 The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). 2 He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all” (Isa. 53:6). 3 Moreover, “all have sinned,” and “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood” (Rom. 3:23-25).

4 Inasmuch as this must be believed and cannot be obtained or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that such faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28), and again, “that he [God] himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

5 Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised,6 even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed. For as St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “And with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

On this article rests all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all our adversaries will gain the victory. (Tappert edition, The Book of Concord)

Some misrepresentation and confusion: Lutherans and Consubstantiation

Undestanding the Lord's SupperJust recently in a Sunday morning Bible class, the question was raised about the doctrine of consubstantiation.  Distinct from transubstantiation, which is the Roman Catholic teaching that the bread and the wine “turn into” Christ’s body and blood, the teaching of consubstantiation is often understood to be the Lutheran position by both Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike.  But is this claim correct?  A brief survey of non-Lutheran material shows that many indeed assume that the Lutheran teaching is, in fact, consubstantiation.  Moreover, even Lutherans themselves will sometimes claim this doctrine as their own.  However, other Lutherans confess differently, and not least of all, Dr. Luther and the reformers themselves.  To attempt to clarify the matter, I will briefly try to distinguish between what consubstantiation is from what it isn’t using various sources.  In doing so, I will show that not all who use the term (even Lutherans) are always consistent.  Because of this inconsistency, misrepresentation abounds and confusion remains.  Following this brief survey, I will speak about the importance of such distinctions and the significance of the Lutheran doctrine and her confession.

Right meaning, wrong word

In his Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine, H. Wayne House clearly characterizes the Lutheran position as that of consubstantiation.[1]  He indicates that Luther was the “founder” of this position, and that the major documents from which this teaching is derived are the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Smaller Catechism.[2]  Interestingly, though, House correctly notes that, concerning the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, “The elements do not change into the presence of Christ,” (as in the Roman Catholic teaching) “but he is actually present in, with, and under the elements” (of bread and wine).[3]

Part of this latter “formula” does come directly from Luther’s Small Catechism, where Luther answers the question “What is the Sacrament of the Altar?” with the words, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”  House is correct in attributing the teaching of Christ’s (“Real”) presence to the Lutheran position.  However, according to others, such a position is not what consubstantiation is.

Rose Publishing, Inc., like House in his Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine, also misrepresents the Lutheran teaching by claiming that it is consubstantiation.  Here is how AnyQuestions-3Rose Publishing describes the teaching of the Lutheran Church, “The Lord’s Supper remains truly bread and wine but also become truly Jesus’ body and blood.”[4]  Rose Publishing calls this teaching consubstantiation.

Thus far, both House and Rose Publishing correctly define the Lutheran position on the Lord’s Supper, but they do so by calling that position consubstantiation.  Likewise, on the back cover of the book, Understanding Four Views on The Lord’s Supper, the Lutheran view is understood to be the same.[5]

For anyone interested in correctly understanding the Lord’s Supper and it’s accompanying terminology, its easy to see how, just from the few examples above, confusion might exist, even among Lutherans.  The term used to describe the teaching of the Lutherans (i.e. consubstantiation) and the actual teaching of the Lutherans are not identical.

Consubstantiation and the actual teaching of the Lutheran Church

According to Dr. Scaer, consubstantiation “etymologically means ‘one substance by the side of another.’”[6]  Lutherans do not teach a “side by side” locale of bread and wine and Christ’s body and blood.  Rather, Lutherans teach what is called the “sacramental union,” which is the “Union of bread and body, wine and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.”[7]  The elements of the Lord’s Table are not side by side.  Instead, Lutherans believe that the recipients of the Lord’s Supper truly receive Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.  Recipients also eat and drink bread and wine.  This includes not only those who believe that they receive Christ’s body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine, but also those who don’t believe it (See 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29).

Lenker defines consubstantiation this way, “View, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form 1 substance (a ‘3rd substance) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present, like bread and wine, in a natural manner.”[8]

YesLutherans do not confess that a “3rd substance” exists.  Nowhere does Christ Himself say this in the institution of this sacred meal (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).  Lutherans do confess, however, that in the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine and Christ’s body and blood are received.  Neither do Lutherans teach that Christ’s body and blood are present in a “natural manner,” but in a supernatural one, according to Christ’s Word and promise.  Yet, Lutherans neither mis-spiritualize the sacrament or claim that bread and the wine only symbolize and represent Christ’s body and blood (both teachings are not according to the very words of Christ, to which we are bound).  Lutherans simply teach that Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper according to His Word, “Real Presence,” that He gives His own body and blood for us to eat and to drink, that we eat bread and drink wine as He instituted, and that by this means of grace (of the Lord’s Supper), Christ forgives sins and gives eternal life, “for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life.”

Formula of Concord, Epitome, VII, “The Holy Supper of Christ”: 15 6. We believe, teach, and confess that with the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ are received not only spiritually, by faith, but also orally — however, not in a Capernaitic manner, but because of the sacramental union in a supernatural and heavenly manner. The words of Christ teach this clearly when they direct us to take, eat, and drink, all of which took place in the case of the apostles, since it is written, “And they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23). Likewise, St. Paul says, “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) — that is, whoever eats this bread eats the body of Christ. This has also been the unanimous teaching of the leading Church Fathers, such as Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine.[9]

Why the big deal?

Such distinctions may sound confusing, and not least of all due to the confusion that already exists with many a teaching from one church body or denomination to another.  IfGod'sWordMattersw we all used the same words in the same way, and correctly attributed this and that word with the identical meaning, things would be different.  But regrettably, we do not.  Misrepresentations abound, as do assumptions and presuppositions, which may or may not be accurate.  People often speak past each other for these very reasons.  It is no different in the church.  Yet in the church, one shift in meaning or usage of a word and its meaning can do a great deal of damage (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).  And if the right teaching is just a bit altered, salvation can be lost.

The teaching of consubstantiation is a term that is often used, but more greatly misunderstood and misapplied.  NonLutherans attribute Lutherans as holding this teaching.  Yet, Lutherans themselves, for the most part, do not claim this teaching as their own, at least as I am aware.  Either way, it is important to try to understand how a word is used and its meaning.  Especially when it comes to the Lord’s Word, which alone gives the true doctrine, is this necessary.  To not do so is not only not careful, it is not “rightly handing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  Instead, it is adding to or subtracting from what the Lord has given (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6).


[1] H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 124-125.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.,, 125.

[4] Rose Books of Bible Charts, Maps & Time Lines, “Denominations Comparison” (Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, Inc., 2005), 173.

[5] John H. Armstrong (gen. ed.), Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan , 2007).

[6] Ibid., 87.

[7] Erwin L. Lenker, Lutheran Cyclopedia (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1975, rev.), 691.

[8] Ibid., 198.

[9] Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959.

 

 

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