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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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National Day of Prayer–Some thoughts

“The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”

Proverbs 15:29

 

In the Holy Name of the risen Christ. Amen.

NationalDayOfPrayer2According to the National Day of Prayer task force, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.”

This encouragement to pray is a good thing. In fact, God commands prayer (the Second Commandment).   Not praying, therefore, is a sin. Praying for the nation in which we live is also a good thing (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Prayer for ourselves and for others, as well as for our nation, is indeed “good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” God promises to hear prayer, as revealed through the Psalmist, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15).

Thus, not only does God command prayer. He also promises to hear prayer (Read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in Luther’s Large Catechism). The command and the promise of prayer move the Christian to pray, and so His people do pray, even “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Yet, the National Day of Prayer task force and the annual observance do not make the distinctions that God does. They lump people of all faiths together, as if all prayer of all people are acceptable to God, and therefore, heard by Ps1bHim.

Nevertheless, God does not hear the prayers of all people, as recorded in the Proverb text above. The Psalmist, too, exalts this truth by saying, “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).

The righteous are they who look to God for mercy in Christ, who repent of their sin, who seek salvation from Christ alone, recognizing their dependency on the Lord for help and deliverance from sin and death. These are they who have faith, and only these have the certainty of God’s hearing and help (Hebrews 11:6; Luke 17:5-10; 1 John 5:14-15).

The wicked, however, are they who reject God’s salvation in Christ and have a different confession of faith than the faith revealed in Holy Scripture (John 8:31-32, 47; 14:23-24; 1 John 5:9-13; 2 John 1:9) . God does not hear the prayers of the unbeliever because they do not pray in faith (Romans 14:3; James 1:6).

We make such distinctions because God Himself makes such distinctions. Thus, instead of lumping all people together as having the same God, and praying to Him, we believe God’s Word and therefore, seek to speak the truth of that Word which alone converts souls from death to life.  We also humbly pray that the Lord would keep us from arrogance and pride, even as we pray for all people, our nation and ourselves, even concerning the more significant and eternal matters of God’s mercy and forgiveness through His Son, in whose Name God’s people with confidence pray.

Rise Up and Build? Build what?

RU&BHave you seen advertisements like this before?  Some of the wording about the conference, which I recently received in my email, follows:

“Has God placed a vision on the heart of your church or Christian school to reach out in new ways and expand ministry opportunities to your community and beyond?”

“Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?”

“If so, this seminar will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith.”

Quoted (in part) on their web page is Nehemiah 2:8, 18: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests…And they said, “Let us rise up and build”.

Since this conference advertisement quotes the Bible, it is necessary to try to understand how the passages used are to be understood according to their context in Scripture, and then compare the actual scriptural use of the passage with the how the words are used to raise interest in this conference, “Rise up.”

Very briefly, the Old Testament book of Nehemiah concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls and the reform (repentance) of the people of Jerusalem.  The city walls had been in disarray since the Babylonia Captivity, [1] and this demonstrated the neglect of the city where God’s temple was, neglect for the temple, and the state of affairs between God’s people and their Lord.  God had punished His wayward people by exile due to their apostasy and waywardness, yet by His grace, He would bring them again to Himself.

The words of Nehemiah 2 (v8), quoted above, refer to the request of Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes concerning materials and the building of the city walls (2:1-8).

The “Let us rise up and build” of verse 18 is the response of the city officials to Nehemiah after he had examined the condition of the city walls himself and said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me” (v17-18).

Essential to note concerning Nehemiah’s motive and God’s gracious hand concerning the “building project” are both the report of Jerusalem and the people living there (Nehemiah 1:1-3) and Nehemiah’s response and prayer.

When Nehemiah heard the news about the condition of Jerusalem and the people, he “sat down and wept.”  He also “mourned and fasted and prayed.”  In his prayer, Nehemiah said:

“I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; ‘but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:5-11, NKJ)

Notice the bold face words in Nehemiah’s prayer?  These are telling, because Nehemiah is calling on God to do as He had promised.  He is calling on God to fulfill His Word of mercy (i.e. Leviticus 26 (40-45).  Additionally, and not at all to be ignored, is the humble and repentant heart of Nehemiah, demonstrated by his words.  He recalls why the people of God suffered exile and the reason for the city’s condition—because of their sinfulness (i.e. Leviticus 26 (14-39)).

Nehemiah confesses His sin to God, and the sin of Israel, and asks for God’s mercy and help. These are not at all to be ignored with reference to the passages, Nehemiah 2:8 and 18, quoted on the “Rise Up” conference website.  They draw attention to two essential elements, which, if removed, misapply scripture and attempt to make God’s Word say something which it in truth does not.

The two elements are just those stated: confession & repentance (faith), and the word & promise of God.  In his prayer and by his request, Nehemiah was seeking for the Lord to fulfill His Word.  He wasn’t asking for something that he simply wanted personally, dreamed up, or envisioned.  Rather, Nehemiah’s motive and prayer had as their basis, foundation, and directive the very Word of God.

This truth is an imperative that cannot be removed from any discussion (or conference) concerning any “vision of your heart,” reaching out “in new ways,” or “expanding ministry opportunities.”  Nor should the Bible be used to say something that it doesn’t.

This conference, “Rise up,” may already be suspect, at least from the questions raised, and in relation to the Scripture used.  In context, Nehemiah is not about his “vision,” “new ways,” or “expanding.”  Instead, Nehemiah seeks to do according to God’s mercy.  And initially, he rightly confesses his sin and the sins of God’s people.  He seeks God’s mercy concerning himself, God’s people, and the work that he desires to do.  Also, initially and throughout, God’s Word and promise alone guide Nehemiah.  He recalls God’s promise and Word, and directs God to do what He has already spoken and according to what He has already said.

In contrast, the questions used on the web site about the “Rise Up” conference direct, not to God and His Word, but to self.  The word, “vision,” remaining undefined, could mean anything, and though reference is made to God placing it, any such vision, if it is of God, finds its sole foundation in the Holy Scriptures.  Yet, reaching “out in new ways” and expanding “ministry opportunities” is not something that God has promised or commanded.  Rather, God would have His people not be ashamed of him and confess His name (not ashamed–2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15-16; 4:16-17; confess– Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:8-13; 15:9; 1 Timothy 6:12).  These characteristics have God’s approval, yet our “visions” do not.

Trust in God’s Word is what God calls us to be about doing (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 3:5-6; John 6:29; 14:6).  Concerning “new ways” of reaching out, these might be new, but in the sense that God opens our blind eyes to His ways and work, that we make use of the time that He has given according to His Word and will (the latter we only know from the former) within the callings that He has already given (1 Corinthians 1:26; 7:20).

Similarly “expanding ministry opportunities” doesn’t have to do with us doing it, but God “opening the doors” (Colossians 4:3) for us and using us as He will.  The challenge, though, is that we don’t always believe, act, and do according to the will of our Lord, because of our sinfulness (Thus is the Christian always and constantly in the state of repentance, denying self, and turning to God for mercy in Christ, like Nehemiah before us).  Yet God continues to use us and work through us, too, according to His grace and mercy.

Additionally, St. Paul writes:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-11).

That foundation and the building of which Paul speaks is not man’s doing, but God’s, and again, according to His Word (see Matthew 7:24-27), and not all apart from it or conditional on man and his ways.

As to the question about “your facility limiting your ability to accomplish” your “vision,” this too is founded on the precepts of man.  For one thing, man’s facilities are gifts of God, and to be used for His purposes, not ours.  And as mentioned before, “your” vision is to be tested only by and according to the Word.  Thus, if your “vision” is of God, then it’s not yours at all, but God’s.

The question, “Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?” is the wrong question, as is the first, for it (and the other) places the emphasis on you, the sinner, and not on God the Giver and Savior.  It also assumes that any change can (and should?) be affected by you.  The questions do not call for repentance from sin (individual and corporate) and assume that any personal “vision” is already godly in nature and not all misdirected.

For these reasons, such a conference (see here for more information) may just be contrary to the very will of God for His people, for God calls His people and church to be faithful to Him and to His Word (Revelation 2:10, to the Church in Smyrna), and in doing so, will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and preach His name:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NKJ)

Lastly, for the present, the intended result of the conference, “will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith,” also is misdirected.  First of all, the “determination and courage of Nehemiah” cannot be ours, because it was his.  Thus, the wording is at minimum, incorrect.  Secondly, who applies that which is of Nehemiah (the determination and courage)?  You do, not God.  And thirdly, the word faith is undefined.  Faith can mean any number of things, and correlated with “vision,” the word may not at all be that which Jesus and Paul speak of, that is, the God-given faith of Christianity according to the very Word of Holy Scripture.  Many, for example, speak of believing, yet such believing is not of God unless it be according God’s Word, centered on Jesus Christ.

Some will likely read this and consider these concerns about such a conference as miniscule and “making mountains out of mole hills.”  After all, shouldn’t Christians be about spreading the Gospel and “reaching people for Christ?”  Yes, indeed!  Yet the church doesn’t need such conferences to do this.  Instead, God calls His church to repent of her selfishness and to speak His truth, not according to our “vision,” but according to His Word, not only for herself, but for others, that they “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  This happens as God’s people, moved by God with repentant faith, believe, speak, and live according to His Word.

For the Sake of Christ’s Commission-Evangelism & Church Growth

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE1, 2011

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE2, 2011

VOCATION AND EVANGELISM.Pless


[1] Nehemiah 1:1-4: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (NKJ)

Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible

That'sYourInterpretationIt is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible

In referencing an understanding of the Bible at the time of the Reformation, Peters states, “As the confrontations between Lutheran the Church’s hierarchy ensued and tensions mounted, Luther accused the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths, and he more and more came to believe that the Bible, as interpreted by the individual believer, was the only true religious authority for a Christian.  He eventually rejected Tradition as well as the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (with the Pope at its head) as having legitimate religious authority.”[2]

Luther did, of course, accuse the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths.  Luther also did reject Tradition and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (and Lutherans still do) as having legitimate religious authority (as such authority usurps the authority of God’s Word).  However, Peters is incorrect to say that Luther claimed the only true religious authority for a Christian is the Bible, “as interpreted by the individual believer.”

Luther did believe that God’s Word is the final authority (the formal principle) for faith and life, and that no church and no pope has authority over this authority.  Yet this claim that the Bible is the final authority did not derive from his own personal interpretation of Scripture.  Rather, this interpretation came from Scripture itself.[3]  In other words, Luther claimed that his preaching and teaching did not come from his own interpretation, but from what Scripture said itself.

For Luther, claiming a personal interpretation as authoritative was the same thing as placing oneself as the final authority over Scripture (the very same thing the Catholic Church, in fact, does).  Instead of placing himself as the master of the text (magisterial use of reason), Luther submitted himself to the text of Scripture (ministerial use of reason) as servant.  He himself was not the final say of what Scripture meant or did not mean.  The Bible itself was (and is) such a judge.[4]

For the Catholic Church to claim that tradition or the teaching authority of the Catholic Church has legitimate religious authority over Scripture, or is the only one who can rightly interpret it, really, is to apply the erroneous accusation against Luther to itself.  Whether it be an individual (i.e. the personal believer or the pope), the Catholic Church, or another church that claims exclusive rights to correctly interpreting Scripture, each of these places themselves above Scripture, and therefore, against Scripture.  To make the claim, “That’s your interpretation,” where the other simply states what Scripture states, is to do the same thing.


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Peters, 2-3.

[3] 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21.

[4] The hermeneutical principle here described is, “Scriptura Sacra Sui Ipsuis Interpres” (Scripture interprets itself).

 

 

Context is everything…

Don'tPutAQuestionMarkWhereGodPutAPeriod

This is a decent quote!  It draws attention to the truth that we are not to question God and His ways.  Nor are we in the position to question God and His Holy Word, as the writer to the Proverbs, for example, says, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6, NKJ).

So often, however, contrary to what the Bible says, we, like Zechariah in the temple, question the Word and ways of God (Luke 1:18).  Even though He has made known to us His will by means of the Holy Scriptures, His Word, we doubt, question, and even disbelieve what He has said.  We say, for example, that St. Paul the apostle was speaking only of his day and time and culture when he spoke against the ordination of women (i.e. 1 Corinthians 14:34-40; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6), or concerning homosexuality (i.e. Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9), or about any number of current societal issues in which we want to usurp what the Bible actually says.

We might say that, “God says,” but then reinterpret such words according to the way that we think they ought to be.  And yet, we continue to speak the mantra that the Bible is God’s Word, though at the same time emptying it of its true meaning.  Rather than letting God speak and mean what He intends by the mere Word alone, we reconstruct the words and implant a foreign meaning to them so that we, essentially, can live at peace with ourselves and the way we want.  But such is not the way of God and His Word.  They who alter and change it will reap the consequences (i.e. Revelation 22:18-19).

Christians more or less might expect nonChristians to distort the Scriptures, for they likely do not believe them.  Yet more and more, it’s not the nonChristians who are changing the meaning (and words) of the sacred text.  Rather, it’s the so-called “Christians” who are doing so.  Many mainline denominations have forsaken the heavenly doctrine and are more in agreement with the world and its ways and not God and His.  The admonition of the Lord Jesus to the Pharisees also applies to them, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:7-9, NKJ).

What proof of this might their be?  The phrase above, “Don’t put a question mark where God put a period” was posted on a church billboard, not of a faithful ChristianELCAcross-are they Christian congregation, but by a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).  This church body ordains women into the ministry, as well as unrepentant homosexuals, approves of homosexuality, approves of abortion and provides for it in its insurance, calls good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20-21), minimizes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, preaches and teaches that the Biblical account of creation and other revealed accounts of God are myths and neither historical or factual, etc.  Essentially, ELCA (and many other mainline denominational church bodies) have gutted Holy Scripture of its intended meaning (according to the Word written) and replaced it with something devilish (i.e. 2 Timothy 4:3-4).  This is not according to godliness and leads the hearers (if they believe their words) to hell and not to heaven.  And grievously, many who are members in these apostatized church bodies may care little for the truth of God’s Word and repenting of their ways should they remain in them.

The words on that sign, “Don’t put a question mark where God put a period” are true words, but printed on a sign in front of an erring congregation that teaches contrary to the Word of God is not only misleading, it is deceptive.  A congregation which is truly of God (and not of the devil, see John 8:42-47) preaches and teaches God’s Word according to the text, rightly divides Law and Gospel, calls to repent from sin that God calls sin, and points to Jesus Christ as the only “Way, truth, and life” (John 14:6).  They call good what God calls good and call evil what calls evil.  They don’t put a question mark on where God put a period.  Instead, they speak the whole counsel of God, treat the Word of God as God’s Word (and not theirs), and seek to be faithful to the true doctrine, heeding the words of Paul to Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Salvation is only found in Christ (i.e. John 14:6; Acts 4:12).  The faithful congregation and the faithful pastor preach Him and Him alone and none other as the way to eternal life, and they seek to abide by His Word and hear only His voice (1 Corinthians 1:23-31; John 10:16, 27), for by these, the Lord sustains them, and gives certainty of peace with God (i.e. Romans 5:1ff).  These we are to hear.  From the others, we are to flee (John 10:1-5).

Claims about the Reformation

LutherPosting95Theses

It is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

Claims about the Reformation

Peters claims that “The Protestant Reformation was not a reform in the true sense of the word, but rather that it was a revolution—an upheaval of the legitimate, established religious and civil order of the day.”[2]  The Protestant reformation did much to change the religious and civil orders of the day.  And its impact can still be readily recognized today, not only concerning Christendom in general, but also concerning the educational system, too (and various other areas of life).

In a sense, the Reformation could be said to be a revolution, yet such claims can only be rightly understood by those who were instrumental in its fruition.  Martin Luther is immediately attributed as the one who “started” the Protestant (Lutheran) Reformation, yet he was not the first clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church who sought change.  There were others before him, but like John Huss, who questioned the authority of the pope and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, they were silenced in one way or another.[3]

Martin Luther, however, sought reform, not revolution.  His concern, as a Doctor of Theology (received from the church), was that of teaching the Bible aright.  He writes, for example, “First, I am prepared in all humility to honor the Roman Church and to prefer nothing to her, either in heaven or on earth, except God alone and His Word.  For this reason I shall gladly recant any article in which I am proved to be in error.”[4]

The challenge for Luther, however, was that the Catholic Church was not willing to hear him.  They did not want to prove him wrong according to Scripture.  They only wanted him to recant his teaching, and because he did not (and would not) recant, they excommunicated him.  The Catholic Church considered him as a wayward son, and disciplined him accordingly.

For further reflection, consider these words from Luther about his teachings and corresponding practices…

“This message (gospel) is not a novel invention of ours but the vey ancient, approved teaching of the apostles brought to light again.  Neither have we invented a new Baptism, Sacrament of the Altar, Lord’s Prayer, and Creed; nor do we desire to know or to have anything new in Christendom.  We only contend for, and hold to, the ancient: that which Christ and the apostles have left behind them and have given to us.  But this we did do.  Since we found all of this obscured by the pope with human doctrine, aye, decked out in dust and spider webs, and all sorts of vermin, and flung and trodden into mud besides, we have by God’s grace brought it out again, have cleansed it of this mess, wiped off the dust, brushed it, and brought it to the light of day.  Accordingly, it shines again in purity, and everybody may see what Gospel, Baptism, Sacrament of the Altar, keys, prayer, and everything that Christ has given us really is and how it should be used for our salvation.”[5]

Such words from Luther himself do not at all indicate the desire for a revolution.  Perhaps the desire to apply this term of revolution to Luther only demonstrates the waywardness from Scripture that the Catholic Church has maintained.  The fact that others misused and added to Luther’s teaching to bring about revolution and to revolt against Church and State (i.e. the Peasants War, Fanatics, Anabaptists, etc.) should not detract from the message of the reformer himself.  Rather, it should be cause for maintaining careful distinctions, and not to lump all together in one proverbial basket.

The fact of the matter is that Luther did not want to form a new church his own way.  He wanted the church to return to its roots, and to its center, which is Christ, and founded on God’s Word alone (i.e. Ephesians 2:20).


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Peters, 65.

[3] John Huss, for example, was burned at the stake in 1415 by order of the church.

[4] Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active

Christian, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 839.

[5] Ibid., 1180-1181.

 

 

A case of disunity in the LCMS…from The Lutheran Witness

Koinonia

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

The Lutheran Witness is the “official periodical of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p2).  Since the presidency of Pres. Matthew Harrison, elected in 2010, The Lutheran Witness has undergone a transformation.  The following letter may help illustrate this.  “Last night I read the October issue of The Lutheran Witness, and I could not help but praise the Lord for the content.  Here was the material that I have wanted to see in our church periodical for many years, clear biblical expositions of theological, doctrinal and life problems confronting clergy and laity in our Synod at this time.  We need more of this clear, open of Scripture in common English for all to see” (The Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p22, 24).

I am in agreement with this observation.  The majority of articles now the in The Lutheran Witness are doctrinal, and thus, practical, in nature, directing the reader to the Word and to Christ, drawing distinctions where they should be maintained, and genuinely Lutheran.  I enjoy reading the articles and am encouraged greatly by them.

Before President Harrison was elected, The Lutheran Witness had a more “church growthy” approach, having the assumption that the gospel and the doctrine were “there,” but not explicitly indicated as such, generally speaking.  It seemed that the emphasis was more on human activity rather than God’s activity through Word and Sacrament, emphasizing the “mission,” minus the content.Walking together

Yet even as The Lutheran Witness has changed, for the better, I believe, others do not have this view, not at all.  Such a negative view of change towards The Lutheran Witness is illustrated by this letter from a more recent issue, “The March 2013 number of The Lutheran Witness is on of the most troubling I have ever read” (The Lutheran Witness, May 2013, p25).  Another letter illustrates a similar negative view, “I grew up in the ELCA and was active there until age 40, when I moved my family to the LCMS for doctrinal reasons.  The move was the right choice for our family.  That said, I had an extremely negative reaction to the March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness” (May 2013, p25).[1]

Reading even only a few of the letters offered in The Lutheran Witness gives a taste, albeit, only a nibble, of the discrepancy found within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).  One writer says, “More, more.”  Another says, “No, no.”  Such responses indicate that, like so many other denominations, we are not 100% united, specifically, in doctrine.  If one greatly appreciates what is right and true and another does not, what does this say of a united faith that we claim to possess?  It essentially demonstrates that we’re not as united as some claim us to be.  Of course, in Christ, true unity remains.  But then again, the question remains, “What does this mean?”


[1] The March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness, entitled, “Free in Christ” included articles such as, “Can’t we all just get along,” “Free in Christ,” “Finding a home,” “The Life of the baptized,” and a chart, “Differences and Distinctions” between the LCMS, Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic on such teachings as God’s Word, Justification & Sanctification, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

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