• Study of the Lutheran Confessions, Wednesdays @ 5:30p

  • March 2017
    S M T W T F S
    « Nov    
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728293031  
  • Sermons on YouTube

  • Post Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Tags

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 259 other followers

  • Blog Stats

    • 25,721 hits

The Importance of Distinguishing Law & Gospel

thelutherandifference

“For Luther, a proper distinction between Law and Gospel opened the door to a right understanding of God’s Word and, therefore, a right understanding of God’s will for humankind and our salvation.  Throughout its history, the Lutheran Church has continued to maintain that rightly distinguishing between Law and Gospel is absolutely necessary in this regard.  The Law shows us God’s will and reveals our sin; the Gospel proclaims our salvation in Christ.  To confuse these two doctrines is to remain confused about ourselves and about our God.  To misunderstand them is to misunderstand the reason for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In short, Law and Gospel are the means by which we can rightly understand the whole of the Christian faith.” [Edward Engelbrecht (ed.), The Lutheran Difference (St. Louis: CPH, 2010), p40-41)]

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

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.

 

 

Claims about Martin Luther

Sola FideIt 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 Martin Luther

According to Luther, salvation was a free gift—not merited, earned, achieved, or won by man for believing or acting.  In other words, man does nothing (and can do nothing) for his salvation.  This doesn’t, however, mean that man does nothing in life but believe.  The Christian believes in Christ alone for salvation, to be sure, but as Luther has said, “faith in Christ alone saves, but faith is never alone.”  In other words, the Christian believes in Christ, and this faith in Christ truly saves (unto eternal life), yet such a Christian will also do good works.[2]  Thus, the Christian believes, and such a Christian who believes will also be active in good works (see John 15:3-5).

The essence of Luther’s teaching is called the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.  This is the teaching that sinful man, by God’s grace in Christ, through faith, is declared righteous (objective justification), without him (that is, sinful man), having done anything or doing anything towards his salvation.  This central teaching of the Christian faith excludes all human works, potential works, thoughts, and inclinations on man’s part and rests solely on Christ and Christ alone for salvation.  Man cannot save himself, nor can he contribute or add to his own salvation.

Such a teaching conflicts with the Roman Catholic teaching of infused grace and its sacramental system, for Luther’s teaching denied even the presumed result of infused grace (i.e. actions/works of man) as being meritorious.  Infused grace is the teaching that God freely gives His grace through means (i.e. the Sacraments), and this grace moves men to do and act, and only then will man be saved.

According to the Roman Catholic teaching, then, man is saved by God’s grace, but such a grace also works through love.  Such grace is not sufficient alone to save without the works that follow.  Thus, man is saved by God’s (infused) grace, but if works do not follow, then there is no salvation.  Salvation, then, is dependent both on infused grace and man’s response.  This teaching makes salvation dependent on God and man together.  Luther, however, was teaching that salvation rests on God and His grace alone, without man’s response included.

For Luther, God’s grace alone was (and is) sufficient for man’s salvation.  Resting on Christ alone through faith for salvation means that the sinner, forgiven by God, has certainty of salvation, not in Himself, but in Christ, who has fulfilled the Law and has paid the penalty of man’s sin completely.

In distinction, the Roman Catholic teaching cannot say unequivocally that man can be sure of his salvation, unless he also does (shows) the works.  The Roman Catholic, then, can only doubt his/her salvation, and seek to be more sure by doing more through the receiving of “grace” in the sacraments (and going to mass), whereas the one who believes in Christ alone for salvation has nothing but certainty of having God’s grace and favor, and peace with God (Romans 5:1ff), not on account of his faith or because of any change within him, but on account of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30).

This is the Gospel that Luther preached and taught.  Most certainly, it can be denied, and is by all who seek to contribute to their salvation with their own doing.  Such a teaching can also result in “smug” Christians and hypocrites, who omit God’s law and repentance, and seek only to do what they will, contrary to God’s Word.  Yet, such actions are not of faith, nor are they representative of the true biblical doctrine.  They are a misuse and abuse of God’s truth and doctrine for their own means.

Luther preached and taught according to Holy Scripture.  His certainty was not in the Roman Catholic Church of the papacy, in tradition, or in any other authority (including his own), but rested in the Bible alone.  For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him.  And though Luther wanted the Roman Catholic Church to prove him wrong according to the Bible, this they did not do.

For both Luther and the Roman Catholic Church, the issue could be said to be one of authority.  But for Luther, it was the authority over sin, death, and the devil that concerned him, not his own authority, of course, but that of Christ’s.  According to the teaching of the church of his day (which is found today, also), Luther only knew the God of law, demand, and condemnation.  Rightly, Luther recognized that he could not appease God or placate his wrath.  Even with “God’s help” in the sacraments, Luther saw himself before God as a sinner who was undeserving of God’s mercy.  This is how the Bible, too, reveals our condition before God.

Luther found no solace and no comfort in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church because, ultimately, he still had to do something for his salvation, which he knew was not worthy of God’s recognition or approval.  The comfort and the consolation Luther desired, he found in the Gospel, the good news of sins forgiven through faith in Christ, apart from his own works and apart from what the Roman Catholic Church was teaching (and continues to teach).  But far from creating a complacent Luther, this revelation of God moved Luther to action, preaching and teaching the doctrine of God as revealed in Holy Scripture and not by the church.

Luther, actually, didn’t want to break with the church.  Yet the church did not want any part of him or his teaching, which was according to Scripture alone.  Luther wanted the Gospel preached rightly and with clarity, but this the church would not bear.  Thus, they excommunicated him, and the break was clear.


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Works that are done, having faith in Jesus Christ and according to God’s Word and will.  This excludes man-made works.

The word of faith which we preach

 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

 

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul indicates that there is only one genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is the Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our/your faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a faith, though, does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

Luther

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

 

The Church and What the Church is, Articles VII & VIII of the Augsburg Confession

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.

Article VIII: What the Church Is.

1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc. Matt. 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

*Book of Concord

Certainty in Christ!

 

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.

Psalm 119:89

What blessed and eternal comfort the child of God has in God’s own Word!  You see this according to faith, not according to sight, for you live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).  But what kind of faith? The faith that believes that anything is possible? The faith that believes you can do anything you set your mind to?  The faith which blindly trusts that all things will work out the way we hope them to?

Such description of faith is not that description of faith revealed by God in His Word.  The Christian faith is not “blind.”  It trusts in God’s promises.  Such faith does not trust in worldly expectations or self expectations, but only on the mercies of God in Christ.  Such faith does not believe that anything is possible by oneself or by putting one’s mind to something.  It rests on God’s unchangeable and unconditional grace, revealed in Christ.  Also, such faith does not rest on false or misguided hopes, for its foundation is God’s Holy and faithful Word.

Such faith as the Christian faith rests squarely on the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And this Gospel is nothing but certain and sure, and not at all because I believe it.  The Christian faith rests upon God and His Son.  He makes it sure.  I do not add anything at all to it, but simply believe it.  This, after all, is what Christians do.  They confess Christ and believe His Word.  And they are sure that God’s Word “abides forever.”

 

Luther

“Christ and His side are weak, and the Gospel is a foolish proclamation.  On the other hand, the kingdom of the world and the devil, its prince, are strong; in addition, the wisdom of the flesh is very impressive.  But this is our consolation, that the devil with his members cannot accomplish what he wishes.  He may trouble many persons, but he cannot destroy the Gospel of Christ.  The truth may be endangered, but it cannot perish.  It is attacked, but it cannot be conquered; for ‘the Word of the Lord abides forever” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p54).

Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive me for doubting Your promises and Your undeserved mercy.  Help me at all times to trust in Your Word and be ever sure of Your abundant grace and mercy in Christ.  Amen.

%d bloggers like this: