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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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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.

A Fundamental Principle of the Reformation

“The supreme and absolute authority of God’s Word in determining all questions of doctrine and of duty, is a fundamental principle of the Reformation—a principle so fundamental, that without it, there would have been no Reformation—and so vital, that a Reformation without it, could such a Reformation be supposed, would have been at best a glittering delusion and failure” (Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, 15).

In the evaluation of Krauth, the Reformation of the 16th Century would have never happened as it did if the principle of Sola Scriptura was absent.  Change in externals (i.e. abuses of the Catholic church, use of relics, indulgences, the promiscuity and immorality of priests, etc.) does not answer the internal problem of the heart’s corruption.  What Holy Scripture calls for is repentance, a turning away from selfishness and “the traditions of men” (Matthew 15 & Mark 7) to God, His Word—Christ.

The Catholic church in Luther’s day and the Roman Catholic church in our day have this gross deficiency—they despise and condemn Scripture Alone.  In essence, they say that God’s Word is “not sufficient.”  And for Catholics, it isn’t.  Apostolic tradition, church councils, and the pope speaking ex cathedra, however, are enough for Rome to substantiate her doctrine.  This is so because what the Bible doesn’t say about Rome’s teaching (i.e. purgatory, various teachings about Mary, papal infallibility, etc.) can be found in “tradition,” church councils, and the pope.

In other words, what Rome cannot support by using Holy Scripture, they support with other words which they claim to be authoritative.  Thus, Scripture Alone is truly insufficient for defending Romish doctrine.

This “insufficiency” of Holy Scripture demonstrates itself, too, in its doctrine of justification (the central article of the Christian faith, which, by the way, Rome declares to be anathema, or accursed), papal infallibility, view of Mary, purgatory, indulgences, sin, faith, grace, sacraments, etc.).  Here, the Catholic church would make the nonCatholic believe that she is Christian.  Yet she doesn’t derive her teaching solely from the foundation of the Law and the prophets (Ephesians 2:20).  She builds on another foundation(s) than that of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).  She thus mixes what is true with that which is not, and builds on the latter and not the former.

The Reformers of the 16th century and the true evangelicals today, in contrast, build only on Christ, the true foundation as revealed in Holy Scripture.  They derive their doctrine and confess their faith only according to the very Word of God.  They need no councils, popes, traditions, or church’s interpretation to declare to them how they are to believe.  They only need Scripture, the Bible, the Word of God, for this alone is sufficient for faith and life.  Holy Scripture reveals Christ, and sins fully forgiven through faith in God’ Son.

Holy Scripture judges all writings, books, sermons, doctrine, and practice.  This is so because it is the Word of God.  Upon that Word, the Word alone, Luther and others after him have stood and  stand.  Thus did the Reformation happen as it did.  Thus is a reformation happening even now, where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity (distinguishing between God’s law and God’s promise) and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution.  Where these are going on, the true evangelical faith is created and strengthened, sin is forgiven, and love for God and neighbor continually grows.

Luther & The Reformation

AnIntroductionToLuther&TheReformation.pdf

October 31

 

What comes to mind when you think of October 31? Halloween? Pumpkins? Costumes? Trick or treating? Scary movies? This is what

many might think about concerning the date of October 31.

However, the word ‘Halloween’ is short for “All Hallows Eve” the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is November 1 (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). Many of the various traditions practiced on the eve of October 31 are adapted from nonChristian (pagan) practices…

Halloween,TheReformation,TheChurch,Christ.pdf

Reformation Day Sermon, 2010

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther placed his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg. Luther had no idea that these theses would bring about such a great commotion in the church of his day. He simply responded to the discrepancies he saw between the church and Scripture itself. He responded out of a great struggle which he himself fought tooth and nail to remedy, but found that he himself could not. Luther’s struggle for a clear conscience before God could not be remedied by what the church taught. In the Augustinian monastery in which he served as a monk, he saw his sin ever before him. He was guilty before a just and holy God. He was not able to take comfort in fasting, confession, bodily discipline, or anything he did. The phrase in which he struggled with was from For in it (that in the Gospel) a righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith( just as it is written( ‘the just/righteous one will live by faith’ (Romans 1:17;Hab 2:4).

Rom03.19-28, Reformation, 2010C.pdf

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