October 16, 2017

Reformation 500: Ten Things I Love about Luther

Reformation 500
Ten Things I Love about Luther

Ultimately, there was one thing that first got my attention about the Lutheran way and began drawing me toward it —

I fell in love with Martin Luther.

Of all my spiritual “heroes” or “mentors” from church history, he stands tallest. Few before or since ever stood at such a pivotal point of time in history and provided the kind of faithful voice that changed the course of the world so dramatically. Certainly he lived in one of the most epochal seasons of Western civilization — an age which saw both a Renaissance and a Reformation, leading to the inauguration of the modern world. And yes, there were other thinkers, scientists, explorers, religious leaders, and rulers who had tremendous influence in those days. But of all the Reformers, of all the saints in the history of the church (save the Apostle Paul) who have attracted me and in whom I have seen Christ and the Gospel most magnified, I count Luther most worthy of admiration.

Of course, he had magnificent flaws as well, and I could probably write a list of things I in no way, shape, or fashion commend in him. But let’s save that for another day.

Here are ten simple bullet points with brief comments to tell you why I admire and treasure Martin Luther and his influence.

1. For Luther, it was all about Christ.
Martin Luther found his life, forgiveness, salvation, and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The heart of the Small Catechism is found in these words about Jesus:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

In one of his hymns, he wrote,

Thus spoke the Son, “Hold thou to me,
From now on thou wilt make it.
I gave my very life for thee
And for thee I will stake it.
For I am thine and thou art mine,
And where I am our lives entwine,
The Old Fiend cannot shake it.”

Luther and Jesus, forever entwined. Jesus-shaped, to the core.

2. He loved and listened to God’s Word.
Martin Luther is most honored for taking a courageous, unalterable stand on the Bible as the final authority for Christian faith and practice. All other authorities are to be judged by God’s own holy Word. Equally important was his work in bringing a translation of the Scriptures into the common language of the German layperson and seeing to it that everyone had access to the Bible. His own sermons, teachings, and catechisms expounding the Scriptures remain treasures to this day, and in his own time inspired a revival of Gospel preaching in the churches.

Yet, it is also important to say that the faith Luther preached and taught never became “Bible-centered,” because he always saw the Bible as the “cradle of Christ.” The problem he saw with the Church in his day was not a Bible problem, but a Christ problem, and he saw the Bible as the remedy because it relentlessly points to Jesus.

3. I love a good “Rocky” story.
I mean, who doesn’t? At various times in Luther’s life it seemed like Martin against the world. The Roman Church had all the power and all the resources, and yet this “wild boar” from the edges of Christendom stood up and challenged the entire system of the medieval church. He put his life on the line time and time again for Christ and the Gospel. From my perspective, he won. Unfortunately, it led to the division of the Church he sought to reform.

4. The guy had a way with words.
One example: Luther’s Small Catechism is among the most beautiful, simple, and clear explanations of the Christian faith ever written. From The Luther Bible to his treatises, from his sermons and expositions of Scripture to his hymns, from his German mass to his personal letters, he was a master communicator. He was not only an intellectual giant, but had a way of capturing the heart through tender, devotional language. Check out his Christmas sermons sometime.

5. He treasured music right up there next to the Bible.
Luther said, “Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. I would not exchange what little I know about music for something great. Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart.” Luther is responsible for revising three major parts of the liturgy with regard to music: the priest’s chants, the choir’s chorales, and the congregation’s hymns. And the results were far-reaching and profound. As Roland Bainton writes, “The Lutheran tradition explains why Bach should write a St. Matthew Passion.”

6. He never wrote a systematic theology.
Many of my peers and I went to seminary and became attracted to Reformed (Calvinistic) Theology. There is something intellectually bracing about the logic and system of the thought produced by Calvin and his heirs. But in the end, I found it too academic, too cold, too divorced from the mess of human life. I have never felt that way about Luther. He started and stayed where theologians should — in the pages of the Bible and in the real stuff of daily living. Luther’s first preaching assignments involved expounding the Psalms. There, in the place that reveals not only divine majesty, but also human darkness, doubt, and despair, Luther learned that Scripture must be grasped and taught pastorally and only in ways that lead us to Christ.

7. He had a pastor’s heart that cared deeply about the church.
Many evangelicals honor Luther only because he honored the Bible. However, Luther was also at the forefront of renewing family life, public education, and most of all, the life of the congregation. He spearheaded efforts to train pastors, rekindle Gospel preaching, catechize the adult members, reform the liturgy, get the Bible into the hands of the people, get them singing, get them to disciple their children, and get them to live out their faith in the world through their various vocations. His catechisms are lasting testimony to that.

8. He cherished his wife and family.
Roland Bainton writes, “The Luther who got married in order to testify to his faith actually founded a home and did more than any other person to determine the tone of German domestic relations for the next four centuries.” His relationship with his bride Katie was loving and close, filled with tenderness, humor, and deep friendship. Their home became known for its hospitality and was an example of the reformer’s emphasis on grace and truth. He also modeled a more egalitarian partnership in marriage, as “Lord Katie” ran most of the affairs of household and family business, as well as Martin’s writing career.

9. He loved a good time, especially when beer was involved.
See the post, “Cheerfulness that Mocks the Devil.” ‘Nuff said.

10. He was utterly human, completely dependent on God’s grace.
Martin Luther was a sinner. At times, a terrible sinner. He said things, for example about the Jews and the Anabaptists, that were despicable. He cursed. He was subject to deep depressions and severe spiritual doubts. His anger could be vicious and blunt. Like most people who earn the moniker “great,” he also had great flaws. But…

Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

And that, most of all, is why I love Martin Luther.

As a bonus, here is one of his greatest quotes:

Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “‘If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his,’ as the bride in the Song of Solomon says, ‘My beloved is mine and I am his,’” (from The Freedom of the Christian)

Comments

  1. 11 – He drank beer.

    • See #9. Gotcha covered!

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      As drinking partners, the continental Reformed are preferable to the insular Reformed, but the lusty and full-throated sons of Smalcald are to be preferred to either.

      Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
      And taught a doctrine there
      How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
      It was your own affair.
      It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
      But was your own affair.

      No, he didn’t believe
      In Adam and Eve
      He put no faith therein!
      His doubts began
      With the Fall of Man
      And he laughed at Original Sin.
      With my row-ti-tow
      Ti-oodly-ow
      He laughed at original sin.

      Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
      Germanus was his name
      He tore great handfuls out of his hair
      And he called Pelagius shame.
      And with his stout Episcopal staff
      So thoroughly whacked and banged
      The heretics all, both short and tall –
      They rather had been hanged.

      Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
      Upon each and all occasions
      Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
      Their orthodox persuasions.
      With my row-ti-tow
      Ti-oodly-ow
      Their orthodox persuasions.

      Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
      Exceedingly bold indeed.
      And the masses of doubt that are floating about
      Would smother a mortal creed.
      But we that sit in a sturdy youth
      And still can drink strong ale
      Let us put it away to infallible truth
      That always shall prevail.

      And thank the Lord
      For the temporal sword
      And howling heretics too.
      And all good things
      Our Christendom brings
      But especially barley brew!
      With my row-ti-tow
      Ti-oodly-ow
      Especially barley brew!

  2. Steve Newell says:

    I would add Luther’s concept of Christian vocation is another one of his great contributions of the Christian life for “ordinary” Christians.

    • Yes.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It was a reaction against the Heresy of Clericalism, which was rampant at the time.

      Now we see Clericalism in a lot of the Born Again Bible-Believing(TM) non-denom churches, except they call it “Full Time Christian Work” instead of Priest, Monk, or Nun.

      • Steve Newell says:

        In 1984, Steve Taylor had a song called “Guilt by Associate”. The point of that song is how some Christians will only associate with other Christians and not engage with the wider world. I see it played out where a business with put the ichthys (Christine fish) on their ads to show that they are somehow better just because they’re a “Christian Business”.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RRjpvsmzBE

        So you need a new car?
        Let your fingers take a walk
        Through the business guide
        For the “born again” flock

        You’ll be keeping all your money
        In the kingdom now
        And you’ll only drink milk
        From a Christian cow

        Don’t you go casting your bread
        To keep the heathen well-fed
        Line Christian pockets instead
        Avoid temptation

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I actively avoid any business with the fish. The best possible take is that they believed Christ died on the cross to provide a marketing opportunity for them. The possibilities go downhill from there.

  3. For a long time, I held Luther at arm’s length, looking at him with a mix of respect and horror. I’ve only recently started looking into his writings seriously and am finding myself warming up to him for many of the reasons of you’ve listed.

  4. Thank you for this, and for all this month’s focus on Luther.

    Having now been at our neighborhood Lutheran church for just over 3 years, I’m still learning about Lutheranism and loving the liturgy. (I do miss the kneeler from our RC days). Taking the classes they offer so I can learn more.

    Still struggling though, with Missouri synod v Pacifica synod — any advice, help, insight is welcome.

    It’s not ever emphasized in church, so not a huge deal ther, but others in my life look at us funny and kinda hassle us and certainly are speechless, not knowing what to say.

  5. I grew up in the Lutheran church, spending most every Sunday for the first 20 years of my life in church. The words you quoted from the Small Catechism were memorize as preparation for confirmation. As many of our generation I left home and church and spent the last 40 or so years in the Evengelical world. It has always been my Luthersn roots that have kept my faith grounded as I too have wondered in the wilderness. There is a strong urge within to return to the place of my youth though circumstances and commitments keep me where I am for the time being. Appreciated reading this today.

  6. Dana Ames says:

    I will come back to read the post later, but for now wanted to ask my IMonk friends for prayers.

    The rural residential area 5 miles north of me (Mendocino County) is on fire, as is much of neighboring Sonoma County to the south. Most of the flameage is due to downed electrical wires that snapped in the wind overnight (Santa Ana type winds); the brush is tinder-dry and humidity is almost nil. Air tankers could not be sent in until after the sun came up. A lot of people are being evacuated in my area because there are dozens of rural roads that have no outlet. Large animals are being sheltered at our district fairgrounds.

    I am not in danger, nor is my daughter & boyfriend, though they live closer to the evacuation area. There’s a state highway between the fire and my daughter, but she has packed a few things.

    The situation is actually worse in Santa Rosa; the fires are burning into town, and people in the densely populated hills to the east that are part of the greater Santa Rosa area are in great peril. Two hospitals have been evacuated , and many of my church friends have had to flee. Towns along the Russian River are also threatened.

    Lord, have mercy.

    Dana

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      I didn’t know things were so bad in California, Dana. We will be praying.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Thanks, Mule. The drought is “officially over”, but lots of dry brush has accumulated, and the typical October conditions are worse because of it.

        D.

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      My prayers for you and your friends and family.
      I have experienced a fire like that.
      Absolutely terrifying.
      God be with you.
      Susan

    • Lord have mercy.

      God be with you all.

    • Prayers for you and the area….

    • Patriciamc says:

      Sending up prayers!

    • Christiane says:

      So sorry to hear about this fire in northern Cali . . . . . . my son was in Petaluma area for Coast Guard instructor duty some years ago and has friends still stationed in the fire vicinity who have purchased homes. It’s really shocking how people have died from these fires in areas that are so heavily populated . . . . . hope all is well with the family. Prayers, yes indeed.

    • Sending up prayers from the Netherlands as well.

  7. Patriciamc says:

    Sorry to be a Debbie downer, but read up on what he said about women. He was a real peach.