November 18, 2017

Ten Reasons to Love Luther

How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (5/conclusion)

Thanks for participating in this week of reflections on various elements of Lutheran teaching that I believe answer specific concerns about contemporary American evangelicalism. There are others, and I’m sure we will discuss them in future posts. But we will conclude for now with a few thoughts on the 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.

I won’t write a biography here, but simply give ten bullet points with brief comments to tell you why.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

9. 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.

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.

Comments

  1. Geezz Chaplin Mike…so John Piper, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler, Mark Drisocll nor CJ Mahaney make the cut? 😯 Good for you!! 😀 How many fundagelicals worship those individuals on a daily basis and practice what I like to call, “Christianity by osmosis” where they go to a reformed/neo-reformed church. They take their brain, they check it on a shelf and they let any one of the above do all their thinking for them while they just sit back and inhale. They never question and they just absorb everything like a sponge.

    I was doing some penance for my previous fundalgeical life when I worshiped John Piper. But in this case my penance was watching a DesiringGod video last week where John Piper explained why women in a marriage should endure emotional abuse and physical abuse for a night. My take was like? Really? I wonder what the judge at county courthouse in Prince George’s county who deals with domestic abuse cases would say to John Piper?

    Here are some other questions I have for you Chaplin Mike…

    1. How are Lutherans going to prevent the Bible from being worshiped?
    2. Is Lutheranism going to make the family an idol like James Dobson did?
    3. How will the Lutherans prevent their expression of faith from becoming “graceless” like much of fundgelcialism today? Anything to keep them in check so that the next Lutheran ministry wont become like DesiringGod? Or The Gospel Coalition? Or Focus on Everyone Else’s Family?

    • Eagle, every tradition has its hard liners, its “fundamentalists.” And I hate to say it but some of the Lutherans I’ve been exposed to are as fundy as they come. That’s life in the Church. I am committed to keeping the emphasis on grace and graciousness where it belongs and where traditional Lutheran teaching puts it.

    • The thing about Lutheranism is that its a spectrum, with many of the same problems that have plagued all churches since the Corinthians. There is no human organizational structure or principle that can permanently hold other human beings in check. All we have is Scripture, Christ’s teachings, and the Lutheran explanation of its understanding of Scripture in its Confessional documents. Those have held Lutherans in check for 500 years. Read them, they are full of grace. For example,

      Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.

      http://www.bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article4.1

    • Cant make you love God wise guy! Thats up to you. But i can tell you this ! As long as you keep trying to find flaws in everything the longer it wil take you to find the Spirit of God.

      • Or it will eliminate everything flawed, leaving only God. One or the other.

        • Ray, I don’t comment much these days , but no, I think freddie has this one right. You cant’ be anti-just-about-everything and welcome the Spirit of GOD at the same time. At least not in my experience, yes I”ve tried that for months/yrs. Colossal waste of time. It also turns one into a Pharisee without the self-awareness to know it.

          Nice post freddie.

  2. br. thomas says:

    Obviously no one is perfect. With all of his strengths, Luther must have had weaknesses. I believe it was Jung who said: “the brighter the light, the deeper the darkness.” What have you discovered about Luther’s “dark side” and how can that be helpful for us in our journey? Is it true that he was an anti-semite? Thank you for your response.

    • Luther was also very political. He was not for separation of Church and State. He was for the Princes that were on his side. Very Moral-Majority.

      • briank, is there anybody in history from before the enlightenment you would not call “Very Moral Majority?”

        Luther was a product of the 16th century. Luther did support the state enforcing religious laws, punishing blasphemy, and restricting non-Lutherans (as he notoriously did in the book on the Jews).

        Luther knew how to interpret Scripture though. He taught that Scripture did not gvive the Church any authority to coerce anything. The church has only the power to teach Law and Gospel and administer or withhold the Sacraments. He also taught that Scripture requires Christians to be obedient to the secular authorities, unless required to sin. This is the core of two kingdoms. The state uses coercion; the church only teaches the Gospel. If the church tries to meddle in state affairs, it compromises the Gospel by letting law be predominate.

        • To be clear, to the extent Luther taught that the state should enforce religious laws, most Lutherans would disagree. There’s a reason Michelle Bachman left the Lutheran church to join a megachurch.

        • The ‘Radical Reformers’ ,during the same time as Luther, were teaching the Separation of Church & State. Luther would have been killed as a heretic in Catholic States. Lutheran States & Catholic States were killing “radical reformers’ as heretics. I just find it sad that a man could be wanting mercy from judgement, yet unable to see others need that same mercy. It is a failing.

    • Read what Luther wrote on the Jews. It’s here:

      http://www.humanitas-international.org/showcase/chronography/documents/luther-jews.htm

      His main problem with the Jews was that they rejected the Gospel, but he went beyond that to cite the common stereotypical complaints about Jewish people in his time. Luther was perfectly willing to promote state coercion to punish those who rejected the Gospel.

      Here’s another pretty fair take on the issue: http://www.theologian.org.uk/churchhistory/lutherandthejews.html

  3. I’ve mined Luther’s writings for gold [his “Concerning Rebaptism” is outstandingly good], but as in any mine, there are heaps of tailings, some quite toxic. You can’t take the man’s measure without a careful read of such tracts of his as “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants,” and “On the Jews and Their Lies,” with its horrible consequences to the German people. See Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the 3d Reich. And, of course, Luther could not just argue that the Roman papacy was in error; it had to be the “Anti-Christ.” Fortunately, some Lutheran synods have publicly renounced and apologized for some of Luther’s views and their sad consequences, see, e.g., the Lutheran Church of Bavaria.

    • I think all stripes of Lutherans agree and nobody uncritically accepts everything from Luther.

      But when he is directly addressing Scripture or in his Sermons, there is no one better. (Except Chemnitz, Walther, and Sasse sometimes rise to the same level).

  4. “Anyone who is but a little familiar with Luther knows that his different thoughts are not strung together like pearls in a necklace, united only by the bond of a common authority or perhaps by a chain of logical argument, but that they all lie close as the petals of a rose about a common centre, they shine out like the rays of the sun from one glowing source: the forgiveness of sins. We should be in no danger of misleading the would-be student of Luther, if we expressly gave him the rule: Never imagine you have rightly grasped a Lutheran idea until you have succeeded in reducing it to a simple corollary of the forgiveness of sins.”

    – Lutheran theologian, Einar Billing

  5. While I as a Lutheran have appreciated the Small Catechism for a long time, Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ creed presents a stumbling block of late. I don’t know how to honestly conclude that “This is most certainly true” if it s not really true. (If someone were to ask me today to subscribe to Luther’s explanation with an actual signature, I could not do so, because the material facts would not bear some of those statements out.)

    The “maker of heaven and earth” may bring about both prosperity and poverty of all kinds according to His good will. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. And He is worthy of thanksgiving and praise in any case.

    With all due respect to Luther, here is an alternative explanation that I find easier to affirm:

    I believe that God has made me and all that exists; that He has given me all my abilities of body and soul, heart and mind.

    As He dwells in heaven, which is a place that I cannot see, He also works for my good in ways that I cannot see, because He loves me. And so it is right and good for me to look to Him to provide all that I need to sustain this body and life, including food, clothing and shelter, people who care about me, and protection from danger and evil.

    God blesses me not on account of what I deserve, but out of His own fatherly, divine goodness and mercy. Therefore, whether I have a little or a lot in this life, it is my duty and privilege to thank and praise, serve and obey HIm.

    And in the heavenly life to come, I shall enjoy the richness of His presence eternally.

    This is most certainly true.

  6. So…after all these articles, now we can forget about Luther, right? And the Catholics too…? Because lately they’ve been crowding out coverage of normal churches where men don’t wear dresses.

    • I promise some good ol’ time religion to come, Gonzo.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        That’s funny. When Evangelicals make a default assumption that I, as a Protestant Christian, must go to a church pretty much like theirs, I explain that I belong to an older tradition.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Nice trolling.

    • jesus wore a dress

      • Glenn A Bolas says:

        Exactly. It’s not that priests/ministers in liturgical churches wear strange clothes, it’s that the rest of us do. They’re just wearing the same kind of thing (more or less) that the Apostles wore when they did the same job.

        • When I was Orthodox, I was told that for the first few centuries of the church the so-called clergy wore the everyday clothes that everyone else wore, but during the 4th century a decision was made to keep the then-current style as “vestments” (a ruling of Constantine, perhaps? I don’t know), and so while daily fashion continued on, the church’s fashion got stuck in time.

          So I would posit that the priests/ministers in liturgical churches do NOT wear what the apostles wore, but wear what 4th-century Christians wore, perhaps gussied up a bit.

          • Glenn A Bolas says:

            That makes sense. Fair cop then. Plus I like the fact that you used the phrase ‘gussied up’.

      • Don’t tell Mark Driscoll that….because he thinks Jesus is too gay as it is….

    • Jack Heron says:

      Churches in which men do not wear ‘dresses’ are very abnormal, both historically-speaking and geographically-speaking.

    • The real question is whether the women are allowed to wear pants… 😉

  7. One of my favorite memories so far of homeschooling my children is my oldest, then 13 and learning about Church History, walking up to me and saying “Martin Luther is really snarky” and wandering off 🙂

    • As a professor once said, if you ticked off Calvin, he’d write a long treatise against you in Latin.

      If you offended Luther, he’d compare you to a barnyard animal.

  8. Michael Spencer admired Luther, too. He also wrote about his foibles.

    John Wesley came to faith after hearing a Moravian pastor quote from Luther’s introduction to Romans; but he had nothing good to say about Luther’s commentary on Galatians. One the other hand his brother, Charles, read from Luther’s Galatians commentary in small groups. I think a balance between Wesley and Luther is needed. This, too, is what M. Spencer said. Throw in a little Spurgeon for good measure.

    Luther’s Galatian commentary was also instrumental in the conversion of John Bunyan.

  9. Here’s more penance as a former fundagelical….

    John Piper on the Catholic church….. You guys ready to puke?!?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQvtAd7WEOY

    • If you were to compare the two on spiritual depth, sorry , Benedict hands down….. stage presence, Benedict again….. so sorry you once had to put up with a person like that….

      • Glenn A Bolas says:

        I don’t know about stage presence. Pope Benny has fantastic sermons/speeches, structurally impeccable and dense with quality insights, but there’s not much oratory when he actually delivers them. I find them easier to read than to listen to as a rule. Then again, I’ve only ever read Piper, never heard him speak (and can’t access youtube in China either), so can’t really compare the two.

    • I thought that was a pretty good answer. Justification is the issue. If you screw that up, everything else is secondary.

  10. Glenn A Bolas says:

    As a Catholic, I suppose I have something of a love/hate relationship with Luther. Sometimes it’s more of one, sometimes more of the other. These points are definitely things that fall on the former side though (except perhaps for 3.- in my opinion, we all lost). I particularly appreciate 1,6 and 10. Someone like Calvin is only and ever polarising, because it’s all about the ideas. But Luther is so human that one cannot help but find the man sympathetic even while disagreeing with him. I think a big part of this is precisely because he had his eyes so fixed on Christ, and on Christ as the human-divine Person rather than a cog in a theological framework, the Christ he had come to know personally in and through the disorderliness of his own life. That filters down and makes for a much more incarnational (and arguably healthier) approach to religion.