Essential Luther - Lesson 1

Introduction to Essential Luther

The joy and promise of reading Luther. Luther has keen theological insights and expresses them using wit and lively word pictures. Luther's innovative thoughts are a result, not only of profound wrestling with theological ideas, but with Scripture itself. Luther uses polemic language, which was common in his time.

Gordon Isaac
Essential Luther
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Introduction to Essential Luther

The Essential Luther

I. Introduction

A. Luther (1483-1546) was known as the father of the Reformation

B. There is joy and promise in reading Luther

II. Quotations on Luther

A. Karl Barth

B. Roland H. Bainton

C. Joseph Lords

III. Quotations by Luther

A. On the Bible

B. On Humility

C. On Marriage and Family

D. On Preaching

E. On Human Nature

F. On Music

G. On Christian Freedom

H. On Prayer

I. On Himself

IV. Luther's Impact

A. On Language

B. On Theology

C. On German Culture

V. Difficulties in Reading Luther

A. Polemic Language

1. Seems Harsh to our PC mindset

2. Style of the Time

B. Statements against the Jews

1. Remember the Historical Context

2. Not Racial in Nature

3. Different Than Nazi Prejudice

C. Medieval Nature of the Language

VI. Why Read Luther (needs of the modern reader)

A. View of Ecclesia / Church

B. View of Human Sin

C. Objectivity of Salvation

D. Voice of Luther

  • The joy and promise of reading Luther. Luther has keen theological insights and expresses them using wit and lively word pictures. Luther's innovative thoughts are a result, not only of profound wrestling with theological ideas, but with Scripture itself. Luther uses polemic language, which was common in his time.

  • Some of the historical milestones that took place in the life of Martin Luther.

  • Luther has an unusual presentation of the nature of the theological task and a unique way of going about it. When discussing sin, Luther says that our problem is not just a moral lapse, but it's our spiritual presumption that is our greatest and worst of sins. Theology for Luther is our being grasped by the Word of God, not just a speculative academic pursuit.

  • Justification by faith is the central, foundational doctrine of Christianity and is unique compared to other religions. It is the manner in which we continue to walk with the living God. To Luther, it is more than just a doctrine, it is a death and a resurrection joining us to the living Christ. 

  • Luther presents his view of the atonement in the form and shape of the theology of the cross. In the cross and resurrection, God is bringing about something new. Christ did not come to give us a new law. Christ came into the closed circle of law and death by being born under the law, then dying and being raised from the dead to redeem those who were under the law. We get what Jesus has to offer by going through the cross ourselves, not just accepting theories about the cross.

  • Luther's treatise on Christ's Passion was used by common people to focus their meditation on the significance of this period of Christ's ministry. Luther urges people to be sensitive to what the Spirit might speak to them as they pray through Scripture passages. Luther's writings are sprinkled with short dialogues that help us deal with everyday matters according to the gospel.

Martin Luther used wit and lively word pictures to communicate his keen theological insights. His innovative thoughts are a result of his wrestling with Scripture as well as thoughtfully considering current theological teachings.

Essential Luther

Dr. Gordon Isaac


Introduction to Essential Luther

Lesson Transcript


Thank you for clicking on the essential Luther. In the next six half hour sessions I will be presenting for you what I consider to be the essential Luther some of the highlights of that great magisterial reformer who lived between 1483 and 1546. Luther, as you know, is the father of the Reformation. James Atkinson, famous church historian, claims that Luther is the Reformation, the Reformation is Luther. And so in a provocative manner, Atkinson has set forward for us this little syllogism, this little gem by which we can understand Luther. So what I'd like to do today is to talk about Luther in terms of the joy and promise of reading Luther. And what I'd like to do, first of all, is simply to set out a few quotations that indicate, from the point of view of others, why Luther is so critically important. Carl Bart, that famous theologian of the early 20th century, says it in this way. What else was Luther, then? A teacher of the Christian church whom one can hardly celebrate in any other way, but to listen to him? Carl Bart, interestingly enough, in his massive church dog, Maddox quoted Luther more often than he did Calvin, even though Bart himself was a reformed theologian and thus had ties directly to Calvin and the Genevan Reformation. But Bart, in his wide ranging theology, drew upon the insights of Luther and came back again and again to Luther because of his pithy statements, his brief and succinct words concerning the nature of theology and how one needs to do one's work as a theologian. So Carl Bart weighs in on this matter, claiming that Luther is a teacher of the church, one whom we can hardly celebrate in any other way, but to listen to him.


Roland Benton, who was a lively lecturer and who wrote that book entitled Here I Stand, says it in this way. If there is in any sense remaining of Christian civilization in the West, this man, Luther, in no small measure, deserves the credit. Roland Benton, in his detailed study of Luther, which ends in 1530 at the date of Augsburg, sets forward the pathway that Luther came to the Reformation paints a picture of Luther and his world in a wonderful fashion, such that he has drawn many people into an interest and into a study of Luther's life. This same Roland Benton then sets out Luther and raises him up for our interest by saying, if there is any sense remaining of Christian civilization in the West. This man, Luther, in no small measure, deserves the credit. So Roland Benton weighs in on this, claiming that Luther was a very important character in the life of the Protestant Reformation and indeed in Western civilization itself. And it should be noted that Luther was considered to be something of the individual that needs to be credited with bringing together the German language instead of Franconia and high middle German and various divisions within the language. Luther's translation of the Bible actually helped to shape the modern German language as we know it today. So Luther's place is not only of significance when it comes to theology, but Luther is a larger than life figure when it comes to the matter of human culture in terms of its wider influence. There is another quotation, one taken from a Catholic scholar. And it's interesting to note that Joseph Lords during the sixties and seventies and eighties, wrote a number of pieces which helped to reshape Catholic understanding of Luther. It had been up until that time the case that most Catholic theologians in dealing with Luther dealt with him in a very harsh manner, in part due to the fact that much of their research had been based on some of the Catholic polemics of the 16th century.


But Joseph Lords, modern historian, says this The ultimate mystery of Luther's effectiveness was his own vitality. And so in this way, Joseph Lords once again highlights Luther as a marvelous figure, one worthy of our study. So Luther, we have to say, has a significant place in both culture and theology. And for that reason, he's well worth our study. I'd like to turn now to Luther himself, because Luther had a way of doing theology and he had a wonderful sense of humor, and he had a real knack for summarizing ideas in memorable quotes. He is known for many of his colorful sayings. One, for example, on the Bible is this The Bible is alive. It speaks to me. It has feet. It runs after me. It has hands. It lays hold of me. On humility, Luther said this God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him. If you perhaps look for praise and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you do not get it, if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears. And if you do this in the right way, you will find a beautiful pair of big, long shaggy dog years. Luther goes on to say, This affliction is the best book in my library on marriage and family. Luther says this. Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their 900 years. Eve would say, You hate the apple. And Adam would retort, You gave it to me. People who do not like children are swine dunces and blockheads not worthy to be called men and women because they despise the blessing of God. The Creator and author of marriage.


On preaching. Luther says this When I preach, I regard neither doctors nor magistrates of whom I have above 40 in my congregation. I have all my eyes on the servant maids and on the children. And if the learned men are not well pleased with what they hear. Well, the door is open. Again, he says this It is not necessary for a preacher to express all his thoughts in one sermon. A preacher should have three principles. First, to make a good beginning and not spend time with many words before coming to the point. Secondly, to say that which belongs to the subject in chief and avoid strange and foreign thoughts. Thirdly, to stop at the proper time. On human nature. Luther says this human nature is like a drunk peasant. Lift him into the saddle on one side. Over he topples on the other side. Nothing is easier than sitting. God uses lust to impel men to marriage, ambition to office. Avarice to earning and fear to faith. Temptations, of course, cannot be avoided. But because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them rest in our hair. A lie is like a snowball. The longer it is rolled on the ground, the larger it becomes. You catch the flavor for something of what Luther is about here. He is a man who has theological insight, keen and sharp. He is on track. But also he has a wonderful command of language and is rhetorically very interesting and is able not simply to convey content, but to shape that content in such a manner that it's memorable and lively. One of the things that is really gripping about Luther, if you have the chance to read any amount of Luther's writings, the way he draws you in, you find that his work is very compelling on that level.


On the matter of music, Luther says this The devil should not be allowed to keep all the best tunes for himself. I have no use for cranks who despise music because it is a gift of God. Next, after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. It's interesting in reflecting on this kind of statement by Luther. Precisely the context in which he is speaking, because there were many during the Reformation era who, because of their ideas of what spirituality meant or what was spiritual or what was merely physical, they denied that music was an appropriate expression of worship in the church service. So, for example, Ulric Zwingli had all of the organs in his church was thrown out because he wanted only the human voice to sing the praises of God. He felt that music used in that way was simply not spiritual. He was deeply suspicious of anything that had that flavor of the material about it and wanted to get to a pure spirituality. Luther, on the other hand, recognized that something as wonderful of music, something as earthly, something which was a creature of God, as it were, is something that we should celebrate. On Christian freedom, Luther says, Sometimes we must drink more sport, recreate ourselves. I and even send a little to spite the devil so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences. With trifles, we are conquered if we try to conscientiously not to sin at all. If our Lord is permitted to create nice, large pike and good Rhine wine, presumably I may be allowed to eat and drink. Not only are we the freest of kings, we are also priests forever, which is far more excellent than being kings. For as priests, we are worthy to appear before God, to pray for others, and to teach one another Divine things on prayer.


Luther says this. Oh, if only I could pray the way this dog watches the meat. All his thoughts are concentrated on this piece of meat. Otherwise, he has no thought, wish or hope. No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the Ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose. That hands may be joined together and one may help another if the prayer of one doesn't help. The prayer of another will. In the midst of his devotional practice, Luther came to many moments in which he felt that the Holy Spirit had actually preached a sermon in his ear. And he says this I have often learned more in one prayer than I have been able to glean from much reading and reflection. On himself, Luther said next to faith. This is the highest art to be content in the calling in which God has placed you. I have not learned it yet. Our Lord God must be a pious man to be able to love rascals. I can't do it. And yet I'm a rascal myself. Others try to make me a fixed star, but I am an irregular planet. Luther said If I rest, I rust. And so, from these few colorful sayings from Luther, you can begin to catch a feel for something of the lively character that stands behind the over 55 volumes of the American edition of Luther's works. And of course, not all of his writings from the Weimar Oscar edition have been translated into English. But there is a wonderful resource in the American edition, and I would recommend those volumes to your reading if you want to know Luther firsthand. By all means, take those up. Also, one of the promises of reading Luther is that Luther had a profound grasp of language.


Luther is described by Gerhard Ablin, a renowned Luther interpreter, as a linguistic innovation. This little phrase, as it is crafted in German, more literally means Luther as word event enabling in German says it this way. Luther as a rightness, as enabling likes to point out, it is Luther's central motivating concern to give proper utterance to the word. It is this singular and all consuming concern which marks out his work in the Reformation. As enabling puts it, a major linguistic innovation is obviously more than a dogmatic construction, whereas someone else's dogmatic construction offers, at best, a dwelling place in which one can find shelter as a guest and a stranger. A linguistic innovation provides a place to live and make one's own home. Enabling here is simply trying to say that Luther's grasp of language is his use and ability with rhetoric allows him not only to convey content, but to shape it in lively and convincing ways that excite the mind and charm the intellect. Philosopher and theologian of a later time herder affirms that in this way, he says, it is he who awoke and set free the sleeping giant of the German language. It is he who cast out the trade in mere words of scholasticism like the table of the Moneychangers. Through his reformation, he made a whole nation able to think and to feel. It is of no account that Erasmus, perhaps the most precise scholar the world has ever known, accused him of having brought Latin literature to an end. This reproach is no disgrace to him, and it should not be denied in the face of all the historical facts. For Latin religion, scholastic learning and the Roman language were far too closely bound together. So Herder here is affirming Luther's role in codifying the modern German language.


And more than that, really season Luther something of the heroic spirit which helped to invigorate the German intellectual context. So Luther's place in culture is as large as it is in terms of his theological statements. Now, while it's true that Luther's innovation is a linguistic one, it is equally true that it is simultaneously a theological one, as it's possible for us to have a chance to read such writings as on Christian Freedom, the two kinds of righteousness meditation on Christ passion or the bondage of the world. Just a few of Luther's writings for some of his output. You'll come to appreciate the profound wrestling that this Augustinian friar gives not only to Christian theology, but more specifically to the Scriptures themselves. Further, it is hard not to be compelled by this. Saxon has one of the titles that Luther was given whose prodigious mental powers surge and heave just under the surface, causing one to think that the volcano is ready to erupt. Luther really is is simply magnificent. As you begin to read him in some of these treatises. He sets forward the Christian faith in passages which approach the lyrical, and he really does summarize in wonderful ways the nature of Christian faith and its profound influence in day to day living. I like the way Robert Jensen puts it. He makes the case that Luther's insight leads to a radical reversal of the Greek philosophers approach to ontology and epistemology. Jensen says it this way in their doctrine, that is, the Greek doctrine. The specific character of personal beings souls, is that their being is determined by what they see as perfect. I see. Luther switched that. For him, the specific character of personal being is that we are what as perfect ears we hear.


Moreover, if for the Greeks to be generally is to produce or to hang on to one's self, for Luther to be is to share one's self by speaking. Thus for Christ to be is to share Himself in His Word. This is a wonderful picture, it seems to me, of the profound reversal that takes place in Luther. And one of the things that I've struck upon after some years of study in Luther is that Luther has this powerful way of turning most things just right on their head so that if you want to follow Luther in the way that he does his thinking, you really have to take three steps back from the object of inquiry, see the bigger picture, and then try to figure out the moves that Luther is making. And sometimes you'll be simply astounded at the kinds of things that Luther does in his presentation of Christian theology. That's why I think Robert Jensen is really quite on the mark, because for Luther, the whole matter of the spoken word is key and central. That's why Luther's theology really is in part the story of the return to the Bible. And we find Luther finding wonderful ways of doing that in the course of his life and career. The content of Luther's theological contribution. Thus comes precisely in a specific kind of speaking, that we, as the gathered church participate in. Gospel speaking is really the point of what Luther wants to get at. Luther wants to teach us how to make the distinction between law, which tells us what we need to do for our salvation, but does not give us the power to do it. And gospel. That word come from God in Christ by which we are told what God already has done on our behalf to save us.


Luther's way of Theology Rising uses this kind of dialectic, this rubric between law and gospel, to help us analyze our preaching, to see whether or not we're simply spanking our people on Sunday morning, or whether or not we're giving them the life giving word. This is one of the ways I think, that Luther is very helpful for us because he is a prodigious theologian. He has a word event, is a man full of colorful sayings, but he is also a prodigious theologian that wants to instruct us so that we become better at our work. Now, one of the things that's true about the promise of Luther is that it's not always easy to read Luther. He was, after all, a 16th century theologian. As such, one can read his writings, and sometimes you can find passages that are absolutely mystifying. One of the things that I've noticed over the course of a few years now of teaching my course on Luther here at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary is the students in reading some of Luther's primary writings in translation come up against this problem. They read passages and they find Luther using polemic language. Sometimes he throws out criticism against his opponent, for example, Erasmus and bondage of the will. There are a number of places where Lutheran rollicking fashion calls Erasmus various names. He calls them an Epicurean. He calls them a veritable Lucian. And in that way, he proceeds with his theological battle with Erasmus. But I find that in our 21st century context, many students in reading Luther become somewhat offended when they hear Luther speaking of that sort of away. And it's simply a fact that we need to recognize. In the 16th century, that was common practice. The Catholic theologians that wrote against Luther were not kinder to Luther than Luther was to them.


Although Luther is simply a very, very talented polemicist, it needs to be said that this is one of the obstacles to reading Luther, for example, in the Romans commentary. Luther comes up against the scholastic theologians as his enemies. He was convinced that with Aristotle they believe that we become righteous by performing righteous actions in opposition to this. Luther advanced the thesis that we are not made righteous by doing righteous deeds, but that insofar as we are already declared righteous, we then in our turn perform righteous acts. These are two very different ways of proceeding, theologically speaking. Therefore, on this basis, Luther characterizes the scholastic theologians in a not so flattering way. In Latin, the passage reads all storti or so. Theologian Oh, you fools, you pig theologians. Luther was certain that teachers were making a mess of interpreting the Christian gospel From his point of view. They were nothing but moralists and merit mongers because they handle morality or righteousness as lawyers do, or as philosophers, not as true theologians. So Luther was not above throwing an epithet from time to time. He did indeed call some of his opponents of various kinds of names, and sometimes those names can get quite pointed and sharp in a very vitriolic work entitled Against the Roman Papacy and Institution of the Devil. Luther begins to list the abuses of the Pope in that treatise. Luther refers to the Holy Father, the Pope, as simply the hellish father. So he reverses things there on the pope. He says this The Lord gives the whole of his sacrament to his Christians. No, says the fast pope. One element is enough for the layman. The whole belongs to the priests. And so Luther, in his anger at what's going on, you see, he sees these things theologically.


And he is convinced that when it comes to matters of life and death, things theological, it's no laughing matter and one dare not act fast and loose in this. Therefore, when he sees the pope doing just such a thing, he comes after him with all of the force of his sharpest 16th century rhetoric and these kinds of statements kind of focusing on anal imagery, that sort of thing. There's a special name for this kind of stuff. It's called Groby, an isthmus. And it's something that the 16th century is characterized by and known for. And Luther. Right, heartily participates in the mudslinging, as it were. And again, in the same treatise we come across this statement Christ wanted marriage to be free. But no, says the hellish father in Rome. Priests, monks and nuns should not be married, and it is much better to live chastely according to the Roman papal cardinal Chastity, compared with which Sodom and Gomorrah were virgins then to get married. So you see, Luther uses the sharpest possible language with sprinkled liberally with a bit of humor in order to make his very pointed and very serious theological kind of statement. And one of the things that's true is that in reading Luther, these kinds of pieces of polemic really get in the way of the modern reader. So you need to be aware that that is the kind of world in which we're entering. When we began to read Luther in these matters, and we simply have to be ready for it. In another passage in the small called Articles of 1537. Luther brings voice to his concern over what the Pope is doing when he says it this way. It is most diabolical for the Pope to promote his lies about masses, purgatory, monastic life and human works and services, which are the essence of the papacy in contradiction to God and to damn slay and plague all Christians who do not exalt and honor these abominations of his above all things accordingly.


Just as we cannot adore the Devil himself as our Lord or God, so we cannot suffer His apostle, the Pope or Antichrist to govern us as our head or Lord for deception, murder and the eternal destruction of body and soul are characteristic of His Papal government, as I have demonstrated in many books. Clearly, Luther was not happy with Leo the 10th. Leo was much more interested in his mistress and hunting boars than he was and things of the spirit or the church. It comes as no surprise, really, that Luther saw in the Pope the personification of the apocalyptic images of the Book of Revelation, Chapter 13 and the man of lawlessness of Second Thessalonians two. In essence, what Luther had done was to see that the prophecies of the revelation were ongoing throughout the life of the church and saw that the Pope was playing the role of the Antichrist. So as we read Luther in our modern context, we need to recognize that he will participate. He does participate in polemic language, and we need to make sure that we're not put off by that. But we see the very serious theological points that Luther is attempting to make in all of this. This, of course, goes against the grain of our modern, politically correct mindset. Right now, we live in a time that says each of us are raised in our own particular circumstance. We know our own history, we know our own context. But there is no one place from which anyone can make a judgment about other groups, other belief systems. Therefore, we are all broken up into our own belief patterns, and one simply cannot make any kind of statement about someone else's belief pattern. Luther did not live in that kind of a day.


They believed emphatically that there is truth and that one needs to find one's way to it. So in our own politically correct context, we find these kinds of very certain statements offensive and rude. And so we need to be able to recognize that the 16th century does not have the same mindset as the 21st century. We need to be careful that we don't read our predilections back into that 16th century time frame. One other obstacle to reading Luther is Luther statements against the Jews. If there's one thing that students know about Luther, if they know anything, is that he said some harsh things about the Jews. And it's true. Luther did say some harsh things about the Jews In 1543, toward the end of his life. Luther wrote of polemic treatise entitled On the Jews in Their Lives. And he says, I wish. And I ask that are rulers who have Jewish subjects exercised a sharp mercy toward these wretched people, as suggested above, To see whether this might not help, though it is doubtful. By the end of Luther's lifetime, he had hoped that many more Jews would come to faith and had. And he was very concerned because he had received reports that Jews were mocking Christian worship practices. And so he called upon the magistrates in order to exercise their control over their provinces and was asking for them to exercise control over the Jewish population as well. And many of these sharp statements, one can only lament that Luther made them. Luther in other places, urged that the prayer books of the Jews be seized and that their worship be disrupted. These kinds of statements were used during the Second World War, during the Third Reich, that Hitler set up to oppress the Jews.


And they were used. Luther's statements were used in polemic fashion against the Jews, in the propaganda movies and in other venues. This too bad, because what's happened then is that Luther has been taken out of his context and has been used in a false manner in the Third Reich. This now has become a lens through which we have viewed Luther. And of course, this has been very difficult in terms of trying to place Luther in his real context. Just a few quick comments as we are at the very beginning of the essential Luther. First of all, we need to recognize Luther in his historical context. Interestingly enough, very early on in Luther's career, Luther said many positive things about the Jews, and he wrote a treatise entitled That Jesus was a Jew. And he points out in that treatise that the Jews have been given many promises by God, which are irrevocable. He indicates that salvation comes from the Jews. And therefore, in the early part of his career, Luther was quite interested in talking with Jewish rabbis and having recourse to their understanding of the Old Testament text. And in talking those things over with him, he had high hopes that many Jews would come to saving faith during this time of great movement and change. While his early approach to Jews was quite positive. We see that later on in his life through the pressures of the Reformation and other things. That optimistic point of view of the Jews changed and changed dramatically. But one thing we need to keep in context is that Luther was a man of his own age. He indeed did have blind spots. And I think his approach to the Jews is one of those places. He was a man not unlike others in that same time period.


Take, for example, Erasmus of Rotterdam. He was a keen intellect and a very learned man. Yet even the supposedly very enlightened Erasmus made the following statement. He said, The country of France is the best country of all European countries because it has the fewest Jews. This statement by Erasmus simply indicates the mindset of that time period. Luther was not outside of the influence of his own cultural time period, and so he reflected some of the prejudices against the Jewish people that many others of his own time period had. We don't have to follow Lutheran that indeed we ought not, but we need to recognize Luther's historical context. Secondly, one of the things we need to say about Luther is this that in Luther there is no racial theory in the Third Reich and in Hitler's regime, there was a racial theory which maintained that Jews were of an inferior race because they were not Aryan. They became the scapegoats for all of the negative things that had happened to Germany in the wake of that First World War time frame. And so Hitler made the Jews the scapegoat for his very aggressive military buildup and for his imperialistic designs which he later poured out on all of Europe. So we need to disassociate Luther from that kind of racial theory, which simply is not part of Luther's thinking. And thirdly, we need to recognize that Hitler's use of Luther's statements then makes Luther's statements a problem for the 20th and the 21st century. Whereas Luther made his statements in the 16th century and really had nothing to do with those other time periods. So the fact that this is an issue for us today is really a piece of anachronism having to do with how Luther was used after his own time period.


And it seems to me that we, as in our historical responsibility, need to return Luther to his own 16th century time period and leave him in that time frame to understand him in his own context. So there are some wonderful promises in reading Luther. Luther has colorful sayings. He has a wonderful grasp of language. He is a prodigious theologian. And there are also some obstacles to reading Luther. One of them is this polemic language. Another are his statements against the Jews. And then finally, there's also the medieval nature of his writing. There are many places where you can begin to read in Luther, where he begins to talk about the distinction between mortal and venial sins. He can talk about merit, different kinds of merit, merit of congruency, and a whole series of other kinds of things. When you read these passages, they can be very, very complex and difficult and simply outside of one's understanding. You have to understand the medieval context in which Luther is writing for some of those kinds of comments to become important. But the medieval nature of his writing is also an obstacle to reading. Luther. But if one takes the pains to understand some of these passages in the context, one can yield wonderful dividends in understanding Luther's theological agenda. Now, then, quickly, in summing up this first piece of our essential Luther, I'd like to indicate that reading Luther is incredibly important. There are reasons why Luther is important for us. Why should you read Luther? What's essential about Luther? I like the way Mark Nolan put it in an interesting article entitled The Lutheran Difference. He charts out four areas where a distinctively Lutheran voice could well make a positive contribution to the American church scene.


One of those areas is in the area of ecclesiology or church. And he says that this way, in America, the revolutionary heritage has proclaimed that the past is pollution. Beneficial as the sentiment may be for affairs of government. It has been poison to the church. In our American church scene, we have had many movements that have claimed no creed but the Bible, and there's been something of an anti historical chorus that has risen among us. We've been pessimistic about what could be learned from the past and the present. Evangelical church rushes pell mell into every new fad and church work that comes around. I'm amazed as a pastor and theologian, that there are as many books about new fads, reinventing the church and doing other kinds of things. So it's precisely here in this area of ecclesiology or our understanding of the abiding significance of the church that Luther, I think can help us his understanding of baptism in the Lord's Supper, his understanding of the nature of the priesthood of the saints are all issues that, when understood, could help to strengthen our evangelical church. If a great strength in American religion has been the power of its voluntary activism. So a corresponding weakness has been the notion of a voluntary, mystic ecclesiastical organization. American Christians might find a spiritual truth in Luther's claim that outside the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, and no salvation. Also, in the flush of the success of the American Revolution, the view of human sin really was downplayed. Rather, the great strength and great possibility of the human spirit had been highlighted during the American Revolution and our American way of life with its optimism and its urging us to make every effort to be successful.


Really downplays the fact that sin does captivate us. So I think one way in which Luther can help us. Consideration of Luther's theology is the defense of Augustinian view of sin. That sin is not simply a matter of doing a few bad things, but that sin infects the entirety of our outlook on life. Luther, I think, can help us in coming to a deeper sense of the nature of sin and its awfulness, and therefore the beauty and the power of salvation in overcoming that. A third thing that I think can help us in our understanding is Luther's understanding of the objectivity of salvation in the preaching of the gospel and the giving of the sacraments. There is a specific and objective word which brings with it the very presence of Christ himself. This notion of God's activity in the life of worship, I think, is something that Luther brings us, that the evangelical church has a great need for in our evangelical context. Quite often we emphasize revivalism, and there is a tendency in our emphasis to focus upon faith as an exercise of one's freewill. In this atmosphere, faith has the tendency to move toward subjectivity. And Luther, with his presentation of the Word of God as being objective, helps move us back to the proclamation of the Gospel and the word of absolution that comes in it. And also, finally, there is, after all, the voice of Luther, which speaks clearly when many other voices which attempt to articulate the Christian faith sound only in a mumbled or in a feeble fashion. Listen to Luther as he describes faith. Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith when they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow.


Although they can hear and say much about faith, they fall into the error of saying faith is not enough. One must do works in order to be righteous and be saved. This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, I believe they take this then to be a true faith. But as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either. And no improvement follows. Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. John one It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done. But before the question is asked. It has already done them and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith in good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks with many words about faith and good works. Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace. So sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God's grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith because of it.


Without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything out of love and praise to God who has shown him his grace. Thus, it is impossible to separate works from faith quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise, you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do. Luther was indeed a prodigious theologian. He was a profound crafter of the faith in words, specific and compelling to the human heart. And I would encourage you to continue with your study of Luther.