Monday, February 23, 2009

Luther and the Word, part 5

The purpose of the Word is to bring men certainty of salvation. When Martin Luther heard God’s very Word tell him that God loves him and has won for him salvation, this brought him comfort and certainty. However, God knows how sinful human beings fall into doubt and even despair. God, in His mercy, gave to mankind external signs so that Christians would be assured of God’s love, and “more certainly believe that God is favourable and merciful.”[38] These signs, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are called Sacraments and are the visible Word. Each Sacrament has a plain, earthly element that man can see and touch. In Baptism the element is water, and in the Lord’s Supper the elements are bread and wine. Attached to that visible element is the Word of God, along with all His promises. According to Luther, “the Word of God is the chief thing in the Sacrament.”[39] In Baptism, though the water itself is merely plain water, the Word attached to Baptism promises to wash away man’s sins, give him life and salvation. Luther believed that in Baptism, because of the almighty power of God’s Word, man is covered with Christ and shares all of His righteousness. In the Lord’s Supper, Luther believed that the Word made the bread and the wine Christ’s true body and blood, which gave to those Christians who ate and drank assurance of salvation.

Christ, the Word of God, is present in both Sacraments giving to Christians all of His gifts. In Luther’s theology, everything depended on the Word. “Where the Word is proclaimed, Christ is present; where it is not, He is not.”[40] Luther said, “So the Lord’s Supper is nothing if the divine Word is not present; just so Baptism.”[41] This understanding of the Word and its presence in the Sacraments caused division among his followers and other Protestants and sects that were developing at that time.

The Anabaptists were teaching that children must not be baptized. If one was baptized as a child they must be re-baptized as an adult. Some concluded that this was so on the basis that the child may not have had faith at the time they were baptized. Luther saw this as sheer foolishness and a lack of faith in the power of God’s Word. Luther knew that the Word is greater than faith, for the Word is eternal, but faith can and does change. He knew that faith was built on God’s Word, not God’s Word on faith. He asked, “Is it fairer to assume that the Word of God would change faith, if a right one were lacking than that faith would change the Word of God?”[42] Such an assumption would be correct, he concluded. If this were so, even if the infant had no faith one ought to baptize that child, for the Word present in Baptism may create faith inside the child, and that faith may continue to be built on said Word. That Word given in Baptism is eternal, and so Luther concluded, no one should ever be re-baptized. Luther argued:

“The unchanging Word of God, once spoken in the first baptism, ever remains standing, so that afterwards they can come to faith in it, if they will, and the water with which they were baptized they can afterwards receive in faith, if they will. Even if they contradict the Word a hundred times, it still remains the Word spoken in the first baptism. Its power does not derive from the fact that it is repeated many times or is spoken anew, but from the fact that it was commanded once to be spoken.”[43]

Without faith of course the grace given in Baptism could not be received. However, faith could receive it at any time, because the Word given in Baptism is eternal and it is “through the Word the water in Baptism has the power to wash away sins.”[44]

Questions? Comments?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Luther and the Word, part 4

Part four.

However, is there any difference between the Incarnate Word and the spoken Word? Luther was once asked such a question, and as reported by Klug, he answered:

“By all means. . . The former is the incarnate Word, who was true God from the beginning and the latter is the Word that is proclaimed. The former Word is in substance God, the latter Word is in its effect the power of God, but isn’t God in substance, for it has a man’s nature, whether it’s spoken by Christ or the minister.”[29]

Klug further explains this difference, saying, “The difference is one of essence, or nature.”[30] The words of a pastor or a Christian are not the Word of God in their own essence, that is, in and of themselves. In other words, it isn’t the Word because a certain individual said it or they made the right sounds come from their mouth, but because these words reveal God’s love and plan of salvation. If Christ crucified for sinners is the center of the spoken message, then it is the Word of God. It is also the Word of God only in so far that it agrees with Scripture. If it does not agree with the written Word it is not the spoken Word. However, if the same truth is proclaimed that is in Scripture, then their words “have their source in the written word of God and must take place according to it.”[31] Their words are in fact the very Word of God for they are “inseparably connected with the Scriptures.”[32] In other words, it is the content behind the words of the preaching pastor or the message that the Christian is proclaiming that matter and makes it the Word of God. What does not matter is the person speaking. As long as the content of their message agrees with Holy Scriptures, then Luther believed that it would remain God’s Word and retain all its power, “even when proclaimed by ungodly men.”[33] This brought Luther certainty, for he realized that he can be sure it is the Word of God he hears, no matter how evil the preacher secretly is. Luther said:

“This is also the real difference between godly faith and human faith: human faith clings to a person; it believes, trusts and honors the word on account of him who speaks it. But godly faith clings to the word, which is God Himself; it believes, trusts and honors the word not on account of him who has spoken it, but feels that here is such a certainty of truth that nobody can ever tear it away from it, even if the very same preacher should try it.”[34]

This spoken Word of God was given to men for the chief purpose of salvation. While Holy Scripture teaches men, for Luther it was the spoken Word that brought to men the forgiveness of sins and created in them the faith to receive it. Christians are saved when they hear the promise of the Gospel preached to them and believe the promise is for them. Luther speaks of this in his Christmas Day sermon written in 1530. The Christian hears the Word and says, “This child who is born of the virgin is not only his mother’s son. I have more than the mother’s estate; he is more mine than Mary’s, for he was born for me, for the angel said, ‘To you’ is born the Savior. (Emphasis mine)”[35] The spoken Word promises and gives to those who hear it the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Holy Spirit comes through the Word and creates faith which clings to and trusts in that Word, that promise of grace. Luther believed that if there is no spoken Word then there can be no faith. This is as Luther said, “For it is the nature and essence of faith that it builds and relies on the word of God, and where there is no word of God there can and shall be no faith.”[36] Faith needs an object in which it may believe, something it can trust. This object was for Luther the Word, for “what could or would God’s people believe, if there were no word of God?”[37]

Questions? Comments?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Luther and the Word, part 3

Here is the third portion of the paper.

Luther also refused to acknowledge that reason or philosophy could replace Scripture’s authority. Many Protestants could not believe in various teachings of Holy Scriptures concerning the Sacraments because it did not agree with their philosophies or did not make sense to their human reason. Luther once said, “It is most scandalous for us to attempt to defend God’s Word with our reason, whereas we are to defend ourselves against all enemies with the Word of God.”25 Ultimately, it was Luther’s firm conviction that Scripture alone could determine what the Church could and could not teach that separated his theology from the theology of Rome, the enthusiasts, and most Protestants.

In Martin Luther’s theology the content of Holy Scriptures was divided into Law and Gospel. The Gospel was for Luther the center and purpose of the Word. This Gospel was the good news that Jesus died for the sins of the world and the promise that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. Luther said:

“And the gospel should really not be something written, but a spoken word, which brought forth the Scriptures, as Christ and the apostles have done . . . He (Jesus) called his teaching not Scripture but gospel, meaning good news or a proclamation that is spread not by pen but by word and mouth.”[26]

The Gospel is best called the spoken Word. Whenever the Gospel is preached or proclaimed, that which is spoken is the Word. Therefore, when a pastor gives a sermon or speaks the words of Absolution, the words that come from the pastor’s lips are the Word of God. When a Christian forgives another of their sin and proclaims the good news of God’s love to them, they speak God’s Word. For Luther, “wherever there is a manifestation or utterance of the Divine will of love, there is the living Word of God.”[27] God’s spoken Word was God’s own living presence. Luther made this quite clear when he said, “Remember that God has said: I am in your mouth, and I pass with the Word through your ears into your heart. So, then, we have a sure sign and know that when the Gospel is preached, God is present and would have Himself found there.”[28] So, when a person hears a Christian proclaim the Gospel, they hear the Word; in fact, they hear Christ Himself speak to them.

How does your philosophy intersect with this Word of God?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Luther and the Word, part 2

Here is the second portion.

Martin Luther placed an extremely strong emphasis on the authority of what Uuraas Saarnivaara calls the written Word of God.[12] The written Word is the Holy Scriptures, which are those books and letters written by the prophets and the apostles being moved by the Holy Spirit. Luther believed strongly in divine inspiration, that is, while the Holy Scriptures were written by men, these men were merely instruments being led by the Holy Spirit. These Holy Scriptures were then copied and translated by faithful men so that the written Word could be given to all people as far as the four corners of the earth. Luther believed that the Holy Scriptures are the Word just as Christ is, for, “they contain Him (Christ), speak of Him, and testify of Him.”[13] Holy Scripture reveals God’s thoughts and intentions, especially His love and plan for salvation, just like the Incarnate Word did. “The fact of the matter was simply that Christ and the Word of God were inseparable companions or concomitants, the Incarnate Word being sum and substance of the preached or written Word.”[14]

Since Luther saw the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God containing Christ Himself, he logically concluded that it had to be the source and norm of all Christian teachings. As the Word of God it held authority. The Roman church did believe the Holy Scriptures held authority, but they believed that authority was to be shared by the church fathers, their traditions, and the pope. Luther’s response to Rome was quiet clear, “People are not to believe me, the church, the fathers, the apostles, or even an angel if we teach anything contrary to the Word of God.”[15] Rome’s dependence on human teaching caused Luther to write, “For the papal asses are such stupid asses that they cannot and will not distinguish between God’s Word and human doctrine, but hold them both as one.”[16] Luther concluded that no word of man was equal to or greater in its authority than God’s written Word. “By it (Scripture) everything was to be judged but nothing might judge it.”[17] According to Saarnivaara, Luther believed, “All human doctrines, which are not in harmony with the Scriptures, must be rejected.”[18] Luther based his entire theology on what Scripture said. If any doctrine taught contrary to Holy Scripture Luther rejected it. If it did not agree with Scripture it could not be God’s Word. Luther, as quoted by Saarnivaara, explained it as such:

“We censure the doctrines of men, not because they are spoken by men, but because they are lies and blasphemies against the Scriptures. And the Scriptures, although they also were written by men, are not of men nor from men, but from God. Now since Scriptures and the doctrines of men are contrary the one to the other, on must lie and the other be true.”[19]

The authorities of the Roman Church were not the only ones seeking their doctrines in places other than the Scriptures. There were many called Enthusiasts who claimed that they were being given revelations directly from God, even though these revelations taught things contrary to the Holy Scriptures. They claimed that Holy Scripture was a “dead word,” and that they were being directed by an “internal word.”[20] This angered Luther because he recognized this inner word to be the work of the devil, because “God does not reveal Himself in the heart except through the external Word.”[21] Satan’s goal, Luther thought, was to lead humans away from God’s external Word and make them trust in their own inner word and spirituality. Satan had been doing this since the very beginning, when he “turned Adam and Eve into enthusiasts.”[22] Holy Scripture was for Luther the objective and absolute truth. The opinions and fantasies of other men mattered little to him for they went against the clear testimony of God’s Word. In fact, Luther believed that the Gospel’s preservation relied on “the objectivity of the inspired Word, the Holy Spirit’s book.”[23] Luther fervently fought against those men who despised Scripture and relied on private revelations. Luther said of such people:

“Nowadays such spirits are found swarming everywhere, deranged by the devil, regarding Scripture a dead letter, extolling nothing but the spirit and yet keeping neither the Word nor the spirit. But there you hear St. Paul adducing Scripture as his strongest witness and pointing out that there is nothing stable to support our doctrine and faith except the material or written Word, put down in letters and preached verbally by him and others: for it is clearly stated here: ‘Scripture, Scripture’.”[24]

Being a Lutheran myself, I rely upon this written, living Word. What about you?