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?

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