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?

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