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?

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