Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Was Luther Right?

Those who have read the blessed Dr. Martin Luther know that he was not a prophet who minced words. He did not soften the truth to make it more easily acceptable. One does not have to second guess him in his writings. The clear meaning jumps off the page and the reader perceives the meaning in full force.

Simultaneously, Dr. Luther was full of compassion, compassion that was generated in him by the love of God declared in the Gospel. He believed this Gospel for himself and wanted it to be delivered unto the world in all its glorious power for salvation. This is the reason that he was unwilling to mince words. He believed that for the Gospel to be effective that it had to be related exactly as the Lord gives it.

He demonstrates this in all of his writings. In the following excerpt Luther speaks as strongly as it seems is possible to write. What he declares in this excerpt is also declared repeatedly in Luther’s Large Catechism, which is among the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Most Lutherans today do not speak in this forthright and uncompromising manner on the issues that Luther speaks here.

So the question arises, “Was Luther right?”

The excerpt is from THAT THESE WORDS OF CHRIST, “THIS IS MY BODY,” ETC., STILL STAND FIRM AGAINST THE FANATICS, found in Luther’s Works, Volume 37.

(The footnotes have been omitted.)

Well, since they are so completely wicked as to mock the whole world, I shall add a Lutheran warning and say; Cursed be such love and unity in the abyss of hell, because such unity not only divides the Christian Church wretchedly, but in true devilish fashion even mocks it and pokes fun at it for its wretchedness. Now I do not mean to judge so harshly as to hold that they do this out of malice. But I think they are blinded by Satan, and perhaps they have developed a conscience that bites them, saying, “Truly we have caused a great offense and kindled a great fire, now we must paste and putty up the affair with words, and claim indulgence because it is not an important matter. And even if we lose the argument, let us declare in advance that we have not lost anything important, but have committed only a minor offense, and as we say of singers when they make a mistake, ‘They only farrowed a piglet.’ ”

No, gentlemen, none of this peace and love for me! If I were to strangle someone’s father and mother, wife and child, and try to choke him too, and then say, “Keep the peace, dear friend, we wish to love one another, the matter is not so important that we should be divided over it!” what should he say to me? O how he should love me! Thus the fanatics strangle Christ my Lord, and God the Father in his words, and my mother the church too, along with my brethren; moreover, they would have me dead too, and then they would say I should be at peace, for they would like to cultivate love in their relations with me. But I intend to expose the fanatics here, that everyone may see what kind of spirit is in them, so that their adherents may realize whom they are believing and following.

It is perfectly clear, of course, that we are at odds concerning the words of Christ in the Supper. And it is well known on both sides that these are Christ’s or God’s words. That is one thing. So we say, on our part, that according to the words Christ’s true body and blood are present when he says, “Take, eat; this is my body.” If our belief and teaching go wrong here, tell us, what are we doing? We are lying to God, and proclaiming that he did not say this but said the opposite. Then we are assuredly blasphemers and liars against the Holy Spirit, betrayers of Christ, and murderers and seducers of the world.

Our adversary says that mere bread and wine are present, not the body and blood of the Lord. If they believe and teach wrongly here, then they blaspheme God and are giving the lie to the Holy Spirit, betray Christ, and seduce the world. One side must be of the devil, and God’s enemy. There is no middle ground. Now let every faithful Christian see whether this is a minor matter, as they say, or whether God’s Word is to be trifled with. Here you have the fanatics and their spirit. I have often said, no ungodly man can have a high regard for God’s Word. These fanatics demonstrate forthrightly that they regard the words and works of Christ as nothing but human prattle, like the opinions of academic hairsplitters, which ought fairly to yield to love and unity. But a faithful Christian knows clearly that God’s Word concerns God’s glory, the Spirit, Christ, grace, everlasting life, death, sin, and all things. These, however, are not minor matters! You see, this is how they seek God’s glory, as they boast everywhere.

Neither does it help them to assert that at all other points they have a high and noble regard for God’s words and the entire gospel, except in this matter. My friend, God’s Word is God’s Word; this point does not require much haggling! When one blasphemously gives the lie to God in a single word, or says it is a minor matter if God is blasphemed or called a liar, one blasphemes the entire God and makes light of all blasphemy. There is only one God who does not permit himself to be divided, praised at one place and chided at another, glorified in one word and scorned in another. The Jews believe the Old Testament, but because they do not believe Christ, it does them no good. You see, the circumcision of Abraham [Gen. 17:10 ff.] is now an old dead thing and no longer necessary or useful. But if I were to say that God did not command it in its time, it would do me no good even if I believed the gospel. So St. James asserts, “Whoever offends in one point is guilty in all respects.” He possibly heard the apostles say that all the words of God must be believed or none, although he applies their interpretation to the works of the law.

Why is it any wonder, then, if fickle fanatics juggle and play the clown with the words of the Supper according to their fancy, since at this point they are convicted of belittling God’s words and concerns, and making them secondary to human love? Just as if God must yield to men, and let the authority of his Word depend on whether men are at one or at odds over it. How can one believe that these fanatics teach rightly and well, when they are clearly found to be entertaining such devilish ideas and advising things which make for the despising, blaspheming, and disgrace of God and our eternal death and destruction, and who yet think they have acted wisely and presented a salutary Christian teaching?

But we poor sinners, who are altogether devoid of Spirit, have this to say out of the holy gospel against these holy Christians, “He who loves father and mother, wife and child, house and home, or even his own soul more than me is not worthy of me” [Matt. 10:37]. And again, “I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword” [Matt. 10:34]. And Paul, “What accord has Christ with Belial?” [II Cor. 6:15]. If we are to practice Christian unity with them and extend Christian love to them, we must also love and be satisfied with, or at least tolerate, their doctrine and behavior. Let anyone do that if he wishes. Not I. For Christian unity consists in the Spirit, when we are of one faith, one mind, one heart, Ephesians 4[:3 ff.]. This, however, we will gladly do: in civil matters we are glad to be one with them, i.e. to maintain outward, temporal peace. But in spiritual matters, as long as we have breath, we intend to shun, condemn, and censure them, as idolaters, corrupters of God’s Word, blasphemers, and liars; and meanwhile, to endure from them, as from enemies, their persecution and schism as far and as long as God endures them; and to pray for them, and admonish them to stop. But to acquiesce in, keep silence over, or approve their blaspheming, this we shall not and cannot do.

All these things I have exposed in order to show how the devil can disguise himself under false humility, peace, and forbearance, for the warning of all who do not humble themselves from the heart, that they should beware both of the devil and of themselves. For God allows himself to be neither deceived nor mocked. He would rather take an ass and condemn great prophets through her mouth, as he did Balaam [Num. 22:28 ff.]. Therefore, to these fanatics and spirits who offer us such a peace, we may well say as Christ said to his betrayer, Judas, in the garden, “O Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” [Luke 22:48]. Yes indeed, a Judas’ peace and a traitor’s kiss it is when they would be friendly to us and get us to the point of watching in silence while they ravage with fire and sword, by which they bring so many souls into the everlasting fire of hell, all the while wishing it to be regarded as a minor matter and of no consequence. God warns us against these spirits by allowing them to come into the open and betray themselves and reveal how they traffic in lies and falsehoods. And if this stratagem does not shock or warn men, let them go; they want to be lost! The Holy Spirit offers no such stratagems through his poor sinners as the devil does here through his great saints.

So then, the question that arises among Christians today is, “Was Luther right to stand so strongly against those who err and refuse to be admonished and corrected, those who defend their errors and propagate them? Was he right to label them as possessed by the devil and followers of the devil? Was he right to equate those who speak of tolerating alternative teachings and practices with Judas?”

In the Large Catechism, explaining the Third Article of the Creed, Luther says,

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Is this what Lutherans teach? Is this the true doctrine and practice of the Church of God on earth? Or was Luther merely a product of his day, a brash and overzealous rebel who could not tolerate those who disagreed with him personally. Was Luther right?

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