Anglos don’t know Lutheranism

I was talking with an Anglican priest and, after we had compared notes about our churches, he expressed surprise that there are Missouri Synod Lutherans who worship with the liturgy. This, even though the typical Lutheran congregation is far more liturgical than he is, what with our chanted divine services and more elaborate practices! The day before I was reading Graham Greene’s excellent, profound, and highly-Christian novel The Power and the Glory . It includes some German-American Lutherans, whom Greene depicts as kindly and not put off by the whisky priest’s sinfulness, but who have no crosses, just Gideon Bibles, and reject all of its “non-essentials” that characterizes Catholicism. But German-American Lutherans have crosses–yea, crucifixes–and are replete with what other Protestants consider non-essentials! Earlier, I had been enjoyed the first-rate mystery series by C. J. Sansom, whose detective Matthew Shardlake in the reign of Henry VIII solves murders in the age of the Reformation. (Start with Dissolution.) Despite Sansom’s thorough research and his main character’s personal investment in the Reformation cause, Lutherans are portrayed as the most radical of the dissenting sects, known mainly for their doctrine of predestination!

I suppose the English are just unfamiliar with Lutheranism. They seem to assume it is the opposite end of Catholicism, the Protestant pole of the via media that they are always trying to achieve. I’m sure this is part of the reason Americans too are often oblivious to the Lutherans in their midst. Then again, part of the fault may lie with the Lutherans for keeping their beliefs to themselves.

Luther’s writings on vocation

I have been charged with putting together some curriculum on Luther’s writings on vocation. This teaching, of course, is scattered throughout his voluminous works, but I need to pull together some primary sources. My task is complicated by the habit of Luther scholars of referring to his works by volume and page number from his collected works, often the German edition, instead of by the title of his book or sermon. (Could Luther scholars agree not to do that, or, rather, to give the title of the work, as well as where it can be found in the collected works?)

Anyway, Frank Sonnek put me onto this sermon, which is a good example of what I am looking for and is available online. It’s Luther’s sermon on the NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, preached in Marburg in 1529. Here is a paragraph on vocation. I will also throw in a paragraph on the kingdom of Christ just because it is so beautiful and profound. Both quotes show Luther at his stylistic best:

Our foolishness consists in laying too much stress upon the show of works and when these do not glitter as something extraordinary we regard them as of no value; and poor fools that we are, we do not see that God has attached and bound this precious treasure, namely his Word, to such common works as filial obedience, external, domestic, or civil affairs, so as to include them in his order and command, which he wishes us to accept, the same as though he himself had appeared from heaven. What would you do if Christ himself with all the angels were visibly to descend, and command you in your home to sweep your house and wash the pans and kettles? How happy you would feel, and would not know how to act for joy, not for the work’s sake, but that you knew that thereby you were serving him, who is greater than heaven and earth. . . .

Therefore we are to regard the kingdom of Christ as a large, beautiful arch or vault which is everywhere over us, and covers and protects us against the wrath of God; yea, as a great, extended firmament which pure grace and forgiveness illuminate and so fill the world and all things, that all sin will hardly appear as a spark in comparison with the great, extended sea of light; and although sin may oppress, it cannot injure, but must disappear and vanish before grace.

Now let me ask for your help. What are some other Luther writings on vocation? “Freedom of the Christian,” of course. “Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved.” The catechisms. What else? What sermons and postils and commentaries? What is the source of the oft-quoted but seldom sourced quotation about how changing a baby’s diaper is a holier work than that of all the monks in all the monasteries?

THE book on Christian spirituality for today. . .

. . .has to be Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig. Dr. Kleinig is an Australian theologian, Bible scholar, and Lutheran seminary professor who is one of the most illuminating teachers I have come across. Many Christians today have gotten interested in “spirituality,” with some exploring Eastern meditation and arcane mysticism without ever being introduced to the distinctly Christian approach to the spiritual life. This book explores the unique “receptive spirituality” that is the life of the Gospel of Christ. Christian spirituality find its expression in prayer, the Word, the sacraments, struggle against Satan’s temptations, and VOCATION. It has to do above all with receiving “grace upon grace” in Christ.

I can hardly express you just how good of a book this is. You may think that you know what there is to know on this subject, but you would be wrong. It’s one of those paradigm-shifting, life-changing books. It deserves the treatment we gave Lars Walker’s book–buying it on Amazon so as to boost its ranking (currently #227,924) so as to attract more attention to it and help propel it to bestsellerdom. If that should happen, we would see a revival of true Christian piety. Towards that end, I will be posting excerpts from time to time, passages that I have underlined as I have read and re-read this classic in the making.

Have any of you read this already? If so, I’d welcome your testimonial about Dr. Kleinig’s teaching.

Martin Luther and James Madison

I came across this recently, a Letter from James Madison to F.L. Schaeffer, dated 1821, in which the Father of the Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights credits Luther with his doctrine of the Two Kingdoms for the American handling of church and state:

Revd Sir,

–I have received, with your letter of November 19th, the copy of your address at the ceremonial of laying the corner-stone of St Matthew's Church in New York.

It is a pleasing and persuasive example of pious zeal, united with pure benevolence and of a cordial attachment to a particular creed, untinctured with sectarian illiberality. It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations. The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.

In return for your kind sentiments, I tender assurances of my estaeem and my best wishes.

Notice that this is not the “wall of separation” advocated by Jefferson, but a distinction in which both realms flourish as individual Christian citizens fulfill “both obligations” to both church and state.

That God died

I had assumed that yesterday’s post about Crucifixion, in which I talked about how God died, would attract objections. This was actually a big controversy during the Reformation, with Zwinglians in particular denying that God could be said to have died on the Cross. The human nature of Christ died, of course, but divinity–conceived in the Aristotelian way as an impassive, unchanging Being–could not be said to have died. The Lutherans responded with their unique Christology, which teaches the communication of the attributes, that what can be said of Christ’s human nature can be said of His divine nature, so that His human body can truly be omnipresent on all altars at Holy Communion, and that in the incarnation God was so united with human flesh that we can say that Mary was indeed the mother of God and that God died on the Cross. This is affirmed in the Lutheran confessions, in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII:

If the old weather-witch, Dame Reason. . .would say, Yea, divinity cannot suffer nor die; you shall reply, That is true; yet, because in Christ divinity and humanity are one person, Scripture, on account of this personal union, ascribes also to divinity everything that happens to the humanity, and vice versa. 42] And it is so in reality; for you must certainly answer this, that the person (meaning Christ) suffers and dies. Now the person is true God; therefore it is rightly said: The Son of God suffers. For although the one part (to speak thus), namely, the divinity, does not suffer, yet the person, which is God, suffers in the other part, namely, in His humanity; for in truth God's Son has been crucified for us, that is, the person which is God. For the person, the person, I say, was crucified according to the humanity. . . .

Dr. Luther says also in his book Of the Councils and the Church: We Christians must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said [if these things were not true], God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if "God's death" and "God died" lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale. But indeed He can also rise again or leap out of the scale; yet He could not sit in the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be said: "God died," "God's passion," "God's blood," "God's death." For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God's death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God.

This high view of the Incarnation, this notion that God is to be known not as an abstraction as in theologies of glory but in Christ crucified, is at the essence of Luther’s theology. Zwingli taught that Christ could not be bodily present in the sacrament, since He ascended bodily into Heaven. The Lutherans, though, taught that since He ascended into Heaven, His body COULD be present by virtue of the omnipresence of the Godhead. Lutheran Christology looms behind many other doctrines, but it is much neglected today. (“Like what?” you may ask. I’ll let you readers answer that question.)

Contemporary Reformation

If the Church were to go through another Reformation today, what do you think needs reforming? What are the issues today?


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