Luther as populist and freedom fighter

Luther_(Wislicenus)Much of Europe, including Catholics, will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 theses.  But Great Britain, not so much.

The founder of the Church of England, King Henry VIII, hated Luther (who opposed his multiple marriages) and martyred his followers.  Later, when Anglicans became distinctly Protestant, they threw in with John Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

Even though the church followed Luther in adopting the Liturgy and emphasizing the Sacraments–thanks to Wittenberg student Thomas Cranmer–the Anglicans don’t do much with Luther.  So they are mostly skipping the October 31 celebration.

British journalist Peter Stanford, writing in the left-of-center Guardian, thinks that’s a shame.  He says Luther deserves to be celebrated as a populist, a champion of the poor, and the seminal defender of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience.  He also says Luther is a key founder of the modern era.  He was also unimaginably brave.

Now I’m not sure Mr. Stanford fully understands the religious significance of Luther, particularly, his recovery of the Gospel, and there are other things he gets wrong.  But you should read his article for an interesting secular perspective on Luther’s cultural influence. [Read more…]

Luther’s cross-cultural appeal

Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_MonkSarah Hinlicky Wilson, the editor of Lutheran Forum, has been co-teaching a seminar in Wittenberg on Luther to students from all over the world.  She writes in Christian Century about the continuing impact of Luther 500 years after the beginning of the Reformation.

She gives an ELCA perspective, full of ecumenical yearnings for union with Rome, and there will be other points that Missouri Synod Lutherans will disagree with.  Though they find it  worth reading.  For example, notice how she deals with Luther’s anti-Judaism.  I was interested in how she demonstrates that the message of “inclusion”–which is very big in theologically liberal circles–has anti-Judaism problems of its own.

What most struck me was what she had to say about Luther’s cross-cultural appeal, how his theology is being seized upon by Africans, Indonesians, Brazilians, and other people of non-European cultures, who are finding his teachings helpful in dealing with the problems in their churches and societies.  I quote this section after the jump. [Read more…]

The Marburg Colloquy online

Noack_1869_MR-ReligionsgesprächDid you know that a transcript survives of the Marburg Colloquy (1529), in which Luther and Zwingli debated the presence of Christ in the elements of Holy Communion?  Did you know that it is posted online?

This meeting, attended by virtually all of the major figures of the early Reformation, was an attempt to settle the Reformation’s sacramental teachings once and for all.  Phillip of Hesse organized the event in an attempt to unify the Reformation side in the face of imminent military threat from the Holy Roman Emperor.  But Luther would not water down his teaching for pragmatic reasons. With the Marburg Colloquy, the Lutherans and the Reformed went their separate ways, with most subsequent Protestants following, in effect, a non-sacramental approach to Christianity.

The transcript reads like a play, or a screenplay.  (Suggestion:  Somebody perform this!)  For all of its theological give and take, it has quite a few dramatic moments:  Luther writing “This is my body” in chalk on the table beneath a tablecloth, continually referring to it in the course of Zwingli’s rationalistic arguments.  Luther at more than one point saying, “I’m tired–Phillip [Melanchthon], you take over,” only to erupt at the next thing Zwingli says without letting Phillip get a word in edgewise.  The emotional moments on both sides.  The ending with its pleas for reconciliation and Luther’s devastating “we are not of the same spirit.”

Read the beginning after the jump and go to the link to read it all.  Notice the different approaches not just to the Sacrament but to the Bible and, above all, to Christology. [Read more…]

Luther’s influence on German culture

Luther-Catechism-1560-LeipzigThe Economist has a fascinating article on “How Martin Luther has shaped Germany for half a millennium.”

I’m not sure how accurate it is.  (Luther’s moralism?  For the person who insisted that salvation is by grace through faith, rather than good works?  Well, maybe so.  Maybe this is evidence that an emphasis on faith really does bear fruit in good works.  But “dour,” for the most uproarious of theologians?  “Lutheran socialism,” finding the origin of the northern European welfare state in Luther’s neighbor-centered view of vocation?)

But that Luther influenced Germany’s love of music, emphasis on education, love of books, work ethic, etc., rings true.

UPDATE:  Note the critique of this article by German journalist and confessional Lutheran Uwe Siemon-Netto in a recorded interview on Issues, Etc. (HT:  Jeremiah Oehlerlich & Carl Vehse)

[Read more…]

What you do to your neighbor you do to Christ

Christian_Krohg_-_Mother_and_Child_-_Google_Art_ProjectIt still being Christmas–there are twelve days of it, remember–we can still contemplate the inexhaustible topic of God’s incarnation.  After the jump, read an excerpt from one of Luther’s Christmas sermons, which our pastor quoted in his Christmas Eve message.  The passage deals both with Christmas and vocation–that is, our calling to love and serve our neighbors in our various tasks and relationships.

To those who think that they would have shown kindness to the Christ child and His parents, unlike the residents of Bethlehem, Luther says, “Why don’t you do it now” by showing kindness to other needy children and their parents?

“What you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.”
[Read more…]

The Two Cities vs. the Two Kingdoms

It’s common to associate Augustine’s Two Cities with Luther’s Two Kingdoms.  But they are really quite different.  In The City of God, Augustine defines the two in terms of two different loves:  The City of God has to do with the love of God; the City of Man has to do with love of self.

Thus the two cities are in opposition to each other.  This is a scheme for dualism, for ascetic rejection of the world, giving rise to monasticism.

Luther’s Two Kingdoms is a paradigm for embracing the world.  The Kingdom of the Left, for Luther, is about neither love of God nor love of self, but love of neighbor.

[Read more…]