Lessons from Luther– by CKB

Lessons from Luther– by CKB March 3, 2024

What’s the reason for this subject?  We are still living in the 15th century, and it has not everywhere been observed.  And we are celebrating a church anniversary and we are a church of the Reformation.  I am not so much telling the story as drawing out lessons, but some of the story must be told.

Luther was born in 1483, son of a miner.  Luther’s home was a good but cold one.  There was pride in the brilliant and lively young student Martin.

In 1505 he gave his schooling for a Augustinian convent. Was this because of a death of a friend? Perhaps possibly, but Luther himself said to get rid of my sins, to find peace, to find a gracious God and relevance.  Being devoted to God, nothing could be more relevant.  To this end he did his best to make ‘religion’ work.  It did not.   He was told if you are penitent God will pardon, but how can I be penitent enough?  Am I sure I have confessed everything? Most were satisfied, but Staupitz knew a better way.  His advice: Theoretical– cling to the wounds of Jesus; Practical–take up a lectureship at Wittenburg.

These lectures have been discovered: 1) lectures on the Psalms 1513-15;  2) lectures on Romans 15-16; 3) lectures on Galatians 1516-17.  I pick out two points— Ps. 22.1— all the desolation and terror Luther had experienced, Christ himself had experienced too, and ‘for me’ said Luther, enduring the wrath of God.  But in truth it is his love God sent forth his Son.   Rom. 1.17– How can God’s righteousness be Gospel?  Justitia Dei ad causa salutis.  God’s gift is justifying, saving righteousness.  Here I break off the story, urging you to read Bainton’s biography Here I Stand.

I turn now to the lessons.

  1. What is the Church? A child of God knows. But the complicated definitions and endless fruitless attempts at getting definitions of ministry, sacraments etc.   Note a)– the need for simplicity. If God wants everyone we cannot rely on the basis of ability to understand endless polity; b) the need for individual response— hearing the Shepherd’s voice and answering the call.  The gathered church? (Luther here has a problem with the hangover from the Middle Ages). c) The hearing implied obedience, living according to the mind of Christ; the holy believers.  There is more to say but notice how Methodists (which is the English version of Lutheranism) at its best emphasizes all these things.   Do we in this society?
  2. The importance of the Word of God– Luther stressed this while answering questions and sitting drinking beer. Take the story at the most famous scene of all at the Imperial Diet at Worms “if there were as many devils…. Here I Stand!’   Luther is kidnapped and finds himself at Wartburg castle, and begins to translate– September 1522.  Sometime in this period is when he discovers faith ‘the cribe in which Christ is laid’.  It is preaching which creates the church, preaching that properly expounds Scripture.  This is not bibliolatry. What is apostolic?  Judgment by theme.   But again I ask about Methodism. John Wesley emphasized he was ‘homo unius libri’. What about us today?
  3. The importance of sound doctrine. Where some of you cease to be interested. But take two of the things Luther insisted on; a) justification. It starts by taking God and his holiness seriously. A picture of a law court, code for a standard witness to prove. But the verdict is not guilty (Luther’s dream).  The judge is now our friend.  A creative act, not fiction, but Christ the friend of sinners.  This is primarily because it is where God must begin. Anticipation of the last judgment, leading to the universal priesthood.  The whole body shares Christ’s priesthood, and so all are priests and kings.  Not appointed ministers, as priesthood is not a category of clergy.
  4. How does Methodism today stand in relation to these things?  We follow Wesley’s stress on justification and practice universal priesthood better than most. Today there is much to make us wonder- do we hope to achieve salvation by our works?  By sacerdotal clericalism?  Why do we allow people to preach but not to serve communion?  What is the source of assurance? Nothing but the free grace of God. There is nothing else but this is for all.

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