October 30, 2011 is Reformation Sunday

This Sunday we Lutherans around the globe [and now that we are in full altar and pulpit communion with our Anglican brothers and sisters] will be celebrating Reformation Day.

Many of us Lutherans trace the beginning of the 16th century Reformation to Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Thesis on the Wittenberg Church door; with the intention of them being debated publicly with other scholars, likely at the University of Wittenberg, where Luther himself was a professor. However, as Luther’s ideas of reforming the church spread like wildfire, especially in Germany, then later into Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, and Eastern Europe; it became clearer that Western Christendom would never be the same again. Historians have spilled plenty of ink over Luther and his place within the church catholic. In my humble opinion, if I were to single out his most significant contribution; it would be his discovery of the hermeneutic of grace. Luther had been tormented by God the Judge who left him in constant fear that he had not done enough to merit God’s acceptance and forgiveness. Then Luther “saw the light” so-to-speak, and read the Bible with a view that everything in it needed to be measured by the doctrine of all doctrines—justification by grace alone, through faith alone. According to Luther, and his reading of the Bible; there is nothing we can do to merit or earn or deserve our salvation; it is an unconditional gift from God. So, on this Reformation weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to share some primary source quotations from Martin Luther himself on justification. Shalom, Dim Lamp

In this epistle, therefore, Paul is concerned to instruct, comfort, and sustain us diligently in a perfect knowledge of this most excellent and Christian righteousness. For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost. And those in the world who do not teach it are either Jews or Turks or papists or sectarians. For between these two kinds of righteousness, the active righteousness of the Law and the passive righteousness of Christ, there is no middle ground. Therefore he who has strayed away from this Christian righteousness will necessarily relapse into the active righteousness; that is, when he has lost Christ, he must fall into a trust in his own works. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works – Volume 26: Lectures On Galatians 1535, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan, p. 9.)

THE SECOND PART, Luther’s Smalcald Articles of 1537

Treats of the Articles which Refer to the Office and Work of Jesus Christ, or Our Redemption.

Part II, Article I: The first and chief article.

1] That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25. 2] And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6. 3] Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f 4] Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ. 5] Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

 Luther’s Works Volume 54: Table Talk (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), p. 456.    Recorded by Caspar Heydenreich, It Is Faith that Justifies, Not Works, Spring 1543.

   “That works don’t merit life, grace and salvation is clear from this, that works are not spiritual  birth but are fruits of this birth. We are not made sons [or daughters], heirs, righteous, saints, Christians by means of works, but we do good works once we have been made, born, created such. So it’s necessary to have life, salvation, and grace before works, just as a tree doesn’t deserve to become a tree on account of its fruit but a tree is by nature fitted to bear fruit. Because we’re born, created generated righteous by the Word of grace, we’re not fashioned, prepared, or put together as such by means of the law or works. Works merit something else than life, grace, or salvation—namely, praise, glory, favour, and certain extraordinary things—just as a tree deserves to be loved, cultivated, praised, and honoured by others on account of its fruit. Urge the birth and substance of the Christian and you will at the same time extinguish the merits of works insofar as grace and salvation from sin, death, and the devil are concerned.

   “Infants who have no works are saved by faith alone, and therefore faith alone justifies. If the power of God can do this in one person it can do it in all, because it’s not the power of the infant but the power of faith. Nor is it the weakness of the infant that does it, otherwise that weakness would in itself be a merit or be equivalent to one. We’d like to defy our Lord God with our works. We’d like to become righteous through them. But he won’t allow it. My conscience tells me that I’m not justified by works, but nobody believes it.

About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

4 Responses to October 30, 2011 is Reformation Sunday

  1. kirby olson says:

    The communists are all about works righteousness again. The Council of Trent tried to demonize Luther for this viewpoint, but it’s important to hold to it. Works aren’t even all that wise in many cases. Supplying poor people with money with which they can buy drugs or alcohol just isn’t wise. Enabling people to live bad lives isn’t wise. Jesus also said that we should judge by the fruits. What are the fruits of the communists? The dead Aral Sea, Chernobyl, the killing fields, the cultural revolution, etc. How wise were any of these? In America, the communists have now seized the public square but only to enact anarchy. What are their fruits? Unsafe communities, with a frothing at the surface about their righteousness. Thank you for illuminating this principle, Dim Lamp.

  2. dimlamp says:

    Point taken Kirby. However, I would hazard to guess that the Occupy movement (if that is what you are referring to here) is not homogeneous. Rather, I think it has folks in it from many walks of life, backgrounds, religions, and political ideologies.

  3. Kirby Olson says:

    Fair enough. I don’t really see a wise outcome for their movement any more than I see it for socialists generally or national socialists in particular. Demonizing a small group as the essence of the problem always strikes me as unfair and untrue. The money and jobs shortage has to do with Obama’s nationalization of healthcare, and the immigration problem, and other intractable problems, along with the two wars we’re fighting overseas, which are tying up a lot of income, as well as the collapse of the housing market due both to the outlawing of redlining and to the repeal of Glass-Steagall which led to banks legally but unwisely getting in over their heads since Fannie and Freddie were guaranteed to back them up. Lots of very unwise legislation stemming from Roosevelt’s period and still problematic in Clinton’s day. I don’t see the bankers or Wall St. as the primary problems. Without a good description of a problem I don’t see how we can find a good prescription. For a great number of people, I fear it’s the same silly description, “It’s them Jews.” It’s actually Obama, Clinton, Roosevelt. To some extend it’s even Bush. At present I don’t see anyone who can quite put it all back together.

  4. dimlamp says:

    Let’s face it, the world’s in a mess! We all need saving, putting back together, wholeness, redemption, a Saviour. For us, Jesus is The One.

    In our sinful state, we blame someone for it all – going back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. The more things change, the more they stay the same in that respect. Ultimately, as Lutheran Christians, we live with the reality of our sinner-saint dialectic. That means we have to put up with a lot of greyness and ambiguity, since the finger we point at others makes us realize, if we take a close look, that there’s three pointing back at us. I do agree with you re history all too often resorting to conspiracy theories and scapegoating of the Jews – there always seems to be someone willing to blame them for everything. That is demonic, and as followers of Jesus (who we believe to be) the greatest Jew in history; we need to side with our Jewish brothers and sisters to oppose such false and evil theories and scapegoating.

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