The Motivation of Luther

 

In our first post on the Reformation, in this broader series on church history, we simply introduced the Reformation with a few general thoughts on how some of the events surrounding this historical occasion have been subjected to tradition.  Here, we’ll discuss Luther’s 95 Theses as well as some correspondence surrounding the event to gain additional insight into his motivation.

When articulating Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses, we often hear his motivation presented as a desire to uphold “justification by faith alone” or sola fide.  However, it should be noted that Luther posted his theses, intended for academic debate only by the way, in 1517, while his doctrine of justification likely evolved and developed from at least that time (possibly a year or two earlier) until its full gestation around 1531 when he formally taught Galatians and penned its commentary.  Despite this, it’s probable that for Luther, “justification by faith alone” became part of his vernacular in 1519, two years after posting his theses, and the year which he taught the Psalms for the second time.  At the very least, it was likely this year that Luther became a Christian, at least as he describes in his own words.

Additionally, as we look to Luther’s own 95 theses, we would find them to largely espouse Roman Catholic doctrine and not, as we may have been led to believe, a protestation against her doctrine, instead upholding it.  Regarding the theses, Phillip Schaff writes, “They sound very strange to a modern ear [1858], and are more Catholic than Protestant.  They are no protest against the Pope and the Roman Church, or any of her doctrines, not even against indulgences, but only against their abuse.  They expressly condemn those who speak against indulgences (Th. 71), and assume that the Pope himself would rather see St. Peter’s Church in ashes that have it built with the flesh and blood of his sheep (Th. 50).  They imply belief in purgatory.  They nowhere mention Tetzel.  They are silent about faith and justification, which already formed the marrow of Luther’s theology and piety.  He wished to be moderate, and had not the most distant idea of a separation from the mother church. “  Citing Luther’s own comments on the republication of these theses in his collected works, Schaff writes, “I allow them to stand, that by them it may appear how weak I was, and in what a fluctuating state of mind, when I began this business.  I was then a monk and a mad papist, and so submersed in the dogmas of the Pope that I would have readily murdered any person who denied obedience to the Pope.” (Vol. 7, pg. 157)

Luther’s first correspondences regarding these 95 Theses was to the Elector, Archbishop Albert of Hohenzollern (Brandenburg; Mayence/Mainz) on October 31, 1517, the same day he posted his theses, where he decries the selling of indulgences without the Electors knowledge and consent.  The excerpt below summarizes the situation well.

“With your Electoral Highness’s consent, the Papal Indulgence for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome is being carried through the land. I do not complain so much of the loud cry of the preacher of Indulgences, which I have not heard, but regret the false meaning, which the simple folk attach to it, the poor souls believing that when they have purchased such letters they have secured their salvation, also, that the moment the money tingles in the box souls are delivered from purgatory, and that all sins will be forgiven through a letter of Indulgence, even that of reviling the blessed Mother of God, were any one blasphemous enough to do so. And, lastly, that through these Indulgences the man is freed from all penalties ! Ah, dear God ! Thus are those souls which have been committed to your care, dear father, being led in the paths of death, and for them you will be required to render an account. For the merits of no bishop can secure the salvation of the souls entrusted to him which is not always assured through the grace of God, the apostle admonishing us ” to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” and, that the way which leads to life is so narrow, that the Lord, through the prophets Amos and Zechariah, likens those who attain to eternal life to brands plucked from the burning, and above all, the Lord points to the difficulty of redemption. There fore, I could be silent no longer.”

As mentioned earlier, this letter affirms the motivation of Luther in calling out those who were preaching the sale of indulgences for salvation from purgatory as being out of step with the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.  He therefore was not protesting against the RCC, but was appealing to her in order to correct these perceived deficiencies. Boiling down Luther’s focus, essentially he was shining a light on greed and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and it was this, the love of money, not a disagreement over the pure doctrine of Scripture or even the inconsistent application of Rome’s corrupt doctrine, that would warrant such a strong response from the Pope.

He concludes his letter above, which accompanied a copy of his 95 Theses, with these words

“What else can I do, right reverend father, than beg your Serene Highness carefully to look into this matter, and do away with this little book of instructions, and command those preachers to adopt another style of preaching, else another may arise and refute them, by writing another book in answer to the previous one, to the confusion of your Serene Highness, the very idea of which alarms me greatly. I hope that your Serene Highness may graciously deign to accept the faithful service which your insignificant servant, with true devotion, would render you. The Lord keep you to all eternity. Amen. Wittenberg, the night before All Saints’ Day 1517.

If agreeable to your Grace, perhaps you would glance at my enclosed theses, that you may see the opinion on the Indulgences is a very varied one, while those who proclaim them fancy they cannot be disputed. Your unworthy son, Martin Luther”

This letter isn’t earth-shattering, but it does go along way in showing that Luther wasn’t initially acting as a revolutionary, nor was he acting in isolation from his superiors, rather he was appealing to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to bring resolution to the errant ways of the indulgence preachers.  Remember that Luther posted these theses for academic debate.  The problem was that not one single professor or academic responded to the challenge.  For Luther, the real reformation, namely an internal one, was yet to come.  However, the match that the Lord would use to ignite the reformation had been nailed to the door.

Soli Deo Gloria.

On Wittenberg’s Door

 

If you’re familiar at all with the history of Protestantism or if you follow any other blogs that are “Reformed” or true to the Doctrines of Grace, then you’re probably aware that this year, 2017, will mark the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.   In fact by this point, you’ve probably heard so much about the Reformation that you could care less if you hear anything else, but bear with me in this post and those related that follow because it may include somethings you weren’t familiar with.

Historically, the beginning date for this movement of reformation is traced to Martin Luther’s nailing of his “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517.  However, limiting this movement to a specific day, let alone year or decade, dare I say century, is far too narrowly focused.  While much has been said in recent months about Luther’s exploits and subsequent Reformers such as Zwingli, Calvin, etc., you’ve probably heard very little from first hand sources about the events and people leading up to the Reformation, let alone what actually happened (Though DesiringGod.org has a good series on this).  Largely at our hearts we are traditionalists and regurgitators of traditions we hear because, well, it’s easier.  Unfortunately we not only take this approach with history, and more specifically church history, but also with our biblical interpretations, which as you may imagine has led to a whole host of problems.

The motivations for addressing this particular blind spot regarding the Reformation are numerous, but chief among them has been my own journey in understanding this history.  For awhile I had loosely thought that after the time of the Apostles and “Church Fathers” (~2nd to 4th Century), the Church slipped into the darkness of medieval Catholicism only to burst forth in the light of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation under the guiding hand of Martin Luther.  I’d assumed that during this period there were true, genuine believers within the “Roman Catholic Church” throughout the centuries, but that largely it was a dark period for the Church.  In short, I would’ve concluded that the Church of Jesus Christ, the one purchased by His shed blood was within the Roman Catholic Church from the 4th to the 16th Centuries.  However, this assumes a monolithic church history, and despite the overwhelming majority of tradition that teaches this, it’s simply not the case.  Largely I’ve been ignorant of the details surrounding the Reformation, the streams of faithful believers outside the Roman Catholic Church,  the faithful men and women who fought for reforms prior to the 16th Century, and the influences and impacts on today’s “Church”.

One example of this, and the lead into this series (Lord willing), is the role that Luther played in the Reformation.  As the story is often presented, Luther defiantly nailed his 95 theses, a summation of all the contradictions of Scripture by the Catholic Church, onto the church door at Wittenberg thereby firing the proverbial shot  heard round the world and launching  the Reformation, a full-scale frontal protest against the Roman Catholic Church, specifically the Pope.

Does this brief summary sound familiar?  This is a rather glamorized and misleading recount of the details, but it is a common overview and until recently is how I would’ve summarized the event that lead to the Reformation.  However, this isn’t entirely accurate and certainly masks Luther’s motivation behind the theses.

Rounding out our general introduction to the Reformation and Luther’s infamous actions, we need to add that the Church at Wittenberg, after the construction of the University of Wittenberg in 1502, was annexed to serve as the University chapel, as well as the academic and worship center.  So when we think of the event of  Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door, it was essentially tacked to the university bulletin board in the hopes of generating academic debate among fellow professors and scholars, not for launching a theological movement against the Roman Catholic Church and certainly not fodder for the common man to rebel against their authorities.  Whoops…

In our next post in this series we’ll look at Luther in his own words to gain insight into his motivations and reaction to the response of Wittenburg.

12 Restraints Against Sin

 

In the book of Job, chapter 31, we find Job in the midst of a discourse in which he acquits himself of at least a dozen sins as he unfolds his closing argument prior to resting his case before the Judge.

While it can be argued that when Elihu arrives he charges Job with self-righteousness, perhaps using the monologue in this chapter as key fodder for those accusations,  we must nevertheless observe how Job was a model of a holy, godly life.  It may be true that he failed to exercise discretion before trumpeting his good deeds to others, there is still much profit to be had in thoroughly digesting this chapter.  Here we’ll use it to examine the reasons behind the motivation for Job’s integrity, or why Job was restrained against the numerous sins from which he exonerated himself.  These restraints against sin may be summarized as follows

  1. Loss of inheritance with God (vs. 2)
  2. Calamity or disaster by the hand of God’s wrath (vs. 3)
  3. Omniscience of God (vs. 4)
  4. Heinousness of Sin (vs. 11)
  5. Loss of estate & soul (vs. 12)
  6. Hierarchy with God over him (vs. 14)
  7. Equally Fashioned in the womb by God (vs. 15)
  8. Terror of Calamity from God (vs. 23a)
  9. The Majesty of God (vs. 23b)
  10. Punishment by the judges (vs. 28a)
  11. Hypocrisy (vs. 28b)
  12. Fear of God – is the general tenor of all that comprises this list and is the outflow of the overall condition of Job’s heart.

The first three restraints from this summary occur as Job acquits himself of the sin of fornication or lust.  In Job 31:1 he acquits himself of gazing lustfully at a woman with the memorable statement “I have made a covenant with my eyes.”  Job supports this covenant by pointing toward three restraints, namely the loss of inheritance with God, punishment in the form of calamity or disaster at the hand of God’s wrath, and the omniscience of God.  Essentially, Job is questioning what a man who indulges in lust can expect to receive from God.  The rhetorical question implies the answer is, nothing good, in fact only judgment.  Lust of the flesh can often be a hidden sin because once the eye captures, the heart fans the flames of desire largely resulting in the internalization of the sin, though it may have obvious outward manifestations.  Still, though it be a hidden sin, it is not hidden from the all-seeing omniscient eye of God as Job readily recognizes.

Similarly, Job next applies a set of restraints to adultery, or what we might say is the physical expression of the lusts that were denied previously.  Too often we fail to realize that allowing lust of the eyes unfettered access into our hearts can, and often does, result in a greater depth of sin, namely adultery.  Here Job acquits himself of this sin by stating two restraining factors that have held him back, the heinousness of sin and the everlasting fires of judgment that destroy a man’s estate and his soul.

The next two restraints from sin that Job mentions are applied to his business relationship with his employees, described for us as manservants and maidservants.  Here he is restrained by understanding the hierarchy of God to master and master to servant.  In essence, Job has described Ephesians 6:9, Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master (Lord) and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”  The second restraint applied to this case is the equality between the classes, master and servant, because God has fashioned both in the womb.  This is certainly a lesson for us that all men and women are created equal because God is the Creator and Maker of all, in His own image we may add.

The next set of restraints are applied to the societal sins from which Job acquits himself found in verses 16-23.  These two are fear of calamity from God and the majesty of God.  James Durham remarks, “He adds [these] reasons to show, that it was neither his natural temper so inclining him, nor applause of men, nor baseness of spirit, that made him forbear such things, but the awe of God, which was the principle of his acting and forbearing.” (pg. 180)

Finally, we arrive at the sin of idolatry, from which Job says he was restrained by the consequence of punishment by judges and the hypocrisy of denying God.  The sin of idolatry was considered a violation of the law and therefore subject to punishment from the civil authorities.  Additionally, Job sees a higher constraint for idolatry, namely that it would mean he had denied God, which in his case would have been hypocrisy of the highest order.

Parsing through these, we find a godly fear operating within Job as the undercurrent that motivates him to refrain from committing open sins.  This is corroborated by the opening commendation of Job in chapters 1 & 2, There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.  While Job mentions at least these eleven restraints it is clear that the chief restraint is the fear of the Lord.  This calls to mind the very words of Job in chapter 28 describing the height of wisdom from God, “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

In addition to the restraints that Job mentions in this chapter, applied toward particular sins, he also calls down a series of curses upon himself applied in the case of other sins.  Job weaves between restraints and consequences both acting to guard him from delving into a life or pattern of various sins.  Oh that our hearts would be so quick to shun evil as was Job’s.  Oh that we would open our eyes to see the fear of the Lord clearly before us that we might be restrained from sin.

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"