Archive for the ‘Lutheran Theologians’ Category

As many of you know I continue my studies for a Masters in Theology.  I post these mainly for accountability so that the good people of Trinity Church can know that I’m not wasting my continuing ed. budget on a vacation in the Bahamas.  The essay below is about how Martin Luther conceives of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus, will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the ground rules for sacramental theology. (more…)

Luther is commenting here on the fear of Abram in Gen 15.1.  Notice Luther’s description of God withdrawing himself and what it is meant to accomplish.  First, when God withdraws himself it is because of His grace, not in spite of.  After all, grace is “truly immovalbe and unchangeable.”  But rather, God will from time to time withdraw himself to humble his people and protect them from grievous sins and at the proper time restore their spirits with a word of comfort.  The pastoral applications of this are immense. Here are some questions to help you tease this out for yourself.  What role does spiritual depression play in formation?  When I feel God’s absence, could there be a good and loving reason behind his absence?  How does being humbled by God help us to rely on his promises and love Him more? 

It is no small comfort, however, to know that grace has not been taken away but is truly immovable and unchangeable, although the awareness and experience of grace is taken away for a time, and dread and fear rush in, discouraging and troubling the spirit.  The man becomes impatient, concludes that he cannot bear the wrath of God, and simply makes a devil out of God. 

Christ experienced this trial in the garden (Matt 26.41), where nature was wrestling with the spirit, and the spirit indeed was willing but the flesh was weak, terrified, fearful, and troubled.  No one is truly sorrowful unless God forsakes him, just as, conversely, no one can be sorrowful when God is present.  Therefore sorrow is an indication that God has departed from us and has forsaken us for a time…

When on the other hand, as is written in the Book of Wisdom (3.7), God shines into our hearts with rays of mercy, then it is impossible for our hearts not to be glad, even though we, like Stephen, are being dragged to torture and death.

Therefore it is profitable to consider these examples, namely, that the saints who are bold in the Holy Spirit are bolder than Satan himself.  On the other hand, when they are in the clutches of trial, they tremble so much that they are afraid even of a rustling leaf.  We are reminded of our weakness in order that no matter how great the gifts are that we possess, we may not exalt ourselves but may remain humble and fear God.  From those who do not do this He turns His face away, and trouble and perplexity follow. 

I want to preface these remarks to this chapter, in which we learn about what Ps. 4.3 says: “know that God has dealt marvelously with the godly,” that is, that He keeps those who are His occupied in various ways, lest they become heretics, be presumptuous with regard to their gifts, and be puffed up over against those who do not have these gifts.  For those who do this are very close to destruction.

Therefore those who are chosen as teachers of the churches to rule over others should offer special prayers that they be preserved from this affliction as from the greatest and most dangerous evil.

Other sins- such as wrathfulness, impatience, and drunkenness- naturally bring shame because of their foulness.  Those who indulge in them know that they have sinned.  Consequently, they blush.  But vainglory and trust in one’s own wisdom or righteousness is a sin of such a kind that it is not recognized as sin.  Instead, men thank God for it, as the Pharisee does in the Gospel (Luke 18.9-14); they rejoice in it as in an extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore it is an utterly incurable devilish evil. 

From this God preserves saintly Abraham by subjecting the glorious conqueror to such an affliction that it is necessary to comfort him with a divine word…

Luther, Comentary on Genesis vol. II (LW vol. 3 pg 8-9)

The emphasis lies on the words “with faithful Abraham.” Paul distinguishes between Abraham and Abraham… There is a working and there is a believing Abraham. With the working Abraham we have nothing to do. We glory in the believing Abraham of whom the Scriptures say that he received the blessing of righteousness by faith, not only for himself but for all who believe as he did. The world was promised to Abraham because he believed. The whole world is blessed if it believes as Abraham believed.

The blessing is the promise of the Gospel. That all nations are to be blessed means that all nations are to hear the Gospel. All nations are to be declared righteous before God through faith in Christ Jesus. To bless simply means to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ’s salvation. This is the office of the New Testament Church which distributes the promised blessing by preaching the Gospel, by administering the sacraments, by comforting the broken- hearted, in short, by dispensing the benefits of Christ.

…The Pope exhibits a working Christ, or an exemplary Christ. The Pope quotes Christ’s saying recorded in John 13:15, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” We do not deny that Christians ought to imitate the example of Christ; but mere imitation will not satisfy God. And bear in mind that Paul is not now discussing the example of Christ, but the salvation of Christ.

That Abraham submitted to circumcision at the command of God, that he was endowed with excellent virtues, that he obeyed God in all things, was certainly admirable of him. To follow the example of Christ, to love one’s neighbor, to do good to them that persecute you, to pray for one’s enemies, patiently to bear the ingratitude of those who return evil for good, is certainly praiseworthy. But praiseworthy or not, such virtues do not acquit us before God. It takes more than that to make us righteous before God. We need Christ Himself, not His example, to save us. We need a redeeming, not an exemplary Christ, to save us. Paul is here speaking of the redeeming Christ and the believing Abraham, not of the model Christ or the sweating Abraham.

The believing Abraham is not to lie buried in the grave. He is to be dusted off and brought out before the world. He is to be praised to the sky for his faith. Heaven and earth ought to know about him and about his faith in Christ. The working Abraham ought to look pretty small next to the believing Abraham.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 3.9

A sermon from Luther’s Church Postil for Christmas Day from (Luke 2.1-14).  Notice how Luther distinguishes those who lived in plenty and comfort from Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the night of the savior’s birth.  This distinction is hammered home by his convicting series of questions at the end of the second paragraph.  “What has Bethlehem when it did not have Christ?  What have they now who at that time had enough?  What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?”  Indeed.  If you don’t have Christ, you have nothing. 

The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. 0 what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes. What had Bethlehem when it did not have Christ? What have they now who at that time had enough? What do Joseph and Marylack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?

Martin Luther, Church Postil  1.1.138

You will find below my reading list for 2009.  You might call it my bibliography for the year.  I have tried to start the list out with things that people would find the most interesting, which for the readers of this blog I think would be the “average joe” section and “church leadership”.  However, for the resident theology nerds you will find a reading list for Biblical theology and exegetical works, as well as theological readings (primary and secondary) from the Patristic period all the way to the modern.  If I felt that a comment might be helpful, or if I wanted to strongly recommend a book I left my remarks next to the bibliograhical information in bold.  If you have any questions about the books themselves I would be happy to answer them.  Enjoy!  To see the list simply click through… (more…)

Another excerpt from Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Though written over 500 years ago, it is still recognized as one of the finest commentaries on Galatians and theological works of all time. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve read through it.

What liberty does Paul mean? Not civil liberty (for which we have the government to thank), but the liberty which Christ has procured for us.

At one time the emperor was compelled to grant to the bishop of Rome certain immunities and privileges. This is civil liberty. That liberty exempts the clergy from certain public charges. Then there is also another kind of “liberty,” when people obey neither the laws of God nor the laws of men, but do as they please. This carnal liberty the people want in our day. We are not now speaking of this liberty. Neither are we speaking of civil liberty.

Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty “wherewith Christ hath made us free,” not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian captivity, not from the tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of God.

Where is this liberty?

In the conscience.

Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come.

As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated.

Our conscience must he trained to fall back on the freedom purchased for us by Christ. Though the fears of the Law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death assail us occasionally, we know that these feelings shall not endure, because the prophet quotes God as saying: “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.” (Isa. 54:8.)

We shall appreciate this liberty all the more when we bear in mind that it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who purchased it with His own blood. Hence, Christ’s liberty is given us not by the Law, or for our own righteousness, but freely for Christ’s sake. In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus declares: “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” He only stands between us and the evils which trouble and afflict us and which He has overcome for us. (more…)

We sang this hymn as the final song of worship to our communion service at the Diocesan Convention this past weekend. After singing it together, Iain leaned over to me and said “That’s the perfect hymn.” I agree. I sang it at both of my ordinations (deacon, priest), at my institution as Rector of Trinity Church, and at my son’s Baptism. I also remember singing it at Andrew Pearson’s ordination to the deaconate just before I preached. After sining that I hymn I thought to my self, “why even preach? We have already said everything that we need to? Two weeks ago I sang it at a wedding. Just this past weekend, under immense spiritual pressure we sang it together at Diocesan Convention. It is indeed the perfect hymn.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.