Farewell Martin Luther! We hardly knew ye!

17 10 2012

I’m about as ready to say goodbye to Martin Luther as I am to say goodbye to my cat Rico (who is much loved by yours truly).  But it should be obvious that the great hero of the Reformation, celebrated on the lips of Protestants, has long since been excused from the Evangelical Church in North America.  Like a handyman who is no longer needed, he’s been let go to make way for bigger, more majestic projects (Like Christian Radio).  Neither the man himself nor his theology would be at all welcomed in most American pulpits.  Consider the following:

This is clear:  He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering.  Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.  These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3.18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works.  Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good.  God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said.  Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works is crucified.  It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.

-Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation LW pg 53

Let me briefly share why I’m not ready to let this ship sail.  First, Luther is imminently realistic.  Life is hard, fully of suffering and failure.  Blind appeals to God’s goodness and the victory we have in Christ Jesus only cosmetically address the serious problems of life.  Second, Luther understands that God becomes most precious and is most fully known in suffering and failure.  Only a sinner with an afflicted conscience can truly appreciate grace and thus truly appreciate God’s presence in moral and spiritual failure.  Only one suffering can truly, with Paul, understand the sufficiency of Grace and God’s power present in our own weakness (2 Cor 12.9).  And finally, Luther grasps that God is revealed most fully not the in the mountaintop experiences of conferences or powerful worship on Sunday, but rather in the deep, descending darkness of Golgotha.  Here we behold a crucified man, forsaken and abandoned by his friends and say “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Matt 27.54).  When it appeared God had packed up and left town, he was actually doing the most glorious and grandest thing he would ever accomplish.  Hold on to that thought next time you think God has packed up and left town, leaving you forsaken and helpless.  Finally, Luther understood that appealing to the will to encourage works was inherently dangerous.  The “old Adam,” writes Luther “is especially edified by works.”  And how this is celebrated in most churches!  Encouraging people to take the hill for Jesus while never realizing that the glory of the Gospel is that he ascended the hill (by himself!) for them.  The Gospel deflates the old Adam and destroys him so that the New Adam is edified only by Christ and his Gospel, God hidden in suffering.  It is actually being edified only in Christ that makes any good work acceptable, for it means that good works are no longer selfish (for self-edification) nor mercenary (to get you into heaven) but good works are offered freely from the Christian who really and truly has nothing to gain from the endeavor.  It is an overflow from his heart for the love of Christ.


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10 05 2013
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