Category Archives: Lutheranism/Luther

Reformation Day: The Authority of God’s Word

Love, therefore, demands that you have compassion on the weak, as all the apostles had. Once, when Paul came to Athens, a mighty city, he found in the temple many altars, Acts and he went from one to the other and looked at them all, but did not touch any one of them even with his foot. But he stood in the midst of the market-place and said they were all idolatrous works, and begged the people to forsake them; yet he did not destroy one of them by force. When the word took hold of their hearts, they forsook their idols of their own accord, and in consequence idolatry fell of itself. Now, if I had seen that they held mass, I would have preached and admonished them concerning it. Had they heeded my admonition, they would have been won; if not, I would nevertheless not have torn them from it by the hair or employed any force, but simply allowed the Word to act, while I prayed for them. For the Word created heaven and earth and all things; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners.

In conclusion: I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I Luther’s will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I have opposed the indulgences and all the papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and with Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy, that never a prince or emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing; the Word did it all. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany. Yea, I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? A fool’s play. I did nothing; I left it to the Word. What do you suppose is Satan’s thought, when an effort is made to do things by violence? He sits back in hell and thinks: How fine a game these fools will make for me! But it brings him distress when we only spread the Word, and let it alone do the work. For it is almighty and takes captive the hearts, and if the hearts are captured the evil work will fall of itself.1

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  1. Henry Eyster Jacobs, Works of Martin Luther (Volume 2); With Introductions and Notes(Philedelphia: A.J. Holman Company and the Castle Press, 1915), 399-400. 
  2. {Thanks to Mark}

Catholics and Romans 13

In a recent conversation with a Lutheran pastor here in Milton, Florida we discussed the nature of the Roman Catholic revelations of abuse in the church,which has been going on for decades. In my mind, the issue boils down to celibacy. It is simplistic, but sociologically it makes sense. My Lutheran brother argued that the problem with Rome is that they do not understand the role of the civil sphere (Rom. 13). If a priest abuses a child, you do not take the matter and make it a hierarchical secret; rather, you take it to the cops. Somehow, I think celibacy and this failure to understand the role of government in issues outside of the church’s calling summarize the matter quite well.

The Betrayal of the Reformed Tradition by Andrew Sandlin

Note: My friend Daniel Ritchie quoted an extensive portion of an article written by Andrew Sandlin in 2001. The excerpt comes from an article Sandlin wrote for the National Reform Association. It is a strong repudiation of the dangerous ideas espoused by Michael Horton and others in an attempt to revise history and Lutheranize Calvinism.  Sandlin shatters Horton’s two-kingdoms theory and restores the Reformed view that God’s revelation applies to all areas of life.

In repudiating large portions of the Reformed tradition, and advocating a return to the Augustinian idea of “two kingdoms,” Horton is disposing of the entire notion of Christian civilization. He is undoubtedly aware that such a notion, though a prominent feature of the Reformed tradition, is a hard sell in an increasingly pluralistic world. It was, of course, no less a hard sell in the pre-Constantinian world. The unifying principle of that world was the Roman Empire. The unifying principle today is equally the state. This is a frequent combination in history: religious pluralism and statist monism–the state, not religion, is the unifying force in all of life. Or, rather, the state as religion is the unifying force in all of life.

To imply that the state is the sphere of reason while the church is the sphere of grace is to pose a duality of authoritative sources that the Bible and much of the Reformed tradition will never permit. These Lutheranizing Calvinists are, I repeat, abandoning hope in Christian civilization. This swerves not only from Byzantine and medieval Christianity, but also Reformed Christianity, and counters with the Lutheran paradigm. What we are witnessing in Horton’s essay, as well as in other recent Reformed writings, is the Lutheranization of the Reformed church.

Unlike the Reformed tradition, the Lutheran alternative has consistently maintained the “two-kingdoms” theory. The church is the realm of grace, and the state and the wider society is the realm of nature (“natural law”). This theory is ripe for murderous but shrewd tyrants like Adolph Hitler, who take advantage of the church’s withdrawal into the four walls of the institutional church and its willingness to be seduced by a state that can convince the church of the validity of a “natural” regime.

By contrast, few sectors of the church have stood as vigorously and courageously against political tyranny as the Reformed church, because the latter has refused to limit Christ’s authority to the church but has recognized that the magistrate too is bound to submit to the law of God in the Bible. Post-Reformational Calvinists strike fear into the hearts of political tyrants because these Calvinists refuse to limit biblical authority to the church.Two-kingdom advocates, on the other hand, are ripe pickings for these tyrants.

For the Reformed church to embrace the Lutheran “two-kingdom” theory is to surrender a critical distinctive of its faith and to compromise Jesus Christ’s authority in all dimensions of life. To argue that society, including the state, is permissibly non-Christian is necessarily to argue that it is permissibly anti-Christian. The issue is not whether each member of society must be a Christian, and certainly not whether the state should force anyone to become a Christian, ideas and practices which Calvinists abhor. Rather, the issue is whether we will continue to advocate and work for Christian civilization–biblical Christianity as the unifying principle of all of life–individual, family, church, science, arts, media, education, technology, and even the state. The founder of Westminster Seminary, J. Gresham Machen, loyally carried forward this Reformed tradition when he declared: “The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought.”

This is surely not what Horton wants, but to argue for anything less is to deny the sovereignty of God and betray the Reformed tradition.