What is Luther’s Legacy?

This entire month we have been celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Tomorrow will be 500 years to the day when Martin Luther sparked the Reformation by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Many of us know him for that epic act. Yet, what is the lasting legacy of Luther’s life and ministry five centuries later? Dr. Stephen Nichols see at least five main points of Luther’s legacy:

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  1. The solas. When we remember Luther, we cannot forget these foundational tenets of his theology. There is sola Scriptura, the doctrine that Scripture alone has final authority, and that Scripture guides and governs us. Then there’s sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus, in which we learn that salvation indeed is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Finally, Luther teaches of soli Deo gloria, that all is for the glory of God alone.
  2. Reform of church practice. Although we talk about his reforming of theology, we also must acknowledge Luther’s reformation of church “methodology.” Imagine showing up at church and feeling the desire welling up within you to sing praises to God. But you can’t—you have no hymns in your language, and there is no congregational singing in the service. Before Luther, this was the norm. So, when you stand up and sing a hymn and you join your voice with the other voices of the congregation in lifting praise to God, you can thank Martin Luther for restoring congregational singing and hymns to the life of the church.
  3. Preaching. Before Luther, the church service consisted mostly of the Mass, that is, the Lord’s Supper. There was an occasional homily during Advent or Lent, but preaching of the Word was not of central importance. Luther introduced the weekly sermon, where the pastor studies the Word of God and then brings that teaching to the people of God so they can be nourished and can grow as Christians. Sounds familiar, right? But what is widely accepted as obvious now was not 500 years ago.
  4. Family. Before the Reformation, there was not a high view of the family within the church, and Luther helped to redeem marriage and the family and helped to bring marriage and the family to a prominent place. Through his own family, his relationship with his wife, Katie, and to his children, he modeled what a Christian family looks like.
  5. Vocation. Luther had what we would call a “high theology” of vocation. He believed that whether you have some high church office or you have the lowest menial job, every kind of work can be viewed as a calling. Before Luther, it was only the monks, the nuns, and the priests who had a calling; everyone else simply worked in apparently “unholy” jobs. Luther helped us realize that all that we do can be for the glory of God as we serve Him through our vocations.

Those are the five points of Luther’s legacy that Nichols outlines. However, he says that there is really one, true, fundamental, and underlying point to Luther’s legacy, and that concerns the Word of God. He says, “There is a statue in Eisenach of Luther holding a Bible and pointing to it. I think Luther would prefer that the statue be of the Bible holding Luther, pointing us beyond him to pay attention to the Word of God. That is Luther’s legacy, because it is the Word of God that abides forever.”

Luther and the Bible

From 5 Minutes in Church History by Dr. Stephen Nichols

When it comes to the Reformation, one of the most important topics to discuss is Martin Luther on Scripture. There are a number of things that we could say about this topic, but let’s look at just a few.

The first is the authority of Scripture. We see this in Luther at the Leipzig Debate in 1519. One of the monuments to Luther, in Eisleben, has an etching on the side of a very angry-looking Roman Catholic official. That angry-looking official is Johann Eck. On the other side of Eck is Luther, and Eck is holding in his hand some bound-up documents, while Luther is holding a book—the Bible—and that tells it all. Eck at Leipzig appealed to the teachings of the councils, the teachings of the church, and those rolled-up documents represent that. He came at Luther and the Wittenberg Reformers from the context of the church and the church’s authority. And Luther said to Eck, “I have an authority that is older than yours,” and, of course, this astounded Eck and he said, “Name them.” Luther said, “Paul and Peter and John.”

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Luther appealed directly to the authority of Scripture at Leipzig and, of course, he did the same thing at Worms. So, at Worms he said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” When he said, “Here I stand,” he was standing on Scripture and standing firm on the foundation of Scripture. And because Scripture is authoritative, we should read it and we should study it.

Among the many things Luther said about the Bible, he offered a lot of counsel about how to read it and study it. One text in particular that helps us is a preface to a collection of his writings in German. He gives three steps for reading and studying the Bible. The first step is oratio, or “prayer.” The Psalms are especially helpful here. Luther was very familiar with the Psalms. As a monk, he would have been in the Psalms seven times a day. They took Psalm 119:164 very literally: “Seven times in the day I will praise Thee,” that text says. So Luther and his fellow monks would take seven periods out of their day to spend in the Psalms.

Luther loved the Psalms. Some contend that Luther had the Psalter memorized. This was a book he lived in, and it was a book that taught him not only that he should learn Scripture but that he should pray Scripture. So, the Psalms can be very helpful for us as we think about Scripture and as we seek to approach it prayerfully.

The second step is meditatio. Luther says the temptation is to push on, to rush on, to just simply read the text. Luther cautions us, he counsels us, he encourages us to simply pause, to meditate on God’s Word. Again, the Psalms are helpful here because the psalmists often call on us to meditate on God’s Word.

The third step in studying the Bible is tentatio, or “struggle.” Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, we wrestle and struggle with Scripture. The struggle, Luther says, comes from our unbelief, our doubt, our stubbornness; ultimately, it comes from our sin, and the Word of God confronts it all.

That’s Luther on Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and how to read and study and learn and labor in and even love this Word that God has given us.

Priests Before God

Dr. Clark Armstrong

Martin Luther felt strongly about the priesthood of all believers as it related to the Christian home. He believed that the parents – and particularly the father of each home – was the “priest” of that home.

Luther is the one who started the idea of the father or the parents leading their children in a time of family devotions or family worship every day. He wrote a book giving guidance for the parents as they would lead their children in the home. In the book, he gave some “Table Graces” to teach the children to give thanks by offering a prayer before they would eat any common meal (Luke 24:30). One of the most famous prayers was “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.”

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I grew up in a family of six children (three boys and three girls). Our mother faithfully taught us to pray the “table graces” when we were very young. The boys would all say that prayer (above) when it was our turn and the girls prayed another one that went, “Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you God for everything. Amen.” It is not so important that the prayer would rhyme although that helps the young ones to remember it. The important thing is to always stop and pray before we would eat. As soon as we were old enough, we were each encouraged to pray our own prayers from our heart when it was our turn.

Finally, Luther taught that as believers, we all are priests before God through our great high priest Jesus Christ. We can share our prayer requests with each other and pray for one another in the body of Christ. Today we have many small groups, Sunday school classes, discipleship groups, men’s or women’s ministry gatherings, or worship settings where we regularly lift one another up directly to the Lord in prayer as priests for one another. We pray prayers for healings, for the lost, for seekers, for saints, and intercession for all the problems in our world. We repeatedly have wonderful testimonies of miracles and transformation through our priestly ministry by all believers. Praise God for this truth!!!

ClarkA2.jpg*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

The Priesthood of All Believers

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

Many people do not realize that the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” was also one of the main tenets of the Reformation from its very start. And many pastors or teachers have overlooked or downplayed that truth.

At its beginning, however, the Reformation’s main points were sola scriptura (scripture alone as our source of authority), sola fide (salvation by faith alone and not by works), and the priesthood of all believers. The other “solas” were added as the Reformation proceeded. All of these were in reaction to prevalent practices and teachings of the Catholic Church at that time. The great principle known as “the priesthood of all believers” was a reaction to the fact that the Catholic Church taught that prayers, confessions and ministry could only be done through or by the priests of the church.

The reformers believed literally that all believers are a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). The book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ is our one true high priest and that we can go straight to him with our prayers (4:14-16). The word priest means “bridge or mediator.” In 1 Timothy 2:5, it says that “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Luther taught that a sinner could confess personal sins directly to God through Christ and find forgiveness (Heb. 2:17-18, 1 John 1:9). That was a very radical thought at the time.

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The reformers taught that, as believers, we all have direct access to God through Jesus and there is no necessity for an earthly mediator. The prayers of the priests could be helpful, but Luther viewed the practice at his time as a perversion and misapplication of the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood which was clearly fulfilled in Christ and done away with by the New Testament. The practices that he opposed in his 95 theses were seen as blatant malpractice by the priests of the church.

Every time a sinner repents directly to the Lord; every time we offer prayers to God freely; every time we call on the name of the Lord personally, we should give praise to God for this wonderful doctrine of the Reformation!

*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

 

A Mighty Fortress

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

One of the great byproducts of the Reformation was that the people started singing. The chants of the monastic era, which had been almost entirely in Latin, were the only music of the church. But suddenly the common people came alive like the early church singing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) in their own languages. It greatly changed the worship of the Protestants and the people have never stopped singing!

Martin Luther wrote many hymns for the church to sing. But we would do well to think about the words of his most famous hymn. It is called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” taken from Psalm 46. It has motivated soldiers going into battles. It has empowered many Christians who felt themselves to be experiencing great spiritual warfare as well. It always seemed to encourage the believers in the church that I came into as a Christian.

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You cannot leave any verse out of this hymn because it is a classic account of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, even God and the devil. It builds up with dramatic overtones until its grand conclusion. One of my favorite lines is a simple one. Speaking of that dastardly devil, it says “One little word will fell him.” One day in church as we were singing it, I realized what that little word was. See if you can figure it out.

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 pow’r 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 pow’rs, 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.

ClarkA1.jpg*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

 

 

Reformation Quiz

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

This month is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  We have enjoyed several reflections in the past two weeks, but now let’s take a simple five question quiz about the Reformation to see what has been learned so far?
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Click here to take the quiz online: Reformation Quiz

#1 – The start of the Protestant Reformation occurred when?

  1. The Gutenberg Bible was produced off the first printing press.
  2. Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle Door at Wittenberg.
  3. John Hus was burned at the stake in Bohemia.
  4. John Calvin wrote “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

#2 – The Reformation began on October 31 of what year?

  1. 1415
  2. 1452
  3. 1517
  4. 1536

#3 – The Protestant Reformation began as an attempt to reform what?

  1. The Roman Catholic Church
  2. The European Monarchies
  3. Certain Universities and Educational Institutions
  4. The Middle Earth Peoples.

#4 – True or False.

The Reformers opposed what they perceived as false doctrines and ecclesiastical malpractice — especially the teaching and the sale of indulgences (or the abuses thereof) and doctrinal policies about purgatory, particular judgment, Mariology (devotion to Mary, Jesus’s Mother), the intercession of and devotion to the saints, wrong beliefs about most of the sacraments, the mandatory clerical celibacy, including monasticism, the unbridled authority of the Pope and the practice of simony: the selling and buying of clerical offices.

#5 – Which of the following was a prominent point of the reformers?

  1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone as our source of authority.)
  2. Sola Fide (Salvation is by faith alone and not by works.)
  3. The Priesthood of All Believers
  4. All of the above.

Bonus Question:

The Reformation continued until the Treaty of Westphalia brought the European religious wars to an official end in what year?

  1. 1492
  2. 1525
  3. 1597
  4. 1648

You probably correctly answered the majority of the first five questions. So what about the Bonus Question? It was 1648. That event signaled the end of the Reformation through the peaceful ending of what was called the Thirty Years war between the Habsburgs and their Catholic allies and the Protestants with their French allies.

The Catholic Church was not reformed, per se, by that date, but the Protestant churches were fully established by then.  After Luther, many other reformers came who extended the reformation attempt. But by 1648, it was clear that all attempts to reform the Catholic Church had not been successful and the severance of the protesters from the church was complete. They had established Protestant Churches that were independent from the Mother Church and were thriving in most parts of Europe except Italy.

Click here if you want to download the quiz (in PowerPoint format): Reformation Quiz PPT

*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

 

Ulrich Zwingli

*Excerpt from the book: 131 Christians Everyone Should Know

Militant Swiss reformer

“For God’s sake, do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God. For truly it will persist as surely as the Rhine follows its course. One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”

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Ulrich Zwingli, the city chaplain, stood before the Zurich City Council in January 1523. The winds of reform had made their way over the Alps from Luther’s Germany, and Zwingli was arguing 67 theses, beginning with “All who say that the gospel is invalid without the confirmation of the church err and slander God.” Though 28 shy of Luther’s 95 Theses, published some six years earlier, Zwingli’s arguments were more persuasive: authorities gave him permission to continue his preaching, which emphasized Christ first and the church second (“Christ is the only mediator between God and ourselves,” said another of Zwingli’s theses). The Reformation in Switzerland was now well on its way, and Zwingli would play the key role in the early years.

Línea de Tiempo.pngAnxious for his charge

Zwingli was born to a successful farmer in the Toggaburg Valley of the eastern lower Alps. Here Zwingli developed a deep love for his homeland. Later he translated one line of Psalm 23, “In the beautiful Alps, he tends me,” and he used the Rhine River as an illustration of a key theme of his preaching: “For God’s sake, do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God. For truly it will persist as surely as the Rhine follows its course. One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”

But it took Zwingli years to discover the power of this Word. After graduating from the University of Basel in 1506, he became a parish priest in Glarus. From the beginning, he took his priestly duties seriously. He later wrote, “Though I was young, ecclesiastical duties inspired in me more fear than joy, because I knew, and remain convinced that I would give an account of the blood of the sheep which would perish as a consequence of my carelessness.”

The feeling of responsibility for his charge (rather than, like Luther, a personal search for salvation) motivated Zwingli’s increasing interest in the Bible. In an age when priests were often unfamiliar with the Scriptures, Zwingli became enamored with it, first after purchasing a copy of Erasmus’s New Testament Latin translation. He began teaching himself Greek, bought a copy of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, and started memorizing long passages. In 1519 he began preaching from the New Testament regularly.

Privately Zwingli also started challenging the customs of medieval Christendom he thought unbiblical. He had struggled with clerical celibacy for some time (and even admitted that as a young priest, he’d had an affair). In 1522 he secretly married. That same year, he broke the traditional Lenten fast (by eating sausages in public) and wrote against fasting.

By 1523 he was ready to take his ideas to a larger audience, and in January he did just that before the Zurich City Council at what is now called the First Disputation. The Second Disputation came in October, and with further approval from the council, more reforms were carried out: images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints were removed from the churches; the Bible was to have preeminence.

Arguments over Supper

Things moved rapidly after that. In 1524 he wedded his wife publicly, insisting that pastors had the right to marry. In 1525 he and others convinced the city to abolish the Mass, with its emphasis on the miracle of transubstantiation, and replace it with a simple service that included the Lord’s Supper but only as a symbolic memorial.

As it turned out, it was the Lord’s Supper that prevented the uniting of the German and Swiss reform movements. At a 1529 meeting at Marburg, called to unite the two movements, Luther and Zwingli met. Though they agreed on 14 points of doctrine, they stumbled on the fifteenth: the Lord’s Supper. Against Zwingli’s view, Luther insisted on Christ’s literal presence. Zwingli balked. Luther said Zwingli was of the devil and that he was nothing but a wormy nut. Zwingli resented Luther’s treating him “like an ass.” It was evident no reconciliation was possible.

Zwingli died two years later in battle, defending Zurich against Catholic forces, and plans for spreading the Reformation into German Switzerland were ended. Still Zurich remained Protestant, and under the leadership of Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor, this unique branch of the Reformation continued to blossom.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today