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.

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

Luther and Nazarenes

Today (October 13, 2017) we celebrate the 109th Anniversary of the founding of the Church of the Nazarene.  Happy Birthday, Nazarenes!

Throughout this month we are also celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, so we thought, “Why not combine the two celebrations today in one post?”

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Rev. Klaus Arnold is a German Nazarene and Rector of European Nazarene College on the German/Swiss border.  He is also a friend and he and his wife were commissioned as Global missionaries in our denomination together with Emily and me in February 2007.  Arnold recently wrote an article in Holiness Today entitled “Growing up in Luther’s Shadow” in which he concluded by comparing Luther’s theology with Nazarenes’:

In Germany all Christians, including Nazarenes, have grown up in the large shadow of Martin Luther. Of course, there are key differences. Like Luther, we Nazarenes believe that baptism is a sacrament: a time when God’s grace is present in a special way. However, Luther was known to assert that baptism was the means by which God cleanses us from original sin, and this is not a teaching consistent with doctrinal statements of the Church of the Nazarene.

Another difference is in the doctrines of justification and sanctification. We believe (like Luther) that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of what God has done through the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, for Luther the change of relationship between a believer and God is only relative, but there is no real change in the believer.

He believed that a Christian is always “sinner and justified” as long as he/she lives. The Church of the Nazarene believes that while there is a relative change in justification, there is also a real change taking place: we become a new creation.

Sin does not need to reign over us, and we do not have to sin deliberately or consistently. With the infilling of God’s love through the Holy Spirit, our sinful nature is cleansed in entire sanctification.

God’s mission is the renewal of his creation. And part of that is transformation of believers into the image of God (Christlikeness). As we are filled with God’s love, we want to share that with the rest of creation and truly make a difference in our world and participate in God’s mission wherever we are! We affirm, with Luther, that our new life begins and continues by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

The Protestant Reformation 500 Years Later

“Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out…At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.  They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses” (Numbers 9:21, 23).

October 2017 is a special month. It marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The end of this month, October 31, will be five hundred years to the day since Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the act that started it all, that started the grand and vast movement of Protestantism, that started the Reformation.

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In the evangelical church – and in the Church of the Nazarene specifically – we have obviously been greatly impacted by the Reformation.  If you have ever asked, “Why do we do this or that in the Church?”, many times the answer comes in large part due to the Protestant Reformation.

During the entirety of this month, we will be focusing on this anniversary. At times we will dive into the lives of the Reformers.  Other times we will focus on the core tenets of the Reformation (keep an eye out for the “5 Solas”). The primary purpose will be to help us learn about and reflect upon this enormously important event and how it has brought us to this moment in history as a Christian Church.

At the same time, a secondary purpose is also at work.  By dedicating a month to this topic, I hope that we will recognize that we are a Church that is always willing to evaluate itself and make adjustments as needed.  We have not always been good at that through history, have we? The Church has often been the last entity in society that is willing to change.

Thus, through this month I pray that we would renew our calling to reform, beginning with ourselves.  Just as the post-Exodus Israelites needed to be ready in any moment to follow the cloud, may we be so attuned to God’s presence that we willingly move and adapt at his prompting.  Lord, begin a reformation in me, and in us!

The Reformation(s) of the Church

*During the month of October we will be focusing on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

By Charles W. Christian

Looking back on the Protestant Reformation reminds us of God’s continual desire to be in right relationship with His Church. 

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Reformation before Luther

Though the catalyst to the series of events known today as the Protestant Reformation was sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses to the church doors at Wittenburg, the Church had long before been engaged in the process of reformation. In fact, one could argue that ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God has been reforming. The Church continues its process of reformation today.

The coming of Jesus and the new Kingdom He embodied was a clarification of the reform that God had been attempting throughout the Old Testament. Even after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples felt the need for ongoing reform. The experience of Pentecost in Acts 2 assisted the Church in carrying out the admonition of Jesus (Matthew 28) to “go into all the world,” because the Kingdom of God defies societal limitations and borders.

The work of God among the Gentiles through the ministries of Peter and Paul added another dimension of reform, culminating in key agreements among early church leaders in Acts 15. Through the words of Paul and other writers, the rest of the New Testament demonstrates a variety of “mini-reforms” needed among a growing and changing constituency. God lovingly and consistently reforms the Church.

The “next generation” believers, commonly referred to as the Church Fathers and Mothers, experienced a myriad of reformation opportunities, the best known of which were the Ecumenical Councils and the formulation of creeds in the first eight centuries of the Church’s history. These steps toward reformation led to unity among several groups, but also resulted in schisms. Most notably, the Eastern and Western branches of the Church (the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic groups, respectively) experienced an official schism in 1054 A.D.

On Luther’s Doorstep and Beyond

Around the time of Martin Luther, the stage had been set for a particularly earth-shaking renewal. A century before Luther, for example, a Czech priest and professor named Jan Hus (1369-1415) had been put to death for writings and protests regarding the actions of key church leaders. In fact, after Luther posted his 95 theses, many began referring to Luther as a “modern Huss-ite.” Many factors surrounding Luther’s contribution to reformation in the early sixteenth century, such as his education, the invention of Gutenburg’s printing press, and Luther’s powerful friends, allowed Luther’s message to transcend the confines of his village and of Germany and become a key catalyst of reforms already taking place throughout the world. From there came other movements: Calvinists, Arminians, Anabaptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Wesleyans, just to name a few.

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today