Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Intellectual Brilliance of Martin Luther

by Pastor Paul Wolff

The Reformation

Martin Luther
from Holy Cross, Lutheran Church

When Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against indulgences on October 31, 1517, he didn’t intend to change the world. He intended to reform the Catholic Church’s teaching to bring it back in line with the true teaching of Holy Scripture. Luther wanted to do this so that people could receive the comfort of the Gospel and be led to trust in Christ for their salvation, instead of being driven away from Christ by false teaching. However, it didn’t happen the way Luther intended. Instead of reforming its doctrine to conform to the truth, the Roman church dug in its heels (so to speak) and held fast to its false doctrine (and the ill-gotten riches which they stole from ignorant parish members) to the extent that by the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) they enshrined false practices into dogmas which are still taught in the Catholic Church today. Indulgences, for example, are still issued from the Catholic Church even though Martin Luther clearly showed that they were false five centuries ago.

Martin Luther certainly changed the world, and that is the main reason why the world remembers him, but the trouble is that most of the world learned the wrong lesson. The Catholics became entrenched in their false practices which came from bad practices which, over time, had become traditions. The radical reformers, on the other hand, rejected (almost) everything that Rome did, including many good Scriptural Christian teachings and practices. The irony is that both the Roman Catholics and the radical reformers held on to the same semi-Pelagian works righteousness (to a greater or lesser degree) even though that is what prompted Luther to start the Reformation in the first place!

The Intellectual Brilliance of Martin Luther

Martin Luther
from Zion Lutheran Church,
Columbus, Ohio

Martin Luther was a brilliant scholar – probably one of the most brilliant men who ever lived – yet he really taught nothing new. This really ought to be a lesson to those who praise newness above everything else. Luther preferred to be true rather than new. Luthers brilliance was that he used his intellect to determine what was true and what was false. Despite facing opposition from the Pope on the one side, and the radical reformers on the other, Luther taught the Scriptures in their truth and purity and held them to be the true Word of God. The Bible not only tells us of our salvation, but actually delivers Christ’s salvation to those who listen and believe.

Today most schools teach that in order to be considered intellectually brilliant you must discover something new that no one else has ever found. This sounds like a worthy goal, but it is a fallacy. In pursuit of this unreachable goal, scholars are encouraged to make things up that aren’t true, or pursue outrageous ideas which even the ancient peoples rejected because they had already researched and discovered those ideas to be false and/or destructive. Already three thousand years ago, King Solomon studied the world and discovered, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Solomon was right then, and he is still right today. Those who say otherwise are either ignorant of history, or they are trying to deceive people into believing their lies. It is easy to say that something is new, when it has been tried and rejected so thoroughly throughout history that few remember it. Many lazy scholars take this easy way out, instead of doing the hard work of true scholarship. These “new” ideas which simply recycle bad old ideas certainly ought to be rejected.

Martin Luther, in his God-given brilliance, taught the Scriptures against all errors and, in doing so, changed history. This is what the world commends. However, this aspect of Luther’s legacy is trivial. The world is changing all the time, and rarely for the better. What is more important was that Luther’s teaching brought the true comfort of God’s Word to people who were lost in sin and despair. The comfort that they found in Luther’s teaching is the power of God working through His Word, and it has nothing to do with Luther. It was all about Jesus and His saving work to win forgiveness and salvation for all sinners, and how He brings that salvation to us through the Word and Sacraments.

What the world sees as “brilliant” (or at least, exciting)

Luther the Hymnwriter
from Holy Cross Lutheran Church,
Detroit, Michigan

The world is enthralled with what is “new”. It doesn’t matter if the latest “new thing” is true or false, those who promote such things are praised simply because their ideas seem “new”. As it turns out, “newism” is more likely to be false, or immoral, or otherwise destructive. It doesn’t matter to these “newists” if the latest “new thing” is something that will stand the test of time – and will last a thousand years, or if it is just a passing fad that is here today and will be mercifully forgotten tomorrow. In fact, what is praised as “new” is more likely to be only a passing fad, rather than something which has lasting benefit for all people of all times. The “new” fad doesn’t have to have a broad appeal, but can be very narrow. The “new” is most often not healthy, but harmful. It is culturally bound, and does not transcend boundaries. It does not appeal to a broad range of people, but is very specific to only a few people in a severely limited time and space. It does not satisfy a fundamental need within any person, but appeals to base desires and fleeting whims. It does not give honor to people, but degrades them. It does not liberate people, but enslaves them – usually under the pretense of giving “freedom”. It does not build up, but exalts in destruction. It does not unite people, but divides them. Where there is one united people it divides them into subgroups until there is only individuals, and even within an individual it pushes him to war against his own self. It cannot abide true love (selflessness), but promotes a radical selfishness. It does not value life, but always favors death. It cares nothing for the truth, but revels in the boldest lies. It does not give lasting joy, but only fleeting guilty pleasure and lasting pain and suffering. This is the kind of thing that the world exalts as “brilliant”, and is why most people have stubbornly refused to learn the proper lessons from the Reformation.

The True Lesson of the Reformation

It is Christ alone who saves us
from Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Detroit, Michigan

Though we remember Martin Luther as we celebrate the Reformation, the importance of the Reformation is not in Martin Luther. Luther trusted in God’s Word and proclaimed Christ alone as our salvation. Though the world attacks the authority of God’s Word, yet the Holy Scriptures still are true, and have the power to bring you forgiveness and salvation. Remember that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness He did not use His divine power to resist the devil’s temptations. Instead He simply trusted that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and because Jesus was faithful in all He did, the devil was defeated and has no claim on you. If you are a baptized Christian you belong to Jesus who rescued you from sin and death, and He gives you everlasting life. To God alone belongs all the glory and praise – for He has redeemed us from our sins and brings to us everlasting salvation. Happy Reformation Day!

No comments: