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The Role of Holiness in Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the Thought of Martin Luther by Rev. Eric J. Swensson

The Role of Holiness in Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the Thought of Martin Luther by Rev. Eric J. Swensson

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Published by Eric Swensson
Written in 2006 for a presentation to area clergy, this attempts to provide some basis for understanding what was once much more commonly understood by Lutherans and other Protestants about the theology behind the praxis of Christian Life.
Written in 2006 for a presentation to area clergy, this attempts to provide some basis for understanding what was once much more commonly understood by Lutherans and other Protestants about the theology behind the praxis of Christian Life.

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Published by: Eric Swensson on Apr 08, 2013
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The Role of Holiness in Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the Thought of Martin Luther By Eric Swensson “But

we teach that the church … is holy, though only through faith in Jesus Christ; in addition, it is holy in its life, in the sense that it refrains from the desires of the flesh and practices its spiritual gifts.”-Martin Luther The Metro New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America solicited essays for the beginning of a dialogue on the use of Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions in Christians Ethics. This essay is for the discussion on “The Sanctified Life of the Baptized,” and hopes to show that God acts for us in such a way that what is demanded is fulfilled. This is to say that there is a coherent evangelical logic which runs through Scripture and the work of Lutheran Reformers and this hope-filled theology remains true and relevant. What the Bible calls holiness, the Lutheran Confessions call New Obedience. What Luther wrote about concerning the life begun in justification explains this coherence. This essay suggests a fresh look at how the Church is holy in its life, refrains from the desires of the flesh and practices its spiritual gifts will shine light on how we interpret Scripture, offer hope to the baptized through our preaching, bring clarity to how we do ethics and inform the writing and interpretation of policy. We begin with a survey of Old and New Testament texts to show that the meanings of holiness, being “set apart” and a process of “new life” are actually yoked together and are two ways of looking at the same thing. Next we look at the concept of the New Obedience in the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord to see how holiness and sanctification were understood by the first and second generation of Lutheran reformers. Luther’s thought underlies those examinations, of course, and so we will examine his thought directly in the third section. It will be seen that Luther’s penetrating theological insight about how God makes this transformation possible is a hope that will endure long after social theories now in vogue are forgotten. We’ll conclude with a brief analysis of the reception, resistance and use of this understanding. Holiness in Scripture “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Though there are two related concepts in Genesis concerning being whole, the first use of the term holiness in Scripture is in Exodus and it shows how God sets apart people, places and things for God’s purposes. We see that being set apart is an attribute of God. Because God’s way of saving the Hebrews was so wondrous, God is set apart from the other gods. (Ex 15:11). God sets apart places (Ex 3:5), time (Ex 16:23), a people (Ex 19:3), a tabernacle and its utensils (Ex 25:2ff). The OT continues to use holiness as an attribute of God, and as a reminder to the people that they are set apart from other peoples. The behavioral dimension of holiness as a clear demand of God’s people becomes apparent as well as the connection between “set apart” and “being and behaving differently.” This duality of meaning is seen throughout Scripture with the emphasis in

the NT on the behavior expected of people who have had the benefit of being reborn in Christ. Holiness in the OT, vdoq' qadosh, is a source of life as well as a way of life. In Isaiah 63:10-13 we hear the memory about the God who is Holy, who sends his Spirit to empower his people, but who is grieved when they spur his help and live in rebellion:
But they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit; therefore he became their enemy; he himself fought against them. Then they remembered the days of old, of Moses his servant. Where is the one who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is the one who put within them his holy spirit, who caused his glorious arm to march at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths?

Ezekiel 36:22-27 describes how sometime in the future God is going to enable the people to live in a God-pleasing way by breaking into the life of Israel. This is somewhat similar to the prophesy in Jeremiah 31:33, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” However, in Ezekiel we have a clearer prescription of how that is going to happen:
I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

It is clear that God is going to do something big and when this happens people will be able to observe God’s ordinances because of it. Could it be that God is going to institute something, that the Christ event was what was being prophesied, that this is baptismal language and that this is tied to what happened at Pentecost, and so instituted for the Church as a means of new life until the end of the age? The name of God is sanctified and glorified by calling, gathering, baptizing, bestowing the Holy Spirit, giving new hearts, new spirits, and enabling us to follow his commands. What is the New Testament significance of holiness, sanctification, new life, renewal, and regeneration? In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul states that instructions were given through the Lord Jesus, that the will of God is their sanctification, they were to abstain from fornication, and he reminds them of controlling their own bodies in holiness and honor. Paul says God did not call them to impurity but sanctification which is brought about by the Holy Spirit. (1 Th 4:2-8. Paul uses a`giasmw/| here and elsewhere in his letters in connection with the transformed life; they use to live one way, but now through


grace they live another. Paul stresses that this holiness is made possible by God, but it is something that they must also be vigilant and attend to. The writer of Hebrews uses hagios twice within a few verses in the context of God’s acting to discipline us. First, metalabei/n th/j a`gio,thtoj, we partake of or share in holiness, so that we have, secondly, to.n a`giasmo,n( ou- cwri.j ouvdei.j o;yetai to.n ku,rion,,.,, the holiness without which we will not see the Lord. Here we see that God gives us that which he demands, and that this is not just by wiping the slate clean, which God does, but even better, by providing power to live a new life and a new way of life. This Hebrews reading follows to illustrate how the first use of holiness describes something of God’s, perhaps best understood as God’s energy, and the second usage of holiness or sanctification, describes the thing expected of us:
For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share [God’s] holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (He 12:10-14)

Do we see the same logic of something divinely given leading to transformation here as in Paul’s thought?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Ro 12:1-2)

We also see the same logic and movement in the third chapter of Colossians. Verse seven says in effect, “You once lived that way, now you must live this way.” Paul (or whoever wrote this) says “put to death” so it is not too strong to say “must.” The text reads, “Once you practiced fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Col 3:5) Added to this are anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. (Col 3:8-9) Since they must get rid of all such things, how were they to do that? Some say today that they, meaning we, are not actually expected to do so. Are we to believe with Immanuel Kant that the moral life is only being put on display here? Or is it the case that we are supposed to feel hopeless and crushed on the impossibility of living such a moral life, driven to call out for deliverance, receive mercy and go on and on in an endless cycle reminiscent of the book of Judges? Why then are we told to clothe ourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator? (Col 3:10) This is a perfect example of Paul’s understanding of the sanctified life of the baptized as well as the logic Luther received for the development of his understanding of the life begun in justification. After all, Luther saw himself as a promoter of Paul’s theology. This is the key. God empowers us to be like God: renewal happens through a spiritual gifting. (cf. 1 Cor 12)


In Matthew 19:28 Jesus tells his disciples, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This is how we understand the life begun in justification. It is an eschatological gift. Jesus breaks into our lives so that we can follow to the end. The “not yet, already” is actually much more “already” in the knowledge that Christ sends the Holy Spirit so we might follow. The Confessions The place to begin to discuss the sanctified life as understood by Luther’s followers is the Augsburg Confessions. The ELCA subscribes to all the documents in the Book of Concord, while some only chose the AC. An essay in the opening week of our synod’s current discussion proposed the debatable idea of there being a descending importance in the list of documents in the ELCA constitution, but it is surely non-controversial to assume that the AC is up near the top in importance since it is subscribed to by all Lutheran denominations. Following the articles on the nature of God, Original Sin, the Son of God, Justification and the Means of Grace, we find the New Obedience, the “fruit of our faith”:
VI. [THE NEW OBEDIENCE]: Our churches also teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits and that it is necessary to do the good works commanded by God. We must do so because it is God’s will and not because we rely on such works to merit justification before God, for forgiveness of sins and justification are apprehended by faith, as Christ himself also testifies, “When you have done all these things, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants’” (Luke 17:10). The same is also taught by the Fathers of the ancient church, for Ambrose says, “It is ordained of God that whoever believes in Christ shall be saved, not through works but through faith alone, and he shall receive forgiveness of sins by grace.”1

This aspect of New Obedience is echoed in AC XII.
Repentance: Our churches teach that those who have fallen after Baptism can receive forgiveness of sins whenever they are converted, and that the church ought to impart absolution to those who return to repentance. Properly speaking, repentance consists of these two parts: one is contrition, that is, terror smiting the conscience with a knowledge of sin, and the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, believes that sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terror. Then good works, which are the fruits of repentance, are bound to follow. 2

It is proper to see the article on repentance follow and echo the article on New Obedience. It serves as a check to antinomian logic. It is a Lutheran Christian way of explaining the movement of the new life: we confess our sin with the certainty that God empowers us to live in a God-pleasing manner. New Obedience is also treated in AC XX:
1 AC VI, 31. 2AC XII, 35.


Our teachers teach in addition that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them but because it is the will of God. It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins and grace are apprehended, and because through faith the Holy Spirit is received, hearts are so renewed and endowed with new affections as to be able to bring forth good works. 3

We don’t have time to give a full treatment of sanctification and New Obedience in the rest of the Confessions but include here a brief look at how it is presented in the Solid Declaration. The section “Righteousness of Faith before God” (FC 2, III) contains explanations of terms we are using here under the rubric of holiness as well as explanations of their evangelical use (page 542 ff):
Faith apprehends the grace of God in Christ whereby the person is justified. After the person is justified, the Holy Spirit next renews and sanctifies him, and from this renewal and sanctification the fruits of good works will follow…For Dr. Luther’s excellent statement remains true: ‘There is a beautiful agreement between faith and good works; nevertheless, it is faith alone which apprehends the blessing without works. And yet faith is at no time ever alone.”

They state that the only necessary elements of justification are the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and the faith which accepts these in the promise of the Gospel, whereby the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to us. It states that “there cannot be genuine saving faith in those who live without contrition” who have “a wicked intention to remain and abide in sin.”4 Often the Formula does nothing so much as restate what its authors understood Luther as teaching, and the following is an example of this. Describing love as a fruit which follows true faith, if a person does not love, this indicates certainly that he or she is not justified, or has “lost the righteousness of faith” (here is another hardy heard theme). After establishing that a person must first be righteous before he or she can do good works, we read:
“In his beautiful and exhaustive exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians Dr. Luther well states: ‘We certainly grant that we must teach about love and good works too. But it must be done at the time and place where it is necessary, namely, when we deal with good works apart from this matter of justification. At this point the main question with which we have to do is not whether a person should also do good works and love, but how a person may be justified before God and be saved.5

We can pause here and ask if justification is the main article at stake today, that is, is justification controversial, or is the nature of the life that follows it most controversial? The new life is described again:
“It is indeed correct to say that believers who through faith in Christ have been justified possess in this life, first, the reckoned righteousness of faith and, second, also the inchoate righteousness of the new obedience or of good works. But these two dare not be confused
3AC XX, 45. 4 Ibid 5 Ibid


with one another.” This inchoate righteousness or renewal in us is imperfect and impure in this life on account of the flesh...“First the Holy Spirit kindles faith in us in conversion through the hearing of the Gospel. Faith apprehends the grace of God in Christ whereby the person is justified. After the person is justified, the Holy Spirit next renews and sanctifies him, and from this renewal and sanctification the fruits of good works will follow…For Dr. Luther’s excellent statement remains true: ‘There is a beautiful agreement between faith and good works; nevertheless, it is faith alone which apprehends the blessing without works. And yet faith is at no time ever alone.”

This section is followed by IV. GOOD WORKS. After acknowledging that “a controversy concerning good works has likewise arisen among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession” they offer a careful definition:
First of all, there is in this article no disagreement among us concerning the following points: That it is God’s will, ordinance, and command that believers walk in good works; that only those are truly good works which God himself prescribes and commands in his Word, and not those that an individual may devise according to his own opinion or that are based on human traditions; that truly good works are not done by a person’s own natural powers but only after a person has been reconciled to God through faith and renewed through the Holy Spirit, or, as St. Paul says, “has been created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Hence faith alone is the mother and source of the truly good and God-pleasing works that God will reward both in this and in the next world. For this reason St. Paul calls them fruits of faith or of the Spirit. 6

The above concludes with inspiring words always worth hearing again:
For, as Luther writes in his Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, “Faith is a divine work in us that transforms us and begets us anew from God, kills the Old Adam, makes us entirely different people in heart, spirit, mind, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. Oh, faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good. Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active… This the Holy Spirit works by faith, and therefore without any coercion a man is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory, who has been so gracious to him. It is therefore as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate heat and light from fire.” In the first place, it is evident that in discussing the question whether good works are necessary or free, both the Augsburg Confession and its Apology often employ formulas like these: “Good works are necessary”; again, “It is necessary to do good works because they necessarily follow faith and reconciliation”; again, “We should and must of necessity do good works that God has commanded.” Likewise, Holy Scripture itself uses words like “necessity,” “necessary,” “needful,” “should,” and “must” to indicate what we are bound to do because of God’s ordinance, commandment, and will (Rom. 13:5, 6, 9; 1 Cor. 9:9; Acts 5:29; John 15:12; 1 John 4:11).7

Luther and the Life Begun in Justification

6 (The Formula of Concord: 2, IV, 12). 7 (The Formula of Concord: 2, IV, 12).


This section begins with a few passages from Luther’s Commentary on Galatians which mention holiness and concludes with a portion from his Small and Large Catechisms. This commentary on Galatians, which many consider as the apex of Luther’s evangelical development, deals incisively with holiness. Luther seems to support the set apart definition when he writes as he does here:
We see with utter clarity that Christ and the apostles designate as saints [those who] believe that they have been sanctified and cleansed by the blood and death of Christ. And they are saints, on the basis, not of their own works but of the works of God, which they accept by faith, such as the Word, the sacraments, the suffering, death, resurrection, and victory of Christ, the sending of the Holy Spirit, etc. In other words, they are saints, not by active holiness but by passive holiness.8

The above is seen as proof by some that Luther thought the story ended there, but he also yokes the second aspect of righteousness to the first as he continues. Does faith makes us holy? Yes, and the baptized are free to live holy. Luther urged an active response to passive holiness: :
It is difficult and dangerous to teach that we are justified by faith without works and yet to require works at the same time. Unless the ministers of Christ are faithful and prudent here and are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1), who rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), they will immediately confuse faith and love at this point. Both topics, faith and works, must be carefully taught and emphasized, but in such a way that they both remain within their limits. Otherwise, if works alone are taught, as happened under the papacy, faith is lost. If faith alone is taught, unspiritual men will immediately suppose that works are not necessary.9

Faith brings contrition, which leads to repentance and amendment of life. As is well known, Luther began his 95 Theses, stating that the whole life of a Christian is one of repentance, and not only inward, but must be followed by “mortification,” that is, ceasing offending behaviors. “But I am baptized!” is often quoted, but one might wonder if they fully understand what Luther meant: But we teach that the church is holy, though only through faith in Jesus Christ; in addition, it is holy in its life, in the sense that it refrains from the desires of the flesh and practices its spiritual gifts. For they do not want to deny Christ, to lose the Gospel, to cancel their Baptism, etc. This is why they have the forgiveness of sins; and if through ignorance they err in doctrine, this is forgiven, because at the end they acknowledge their error and depend solely on the truth and grace of God in Christ.10 Luther held that Christ sends the Holy Spirit to create faith, to comfort us, to lead us out into mission, but first the Spirit must convict us of our sin so that we know the need for salvation. With that comes regeneration. Thereafter we live in humility and daily repentance and are led to do that which pleases God:
8 LW 27, 81. 9 LW 27, 62. 10 LW 27, 83.


Therefore, be very careful to distinguish properly between true and hypocritical righteousness and holiness. Such a saint will also abstain from the desires of the flesh by means of the faith through which he is justified and through which his sins, past and present, are forgiven; but he is not completely cleansed of them. For the desires of the flesh are still against the Spirit. This uncleanness remains in him to keep him humble, so that in his humility the grace and blessing of Christ taste sweet to him. Thus, such uncleanness and such remnants of sin are not a hindrance but a great advantage to the godly. For the more aware they are of their weakness and sin, the more they take refuge in Christ, the mercy seat (Rom. 3:25). They plead for His assistance, that He may adorn them with His righteousness and make their faith increase by providing the Spirit, by whose guidance they will overcome the desires of the flesh and make them servants rather than masters. Thus a Christian struggles with sin continually, and yet in his struggle he does not surrender but obtains the victory. "11

Moving on to familiar words from the Explanation of the Third Article in the Small Catechism, we note that in discussing holiness, Luther says Christians behave different because they were chosen to be a priestly people, the Church.
“But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”12

As to be expected Luther will be found teaching on holiness in the same location in the Large Catechism, and locating this activity as a ministry of the Word and Spirit within the Church: In the first place, he has a unique community in the world. It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it…Further we believe that in this Christian church we have the forgiveness of sins, which is granted through the holy sacraments and absolution as well as through all the comforting words of the entire Gospel. Toward forgiveness is directed everything that is to be preached concerning the sacraments and, in short, the entire Gospel and all the duties of Christianity. Forgiveness is needed constantly, for although God’s grace has been won by Christ, and holiness has been wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian church, yet because we are encumbered with our flesh we are never without sin. (LC: 2, 53-54)13


11 LW 27, 85. 12 Ibid, 345. 13Ibid, 415-6.


When we receive the promise of God in faith, Christ does two things for us. He fulfills the law for us and sends the Holy Spirit who enables us to follow Christ. In faith Christ is truly present. This is not an idea but a supernatural activity. This is how God transforms sinful humans. There is actually a constellation of words which point to the new life begun in one’s justification. Besides holiness, sanctification, new creation, renewal and regeneration, the term used by Luther’s followers, “the New Obedience” has very much fallen out of our discourse even though it plays a prominent part in the Augsburg Confession. Indeed, these terms are nearly anachronistic and only the related concept of renewal seems to still be used on a regular basis.. This essay is offered by a pastor of this synod hopefully to serve to edify how our God does much more than declare our forgiveness but offers to transform the lives of the baptized. In our discussions on ethics and policy we often hear one-sided arguments. Again and again they are based on empirical evidence gathered to prove a point. We hear that theologians should have their say but we must also hear from doctors, sociologists, psychiatrists and research scientists. The basis of these scientific explanations seems to be that “this is the way that it is.” It also seems that the only gospel heard in these arguments is that of “acceptance.” If that is all the hope we have we are the most to be pitied. All such arguments could lead one to believe the only supernatural act God is capable of is to declare forgiveness. We need a sober realization of how important our conversations in this ongoing dialogue are, for we are not debating mere ideas, or how to thoughtfully address policy based on our context and present realities, we are most importantly explicating the theological foundations for what is preached and taught by our rostered leaders. A quote used above from the Large Catechism concludes, “Where [God] does not cause the Word to be preached and does not awaken understanding in the heart, all is lost.14 Without performing a pastoral visitation on the line of the one the Wittenbergers did in 1527 it would be hard to say if the New Obedience is an endangered species of a teaching, but from my own observation it is out of fashion to say the least. We should ponder what we are in danger of losing: Based on what has been presented here on how Scripture and Confessions speak, ask if it is not a much more biblical understanding to say that God enables us to follow God’s will than it is to say that God abolishes the law? God does abolish that aspect of the theological use of the law that condemns believers. For those who are justified, this use ceases to be a threat, but the law remains. In what way? The simple explanation is that the paranetic function of the law, that is, exhortation intended to elicit a moral response, and the pedagogical function, the teaching aspect of the law, never cease. In fact, Luther said, “Whoever would abolish the law, abolishes the gospel also.”15
14 Ibid. 15 From Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology: its Historical and Systematic Development (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), cites WATR 3 Nr. 3650c, 330-31 (Dec. 21, 1537): “Qui tollit legem, et evangelium tollit.”


What silenced this understanding of the transformation God offers? Bernard Lohse explains a great deal in “The History of the Interpretation of Luther” in his book on Luther’s life and work. One would think that in the tradition he began that his thought would have been always attended to and certainly not misinterpreted, but the latter is the case. Luther was like the statues of him which stand in front of but does not enter the building, a man often seen but not heard. This was the case until the era of Karl Holl and the Luther renaissance. It was only with the Weimar Edition with its incorporation of many of Luther’s newly discovered early writings, and the new insights by historians and theologians that “it was possible to free Luther from “the tug of war of ideological presuppositions that for centuries had dominated the study of Luther.”16 Each major intellectual movement as well as periods of Church history in Germany has offered up a different portrait of Luther. According to Lohse, “the representatives of the Enlightenment had almost no understanding at all for Luther’s theology, neither for that of the young nor that of the old Luther.”17 “Immanuel Kant probably did not read anything written by Luther except for the Small Catechism.”18 Friedrich Schleirmacher “felt that nothing much was to be gained from studying the theology of the Reformation.” Albrecht Ritschl “felt that Luther’s greatest achievement was his overcoming of the influence of speculative metaphysics as well as mysticism.”19 Turning to our own time, we still suffer from Enlightenment elevation of the thought of man and the effort to strip the Bible of “superstition.” There is the influence of the use of “alien hermeneutics.” Most helpful here is the recent work of Karl Donfried.20 We don’t have the time to get into his arguments on the authority and interpretation of Scripture, but only commend it to you. It is certainly the case today that there are many Lutheran pastors and theologians who see no need to work within explicit Lutheran categories. This is understandable considering that it is entirely possible to have been trained at a Lutheran seminary by professors who were trained to compare various theologies than in a specific Lutheran tradition. In my education at the Lutheran School of Theology (19881992) we were assigned various books and as often the works were a form of liberation theology. This wasn’t particularly noticeable because we were given a whole smorgasbord of theological options. Nowhere were we told that some care had to be taken in applying these ideas if you wanted to be Lutheran. It is not to say that we cannot benefit from reading theologians from all Christian traditions. We can even, of course, read non-Christian sources. What is dangerous is to think one can pick a little from here, a little from there, mix them and cover with Lutheran terminology and somehow each young theologian will have presented teaching appropriate for Lutherans. Is there a limit to “leaning on one’s own understanding”? Are there limits or boundaries to be observed? To quote Luther again, is there a danger for the Church in “what an individual may devise according to his own opinion” Why do we want to impose ideas “based on human traditions”? This is not to say that an anachronistic yearning for pure Lutheranism is to be
16 Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 224. 17 Ibid, 209. 18 Ibid, 212. 19 Ibid, 219. 20 See Karl Paul Donfried, Who Owns the Bible?: Toward the Recovery of a Christian Hermeneutic (New York: Crossroads, 2006).


desired, rather it is a warning that teaching presented as Lutheran but without coherence is at dubious at best, probably confusing, and possibly even dangerous. The power inherent in the sanctified life of the baptized for an overcoming life fails to be appreciated by many and remains a gift unclaimed. This is a pity because in it resides the very power of Christ. We hope that that an understanding of being a Lutheran Christian means that a believer is constantly in the process of becoming, progressing toward a perfection which reaches its end in the next life will itself grow in our denomination, and that young theologians will take on the task of reclaiming it. Realizing that this is more than words but the power of God for transformation is a source for the same to happen in denominations as well as individuals. The faith that justifies through Christ brings Christ into the heart, and God’s divine nature as revealed to us in Christ joins itself to our heart in faith and so makes our heart like itself. “Christ, whom faith brings into the heart, is not only a man’s ‘alien’ righteousness before God because of Christ’s own righteousness; he is at the same time, also an effective power, the power of God himself, in the believer, and able to draw a man’s heart into his own life and being.”21 As Martin Luther wrote in the 1536 Disputation Concerning Justification, “The start of a new creature accompanies this faith and the battle against the sin of the flesh, which this same faith in Christ both pardons and conquers.”22

21 Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), 234. 22 Martin Luther, Luther's works, vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed., electronic edition,1999, c1960 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), 153.


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