Luther’s “A Brief Instruction on what to Look for and Expect in the Gospels”

There is, besides, the still worse practice of regarding the gospels and epistles as law books that teach us what we are to do, and the works of Christ are pictured as nothing but examples to us.  Where these two erroneous notions remain in people’s hearts, neither the gospels nor the epistles may be read in a profitable or Christian manner; they remain as pagan as ever. – Martin Luther

Luther Reading               The above quote serves as Luther’s closer to the opening paragraph of “A Brief Instruction on what to Look for and Expect in the Gospels,” which he wrote in 1522.  Luther was on the move to reforming the reading of the Scriptures.  After coming to no agreement with Rome over the indulgence controversy and finding himself excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521, it was now time for him to solidify the Reformation movement he had begun which involved teaching his followers (both laity and pastors) how to read the Bible and to proclaim the Gospel.  The proper reading and use of the Scriptures were paramount to freeing the Church from her “Babylonian Captivity.”  In this brief, yet instruction-packed unterricht, Luther explains how there is only one gospel, how we should see Christ coming to us in that gospel, and how all of the Scriptures are properly read and understood through the gospel!

Central to Christianity, central to the Reformation, is the message of salvation in Christ alone, that is the gospel, and as such, for Christians to know how to read and use the Scripture, Luther must first make it clear what the gospel is: “a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became a human being for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things.”  In other words, the gospel is a story of Christ and all of who he is and what he has done for us sinful men.  With this definition Luther is letting us know that when we refer to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as gospels, we are not saying that there are four gospels, for there is one and only one message of salvation.  Even though the four biography writers give different details of the life of the Messiah, and in fact none of them give all of his words and miracles for us to read, there is still just one gospel.  From this definition of the gospel Luther stresses that the evangelion is not bound within or wholly formed from a compilation of these four canonical biographies of Christ – the good news is found in the epistles too!

When we see this message of Christ and his saving work for us men, Luther says that we should not see this work of Jesus of Nazareth as an example by which we are to live – to emulate – to work our ourselves!  No, we should primarily see the work of Christ as being for us.  You should see Christ for you.   This means that whenever you see Christ going somewhere, anywhere, speaking, teaching, healing, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead, whatever miracle or work of Christ you might see from any Biblical text, you should see yourself in that text – see Christ coming to you, to heal you, to teach you, to save you from sin, death, and the devil, to be your all-sufficient savior.

Next, Luther points the Church to the whole counsel of God’s Word, id est to the woefully neglected Old Testament scriptures.  All of Scripture testifies to Christ, and since Christ’s person and work is the gospel, Luther explains that the gospel as found in the four gospel biographies and the epistles serves as the guide to reading and understanding the Old Testament.  Here too, the prophets, in particular “Moses the law-giver,” are not examples of how one should live.  Their words should not be taken as a handbook on how to live your life; their words primarily reveal the gospel – reveal Christ, though it is not so clearly realized in most cases, until Christ was incarnate and revealed himself personally by stepping into history, before then sending the Holy Spirit to illuminate our understanding of the Scriptures after his ascension.  This means we should not forsake the diligent reading of the Old Testament, which so often we do in our day as the Church also did in Luther’s.  To emphasize the consequence of this error, Luther ends his instruction with the following statement: “What punishment ought God to inflict upon such stupid and perverse people! Since we abandoned his Scriptures [referring to the Old Testament], it is not surprising that he has abandoned us to the teaching of the pope and to human lies.”

In summary, Luther taught that when we read Scripture, we should expect to see the gospel in our reading, we should see the gospel as Christ working for us in all that we need, and that we should expect to see this work of God for us in all of the Scriptures that we read.

107. Godparents – What Are They For?

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Godparents 2

 

In this specially requested episode, Andy returns from a long hiatus with a Reconnect episode on the role of godparents in baptism and in the life of their godchildren. 

 

 

Show Links

Episode 70: Does Baptism Save You?

Episode 99: Lutheran Theology Part 4

“Does Baptism Save You?” by Andy Wrasman

“Means of Grace Questions” by Andy Wrasman

“What is Baptism?” by Andy Wrasman

Contradict Movement Video Production Donation

Martin Luther’s Reformation on Spirituality

martin-luther-stained-glass_SIFrom my experiences, when people speak of Luther’s reformation teachings in commemoration of his posting of the 95 theses on October 31st 1517, the focus is almost always on his rejection of the selling of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.  Inevitably this leads to the “solas of the Reformation” – that one is justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone[i] – being presented as the pistons that drove all of Luther’s reforming agenda.  This depiction of Luther’s reforming work that I have observed again and again in numerous Lutheran congregations every Reformation Sunday has led me to see Luther’s reformation work to be primarily focused on correcting false doctrine.  What I have just recently discovered however from reading Scott Hendrix’s article “Martin Luther’s Reformation of Spirituality” is that central to Luther’s reformation was not a mere correcting of false doctrine, but that the Reformation had an additional emphasis, if not primary emphasis, on reforming Christian spirituality.

Late medieval spirituality consisted of the selling of indulgences for the remission of sins.  In particular, a full indulgence gave the pardon of all of one’s temporal punishment for sins committed up until the issuance of the indulgence.  Partial indulgences could lessen, or shorten, the temporal punishments one would receive for his sins.  These indulgences were granted by the authority of the pope with the full indulgence coming solely through his auspices.  To acquire these indulgences a Christian would have to attend countless masses, take pilgrimages to relics and shrines of saints, give endless cycles of penance, dive full-length into all that monasticism had to offer, and of course fill the Church’s coffer with pecunias multas (lots of money).  Luther’s 95 Theses and the resultant doctrinal formations that followed his initial disputation for clarifying the power of indulgences[ii] led to a necessary forsaking of these false spiritual practices for an embrace of a true, authentic Christian life of spirituality.

At the heart of Luther’s reformation of spirituality was his spotlighting that the religiosity of the Church in the late medieval age was wholly of human creation and ordinance – thus not established by God in his revealed Word.  Such religious activities were, as such, adiaphora – neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture – thus Luther would come to demonstrate that such self-elected works had no value whatsoever to contribute to one’s righteousness, one’s right-standing before and with Christ.  All the spiritual mumbo jumbo of man’s creation, no matter how Christianized it might be made to seem, will actually kill you physically and spiritually, and Luther knew and experienced this suicidal murdering of his body and soul first hand through his fervent devotion to the monastic lifestyle for twenty years.  Much in the same way that Paul claimed to be a Pharisee of Pharisees, Luther was a monk of monks!  Following the rules and edicts of men to attain eternal life, Luther discovered that they only lead to the ruin of his body and the unending torment of his conscious that knew he was still a sinner rightly deserving God’s righteous judgment.

The epiphany of the salvation in Christ that comes apart from the works of the believer that Luther found in Scripture and stood upon for his salvation didn’t eradicate all spirituality, all Christian living, it simply eradicated the false-spiritualties of the Church of his day, because Christ did give edicts of religious and spiritual activities to those who would follow him, and Luther was not rejecting these, namely, Christ’s commands to baptize, to proclaim the Gospel, to administer the sacrament[iii], to absolve the sins of the repentant and to retain sins and excommunicate the unrepentant, to suffer with Christ and for Christ, and to love and serve all people as Christ would have us to do.  Essentially, following Christ and not the pope was the new landscape of Christian living that Luther sought through his reformation work.  Christian living and spirituality is thus very much a Lutheran thing.

[i] Sometimes lists contain four or five solas instead of just the three I have provided with the additional two solas being Scripture alone and the glory of God alone.

[ii] Disputation for Clarifying the Power of Indulgences is the title given in the 1518 Basel reprint.

[iii] By sacrament, I am referring to communion.

Creeds! What are they good for?

The following is an example of an all too common conversation that arises when certain Christians encounter confessional subscription for the first time. 

Lucy: Hey, Andy, I know you are studying at a Lutheran seminary.  I was hoping you could explain to me what just occurred during this installation service for Pastor Forde.

Andy: (Starts to nod yes to give a reply, but is cut off.)

Lucy: During the service, the pastor said he confessed the Bible to be (she throws up her fingers for air quotes) “the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”  But then he also pledged himself to the creeds and the Lutheran Confessions.  Then he promised that everything he would do as a pastor would be (throws up her fingers for air quotes again) “in conformity with Holy Scripture and these Confessions.”  This seems like a contradiction.

Andy: How so?

Lucy: It seems to me that the promise he made puts the Confessions on the same plain of authority as the Bible.  Is this correct?

Andy:  No.  That isn’t correct.  Before I answer your question, let me first share with you what the Confessions are, so that you know what it is he subscribed to believe to be in conformity with Scripture. The Lutheran Confessions are called The Book of Concord which contains the three ecumenical creeds of the Church, the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasius Creed, as well multiple documents written during the 16th century during the Reformation: Luther’s Small and Large Catechism, Philip Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession and Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s Smalcald Articles, Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Authority and Primacy of the Pope – in which he calls the office of the pope the office of the Anti-Christ – it’s awesome!  You’ll love it Lucy – and the Formula of Concord, which was written by many authors.

I can give you more information on any of these writings, if you would like them, but to answer your question; what the pastor just subscribed to was that he unconditionally recognizes that these writings are a correct exposition of the Bible.  In other words, The Book of Concord accurately represents the teachings of Scripture.  It is not “the infallible rule of faith and practice.”  Instead, the Confessions are normed by “the infallible rule of faith and practice” – the Bible.

Lucy: Do I understand you to be saying that these Confessions are true only insofar as they represent accurately what is in Scripture?

Andy: Some Lutherans might be open to accepting such a subscription, but my church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, expects our pastors to subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions not insofar as they are a correct exposition of the Word, but because they are a correct exposition of the Word.

Lucy: To my way of thinking this still seems like splitting hairs.  It appears as if the Confessions are being raised to the level of Scripture.  Why is it necessary to have the Confessions?  In my Church, we don’t believe in creeds or have confessions; we just believe in the Bible.

Andy: I understand how this can be a bit confusing to you, as I do understand how this might seem as if we are adding words to the Bible, since you are not familiar with confessions or their use.  I ensure you that’s not what we are doing, and I might be able to help you understand how we are not doing this by pointing out that you just shared a creed of your church body.

Lucy: I didn’t share a creed.  We only believe the Bible.

Andy:  That’s your creed.  (Pausing to let it sink in)

Lucy: …That’s not a creed.  It’s an anti-creed.

Andy: A creed is simply a statement of belief.  You believe that creeds are not necessary for a church body to have and confess, but that is a statement of belief, thus creedal.  Essentially, everyone has creeds.

Lucy: So maybe what I’m asking and really wanting to know is, why isn’t the Bible enough?  What task or function do the Confessions play that make them necessary, or really important?

Andy: Great questions.  When we consider the Bible, it’s not that large of a book, but certainly there are many interpretations that emerge concerning it, wouldn’t you agree?

Lucy: Yes.  I know that you Lutherans believe that baptism saves you, but I reject that idea entirely.

Andy: That’s an example of division in the Body of Christ.  And from my experiences, when discussing this teaching, both sides of the debate end up using the same verses.  When I point to verses that I believe demonstrate the promises of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation that God has given to us in baptism, Christians from your position typically say those verses are about spiritual baptism.

Lucy:  That’s right.  My church body would say such gifts are received in Spiritual Baptism when we receive the Holy Spirit and faith – or when we are born again.

Andy:  Because of these differing interpretations and the different hermeneutics – rules of interpretation – that bring forth these contradictory teachings, confessions are necessary and helpful.  They place a stake in the ground concerning what one understands to be the proper interpretation of Scripture.  You and I both would agree that we what we believe is found in Scripture, but we believe different things are taught by Scripture.  For instance, how would I know what you and your church body believes concerning the Bible, since all you believe is the Bible?  Would I have to read the whole Bible?  And then because of different hermeneutics, I still likely wouldn’t arrive at knowing what you believe when you say, “I just believe the Bible.”

Lucy: You’d go to our church website and you can find our “What We Believe” page.

Andy:  And when I click on it, would the page simply show a picture of a Bible, or would it take me to the entire text of the Bible, since that’s “just what you believe?”

Lucy: (Pausing a moment in thought) Are you suggesting that our “What We Believe” page functions as our Confessions.

Andy:  Yes, I am.  And I think when you understand that, you’ll understand more fully the function of confessions. I’m sure you believe that your church’s “What We Believe” page is in submission to Scripture.

Lucy:  I do.

Andy: And as such, that page and the beliefs found on it, are a helpful tool for you to share your faith with others.  It’s a good summation of what you (throwing up air quotes with his fingers) “confess” to be true as a Christian – even though the Bible is (again, throwing up air quotes with his fingers) “the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”

Lucy:  I’m glad we’re having this conversation.  I’m understanding creeds and confessions in a brand new light.

Andy: Thanks for taking the time to understand our position and use of the Lutheran Confessions.  We certainly don’t want anyone to think that we are adding to or taking away from Scripture with our use of creeds and confessions.  I think it is also helpful to understand the origins of confessions.  Many scholars consider 1 Corinthians 15 to contain an early church creed.  Paul says that what he first received he passed on to the Corinthians as of first importance.  As I said, creeds are useful for sharing and teaching the faith with others, because they formulate what is in Scripture in precise statements that Scripture doesn’t always do for us.  The idea then is that Paul received this instruction when he became a believer and then he used that instruction to pass the faith on to others.  It’s a very simple creed: “Christ died for sins, was buried, and raised on the third day according to Scripture,” and then a list of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Lord is given.  If someone were to ask me what the Gospel is, I’d use that creedal statement that in this instance, interestingly, goes back to before Scripture was even written!

Lucy:  Are there other reasons creeds and confessions are used, or other reasons they were formulated besides simply confessing and teaching?

Andy: I do think we take for granted much of the doctrines we know in the Church today.  For instance, if I looked on your church’s website’s (throwing up air quotes) “creedal page,” I imagine that I would find statements about the Trinity – God being three persons, yet one God.  That doctrine and the wording we use to describe the nature of God is not clearly defined or formulated in Scripture.  We can see that all three persons are fully God in Scripture and we can see that Scripture is clear that there isn’t three Gods, so what do we do with that?  Well… thankfully, the early Church handled such problems for us by formulating doctrinal statements on the Trinity – a word that is not in the Bible by the way.  The Church was forced to do such work, because they recognized that teachings were emerging that were against the witness of Scripture.  Because the saints that have gone before us have done such work formulating the doctrine of the Trinity, such as what is recorded in the Nicene Creed, we don’t have to and that creed can serve as a boundary marker for us on what is correct and incorrect concerning the person and nature of the Triune Lord.

Lucy:  So what do you do if a new controversy or false teaching arises that isn’t addressed in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church?

Andy:  I’m glad you asked.  The Confessions can serve as a flexible guide that shifts to the needs of the times, since the Confessions don’t always address the concerns of the day.  For instance, a couple of decades ago, the book series, Left Behind, sparked a lot of conversation concerning the return of Christ.  The Lutheran Confessions don’t directly make statements on the Rapture or the Millennium found in Revelation chapter 20, yet they do provide guidance on what is allowed and not allowed to believe concerning such matters by the boundary markers they set concerning how we can interpret Scripture.

Lucy:  It is interesting that you mention that example, because when that series was so popular, our church made an addition to our “What We Believe” page.  Do you think your church body would ever add or update your Confessions to meet the needs of the day?

Andy:  It is possible.  We however have the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) that provides study documents, opinions and statements on theological issues that are not directly and specifically addressed by the Confessions in our current context.  Their reports serve as guidance to the pastors and congregations in our church body, but pastors are not bound to subscribe to them as they are the Confessions.

Lucy:  This is all very fascinating.  Thank you for taking the time to explain the Book of Concord to me.

Andy:  I’m glad you found my answers helpful.  Let me send you a text message of an image I have saved that I think will serve as a good summary of what we’ve discussed that you can use as a tool to help explain this conversation to others in your church.  I probably should have pulled this up at the start of our conversation. (Sends text message)

Lucy: (Opens message and sees the following image)

Creeds and Confessions

Irenaeus’ Argument Against Gnosticism Still Works Today

Irenaeus was a 2nd century apologist for the Christian faith who was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor, in the first part of the century.  His death date is not certain, but it is likely that he lived until the end of the 2nd century.  Irenaeus became the bishop of Lyons, France, and he serves as an important church father for several reasons: he was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, he is an early and reliable external source that verifies who wrote the four Gospels, he wrote against the Gnostic religion that had infiltrated all of Rome by the 2nd century, and through his writing helped establish apostolic tradition and the early formation of the New Testament canon.  It is on these last two points that this paper will focus.  Gnosticism was an esoteric religion that assumed Christianity into its teachings.  It spoke of God, Jesus, and salvation, yet due to its esoteric nature, Gnosticism contained “wisdom” as its name suggests (since gnosis is wisdom in Greek) that was new and true, even though it was secretly obtained.  These doctrines contradicted the doctrines of Jesus’ apostles, the founders of the Church.  In Irenaeus’ excerpt, “Priority of the Apostolic Tradition,” from his work Refutation and Overthrow of the “Knowledge” Falsely So Called, he makes the argument that the teachings of the apostolic tradition are authoritative over and beyond any other religious source that might take hold of Jesus’ name and work.

Seeking the truth, recognizing the truth, proclaiming the truth, and defending the truth is at the heart of why Irenaeus is writing.  Gnosticism is abounding all over the Roman world and in many regards it uses the same language as the Church and even incorporates Jesus into its heretical teachings, while distorting the true nature of Christ and his work.  In this excerpt of his argumentation against Gnosticism, Irenaeus focuses on apostolic tradition as the basis to reject Gnosticism  The Church in the 2nd century in which Irenaeus is writing is on its third and fourth rounds of leadership, in other words, they’re not sitting very far from the apostles.  Irenaeus says that he and others can enumerate the bishops that the apostles placed in charge, giving their names and cities, and they can also do the same for the bishops that those bishops placed up to the present.  He ensures them that the apostles didn’t keep any secrets hidden.  They passed on all there was to pass on concerning the teachings Jesus handed to them.

The apostles are so vital to knowing the truth in Irenaeus’ argumentation, because as I just stated, they got their teachings from Jesus.  Jesus, as Irenaeus reminds his readers, is the Son of God.  He reminds them of the teachings of the apostles, that Jesus stepped down from heaven and was incarnate, made man, born of the virgin Mary, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, but came back to life!  He reminds them that Jesus is coming back to save those who are saved, and to cast everyone else into eternal fire.  Jesus is not the guy you want to be on the wrong side of in history.  You want to be in right standing with Jesus, and the way to do that is to be in right standing with the teaching of the apostles.  Jesus gave everything he wanted us to know to them, they passed it on to their disciples, who passed it on to their disciples.  Why, oh why, would anyone want to hear or entertain the teachings of the heretics, “For they had no Church or form of doctrine.”  He then names a couple of big wig heretics that his readers would have known, Valentinus (a Gnostic theologian) and Marcion (a dualist who was close to being a Gnostic).  His point here is that these two men’s teachings had no origin before them.  What weight does their teaching have to be considered true?  None!  What weight does the teachings of the apostles and their succession of bishops have?  Jesus!  They got Jesus!  Case closed.

This argumentation from Irenaeus still proves helpful for us today.  At the start of the 20th century, all we knew about Gnosticism was preserved from the writings of Irenaeus.  Then the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s and they resurrected the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, because within the collection of codices found in the caves of Qumran were a slew of Gnostic Gospels discovered for the first time.  Peter Jones has written extensively on how the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries have relaunched Gnosticism, pointing out how many of the tenants of Gnosticism are found in the New Age Movement, whose leaders have been known to have read these newly discovered Gnostic texts (Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back).  These newly discovered Gnostic texts have brought about a need for a reaffirmation of apostolic tradition and succession to counter why the Gnostic Gospels are not in the Bible. It is often claimed that they were intentionally removed from the Bible by the Church leaders because their teachings contradicted that of the Church.  This charge against the Bible is so simple to answer, but few Christians today seem to know how to respond to this attack.  Irenaeus’ argument remains more than sufficient: the Gnostic Gospels all emerged out of thin air, arriving chronologically after the teachings of the apostles, contradicting the teachings that Jesus personally and historically handed down to them.  The apostles have Jesus, the Son of God, upon which their teachings stand.  The Gnostic Gospels stand on nothing except the thin air from which they are derived.  Case closed.

Bibliography

Bai, Han Gook. Apostolicity as a Church Response to Gnosticism in Irenaeus. St. Louis,  Missouri: Concordia Seminary, 1970.  BV4070.C69 M3 1970 no.1

Hochban, J. I. “St. Irenaeus on the Atonement.” Theological Studies, 7 no. 4 (1946). Accessed Dec. 11, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/004056394600700402

Jones, Peter. The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An old Heresy for the New Age. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 1992.  BP605.N48 J67 1992

Kerr, Hugh T. Readings in Christian Thought. 2nd ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1990.

Olson, Mark Jeffrey. Irenaeus, the Valentinian Gnostics, and the Kingdom of God (A.H. Book V): The Debate about 1 Corinthians 15:50. Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen Biblical Press, 1992. BR65.I63 A39 1992

Ware, James. “Paul’s Hope and Ours: Recovering Paul’s Hope of the Renewed Creation.” Concordia Journal. 35, no. 1 (Spring 2009). Accessed Dec. 11, 2018. https://issuu.com/concordiasem/docs/cjspring091

Wingren, Gustaf. “Saint Irenaeus” In Encyclopedia Britanica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. 2013. Accessed Dec. 11, 2018.  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Irenaeus