>Part III Things Luther Said

Posted: 19/07/2010 in Christian living, church, devotions, Martin Luther


Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ. -Martin Luther

Now that the Catholic blog is out of the way, it is time to discuss the story of Protestant’s golden boy, Martin Luther. Yes, Martin Luther had problems with the confessional, but it was not the confessional itself that was the problem. His personal struggles, and his reading of the Bible both lead him to a particular understanding of Grace and the priesthood that encourages us to play the role of either penitent (he who confesses) or the confessor (he who listens) for each other.

You may already know about Luther’s personal struggles. Luther once confessed that he could not love God, because he hated him. This was because Luther’s perception of God was that of a painful taskmaster. Luther knew he could be forgiven, but was constantly stressed –to the point of obsessive anxiety- over his sins. Luther could walk out of mass, in which all sins are forgiven, but then he would worry about sins he forgot to confess! Luther was on perpetual treadmill of personal holiness, and he knew he could never measure up.

Luther’s understanding of Grace, based on a reading of Romans and (what I think) a personal spiritual experience lead him to an enlivened understanding of grace. The idea is that a Christian is forgiven. This does not mean that a Christian is forgiven if that Christians pays alms, does the right penance, shows the fruits of the spirit, walks morally upright etc. A Christian is forgiven. There is no kind of “if” clause. There is no qualification. God cancels the debt of all sins, and there is nothing more to be said.

The Christian, will of course, continue to sin. They will always succumb to temptation. So a Christian, based on their behavior, will in many ways look like their same old unregenerate self. Nonetheless, God sees this person as spotless and clean. The Christian wears Christ’s righteousness, which is freely given to him. In Latin, the phrase Simul Justus and Peccator -at the same time justified and sinner- sums it up. Another famous metaphor is that we are sacks of garbage, but that God smells roses. This of course does not mean that a Christian should avoid seeking good and doing good, only that the failure to do so does not affect one’s standing with God and neither will more good deeds earn someone brownie points in the hereafter.

That is the grace of God that is extended to us. How might we extend this same Grace to our neighbors, especially other Christians?

There is another aspect of Luther’s works that is emphasized less: the Universal Priesthood of All Believers. Part of the reason why we forget this is not knowing what sacredotalism is. Sacredotalism is the belief that there is a special group of individuals (priests) who have a special kind of access to God that the ordinary Christian does not. In Catholicism, the priest, and only the priest (with some exception) may perform certain sacraments such as the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and of course Reconciliation of Sins. The priest plays a mediator type role between individuals and God. Protestantism does not endorse sacredotalism and is said to have abolished it. I reiterate that this partially correct.

Evangelicals may consider it an offense that anyone can intercede between a Christian and God. Luther, however, did not find this as so offensive. He believed, as many Protestants still do today, that God placed us in church for a reason. That reason is that the work of the Holy Spirit is frequently done through other Christians. That Christians represent Christ to each other. How does this differ from sacerdotal teaching? Luther’s believed that there need not be a special group of consecrated individuals. Instead, he said that any believer is potentially a priest for any other. Thus, the priesthood was not abolished in Protestantism, but was expanded to include all.

This means that protestants need not go to a priest or even their pastor. All Christians are potentially priests for eachother. We are able to find people we trust and confess privately to them. Likewise, we have the chance to earn the trust of other people in hopes that they will fill free to confess to us.

Two very good things follow from this. If Christians are really “the same time justified and sinner,” then it encourages all Christians to look at each other in this light. Hearing someone’s confession encourages us to develop this kind of attitude. We can develop churches and communities in which the worst of us can feel accepted. If God really wants to work through us then it puts a huge responsibility on our part to do so. Christians know how our behavior affects our reputation with the world, and we protect our reputation with eachother. Would not people want to join our communities more if we developed a reputation for treating each other better than any other community?

At the beginning of this series, I pledged to connect Confession of Sins to authenticity, humility, and community. Already, you can see where all this might be leading. The specifics though, will be the subject of other blogs.

Thanks for keeping reading.

  1. >The first half of this puts into words what I've been feeling lately but could not express. Thanks for re-posting this; it was a good read as always.

  2. Adele T. says:

    >Hey, Joel. This is the first time I read the whole thing and I agree. One thing I recall and like about the Catholic prayers is that we confess to God and our brothers and sisters. This might require confessing to those we have offended, which is healing and rare.

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