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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Gottesdienst at LRC and the Use of Quoting Luther

Two of us Gottesdienst Online editors also occasionally write for Lew Rockwell's website of the libertarian persuasion. Even if politics is not your ball of wax, usually has an article or two covering topics of general interest. And, unlike many other political-economic-cultural websites, Lew often posts articles from an overtly Christian perspective. For example, here is one of Fr. Beane's articles and here is my latest article.

I mention that by way of introduction to the topic that was the seed of that article: Luther and Lutherans.

I don't really like Martin Luther all that much. Well, that's probably not fair since I've never met him. Doubly unfair since I have not read every word he ever wrote. Trebly unfair since I have not read more than four or five biographies.

But of the fairly extensive amount of Luther that every Lutheran pastor has to do in preparing for the ministry and in what I have read since - especially the latest two volumes of Luther's Works to come out of CPH - there is just an awful lot that I do not like. I don't like his encouragement of state violence. I don't like his approval of bigamy - which lead directly to war and bloodshed. And I don't like his personal doctrine of the ministry (which, after reading vol. 69's series of Quasimodo Geniti sermons, I am fairly sure is the Wisconsin Synod's doctrine - I think they have Luther right; I just don't think Luther is right).

I like his Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles and the Bondage of the Will and the Great Confession Concerning the Lord's Supper. These are the only writings of his that achieved status as Symbols of the Churches of the Augsburg Confession (the latter two really are given quasi- if not full-confessional status within the 1580 BOC). I also like the Great Galatians Commentary and the Genesis Commentary. And I like a whole slew of other things he said and did.

I think he would have been a hoot to hang out with. And I think he was more than a bit of an ego-maniac (see the latest sermons to come out, vol. 58). I think he was a genius. I think he was an amazing preacher and exegete. I think he shot from the hip way too much.

But I don't think quoting his writings - especially the sermons and Table Talk - has any more or less weight than quoting any other great thinker in our tradition.

I loathe appeals to Luther's example, Luther's personality, and Luther's quips as if they settled an argument by force of incantation.

The best trick the Roman party ever did was stick us with the name Lutheran. We are stuck with it, no doubt about it. There's no getting around history. But we should at least be a little savvy. We shouldn't pretend in our debates that quoting a non-Confessional work of Luther is some big trump card. We should not allow researches into "Luther's Doctrine of X" to trump the clear teaching of the Confessions. We should, in sum, recognize that he was a great but flawed teacher of the Church - just like Augustine, Leo, Jerome, etc. - not the founder of a sect or a guru whose ipse dicit is the end of the story for all his "followers."


Pr. H. R.10 Comments