Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
How are you planning to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation year after next?
On October 31, 1517, Luther posted the ninety-five theses, which he had composed in Latin, on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, according to university custom. In about one year the western world will break into paroxysms of joy to celebrate this momentous event, an event that forever changed the world. Bells will be rung, prayer services and ecumenical gatherings will be convened and we will congratulate ourselves that we are better than our ancestors who couldn’t just get along as the great American philosopher, Rodney King exhorted us. We are the flower of human history because we know that “everything is beautiful in its own way,” as the poet Ray Stevens taught us in the glorious 60’s and early 70’s.
The heroic Luther defied pope and emperor by changing his name, hiding out in a remote castle and writing his own version of the New Testament, setting the tone for the present age in which we can do anything we want provided we have good intention and are sincere. It turns out that the nailing of the 95 theses may be a myth. Erwin Iserloh pointed out that the nailing of the theses to the church door may be a myth created by Philipp Melanchthon who wasn’t at Wittenberg University at the time. The story appeared for the first time after Luther's death. The grand celebrations planned for reformation day October 31, 2017 may just be the celebration of something that never happened.
Nonetheless, let us look at this hero of western culture, and the glorious legacy that he has inspired. Much of the following is taken from Luther’s Tischreden. (Table Talk, a collection of his sayings compiled by Johannes Mathesius. Mathesius, a disciple of Luther, was a great note taker who wrote down everything, even stuff that a less diligent or delicate student would have left out. It is interesting what Luther let fly after a couple of beers.)
Luther, The Humble
Martin had a pretty high opinion of himself. He once said, “St. Augustine or St. Ambrose cannot be compared with me.” (Ref. Erlangen, Vol. 61, pg. 422). Luther added a word to the text of Scripture on which he and much of the world have based an entire religious philosophy. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, (3:28) we read “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Martin translated it to read, “a person is justified by faith ALONE.” The word “alone” doesn’t appear in the text.
When one of his students said that all Christendom was wondering why he had added a word to the text, Martin simply said, “If your Papist annoys you with the word (‘alone’), tell him straightway, Dr. Martin Luther will have it so: Papist and ass are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil’s thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom.” (Ref. Amic. Discussion, 1)
I guess that includes Ambrose and Augustine. Being personally infallible, Martin just assumed that he understood the phrase “works of the law” meant kindness and generosity and morality. It is a shame that he hadn’t read the Dead Sea Scrolls. The phrase “works of the law” appears in only two places as far as we know St. Paul’s letters and the Dead Sea Scroll. Allow me to quote Miqsat Ma’aseh HaTorah (Some Works of the Law, Dead Sea Scroll 4QMMT, a real page turner.)
“And also concerning flowing liquids: we say that in these there is no purity. Even flowing liquids cannot separate unclean from clean because the moisture of flowing liquids and their containers is the same moisture.”
In other words, if you are pouring water from a clay pitcher into an unclean clay pot, you have to destroy both the pitcher and the pot because the ritual pollution will jump up the stream of water from the pot and pollute the pitcher. The same principle applies to piddling on a power line. Don’t even try it!
Luther somehow failed to notice that in the previous chapter, (Romans 2:6) Paul warns us that God “will repay each one according to his works.” We have untold millions of people in the world who count themselves perfectly good Christians who cheat on their spouse, cheat in their business, cheat on everything and feel good about it because they are saved, and as Luthier also taught “Once saved, always saved!”
Gosh I hope Luther was right. If Martin is wrong, there are a lot of people in hell who are saying, “But I was saved!” Martin just didn’t like good works at all. “It is more important to guard against good works than against sin.” (Ref. Tischreden, Wittenberg Edition, Vol. VI., p. 160).
Martin’s dislike of good work and his personal infallibility also extended to the Commandments. The Ten Commandments were worse than pointless as far as Martin was concerned. “If we allow them (the Commandments) any influence in our conscience, they become the cloak of all evil, heresies and blasphemies” (ref. Comm. ad Galat, p.310).
One of Martin’s more startling beliefs had to do with “thou shalt not commit adultery.” Martin once said, “Christ committed adultery first of all with the woman at the well about whom St. John tells us. Was not everybody about Him saying: ‘Whatever has He been doing with her?’ Secondly, with Mary Magdalen, and thirdly with the women taken in adultery whom He dismissed so lightly. Thus even, Christ who was so righteous, must have been guilty of fornication before He died.” (Ref. Tischreden, Weimer Edition, Vol. 2, Pg. 107.
Like I said, get a few beers in Him and the great reformer said some interesting stuff. I bet you didn’t think people accused Jesus of sin until the current era. Guess again. The current era is the fruit of the seeds that Martin Luther planted.
To be continued: More impolite and intolerant stuff about Luther.