Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Lutherans and Luther

One has to be careful, as a Lutheran, that he does not put Luther on too high a pedestal.

There is the perception that Lutherans hold whatever Luther said or wrote as the gospel truth.  Remember, though, it was the pope who claimed infallibility, while Luther claimed, "saint and sinner at the same time."

There are four of Luther's writings that we Lutherans hold to be the correct exposition of the Word of God:
Other works are held close to our heart, but do not have the same status.  These include Bondage of the Will and Theology of the Cross.

As the American Edition of Luther's Works is heading towards 75 volumes, that leaves a whole lot of writings that are open for discussion.  The most interesting of which might be Volume 54 of the American Edition, titled, "Table Talks."

Most of us have spoken words off-the-cuff that we shouldn't have said, phrased something in the wrong way, or we were just plain wrong in saying it.  For those times, our friends either ignore us or, better yet, call us to repentance.  Worst case scenario, they stop talking to us entirely.  Personally, some of the things I have said are already damaging enough because they are kept in the offended person's heart, so I am thankful that those things have not been preserved for generations so anyone could read them. 

For Martin Luther, though, his friends and students were jotting down his words even at the dinner table, only to have them compiled later in "Table Talks" (in German, Tischreden).  The American Edition has just one volume, carefully chosen from over 7000 entries in the Weimar Edition.

Often times those speaking against Luther cite his comments in "Table Talks" as though Lutherans hold this volume to the same standard as the Large Catechism or the Smalcald Articles.  The reality is that we are free to reject anything in Luther's Works that turns out to be in conflict with the Word of God.

When it comes to the writings of Luther that we hold to be the correct exposition of the Word of God, start with the Small Catechism.  It's short and can be read in 20-30 minutes or so.  Also, as most confirmed Lutherans can tell you, it is memorizable.  "We should fear, love and trust God that..." and "This is most certainly true" are phrases that are common to the Small Catechism.

Then work your way into the Large Catechism.  From there, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise round off the group.  New resources such as Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions provide readable translations and background information on each section.

Above all, whether you are Lutheran or not, whether you are a fan of Luther or a foe, look to those writings that Lutherans subscribe to as correct first.  Its a little like reading about the H1N1 virus from The Journal of the American Medical Association instead of People Magazine.

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