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.

A Multitude of Mighty Fortresses: Let's Compare! Part I

Translating poetry into another language is one of the most challenging linguistic tasks.

Just determining a literal meaning from a form that isn't always literal can be an issue, then squeezing the literal meaning back into the meter of the original so it can be sung creates another bag of worms.

Those who endeavor to do such things are to be commended.

The base text in German is as follows:

Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein gute Wehr und Waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt’ böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint,
Gross’ Macht und viel List
Sein’ grausam’ Ruestung ist,
Auf Erd’ ist nicht seingleichen.

Thanks to the assistance Dr. George C. Adams, we have the following literal translation:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A good defense and weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That has now befallen us.
The old wicked Foe,
He really is in ernest (Literally, "he really means it")
Great power and much craftiness
Are his fearful armaments.
His equal is not on earth.

Lutheran Service Book #656 (rhythmic):

A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now overtaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.

Lutheran Service Book #657 (isorhythmic):

A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor's rod
And wins salvation glorious.
The old satanic foe
Has sworn to work us woe.
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight.
On Earth he has no equal. (isorhythmic):

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Omar Westendorf (isorhythmic):

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Protecting us with staff and rod,
And power all prevailing.
What if the nations rage
And surging seas rampage;
What though the mountains fall,
The Lord is God of all;
The Lord of hosts is with us.

In future posts, a line-by-line comparison of Stanza 1.

Hominem Predicant: They Preach Man

"They preach man..."

This is the beginning of the 27th thesis of Luther's 95 Theses.  The entire thesis reads:
They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out.

To put it in a more familiar form, Luther was speaking against Johann Tetzel's slogan, "When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs."

It was on this day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door at the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  It sounds kind of radical or odd that someone would nail anything to the door of a church, but this door kind of served as a community bulletin board.  Much like you might see notices for garage sales as you enter your grocery store, the church door served as a place where you could post something of interest.

It wasn't the act of nailing something to the door of a church that set things spinning, but the content of the theses that thrust the Protestant Reformation to the forefront of society.

Luther challenged the sale of indulgences, the church's teaching on justification, and the authority of the pope in these theses.  Many of the issues are still taught by Rome today.

That being said, even though Rome still sells indulgences, its docrine of justification remains in tact, and the pope still claims to be the "Vicar of Christ on Earth," these issue hardly plagues the Church Universal the way it once did.

What does? Pastor Peters has an excellent post on The New Reformation.

While Johann Tetzel is no longer "preaching man" instead of "preaching Christ crucified," many others are.  These are the voices of the prosperity gospel, new age philosophy, eastern mysticism, popular television hosts, and all those books about how you need a "purpose".  Wherever a person's individual actions are used in lieu of Jesus' saving work, whether inside the church or outside the church, this is where "they preach man."