October 31 marks a freedom from good works

October 31 is a special date that marks the beginning of Protestantism.  No, not Halloween but the day one monk-professor protested the Church’s illegitimate rules and regulations.  It was the beginning of the western church’s road to reform.

Martin Luther, a young Roman Catholic priest before he was kicked-out, had nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church.  This got him into big trouble–not for graffiti, but for his ideas.  It was sort of a declaration that stated the truths he wished all Christians would understand, including the Pope and bishops of the Church to whom he had given some constructive, but unwelcomed critique.  They were furious when they saw what he made public for all to read.  They tried him, and finally, wanted to kill him when they realized he would never conform.

Why was Luther up-in-arms about the Church?  Christians had been deceived into giving indulgences (or alms) to ensure the salvation of one’s loved ones. This was totally contrary to biblical teaching because scripture was clear that salvation was a free gift from God and cannot be bought.  Finally, in 1517 A.D., a fed-up Martin Luther began to argue for freedom from such non-sensical rules that were conveniently concocted by the church in order to secretly fund the construction of a big church building in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica).  He argued that we are saved only by faith in believing that Jesus died for our sins, not by following the illegitimate laws of the Church.  He believed this was the Christian’s religious freedom from having to trust in the dictates of the law for our righteousness.

The great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, et al, have fought to restore the freedom of the Christian from having to earn our righteousness through good works.  It was a major sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears (literally).  Christians have died for this religious freedom.  Today, Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic Christians have solid ground to stand upon the belief that we are not bound by having to do any good works to earn God’s approval or favor.  Paul also encouraged Christians toward good works, not to run from it (Galatians 5:9-10 and Ephesians 2:10).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
To do good works in the world is part of being a good human being.  It does not make you and I a better Christian.  What makes a person a good Christian is faith alone, in and through, the grace of Christ alone.  In light of our freedom we have today, may we be encouraged to live out our freedom to do even more good works, not because we must, but because we want to bless our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, and help our fellow human beings in this world.

We are the salt and light in a dark world.  May the light of the gospel shine as others see our good works to the praise and glory of God the Father.

Why learning the catechism and bible is important

These day, I don’t know if many people take the catechism very seriously.  Most Lutherans have heard of Luther’s Large and Small Catechism; some have even heard of the Book of Concord.  Reformed and Presbyterians know of the Geneva, Heidelberg, Larger, Smaller catechisms, including the Westminister Confession of Faith.  But many do not even know what is in them.  A while back, I started reading Luther’s Large Catechism and was blown away by it.  I love it and have come to really appreciate the richness of teaching in the words of Martin Luther.

The Large catechism was intentionally written for pastors and preachers, who he assumes are supposed to be hard working and studious with the scriptures. “It is highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and make it a subject of meditation and conversation,” says Luther (381).  As I started reading his large catechism, I am always taken aback by his strong language he uses to exhort others to live piously.

Then there are also laypeople who think they can do without pastors. Concerning these people, he lays it on them heavy:

“among the nobility there are also some louts and skinflints (cheapskates) who declare that they can do without pastors and preachers now because we now have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves.”

So for churches that don’t think they need pastors: “Eat these words!”

Luther likes to keep everyone on their toes, including pastors. To those who are educated beyond their own good, he pointedly exclaims:

“I beg such lazy bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake to let themselves be convinced and believe that they are not really and truly such learned and exalted doctors as they think. I implore them not ever to imagine that they have learned these parts of the catechism perfectly, or that they know them sufficiently, even though they think they know them ever so well.”

So pastors, we have to keep learning the basics.

Luther takes this so seriously that he encourages us to take a hard stance on knowing the catechism. “Anyone who does not know it should not be numbered among Christians nor admitted to any sacrament” (383). This really hurts a lot of Lutherans.

And for young people, he has these tough words to say:

“Young people should be thoroughly taught the parts of the catechism (that is, instruction for children) and diligently drilled in their practice” (383)…. “The children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily, when they arise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and when they go to bed at night. Until they recite them they should be given nothing to eat or drink” (385).

According to this standard, I think more than half of our children would have to starve every night.  This is why I will not take it easy on my confirmation kids.  I am going to do my best to encourage them to learn the bible and the catechism, know it well, and not let them off the hook.

Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.

Martin Luther’s Here I Stand – free download

FYI, there a free download of Martin Luther’s Here I Stand, a 24-minute recording by Max McLean. Download it by November 1.HT: TC

We just celebrated Reformation Sunday this morning, and showed our youth a clip from the Luther movie Joseph Fiennes (2003) during confirmation class.

October 31 is Reformation Day–not just Halloween

October 31 reminds most of Halloween and of ghosts, goblins and kids dressed in costumes wandering through the streets on Halloween “trick or treating,” but most people know little about what October 31 means to the church. It means much more. For Protestants, October 31 is a very special date because it marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his famous ninety-five theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany (pictured here).

When the Reformation began in Germany, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther was a Catholic priest and theologian who only wanted to see the beloved church reform some of the ways it looked and practiced theology. The Church has gone astray because it began to attach a price to the salvation of souls. It taught people that paying for indulgences would earn them and their family a shorter stay in purgatory. The Pope encouraged the sales of indulgences and would even issue a certificate by the church. Behind this was the goal of raising of funds to help pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

At the core, for Luther, was the issue of trusting in God’s righteousness rather than doing good works to earn God’s righteousness. Luther saw this doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone as central to the gospel. This most important theological truth was being freshly revealed to generations of Christians in the 16th century. Luther identified this truth as the head and cornerstone of our church’s doctrine, and even of the Church’s very existence. He was convinced of this truth and was determined to defend it, preach it, and teach it so that the world may know the truth and be set free from the enslavement and guilt of their sins.

This theological issue justification by grace through faith became a big controversy that eventually grew into a huge movement that went even beyond Lutheranism. It brought about a great reformation and birthed the Lutheran Church and other protestant churches around the world. As the church on earth today, we must continue to defend, to teach and preach this doctrine for the glory of God and for the salvation of all God’s people. (pic1: door of Castle Church; pic2: sale of indulgences in a church)

Luther’s German translation of the New Testament

I wish continue to blog about the history of the New Testament and continue with Luther’s German translation. Luther was a radical for his own time. His views of the bible and of theology was reason enough for the Roman Catholic Church’s high authorities to want to take his life. In 1415, the Church burned John Huss alive at the stake for his heresy. Thank God this is not the case today. Luther began translating parts of the scriptures in 1517. In 1521, Luther was kidnapped by five armed riders while returning to Wittenberg from the Diet of Worms. They kidnapped him and brought him to Wartburg Castle to keep him safe from harm. For 10 months, from May 4, 1521 to March 1, 1522, Luther’s hideout was Wartburg Castle. (You have to see the movie or if you prefer, read the book). This was the place where he would translate the New Testament into German. No one knew where he was in hiding and when he did leave the castle, he grew a beard, dressed up as a knight and called himself “Knight George” (Junker Jorge).

Luther wanted to make the Word of God available to all of the German people so he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into easy‑to‑understand German. He completed the translation from Erasmus’ text which was a special new edition of the New Testament in Greek with a Latin translation. It was said that he completed the New Testament in three months. Three months is not much time to translate an entire New Testament. He must have had to work extremely hard.

There were only 5,000 copies of the first edition of the New Testament (printed in Wittenberg by Melchior Lotter). Each copy costs no less than 1 ½ gulden (I am not sure what this would be equivalent to in today’s dollars). Luther did not make a financial profit from the translation. To make a profit would have been unthinkable for Luther.

This bible became the people’s bible and it helped shape the common German language. This bible translated into the contemporary language of the common people did a great thing for the German language because it unified the various German dialects into one. It was used as the norm for the next four hundred years (much like the King James Version was in the English-speaking world). I think it would be safe to assume that today’s translations in modern languages around the world will also unify hundreds of dialects around the world.

After completing the New Testament, he continued translating the Old Testament. His colleagues at the University assisted him in this endeavor. By 1534 he completed the translationf the entire German Bible.

Martin Luther on bible translation: in the common language of the people

The importance of bibles being translated into the language of the common people (or the vernacular) cannot be better expressed than through the words of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther, the Reformer. The Latin Vulgate (translated by Jerome in 405 CE) was the Bible used in the Western Church. For 1,000 years after the Vulgate, bible translation was not an important activity in the Church. Luther felt that Latin kept the people distant from the truth, so the language of the bible should be simplified for all people to understand. He said:

“One may not ask the Latin language how to speak German…one must ask mothers in the home, children on the street, the common man at the market, and watch carefully how they speak. After that one may translate. Then those who read will understand you and know that you are speaking German with them” (WA30, II, 637).

Do we have this today in our English translations? I think so. We have our functional equivalent translations, even children’s bibles. I think Luther would be pleased with the T/NIV, NLT, God’s Word, New Century Version, and Good News Translation. Luther felt that the common people should be able to read the scriptures for themselves in the most contemporary language of the day.

“Your reader must be able to read God’s Word “as though it were written yesterday” (WA12, 444).

Though sometimes, I wonder about the Message bible. Okay, so we know that the King James Version is outdated. But how do we tell this to the King James-only crowd? I think we can just quote Luther. Luther wanted to communicate God’s word clearly. Therefore, it was necessary for Luther to translated Hebrew, Greek, and Latin language into the German language, the language of the people. But today, the KJV-only readers have to translate Elizabethan English into modern day English. I don’t think Luther would have approved of the KJV for today’s contemporary readers.

“In translation you cannot speak German with a Greek or Hebrew tongue” (Open Letter Concerning Translation).

He wanted the scriptures in easy to understand German and in terms of an accurate rendering of the original meaning.

“I endeavored to make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew” (Open Letter Concerning Translation).

Would some of our formal equivalent translations qualify? I wonder if the RSV or NASB (1977) would meet Luther’s standard? Our functional equivalent translations certainly do.

Cochlaeus, one of Luther’s bitterest opponents, said:

“Even shoemakers and women become so absorbed in the study of Luther’s German New Testament that they are able to carry on discussions with doctors of theology” (Four Hundred Years, Dau, p. 115).

Moreover, he felt that the Confessions and scripture should be the source and norm of all religious thought and doctrine. The bible was the natural vehicle for inculcating piety into the hearts and lives of the people. Moreover, bible translation should not be taken lightly but should be done in all godly reverence.

“Translation is not an art that everyone can practice. It requires a right, pious, faithful, diligent, God fearing, experienced practical heart” (WA30, II, 640).

Luther had a high view of Scripture and sola scriptura was the sole rule and norm of faith. Justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus influenced how Luther translated the German bible. Jesus Christ took our place under the law, and became all things for us so that God might fully redeem us. Luther felt that scripture needed to reveal “all things for us” just as Christ became fully incarnated in order to serve and to save humankind.