Friday, June 12, 2015

Luther and the Church

Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism,

I believe that there is on earth a little holy flock or community of pure saints under one head, Christ.  It is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, mind, and understanding.  It possesses a variety of gifts, yet is united in love without sect or schism.  Of this community I also am a part and member, a participant and co-partner in all the blessings it possesses.  I was brought to it by the Holy Spirit and incorporated into it through the fact that I have heard and still hear God’s Word, which is the first step in entering it.  Before we had advanced this far, we were entirely of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. Until the last day the Holy Spirit remains with this holy community or Christian Church.  Through it [the Church] he gathers us, using it to teach and preach the Word.

Some make much of the individualism they believe was introduced and fostered by the Reformation.  There are many of those who lay the blame directly at the feet of Luther himself.  Indeed, the sad truth is that too many Lutherans act as if faith were an individual matter, simply between the Christian and his or her God, in which the Church plays a supporting or even optional role.  Luther was anything but churchly and as is easily demonstrated from his catechisms, he believed, taught, and confessed nothing to support this modern idea of "me n Jesus" and our solo walk when we come to the garden alone.

What Luther did teach is that first of all the Church does not derive its power from its size.  Notice how he calls the Church a little holy flock.  Today we have bought into the Wal-Mart theology of the church in which we believe size is the chief indicator of effectiveness and that statistical growth and numbers are the primary means of charting our success.  Not Luther. 

He described the Church as a community of pure saints under one head, Christ.  In case you missed it, this is a pure baptismal reference.  Our sainthood is not our morality or good behavior paraded before God but the righteousness of Christ we are clothed with in baptism and which we wear by faith. 

The Church is for Luther not a voluntary organization but those whom the Lord calls and gathers by the Spirit.  It is God's activity happening through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament) and the ministers of these means of grace (Pastors).  The Church does not grow through programs nor is its appeal self-interest but God calls, awakens faith, and gathers the community of His own around His Word and Sacraments. 

For Luther the Church possesses a variety of gifts not for personal edification but for the fulfillment of the work assigned to the Church as witnesses and instruments of God continuing to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify His Church as one people (heart - faith and mind - doctrine/teaching).  Its unity is not compromised or negotiated agreement but the unity of the Spirit working in love to create a community of love.  It is not divided, not sectarian, nor schismatic but united with Christ as Christ is with the Father.

The individual members are part and partners, members and participants.  That is the largess of God's lavish grace.  We who are unworthy even to be part are made partners in His endeavor and we who do not deserve to  be members are made participants in God's work here on earth.  Not "me n Jesus in our solo walk in the garden" but me with the saints who like me are baptized into Christ and who with me are gathered by the Spirit through the means of grace for God's holy purpose and glory.  You do not hear in Luther any of the modern day fascination with our personal journeys with Jesus and God's great plan for our individual lives.  What you hear is "that I may live under Him in His kingdom".

I was brought to it [the Church] by the Holy Spirit and incorporated into it through the fact that I have heard and still hear God’s Word not in the sense of my personal reading of God's Word (largely absent in Luther's day) but my common life around that Word in the Church and the services of God's House.  This is churchly talk, a sacramental Word that speaks and delivers God's grace to us and the visible Word of the sacraments that deliver what they sign (new life in baptism and the flesh and blood of Christ in the Eucharist).

Before this I was not simply neutral to God's will, Word, and ways but an enemy of Christ and a creature captive to the devil.  Before we had advanced this far, we were entirely of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ... and apart from God's actions to call me, gather me, enlighten me, and sanctify me, that is what I remain -- captive to the devil and his evil purpose.  Luther knows nothing of the basically good human nature only slightly soiled by occasional bad choices.  Luther knows only of enemies whom God has turned by killing them and making them alive anew in baptism and imparting to them with faith a new heart and will by the power of the Spirit.

Finally, note the last line of Luther's explanation:  Until the last day the Holy Spirit remains with this holy community. . .  Lutherans who have bought into the deception of Evangelicalism with its emphasis upon the individual and its conception of our individual walk with Jesus find no help from Luther.  We are kept by the Spirit working within the Church through the means of grace.  The world is not filled with solitary flowers of Christianity that sit in isolation from the others but God plants us within His kingdom by baptism, creates faith in our stubborn and fearful hearts, and gives us to live within His house where His Word speaks and His Holy Supper feeds us.  And this Church has only the Word and Sacraments as our tools to do His bidding, our instruments through which He is among us to accomplish His purpose, and our weapons against those who fight against Him.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Americans are even more individualistic today than in the years around the 2nd Great Awakening, or influenced by Rationalism. This seems to be the way society is propelling us, with "friends" we've never seen face to face, and the loss even of eye contact wrought by always having our eyes glued to our cell phones. Doesn't it seem so strange we want mega-churches of housands of members, but the only time members have interaction is when the pastor tells them to "high-five" the person in the next seat? That, or relate to those in their niche interest group (a.k.a small group)?

I think it was Capon who said he wouldn't worry about the Church/Christianity till she dwindled to less than 120. That original 120 were all of one mind and gathered aroun the Apostles' Doctrine, the breaking of bread (communion-Lord's Supper), and the Prayers. Little, holy flock, indeed. May God's Spirit increase this type of flock!