Monday, July 22, 2019

Something from .... Luther's "The Bondage of the Will" (entry #1)



INTRODUCTORY NOTES:  During the life of Martin Luther, Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, was urged by Roman Catholic Church leaders to challenge Luther’s teachings and to condemn him.  Although Erasmus would rather have kept the peace in the Church, Erasmus was finally goaded into attacking Luther.  Erasmus intended to defend the official Roman Catholic teaching that God’s grace was needed to do the works by which man could then merit additional grace.  Luther’s response to Erasmus is known as The Bondage of the Will (De Servo Arbitrio).  Although Luther had published a myriad of writings in his career, he did not consider them worth preserving.  Luther regarded The Bondage of the Will as a rare exception to that rule.  In it, Luther writes at length that “free will” in spiritual matters is a lie, and that, if man actually has free will, then God loses such attributes as grace, omnipotence, and even his right to be God.

            The quotations from Luther in this blog post come from The Bondage of the Will translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. © 1957.

            The following are thoughts concerning Luther’s arguments, urging us to LET GOD BE GOD.  Something from Luther’s The Bondage of the Will.



LET GOD BE GOD: Let God be clear.

            In an effort to maintain peace in the Church and to curb Martin Luther’s boldness and provocative teaching, Erasmus sought to bring the heat down in the theological debate.  He claimed that no one should be so bold as to make assertions about the word of God, especially when—in Erasmus’ view—much of God’s word was obscure and confusing.  Teaching should be left to the experts, and the average Christian should not be bothered or bother himself with striving to know the deeper teachings of God’s word.

            Erasmus’ argument sounds pretty good to many ears today.  To make assertions about God’s word so definitively strikes of arrogance.  To be so insistent upon it creates division.  But if we allow for a great deal of leeway in understanding and concede that there is so much that is difficult to understand, then the Church can rid itself of so many divisions and heated debate. 

            Luther recognized the problem with Erasmus’ plea: God’s word is not obscure.  His teachings are not to be left open to various interpretations.  God has made clear what his word is.  The Bible is straightforward on these basic teachings: God is triune.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is man.  Jesus died on a cross as the atoning sacrifice for sinners.  There is no salvation outside of Jesus.  Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  All of these statements are bold assertions.  They are confessions of faith, but are also based on God’s clear truth.  There is nothing obscure about them, and they offer no leeway.  They are either true—and to be confessed as true, or they are not.

            The Bible makes assertions.  The Christian faith confesses them to be truth.  Something from Luther on the clarity of the Scriptures: “To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. … I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures.” (page 66)

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