Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Something from ... Luther's "The Bondage of the Will" (Entry #15)


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 true and clear.

            Christians are often confused or grieved that there are so many denominations in Christendom.  Different denominations have resulted from different teachings.  Why the different teachings?  You have probably heard the claim: “Oh, it’s all a matter of interpretation.”  While this is supposed to answer the issue in a concise manner, it also allows for the idea (and probably intends to promote the idea) that all these different interpretations are valid, even when they conflict! 

            “It's all just a matter of interpretation.”  Is it really?  Is God’s word so vague that there are multiple ways to understand the very same verses of Scripture?  Is God’s word so murky that it can proclaim different messages?  Is the Bible so obscure that we really can’t know what God has to say, or is God so non-committal in his word that he leaves it up to us to find what we are looking for?

            St. Peter wrote of the Bible: “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…” (2 Peter 1:19)  If God’s word is murky, how can we call it a shining lamp?  If the Bible is so obscure, how can anything be enlightened or confirmed by it?

            Granted, there are many interpretations of the Scriptures, and many teachings among the denominations conflict with each other.  The problem, however, is not that the Bible is obscure or that God’s message is murky.  The problem is that man, who exalts his reason above God’s word and desires to make God’s word more agreeable or sensible to him, explains what God meant to say so that it matches what man wishes he had said.  This is to darken God’s counsel.  This is to fail to pay attention to what God has said, to ignore the shining lamp, and to prefer the darkness.

            God’s word is clear.  Rather than expend energy in interpreting what it means, we read it to let God speak for himself.  God speaks plainly enough.  The Bible’s truth enlightens our hearts and minds.  Here is something from Luther who chastises Erasmus about his statement that the Bible is obscure and then declares the clarity and truth of God’s word.

            “Against you particularly, I would say of the whole Scripture that I do not allow any part of it to be called obscure.  There stands within it the statement which we quoted from Peter, that the word of God is to us a lamp shining in a dark place.  If part of the lamp does not shine, then it is a part of the dark place rather than of the lamp!  When he enlightened us, Christ did not intend that part of His Word should be left obscure to us, for He commands us to mark the Word; and this command is pointless if the Word is not clear.” (page 129)

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