We are not justified by race, but by grace for Christ sake through faith. (Augsburg Confession Article 4)
Racism violates our Christian faith and Martin Luther’s theology is completely undone by it. The way our Christian convictions make us fight against racism, bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination today, Luther fought against clericalism in his day. He did so by proclaiming the priesthood of all believers.
In those days as well as even in the Roman Catholic Church in our day, ordination made a priest ontologically superior to a layperson, because a priest could confect the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.1 Luther promoted all believers into the priesthood and made ordination merely a functional difference between the clergy and laity rather than one of status.
In those days the laity internalized inferiority opposite the priests while the priests internalized an unchristian superiority. The priesthood also had many social arrangements that supported their place of privilege. A priest could not be tried in civil courts by a lay judge, but only by priests in ecclesiastical courts, whose self-interest often did not take injustices perpetrated against the common folk seriously.
In declaring the priesthood of all believers, Luther did away with that inequality. He lowered ordination to a non-sacramental status, while he affirmed baptism as one of the two biblically grounded sacraments. No longer could the clerical estate claim that baptism was almost a smudge on the soul of the believer that only ordination could wipe away. Luther fought against clericalism and our Lutheran theology convinces us to fight against racism, in which an internalized inferiority is fostered in the oppressed, with very tangible social disadvantages; and an internalized superiority, in the dominant White race, with very tangible privileges provided.
In rereading Luther’s Bondage of the Will, the section where Luther criticizes Erasmus for not distinguishing the hidden God from the God-come-to-us through the Word, Jesus Christ, came home to me. The inscrutable will of the hidden God, Luther maintains: “is not meant to be inquired into, but to be reverently adored, as by far the most awesome secret of the Divine Majesty. He has kept it to Himself and forbidden us to know it.” Luther is referring to the Aseity of God, to use a philosophical term.
It seems ridiculous to Erasmus that “the righteous Lord deplores the death of His people, which He Himself works in them.” Luther answers:
We must discuss God, or the will of God, preached, revealed, offered to us, and worshiped by us, in one way, and God not preached, nor revealed, nor offered to us, nor worshiped by us, in another way. Wherever God hides Himself, and wills to be unknown to us, there we have no concern. Here that sentiment: ‘what is above us does not concern us’, really holds good.”
Opening a Psalm and Exploring Psalm Therapy
The opening up of a Psalm can be a powerful therapeutic experience for a person in distress. Oftentimes the reader is helped, when he/she reads the Psalm aloud. But it is not merely the oral recital of a Psalm that reaches a person, of course, but the
possibility of a certain oneness [in the distress experienced] by the reader and Psalm writer, or writers if others have added their brush strokes to the Psalm. Given a certain person, a Psalm can awaken a helpful feeling in him or her, putting a person’s dilemma into so many words. In such a way, what brought comfort, catharsis, or celebration to the vibrant and living person of antiquity could touch a person
these many centuries later, break a negative pattern, and open up a new perspective for his or her situation or way of life.
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Although they are some two millennia apart, Martin Luther (1483-1546 A.D.) and the Pre-Socratic Philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus (ca. 540-480 B.C.) have a strong family resemblance, granting the inherent difference of theology for the one and philosophy for the other. Although there is no indication that Heraclitus’ thought influenced Luther, he knew of him. In his Bondage of the Will, in which he argues against Erasmus, Luther compares the obscure definition of Erasmus for the freedom of choice to the aphorisms of the old philosopher, which required double labor on his part to understand.
Martin Luther and Theologia Germanica and
the Philosophical Influence of Boethius
Martin Luther (1486-1543) stated that his pamphlet, “The Freedom of a Christian” contains “the whole sum of the Christian life.” Oswald Bayer, perhaps the foremost Luther scholar of our day, notes that this work “has not yet received from Luther scholars the attention it deserves.” As his best-seller, “The Freedom of a Christian” came out in 38 editions during Luther’s life time. This number included ten editions in Latin and 22 in German. The more popular German edition is shorter than the Latin, simpler, and very spiritually direct, like Luther’s Small Catechism. This edition is mostly unknown, however, because all English translations in America are from the Latin edition. Read this edition available in Luther’s Spirituality and you will find such gems as “One who hears the word becomes like the word, pure, good, and just” (page 268) and “Which is the word that gives such abundant grace and how shall I use it? The answer: it is nothing but the preaching of Christ in accordance with the Gospel, spoken in such a way that you hear your God speaking to you!”
Six small lectures on the life and thought of Martin Luther, the one of the great protestant reformers.
The topics are:
Lecture 1: Luther’s Theology of the Cross
Lecture 2: Luther’s Life and How He Became Justified Through Faith
Lecture 3: Reading Luther’s Small Catechism Again
Lecture 4: “The Freedom of a Christian” Luther’s Best-Selling Pamphlet and the Existential Rapture
Lecture 5: Jacob’s Ladder
Lecture 6: Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy