Martin Luther

Violence and the Church Go Way Back

Violence and the Church Go Way Back

Gutless, spineless, yellow-bellied girly-men. Such words hardly come to mind when you gaze upon the prophets of old. These men were, well, they were men, and you knew it. Sir Robin of The-Search-for-the-Holy-Grail fame would not have made the cut. They all had their weak moments, but mere moments they were. 

Attaching a Résumé to Our Prayers

Attaching a Résumé to Our Prayers

Our children learn the Sunday School song, “Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham.” But we would do well to teach them to sing, “Father Abraham had many sins, and many sins had father Abraham.” For though he was a patriarch and prophet, Abraham also left behind a legacy of deceit.

What Is the Theology of the Cross?

When Christians talk about the theology of the cross, they contrast it with the theology of glory. What's the difference between the two? Here's a brief explanation. It's taken from my booklet, Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing.

In Theses 19 and 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther separates the wheat from the chaff, the true theologians from those in the ranks of the wannabes.

Thesis 19: That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [or, “have been made” quae facta sunt].

Thesis 20: He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. (Luther’s Works, American Edition, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31, ed. Harold J. Grimm [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971], p. 40)

In other words, no man deserves to be called a theologian unless the entire corpus of his theology is crucified. The sham-theologian, Luther says, fools himself into thinking that he can perceive who God really is in those things which are accessible to human experience, investigation, and reason. He presumes to recognize the invisible things of God (i.e., His “virtue, godliness, wisdom, justice, goodness, and so forth”) in the visible things of creation, but “the recognition of all these things does not make one worthy or wise” (AE, vol. 31, p. 52). “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross” (AE, vol. 31, pp. 52-53). The uncrucified god is a false god for the true God cannot be known, cannot be recognized, cannot be confessed until and unless He is comprehended in the crucified Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Because “true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ,” the crucifix is not only the ultimate but the ongoing epiphany wherein God reveals how He comes to His people and brings His people into Himself (AE, vol. 31, p. 53).

All theology must therefore be crucified. For instance, God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, is not known as God the Father in the created things of heaven and earth by themselves. Visible creation certainly testifies that there is a Maker (Romans 1:20), but that God remains nameless and unknown as God our Father until He is known in His incarnate and crucified Son. The theology of creation must therefore be crucified for the God of creation truly to be known. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is unknown and unknowable except in the crucified Son, for the Spirit “bears witness of” and “glorifies” Christ (St. John 15:26; 16:14). The theology of the Spirit must therefore be crucified for the Holy Spirit truly to be known.

Who God is and how He deals with us is made known “through suffering and the cross,” as Luther summarily says. In other words, God is who and God is where man by nature supposes He is not. Luther was fond of quoting the prophet Isaiah in this regard: “Truly, Thou art a God who hidest Thyself” (Isaiah 45:15). God camouflages Himself beneath His seeming opposite: His glory is hidden beneath the inglorious cross, His strength hidden in weakness, wisdom in folly, exaltation in humiliation. Yet, this divine concealment is simultaneously divine revelation: His glory is made known precisely in the cross, His strength in weakness, His wisdom in folly, His exaltation in humiliation. These are revealed, however, solely to those have “seeing ears,” who behold what their ears are told in the Word of Christ. Only those who heed the Word of Christ see through these masks of God, that is, only they see God behind His seeming opposite, His outward disguise. Only those who know God in the crucified Christ know the God who hides Himself, and so only they will seek and find Him where His Word has promised He is and will be. On the other hand, those who heed not the Word of Christ, but their own natural experience, investigation, and reason will search for God and even possibly think that they have found Him. But, alas, they will be gravely disappointed. For all those who think they have laid hold of God where God is not, have really laid hold of an idol, an idol which is the mask and jaws of the devil himself (1 Corinthians 10:19-20).

The God who hides and reveals Himself in His crucified Son also hides and reveals Himself in the ways and means whereby this crucified Son comes to us. Everything by which God imparts Himself to us and brings us into Himself must bear the cruciform image of the Christ. Therefore, in virtually the same breath St. Paul calls the cross and the preaching of this cross “foolishness” to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21). Just as the sin-blinded world cannot see God in the crucified Christ, so the world cannot see God in the means whereby the crucified Christ comes to us: in preaching. And so it is with every other way and means by which the hidden God comes to us. The God who is hidden in the “foolishness” of the cross is hidden in the “foolishness” of Baptism’s water, the Eucharist’s bread and wine, the Absolution’s human voice and touch. The offense of the cross now rests within the pulpit, upon the altar, in the font, at the confessional chair. Everything that belongs to God must be crucified, that is, it must hide God so that only those who heed His Word will find Him there, revealing and giving Himself.

Looking for the Church? Follow the Trail of Blood

It is not hard to track down the Church; just follow the trail of blood. It begins in the wet soil beneath the body of Abel, murdered not by a stranger but by a brother, slain by one who hated the believer because he hated the believer’s God. And onward it winds, this haunting crimson road. The blood flows from the veins of the very old to the very young, from the infant boys in Egypt and Bethlehem to the gray-haired men and women whose tongues would not be tied by a tyrant’s decree. In this world the Church never has peace—peace as the world understands it. Yes, wherever she goes, the Church leaves—or, rather, is forced to leave – the telltale sign of her passage through that place. Just follow the trail of blood, and there you will behold the lineage of the Church. See to it that no one leads you astray from such a path, painful though that path may be. Many come to tell your itching ears what they crave to hear: “It doesn’t have to go on like this. We can have peace. No more blood need be shed. Wink at the golden calves and mind your own business rather than throw down the law and insist on only one saving truth. Much favor will be won if we learn how to compromise, to play our political cards right, to sweeten our speech with opinions rather than confessions, to crawl about like a theological chameleon in today’s multi-colored religious landscape.” If these lies were true, then the world would smile and sheathe its sword, the demons would retract their claws, and the haunting crimson road would come to an end. But then, so would the Church.

Deep guile is the weapon of the one who masquerades as an angel of light, but who is truly the prince of darkness. It is he who opened Eve’s eyes to “a better way,” unencumbered by a Word from God that deprived her of what could only make her life better and more fulfilled. So she thought. It is he who persuaded Solomon that it was more prudent to build temples for the gods of his many wives than risk losing family tranquility and political capital by insistence on the only true way of divine worship. It is he who shows you that it’s fine to applaud our spiritual forefathers for their bold stance in their own historical context but to chuckle and poke fun at any serious attempt to follow that teaching and practice in our own.

O such is the crumbling fortress of the god of this world, but how it entices our flesh! It looks like a house of candy to the Hansels and Gretels who wander lost through this world. And we all have tasted its seeming sweetness. For it is always easier to rest inside the devil’s crumbling fortress than to trudge on alone in a dark and friendless world. It is always easier to hold hands with unbelievers inside those walls than risk public defamation by declaring the Gospel from without. It is always easier to file away the 95 Theses until a more politically expedient time; to bite your tongue so long as no one else speaks up; when standing before governors and kings to say, “Here I stand…and there and there and there and wherever else you wish, whatever keeps my neck out of the noose. Yes, such is the fortress built by the devil’s deep guile. And woe to the believer and woe to the church that passes through its gates; so deceptive and seductive are its inner charms that few are those who escape. For it is not really a fortress; it is a dungeon—dark and dank and reeking of death.

See to it that no one leads you astray from the narrow way, the straight way, the only saving path, for it alone leads to the Jerusalem above. Though the road that frees you from suffering for the truth may seem broad and easy, in reality it is a road that leads only to greater and unending suffering. Though the narrow path is bloody, and though the way is steep, and though the trail of truth seems impossible to follow at times, only on that path does our Father feed you and clothe you and fill you and flood you with true and lasting peace.

For we travel not alone—far from it. At our head is the Son of David, the severed head of hell’s Goliath dangling from His hand, blazing the trail that leads to the heavenly Jerusalem. Yes, for us fights the valiant one, whom God Himself elected. Though weak and frail and frightened you may be, it matters not, for it is not you who fight but God who fights for you. He parts the waters so you may pass through, while engulfing your foes behind you. He topples the walls of Jericho; He turns the swords of your enemies against each other; He fights and He wins and He places the crown on victory upon your head while you merely stand by and see the salvation of your God.

O little flock, fear not the foe, for at your head is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for you. For all your compromises, He made the good confession before Pilate. For all your shirking of the cross, He bore His own for you. For your silence in an effort to save face, He turned His face toward the spit and the fists and the blood and the gore. And willingly He did it, all for you, that you might be His own, bought at a price.

Just follow His trail of blood, the blood of the crucified one, and there you will behold the life of the Church, your life. The Church’s life is in nothing and no one else. Not in glory nor in fame; not in numbers nor power; but in His holy, saving blood, in the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The wounds of His hands and feet and side open like lips to proclaim, “Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden by the heat of this desert world. Drink deeply from my cloven side! Come to me, sit at my feet, all ye who have gone astray, and I will show you my heel, with which I have crushed the head of the serpent of old! Come to me, all ye Adams and all ye Eves, who with guilty hands have tried to cover your shame—come and taste the fruit of my body that your eyes may truly be opened and you may see that I have clothed you with my own flesh.”

Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, because for you there is a strong city, which has lasting foundations, whose builder and architect is God. Salvation unto you has come—salvation from sin, from falsehood, from false hopes, from false and crumbling fortresses. A mighty fortress is our God, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging; though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us—we will not fear. The kingdom remains ours. The forgiveness of sins is ours. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Fed with manna from on high. Compassed about by legions of angels. Christ before us and behind us. Christ on our right and Christ on our left. Christ above us and Christ below us. We all believe in one true God who will ever remain true to us. So be still and know that He is God, and you are His children; nothing will separate you from Him who shares your flesh and blood. He will grant you endurance to the end.