In Defense of Martin Luther (part 12) (last part)
|February 29, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
2. Unclean language
3. Hostility to science and reason
4. Luther’s responsibility for later events in German history
5. Luther and German nationalism
a. Some misconceptions
b. Luther’s worldview
c. Modern nationalism
6. Luther’s anti-Semitism
a. David and Bathsheba
b. Luther’s biblical understanding of the Jews
c. What Luther did not believe about the Jews
d. Why Luther was angry at the Jews
e. Advocacy of violence against the Jews
7. Luther and the Nazis
8. Modern hostility to Luther
9. Personal attacks on Luther
9. Personal attacks on Luther
To conclude this somewhat lengthy series on Luther, I have recently run across a number of attacks on Luther’s private life: that he was a drunkard, that he was given over to vice and immorality, that he broke his monastic vows by marrying, that he encouraged divorce and even prostitution (!), that he was a morally wicked man who felt that sin remaining even in genuine believers (and not totally overcome until death) was a license to disobey moral laws (this is related to his oft-quoted remark “sin boldly”).
No one who reads Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Preface to Romans, or other important works can possibly miss Luther’s point that, though we struggle with sin in this life even after salvation, we need to look to the Word, the Spirit, and to prayer for victory, and are in no sense given license to commit sin.
In these and other works, when he speaks about “lusts of the flesh,” including his own failings, he is not referring specifically to immorality. As he explains at length, when the Bible speaks of “the flesh,” it refers to all of the sinful feelings of the natural man: pride, greed, envy, fear, unbelief, covetousness, the whole range of sinful human emotions. “Lust” used to have a more general meaning of “desire” or “strong desire” and was not so closely related to sexual desire as it is today. Some hostile witnesses have greatly misinterpreted Luther here.
Also, the quote “sin boldly” was taken out of a letter to Melanchthon. All of us have at one time or another said something we later know we shouldn’t have, or expressed ourselves poorly. Luther was trying to make the point that, if we are in Christ, we do not have to fear that God will turn us away or reject us when we fall short, as we inevitably will. The whole passage from which that quote is so often cut and pasted makes this more evident. Luther should be judged by his considered teachings, not by something maybe hastily dashed off in a letter and sent without proper reflection and re-reading.
Accusations that Luther was a drunkard are as far as I can see totally unfounded. Supporting this by quotes from an alleged “diary” of Luther’s, a book for which I can find to significant reference, is I believe to deal in gossip, false witness, and slander. Other jests, comments quoted by someone years after the fact, or not from any reputable source, should not be seriously considered.
As to Luther breaking his monastic vows by marrying, in my view, and in the views of many others, that was a false vow, a worthless vow, to break which was no sin but a wise and healthy act. The Catholic doctrine of a celibate priesthood is totally contrary to scripture, and a stumbling block to many. Even Peter had a wife – by what right does any church have the power to tyrannize people and enslave them with such false and useless rules? Peter said to Jesus “You will never wash my feet,” yet changed his mind when he realized he had said the wrong thing. Christians are under no obligation to keep a false, harmful, and wicked oath that is contrary to God.
There was an incident where Luther gave poor advice to a German nobleman who was in serious marital difficulties. To say that this makes him the “father of divorce”, when the Catholic church had already made it possible for people to obtain marital annulments, is ridiculous.
Luther should not be put on a pedestal – neither should any other human being. Yet, in his reassertion of biblical Christianity independent of all of the medieval baggage that had nothing to do with Christ and the apostles, Luther had a powerful, even an incalculable influence on the emergence of modern Europe – and it was no accident that it was in the Protestant countries of northern Europe that spiritual freedom facilitated economic and political freedom as well, along with increased advances in the sciences.
In his Commentary on Galatians, Luther explains that there is a righteousness, a goodness, of keeping God’s law. Because we are by nature sinful, and cannot in our hearts meet the demands of the law, God has made it possible for us to have a different kind of righteousness – the righteousness of Christ himself. This is given to us by God, as a gift, apart from our merits, through faith in Christ and in no other way. Having this righteousness of Christ, though the infirmities of human nature keep us humbled before God’s high and perfect law of absolute holiness, God accepts us as righteous in his sight, and we are enabled to truly live before God. Now we have real spiritual liberty, freedom from the condemnation of God’s law, and liberty to love and serve our Creator thankfully and sincerely. Thus, through the law we can be dead to the law that we might live unto God.
How greatly this pure statement of faith contrasts with the follies, excesses, and superstitions of Rome. In so far as Luther departed from the Bible and fell short of its teachings, as he did many times, we can regret his faults. In so far as he stood for biblical Christianity, we can give thanks to God for his extraordinary life and work. Yet, the struggles of the 21st century are different from those of the 16th. Underneath there are the same principles of biblical truth versus the same age-old human sins and evils, but those evils take different forms and expressions. We need more people today who will take a biblical stand against the spiritual evils of our day and time.