The Protestant Reformation shapes the way we think. Protestantism is defined internally by how people agree with or react to Luther. Luther’s theology began with questioning church authority. How did his thinking develop during the passage of his reformation process?
The Reformation was not a wholesale rejection of everything that went before. It intensified and modified medieval theology relative to Biblical knowledge. It wasn’t anti-traditional. Calvin’s view was that the Roman Catholic Church had departed from the right tradition in addition to the Bible.
It was beyond the realm of the thinking of the reformers to think that the church would not be one. The break up of the church was very painful for them. They kept engaging with ecumenical endeavours with the Roman Catholic Church because it was impossible for them to comprehend a split in the church.
Tradition says that the reformation began on 31 October 1517 when Luther nailed the 95 Thesis against indulgences.
Luther participated in the disputation against scholastic theology in September 1517. The attack on indulgences grabbed public attention. It was about money. The German-speaking lands we’re more self-aware. Northern Europe was bailing out southern Europe as the Popes drank wine while the Germans drank beer.
Luther wanted clarity about the position of the church. He had been taught that sin was dirt or weakness and baptism was a washing or strengthening. He now thought that sin was a state, it was death. Instead, they should be humble (which develops into a view of faith). Luther’s problem was that humility was set aside. When word gets back to Rome, the Pope has to commission an investigation into what indulgences are.
The Augustinians investigate Luther. He gets to defend himself at a chapter meeting in Heidelberg in 1518. He talks about theologians of power, who extrapolate that to God, and a theologian of the cross who starts with God’s revelation, primarily in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the height of it on the cross. His theology will ultimately question the power of the church. It is mean to reflect the power of Christ and be completely different to the power of the world. For him, the Pope was the Antichrist, the exact opposite of Christ, who uses earthly power calling it spiritual power. The Heidelberg Disputation is important for understanding his thinking, though he doesn’t understand all of the implications.
At the Imperial Diet of Augsburg (called to deal with the war against the Turks), Luther is put on trial again. Frederick the Wise protects Luther despite never meeting him, with Spalatin acting as intermediary. He had prevented the selling of indulgences because he had so many relics himself.
The Emperor dies, preventing the empire from moving against Luther. An old friend, now an enemy, John Eck challenges Luther to debate him in Leipzig, accompanied by a group of armed students. Luther was meant to preach at the chapel before the debate, but there are so many people that they meet in a lecture hall. He preaches on Matthew 16 saying that the keys are given to the church, not to the Pope.
Eck calls that “Bohemian”, following John Hus. Hus said the church was the totality of the elect. He believed that no one could believe that he was elect, so there was no assurance. Therefore, the Pope could not know that he was elect and head of the church. Hus was burned at the stake as a heretic. Eck pushes Luther, and Luther says that not only can the Papacy go wrong, but the Council of Constance which condemned Hus may have been wrong too. This could be the point when the Reformation began as salvation moves outside the sacramental structure of the church and questions it’s authority.
In 1520, Luther lays out what he thinks the Reformation should look like in The Freedom of the Christian Man, the Babylonian Captivity of the Church and the Appeal to the German Nobility. They set out justification by faith alone; reworking the sacramental system to include only baptism, communion, and confession and penance; and unleashing the civil magistrate from the authority of the church.
Luther is very medieval. He thinks he is living at the end of time. The black plague makes this seems possible. In 1522 he is identified with one of the witnesses in Revelation. He never appropriates it nor repudiates it. He adopts the strategy of people in mixed demonimations, as in the Church of Scotland in the 1970s and 80s: just preach the Gospel, the opponents will die out and everything will work out well. That’s not Paul’s plan. Luther will be dramatically disabused of his non-ecclesiastical view of the church. After the Diet of Worms in 1522, he is taken to the Wartburg Castle high above Eisenach, where Bach was later born. The leadership in Wittenberg passed to Carlstatt, Melancthon and Svelling but Luther had to return, at first incognito, to end the riots lest Frederick the Wise or the Emperor suppressed the Reformation. Luther had no military support but was able to put down the riot.
In 1525, the Peasants War (or rebellions) arise. Ten years ago, radicals wanted justice. Now they wanted freedom. Luther realised that you can’t have anyone preaching whatever Gospel they want. Melancthon wrote the Augsburg Confession in 1530 to clarify the message. The Emperor does not sign it and the princes protest, forming the Schmalcalic League. Luther comes to see that Gospel is not enough.
In 1539, he writes about church councils. He has seven marks of the church: word and sacrament, then either purity of worship (WCF) or discipline (Continental). Luther includes prayer.
Preaching of the word (displacing the centrality of the mass). See Oxford university press on When Church Became Theatre about churches becoming like music halls.
The Lord’s Supper. Promise and presence are important.
Calling and ordination of ministers. Connects to the first four.
Public prayer, praise and thanksgiving. Teaching people to pray well in public isn’t done well. Public prayer is a pedagogical activity and is not to be done lightly. The Book of Common Prayer doesn’t use the words “We just” even once.
The cross. Anabaptists traced the true church through the fifth to sixteenth century by the trail of blood, who has been persecuted by the church. Many of them should have raised the ire of Protestants too. Even the medieval church had anti-Pelagians and maintained a right Christology. Even in America, it might be time to revisit this last mark of Luther’s. If the expectation is that the church will suffer, it will change your outlook. The cross is going to be more central to the identity of the church then it has been for many generations.
Luther has a crisis of authority, leading to an institutional view of the church for the purpose of the Gospel.
Following Luther’s death, the Emperor and his aide de camp went into the church at Wittenberg and destroyed his portrait. Luther had destroyed his reign and in the end he didn’t have the energy to desecrate his grave.
Question: Bifurcation of the modern mind splitting the theology of the cross from the theology of glory, see Revelation 1:17.
Answer: Paul makes numerous antithesis, rather than bifurcation. Does Luther emphasise the cross to the exclusion of the resurrection? To say that Christ is glorious is not to engage in the theology of glory, which makes man glorious not Christ.
Question: As Presbyterians, we tend to have reasonable relationships to evangelical Anglicans and Baptists, but not with Lutherans. Is this a cultural or theological distinction?
Answer: In 1529, the Landgrave of Hesse, at the Marburg Colloquy, the Lutherans insisted on the presence of Christ in the supper. Luther told Zwingli that they had a different spirit, i.e. we have the Holy Spirit and you don’t. Later, the Phillipists moderate but lose and the real Lutherans win. Ecumenical relations don’t exist because Lutherans hold fast to their confessional position. Even in Luther’s time, ecumenical relations between Wittenberg and Rome and easier than Wittenberg and Geneva because they agree that Christ is present in the supper, even if they’re not sure about whether the bread is. Luther was happy for the outward forms to remain in place so long as the content changed. There has been a sacramental move in Presbyterianism too, perhaps from a craving for more transcendence that was in Puritan worship.
Question: Indulgences weren’t new. They were there form the first crusade. What did you mean?
Answer: Excurge Domine in the 14th century developed them a link to the bank of merit. There is no uniform understanding of indulgences. Neither does it have a uniform view of justification, so Luther can’t be condemned as a heretic.
Question: Remember in the Lord’s Supper means the mighty acts of God in the past, bringing them up to the present.
Answer: I wouldn’t want to take it in isolation. Paul uses Jeremiah 31 language of God doing a new thing. We proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns. He is at the Father’s right hand. Calvinism deals with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Question: Luther started with the conviction that the Gospel was enough. Where does that end up?
Answer: One has to cling to the Gospel. Pus, we need good organisation. Questions of order always take precedence over questions of theology. Chalmer’s mantra in the ten years running up to the Disruption was organise, organise, organise. If you’re in a mixed denomination, you need a plan to change it. That involves boring stuff including making sure the wrong people don’t get ordained and the theological colleges stand firm for the truth. In the Church of Scotland, the evangelicals mistook numbers for influence.
Question: In Titus, after the teaching of the Gospel, the government of the church is the next priority.
Question: How have your views of theological education changed since coming to Westminster?
Answer: I thought people understood that an M.Div. doesn’t mean you are qualified to minister. Robinson (++Sydney) on the age of ordinands. How do you teach preaching? Certainly not just four times in a preaching lab. A mentor path is the best for that, just ads other things are best done in a classroom.