"Over against all that reason suggests or would measure and fathom, yes, all that our senses feel and perceive, we must learn to cling to the Word and simply judge according to it."

- Martin Luther

Luther's Rose

I wish most importantly to state a case for Christ and His Cross for the unbeliever, but I also wish to make the case for both the unbeliever and the "blessedly inconsistent" towards the true apostolic and catholic teachings of the blessed and orthodox Lutheran Church.


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As is explained in the conversation between Issues Etc., host Todd Wilken and his guest, Dr. Matt Phillips of Concordia University Nebraska, one can't really understand Roman Catholic theology without first understanding the philosophy of Aristotle.

Likewise, and in turn, one can't truly understand Luther and his diametric opposition to Medieval Scholasticism unless he first understands Luther's educational environment and its unspoken opposition to "scripture alone".

This audio is a good little introduction to Medieval Scholasticism, and Luther's reaction to the educational zeitgeist of the later 15th century, with "ad fontes", "or as translated "back to the sources". Up until shortly before Luther's time great strides had been made by many scholars of the same vein, in dissecting Medieval philosophy from ancient church theology. This "back to the sources" attitude regarding the study of God helped give birth to the reformation maxim "Sola Scriptura" which is so essential to Lutheranism and the legacy Luther's given us.

Listen and enjoy!

Also, thank God for the resource that is Issues Etc.; it's truly a blessing! If you've never listened to the program before, then please visit the site and lend your ear, there really is something for everyone, and the Gospel for everyone too!

Today we examine Luther's first thesis of the Heidelberg Disputation:

Thesis 1:
"The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him."

The Law of God is good. It tells us how our heart should be towards our neighbor and towards God Himself. However, when we examine our hearts by God's Law we not only see it accusing us of our sins, but we also see that it awakens an evil desire within us. Therefore, the more we practice the Law, and the more we attempt perfection in the light of Gods law, the more our flesh in evilness struggles against our will to do good.

We find ourselves in the same predicament as the wretched man in Romans 7:7-24:

"What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good."

"Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Luther offers this following passage as the proof of his thesis, it states:

"This is made clear by the Apostle in his letter to the Romans (3[:21]): "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law." St. Augustine interprets this in his book, The Spirit and the Letter (De Spiritu et Littera): "Without the law, that is, without its support." In Rom. 5[:20] the Apostle states, "Law intervened, to increase the trespass," and in Rom. 7[:9] he adds, "But when the commandment came, sin revived." For this reason he calls the law a law of death and a law of sin in Rom. 8[:2]. Indeed, in 2 Cor. 3[:6] he says, "the written code kills," which St. Augustine throughout his book, The Spirit and the Letter, understands as applying to every law, even the holiest law of God."

Man's reason looks at God and His demands and believes that God wouldn't give him something he wasn't able to perform. And so, he concludes that he must do these things primarily to be in God's good graces, yet, if he is honest with himself, he will find that the closer he comes to God's Law, the further he gets from actually fulfilling it. The more he practices righteousness, the more he actually practices wickedness. This frustrates his reason and he questions, "what must I do to be saved?"

It is here where God is finally ready to meet him, for in the end, the wretched man finally cries out, "who will deliver me from this body of death?" This is exactly were God wants everyone of us, for the wretched man in the very next sentence finally sees the despair of his own works and clings to the One who has fulfilled the Law in his place. He states in verse 25, "I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord", for it is by Him and Him alone that we are righteous in the eyes of our God. It is in him and him alone that we have the life everlasting.

Are you tired of the weight of God's Law on your shoulders? Does it seem that no matter how hard you try to keep it, that you were always worse off then when you started? If you are tired, then repent, for God longs to forgive us our iniquities! Let Christ take the weight of your sin from off of you, and put on his robe of righteousness, for "his yoke is easy, and his burden is light", so "come to Him, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest."

Okay, in reference to the Heidelberg Disputation, if there's a wrong way to do theology, then what is the right way? Well, to answer that question one would have to refer back to the theologian of glory as being just but one path a theologian can take, the incorrect path mind you. Yet, before we can supply any answer about the right path some more things must first be explored a little more deeply, and there is no better example than in examining the life of the one whom God chose to bring about the Reformation: Dr. Martin Luther.

We must start with the educational climate of Luther's day. God's Word, as it is plainly written is in fact contrary in nature to human reason. One can easily find it filled with paradox and "bad" reasoning, at least by the Aristotelian/Thomistic Scholasticism of Luther's day (hang in there with me folks, my intent isn't to disparage the Bible, I promise!). Yet, of course, the sophists of Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity made every attempt to avoid the paradoxes of scripture, for in their thinking they presupposed that our minds and God's mind must be governed by the same laws. Therefore, our logic, as of necessity, must really be God's logic and was to a certain extent pure. Such is the nature of Aristotelian philosophy, one must always reason upwards-from the ground up-so to say. If our minds are governed by logic, then the cause of all minds, the Creator's mind, must govern affairs in the same manner, and, logically expects us to do the same as well. So, it stands to reason that their can be NO paradoxes or il-logic in the Bible whatsoever, at least by any scholastic standards.

Luther had a problem with this. He was educated in the scholastic tradition as well, and he was equally versed in Aristotle's Organon. When he applied the classical rules of logic to scripture he was perplexed, for some scriptures spoke to the fact that all men are saved by Christ's work on the cross, and yet other scriptures spoke to the fact that all men were dead in their trespasses in sin. Regarding the Bible and it's contrary nature, this was only the tip of the iceberg as far Luther was concerned. However, this very issue is what troubled the conscience of Luther the most, for the Bible, at least according to his reason, offered no assurance of salvation due to these inherent paradoxes. If he was to cling purely to his reason, then he knew he was lost. With his reason God's Word was and remained a closed book to him. At times, as he confessed, he hated God for the psychological terror regarding the salvation/damnation dilemma that God's paradoxical Word caused him. These episodes of despair were legendary. Unfortunately for him at that time, God's word, the very words of life, were nothing but words of despair.

Also, prior to Luther becoming a monk of the Augustinian Order he was trained in the university as a lawyer. He was well aware that if God was perfect, just, and omniscient, then no human action is hidden or immune from His righteous judgment. Therefore, we all stand naked before the eyes of our Lord. And so, Luther took Socrates maxim "know thyself" to a new degree by applying God's perfect Law to his inward motivations. What he found was that no matter how hard he tried to do a good work according to the Law, the work was always tainted by some selfish and evil motivation. Here's the reason, the Law is only truly performed when it is done with a pure heart moved by perfect love for God and neighbor. If the motivation to do the Law comes from a desire to please God, then the individual acting has already failed. For, if a heart is pure and sinless it does not worry whether God will be pleased or not, it will do what is natural to it, which is to love God and his neighbor perfectly. If there is a want of conformity to, or a desire for performing the Law for God's pleasure or appeasement, then, by necessity, it presupposes an impurity in ones heart, for if a heart were pure it would not desire such things, it would, by nature do them.

Here was another charge for Luther to bring against God, adding just that much more to his hatred of Him; why would a good God command him to do something that he was completely incapable of doing? Was it a joke? Was God sadistic? Fortunately, for us all and for Luther, he would eventually get his answer. Yet, before we get to that, we must address mens actions as Luther understood them after his realization of the biblical doctrine regarding total human depravity.

What he came to find, as far as the works of men were concerned, that when man acts to please or appease God he does not and cannot do it in the spirit of the Law. Mankind deep down knows this, yet, out of his guilty conscience he waters down God's Law to mere outward performances, and does not desire for his heart to be pure. All this he does so as to ease his conscience, which is merely the Law written on his heart accusing him. In so doing, he only artificially quenches his thirst for righteousness. However, God still requires perfect righteousness, and in the act of diminishing the Law he destroys his conscience, which depends on the clarity and absolute up-right nature of the Law, and ultimately makes shipwreck of his faith in doing so. In his depravity and defiance he turns to make an idol unto himself fashioned in the ways of the world. If he can obey this worldly wisdom and fool his brethren and subsequently himself into thinking he is righteous by his pious works, then so shall he be in the eyes of the world. From there he extrapolates that if the world thinks a work to be righteous, then God must think it is too, that he must use the same grading curve as us, so to say. However, what he fails to realize is that he has fully turned from God and acts as the heathen does, for there is no difference between the mentalities of both at this point.

Now, he may fashion the idol into intellectual abilities, worldly understandings of justice, physical stamina, etc., etc., yet ultimately it doesn't matter what it is, for in his mind he believes if he can maintain these man-oriented works then he is righteous in the eyes of his lord. However, his lord is not the Lord of lords; it is, in comparison, but a pale phantom of his own design.

And here was where Luther found himself, in a cloister of men performing man-made works of penance not prescribed by the Law in any fashion, realizing that he was but a pharisee, which were the very people Christ ridiculed and railed against in his own lifetime. He, yet once again, found himself on the wrong side of God.

However, God early on gave Luther a blessing in his father confessor Johann von Staupitz, who pointed Luther, during his periods of spiritual despair, towards the scriptures message of God not only being wrathful, but also of the message to know and trust God in his mercy. The Bible spoke both of these truths, but Luther's reason always gravitated to the God in his righteousness. God's mercy as found in Christ was foreign to him. His interpretation of God's Son in his holiness, at the time, was one of unapproachability. Luther could only see Christ as stated in the first half of Psalms 2:12 "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little.", but he didn't very easily see the second part, "Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him." (NKJV)

Nevertheless Luther was a diligent disciple as well as an ardent student of Scripture. He was particularly taken with the Epistles of Paul, for he longed to understand them as Augustine had. Then one day there came a great awakening in him regarding scripture, here is Luther describing it in his own words:

I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood around the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1 [verse 17], “in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed,” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue [Ten Commandments], without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.

Luther’s preface to the complete edition of his Latin writings, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), pp. 336-37.

In his searching, in his despair, in his hatred of God, Luther, unbeknownst to himself was being prepared and guided by God to actually receive the true Gospel for himself and to also deliver it unto the rest of the world. The new "face" of scripture he saw was one of complete and total mercy given us by God's grace through faith in Christ alone. What he initially understood of God was nothing but his righteous Law, yet, with this change of heart and mind he was able to comprehend the mercy given us in the beautiful work of Christ on His cross. Luther once knew God in his majesty, but now he knew Him as the Son of Man taking all the world's sufferings upon Himself for our sake. He found that the "righteousness of God", namely Christ's righteousness was ours, and our sin was His. Luther no longer had to fear God, for Christ on the Cross was the lightning rod attracting God's wrath against us, and Christ carrying the wrath with Him forever into the grave.

Luther's reason could only see God in his righteousness, but God frustrated and overcame his intellect to show him the key to interpreting scripture. He was to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, and with this key, God's Word was now for him an open book. This is the way for the theologian of the cross, this is the way unto salvation.

Are you in despair under the impossible demands of God's taskmaster, the Law? Does your reason deceive you about the unshakable promise of God's Word regarding the salvation given us in Christ? If it does then repent, for God longs to forgive us our iniquities, and let us then confess true this opening line of the introduction to the Heidelberg Disputation when it says:

"Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, "Do not rely on your own insight" [Prov. 3:5]..."

and let us walk in faith, trusting in nothing but our Lord and His Word.

I Knew It!

Who said dogs don't go to heaven?

Obama Ad Nauseum

Happy Inauguration Day!


God Help Us!

In surveying Luther's theses of the Heidelberg Disputation, three things come to mind: counter-intuition, reason over turned, and mental stumbling blocks. When one reads them, as was the intent of its author, one can't help but feel frustrated by the seeming "il-logic" behind them. However, when one accepts these theses true, as any Christian should (considering how closely they're aligned with the one true Gospel) one will have his reason in its "right" place. Let me illustrate.

Now, imagine, if you will, a moon-less midnight, standing at one end of a grand and level playing field. Now, just run as quickly as possible to the other side without falling; if you fall, no worries, just start again. The task is relatively simple. The field is fairly flat, plenty of room in either direction to go slightly off course if need be, just stand up straight, keep balance, and run to the other side. No problems, right?

Wrong! You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you? Well, what you don't know and can't see for that matter is that for every few feet of field, a trench is dug in such a way so as to trick those who look at the field from one of its ends into thinking it even and steady terrain ahead. Surprise! Now run! But remember, don't fall, lest you wish to start again!

That's the kind of experience one has when reading through the theses of the Heidelberg Disputation. We use reason like our body, we expect, with all things being equal, that we, like with the football field, should be able to negotiate simple propositions before us. However, what may look simple, unbeknownst to us, is really laden with ankle twisting snares, things that frustrate and hinder our "progress". What's even more deceiving, is to come to an understanding, a peace with the fact that those ankle twisting snares are there for our own good. Without them, we wouldn't be humbled, we wouldn't fall to our knees and cry to the Lord, "have mercy on me, a sinner", we wouldn't see our fallen nature as God wants us to see it.

This is Luther's purpose. In the Heidelberg Disputation he displays two paths for a theologian. The first is the theologian of glory (hereafter referred to as TOG). He is a proud creature. Inclined towards works righteousness, TOG believes that he's capable of earning God's favor by his good deeds. Also, as one who relies primarily on his own understanding of things, he judges God's favor with him by his five senses. If things are going well, God must love him, however, if things are going bad, then God is judging him for not doing things right.

What truly confounds the reason of TOG is when he does all the things right that he's supposed to (in TOG eyes, of course), yet, God clearly shows his disfavor as displayed by TOG's poor circumstances. It causes him frustration and boldly he cries out to his maker, "why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper?" When he receives no answer, he assumes God must be testing him, and if he survives the test to the end, then he, and God of course, are proud of a job well done.

However, there is something that equally confounds TOG's reason, why are things going so well when privately he's consumed by his pet vices? Surely God see's his evil deeds, why hasn't he punished him yet? TOG assumes God must be saving up his wrath to unleash on him in a torrent of punishment unlike anything he's ever seen before. TOG, out of fear must appease this wrathful God by doing an equal amount of good works (if such a thing were possible). His life is a balancing act, balancing the weights of God justice with good works for evil ones. He walks a tight-rope with Hell on either side. One mis-step and all is lost.

When TOG reads scripture he finds Law in Gospel passages, and Gospel in Law passages. Words of comfort bring him terror and dread. Stern words of Law bring him comfort. You see, the Gospel tells him his salvation depends on somebody else. All of TOG' s actions revolve around himself, for he is the only one he can trust. How can someone elses works be accredited to him. Does God really expect him to put all his trust in Christ's work, doesn't God want him to do good things too? Ah, the Law! Now, the Law is something he can get behind, because he knows if he does his best, if he does what's in him, God will meet him in the middle and reward him for his efforts. God has never explained this to him, as a matter fact, this kind of idea is no where to be found in scripture. In fact, scripture points in the other direction. But, he knows this by intuition, he knows in his heart of hearts this is true. Let his heart be true and everyone else, including God, be a liar.

If the Heathen raises rational opposition to TOG's God, he is quick to make God's actions reasonable. If the Heathen asks how a good and omnipotent God could allow evil to take place, TOG will go on an endless theodicy to justify God's actions. He fears the Heathen's judgment. He fears there is a "ring of truth" in the accusation, for deep down he knows it doesn't square with his reason either, and can't accept that his God, could very well be a devil. Inflicting pain and suffering on innocent people, what good and all-powerful God would do such a thing? TOG's reason, er...that is...God must be defended at all costs.

Most importantly, TOG looks at the cross with confusion. How can Christ gain victory in defeat? How can the murder of such a righteous man ever be called good? No, he'd rather concentrate his theology on Christ's resurrection and skip over all that unpleasant mess of the Cross. He'd rather focus on the gloriousness he shares with Christ than the hideousness Christ shares with him in his sin.

The truth is, we are all TOG! In the heart of every one of us lies a Pharisee. A self righteous hypocrite who longs to water down God's Law and tread the Gospel underfoot so as to appease our personal "impression" of God instead of the true and living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We who desperately want to understand God outside of His chosen method of revelation are also the same persons who upon claiming great knowledge of God in His glory, would attempt to correct even God Himself if He were to show us a different way. We are people who make idols of our own reason instead of submitting our reason to God's Word. We are people who pretend to look upon the glorious hidden things of God, His private councils, His wisdom, and claim to go on and continue living.

The funny thing is I don't doubt TOG, we do indeed look at glorious things. I have no doubt that what we claim to receive is from none other than "an angel of light". However, we know what the Bible says about such things (2 Cor. 11:14, Rom. 11:33-36).

The question I leave you with is simple, are you a theologian of glory? Do you long to know the glorious things of God, instead of letting God be God and taking your rightful place under his grace and mercy given us in the cross of Christ? Did you feel uncomfortable while I described the theologian of glory and his sinful ways? If you did, then repent for the Lord our God is merciful and longs to forgive us of our iniquity. However, we must accept the image God gives us of ourselves, we must submit ourselves to the image of the man on the cross, so that the image of God can be restored in us.