Metaphorically speaking, my professor did enjoy chocolate chip cookies, but he hated Liquid Drano and he hated the adverse effects of the poison upon the church. Frankly, he loved me enough to disrupt my enjoyment of Liquid Drano cookies and he was courageous enough to criticize those who baked these corrupted cookies for me, even though these actions would earn him the stigma as being unloving, nitpicky, and an anti-cookie grouch.Honestly, I believe that what we need most in the church today is more anti-chocolate chip cookie grouches, for there are indeed a lot of individuals cooking up and distributing Liquid Drano cookies in our post-modern pluralistic context. Furthermore, I believe that it is truly dangerous and foolish when we rationalize in our minds that a little poison won’t hurt anyone and when we attempt to preserve tranquility within a community by applying ad hominem stigmas to those who are attempting to expose stealthy poison.
Martin Luther died on today’s date in 1546, his last recorded words the title of this post. We still find the Reformation doctrines to be of just as much importance as when the good doctor preached.
It is Luther’s sinfulness itself which illustrates why his message remains so vital today: “The fact is, Luther was a man. God accomplished incredibly important things through him . . . but he was nevertheless human. He was flawed and sinful, like you and me. And really, when you think about it, that is the good news of the Gospel. God justifies us despite our failings. He covers us with the blood of Christ and forgives our sin. The recognition that we are simul iustus et peccator (“at the same time righteous and a sinner”) is a cornerstone of the faith rediscovered by Luther. On the one hand, we understand that we are sinners because of our evil inclinations and actions; on the other hand, we know we are saints because God has forgiven us.”
This truly is why we remember Luther: not because he was always nice, not because he was always good, and certainly not because he was always right. He wasn’t. Instead, we remember Luther because he directed attention always away from himself to Christ. It is to Christ we look for salvation, not our own holiness. Indeed, this is the context of Luther’s oft-quoted and much-maligned “sin boldly” comments.
“God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners,” Luther writes. “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [ie, sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” It is to Christ, not ourselves, that we look for salvation, Luther is saying. He is calling us to be honest about our sin—to recognize its severity—so that we more fully understand our need for Christ. “We will commit sins while we are here,” Luther continues, “for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth were justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.”
– Matthew Block; Standing with Martin Luther: Remembering a Sinful Saint
If you’ve been to more than one church, I would be willing to bet at least one of these two churches has been an experience:
1. Stand up comedy with the Bible sprinkled on the side
2. A service so rigid that you were surprised it wasn’t a funeral
Amongst younger evangelicals the stand-up preaching may be the more regularly abused, but the latter is no better. Afterall, even the first three letters of “funeral” spell something:
Dr. Barry York in The Humorless Pulpit offers some very serious advice. Very serious. Not tongue-in-cheek at all.
Some might try to say that since John Calvin himself taught the Psalter contains the whole range of human emotions, laughter would be included. Then they might try to use that to justify using some humor when explaining a text of Scripture. But Calvin did not mean this because laughing is not a godly but worldly emotion. Laughter is not reverent. Listen, I tell you that I am RR and sing the Psalms, so I know about not laughing in worship. Trust me.
Others point to Luther’s use of sarcasm. Do you really think it’s funny that he told Erasmus when they were discussing the serious subject of sin’s bondage that “Perhaps you want me to die of unrelieved boredom while you keep on talking”? Or worse, when he told other opponents such things as “You are a toad eater,” or “I beg you put your glasses on your nose, or blow your nose a bit, to make your head lighter and the brain clearer,” or “For you are an excellent person, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp”? Maybe those quotes are a bit funny and, sure, he helped start the Reformation, but again remember that Luther did not believe in the regulative principle…
…I’ve heard others try to be elegant in their defense of humor, such as saying humor can pop open the cork of truth and allow us to pour into downtrodden hearts the wine of gladness. But I say our sermons need to be dry, free from the wine of wittiness.”
And while the church may have many adversaries seeking her destruction, I think its safe to say this bunch isn’t going to be kicking in our doors any time soon.
In the struggles of early 1522, Luther preached a famous sermon on March 10 which contains one of my favourite quotations, revealing the secret of Luther’s Reformation success:
In short, I will preach it [the Word], teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.
There you have it: the success of the Reformation depended upon the sheer power of God’s Word. And, of course, on the quality of Wittenberg beer. Not sure how much ground for optimism that gives for the ongoing reformation among the Southern Baptists — perhaps sweet tea has a similar effect — but I hope it is of encouragement to more than just the Lutherans out there.
– Dr. Carl Trueman, Reformation 21, “To be tired of Luther…”
There is an exact parallel between Dr. Martin Luther and Dr. Machen. Dr. Machen was the Luther of the twentieth century. Some have criticized his method; his method was logical because it was Biblical.
Too long have evangelicals paid the bills of baptized infidels! What care they how much evangelicals speak of the Blood, the Book, the Blessed Hope, as long as they get their fat salaries as professors, secretaries, bishops, or what not? But just begin to pull the purse strings shut on them, and see what happens!
Dr. Machen and his associates were following the Bible method. 2 Cor. 6:17 “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.”
2 John 11 tells us that fellowship or paying money to such agencies or men who do not preach God’s Christ is to partake of their evil deeds.
The man who starts out to reform any of the great apostate denominations today is just deceived. Five years ago we challenged a man, who has since compromised with Belial to gain position in Methodism, to give us one example of a denomination or faction gone over to apostasy that ever came back to orthodoxy. That challenge has never been successfully met, not because of that man’s lack of ability but because there is no evidence.
[*TDPH: Disputing with this author, there are at least two or three examples at hand. In recent times, the Southern Baptist denomination and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. And in the 19th-century, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.]
Clearly, Dr. Machen was right. Witness wherever you are. Then if wicked men rise up and usurp God’s place in the church, there is nothing left but separation—like Luther, like Machen! Oh, God, give us another!
A Methodist Tribute to JGM – This Day In Presbyterian History