Monday, December 22, 2008

Luther Goes "Word of Faith" (Part One)

I was sent the Luther quote below being used by Word of Faith (WOF) advocates, asking that I take a look it it and determine if it is being misused. As my notes have gotten rather long, I've decided to put together a few blog entries to cover it. The controversy surrounds the WOF teaching that man, in some sense, becomes, (or is) a god.

The Luther quote states:

This is what I have often said, that faith makes of us lords, and love makes of us servants. Indeed, by faith we become gods and partakers of the divine nature and name, as is said in Psalms 82,6: "I said, Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High." But through love we become equal to the poorest. According to faith we are in need of nothing, and have an abundance; according to love we are servants of all. By faith we receive blessings from above, from God; through love we give them out below, to our neighbor. Even as Christ in his divinity stood in need of nothing, but in his humanity served everybody who had need of him. Of this we have spoken often enough, namely, that we also must by faith be born God's sons and gods, lords and kings, even as Christ is born true God of the Father in eternity; and again, come out of ourselves by love and help our neighbors with kind deeds, even as Christ became man to help us all -------Luther, Martin The Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. II (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House), pp. 73, 74

For those of you with the Baker set of Luther's sermons, the quote is found in volume one which actually contains two volumes of Luther's sermons. If you pull out volume II as the reference suggests, you won't find the quote.

The actual context of Luther's sermon is easy enough to find on the Internet, but it doesn't really set the issue to rest as to the differences between WOF and Luther on "the image of God." What the context does do, is demonstrate at least one major difference between WOF teaching and Luther that should at least be noted, since it addresses what Luther's point actually was. I found it quite ironic that those using quotes for propaganda don't really care what the point in context is, even if it disagrees with the position they espouse. No, it's enough some phrase sounds remotely like what they believe, so it's put forth to make a point it didn't intend to.

Many WOF advocates (if not most) hold to some form of a prosperity gospel- that being somehow affiliated by nature with God entitles one to material and spiritual blessings both here and now. Establishing being affiliated with God, either in essence or nature, serves as a divine guarantee of God's favor- health and wealth. One needs but speak God's promises into existence. I've watched enough of these guys on TV to be familiar with their mantra.

Luther though did not hold this, but rather affirmed that the Christian is to be the servant of all, and this is brought out forcefully in the context. "love makes of us servants," "through love we become equal to the poorest," "According to faith we are in need of nothing, and have an abundance; according to love we are servants of all," "By faith we receive blessings from above, from God; through love we give them out below, to our neighbor."

Luther did not expect health and wealth as the normal Christian path. Being conformed to the image of Christ means suffering. This would be one of Luther's typical paradoxes- spiritually Christians are given the great priceless and eternal gift of salvation, but temporarily they should consider themselves servants of other people, not seeking riches. Luther one time stated, "Wealth is the most insignificant thing on earth, the smallest gift that God can give a man," and "God usually gives riches to coarse fools whom he grants nothing besides."

For Luther, suffering was inevitable for followers of Christ, not health or wealth. "Whoever professes that he is baptized and is glad to be called by the name of Christ should be convinced that he is no better than Christ, his Lord. For such a person must be conformed to the image of the Son of God. If Christ wore a crown of thorns, we should not expect people to place wreaths and roses on our head."

Our crosses though do not save us. Luther posited what he called the theology of the cross as a presupposition of life as dying and rising under the cross. The expectation of suffering is in the course of Christian service (as opposed to a theology of glory seeing a life of grandeur in the papacy and Rome). Luther also noted that the only proof for salvation is the promise of God, not a successful (or failing) Christian life. This stands in opposition to a theology of glory that would find God’s promises given to those who earn it by their works.

This type of coherent theology is 180 degrees different than Word of Faith thinking. In a future blog entry, I'm going to continue looking at this quote, and give my thoughts on Luther's use of the "image of God."


L P Cruz said...

WOF people could not comprehend maybe God might not give them what they prayed for. They would not have a clue as to what theology of glory vs theology of the cross means.

An interesting take by Luther indeed is that those who advocate works righteousness is into theology of glory.


Stacey said...

Amen and amen on the suffering image of Christ.

It's interesting that some Word of Faith adherents mix theologies though. My parents are an example of Lutheran background who eventually moved into WOF, and now believe a strange mix. For example, they impressed on me that we are only adopted sons and daughters of God, and not divinity ourselves. They also believe that all the worldly blessings (health and wealth) you get in this life are only used to pass on to others like Luther said. They can listen to Andy Wommack on t.v. and heartily agree with everything he says, and then outright deny his theology.

My mom swears up and down she doesn't believe in "name it and claim it", but also thinks if you speak anything with enough faith you'll get it. I think she's in denial. I think this "power of the word" idea comes from a heavily literal interpretation of the Bible, to the extent that any words from the Bible that you speak, even taken out of context, have the power of God behind them. They then extrapolate that all spoken words have power. Kind of new age sounding if you ask me.

Does anyone know if there's a WOF "creed" so to speak? Is this analysis just dealing with one proponent's assertions or the whole unified movement?