Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther: Sin Boldly

Here's one of those situations in which I don't understand motives. I came across a recent patheos entry entitled, Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther. Overall, the person makes a valid point: Luther had faults, but this doesn't mean his historical significance is to be dismissed: "one of the mistakes that we must guard against is to dismiss a person’s entire contribution because they may hold (or have held) to ideas that we find hard to stomach." Great point!

I noticed that my old 2005 paper on Luther and the Jews was cited in footones #1 and #4 (and probably footnote #3 as well).  I skimmed through the entry, and only one blaring thing really jumped out at me: 

3. In his attempt to magnify grace, Luther exhorted people to “sin boldly.”
He wrote, “If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly . . . as long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.” [8] In the same connection, he said: “The Christian or baptized man cannot, even if he would, lose his soul by any sins however great, unless he refuses to believe; for no sins whatever can condemn him, but unbelief alone.” [9]  At the same time, Luther bemoaned that despite all of his preaching, he saw very little change in the lives of his congregation. He was discouraged that despite his continuous preaching, his congregation remained godless. “In annoys me to keep preaching to you,” he said in 1530 and even refused to preach for a time.
[8] Letter to Melanchthon, August 1, 1521, Luther’s Works, vol. 48, pp. 281-82
[9] Martin Luther, The Babylonish Captivity, C. 3.

So I left the following comment: 
Thanks for referencing my paper on Luther's attitude toward the Jews. It is a difficult topic. I think Luther went too far, but it does not discredit his importance in the history of the church. I can appreciate your overall point of your blog entry, and your series should ultimately demonstrate that looking to anyone other than Christ is looking toward another sinner, and may in fact be idolatry. It is a good project. I don't have time this week to go through your post thoroughly. I did see one thing thought that I would take issue with from a historical point of view. You said, "In his attempt to magnify grace, Luther exhorted people to “sin boldly.”
Not exactly. The "sin boldly" comment comes from a letter fragment. It has no address, salutation, or signature. Scholars speculate it was written to Melanchthon. It was a private letter, not a written exhortation to the masses to "sin boldly." In actuality, Luther consistently taught that a living faith necessarily produces good works. This letter fragment has been seized by people looking to paint Luther as a gross antinomian.
Luther was prone to strong hyperbole. It's his style, and this statement is a perfect example. The first thing to recognize is that the sentence is a statement of comparison. Luther's point is not to go out and commit multiple amounts of gleeful sin everyday, but rather to believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly despite the sin in our lives. Christians have a real savior. No amount of sin is too much to be atoned for by a perfect savior whose righteousness is imputed to the sinner who reaches out in faith.
See: Luther: Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong And: A Look at Justification By Faith Alone and Good Works in Luther’s Theology. For an anthology of statements from Luther on a living faith producing works, see: Quotations From Luther on Faith And Works.  "Faith," said Luther, "is a living,restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith."
Also, when you stated, "Luther bemoaned that despite all of his preaching, he saw very little change in the lives of his congregation. He was discouraged that despite his continuous preaching, his congregation remained godless,"- keep in mind this is a Roman Catholic argument against Luther- that in essence, Luther saw the Reformation as a failure. See: Did Luther Regret the Reformation? For Luther, it was the end of the world. Things were indeed going to get worse. The Gospel was going to be fought against by the Devil with all his might. The true church was a tiny flock in a battle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. He hoped the people would improve with the preaching of the Gospel, he often admitted he knew things were going to get worse because of the Gospel.
Regards, James Swan

Now here's where I don't understand people.  My comment was not published. That in and of itself is fine. I get that. But what I don't understand is why someone would take the information I provided and edit it into the entry  (and actually enter the information in wrong), cite one of my papers, and still not publish my comment? Here's the original from the Google cache, and the updated content: 

3. Luther made dramatic statements about sin in order to magnify grace.
Consider this quote from a private letter: “If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly . . . as long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.” [8]
In the same connection, he said: “The Christian or baptized man cannot, even if he would, lose his soul by any sins however great, unless he refuses to believe; for no sins whatever can condemn him, but unbelief alone.” [9] At the same time, Luther bemoaned that despite all of his preaching, he saw very little change in the lives of his congregation. He was discouraged that despite his continuous preaching, his congregation remained godless. “In annoys me to keep preaching to you,” he said in 1530 and even refused to preach for a time. 
[8] Letter to Melanchthon, August 1, 1521, Luther’s Works, vol. 48, pp. 281-82. Note that some scholars speculate that Melanchthon and not Luther wrote this paragraph. It came from a private letter. However, it’s very much in Luther’s style as he was given to overstatements and hyperbole. Nevertheless, if Luther is the source as many believe, he wasn’t advocating that everyone go out and sin big league. Rather, he was emphasizing how far grace reached even in our sins. Luther believed that good works demonstrated real faith.
[9] Martin Luther, The Babylonish Captivity, C. 3.

You'll notice the bolded statement has changed from "In his attempt to magnify grace, Luther exhorted people to 'sin boldly'" to "Luther made dramatic statements about sin in order to magnify grace." OK, that's a good change. Then more of my comments were synthesized into footnote #8, and some of it incorrectly. I certainly never said Melanchthon may have written the "sin boldly" paragraph (unless this blogger got this tidbit from someone else?). I said it was a private letter fragment that scholars think was written to Melanchthon. Added as well are clarifications about Luther's use of hyperbole in regard to sin and grace, and also my point about saving faith being demonstrated by works.

If the author comes across this review, maybe he could explain his edits and why he chose not to publish my comment. In the past I've had Rome's apologists do this- where I'll correct them on something and then, "voila"!  It's gone and replaced. For this blogger,  he's making some good points in his entry, and I was only trying to help him out. What gives?  

11 comments:

PeaceByJesus said...

I left a comment pointing Frank Viola (a better writer, if more to the Left, than me for sure) to your work, as well as providing some of the perverse beliefs of Jerome etc on marriage. But if not a "Shocking Belief of Frank Viola" (nor are those Moody "shocking") it seems that few comments are welcome.

As this is somewhat a commercial blog, and he invokes an anonymous ominous "Blog Manager" as being in charge of what gets posted, maybe that has something to do with it.

James Swan said...

I appreciate the PBJ. Catholic Answers has taught me to save a copy of every comment / post I make, so I saved what I posted on Mr. Viola's blog. I actually was surprised he didn't post my first comment, and then I realized that if I cogently challenged any of his content, my comments would not be posted. In fairness to him, I'm considering doing my own "Shocking Beliefs of Luther" post.

I've never heard of Mr. Viola previous to finding his recent blog post. He appears to have some popularity. I found this bio page interesting:

https://violafrank.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/rethinking-frank-viola/

The link states:

Theological Training and Background
"Frank Viola chose not to receive any academic theological training. So he’s never been to seminary or Bible college. Instead, he’s chosen to be an autodidact just as A.W. Tozer, Charles Spurgeon, G. Campbell Morgan, Watchman Nee, and countless other servants of God were. Yet Viola’s work has been endorsed by many scholars and well known pastors and he’s debated with some of the most prestigious scholars in the world. Seminary students, professors, and pastors have learned from Viola. He’s also authored two books with eminent seminary professor Dr. Leonard Sweet. His writings are regarded as luminous and hailed as revolutionary."



PeaceByJesus said...

Just imagine (don't) what a promo writer like that could positively say about you, you anti-Catholic autodidact! Wonder what Shoebat would say? What the Lord will say is most important.

Dave said...

Hi James,
Do you know where Luther said, "if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith"? It's quoted in Bainton's Here I Stand, but in the references section it just says, "VIII, 361." Do you have any idea what that refers to?

James Swan said...

Yes. See:

http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2015/02/robert-sungenis-says-luther-believed-in.html

WA 8:361

James Swan said...

If you scroll through my link, you'll see a whole section on Bainton's Luther quote.

PeaceByJesus said...

if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith"

And there is also the link in the linked page, ,My paper here goes into this in great depth,

Similar quotes by Luther here , by God's grace,

PeaceByJesus said...

Came into contention with a Viola disciple, which led to more research, and my conclusion that the ecclesiology of Viola and Barna represents one of two extremes. One one side you have the cultic "thinking of men above that which is written," (1Co. 4l6) and which certain so-called "church fathers" (they were not) fostered, leading to what developed under unscriptural "popes" as Damasus 1. And even that of Pope Pius X: " the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors," (VEHEMENTER NOS, Encyclical of Pope Pius X).

One the other extreme is the libertarian fantasy of men as Frank Viola and George Barna in "Pagan Christianity, who in-credibly assert, “The one who plants a New Testament-styled church leaves that church without a pastor, elders, .. or a Bible teacher. If that church is planted well, those believers will know how to sense and follow the living, breathing headship of Jesus Christ in a meeting. (Pagan Christianity, p. 234). And it knows even less about a pastor-led church. ” (Reimagining Church, p. 187). “The pastor is an obstacle to every-member functioning.” (ibid p. 105).

However, 1 Thes. 5:12 speaks of those who are over (preside) over the people, and Heb. 13:17 enjoins general submission to those shepherds who are governors/chiefs (hēgeomai) over the flock. And presbuteros (senior) episkopos (overseer), which as regards chosen men in NT church denotes the same persons (at least Viola/Barna believe this part: Pagan Christianity, p. 110), which are to be ordained in ever place where there are churches, (Titus 1:5-7; Acts 14:23) and who, besides apostles, are charged with its shepherding, its pastoral oversight and care, (Acts 20:17,28) "taking the oversight thereof," (1 Peter 5:2) to "take care of the church of God" (one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God? (1 Timothy 3:4-5). Which mandate includes, "feed the church," (Acts 20:28) and thus "preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine," and "speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority" in sound doctrine, even "sharply" in some cases. (2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:13, 2:15)

Yet the authors rejects Acts 14:23 as a pattern, restricting it to just 4 churches, and that the word (kathistēmi) for "ordain" (KJV) does not mean installment into an office giving special authoritative status, but merely endorsing what was already happening, (Pagan Christianity, p. 124) even though such endorsement made that status official, and the Lord clearly uses the word for "ruler/administrator" in Mat. 24:45,:47, 25:21,23, Luk_12:42,Mat_24:45, Mat_24:47, Mat_25:21, Mat_25:23, Luk_12:42, Luk_12:42,44. And kathistēmi is likewise used in giving deacons a special status in Acts 6:3, and is used for Jewish priests in Heb_5:1; 8:3.

The authors allow that there are "even shepherds in the church,"(ibid, p. 120) and the fact that elders had a role in the church is not that itself what Barna/Viola reject, but their special authoritative status. Scripture testifies to both, yet the authors want to portray a church in which "Christians themselves led the church under Christ's direct headship, " (ibid, p. 110) but without any special authoritative status as leaders, which is contrary to the analogy of a pastor ruling his own house, and the charge to submit to such.

PeaceByJesus said...



Consistent with this, and like "egalitarian" sophists, the authors deny that there is a hierarchy in the Godhead, despite the clear statement "that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3) And that after the Lord Jesus has placed every enemy under His feet, He Himself will be actually positionally operating in subjection to the Father, (1Co. 15:25-28) whereas He had been made the savior and judge of all mankind. (Acts 2:36) Like feminist egalitarians, the authors imagine that being "head" does not mean a positional hierarchy, so that the Father is not in subjection to the Son, but though they are in perfect communion, the Father is the leader. Which does not militate against the manifest Deity of Christ who is uniquely one with the Father in nature. And that "head" does signify authority is seen by the requirement that women are to have a (hair) covering (katakaluptō), power/authority (exousia) over their head, signifying submission to the headship of man, who is not to so wholly cover his head. (1Co. 11:4-10)

Moreover, in their apparent animus against authority, the authors even assert that Mt. 28:19 is not a command but a prophecy of what the apostles would do! As if "go...teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you," (v. 20) was simply a prediction of what they would do, not a charge. (Pagan Christianity, p. 235,36)

And in their attack on Christianity as a whole, under which banner there certainly are heresies as well as sound doctrine, the authors much rely on the most manifest example of the deformation of the NT church, that being Catholicism (http://peacebyjesus.witnesstoday.org/deformation_of_new_testament_church.html), and fail to make needed distinctions, while they themselves represent an heterodox overreaction to Catholicism and aspects which Protestantism overall, to varying degrees, inherited.

Finally, the authors assert that of "Pagan Christianity has yet to be credibly refuted or discounted, but statement which I see as being in-credible.

Holding has a more substantive refutation and scope: http://www.tektonics.org/books/violarvw01.php

James Swan said...

That's ironic you mention the book Pagan Christianity. I came very close to purchasing it a few weeks back. I was doing some digging around in regard to some modern-day church practice (I don't recall what it was at the moment), and I came upon an interesting section from Pagan Christianity, posted online. The research seemed fairly credible, then I looked up the book, and the name "Viola" seemed vaguely familiar, then I recalled I had caught Viola with bogus Luther information... so I passed on the book.

I know logically, simply because his work was poor in one area (Reformation), does not mean he necessarily does poor work in other areas. But: I could not bring myself to spend the money because I didn't feel like getting his book and having to second-guess everything he wrote. That's my nature, but I simply was looking for a source I knew I could trust, and I because of my interaction with him, I knew I wouldn't not be able to read what he stated without questioning EVERYTHING.

On a similar subject to what you posted above, some years back I interacted with some of the folks in the house church movement. This was after I posted this:

http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2009/08/06/tradition-and-the-house-church-movement/

Then there was some discussion here on the blog in regard to this article. Eric Sevendsen actually stopped by to defend the house church movement:

http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-house-church-apostolic-tradition.html

I'm not exactly sure where Eric is today, he sort of fell off the radar. He's done some very good work in the area of Roman Catholicism.

PeaceByJesus said...

Well, there are house churches and then there are those who basically believe the only valid houses are in houses.

From the critique of Holding (whom i disagree on with some things, but appreciate so much of his work):

Viola says he's not promoting for house churches, but right here he starts doing so. He quotes and notes favorably points that the early church met in homes, IN CONTRAST TO meeting in a special building. He may say, "But I didn't say that you should go to a house church." He doesn't have to. The juxtaposition of "meeting in a house" favorably verses the negative connotation he assigns to meeting in a special building says all that is necessary. If he denies arguing for house church, he's trying to have his cake and eat it too.

From here he repeatedly criticizes the concept of a "sacred building." Well, if we don't have that, where do we meet? The only option he ever mentions is a home..He even disdains those who point out that one house was remodeled so extensively that they call it a church building. No, he insists; it was just a home that had been refurbished for larger assemblies. - http://www.tektonics.org/books/violarvw01.php