Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther: Sin Boldly

I came across a recent article presenting some negative aspects of Luther's life and theology.   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
This 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...
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James Swan said...
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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...
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PeaceByJesus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Swan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PeaceByJesus said...
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