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Article

Paul F. Bradshaw

The forms of Christian worship changed and developed considerably during the first four centuries of its existence, not least from a distinctive local or regional diversity to an increasing standardization of practice throughout the ancient world. One of the major factors influencing these changes was the eventual adoption of the New Testament as the Christian scripture, and another was the emergence of the church into public life early in the 4th century. Rites of initiation chiefly involving baptism in water marked the entry of new converts into the community of believers. The central observance was the Eucharist, celebrated every Sunday from at least the end of the 1st century. This was supplemented by services of the word on certain days of the week and by regular times of prayer each day undertaken by individuals or small groups of believers. Annual festal celebrations, the majority of which were associated with the anniversaries of martyrs and others who had died, also increased in number as time passed. Christians understood the worship that they offered through Jesus Christ to be the spiritual fulfillment of the sacrificial cult of the Old Testament. Although at first insisting that they were not a religion like others around them—indeed, they were regarded as atheists by their contemporaries—they ultimately came to adopt the language, images, and terminology of standard religious discourse once their persecution had ceased and the Church had emerged as a cultus publicus in the 4th century. This also coincided with a shift from an understanding of worship as an essentially corporate action presided over by its appointed ministers to one where those ministers were seen as carrying out its liturgy on behalf of the people.

Article

Martin Luther’s reform of worship centers on gospel proclamation in its various manifestations. Gospel-centered worship necessarily de-centers the individual in his or her own quest for fulfillment or meaning. It de-centers the community from an inward, self-sufficient, closed-border understanding of identity. God comes to the believer and the community in worship through means (that is, through preaching and the administration of the sacraments). These means disrupt, confront, create, renew, and re-orient faith and love. In A Treatise on the New Testament, That Is, the Holy Mass, Luther sums up the reform of worship in one sentence: “Christ, in order to prepare for himself an acceptable and beloved people, which should be bound together in unity through love, abolished the whole law of Moses. And that he might not give further occasion for divisions and sects, he appointed in return but one law or order for his entire people, and that was the holy mass” (LW 35:81; WA 6:355, 3–4). The law that Luther points to is none other than Christ himself coming to humankind, giving of himself, reconciling all of humanity with God. This work is finished. There are no other sacrifices to be made (The Misuse of the Mass, LW 36). Worship is now characterized by two things: thanksgiving and service. In his reform of the liturgy, Luther argued that the liturgy is both about the word and the rites. The Word of God (as something “heard,” for example, in preaching) does not negate or replace the ritual of worship but the Word is encountered both in the preaching and in the rites (sacraments). Proclamation happens within the liturgical order. The liturgy is not displaced or replaced by preaching the Word alone. Though the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of the Altar (or Holy Communion) was misused, Luther did not reject the sacrament per se but sought to re-establish a correct interpretation. Sacrament was not to be equated with sacrifice but with a gift from God. Therefore, Luther continually argued for the maintenance of the bond between Word and sacrament as constitutive of the liturgy. A corollary reform involved retrieving the role of the body in worship. Proclamation employs earthly means. The gospel expressed in words (preaching) presents only half the picture because God’s Word also comes to the worshiping community through non-verbal means. Luther explains how the words are also seen and tasted, how they are received through and in the body. A key aspect of these characteristics of the reform of worship is on the interior sources of the liturgy. Luther and reformers keep the ceremonies and traditions of the Mass as long as they do not burden consciences (that is, create guilt in a person by making them believe they must still do something to be reconciled with God). The Word, whether preached or embodied in the sacraments, must point the believer always towards the gospel, that is, towards God’s free gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and new creation. If, however, the preaching and the sacraments are considered works that make a believer righteous before God, they are to be condemned for then they no longer serve the Gospel. This reversal in the theology of worship takes shape in Luther’s two proposals for a liturgical order as it does in his writing on public worship and on the sacraments, notably Baptism and Holy Communion. Though he proposed liturgical orders, Luther constantly maintained that such orders should not become “rules” but serve as demonstrations on how evangelical freedom is to be maintained within the framework of God’s Word and sacrament.

Article

Martin Luther’s emphasis on the sacraments as a visible, tactile means by which the justifying action of God is conveyed to the believer brings the pastoral heart of the Reformation into clear focus. As Luther continued to explore how justification, the “first and chief article” (Smalcald Articles 2 in BC 301), was the measuring stick by which all theology is evaluated, he was forced to define and clarify his understanding of the sacraments as a “more than verbal” (Robert W. Jenson, Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of Christian Sacraments [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978], 5) word that proclaims the promises of God and makes those promises a reality. Using this and other, correlated criteria, Luther justifies the reduction in the number of sacraments found in the Roman Catholic Church of his time. The sacramental controversies that arose in the 1520s also force him to shape and clarify the interconnected nature of the sacramental elements, the word, and faith. By 1530, Luther’s sacramental theology had matured and could be defined by the “sacramental unity” between the word, faith, and earthly elements. This sacramental union also provided the foundational basis for his insistence on the efficacy of the sacraments, since this union was intimately connected to God’s promise of the gospel, proclaimed and enacted.

Article

Baptism opens a window to the heart of Martin Luther’s 16th-century theology. It offers a perspective for how Luther understands the impact of grace and its channels, as well as the nature of justification in an individual’s life. In his teaching about baptism, Luther demonstrates the vital working of the Word and lays a foundation for a Word-centered and faith-oriented spirituality. With baptism, Luther articulates his vision for the purpose of the Church and the rationale for sacraments. Baptism reveals different sides of the theologian: one who argues with a zeal on the “necessity” of baptism and its meaningful God-mandated practice in Christian communities and another who imagines God’s saving grace too expansive to be limited to any ritual. The apparent tensions in Luther’s articulation can be understood from his overlapping agendas and different audiences: in his baptismal talk, Luther is both processing his own Angst about salvation and negotiating his developing position in relation to the medieval sacramental theology and other emerging reform solutions. While feistily refuting his opponents, he is also speaking from his personal religious experience of being as if reborn with the encounter of the Word of grace and passionately extrapolating his most foundational conviction: God’s unconditional promise of grace as the ground of being for human life, given to humanity in the Word. The matter of baptism leads to the roots of different Christian “confessional” traditions. The format of the ritual has generated less anxiety than differing theological opinions on (1) the role of faith in the validity of baptism, and (2) the effects of baptism in one’s life. Whether infant or adult baptism is favored depends on whether baptism is primarily understood as a sign of faith, a cause of forgiveness and transformation, or an initiation into the Christian community—or all of the above. Baptism is at the center of Luther’s theological nervous system; it connects with every other vital thread in the theological map. Baptism is a mystery and a matter of faith; it calls for a philosophical imagination and mystical willingness to grasp the questions of reality beyond what meets the eye. “I study it daily,” Luther admits in his “Large Catechism.” “In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings.”

Article

A variety of dissident movements within the church appeared and disappeared throughout the medieval period. Each sought to reform the church along various millenarian, moralistic, biblicistic, and anticlerical lines. In the wake of Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) public calls for reform, groups of these kinds reappeared in Europe. Most of them referred to Luther as an inspiration, and they often associated themselves with Luther and his reforms. In order to distance himself from these groups, Luther used the pejorative German word, Schwärmerei to describe and critique what he saw as their most fundamental error: that they would establish their respective churches on a foundation other than what he called, in the Smalcald Articles (1538), the “First and Chief Article” of the Christian faith: Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and God’s Word alone. Moreover, because these opponents also represented forms of 16th-century protest against the Roman Catholic Church, they would cite him as a source of their teaching. His use of Schwärmerei, then, separates his reform proposal from the ideas and the implications of these groups. As a metaphor, Schwärmerei also vilifies Luther’s Protestant opponents as “swarms” of bees or locusts. The term not only links Luther’s opponents together, it also identifies their presence as unpredictable and hazardous. This usage clearly reflected the polemical discourse common in this historical period and contributed to the generally harsh persecutions of the groups in principalities ruled by Lutherans. In a variety of ways, Luther’s Protestant opponents taught that believers were capable of knowing God directly (e.g., through spiritual experience or reason). Such knowledge was deemed necessary for a truly faithful and transformed life. Luther’s Protestant opponents, then, maintained that full membership in the church depended on their internal experience of the Holy Spirit, an experience that was to be shared ritually with the community as public witness to the Spirit’s work. Both the experience itself and the subsequent life of discipleship were deemed necessary by these groups in order for one to be a true follower of Christ. For Luther, however, saving knowledge of God comes only through God’s chosen means of self-revelation: the Word and the sacraments. The gospel of the forgiveness of sins, therefore, is always mediated to believers from an external source—through preaching the Word of God and through the means of grace (i.e., baptism and the Lord’s Supper). In addition, these groups’ overemphasis on subjectivity left them vulnerable to abuse by their leaders. They could claim authority, based on their internal experiences, to dominate their followers with cult-like power. Luther believed this to be the dynamic at work in the disastrous “Kingdom of God” at Münster (1535), the Peasants’ War (1525), and the Wittenberg disturbances (1522). For Luther, the Word alone, as God’s law and God’s gospel, provides the basis for the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic church. His opponents disagreed that such a foundation was sufficient for the church to be the church. Indeed, by the end of his career, the Reformer would describe nearly all of his opponents as Schwärmer—eventually even including the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church among their ranks.

Article

In Christianity, theological language must be understood against the background of the multifaceted semantic field of Logos. “Logos” (as “word” and as “linguistic reason”) is used in multiple contexts: (1) Trinitarian theological (John 1:1); (2) creation (Gen. 1:3) and revelation-theological (Jesus Christ “the Word of God” [ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ]: Rev. 19:13); and (3) soteriological-eschatological (“Word of Life,” 1 John 1:1). These references are mediated through the philosophy of language’s concept of “translation” (Johann Georg Hamann) and the idea of divine condescension into human language. In Luther, religious language as the language of the Bible is to be understood on the one hand by its character as a living address to humankind and on the other as an immediate confession of the believer in spontaneous reaction to it. In biblical language, the Word of God, conveyed in human terms, comes closer to us than we do to our own selves and transforms our earthly existence to the goal of everlasting life. Theological language is intellectual interpretation and conceptual reflection on religious language with a theoretical aim—in other words, its intent is to reach an agreement about itself under the conditions of the overall context; it concerns the truth of religious language and texts. Because Luther—linguistically aware to the highest degree—recognized the specific distinctiveness of biblical language, and of New Testament language in particular, his writings contain an abundance of differentiated reflections on the state of appropriate theological language. The Word of God in our human language requires theology to have a “different” or “new” logic (and philosophy) in its articles of faith. All traditional philosophical terms and logical forms of judgment and conclusion must be “translated” into Christianity—even, for example, the concept of the human being and of the Word itself. In particular, the unity of God and man in Christ compels a new sort of language or way of thinking. The imaginative form of spatial prepositions (such as “in”) must be rethought in determinate negation. In God, opposites coincide. Because God’s Word is directed against the self-conception of the sinner before God, it comes to humankind essentially in the twin linguistic structure of “Law” and “Gospel”; these categories also define theological language in a specifically Reformation sense. New Testament language, in its fundamentals, is eschatologically oriented. Hence, categories such as “substance” or “essence” (essentia) must be rephrased on the condition that nothing has already been defined, and everything is still developing. Luther undertook this with an eschatology of the Word of God. As Luther shows in the case of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “This is my body …,” the new logic is a genuinely linguistic logic, or rather thinking from language. Traditional (formal) logic replaces the logic of real language with an artificial model. Finally, Luther also reflects on the linguistic status of the word “God” as a grammatical subject. Here, too, he wants the word “God” to be comprehended as a fluid substance, understanding it essentially as a verb—as a linguistic expression of movement—thus embodying the Reformation idea of “for me” (pro me). Ultimately, it is always about the important role of two linguistic aspects in theological language: grammar on the one hand, which should receive fundamental attention, and linguistic usage (usus loquendi) on the other, the comprehension of which is also crucial. Thus, Luther’s understanding of theological language could be summarized in this statement: theology, understood linguistically, is a grammar of the language of the sacred scriptures.

Article

Luther conceives Christian doctrine drawn from the Bible and summarized in the articles of faith as the essential resource and topic of all Christian teaching and preaching. In contrast to both scholastic and post-Reformation theology, Luther emphasizes the strong connection and interdependence between doctrine and proclamation. While doctrine communicates God’s word in his law and his gospel, doctrine can only be pure if it does not confuse law and gospel but carefully distinguishes God’s demand in the law from the promise and gift of his mere grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, the core topic of Christian doctrine is Christ’s redemption through his proclamation, his death on the cross, and his resurrection by which God in the power of his spirit graciously offers justification by faith alone. By representing God’s gracious revelation in the incarnation and redemptive and salvific activity of his son, Christian doctrine communicates the presence of the loving and justifying God who evokes faith and trust through his word. While Christian doctrine grants knowledge about God’s triune activity, it is not only informative, but communicates God’s promise efficiently. In the course of the Reformation, Luther emphasized more the importance of the verbum externum as an instrument to communicate pure doctrine. To support Christian teaching and education, he wrote the catechisms in which he explains the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed as the essential resources of Christian doctrine, but unlike Melanchthon, he did not summarize Christian doctrine in loci theologici. Yet he understood the articles of faith to be inherently connected and inseparable as they refer to the unity of God. Thus, the systematic explanation of the Christian faith in Lutheran orthodoxy meets with Luther’s understanding of the structure of doctrine and his concern for fully exploring and apprehending God’s grace and justice as revealed in the gospel. At the same time, Luther always used doctrine in soteriological context. Because of its particular content, theological reflection of doctrine cannot exclude the dimension of proclamation.

Article

For Martin Luther the sermon was not simply an exercise in which a preacher expounded on the biblical text, taught moral lessons, and reprimanded listeners for their shortcomings. The sermon meant far more than that. Preaching was God’s voice speaking through the minister. Hearing God’s promise of salvation was far more effective than reading it. In terms that echoed medieval theories of demonology, which posited that reading biblical passages aloud exorcized the air, Luther insisted that Satan fled the spoken word of God even if the written form bothered him not a whit. The sermon was the site where Christ confronted Satan in eschatological combat. Minsters made Christ really present from their pulpits and, through their preaching of God’s word, provided the means through which the Holy Spirit “worked,” literally, upon the auditor. Luther’s sense of the sermon was spiritual and physical to the extent that he considered preaching quasi-sacramental in the medieval sense of the opus operatum. Luther’s theology of preaching was among the most original of his discoveries, but he did not invent the sermon. For 1,500 years Christianity had spread among overwhelmingly illiterate populations, and the oral exposition of scripture was part of Christian services early on. Patristic theologians such as Augustine had preached extensively and left a corpus of manuscript sermons that influenced later exegetes. The advent of printing in the mid-15th century spread the homilies of medieval preachers and their patristic forerunners as never before. Especially popular were postils, model sermons for Sundays and festival days that were available in Latin and vernacular versions. Printing, the spread of the Mendicant preaching orders, improved clerical education, and increasing lay literacy all combined to produce a late medieval preaching renaissance. Martin Luther was born into this renaissance just as he became a trained professional in its tradition. When he died in 1546 he was no longer a late medieval Augustinian, but he had been a preacher by trade for nearly forty years. Luther preached constantly. None of his other duties took as much of his time. About 2,300 of his sermons survive, which, based on his preaching schedule, represent about half of the sermons he preached. Sermons take up some thirty volumes—that is, one-third—of the Weimar edition (WA) of his works. No other genre in his corpus comes close. The same can be said of the printing and impact of his sermons: none of Luther’s contemporaries came close either. Unlike many of those contemporaries, however, the most significant preacher in early modern Europe never wrote a treatise on how to preach. Luther never produced a comprehensive work of dogmatics either, and for the same reason: the incredibly gifted theologian was not a gifted systematician. Several of Luther’s greatest admirers noted as much, warning future preachers that unlike Luther, whose sermons tended to drift hither and yonder, they should stick to the main roads. Determining what sermons Luther actually delivered is nettlesome because it hinges on the types and numbers of texts that have come down to us. The issue is always the state of the sources. Thus, the rudiments of Luther’s sermons and postils as genres are presented, and select issues of manuscript and print production that shape our understanding of what Luther preached and how his ideas were received are examined.

Article

Although often neglected in historical and theological studies of Martin Luther’s work, an understanding of the Holy Spirit undergirds his signal contributions to the history of theology and is essential to any case for his ongoing relevance to contemporary theology and practice. Drawing on biblical exegesis, Luther would reinvigorate the doctrine of the Holy Spirit he inherited from the Western theological tradition and from the Ancient Church. Nonetheless, he wrote in a variety of literary genres and in response to a range of issues. To address this linguistic and historical complexity, this article examines the role the concept of the Holy Spirit plays in his theology by providing readings of texts that have been influential on later appropriations of his work. In doing so, it focuses on two intertwined themes in his theology. First, it examines his understanding of the Holy Spirit in relation to justification—that is, the righteousness of God we receive as a gift by faith—looking at his early biblical theology and two especially influential texts, “The Freedom of a Christian” (1520) and his “Lectures on Galatians” (1535). Second, it discusses his portrayal of the Holy Spirit as sanctifier—that is, as the one who creates holiness or sanctification in us—in his most well-known catechisms, in the “Confession of 1528,” and in his “Lectures on Genesis” (1535) and “Sermons on John” (1537). Throughout, attention will also be given to his understanding of the Trinity, Word and sacraments, faith, hope, and love, and the themes of promise and gift. The article concludes with a sketch of historical work and a discussion of the influence of Luther’s pneumatology on later theology and current areas of research.

Article

Any study of Luther’s ecclesiology faces apparent consistencies or contradictions in Luther’s view of the church, which have been variously explained by scholars in terms of a development in Luther’s thought or as reflecting different genres in which he wrote. An understanding that begins with the Word of God, and the church as the creature of the Word, offers a helpful starting point. Luther’s view of the church and its ministry are both grounded in the Word of God, the promise of the gospel. The church exists wherever the Word of God is proclaimed, and the church is a spiritual community oriented to and shaped by this Word in its life by the power of the Holy Spirit. The distinctions in Luther’s ecclesiology, such as visible versus invisible, are hermeneutical rather than ontological. Luther’s later ecclesiological writings also reflect his Spirit and letter hermeneutic, even as he engages new battle fronts, so that the gospel remains at the center of the church’s proclamation and life. For God’s Word to continue to be preached, God has instituted the office of ministry to which specific persons are called, who are entrusted with this great treasure. Luther’s view of the office of ministry should be interpreted in light of, but not as opposed to, his view of the royal priesthood, which he develops as an ecclesiological concept. Bishops are a specific instance of the public office of ministry, at the heart of which is the preaching of the gospel and overseeing its right preaching for the sake of God’s people.

Article

Steve Paulson and Chris Croghan

The profound impact of Martin Luther’s theological confession is well documented. What is not as thoroughly explored is Luther’s understanding of the function of preaching, which both rooted his reformational breakthrough and drove the Reformation thereafter. Luther’s simple assertion—instead of the pope, there stands a sermon—resulted in a revolution that impacted all facets of 16th-century life. Luther’s simple assertion concerning proclamation deconstructed a deeply embedded framework that had arisen around Christianity that affected everything from the function of the priest to the definition and role of the church, and even Scripture itself. While Luther learned as he went, especially in the matter of preaching, the unwavering consistency and even simplicity of his theology is breathtaking. Instead of the pope, a sermon which delivers Christ’s forgiveness of sins. Faith in that promise is certain and is not to be doubted in any way. Thus, preaching and nothing else makes the church, not vice versa. The ramifications of this assertion are monumental and far-reaching. Luther’s confession caused great upheaval and consternation in his time and continues to do so even now, since it addresses the basic questions of theology and life, such as the role of the individual in salvation, whether the will is free or bound in relation to God, what the authority of Scripture is in relation to tradition, and what the difference between a command and a promise is. Yet Luther held to the claim that the most important matter was the comfort of the conscience, which can come only through a promise delivered in place and time to a person pro me and thus builds a whole gathering of the faithful as true church. Thus, in the face of outcries and upheaval in Christendom, Luther refused to blame the gospel, but simply preached as he had taught, trusting that the word of God does not return empty but accomplishes what it says. So he trusted that in that proclamation God’s will would be done: killing and making alive, naming and absolving the sin of people desperate to hear that freeing proclamation. Thus the Reformation that followed Luther became a preaching movement that distinguished the law and the gospel and applied both categorically. Proclamation is the moment and fullness of the divine election unto eternal life.