Reading Luther

As we enter this 500th year celebration of the Reformation, the danger is that we might read about Martin Luther. However, how refreshing it might be to read what Luther actually wrote. Obviously Luther wrote more than most of us read even in a year. So let’s narrow down the list of writings that will expand our knowledge about Luther as a writer.

One invention, the printing press by Gutenberg, appeared ~70 years prior to Luther beginning to write for others. The printing press allowed the rapid spread of Luther’s writings, not just books but especially pamphlets. Thus, instead of what took weeks, months, or years for hand written copies of what he wrote, the speed of the printing press drastically shortened the time from writing to distribution, not just for one copy but many copies.

What should I read?

Confessional writings

As Lutherans we do not follow Martin Luther, rather we confess the same Christian faith that he did. Our public statements of faith are compiled in The Book of Concord, dated in 1580. Surprisingly, Luther only wrote three parts of the book: Small Catechism (1529) Large Catechism (1529) and Smalcald Articles (1537). However, his influence on the others confessional writings is evident. He reviewed and approved of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession (1531). Further the next generation of theologians who wrote the Formula of Concord (1580) borrowed heavily from Luther, quoting some passages in length.

So a starting point for reading Luther is to read his three writings in the Book of Concord. If you have been raised in a Lutheran church, you are very familiar with the Small Catechism. Luther wrote it to help parents teach the Christian faith to their families. In addition, Luther wrote sermons for pastors to teach the congregations, published as the Large Catechism. Thus, the two catechisms complement each other. Reading both will enhance your understanding of the key topics of the Christian faith.

Early writings

The 500th celebration of the Reformation highlights one of his earliest writings (Oct. 31, 1517): “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” better known as the “Ninety-Five Theses.” You can search online for this document. Luther’s direct approach to false teaching emerges in this document and continues in his later writings. He also wrote “An Explanation of the 95 Theses” in 1518. Even in this early period, Luther focused on the Church and the individual Christian. Here is the first thesis:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said “Repent,” willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Other early works worth reading: “Heidelberg Disputation” (1518) and “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (1519). In 1519 the Leipzig Debate presented a theological disputation originally between Andreas Karlstadt, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Johann Eck [papal expert]. The topics were originally to be: free will and grace. However, Eck and Luther met and expanded the topics to purgatory, the sale of indulgences, the need for and methods of penance, and the legitimacy of papal authority. In the debate Luther claimed that sola scripture (Scripture alone) as the basis for Christian beliefs. In June 1520 Pope Leo X banned all Luther’s views from writing and preaching.

There are three significant writings from 1520: “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning The Reform of the Christian Estate,” “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” and “The Freedom of a Christian.” These three have significant influence on the public life of the 1500s and lead to the Peasants Rebellion and later to the nobility responding to control the masses.

Other Important Writings

Because Luther wrote doctrinal statements and discussed what is commonly called systematic or doctrinal theology, we have to realize that his other writings were more closely related to his specialty, namely exegetical theology, particularly the Old Testment. Thus, as you begin to search his exegetical writings you discover his series on Genesis (8 books in English translation), his commentaries on the Psalms, and his commentaries on the Minor Prophets (1524-1526). Perhaps the premier commentaries include his ones on Galatians (1535 ed.) [vol. 26 and 27 in English] and his commentaries on the Gospel of John (1537) [vol. 22, 24 in English].

This list is only a sampling of what Luther wrote. But your time will be well spent reading some of these books and articles. And there is no need to rush through them. Take time to understand the key points, to appreciate his writing style (even in Enlish), and to give thanks that God used Luther who dedicated his life to teaching the Christian faith.

For Further reading:

Here is a web site that provides a chronological list of Luther’s writings with the English volume references.
https://lutherantheology.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/luthers-work-chronological-website2.pdf

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Prayer in midst of tragedy

Our hearts grieve today in the face of a major tragedy when family and friends suffer so much. As Christians we turn our hearts toward God.

O Lord, once again death has invaded our ordinary daily lives. Sin and evil have again striven against the life You have given and won a battle; spreading death where there should have been life, and sorrow where there should have been joy.

You who are the Resurrection and the Life, be with the families who have been so cruelly separated by death. Comfort those who put their trust in You that You have overcome death. Remind them of the hope we have in You that those who put their faith in You, though they be gone from us here, are safe and at peace in Your everlasting arms, looking forward to the grand reunion at the Resurrection at the end of this age.

Grant we pray to those who have lost loved ones the grace and strength that their grief may not turn to bitterness, their sorrow to despair, or their hurt to rage. Grant them the grace to help and comfort each other rather than allowing the anger that comes from grief to further tear apart families and friends. Help them to find in You the grace and courage to forgive the unforgiveable and leave the one responsible for this outrage to Your justice. Be with those who seek to bring comfort and aid and inspire them with Your loving kindness that they may be effective in helping them through their grief and sorrow.

Assist those responsible for investigating and judging this crime to determine the truth of what happened and to respond appropriately for the good of the community, to speak for those injured and killed, to honor their memory, and to act on behalf of those who have suffered such great loss. Assist us as You will, to understand what could drive someone to commit such heinous acts, not to excuse his actions but to explain them so that more may be done to help the afflicted to avoid such evil. As we as a nation go forward having again suffered the effects of such sin and evil in our midst, help us to respond with love and comfort for those experiencing loss and carefully consider with Your wisdom and counsel what may be done to deter or prevent such occurrences in the future.

Be with us at this time of sorrow and outrage, and especially be with, comfort, and strengthen the families and friends most affected. Help us to remember that Your Son came to save us from the sin that infects us all and whose death at the hands of cruel and sinful humans was for our salvation from that sin, that He is our Way, our truth, and our Life. Amen

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