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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Luther: Don’t leave heterodox church prematurely (Luther surprises?); "stand gallantly" in the Word

Franz Pieper recorded a wealth of spiritual counsel in his many years as president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  On many occasions he gave a lesson from Luther.  In the last year of the journal Lehre und Wehre, before it was folded into Concordia Theological Monthly, Pieper extracted the following message from one of Luther's letters on the subject of church fellowship and it may be somewhat surprising to hear Luther's judgment on it.  In  Lehre und Wehre, vol. 75 (1929), pgs 148-149, Pieper published the following:

We have a warning of Luther against premature withdrawals from heterodox churches in a letter to the Elector John of Saxony.  (St. L. vol. 21 a, col. 1306-1309; German text here; not in Am. Ed.) This letter was dated May 25, 1529 and incidentally throws light on the uncertain relationship between the Diet of Speyer (1529) and the Diet at Augsburg (1530).  Luther expected before long a crucial change in the relationship of the Catholic and Evangelical parties to each other; "Because the matter cannot stand so for long"; "all things are now in the balance, and no one knows where God wants to let the eruption go."  The Elector wished to have Luther's advice in the matter of an abbot of a monastery who intended to withdraw from the Roman church, and who sought the Elector’s counsel.  This elicited Luther’s warning against premature withdrawals related to conversions.  Luther writes among other things: "Then would be my submissive concerns that I previously used myself toward all withdrawn people since still some people are not able to stand in your electoral grace – to not advise anyone or tell them to go out from the cloister or to change his religion.   Because since such things concern God and conscience, so one has the Word of God and the Scriptures that teach us what we should do and allow, not only by way of counsel but also by command.  That's why nobody may ask me whether to do this or that, but he watches, examines his own conscience, what he wants or likes to believe and do.  I cannot be called still further to advise him; because in the case where I counsel or advise him and he would yet be uncertain of the things and proceeds in doubt or has a wandering conscience, so do I partake of them and would be the cause of such sins against God.  It is not a small sin when something is done in doubt or unbelief (which is contrary to the first and second commandment); because God wants to have faith and not doubt. . . . on this the abbot is still otherwise.  Who knows, although he did believe, [page 148] whether he is also strong and firm enough in faith to endure future temptations?  As we read in Scripture and experience daily ourselves no end of what the devil and all the world aims at against the true faith, indeed also causes, and there is no end nor measure of the persecution and temptation.  Should now afterwards the abbot get an evil conscience, as often happens, and falls into remorse or [he] comes into misery, poverty, adversity, danger or other accident because of it and cannot suffer such things, and finally thinks back and seeks how there is now even much to do and be done, so he would be much better left alone now.  Therefore no one is to be counseled or told what he can do; it must here be every one himself to be master, guide and helper according to the divine Word, which is heard by a man and his heart, so that he may stand gallantly.  Your Electoral Grace has well experienced what the pious princess Duchess Ursula von Münsterberg has suffered over this." — Truely, a clear example of how Luther did not settle church matters externally, but wanted everything accomplished by the Word of God.             – Franz Pieper.

This short article by Pieper refers to a letter of Luther that has not been previously translated and published in English.  See my Luther's Letters posting for reference.  How rich these letters are for spiritual counsel! ... yet how many remain untranslated.  How refreshing to read of the pious Ursula von Münsterberg who found refuge in Luther's house after fleeing a convent because of Luther's doctrine (see here for more info).

I must admit that I too learned from Luther (and Pieper) on the matter spoken of here.  It is very easy to fall into a worldly state of mind when it comes to matters of church fellowship.  But Luther reminds us that his Reformation, the Lutheran Reformation, was strictly based on God's Word, not his.  And so it should be for every Christian...  Ah, but because Luther stands on that Word, as he clearly proved with this letter, then I shall listen to Luther... and Pieper.  They "stand gallantly".  And I shall tune out "the devil and all the world" because they can only go against God's Word...
Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. – Romans 3:4

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