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Friday, May 15, 2015

Luther's coarse talk… exceeds our purity of heart?

     Martin Luther is fair game for all of today's theologians.  He is typically vilified for his polemical writings, sometimes smiled at for his connection to bowling (I even heard reference to this on an old Perry Mason TV show).  But he is rather well known for his so-called coarse or crude language.  This was also true during Franz Pieper's lifetime.  And as it is today, so many tried to explain away, or apologize, for Luther's talk.  So Franz Pieper, the Twentieth Century Luther, took it on himself to explain to his Missouri Synod, and a critical (and largely unbelieving) world, how Luther should be read.  The following short article appeared in Lehre und Wehre volume 63, May 1917, pages 230-231:

Underlining follows emphasis in original.  Highlighting and info inside square brackets [ ] added by BackToLuther.

The necessary caution with the apologies for Luther.
In the use of writings about Luther which come from foreign camps, caution is necessary.  This is especially true of those writings which are well-intentioned, include some apt remarks and also deserve to be read.  But since the author stands far from the great cause of the Reformation, namely the peace of one’s conscience before God’s Law, and does not have the right understanding to walk in life completely in God’s Word, so he cannot fail to fully or partially err in his judgments.  We think here first only of somewhat more external things, namely the apologies which one states for the fact that Luther uses such crude expressions against the false teachers and speaks about marriage and generally about sexual things so openly and bluntly.   One very often states the apology for Luther that it was only the crudeness of the age in which Luther lived.  Now it is certainly true that Luther was also a representative of his time in speech and expression. And with good reason it is to be pointed out that Luther's opponents not only equaled Luther in bluntness of expression, but often surpassed him.  But one does not conclude his judgment on this point before one has brought to mind how the Holy Scripture, which admittedly has validity for all times, speaks about [page 231] these things.  Regarding the use of coarse expressions in relation to false teachers, compare for example only the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, also Galatians (Gal 1:6-9; 5:12) and the "fine" Letter to Philippians (Phil. 3:1-2). As for the open and straight talk in terms of natural and sexual matters, so also here you do not miss to compare the Scriptures.  When one has been thrust into passages in the New Testament like Matthew 15:17; Phil 3:8. Luke 1:41; Luk. 2:5, he wants  to partially help the decorum with veiled translations.  And now only the ample description of marital relations and such things in the Old Testament!  In his commentary on the book of Genesis even Luther expresses again his astonishment, that "the Holy Spirit who has indeed a very pure mouth, may speak  of these things with so great diligence, which the Holy Father, the Pope, wanted to remember grudgingly with his chaste monks and nuns, as such things are even foul-mouthed and carnal" (St. L. II , col. 538, parag. 29) [Am. Ed. vol. 5, pg 329:  “Why does the Holy Spirit, whose mouth is completely pure, speak about these things with such zeal? The very saintly pope, together with the chaste monks and nuns, does not even deign to think about them, since such things are completely sordid and carnal.”]  Luther reminds us over and over again of the fact that in accord with the will of the Holy Spirit, to the pure all things are pure [Titus 1:15], and always should be pure. Even if we find such open talk about these things now with Luther, then that can probably suggest to us the question whether or not perhaps Luther exceeded us by action of the Holy Spirit in purity of the heart. F[ranz]. P[ieper].

Who were the "foreign camps" Pieper speaks about at the beginning?  I have no doubt that he is referring in part to other American Lutherans, or the opponents of Missouri that he spoke about in his Last Words.  These Lutherans were erring in the basic doctrines of Conversion and Justification.  And Pieper reminds us that one cannot understand Luther if one does not have the central doctrines of Christianity.  The most important counsel to glean from Pieper's article is how to judge all theologians of today (and from any time in the history of the world):
...the author stands far from the great cause of the Reformation, namely the peace of one’s conscience before God’s Law, and does not have the right understanding to walk in life completely in God’s Word, so he cannot fail to fully or partially err in his judgments.
The world feels justified in "trash talk"... since Martin Luther used it!  Ah, but the world's coarse/crude/trash talk is just that – trash!  Martin Luther spoke by faith... against the true Antichrist, and for the Gospel that has never "entered into the heart of man" (1 Cor. 2:9).  And dare I say that the same thinking came to mind when I wrote "Of Whoredoms and Hemorroids (modern LCMS)" in 1995 as I came back to my Christian faith?

I discovered Luther by a return to my Christian faith... and in no other way.  Back To Luther!

[see also this blog post of Dec. 15, 2011 for more on this subject]

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