The Formal Cause of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura

The following sermon is the first half of a two-part series on the Protestant Reformation, in celebration and memorial of its 500th year anniversary.

The series covered the formal cause of the Reformation (sola scriptura, “scripture alone”), as well as its material cause (sola fide, “faith alone”). I preached on the former topic, as found below.


The Formal Cause of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura
South City Church
10/15/2017

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Martin Luther on Pastoral Study

Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. … They do not pray; they do not study; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture. …

[T]he [pastoral] call is: Watch, study, attend to reading. In truth, you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well.

Therefore, dear sirs and brethren, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent. Truly, this evil, shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring. Use the gift that has been entrusted to you, and reveal the mystery of Christ.

–Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, comp. Ewald M. Plass (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), entry no. 3547, 1110.

Justification as the Marriage Union of Faith (Martin Luther)

wedding-rings

This is one of my favorite portions in Luther’s writings and one of my favorite illustrations.

The following is from Luther’s short work Freedom of a Christian.

The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31–32]. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage—indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage—it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers?

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Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

The following comes from a paper presented for Dr. Scott Manetsch at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for the course Classic Texts in the History of Christianity CH 8100.

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In The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther sets out to investigate what ability human freedom possesses and how it relates to God’s grace (II.iii.). For Luther, this theological dispute over human freedom is of utmost importance. He claims it is the fundamental disagreement between himself and the Catholic tradition (II.iii.; VIII.). Because this topic strikes at the heart of soteriology, truths of “eternal consequence” are at stake (II.vi.). To know nothing of these matters is to know nothing of Christianity (II.iii.); the entirety of the Christian faith and the gospel would be ruined by such ignorance (II.v.).

Responding to Desiderius Erasmus’ Discourse on Free Will, Luther asserts that man has no “free-will.” Contrary to Erasmus (IV.i.), men are not autonomous in regards to meriting or even willing salvation (II.x.), but are enslaved, “ever turned in the direction of their own desires, so that they cannot but seek their own” (V.iv.). God’s will is carried out necessarily; no room is left for man’s so called “free-will” (V.vii.).

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What Luther Said Before His 95 Theses

Almost two months (Sept. 4, 1517) before posting his famous 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, Luther released a lesser known but even more radical statement called the Disputation against Scholastic Theology.

By “scholastic theology” Luther was referring mainly to the late Medieval nominalism proposed by some Roman Catholic scholars, in particular William Ockham and Gabriel Biel. Nominalism’s motto was Facere quod in se est, or “do the best that lies within you.” In response to doing the best one could (congruent merit), God would grant grace, namely through the sacraments. Through cooperation with this grace, one could perform fully meritorious deeds (condign merit) that could merit/earn salvation. Clearly such teaching is not only unbiblical (i.e., not found in scripture) but even anti-biblical by its complete reworking of the relationship between grace and works (e.g., Rom 4:4-5; 11:16).[1] Nominalism is what Luther had been trained in; and to this errant theology Luther was reacting. It should also be noted that in these statements Luther believed that he was stating “nothing that is not in agreement with the Catholic church and the teachers of the church” (final statement in his Disputations).

So, what did Luther have to say before his famous 95 Theses? He had a lot to say, and in fact, he was probably more extreme here than in his more controversial 95 Theses.[2]
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