Sunday, January 27, 2008

Roundtable 31: Preface to the Smalcald Articles

"I have decided to publish these articles in plain print in case I should die before there would be a council (as I fully expect and hope)." (SA Preface, 3; Concordia, p. 259). This is the assumption of Martin Luther as he composed what we know today as the Smalcald Articles. His prince, Johann Frederick the Magnanimous, asked Luther to put together this statement of "non-negotiables" that the Lutherans would take with them when, and if, they attended a council called by Pope Paul III (see Roundtable 30 for more details). [Painting by Lucas Cranach of Luther in 1535, a year before he wrote the Smalcald Articles].

So, how does Luther proceed? The Smalcald Articles are a very personal statement for Luther. By this time the Reformation had been well underway, long enough for Luther's own writings and statements to be used against him, even by "false brothers who profess to be on our side" (Preface, 4). To counteract the claims of those who would come after Luther saying, "Dr. Luther would have agreed with this, or have said that" Luther was anxious to present these articles, particularly in light of his equally strong conviction that he was going to die.

"They want to dress up their poison with my labor. Under my name, they want t mislead the poor people. hat will happen, dear God, when I am dead?" (Preface, 4). Indeed! What has happened since Luther's death? Is it not sad reality that the greatest abusers of Martin Luther are the very people who often use his name in their church's body name?

Luther goes on at some length bitterly bemoaning the abuse of his writings, an inevitable reality that Satan is responsible for. And then he moves into the purpose of this document almost cheerily says, "I really would like to see a truly Christian council, so that many people and issues might be helped. Not what we need help. Our churches are now, through God's grace, enlightened and equipped with the pure Word and right use of the Sacraments, with knowledge of the various callings and right works. So, on our part, we ask for no council." (Preface, 10).

And so what is Luther's concern? All the parishes that have not been so blessed with the brilliant light of the Gospel once more, those languishing under the supposed pastoral care of Roman Catholic bishops who are more concerned about their fancy clothing and various rituals than for "how the poor people live or die. Christ has died for them and yet they are not allowed to hear Him speak as the true Shepherd with his sheep [John 10:11-18]." (Preface, 10).

Luther then launches into a condemnation of the problems in secular society: "high interest rates, greed, disrespect, lust, extravagance in dress, gluttony, gambling, pomp, and all kinds of bad habits and evil." (Preface 12). Much to think about for our own time! A council can hardly begin to address all these issues, but the church's leadership is more concerned about regulating things that are not pertinent to the much more important "commands of God" given us to observe "in the Church, the state, and the family"; so many in fact that we can never hope to fulfill them all. And then comes one of the several prayers found in the Book of Concord, and here Luther offers it before beginning the various points in the Smalcald Articles.

O Lord Jesus Christ, may You Yourself hold a council! Deliver Your servants by our glorious return! The pope and his followers are done for. They will have none of You. Help us who are poor and needy, who sigh to You,and who pray to You earnestly, according to the grace You have given us through Your Holy Spirit, who lives and reigns with You and the Father, blessed forever. Amen.

For consideration:
How do Luther's words apply today, to our times and to our churches? Where are our priorities?


William Weedon said...

So, do you think that by "the Pope and his followers" the good Dr. intended all Roman Catholic Christians or not?

Pr. Lehmann said...

Thanks for your comments on Luther's approach within the Smalcald Articles.

This morning as we were studying the Formula of Concord we ended up in a brief conversation about how to read Luther.

My general approach to reading Luther is what I learned from Dr. Masaki: "As much as possible." These days I devour Luther. One thing I particularly appreciate about him really shines in the Smalcald Articles.

When Luther is arguing against false teachers who are leading their people astray, he rightly sees himself as contending with Satan and gives Satan every bit of respect he deserves. ;-)

When he is speaking to someone who is troubled by some article of doctrine and is seeking the truth of God's Word, he is kind, gentle, and pastoral in his approach (even if the person he's talking to believes heresy at the moment, even if it's a heresy that he would condemn in say Zwingli or the Pope).

I used to be a bit dismissive of Luther except in the Confessions. Now I love him everywhere.

Virgil Hoffman said...

"They want to dress up their poison with my labor. Under my name, they want t mislead the poor people. hat will happen, dear God, when I am dead?" (Preface, 4). Indeed! What has happened since Luther's death? Is it not sad reality that the greatest abusers of Martin Luther are the very people who often use his name in their church's body name?

While this may be the case, in actuality Luther would be appalled that even those who "maintain" his teachings faithfully and loyally use his name. As he himself wrote, "In the first place, I ask that people make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, would not allow the Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I - poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am - come to have people call the children of Christ by my wretched name?"

Paul T. McCain said...

The accusation that Lutherans are wrong to call themselves Lutherans was one that arose already at the time of Luther. While he did protest the use of his name in this fashion, he recognized that if our opponents are going to call us "Lutherans" than there is a proper and right way to use the name: not to indicate we are following a man named Luther, but that we stand with Luther in his confession of the Gospel.

Dr. C.F.W. Walther has a wonderful essay titled Concerning the Name Lutherans which offers a very good explanation of why we call ourselves Lutheran, yes, why we even must, in these days, call ourselves Lutheran, what it means, what it does not mean, etc. I highly recommend it to you.

William Weedon said...

Exactly, Pastor McCain. If the opponents denominate the Catholic Faith "Lutheran," then we rejoice to be called Lutherans, that is, those who hold the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.

Greg said...

William weedon asks:"So, do you think that by "the Pope and his followers" the good Dr. intended all Roman Catholic Christians or not?"
No, not all Roman Catholic Christians as he would have seen himself and his followers as Roman Catholic Christians. Luther would never have seen himself as anything less then catholic. As far as Roman goes what other kind of Catholic would he see himself as? The pope and his followers are those who accept the doctrine and authority of the pope. Greg DeVore

Carl said...

It is true that Luther urged people not to use his name in late 1521. It is also true that in 1522 he warned that those who reject the name "Lutheran" reject what he teaches; namely, Christ and the Gospel. His point, which we rejoice in, is that the name "Lutheran" does not designate a follower of Luther but a follower of Christ who confesses that by grace alone through faith alone our sins are forgiven and we are clothed in His righteousness. Put simply, the name "Lutheran" means only that we confess the Gospel according to the scriptures alone. Therefore, reject that name "Lutheran" and you reject what it stands for. Luther's point.

William Weedon said...

I really appreciate Krauth's take on the difference in spirit between the AC and the SA:

I. AC said to too much - it went on at length about areas that we have agreement on; that's not what the SA was drawn up to address: it focuses on differences, not commonalities.
2. AC has too little for a perfect exhibition of the full position of our Church as to the errors of Rome. (I think of the Tractatus as the AC's missing article on Rome)
3. The AC was not "in the right key" for the work that had to be done. The AC "was the church's embodiment of the Spirit of her Lord when he is tender with the erring." The SA was the Spirit of the same Lord "when he speaks in tones of judgment to the wilful and perverse."

And isn't this great: "Therefore, wise and heavenly-guided, the Church which had committed the olive branch to Melanchton, gave the sword to Luther."

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Luther's concern about "what they will do" when he is dead also presents an opportunity to consider a second -- but equally important -- history of the Smalcald Articles. There is, of course, the initial history of their writing, initial subscription, and publication. That said, after their publication they had no *official* status among the churches of the Augsburg Confession (aside from some of the localized corpus doctrinae in the heavily gnesio-Lutheran areas) until its inclusion in the Book of Concord.

The Smalcald Articles were, in a sense, the banner of the Gnesio-Lutherans upheld over and against the Corpus Doctrinae Philippicum -- the "authoritative" collection of texts espoused by the Philippists. The fact that the Smalcald Articles were included in the Book of Concord, in fact, is a victory of the Gnesio Lutherans. Thus, the irony of Luther's statement that these articles serve as a sort of last will and testament after his death, is that they did in fact play that role.

Carl said...

Adding to Ryan's point, another thing the SA accomplished was to offer an "official" or definitive interpretation of what was meant by Luther in the Wittenberg Concord.

Steve said...

This statement caught my eye.

"They want to dress up their poison with my labor. Under my name, they want t mislead the poor people. hat will happen, dear God, when I am dead?" (Preface, 4).

As I write this I have in my lap setting on one leg the Book of Concord and on the other, the "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" for the ELCA. What will happen when Dr. Luther is dead indeed? What part of "non-negoitable" do the "leaders" of my church-body not understand?