Luther taught that the Christian life is “hidden,” that one can’t judge Christians by
their lifestyles, and that sometimes non-Christians will do more external good deeds than the faithful (LW, Vol. 26). God himself acts in hidden and surprising ways, as he did with Jesus on the cross (LW, Vol. 31).
God is so in control that the good we do is really God’s work (LW, Vol. 34). We’re
nothing but the hands of Christ, Luther asserted (LW, Vol. 24). In the good we do, we are just “little Christs” to each other (LW, Vol. 31).
Living as “little Christs” entails life having a free, easy quality, filled with happiness (even
when plagued with the suffering that comes from being Christian) (LW, Vol. 24; Complete Sermons, Vol. 3/2). That’s why Luther wants us to look at our jobs as good things—a chance (or “mask”) to serve God and other people (LW, Vol. 35).
Luther knows that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. That’s why he said
Christ takes us away from ourselves, making us dependent on what is outside ourselves (LW, Vol. 26). The righteousness of God given to us is external or alien, not something that is in us or belongs to us (LW, Vol. 31).
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The reformer didn’t teach universal salvation, insisting that we must have faith.
But he expressed an openness to hoping for the salvation of all, that God might give the gift of salvation to all, even in death (LW, Vol. 43).
We sin in everything we do because every- thing we do is inspired by selfishness (Luther
calls this “concupiscence”). The best we can do is sin bravely—confess we are sinning in all we do and yet seek to do God’s will anyway (LW, Vol. 48).
Even when we do good, we act in selfish ways (LW, Vol. 33). We are free: The law and
failure to do works can’t condemn us (LW, Vol. 31). But we are also free from the law in the sense that we may break the law to do good (Complete Sermons, Vol. 3/1).
While the reformer read the Bible critically (LW, Vol. 34), at times he referred to
Scripture as “inerrant” (Weimar Ausgabe, Vol. 40 III). He suggested there are two kinds of word of God in Scripture—the word that has to do with us and our context and the word that does not (LW, Vol. 35).
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The reformer spoke of the three persons of the Trinity as speaker, sermon and hearer
(LW, Vol. 24), or as the mind, intellect and will of God (LW, Vol. 1).
Church and state weren’t separate for Luther in the sense that he didn’t see the
state as secular, for it is still ruled by God. However, Christian values on Luther’s grounds aren’t imposed on the state. Political judgments are to be made on the basis of reason (LW, Vol. 45).
Although the majority of the time Luther spoke of God as male, he did refer at times
to God as “mother” (LW, Vol. 17).
He called the church “a hospital for sinners” (LW, Vol. 25)—the church is only for sick
people like us.
The reformer focused on the authority of Scripture, but not without tradition.
Tradition mandated for him the desirability of maintaining liturgical worship, and was the basis for the validity of infant baptism—do it because God has always had the church do it (LW, Vol. 40).
The reformer preferred immersion in baptism (LW, Vol. 35). He also embraced
the ancient African Christian practice of kissing infants before they are to be baptized to honor the hands of God that the baptized child will become (LW, Vol. 45).
Luther was open to maintaining a papacy if the pope would acknowledge that sinners
have free forgiveness and submit to Scripture (LW, Vol. 26 and 39).
Contrary to any notion that he may not have been strong on evangelism, Luther
taught that the only reason God lets us live is so we can bring others to him (LW, Vol. 30).
See all 50 facts by clicking on the “Reformation” tab at livinglutheran.org
Mark Ellingsen, an ELCA pastor, serves on the faculty of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. His latest book is Martin Luther’s Legacy: Reforming Reformation Theology for the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan).
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