Saturday, November 27, 2010

Delight in Assertions!

Luther's The Bondage of the Will has turned out to be a captivating read. One aspect of it which I find somewhat amazing is that it seems Luther speaks to the situation in the Church today no less than he did 500 years ago. In the section below Luther reprimands Erasmus for minimizing the importance of assertions or belief in objective statements of truth from God's Word. Erasmus' goal in downplaying the importance of these assertions seems to have been, to some degree, a desire for unity among Christians - a desire for unity between Luther and the pope. But ostensibly good ends (unity among Christians) do not justify evil means (compromising on truth). I found this reminder from Luther very timely as this lack of respect for right assertions, that is, right doctrine (orthodoxy), seems rampant within Evangelicalism today. As in Luther's day, minimizing the importance of right doctrine today is often done in the name of unity.
To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. (Now, lest we be misled by words, let me say here that by 'assertion' I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished. I do not think that the term has any other meaning, either in classical authors or in present-day usage. And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures.) . . .

. . . Away, now, with Skeptics and Academics from the company of us Christians; let us have men who will assert, men twice as inflexible as very Stoics! Take the Apostle Paul - how often does he call for that 'full assurance' (Col. 2:2, 1 Thess. 1:5; Heb. 6:11, 10:22) which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction. In Rom. 10 he calls it 'confession' - 'with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' (v. 10). Christ says, 'Whosoever confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father' (Matt. 10:32). Peter commands us to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). And what need is there of a multitude of proofs? Nothing is more familiar or characteristic among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. . .

. . . The Holy Spirit is no Skeptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions - surer and more certain than sense and life itself.

-Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will


Jacob Aho said...

You are to be commended, I started reading "The Bondage of the Will", I got about 3/4 of the way through the book and I gave up. I didn't like the way Luther so condescendingly spoke of Erasmus. Maybe I should try again sometime in the near future.

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Jacob,
Great to hear from you! Luther certainly had his way with words, which I tend to enjoy, but if you read the background of the situation I think you'll see that Erasmus was also very condescending toward Luther. Of course two wrongs don't make a right and Erasmus being condescending or writing in a way unbecoming a Christian in no way exonerates Luther if he also wrote that way. What I think some might see in Luther as condescension I think could also be seen as Luther's sense of humor coming out in his playful use of words. Another thing to keep in mind when thinking about the possibility of Luther being condescending toward Erasmus is to think about Erasmus' position compared to Luther's. Erasmus was the foremost intellectual of his day. He was known and respected in every city in Western Europe. He was friends with the Pope. So if Luther was being condescending it was not the typical type of condescension where a superior is condescending to one less respected or learned or of lower rank. Erasmus would have been thought of as superior to Luther in all of these areas. I think Luther was also very disappointed with the quality of Erasmus' arguments against the Lutheran position and this may be another cause of what looks like condescension in Luther.

Jacob Aho said...

I read Erasmus's book actually, if I remember right there are two books that Erasmus wrote. The first one was in the form of an article and the second a response to Luther's "Bondage of the Will". I read the first 40 pages of the book that Erasmus wrote as a response to Luther's "Bondage of the Will" I do have to agree that Erasmus was juvenile in the way he responded to Luther.

Matt Perkins said...

Oh wow, well since you read Erasmus' work you know more about it than I do. I was basing my understanding of Erasmus' tone towards Luther on the Introduction to this printing of The Bondage of the Will. I want to read Erasmus' work that Luther was responding to and it would also be interesting to read Erasmus' response to Luther. I've been wanting to read Bainton's biography of Luther and I just found out tonight that Bainton also wrote a biography of Erasmus so maybe I'll read them both. God bless you Jacob and I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. I'm think about going to Hockinson Apostolic Lutheran when I'm home for Christmas by the way.

Jacob Aho said...

It's been several years ago since I read Bainton's bio on Luther. I remember really enjoying his style of writing. Martin Marty has a very colorful history on Luther also.

Jacob Aho said...

Please let me know if and when you plan to go to Hockinson Apostolic.

Jane said...

Hi Matt,
May you have a blessed Advent season.

Before Jesus begins His journey of Passion, He prays to His Father, in the witness of His disciples, His most earnest prayer requests of which there are three.
He prays the Father will glorify Him.
He prays that God would protect and sanctify the disciples and send them.
He prays for all of us that we would all be one, be in the Trinity and be brought to complete unity...for the purpose of the world knowing that God sent Jesus because of love.

This passage of scripture in John 17 is so powerful because it frames His call to our unity which bears out to be as difficult a journey as His Passion.

We must suffer to love the physical and mystical Body of Christ in the name of unity for the purpose of the World knowing God sent Jesus in love. Our family is experiencing a difficult time right now. God is calling us into a deeper understanding of walking the Passion through the persecution of disunity. The family is a micro unit of the Family of God. God calls us into a deeper relationship of love with our Family.

I am a Christian (40 years) with worship experience in the Episcopal, Baptist, Assembly, Lutheran, Bible, Orthodox, EFree, and now Catholic Church. There is nothing closed to God but a closed heart. I have found Truth in each place that was open to the Truth of God and I have found some things missing in each.
"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." John 4:23
Please, let us meditate on the prayer of Jesus. Let us strive, this Advent, for the fulfillment of His prayer to our Father.

So much left unsaid but enough musings. Thank you for your blog, I enjoy the discussions.

Anonymous said...

I have to extend an "Amen" to Jane's post. When our Savior was teaching thousands on a hill, no scriptural account mentions division among the people. They were all gathered together to hear the new liberal Rabbi. And, were hanging on his every word collectively.

I have great respect for Luther and Erasmus--although admittedly I have not read 'De Servo Arbitrio'.
All Christian denominations desire to worship and serve our Lord, although they may understand His teachings differently.
In this situation, Luther and Erasmus were both seeking the optimum as they saw it.

Matt, you brought up an interesting point when you argued that the ends doesn't justify the means. Does an end ever justify its means?

I am reminded of the second continental congress. Was unity against the crown worth another century of slavery? Would America have been a better country if northern delegates had stood by their values and not folded? Did the end justify the means? I don't know.

I would love to hear what you think.


Matt Perkins said...

Jane and SP,

Thank you for your comments. I appreciate the desire you both have for unity. If a Christian doesn't have a desire for greater unity with other Christians then I would have to conclude that they are not very concerned about the will of God which, as Jane pointed out, is that "they may be one." Christian unity has been a concern of mine and it is one of the things that initially led me to Anglicanism.

With that said, I have to say that the New Testament is filled with warnings that there are people whom Christians should not desire unity with. They are often called "false prophets" or "false teachers." Jesus, warning about the end times in Matthew 24, said, "And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray." In the same passage he also says that false christs and false prophets will perform signs and wonders "so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." So obviously some claiming to be Christians will be led astray by these false prophets and false christs if they are trying to lead astray God's elect. In fact I'm sure that many of these false prophets and false christs present their heresy as a truer or better version of Christianity. In 2 Cor 11 it is clear that even during the time of the Apostle Paul there were false christs, "different spirit[s]," and "different gospel[s]" being presented to the Corinthian Church by those claiming to be Apostles. A major them of the book of Galatians is a false teaching that had crept into that church, brought in by "false brothers (2:4)." In Galatians Paul says of anyone preaching a gospel contrary to the true gospel, "let him be accursed (1:8, 9)." He says that twice. It's interesting to note also that in Galatians the false teachers seem to have been preaching a works-based "gospel." Paul warns Timothy of those teaching "different doctrine(1 Tim 1:3)." The Apostle Peter warns, "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies . . . (2Pet 2:1b)" The primary purpose of Jude's entire letter seems to be warning about false teachers. The Apostle John warns that false teachers should not even be received into our homes saying, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting (2 John 1:10)."

So while Christians must desire unity, being aware of and avoiding false teaching must also be a major concern. It is with these facts in mind that I posted this quote from Luther. I think there are some Christians out there who are too unconcerned about trying to have more unity with other Christians, even if you don't agree 100% But I think there are many more who are far to quick to compromise on essential doctrine in the name of unity.

SP, I'll try to write something about what I think about the whole "ends justifying the means" thing tomorrow.

Hope you both have a wonderful week and a blessed beginning to Advent.

Jacob Aho said...

Matt: that was an incredibly great response. Off to sub at Pleasant Valley Primary school