Principles of Lutheran Theology
The 2019 Synod Convention adopted a resolution that encouraged LCMS congregations to set aside April 18, 2021 as a day to remember the historic occasion when Dr. Martin Luther was asked this question:
“I ask you, Martin – to answer candidly and without horns – do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?”
And this was Martin Luther’s reply:
“Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: a life of Martin Luther, New York: Penguin Books, 1977, page 144).
In order to prepare us for that day of remembrance, I thought it would be good to identify several Reformational themes – ten principles of Lutheran theology and practice -- and then, on a monthly basis, share Martin Luther’s thinking on that theme from selected writings.
The Canonical Principle
1: one of the “solas” of the Reformation was “Scripture alone”
What Luther meant by this foundational “sola” is that the Word of God is, and should always remain, the sole rule and norm of all doctrine and practice; and that no human being’s writings dare to put on a par with it, but that everything must be subjected to it.
The Scriptures function as the norma normans non normata -- “the norm norming but not normed.”
2: Where the Word is, there is the church (LW 2:229).
For the church exists only where the Word is and where there are people who believe the Word (LW 4:31); for the church is made up of those who have the promise and believe it (LW 4:31).
Wherever that Word is heard, there you must determine and conclude with certainty: this is surely God’s house…(5:244).
3: In our whole life the Word is the measure, the standard, the most precious thing that guides our life (LW 5:70).
The godly live by His Word but the godless live only by bread, not by the Word (LW 5:183).
The person who wants to deal with God must learn that man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (LW 8:204). If bread is lacking, a strange god should not be called upon on this account; instead, the heart should be strengthened by faith in the Word (LW 8:204).
4: The work of Satan is devoted to this one thing, namely, that he may separate us from the Word…and that we, exhausted and broken either by the multitude or the longer duration of our tribulations, may forsake and reject the Word (LW 5:234).
The devil allows us no rest in this life. It is impossible for us to have peace with him, since he is God’s enemy and enmity has been put between the children of the evil one and the children of God (LW 5:58).
5: The Word was the means and instrument God used in doing His work of creation (LW 1:16)
God is the speaker who creates; nevertheless, He does not make use of matter, but He makes heaven and earth out of nothing solely by the Word which He utters (LW 1:16).
The Father creates the heaven and earth out of nothing through the Son. Thus God reveals Himself to us as the Speaker who has with Him the uncreated Word, through whom He created the world and all things with the greatest of ease, namely, by speaking (LW 1:22).
6: Philosophy discusses the works of God without the Word. The result is that the glory of Holy Scripture and the majesty of the Creator are lost (LW 1:130).
Philosophy denies providence and concludes that God does not concern Himself with human affairs, but everything happens by accident and by chance (LW 2:308).
7: The church cannot exist without the constant use of the Word (LW 2:197).
The church is the pupil of Christ. It sits at His feet and listens to His Word, that it may know how to judge everything and may continually walk in the most beautiful light (LW 2:353).
Learn, therefore, that throughout one’s life, and in every situation, one must give attention above all to the Word of God (LW 3:167).
Yet the world considers departing from the Word a light sin and thinks that being without it is a small loss (LW 3:294).
8: God has always preserved for Himself a people that would cling to the Word and would be the guardian of religion; and of sound doctrine in the world, lest everything degenerate into ungodliness and there be no knowledge of God among men (LW 2:228-229).
“If I were the only one in the entire world to adhere to the Word, I alone would be the church and would properly judge about the rest of the world that is not the church” (LW 2:102).
9: The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of the Word; for He calls and rules His people by the Word alone, without arms and force. Those who refuse to hear the Word do not belong to the kingdom of Christ (LW 8:245).
10: two departing quotes from Luther
“I myself hate my books and often wish that they would perish, because I fear they may detain the readers and lead them away from reading Scripture itself, which alone is the fount of all wisdom” (LW 3:305-306).
“I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”