“And the Word became flesh…”

sj0m0Ted.Waters

John 1

“And the Word became flesh…”

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In the Old Testament God is the one who led His people out of Egypt. In the New Testament God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. In both testaments God is revealed as the God who acts and is involved in what we call history, in temporal time and space.

The progress of the Gospel throughout human history has had real and demonstrable effect not only on individual human beings but also on the whole range of human reality. Institutions, cultures, ideas, etc. have been shaped by the Gospel and its implications. This has often been not because of the Church but in spite of it. For the perpetual temptation of the religious impulses that we naturally associate with Christianity (which is not a religion) always want to spiritualize, internalize or spatialize the Gospel. The Bible, on the other hand, reveals the God who is temporalized in the real world of people and events, including sacraments.

Non-sacramental Christianity which emphasizes reason and the internal character of faith, skates dangerously close to the brink of gnosticism which discounts the temporal for the sake of the spiritual. Martin Luther ran into this mentality among the ‘anabaptists’ of his day. The following is a quote from Luther on this score as it applies to infant baptism.

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The  anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Spirit to grown persons, he can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith comes of the Word of God, when this is heard; little children hear that Word when they receive baptism, and therewith they receive also faith.”

                   – Martin Luther (1483-1546), Table Talk CCCLIII [1569] .

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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From Pastor Mark Anderson’s daily devotional blog:

Pastor Mark Anderson’s Daily Devotional blog site

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Thanks to flickr and sj0m0 and Ted.Waters, for the photos.

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6 Responses

  1. Of course Luther also advocated killing the anabaptists. Anyone who objected to infant baptism, according to Luther, must be put to death. Any many were.

    • Bill,

      Was Luther trying to stop the anabaptists from raping nuns and murdering priests and destroying churches?

      Were not the anabaptists doing those things during the Reformation?

      • I am not aware of any such thing. To the best of my knowledge they were condemned for their beliefs on infant baptism, for which they were to be murdered (typically by drowning, although Catholics, with whom Luther agreed on this point, prefered to burn them at the stake). If an anabaptist recanted his or her belief, then they were spared. Luther wrote this in 1536:

        That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished by the sword needed no further proof. For the rest, the Anabaptists hold tenets relating to infant baptism, original sin, and inspiration, which have no connection with the Word of God, and are indeed opposed to it . . . Secular authorities are also bound to restrain and punish avowedly false doctrine . . . For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized? . . . Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches . . . and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound . . . to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders . . . Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then . . . we conclude that . . . the stubborn sectaries must be put to death.

        If Luther’s condemnation of anabaptists was actually due to raping of nuns and murdering priests, rather than their belief in adult baptism, then I am unaware of it. After the fall of Munster anabaptists were typically pacifist.

        I like and appreciate your post, I just wanted to point out that quoting Luther in opposition to anabaptists raises that issue, a ugly bit of history for which the Lutheran church has subsequently apologized.

  2. Bill,

    There was much murder and rape and destruction going on at the time. The backlash against the Catholic Church from those who felt their freedom at the time from that system was terrible and led to the Peasant Revolt.

    Luther was interested in the free grace of God handed over to sinners in Word and sacrament. Although it was wrong to advocate putting to death those who denied this free grace of God for sinners handed over in the sacraments, I can certainly understand how someone in that context (where matters of faith and God meant everything) would be so upset (about grace being denied to children) that they would call for death to those who would withhold that grace.

    It certainly would not fly in our tolerant society today, nor should it. Times have changed.

    But it is a serious and grievous error to deny God’s grace, freely given, to children.

    Jesus had some serious things to say about those who would lead the little ones astray, and those who would keep the little ones away from Him.

    Thanks, Bill. I appreciate your perspective.

  3. I make no apologies for anything that Luther wrote against the Anabaptist heretics. That would be like apologizing for killing Bin Laden.

  4. Wars were fought and lives were lost over theological differences.

    Those times were surely different than our time.

    But there is still much at stake.

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