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July 2017 - Living in Freedom - Living in Christ and His Word

Living in Freedom – Living in Christ and His Word

            As we have already noted, in 1521 Luther had appeared before the Diet of Worms and defended his books and teachings, refusing to recant them but instead proclaiming, “I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.  God help me. Amen.”. Afterwards, while Luther was returning home to Wittenberg, the Edict of Worms was issued by Emperor Charles V, condemning Luther as a heretic and making it permissible to kill Luther on sight.  In response, Luther’s prince and protector, Frederick the Wise arranged for Luther to be kidnapped by armed men and to be hidden in a secret location (unknown even to Frederick – plausible deniability), Wartburg Castle.  For the next year Luther would remain in the Wartburg writing an incredible volume of material, including, and most importantly, translating the New Testament into German.  We’ll come back to that topic in the future, for now, while Luther was away, the Reformation was not standing still.

            It is important to note that the Reformation was a complex movement that involved social and political factors as well as theological.   There had been years of growing unrest among the peasants due to their increasing mistreatment and harsh life (increased taxation, lifelong hard work and poverty, refused access, to woods and streams, etc.) as well as the obvious abuses of the Roman Church (payments for services, indulgences, the burden of the legalistic false teachings of Rome) that was causing stress and heartache among all the social classes.   

            With Luther’s leadership now missing, other leaders began to be emboldened and push for change, and sadly many of them also seeing a “freedom” from the scriptures as their guide.  Most notably were the Zwickau prophets, three laymen from the village of Zwickau that taught that God had directly spoken to them and led them to teach against infant baptism, the need for the Bible, since it is better and holier that God speaks directly to men, and that God would speedily erect the kingdom of the godly through the slaughter of the ungodly either by the hand of the Turk or themselves.   (Once again we see the dangers of enthusiasm, the belief that the Spirit speaks directly to man apart from His Word – the oldest lie that began in the Garden).  “Freedom” from God’s Word is no freedom at all, but further enslavement in sin and idolatry.

            Another emboldened leader was Luther’s colleague at Wittenberg University Dr. Carlstadt.  Carlstadt was among those who was focused on getting rid of anything that smacked of Roman abuse.  Though he boldly began to speak parts of the liturgy in German, as well as offer both the wine as well as the bread in communion for the first time in centuries (things which Luther would certainly agree with), he did so not only without any instruction or care, but even began to force the people to receive both elements of the supper (It is the never good to force any practice without much teaching and patience, and especially so when dealing with the sacraments).

            With the scriptural teaching of “Make no graven image” before him, Carlstadt also began to twist that Word and mistakenly teach against having statues and art in churches, as well as instrumental music.  Carlstadt: “Relegate organs, trumpets, and flutes to the theater” and “The lascivious notes of the organ awaken thoughts of the world.” This legalistic and false teaching stoked dangerous passion amongst the people as mobs began to form disrupting church services, breaking statues of Christ and the saints; throwing stones at those who were still having devotion to the statues of Mary; priests being mocked in their robes; art and windows destroyed; and eventually even entire churches being burnt down.  This would be known as the Iconoclastic Controversy.

            Luther was angry and abhorred at such practices and abuses.  This was no freedom in the Gospel, but a return to the capture of sin. At the invitation of Frederick the Wise, he returned to Wittenberg and immediately began to preach and teach against these abuses. 

Luther: "Give men time.  I took three years of constant study, reflection, and discussion to arrive where I now am, and can the common man, untutored in such matters, be expected to move the same distance in three months?  Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused.  Men can go wrong with wine and women.  Shall we then prohibit wine and abolish women?  The sun, the moon, and stars have been worshiped.  Shall we then pluck them out of the sky?  Such haste and violence betray a lack of confidence in God.  See how much He has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach.  The Word did it all.”

With the approaching of the 4th of July, we of course celebrate (along with other things…) the hard won freedom we have inherited as US Citizens.  We are a nation and people that absolutely focus on and live in freedom.  However, what we fail to often remember is that we in fact are all born in slavery.  Slavery to sin.  Man is never “free” in the sense that he is autonomous and truly self-reliant.  We all and will always serve something – and apart from God and His grace, that will be a service to our sinful nature and our brother satan.  By corrupted and ruined nature we can do no other, period.

                But having by the gracious work of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross and empty tomb, given to us through the faith God the Holy Spirit created in us through the Word, we have been freed from slavery to our sinful nature and the power of satan.  Now we can in Christ resist both, and instead live in freedom from condemnation and guilt, and live the life we were created to live, in loving service to God and neighbor.

                For this freedom in Christ is one that also carries responsibility.  We are not to use our freedom to the harm of others.  Though there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, and we are free in Him from having to keep the Law perfectly for salvation (which can never be done of course), and we do not have to worry about following certain rules or practices to secure our salvation, we are not free to live any way we want (which usually involves caving to the selfish desires of the Old Adam).  We are free to love and serve with a Godly, sacrificial attitude as we have first been served by our Lord.  As Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:13: “ For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

                Not only can we rejoice in the heritage we have with art and architecture and liturgy, hymnody, using such things to remind us of the Grace and forgiveness of God given to us through the Means of Grace, but we can also live in the true freedom we have in Christ, loving our neighbors and especially our fellow believers. In such love we will be conscious of the weakness of others, or have a care in our lives, not using our Freedom in Christ to harm them, but with a sacrificial heart, live lives that build each other up, rather than tear down or destroy. 



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