The weather is too glorious for a long book review today, but I'll at least give you a brief sketch of this week's book. On Christian Liberty by Martin Luther (also known as The Freedom of the Christian) is an early work, dating from 1520. Luther composed it between challenging John Tetzel with his Ninety-five Theses in 1517 and his refusal to recant his teachings at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Luther makes the case for justification by faith alone, the doctrine that set off the Reformation and put him and his followers on a collision course with Rome. I was intrigued reading Luther's own words (well, a translation anyway) explaining this doctrine that I could recite in my sleep I've known it so long. It was hard for me to remember while reading this book how revolutionary his ideas were as they have been part of my very core for decades now.
Luther also lays out (for the first time, I think?~if anyone knows for sure, please comment!) the famous Lutheran doctrine of Law and Gospel, which says in summary that the Law reveals to us what sinners we are as we are unable to keep even the smallest part of it. It crushes us under a weight of guilt and despair. But then the glorious Gospel of Christ~justification by grace through faith~lifts us up, washes away our sin, guilt and shame, and redeems us through Jesus's death on the cross on our behalf. Without the Law first condemning us, we wouldn't know our need for a Savior, who in contrast appears all the more glorious! And that's where our liberty comes in~we are freed from sin, death, and condemnation as well as laboring for our own salvation. Christ is our Sabbath.
Luther then goes on to write about the role of good works in the Christian's life and how he is now through Christ at liberty to serve others, and here he brings in his doctrine of vocation. I wish I knew if this is the first place he wrote about it; I did a little digging but was unable to find out. According to Luther, good works flow out of the Christian's vocation(s)to serve his neighbor, who needs his good works just as the Christian needs the good works of his neighbor. But never is the Christian to think that he is justified before God by his works. That would mean he is no longer justified by faith alone.
Luther writes with great pastoral concern and care. I suspect he had no idea that in just a few months he would be called before an ecclesiastical court to denounce his teachings and submit to the errors of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. It is fascinating to read the actual words of people who made history. It's quite different than reading about them. C.S. Lewis knew what he was talking about when he said we should read old books!
And speaking of old books, I also read an even older "book" this week: The Didache: The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations. But since it's less than three 8.5x11 pages on both sides I'm not going to count it as a book in my tally. The Didache is a treatise dating from the end of the first century or the beginning of the second and is a record of the Apostles' teachings regarding sin, church organization, and rituals and practices within the Church. Reading about how the earliest Christians conducted themselves and their churches was engrossing and convicting. I was sometimes surprised how different modern Christianity looks from that practiced by the first Christians. As with Luther's On Christian Liberty, I was fascinated getting the story straight from the horse's mouth (in translation, of course). This is a quick read (under an hour) that gives modern Christians a look into the earliest Christianity. Well worth the time and easily available online.
Hmmm . . . this wasn't so short after all!