Reflections by S. Daniel Smith
At first blush, Luther’s words of admonition to his listeners sounds like a crass, inappropriate remark that shouldn’t be uttered in church. After all, we hope that the newness of Christ won’t have us acting like the old nature anymore. II Corinthians 5:17 informs us that we are new creations in Christ. But a closer look, both at Luther’s remarks and Luther himself, paints a more realistic picture.
First, we need to understand who Luther was. Unfortunately, the Reformer often gets portrayed in one of two ways. Either he is the humble monk who didn’t really want a revolution, much less a faith-splitting debate, or he is a rabble rouser who hated people of Jewish descent. Often these ideas come from quotes he left us. Neither of these are the entire picture; in reality he was both of these pictures laid over on top of one another. As Erwin Lutzer wrote in his book, Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation, “The man who often spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit could also speak under the inspiration of the devil in whom he feared.” Instead of being an easy person to pigeonhole, he was as complex and multifaceted as any modern Christian.
Secondly, what does his remark really mean? I think one of the easiest ways to show it is to look at ancient Israel. “All, like sheep, have gone astray,” said the prophet Isaiah (53:6). Luther’s own theology on this matter was probably most informed by the Apostle Paul, who said in Romans 7:15, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Human nature is like that. I may know that I’m not supposed to lust after a woman, but I still find myself doing it. I know I’m not supposed to lie, but when it comes to saving my own professional skin, what will I do? These are but a few of the ways I act like a drunken peasant.
A modern preacher may not be able to speak so brazenly as Martin Luther—either for good or ill. When reading Luther’s history, the good must be taken with the bad as a whole. The awkward must be accepted alongside the subtle, even when the awkward looks like a drunken peasant falling off the other side of his saddle.
Dan Smith is a freelance writer living in Jacksonville, FL with his wife and three children. He blogs at his website: www.sdanielsmith.com.
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