It has been said that a vulgar age needed a vulgar preacher. Such was the way people spoke of Martin Luther. Out of all the people in church history that one could investigate I have, for years, been captivated by this German monk turned protestant rebel. Just to clarify, I am not speaking of the Martin Luther most of us turn to when we hear the name. As great and accomplished as Martin Luther King Jr. was that is not who I am referencing here. You may be curious as to why this crass, beer drinking, pope-hating theologian has captured me so, and that’s a fair question to ask. The answer is that Luther is easily one of the most provocative and clarifying theologians that I have ever read.
Luther has shaped and influenced the contemporary church in a myriad of ways. Throughout this series we will examine Luther’s life: his conversion, his depression as a monk, his introduction to the Scriptures and more. We will examine his home life, his pastoral ministry, and his battle with and for the church. We will also examine the legacy of Luther. We will talk about his contribution to the doctrine of Justification, ecclesiology, and worship. We will examine his thoughts on the church in culture and on theological education. Luther has much to offer us.
For me personally I have found a deep connection to Luther through an ethical motto. Luther stated, “Love God and do what you want.” At first the quote seemed disastrous for faithful Christian living. I was appalled by it, as many are by the simple quips of Luther. But over time I have come to embrace it, for I believe it is entirely Biblical. It is also a motto that I believe reflects the complexity that is Luther.
For starters, the line is provocative. The phrasing makes it appear as such. “Do what you want,” seems a bit hedonistic at best. But that is Luther. It only takes a cursory reading to find him provocative. His writings are crass and even vulgar in places. He could speak with deep theological ruminations (he was, after all, Dr. Luther), and yet often he spoke like the average German working class. He was a man between worlds: high church ecclesiastics and peasant in the pew. His provocative tone garnered him the attention of both (if not always with equal favor).
The motto is also, however, reflective of Luther’s deep commitment to Biblical faithfulness. “Love God” is not some abstract mushy feeling for Luther. It is a concept deeply rooted in Scripture. That was, after all, the place he made his stand against the Pope at the Diet of Worms. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God!” “Here I stand,” he said, “I can do no other, so help me God.” To love God in Scripture means to obey His commands. Jesus stated, “If you love me you will keep my commands.” So this nuances our “do what you want” expression. It is not hedonism, it is Biblical decision-making.
That brings us to the other key feature of this statement. It is reflects Luther’s commitment to freedom in Christ. Luther spoke very openly, even defiantly against the church, regarding the freedom that the believer has in Christ. He was an ex-monk who encouraged monks and nuns to marry and have families. “Love God and do what you want” reflects a way of thinking about life that grants freedom to our decision-making. So long as we are seeking the glory of God we are free to do whatever enables us to do that. Again, this is tied to Scripture, Luther’s ultimate authority, but it is precisely because Luther is committed to Biblical freedom that he can make this claim.
I have loved Luther for many more reasons, and I hope in the coming posts you too will come to delight in him. He is sometimes too much to handle, and we will part ways with him. But at other times he offers a freshness and delight to theological discussions that we need. It is his provocativeness, his clarity, and his Biblicality that make Luther worthy of being called a homeboy!