Luther’s Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, March 1522 (Part 6)

In Luther’s 5th sermon he begins to pick apart the incredible hypocrisy and contradictions of the papal man-made laws. For instance, he writes, ‘You have heard how I preached against the foolish law of the pope and opposed his precept, that no woman shall wash the altar linen on which the body of Christ has lain, even if it be a pure nun, except it first be washed by a pure priest. Likewise, when any one has touched the body of Christ, the priests come running and scrape his fingers, and much more of the same sort. But when a maid has slept with a naked priest, the pope winks at it and lets it go. If she becomes pregnant and bears a child, he lets that pass, too. But to touch the altar linen and the sacrament [i.e., the host], this he will not allow. But when a priest grabs it, both top and bottom, this is all right.’ Thus the implication is, a woman is not ‘clean’ enough to wash the altar linen while it is ok for a sexually immoral male priest to wash it…I am surprised the gender equality woke-activists haven’t picked this up! Luther was 500 years ahead!!

Luther preached against this foolishness, however he was concerned that his congregation had institued foolish ‘evangelical laws’ in place of the papal laws: ‘Against such fool laws we have preached and exposed them, in order that it might be made known that no sin is involved in these foolish laws and commandments of the pope, and that a layman does not commit sin if he touches the cup or the body of Christ with his hands. You should give thanks to God that you have come to such clear knowledge, which many great men have lacked. But now you go ahead and become as foolish as the pope, in that you think that a person must touch the sacrament with his hands. You want to prove that you are good Christians by touching the sacrament with your hands, and thus you have dealt with the sacrament, which is our highest treasure, in such a way that it is a wonder you were not struck to the ground by thunder and lightning. All the other things God might have suffered, but this he cannot allow, because you have made a compulsion of it. And if you do not stop this, neither the emperor nor anyone else need drive me from you, I will go without urging; and I dare say that none of my enemies, though they have caused me much sorrow, have wounded me as you have.’ What a way to speak to your congregation! But again, Luther is concerned about not making a ‘must’ out of something that is ‘free’. Whether the priest would place it in your mouth or whether you take it yourself with your own hands – what of it? Only do not make laws that Christ has not made. For freedom Christ has set us free…!

It goes to show that people who want to reform might be involved in reform – merely for the sake of reform. But we must reform and be involved in reform, not for the sake of reform itself, but for the sake of the gospel. Plenty of people love to be involved in protests, social change and in anything they can be a justice activist for, in order to give their boring life some meaning. However, if we reform for the sake of the gospel, we will be careful not to contradict the gospel in the pursuit of reformation. This is why Luther concludes, ‘Therefore no new practices should be introduced, unless the gospel has first been thoroughly preached and understood, as it has been among you. On this account, dear friends, let us deal soberly and wisely in the things that pertain to God, for God will not be mocked [Gal. 6:7]. The saints may endure mockery, but with God it is vastly different. Therefore, I beseech you, give up this practice.’

LW 51:88-91.

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