03 January 2008

Suffering for the Sake of Pure Doctrine

Another poignant passage from Dr. Luther's 1535 Lectures on Galatians:

"‘They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them’ (Galatians 4:17). It is as though St. Paul were saying: ‘They do indeed burn for you with extreme zeal and love, but their purpose is that you may make much of them in return and shut me out. If their zeal were faithful and sincere, they would permit you to love us along with them. But they hate our teaching; therefore they want it to be completely wiped out among you and their own teaching to be circulated. To accomplish this more smoothly, they are trying to alienate you from us by this flattery and to arouse your hostility, so that you may hate us as well as our teaching and may attach your zeal and effort to them, love only them, and accept their teaching.’ Thus he makes the false apostles suspect to the Galatians by saying that they are lying in wait for them and making an impression on them by means of a beautiful external appearance. In this way Christ also warns us: ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing’ (Matt. 7:15).

"Paul suffered the same trial that we suffer today. He was deeply distressed by the indignity of seeing his fine teaching followed by so many sects, upheavals, disturbances of public life, and revolutions, all of which caused endless trouble and scandal. The Jews accused him of being a pestilent fellow, an agitator among his people throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5), as though they were saying: ‘He is a seditious and blasphemous fellow who preaches a message that not only subverts the Jewish commonwealth, so beautifully established by divine laws, but also abolishes and undermines the Decalog, our religion, our worship, and our priesthood. Throughout the world he is spreading the so-called Gospel, from which endless troubles, seditions, scandals, and sects have arisen.’ He was obliged to hear the same thing from the Gentiles, who cried out in the city of Philippi that he was disturbing their city and advocating customs which it was not lawful for them to accept (Acts 16:20–21).

"Both Jews and Gentiles attributed such disturbances of the public peace — as well as other calamities, famine, war, dissension, and party spirit — to the teaching of Paul and the other Apostles; and so they persecuted them as enemies of the public peace and of religion. Nevertheless, the Apostles did not desert their ministry on this account but carried it out vigorously, preaching and confessing Christ. For they knew that they had to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29) and that it was better for the entire universe to be thrown into tumult and contention than for Christ not to be preached or for even one soul to perish.

"Meanwhile, however, these offenses could not help causing great sorrow to the Apostles; for they really were not made of iron It moved the Apostles deeply that the nation for which Paul was willing to be accursed by Christ (Rom. 9:3) was going to perish with all its splendor. They saw that great upheavals and universal revolutions would follow this doctrine of theirs, and that endless sects were arising while they were still alive — something that was bitterer for them than death, especially for Paul. It was a sad message for Paul when he heard that the Corinthians denied the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12), to say nothing of anything else, or when he heard that the churches founded by his ministry were being disturbed, that the Gospel was being overthrown by the false apostles, and that all Asia and other great men besides had turned away from him (2 Tim. 1:15). But he knew that his teaching was not the cause of these scandals and sects. Therefore he did not lose heart and did not forsake his calling but went right ahead; he knew that the Gospel he preached was ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who had faith’ (Rom. 1:16), regardless of how foolish and offensive a doctrine it seemed to be to Gentiles and Jews. He knew that those who were not offended by this Word of the cross were blessed, whether they were preachers or hearers, as Christ also says: ‘Blessed is he who takes no offense at Me’ (Matt. 11:6). He knew, on the other hand, that those who regarded this doctrine as foolish and heretical were damned. Confident in his convictions, therefore, he spoke out with Christ against the Jews and Gentiles who were irritated and offended by his doctrine: ‘Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind’ (Matt. 15:14).

"Today we are forced to listen to the same thing to which Paul and the other Apostles were forced to listen then: that from our Gospel there have arisen many troubles, sedition, war, party spirit, and endless offenses. Whatever upheaval there is today is blamed on us. But surely we do not plant heresies and godless dogmas, but we preach the Gospel message that Christ is our Justifier and Savior. In addition, if our opponents want to be truthful, they are obliged to concede this much to us, that by our doctrine we have not given any occasion for sedition, upheaval, or war; but we have taught that by divine commandment the government is to be honored religiously and revered. Nor are we the originators of offense; but when wicked people are offended, this is their own fault, not ours. We have the commandment of God to teach the doctrine of the Gospel without any regard for offense. Our opponents are irritated by this doctrine because it condemns their doctrine and their idolatry. Therefore they produce offenses on their own; that is ‘taking offense,’ which neither should nor can be avoided. Christ preached the Gospel without being hindered by the offense of the Jews. ‘Let them alone,’ He said, ‘they are blind.’ The more the high priests forbade the Apostle to teach in the name of Jesus, the more they testified that this Jesus, whom they had crucified, was Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), and that whoever called upon Him would be saved (Rom. 10:13); ‘for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).

"With the same confidence we today proclaim Christ, without paying heed to the cries of the wicked papists and of all our opponents, who complain that our teaching is seditious and blasphemous because it disturbs the status quo, overthrows religion, plants heresy, and, in short, is the source of every evil. When Christ and the Apostles preached, the same complaints were raised by the wicked Jews; soon after this the Romans came and, in accordance with their prophecy, destroyed both their holy place and their nation (John 11:48). Therefore let the enemies of the Gospel today beware lest they themselves be overwhelmed by the very evils they are predicting." (Luther’s Works, Volume 26, CPH 1963, alt.)


Steven Carr said...

'a sad message for Paul when he heard that the Corinthians denied the resurrection of the dead '

What did you expect early Christian converts to Jesus-worship to believe?

That a corpse had got up and walked the earth?

The converts to Jesus-worship just scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse.

Paul reminds them that Jesus became a life-giving spirit.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I'm not sure of your intention in asking what I expected of early Christian converts.

But in any case, yes, it is the Christian confession that precisely a corpse (a body) rose from the dead. That was (and is indeed shocking and foolish to the fallen world and to those who are perishing in sinful unbelief, but it is in perfect harmony with the creative intentions and work of God from the beginning.

There is no conflict between the body and the spirit; not in Christ Jesus, nor in His members. As Jairus' daughter, the son of the widow in Nain, and the Lord's own dear friend Lazarus were all bodily raised from the dead, such that their corpses got back up, so also was Christ raised bodily. Indeed, He pointedly demonstrates and affirms that His risen body is of flesh and blood, and not a disembodied "ghostly" sort of spirit.

Of course, our Lord's resurrected body is glorified, as the bodies of His saints shall also be glorified like unto Him in the resurrection. But this is to live in the body as our Lord created us to live, rather than burdened by the curse of sin and death.

From the earliest days of Christianity, the confession of the resurrection of the body has gone hand-in-hand with the confession of God's good creation. To deny one is to deny the other; and to deny either one is to deny the Christian faith.