Martin Luther on Law and the Gospel
Martin Luther was born on November 10th, 1483 in today east Germany (Reilly 402). He was a professor, pastor, and church reformer. He valued theology based on Jesus Christ’s works on earth instead of focusing on human works. Lutheran foundations can be traced even to present-day Christians, especially the Protestants. This is a considerable amount of time to sustain a religion given that Luther himself began the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517 (Reilly 421). During his lifetime, Luther constantly attacked the Church’s sale of indulgences.
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According to Luther, the law and the gospel are the two channels through which God communicates to us. However, it should be noted that these are two different entities. He goes further to distinguish the two, in that; the law prevails in humanity in form of God’s commandments. These commandments promote the existence and survival of mankind by limiting humanity’s evil and conflict. Luther further elaborates that the human conscience is in place to check if an individual has indeed followed the law. The law convicts mankind of their sins and in the process driving them to the gospel.
As the law limits humanity’s actions and evil, it is not God’s guaranteed way of salvation. According to his teachings, humanity achieves salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ, which he describes as the Good News (Reilly 434). In this article, it is clear that the gospel, which Luther authored, is a gift to the sinner, and once the gift was received salvation was realized.
The gift is received through faith and it is righteous. Luther noted that many people could not totally differentiate between the law and the gospel and therefore spent a lot of time understanding the notion that the law is not God’s guaranteed way of salvation.
Luther will remain historically as one of the most influential servants of God whose ideas and gospel teachings changed the world in a great way (Reilly 431). He among other things led the Protestant Reformation which involved reforming the Catholic Church which was allegedly perceived to be corrupt from the highest hierarchy starting from the pope. Luther considered himself as the reformer of the Catholic Church, although he was just a simple monk. This did not deter him from his quest and in the end; his forces divided Christianity into two. That split is what led to the formation of Protestantism. However, it should also be noted that over four centuries, the Protestantism entity separated into several churches.
In a letter written to the Pope headed “On the Freedom of the Christian” Luther tried to explain the substance of his arguments (Morison 145). Drastically, as many viewed it, Luther was excommunicated from the church in 1521 (Morison 149). Having been excommunicated, his attempts to reform the church changed to be a project that involved forming an independent church far from the Catholic church. The ideological center of Lutheran’s thinking was based on the concept of “the freedom of the Christians” (Morison 167). The freedom or liberation that Luther inferred involved liberating people from false beliefs, authoritarianism, and false religion.
Similarly, the concept of freedom was largely transferred to an individual, political and economic freedom.
Roger Williams was the founder of the American colony of Providence, Rhode Island, and the co-founder of the first Baptist Church in America (Reilly 502). Williams was born in London and got his education at the Charterhouse school and in Cambridge as well. Williams is considered as the first American advocate to campaign for religious tolerance and the separation of church from state.
His separation ideology asserted that civil authorities such as magistrates had no power of setting up church hierarchical structures such as the church government, election of church officials or undertakes church censures. In his views, their role was only to check that the church performs its duties as provided. Similarly, the church has no power interfering in civil activities such as divorce, punishment, and persecution.
According to him, the Christian entirely must shape the church before Christ’s second coming. In his perspective, spiritual purity is rare which led to his conclusion that redemption will only occur upon Christ’s second coming because mankind was deeply in sin. Given the world’s unredeemable state, the duty of Christians was to preserve themselves at all costs from the world’s evils. This dynamic view placed Williams at odds with other religions whose ideas on redemption were different.
Throughout his life, Williams advocated for the tolerance of all denominations including Catholicism and even Anti-Christian worships such as Paganism. According to Williams, Christianity is not whole without a separate state authority which must not infringe the liberty of the conscience. The conscience, according to Williams is a God-given right that should not be infringed upon. Roger Williams emphasized on the judgment of the conscience and its moral role in the lives of mankind.
Thus, the key concept of William’s religion was tolerance which he relentlessly advocated through the teachings of the bible. According to Williams, God solely must judge and not the duty of fellow human beings. Without tolerance of other people’s shortcomings, all mankind is expected to suffer in the end. In this article, he notes the parable of the tares where weeds and the wheat are seen to co-exist. In this case, the weeds symbolize the heretics whereas the wheat depicts the believers. If the weeds are to be destroyed, it should be done orderly so that in the process the wheat is not also destroyed.
According to Williams, bad civil governments have been historically known to abuse religious power. From the times of the Old Testament, he noted that kings and leaders were oppressive which we can see in the example of King Nebuchadnezzar who forced everyone to worship State idols. It is in Williams view that the civil State is bound by laws to take off that bond and yoke of soul oppression and to proclaim free and impartial liberty for all people some similarities can be noted between Martin Luther and Roger Williams ideologies as based on their dynamism and the need to transform the relationship that existed between religion and the State.
As Martin Luther led The Reformation, which was an attempt to reform the Catholic Church, Roger Williams separated himself from the Anglican Church which he accused of ‘Spiritual corruption’ (Reilly 526). It can be seen that both of these leaders were selflessly fighting and reforming the church in which they were members. In the end, both of them emerged as reformers of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church respectively, despite the challenges that they faced.
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According to Luther, humanity achieves salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he also describes as the Good News. On the contrary, Roger Williams believed that all mankind was evil and that salvation could only be realized during Christ’s second coming. Because of these conspicuous differences in their ideologies on salvation, Luther terms salvation as a gift to humanity which can be willingly received only by faith. Rogers’s ideology however is different as it has hope in the coming of the Christ for salvation.
As Williams advocated for the tolerance of all denominations including Catholicism and even Anti-Christian worships such as Paganism, Martin Luther had sharply objected to any of them citing allegations of hierarchical corruption. This in the end gave rise to Protestantism, which Rogers was a part of. His ideology emphasized tolerance rather than revolt.
For clarity, Williams defined the roles of the church and the roles of the State to avoid any possible conflict. These roles were limited to the domain of each entity for all Christians and civil governments that followed. This framework became a guide to society; on the other hand, Martin Luther’s ideology on the roles of mankind was based on the Lord’s law that is his commandments.
Reilly, K. “Worlds of History, Volume Two: Since 1400: A Comparative Reader.” Washington: Bedford Press. 2010. Print.
Morison, S. “Oxford History of the American People.” New York: Oxford University Press. 1965. Print.