Daily Christian Life in the Word
October 19, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
October 31st will be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Most of us are familiar with a little history behind the Theses: Luther wanted to debate the abuses of indulgences. But are we familiar with Luther himself? His background? What led him to dispute the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church? What impact his ministry has on our church today? In what ways might we disagree with Luther? Over these few weeks leading up to the 500th anniversary, let’s consider Luther and his teaching. I will use primarily Carl Trueman’s book, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, as a resource. This is part five of a multi-part series.
What does the daily Christian life look like? That’s a question many of us wrestle with on a regular basis as we face various trials and temptations. Specific situations become the driving force behind our spiritual activities. Our aims in the study of Scripture, our prayer life, and our conversations with other believers often are centered on the most urgent need on our hearts and minds. And since we live in an age and culture of abundance, we have vast numbers of resources to address our various needs.
Very easily, the Christian life, day to day living as a follower of Christ, becomes a pursuit on meeting felt needs through Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship.
Is that Christian living? What would Martin Luther think?
Luther, obviously, lived in a vastly different era than us. Literacy was limited. The Bible was just being translated into common languages. The Gutenberg press finally made wide spread production of copies of the Bible possible. Devotional writing hadn’t been invented yet, let alone books on specific issues like marriage, child rearing, finances, aging, career choices, etc. What was a Christian to do in order to be a faithful follower of Christ in the 16th century?
Luther found a simple paradigm to follow in the psalms of David. For Luther, David was an “obvious candidate” because he provides a “detailed expression of the experience of what it means to be one of God’s people” (p. 118). Luther summarized the paradigm with three Latin words: oratio, meditatio, and tentatio. Let’s look at these in turn.
- Oratio “refers to his constantly calling out to God” (p. 118). This is our speech, or prayer life. The psalms are full of David’s crying out and appealing to God for grace and mercy. Prayer is essential in training our hearts to be humble before God as the sufficient provider of our needs.
- Meditatio leads us to center on the Word of God. “David meditates upon the Word. He reads it, he speaks it out loud, he hears it read, and he even sings it” (p. 119). In our context, meditation often is considered to be a passive activity. For Luther, meditation was very active, because “the Word has power independent of how we feel about it. Its presence, even through our own rote repetition, can be used by God to achieve his purpose in our lives” (p. 121). God is active in our lives through the Word. For Luther, the Word was not a tool to apply to our specific situations, but an outside authority to transform us. Luther developed his catechism, teaching through the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed, to help his people meditate on the Word, especially since some of them could not read or did not have access to a Bible.
For many of us Scripture reading and prayer go hand in hand. How are they related? “For Luther, it is not the desire for reading Scripture that fuels prayer; it is reading Scripture that fuels the desire for prayer” (p. 121). Our meditation on the truth of God will inspire our prayers.
- Tentatio is the Latin word for struggle or trial. Luther used the German word “Anfechtungen” to translate the Latin, with the meaning of “feelings of dread that take a toll upon the person” (p. 118). What place would struggle or feelings of dread have in the Christian life? For Luther, it is vital place. This is rooted in Luther’s theology of the cross. Within the Word of God we have Law and Gospel. The Law drives us to despair of our ability to become righteous before God and the Gospel comforts us with the gift of righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. Comfort follows despair. Life follows the death of repentance. Struggle is the path forward for Christian growth.
Carl Trueman summarizes Luther’s teaching on Anfechtungen well:
Therefore, to destroy such works of ours as well as the old Adam in us, God overwhelms us with those things which move us to anger, with many sufferings which rouse us to impatience, and last of all, even with death and the abuse of the world. By means of these he seeks nothing else but to drive out of us anger, impatience, and unrest, and to perfect his own work in us, that is, his peace. Thus Isaiah 28[:21] says, “He takes upon himself an alien work, that he may do his own proper work.” What does that mean? He sends us suffering and unrest to teach us to have patience and peace. He bids us die that he may make us live. He does this as long as and until a man, thoroughly trained, reaches such a pitch of peace and poise that he is no longer upset whether things go well or ill with him, whether he dies or lives, whether he is honored or dishonored. Page 125
This three-part paradigm for Christian living is ordinary by any standard. Prayer. Meditation. The struggle between despair and comfort. But it’s unusual to our modern context. We tend to love the extraordinary and “revolutionary” new ways. Perhaps we could be well served by following Luther’s prescription for our daily Christian lives.