A Thought on Luther’s Piety

This October we’ll remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Each year for “All Saint’s Day” Sunday we do a biography sermon on someone in Christian history who has had some kind of impact. We’ve studied everyone from my hero George Muller to Anna Kleist Gambold (a Moravian and the first successful missionary among the Cherokee right here in ole NW Georgia). This year, we’ll study Martin Luther…you know because of the whole reformation thing.

As I’m reading a biography on Luther’s life (the one by Carl R. Trueman), I’m hit with so much more than I can write about now, but Luther’s piety stands out to me this morning.

For Luther, piety, that is the devotion to practicing the faith, consisted of the gathering of the church, the Word preached, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Of course, most couldn’t read the Scriptures themselves because they were not in the language of the people. So, the people had to gather to hear the Word preached. Thus gathering was vital. The Word was vital. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were vital in seeing and receiving the tangible nature of God’s grace.

I’m struck by the effect of the Reformation on what we practice as piety and how much we also play down the piety of Luther.

We seen bible reading, prayer, journaling, singing etc. as piety, and those things are. The Reformation opened up the world of God’s abundant and good things for his people to do to know him better and more. I’m thankful for those things, and they are part of my daily existence as a follower of Jesus.

No doubt the Reformation brought about fantastic changes, but it also created some challenges.

One of those challenges is familiarity that leads to contempt. Luther’s reforms opened a world of piety to the masses and with that freedom to access so much came the contempt that so easily follows for some things.

Familiarity breeds contempt. We are familiar with church attendance and preaching and baptism. Many in our tribe are not as familiar with the Lord’s Supper. But we are more familiar, and that is easy to allow contempt to grow. By the way, contempt meaning disregard for something that should be taken into account. 

Modern American Evangelicals look down on church attendance, and therefore the preached Word. Some research (Barna and Lifeway) tells us that the most committed members of a congregation average 2 Sundays per month. That’s awful. If one is only present 2 Sundays per month, then the preached Word is not being heard by those absent.

God gives so much grace through presence and preached Scripture. I know we have podcasts etc., and God can and does use that, however, nothing replaces presence. Jesus came and dwelt among us and showed us glory. He gave us his Word as a present instrument of grace to keep showing us his glory. He didn’t send information alone. He came, and he left us his Word. That’s how God handled it.

As a former educator, I can tell a tangible difference in being in the room, eye to eye, souls interacting and minds engaging over good learning. Technology can’t replace that.

We evidence we have a low view of baptism by the fact that so many of us have been baptized more than once. I’m a 3-timer. 3 for Trinity! Yay! Maybe, Nay!

We got “saved” at like 8 years of age, and we got baptized only to discover at age 20 we didn’t know what the heck we were doing or what we really believed. So, we get saved for reals then baptized all over again. Thats now how the church has historically done baptism. Baptism was administered after true salvation. Baptisms in the bible that are administered after a salvation event are typically done to adults in which it is evident there was a true transformation that took place. I know my Presbyterian friends would disagree and argue that “households” would include children, but that is an argument from absence not evidence. The truth is that we should likely do a better job of internal disciple making before we administer baptism. It’s easier in frontier work because salvation is so much easier to see. The evidence is just cleaner.

The Lord’s Supper led Luther to question the faith of some of his parallel reformers in other countries. Luther would likely not consider us in the faith with our symbolic view of the elements. Now, I think Luther was wrong on that count, however, the reverence of the table and the serious nature of the Supper I believe they captured well. We are a little flippant with it. We let kids play with it, take it when they may not be converted, and often rush in and grab elements just because that’s what we do rather than seeing it as a true “means of grace”, getting prepared, being ready, rising early to prepare ourselves to receive grace. Yeah, I know that wigs some people out, but the truth is God gives grace to Christians in the Supper, and when we take it for granted we should be careful. That whole 1 Corinthians 11 thing sort of makes me a bit nervous.

Maybe we should discipline our lives so be present more so we can hear the Word preached more. Maybe we should not take Baptism and the Lord’s Supper for granted. Maybe I should preach better and teach on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper more. There is work I need to do. So, I’m trying to grow too.

I’m thankful Luther courageously did what he did as compelled by God for good. It’s still producing fruit in my life as I write.

This study is good for me, and I’m excited to share it with you soon!

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