Slinging Some Mud
16 August 2016
Martin Luther was a plain-spoken man. In keeping with the custom of his age, he could pitch invective and throw mud with the very best of them. Our modern politicians are incompetent mud slingers in comparison to Luther and his contemporaries (although they seem to be catching up quickly). Luther knew the difference between true and false, which drove much of his invective. He was happy to mock and harass those who taught the poor people of Germany the false teaching that their own works could gain them eternal merit in the sight of God. He was especially hard on those who knew better because of their high learning and their exalted office representing God as religious authorities. One of his favorite targets was certainly Archbishop Albert Cardinal Mainz, who simultaneously held three different benefices, which was against even Roman Catholic canon law.

Albert ratcheted up the indulgence preaching when he worked out a deal with the pope to fund his purchase of the Archbishopric of Mainz by splitting the proceeds of the indulgence trade in his territories with the pope! This bold commercialism stirred up Luther, because he could see the poor flock of Christ being fleeced to pay for that which the price had already been paid by Christ Himself. Luther's Reformation began out of his pastoral concern for the Christians of Germany, because he became increasingly aware that we could never pay for what Christ had merited freely for us by His suffering and death.

The theory that Christians could buy their way out of purgatory and could even pay in advance for the privilege of indulging in intentionally sinful behavior drove Luther, not only to demand a reconsideration of the theory behind indulgences, but also made clear to Luther that the work righteousness undergirding the whole indulgence trade contradicted the chief article of the Christian religion, that is, the gospel that sinners are counted righteous in the sight of God on account of Christ through faith and not by works. Of course, Luther himself was blamed for starting the debate about indulgences that started the Reformation movement. Luther, however, declined to take the blame for what he called the "Lutheran rumpus." Luther was willing to lay the blame at the doorstep of Albert and his indulgence sales agent, John Tetzel, the Dominican monk.

Luther was not aware of all the details of the deal cut by Albert with the pope, but he suspected that the indulgence trade was being used to finance Albert's ecclesiastical shenanigans. His intuition was correct. This is why he was willing to lay the blame for the rumpus on Albert and his sales agent. As far as Luther was concerned Tetzel's sales pitches (aka sermons) were blasphemous, not merely because they stole from the people of Germany, but because these sermons presumed that human effort or payment could earn merit in the sight of God. Luther became clear about God's indulgent mercy in Christ through faith alone because of his opposition to the indulgence trade. It's no wonder Luther slung so much mud. There was plenty to sling!

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"The first, real, fundamental beginning of the Lutheran rumpus, which Albert, the bishop of Mainz, not Duke Frederick, began with that fleecer and pickpocket, [John] Tetzel. Indeed, it goes back rather to Tetzel's blasphemous preaching, which (as you have heard) was aimed at stealing and robbing the people of their money to pay for the bishop's pallium and pomp. Yet after having been admonished by me, Albert would not stop Tetzel, but rather increased the price and wanted to steal far more money than he had already stolen under the guise of indulgences; thus he showed regard for neither the truth nor the salvation of men's souls." 

Martin Luther, Against Hanswurst
Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV)
Almighty God, merciful Father, in holy baptism You declared us to be Your children and gathered us into Your one, holy church, in which You daily and richly forgive us our sins and the sins of all believers in Christ. Be in our midst, enliven our faith, and graciously receive our prayer and praise; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For the gift of good weather, that the earth might bring forth its fruit in due season and give bread to the eater and seed to the sower

For those who are trapped by the false teaching that they must merit their own salvation by works, that they might be freed by the divine message of the holy gospel

For the faculty and staff of Memorial Lutheran School as they prepare to start a new school year tomorrow, that the Lord Jesus, the master Teacher, would grant them strength, wisdom, and every success in His endeavors
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
Sent by in collaboration with
Constant Contact