Sunday, July 29, 2007

Luther on False Prophets

As I pondered the Gospel for this morning's sermon (St. Matthew 7:15-23), I decided to take a look at Luther's sermon for Trinity VIII, in the Lenker Postils, as I occasionally do. It was rewarding, as ever. Luther cuts to the chase: since Jesus tells His disciples to "beware of false prophets," therefore it is the duty of every Christian, man, woman, and child, to learn to do this. The reason is that no one can rely on the word of anyone, whether councils or popes or even Peter or Paul, when standing before the judgment throne of God. He goes on to say that Peter and Paul, of course, do not preach themselves, but Christ; yet his point remains a clear and good one. Before Christ's judgment, one can rely only on His words.

Much has been written and debated about the ultimate authority on which we may rely, and people have rightly pointed out that even the Scriptures came forth from the Church. Yet this can be misleading. For, as the Scriptures declare, holy men of God wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Thus they are not the words of men but of God, delivered through men.

False prophets abound everywhere, and there is no defense against them in the words of other men. For, as this Gospel declares, they say, Lord, Lord, and they cast out demons and do wonderful works in His name. They wear ingenious disguises, that is. The only defense against them is the word of God.

But what is that word? And who interprets it? On this point, the Lutheran forefathers have made two most helpful contributions to the debate. First, that the Scriptures interpret themselves; and second, that they are clear. That is not to say that all parts are clear, but certainly that they are clear where they need to be, where God knows they need to be.

Here is where the Holy Liturgy is so helpful, for it directs us to those points. Framed by the Our Father, Christ's words of Institution are at the pinnacle of the Liturgy: My Body and My Blood are given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

No interpreter is needed here. It is simple and clear, provided you can understand language at all. Not only so, but by these words, His Body and Blood are given to us here as well.

This makes Christ Himself the Good Tree, which produces Good Fruit, as the Psalmist also declares. For He was hanged on a tree, and there came forth from his limbs the Fruit of the Vine (I am the Vine, said He), His holy Blood.

See, no popes or councils, no official church declarations or positions, no synods or decrees are needed. Therefore we are glad to affirm, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

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