Today, I’d like to share a short video and a portion of an article by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt found in “Conversations for a Modern Reformation” Sept./Oct. 2012 Vol. 21 No. 5 Issue of Modern Reformation Magazine.
Rod Rosenbladt – What Drove Luther’s Hammer
A Renewed Fascination with Monasticism among Evangelicals
I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why so many have become so engrossed and fascinated with the ancient mystics and monastics. Not just Pentecostals like Mike Bickle, Bill Johnson, and Chuck Swindoll, but even Baptists like Dallas Willard and Presbyterians like Tim Keller. I don’t get it… have we completely lost sight of the Reformation? Do we not understand the 5 Solas of the Reformation, particularly that of Sola Scriptura?
Excerpt from the Article (via Modern Reformation)
Luther the Monk
Medieval monasticism reflected the deepest insight of the Roman Church concerning the relation of the holy God to man the sinner. In the last analysis, a holy, righteous, and just God could have fellowship with and could accept only a holy, just, and good man. But how could such a God of perfection accept a sinful man as his own? The real problem was to make a man sufficiently holy, so that his acceptance by God, if not certain, was at least highly probable. As Bainton explains, “[Luther] set himself to the pursuit of holiness. Monasticism constituted such a quest; Luther looked upon the cloister as the higher righteousness.”
His teachers, following the Bible, taught that God demanded absolute righteousness (as in Matthew 5:48, “Be ye perfect”). People needed to love God absolutely and their neighbors as themselves; and they should have the unshakable faith of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son—hence the demand that the monk fulfill all the laws and commands of God, including poverty, chastity, and obedience.
The life of a monk was terribly hard, but people of Luther’s day “knew” that it was pleasing to God. Its benefits were “certain.” Were the monastics aware of the great gulf between God and man? Absolutely! They also knew that the fluctuation between despair and hope, between unbearable demand and partial fulfillment, would produce doubts and spiritual torment in many of the good brothers—but this served to keep them from complacency and self-righteousness. Once their sinfulness was fully exposed, there were ample ways to reassure the weak in times of trouble. At the center of this assurance was the sacrament of penance. The sinner confessed to a priest, was forgiven (absolved), and then performed penitential acts that completed the process. People were to repent in a fully contrite manner—not for the purpose of saving themselves. But Luther knew that in the midst of this most crucial act, he was at his most selfish. He confessed his sins and performed his penance out of the intensely human instinct to save his own skin. Yet because of the human tendency to sin, one could hardly confess enough. This critical issue remained vivid in Luther’s mind. He later commented, “If one were to confess his sins in a timely manner, he would have to carry a confessor in his pocket!”
When Luther tried to avail himself of this comfort, it failed to produce the desired results: “Yet my conscience would never give me assurance, but I was always doubting and said ‘You did not perform that correctly. You were not contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.'” How then could he stand before God?
Monasticism provided a variety of ways in which man could wash away his sin and improve his spiritual estate. The monk could fast, pray, meditate, perform Mass, beat his body, and engage in other physical/spiritual exercises. Through this, the body and pride would be defeated.
In addition to an acute sense of the holiness of God, Luther had a brutally honest picture of himself as a creature. He knew all too well that it is easy for man to see himself “in the best possible light.” Man is usually willing to forgive himself and then rest assured that God has also forgiven him. “So long as one does the best that is in him,” man is sure it is enough. But Luther was too sensitive to be satisfied with such “answers.” What Luther saw was a self-centered sinful man holding sway under the pretense of monastic holiness. So serious were the mounting struggles that Luther began to think he may be one of those predestined for damnation.
A critical moment came when Luther’s superiors ordered him to take his doctorate and become a professor of Bible at Wittenberg University. Although he initially resisted going—”It will be the death of me!”—he finally relented. As one historian famously notes, this command that Luther pursue theological study “was one of the most brilliant or stupid decisions in the history of Latin Christianity.”
Although Luther’s fears and anxieties drove him into the cloister, they only intensified during his time as a monk. But the command to study academic theology meant he could now also investigate his struggles intellectually. He soon acquired his mature self-identity as a professor and a doctor of Sacred Scripture.
This article originally appeared in the “Conversations for a Modern Reformation” Sept./Oct. 2012 Vol. 21 No. 5 edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission.
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Luther lived that life and it wrecked him. All of these present-day teachers seeking to rediscover truths or disciplines from the monastics would do well to remember Luther. There’s no Life in it. Luther would finally be set free from monasticism by God the Holy Spirit opening up Luther’s understanding of the writings of Paul to the Romans. Sola Scriptura is indeed a wonderful concept to hold onto.
Resources on Some Contemplative Practices
Remain vigilant, continue the work of the noble Bereans, and search the scriptures daily to see if what is being said in the Name of God is found in the Word of God.
Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,