This sermon was preached at the Divine Service on Holy Monday on April 10, 2017. It is based on Psalm 35 and is entitled, “Old Testament Imprecations.”
“John 8:37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham. He says, as it were: ‘You make much ado about the fact that you are descended from Abraham and are of his flesh and blood. But that will not silence Me or disprove My words.’ This is just as if I, Doctor Luther, were to say: ‘I know that you are bishops and priests, that you are baptized, that you are invested with an episcopal office, that you are in the church, that you come from Christ. But that is not enough; it does not make you the true church.’ ‘Well,’ they say, ‘should this not help us, that we are among the Christians, that we are in the Christian Church, that we hold a Christian office?’ No, that will not do it. They have attached far more importance and significance than we do to their claim that they are the Christian Church. With this they meant to imply that no matter what we stress or what we preach, the Christian Church will not err; otherwise God Himself would err.
The Jews speak in a similar way here: ‘We are Abraham’s seed, children of God, God’s people, and Abraham is not a slave of God. But just as Abraham is a friend of God, so we, too, are God’s children and His people.’ Now the papists declare: ‘Since Christ does not err—and He is God—we also are the Christian Church, and the pope does not err.’ We know this well, and you need not teach us this. You are baptized, you are descended from the right people, you are numbered among the Christians, you can recite the Ten Commandments, you can pray the Lord’s Prayer, you can hear a sermon. But to say that because of this you are a Christian—not yet! That is not enough to make you a Christian. That is like the Jews’ statement that they are of Abraham’s seed. Christ says to them: ‘You are not free for that reason. You must come to Me and be delivered through Me, or you will die and perish in Your sins.’ But why is it not enough to be of the seed of Abraham? Were Abraham’s children not God’s very own people? Yes. But Christ says: ‘You are slaves to sin and seek to kill Me, because My Word finds no place in you’” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 415).
“And in Ps. 120:7 we read: ‘I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war!’
This does not happen when the devil preaches to his own. His doctrine is easily swallowed, for it is comprehensible to reason. But here, where I am peaceful and do not seek war but strive to bring salvation to all the world and preach the Gospel, war is already at hand. The devil senses that the people are being snatched from his toils and trap and are being led into the kingdom of the Lord Christ. Therefore he agitates whomever he can, and he himself wakes up and becomes mad and furious. Thus the peaceful must have a reputation as disturbers of the peace; they must bear the blame for creating discord. But those who break the peace and start the controversy boast that they are lovers of peace. Let it go! The devil rages this way to intimidate people, lest they adhere to the Gospel. Thus he slanders Christ, His followers, and the apostles as instigators of strife and discord.
This complaint is lodged against the apostle Paul in the Book of Acts (24:5), where we read: ‘We have found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world.’ And Christ Himself declares (Matt. 10:34): ‘I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. I will set a son against the father and a father against the son.’ The text offers us consolation against this offense and against the idle talk and the bragging which our adversaries now direct against us” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 291-292).
“But we must take heart from this when we see so many deserting us. It frightens and estranges the people to see so many factions and sects, to witness such a terrible and pitiful situation where all was peace and quiet before. We must take the opposite view and say: ‘What frightens you consoles me, for it is a guarantee and certain evidence that ours is the true Word of God. If it were the word of the devil, it would move along softly and peacefully, just like a serpent slithering along. But if factions and sects result, it is surely God’s Word. And since this is the inevitable course, let it be so. That is what happened to Christ and the others, and we cannot expect to fare otherwise.’
The prophet Jeremiah had the same experience. In chapter 15, verse 10, we hear him lamenting and crying: ‘Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! When I open my mouth, only strife and factions issue forth. Although I have not lent money at usury or borrowed, yet everyone curses me.’ Jeremiah also said: ‘Alas, what shall I preach? I have resolved to keep silence and preach no more; for if I continue long, I will preach only to my own harm and disgrace. This people brings God’s Word down on my neck. Therefore I will content myself and let those preach who like to preach. Well, I would have been happy to do it; but Thy Word was as fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9)’” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 291).
“The papacy looked beautiful; all was peace and tranquility. Even though there were many monks and monastic orders, all were subject to one head and authority, the pope. Consequently, there was unity of doctrine and belief. This makes an impression on people, and for this men strive. It would be a fine thing to have one head rule over all. Yet this is impossible, since neither Christ nor a prophet nor an apostle has been able to accomplish it. Therefore resign yourself to the fact, and be prepared for discord and unrest as soon as the Gospel is preached. This is also borne out by the parable in the Gospel (Luke 11:21–22): ‘When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he divides his spoil.’
This is the fault, not of the Gospel but of the devil, who cannot tolerate the Gospel. If we preached as the pope demands, courted his favor, and fawned before him, we would still be at peace with him. But then we would be serving the devil. Peace in the papacy was predicated on general acquiescence in all that was done, so that no one opposed the other, and the devil’s doctrine was accepted as God’s Word. The pope lay in the mire like a sow that snores when people gently scratch it behind the ears. But now he is bestirring himself and waking up, because he is being attacked and having his hide thrashed. And the same thing is happening to us” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 290-291).
“Still these are examples and stories which serve to illustrate how people fare who hear Christ preach. And at the same time we can derive strength and comfort from this when we are charged with the offense of injecting errors in the faith. The gravest accusation our adversaries level against us is this, that our doctrine is an innovation, while they claim to remain with the old faith. Thus strife and dissension develop from the doctrine. Some declare: ‘I will await the decrees of a council, and I am ready to accept whatever emperor and bishops will resolve.’
This is the greatest offense; it fills eyes, ears, and mouth. It is hard to bear, and we need comfort to be able to disregard it. Such an offense is inevitable, for we will not meet a better fate than Christ did. If the Gospel could take its course without the rise of error, disturbance, and discord, it would have done so here with this Man Christ, who was a better preacher than the apostles. But it happens even to Him, the Lord Christ, that as He preaches, misunderstanding, yes, dissension arises among the people. They do not know how to adjust themselves to this new doctrine. One has this to say, another that. Christ Himself confused the people with His sermons. So many factions and sects spring up. The one preaches this, the other that; and this puzzles and perplexes the people. In the face of this you must say: ‘It is not my fault that there are so many factions. A Christian who believes and proclaims the Word of God need not worry about that. This is inevitable, and he must be resigned to the fact that it will never be any better in the world.’ Convince yourself of this, mark it as unavoidable, and submit to it. If the preaching is God’s Word, sects arise, and the same thing happens that is told here” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 289-290).
“Therefore it is dangerous and suspicious for them boastfully to appropriate the name of the Christian Church, as if this required great skill and everyone before them were ignorant. You must tell them: “If you want to be the church and bear its name, you must prove your title. You must teach correctly, as the holy Christian Church teaches. You must have your life conform to its life. You must manifest your faith and the fruits of faith. Give evidence that you are the Christian Church.” But since they do not administer the episcopal office as it should be administered but persecute whom they will and yet insist on being regarded as pious princes and the Christian Church, we are obliged to say that they are the devil’s church; for the Christian Church does not treat doctrine so wantonly. The heretics frighten and delude many people with their claim to the name “church.” That is what the people in the Gospel did when they said that Christ must come from Bethlehem and when they spurned Him because He had come from Galilee.
Our adversaries talk similarly of us today. They deny our claim to be the Christian Church because we come from Galilee or from Wittenberg, and because we will not await their decision. We will tell them: ‘Lo, there are Christians also from Galilee and from Nazareth. Just because they believe and proclaim what is displeasing to you, you do not consider them Christians.’ We will not wait for their decision, nor will we preach to their liking. Let us preach about the Man who will give us abundance also after this life. If we had preached to suit their taste, we would have become great lords long ago. But—so it is said—there is no gain in that.
The people were divided over Christ’s preaching, in this way that some said He was the Christ, others declared He was a prophet, and still others flatly disavowed both contentions and said that no prophet comes from Galilee. This argument among the people was not settled, and there is not much to be said about this matter” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 289).
“Therefore since this argument is waxing warm in our day, you must be prepared to give this account and reply: the term “Christian Church” has a double meaning, as other words do too. For there is a true and there is a false church. Now show me the true church. The pope claims to be the true church, but how is he going to prove it? He has the Gospel and Baptism; so do we. The issue is: Who has the true Gospel and Baptism, and who the false? The one Christ is the true one, but all heretics fashion a new Christ. Words have double meanings. Every heretic assigns a special meaning to a word, and he also employs the terms used in the divine Word. The term “god,” for example, is given the most manifold meanings. I suppose there are a thousand different gods.
Mammon is a god. So are the Order of St. Francis and the Carthusian Order. Everybody has his own peculiar god. Therefore you must be wary. Just as the word ‘god’ really pertains only to the one God but is perverted and applied so variously, thus “Christian Church” is also misused and loosely used. You must pay no attention to them when they say: “Here is the church.” Your answer must be: ‘I am well aware that there is one Christian Church, and I know the term ‘Christian Church’ very well. But it is news to me that you are that church. You may indeed vaunt that you are the Christian Church, but that beautiful name by itself will not mislead me. I know that the heretics are to deck themselves with the fine name of God, of Christ, and of the Christian Church, and thus deceive the world’” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 288).
“But when they counter: “Your stand is not correct,” the controversy is under way. To settle this requires a spiritual council, which will proclaim the same faith that my brother and I share with all Christians, wherever they may be. They are all of one mind. The Christian Church is the church which believes in Christ and desires to be saved by Him, not by works or merits. Whatever the Holy Spirit says to us He says to all Christians everywhere. That is the Bethlehem and the tribe of Judah from which Christ comes. Thus it is also true that there is neither prophet nor Christian nor teacher nor preacher outside the church; for it is one body and soul, bound together and related as the members are to the body, for they are members of the body. An amputated fist is dead, lifeless, no longer attached to the body. Similarly, a heretic is detached from the Christian Church by false doctrine and unbelief, and is dead; for those outside the Christian Church are dead.
The Christian Church is not the same as a collection of bishops’ or cardinals’ hats. That may be termed a council, or it may develop into a council, but not into the Christian Church. For the church cannot be convoked into one assembly but is dispersed over all the earth. The church believes as I believe, and I believe as the church believes. There is no difference or disparity in our belief. We all believe one Christian Church. Outside this church there is nothing. This is my faith, and this gives rise to altercation” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 287-288).
“People say that they will wait until. the Christian Church has decided the issue. Let the devil wait for that; I will not. For the Christian Church has already determined everything. The members of the body are united and need not wait until the body’s filth says or decrees whether or not the body is sound. This can be ascertained from the body’s members, but not from its urine, excrement, or filth. Thus we, too, do not want to wait until pope and bishops sit in council and decide that this or that is true. They are not part of the body; they are not good and sound members. They are Junker Filth, the snot on the sleeve and dung itself; for they persecute the true Gospel, which they know to be God’s Word. It is evident from this that they are filth, stench, and the devil’s own members.
Consequently, we must declare: The Christian Church has already decided the issue, for this is the universal doctrine, believed by all baptized Christians. Such a decision does not emanate from an external assembly. It springs from a spiritual council and does not require a convention. It is permissible to convoke a council to regulate fasting and prayer, vestments, the confirmation and confession of the true articles of the Creed, or other issues, as was done at the Council of Nicea. But no council can decide the truth of Christian doctrine. No, there I simply say: ‘This is my stand on Baptism. I believe that the Gospel is true and holy. This is my stand on the Lord’s Supper’” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 287).