The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

By Donald K. McKim | Go to book overview

10
Luther's struggle with social-ethical issues
CARTER LINDBERG

The crucial point to remember in discussing Luther's struggle with socialethical issues is that he understood himself to be a theologian and pastor not a sociologist or economist or politician. Indeed, Luther's ethics may be understood as pastoral care. 1 For Luther, therefore, theology and ethics served the proclamation of the good news that salvation is received not achieved. Our justification before God“must be believed and cannot be obtained by any work, law, or merit.” 2 In contrast to all pieties of achievement, then and now, Luther affirmed God's descent in Jesus to us rather than our striving to ascend to God. In opposition to the medieval renunciation of the world, epitomized by the image and metaphor of the ladder to heaven, Luther proclaimed that Christ could not be dragged too deeply into the flesh. 3 Hence Luther criticized the religion of the Turks, Jews, and papists for prescribing “heavenward journeys on which the travelers will break their necks.” 4

The subject of theology and ethics is not God in heaven, in his absolute majesty, the“naked God, ” but rather God“clothed in His Word and promises” for us.

God says:“I do not choose to come to you in My majesty and in the company of angels but in the guise of a poor beggar asking for bread.” You may ask:“How do you know this?” Christ replies:“I have revealed to you in My Word what form I would assume and to whom you should give. You do not ascend into heaven, where I am seated at the right hand of My heavenly Father, to give Me something; no I come down to you in humility. I place flesh and blood before your door with the plea: 'Give me a drink!…I do not need food in heaven. I have come all the way from Judea. Give me a drink!' I have had it announced to all the world that whatever is done to the least of My brethren is done to me” (Matt. 25:40). 5

Thus Luther's struggle with issues of social ethics proceeded from his perceived vocation to proclaim God's promise and judgment. He wrote:

-165-

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The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Notes on Contributors xi
  • Preface xv
  • Chronology of Martin Luther xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Part I - Luther's Life and Context 1
  • 1 - Luther's Life 3
  • 2 - Luther's Wittenberg 20
  • Part II - Luther's Work 37
  • 3 - Luther's Writings 39
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Luther as Bible Translator 62
  • 5 - Luther as an Interpreter of Holy Scripture 73
  • Notes 82
  • 6 - Luther's Theology 86
  • Notes 114
  • 7 - Luther's Moral Theology 120
  • 8 - Luther as Preacher of the Word of God 136
  • 9 - Luther's Spiritual Journey 149
  • 10 - Luther's Struggle with Social-Ethical Issues 165
  • Notes 175
  • 11 - Luther's Political Encounters 179
  • Notes 190
  • 12 - Luther's Polemical Controversies 192
  • Part III - After Luther 208
  • 13 - Luther's Function in an Age of Confessionalization 209
  • 14 - The Legacy of Martin Luther 227
  • Notes 238
  • 15 - Approaching Luther 240
  • Notes 252
  • Part IV - Luther Today 257
  • 16 - Luther and Modern Church History 259
  • 17 - Luther's Contemporary Theological Significance 272
  • Notes 286
  • 18 - Luther in the Worldwide Church Today 289
  • Select Bibliography 304
  • Index 313
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