“A Visit From Luther”
The Freedom of a Christian, 1520
The summer of 1520, nearly three years after Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 thesis sent ripples through Europe, the Pope issued Exsurge Domine (which means “Arise, O Lord”). It identified Luther as a wild boar in the Lord’s vineyard and called upon him as a heretic to recant within sixty days or face excommunication. Meanwhile, Luther continued his load of responsibilities at the University and Church in Wittenberg writing, publishing, preaching and lecturing. From his pen that summer and fall came three monumental writings, which clarified his evangelical theology for his ever-expanding audience.
The first of these, The Address to the German Nobility, openly challenged papal authority over secular rulers, denied the pope’s authority over the interpretation of scripture, and expounded the scriptural doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The third, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, confronted the papacy and priesthood for the way they lorded over Christians by controlling the means of grace, which Christ had freely given to his whole church. The one in between, The Freedom of a Christian however, was of a different tone. Persuaded by leaders of the Augustinian order, who being sympathetic with Luther still hoped to heal this rift in the church, Luther wrote this treatise in a conciliatory spirit. He addressed Pope Leo the X directly in an open letter of introduction and attached to it this work, The Freedom of a Christian. At the end of the letter, this is how he introduces it:
“Finally, that I may not approach you empty-handed, blessed father, I am sending you this little treatise dedicated to you as a token of peace and good hope…It is a small book if you regard its size. Unless I am mistaken, however, it contains the whole of Christian life in a brief form, provided you grasp its meaning. I am a poor man and have no other gift to offer, and you do not need to be enriched by any but a spiritual gift. May the Lord Jesus preserve you forever. Amen.”
Even if never received by Pope Leo, Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian has been a gift to the whole of Christ’s church ever since. What you will hear today are excerpts directly from that gift.