Author: joshuapegram

Christian. Husband. Dad. Pastor. Son. Brother. Friend. I root for Braves Baseball, Clemson Football, and Duke Basketball, and I'm a big fan of sweet tea and cookies dunked in milk.

The Content of Family Worship

What kinds of things should you do to lead your family in worship at home? Hopefully, you attend a good church that models what Christ-centered worship looks like. In many ways, worship at home simply builds off of what your church does and works it out in a way that works for your family at home.

Read the Bible—one person (or more) reading aloud. When you read Scripture together, it gets God’s words into your ears and hearts. When you build worship around the Word, it ensures that God’s wisdom, not merely some good ideas that you (or others) might have, is guiding you. This can also be a good time to memorize Scripture together, talk about the Word, and see it seep down into the hearts of your family.

Take some time to pray together. Perhaps you could pray for particular things on particular days of the week. For example, you could pray for extended family on Mondays, church family on Tuesday, friends on Wednesdays, etc. There may be some requests or people that you pray for every day. Have your kids take turns praying too. This is a great time to teach them to thank God, praise God, and confess sin to God. As you pray, you can model how to pray and then give your kids a chance to pray in a comfortable setting. This will help them in their personal prayer life and also aid them as they have opportunities to pray with and for others.

Singing together can be the most engaging (and fun!) part of family worship. Use this as an opportunity to teach your children to sing and to sing good hymns and songs. As a teacher used to tell me, “Things learned in song are remembered long.” This is a great way to prepare your kids to worship in church too, as they can learn “church songs” even before they can read. Let kids choose a favorite song to have the family sing, and it will give you a chance to learn which hymns really connect with them and also a good opportunity to sing children’s songs—which can have great truth for adults too.

There are a number of good devotional books designed for family use. Some are children’s story Bibles for young children, while others are for older children. We’ve used various family devotional books from time to time, although we also like to use the Bible itself. If you have multiple kids, try to find something that engages children of different ages. It’s ok to mix it up, to roll with what works well at one stage, and then move on to something that works well for a different stage of life.


Benefits of Family Worship

Though it can be difficult to make family worship happen, it’s worth the effort. Consider the following benefits of taking a few minutes to worship together in your home.

One of the greatest benefits of family worship is discipleship that happens in the home. “Discipleship” is simply helping someone take one step closer to Jesus. When parents take the time to read the Bible and pray with each other and with their kids, they’re modeling (in a small way) what it looks like to help someone follow Jesus. Not only is this great for your family, it’s also a helpful model for understanding how to disciple someone that’s not in your family!

Family unity
With life today being scheduled so full and often being chaotic, it’s good to have a time when the family sits down and spends time together face-to-face—no phones, no TV, no screens at all. While it may feel awkward at first, this time and effort will lead to a greater sense of togetherness, as you learn to enjoy spending time together in the Word—and it may spill over into other areas of life as well.

One day, you’ll be left with memories of today. Time spent in family worship is one of the most valuable memories to enjoy and pass on to your children. Beyond the good feelings of having good memories, these times together will form a foundation for your children to appreciate the value of the Word and prayer in their own lives and in the lives of their future relationships.

Worship as the center of life
Discipleship is all about calling people from every corner of the globe to worship Jesus. Worshiping the Triune God is the point of our existence, and discipleship is all about calling each other to engage in true worship. By making family worship a central part of life in your home, you’re living out the ultimate point of our existence:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

(Revelation 5:13)

What the Bible Says about Family Worship

While it might seem like a given that families should pursue Christ together at home, it’s also easy to dismiss an idea like this as too burdensome. But not only is family worship at home a good idea, it’s commanded and modeled in Scripture.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 

It doesn’t get a whole lot clearer than this, does it? Teach your children at home, when you’re out, when it’s bedtime, and when it’s time to get up.

Psalm 78
Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

This psalm highlights the importance of family worship by telling us again that it’s commanded for parents to teach children, and it’s through parents teaching children that the next generation learns about God’s greatness.

2 Timothy 1:5
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Paul tells us about the important role that Timothy’s mom and grandmother played in leading him to Christ. The faithfulness of parents and grandparents plays a vital role in passing on the faith to succeeding generations.

These are just three texts of many in Scripture that highlight the importance of passing on our faith to others. In these instances, the ones receiving the benefits are children in the home of believing parents. If you don’t have kids, you could pass along your faith to someone else—your spouse or some friends:  What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

Why Family Worship Is Difficult

Family worship (or family devotions, as we called them when I was a kid) is the gathering of a family together during the week to reflect in smaller ways what the gathered church does each Sunday together. This can be one of the most encouraging—but also most frustrating and discouraging—parts of the Christian life.

Responses to the idea of family worship tend toward extremes—(1) imagining a glorious ideal that will never happen or (2) simply throwing up your hands and saying you can’t do it. While both are temptations, I’d encourage you to hang in there and trust that the Lord will give you grace in this effort.

Many people don’t have the opportunity to enjoy family worship, due to life’s circumstances (unbelieving parents, unengaged parents, schedules that don’t intersect, etc.), but there are many other families who could pursue Christ together as a family but don’t.

So what are some obstacles to regular family worship?

The family itself can make time together hard. Different stages of life mean different things, and each stages brings its own challenges. When your kids are young, it’s hard to get them to sit still. As they grow older, it’s hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time. And it’s hard to keep kids of different ages engaged (if you have multiple kids). Furthermore, while in two-parent homes Dad should serve as the spiritual leader, Mom is often more engaged and interested in the spiritual well-being of the family.

We schedule our lives to the max. We tend to live this way individually, and this is magnified exponentially when it comes to families. School, sports, music, scouting, gymnastics, dance … the list could go on. And that doesn’t include the reality that our work tends to come with us wherever we go, and we have responsibilities at home and in our communities that are time-consuming. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time for the basic things of life, let alone things that aren’t absolutely required.

Our culture doesn’t value family time together. In ads or commercials for family events, they’re almost always geared around entertainment—Disney, a family smiling warmly at their devices, or watching a movie together. The idea of people sitting in a room and just being together without some form of entertainment feels more and more distant from everyday experience.

Let’s face it—we’ve all been here. It’s hard to work up the energy to do one more thing after (or before) a long day at work. It doesn’t seem urgent, and we can get by without it. So we do things that are easier and that we can “slide” into. Gathering a family together and leading in a time of worship takes effort and intentionality.

Legalism is the idea that we can earn God’s approval by performing to a certain standard. In a desire to avoid legalism we sometimes avoid doing good things that people who love the Lord should do. Because there’s no “law” that says we must, we neglect something that we should delight to do in love.

Lack of knowledge
Leading in family worship can be intimidating. We all feel lost sometimes. We don’t feel that we have the skill or resources to do it, so we avoid it altogether. Or we might give it a shot, but we’re just so lost that we lose our way altogether.

Fear of failure
Many parents (and dads in particular) are aware of their failings across a broad spectrum of life. It’s hard for someone who feels that he’s failing to lead a family to worship God. Beyond that, it’s hard to want to add another area in which it’s easy to fail—either by doing a poor job of leading (or feeling like you are) or starting something but not continuing faithfully in it.

If you find yourself failing or feeling discouraged, hang in there!

Tips on Prayer

Do you ever pray, other than before a meal or a quick breathed prayer before or a big test or job interview? Prayer is one of the simplest, yet most difficult, Christian practices. Here are some thoughts that may help in establishing the discipline of regularly talking to God in prayer:

1. Pray.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t wait until you’ve got the perfect system. Get into the habit of talking with God, rather than just talking with yourself about what’s going on. Set aside time in your schedule to help make this happen.

2. Find places you can go and things you can do to help you pray.
It might be taking a walk or riding your bike. Perhaps it’s getting alone in a quiet place. It might be riding in the car, leaving off the music and podcasts, and talking to God.

3. Use written guides in prayer.
Start a prayer list or prayer journal. “PrayerMate” is an app that can be quite helpful.  Create categories for prayer on different days of the week. Pray for extended family one day; pray for friends another day; pray through your church membership another day. Find something that helps you pray.

4. Use Scripture.
The Bible is full of prayers. Take a walk sometime and pray a psalm back to God. Study the prayers in the Old and New Testaments, and let those guide your prayer time.

Prayer can be hard, but the fruit is worth the effort: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working!” (James 5:16).

A Better Path

In a world that’s characterized by increasing polarization, with both ends of the spectrum complaining about how terrible the other is, we can choose a different, better path.

Rather than interacting with people who annoy us as if they annoy us, what if we caught a vision for how Jesus treated people that seemed like an inconvenience? What if we begin to treat irritations with mercy and grace?

And then imagine that our actions have the power to affect the way others interact. If there’s ever been a day that needs people to show mercy to those that don’t deserve it, it’s our day. Instead of viewing differences as obstacles, view them as opportunities for mercy and grace.

Sometimes people can’t hear the truth, because of our lack of mercy. If people reject Jesus, let it be because they reject him and his message, not because we’re so pugnacious or politically-affiliated that they can’t even hear the words of good news.

Reformation: Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Searching for biographies on Martin Luther will lead you to more than you have time to read—some excellent, some not so excellent. Look for biographies on John Calvin, and you’ll find a smattering of options. Ulrich Zwingli, by contrast, has had relatively little written about his life and legacy. He’s often tossed into the discussion as the “third Reformer” after Luther and Calvin, but available resources on his life are rather scarce. That being said, his life is fascinating on its own merit, and he is a prodigious Reformer.

Birth & Childhood
While Calvin made his mark in Geneva, Switzerland, he was a Frenchman by birth. Zwingli was a Swiss Reformer through and through. He was born at the dawn of the new year, January 1, 1484. His more famous German counterpart, Martin Luther, was born just two months before in late 1483. Zwingli’s home was in the rustic town of Wildhaus, in the foothills of the Swiss Alps.

Though Wildhaus was a small village, the Zwinglis were one of the chief families of the town. Ulrich senior, Zwingli’s father, was a successful farmer and chief magistrate and held a position of good income and respect. Zwingli was one of several children who grew up in a log cabin, topped off by a roof of wooden shingles.

Swiss Mercenaries
While the Alps are beautiful, it wasn’t a simple thing to scratch out a living there. Some men raised cattle, while others became lumberjacks or furniture makers. But the most profitable occupation was soldiering. While the Swiss are noted for their neutrality today, in Zwingli’s day they were noted mercenary soldiers.

The French hired many Swiss soldiers to fight their battles, and the Swiss were noted for being fierce, competent warriors. Pope Julius II hired Swiss soldiers to form the bulk of his army and personal bodyguard. The well-known legend of William Tell (the father who shot the apple off of his son’s head) was a beloved story of the day.

The Alps were the beloved backdrop of Zwingli’s life. He later translated Psalm 23: “In the beautiful Alps, he tends me.”

Though soldiering would have a lifelong effect on Zwingli, he was destined for a different life. His first teacher was his Uncle Bartholomew, and he began his learning in a rustic log cabin. Zwingli quickly distinguished himself as bright and precocious. From his early days in school, he studied the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible.

When he had learned all he could from his uncle, he went to Basel for further education. There he interacted with other students who were similarly passionate about learning, and his horizons expanded. He was a skilled debater, a discipline that would stand him in good stead later in life. At the recommendation of his teacher, Zwingli next went to the town of Berne for further education. He became known there as a skilled musician and fine singer. His talents led some Dominican monks to attempt to recruit him. At just 13 years of age, Zwingli was still impressionable, but his father had greater plans than a life of poverty in a Dominican monastery.

Therefore, in 1498 Zwingli enrolled in the university at Vienna. Four years later, he returned to Basel at the age of 18 to continue his education and teach Latin. While in Basel, Zwingli grew increasingly wary of papal corruption. The current pope, Alexander VI, had several mistresses and children by the those mistresses. In 1506 he received a Master of Arts degree and became the parish priest in the Swiss village of Glarus. Glarus served as an army base of sorts, funneling men into the pope’s army.

Influence of Humanism
The most famous humanist scholar of Zwingli’s era was Desiderius Erasmus. While the worst of humanism worships humanity and prizes human reason above divine revelation, in many ways the humanists advanced education and the Reformation itself. Humanists emphasized the necessity of studying original sources and of finding the truth. Erasmus’s Greek New Testament was a primary source for the Reformers in their efforts to understand the Word itself.

Army Chaplain
Zwingli went on two military campaigns as a military chaplain—in 1512 and again in 1515. Both were Italian campaigns, as part of the papal army. The campaign of 1512 saw great success, and on June 6, 1513, 13,000 Swiss soldiers routed a French army of 20,000. The second campaign, however, was a far different matter. The Swiss army, as part of the pope’s forces, met a huge French force near Milan. It was a bloodbath, and the French cannon slaughtered the Swiss pikemen. More than 10,000 men died in that Battle of Marignano.

Zwingli suddenly found himself disillusioned with war and the pope. He began to reexamine his life, his reasons for living, and everything he’d ever known. This led him to closer and closer study of Scripture. In 1513, between the two Italian campaigns, he’d begun to learn Greek in an effort to better understand the Word. Now his labor began to come to fruition.

Studying the Word
In 1516 Zwingli purchased a copy of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. As a priest, he was permitted to possess a copy of the Word, but he then took the rather unusual step of actually studying the Bible. He was so devoted to the Scriptures that he memorized almost the entire New Testament … in Greek.

Though Zwingli began to see the need for a living relationship with Christ, he struggled throughout this period with a desire for human intimacy and fell prey to immorality, even having a relationship with a prostitute. In spite of his personal struggles, Zwingli began to see the truth more and more clearly.

Zwingli’s fame as a powerful preacher continued to grow. He had begun preaching against mercenary fighting and thus forced to leave Glarus in 1516. He served for two years as a priest in a monastery at Einsiedeln and continued to grow in influence. In 1518, therefore, he was appointed to a prestigious position as priest in Zurich, a city of some 5000 people. Some folks opposed his appointment because he openly confessed that he had recently been with a prostitute. His repentance, however, seemed to be genuine, and what he did next was more revolutionary than anything he’d done up to this point.

On New Year’s Day, 1519, Zwingli announced on his birthday—his first sermon in his new pulpit—that rather than preaching through set liturgical readings, he would preach expositionally through the Gospel of Matthew and then continue to preach his way through the New Testament. His preaching began to focus increasingly on the gospel itself, not on church tradition.

Unlike Luther, Zwingli’s reformation wasn’t the result of great personal agony. Rather, it arose from a commitment to study the Scriptures as a humanist would—to see what it said and live according to its teachings. When someone arrived in Zurich to sell indulgences, Zwingli convinced local officials to expel the salesman before he could even begin selling his indulgences.

The Plague
It was later in 1519 that another traumatic event changed Zwingli’s life. The plague, killing thousands throughout Europe, had come to Zurich. Zwingli performed the Requiem, the Mass of the Dead, so many times that year that he began quoting it in his sleep.

His youngest brother, Andrew, was living with him at the time, but Zwingli sent him away to be free of the plague. Eventually Zwingli himself caught to the plague. It seemed that he would die. It was at this time that he penned these words:

Help me, O Lord, my strength and rock;
Lo, at the door I hear death’s knock.
Yet, if thy voice in life’s mid-day,
Recalls my soul, then I obey.
Uplift thine arm, once pierced for me,
That conquered death, and set me free.
In faith and hope earth I resign,
Secure of heaven, for I am thine.

Soon a rumor began to circulate: “Ulrich Zwingli is dead.” Friends and family began to mourn for him. But as the famous American author Mark Twain once remarked, the reports of Zwingli’s death were greatly exaggerated.

Zwingli’s brother Andrew returned to Zurich to nurse his brother back to health. By this time, the plague was receding, and the environment was much safer. It took a great while for Zwingli to recover. Tragically, Andrew’s sacrifice for his brother would cost him his own life. As Ulrich grew stronger, Andrew weakened and died on November 19, 1519.

Zwingli knelt by his brother’s deathbed and sobbed uncontrollably and lapsed into sudden and terrible grief for days. All this took place in the first year of Zwingli’s ministry in Zurich.

Sausage and Lent
Zwingli’s influence continued to grow. In 1520, the Zurich town council decreed that preachers could preach only Scripture, not church tradition. Zwingli’s preaching began to increasingly clash with church dogma. In 1522, he clashed with the Roman church over Lent. The church required that faithful church members eat no meat during Lent. Zwingli preached against and wrote against this fast. A local businessman responded to Zwingli’s teaching by having a sausage feast during Lent. Charges were brought against the businessman and Zwingli. Zwingli’s response? “If you will fast, do so; if you do not wish to eat meat, eat it not; but leave Christians a free choice in the matter.”

In 1522 Zwingli was secretly married to Anna Reinhard. It was considered a great scandal for a priest to marry, though many priests lived in immoral relationships. Therefore, Ulrich and Anna lived together married but—to external appearances—cohabiting, which, ironically, was considered a less scandalous living situation for a priest than marriage itself. In 1524, Zwingli threw convention to the wind and openly married his wife.

Zwingli wrote a letter to the bishop in behalf of Swiss priests: “Influenced by the Word of God, we are persuaded that it is far more desirable if we marry wives, that Christ’s little ones may not be offended, than if, with bold brow, we continue rioting in fornication.” Though church tradition didn’t change, Zwingli’s thinking continued to grow.

The 67 Articles
In January of 1523 Zwingli engaged in a debate known as the First Disputation. The bishop sent Johann Faber as an official church representative (there was earlier talk of a debate between Zwingli and Johann Eck, Luther’s great opponent), and several hundred folks watched the two men debate. Zwingli wrote his 67 Articles in preparation for the debate. His theses were far more thorough, radical, and Protestant than Luther’s original 95 Theses, which had addressed only the abuse of the sale of indulgences.

Zwingli opened with a prayer: “Deus det nobis suam pacem” (“May God grant us his peace”). He followed with these words: “You know what a revival has taken place among us during these last five years. The decrepit human laws and statutes have finally begun to give way to the gospel of God’s blessed Son, which we have preached from his Word. We have declared that all our true happiness, consolation, and good consists, not in our merits, nor in external works, rather alone in Jesus Christ our Savior, to whom the heavenly Father himself gave witness that we should hear him as his beloved Son. For this preaching I am maligned by many as a heretic, a liar, a deceiver, and one disobedient to the Christian Church. Now, if anyone thinks that my sermons or teachings … are unchristian or heretical, let them speak in the name of God. Here I am!”

To this Faber responded, and the debate was on. Though Faber was smoother and more well-mannered than Zwingli, it was Zwingli who had the more persuasive arguments. The question of the day was this: must people submit to the tradition of the church or to the Word of God itself?

The city council of Zurich rendered an official declaration after the debate: “The city council of Zurich has resolved that Master Zwingli continue as before to proclaim the holy gospel, and the pure holy Scripture, with the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, all priests and preachers in this city and canton shall do likewise and refrain from slander under strict penalty imposed by this council.”

After the debate, Zwingli expanded his 67 Articles into a full-fledged book. There was a Second Disputation in October of 1523, leading to further reforms. Zwingli had carried the day.

The Marburg Colloquy
For some time, the churches in Zurich remained officially Roman Catholic, but in 1525 Zwingli convinced the city council to abolish the Mass and take a memorial view of the Lord’s Supper. The following Sunday, rather than standing with his back to the congregation and presenting the Supper to God as a priest, he stood behind the communion table, as a shepherd bringing bread to God’s people.

The Lord’s Supper prove to be a dividing point not only with the Roman Catholic Church but also among the various sections of the Reformation as well.

In 1529, representatives from the Swiss and German Reformation movements met in Marburg, Germany. It was a “who’s who” of Reformers: Luther, Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Philip Melancthon, Johannes, Oecolampadius, and others. Luther and Zwingli led the two sides in a debate and attempted to harmonize their doctrine into a cohesive system of theological thought. Though they agreed on 14 points, they clashed on the 15th: the Lord’s Supper. While both sides rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, they couldn’t agree with each other.

Luther held to the real presence of Christ in the Supper, while Zwingli believed that the Supper was a mere memorial—a way of remembering Christ’s sacrifice. Though Zwingli’s views later morphed to be somewhat closer to Calvin’s spiritual presence of Christ, the two sides could find no agreement.

It was here that some of Luther’s personal weakness displayed themselves. Luther accused Zwingli of being of the devil and a “wormy nut.” Zwingli resented being treated “like an ass.” When Zwingli was later killed in battle, Luther snorted derisively when he heard the news. Luther also said that “Zwingli was a ‘very good man,’ yet of a ‘different spirit,’ and hence refused to accept his hand of fellowship offered to him with tears.”

Though Zwingli was forced to leave Glarus for preaching against mercenary soldiers, Zwingli failed to learn his own lesson. In 1531, Zurich found itself threatened by 5 Catholic cantons. Zwingli went into battle again as a chaplain. He was clad in full armor and armed with a battle-axe. Badly wounded on October 11, 1531, he was later found by enemy soldiers who finished him off. The Catholic armies then cut his body in pieces, burned the remnants, mixed his ashes with dung, and scattered the ashes.

If you visit Zurich today, you can find a statue of Zwingli with a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other, a fitting picture of this Swiss Reformer. Though he was a flawed man in a flawed age, he advanced the cause of the Reformation, the authority of Scripture, and the good news that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Reformation: Martin Luther (1483-1546), Part 4: Luther’s Legacy

What, then, is Luther’s contribution to history? Consider 5 primary areas of his lasting influence.

1. Doctrine
Luther’s wrestling with Romans 1:16-17 is the seminal theological moment of the Reformation. The doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, came from his commitment to the authority of Scripture over all of life.

2. Bible Translation
One of the Reformers’ great legacies is the return of the Word of God to the people. For centuries, not only were there no good translations in the common language, the official church position was that lay people should be forbidden from reading the Bible. The Council of Toulouse decreed in 1229: “We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.”

Like other Reformation figures, Luther valued the Bible in the language of the people. Because he believed in the priesthood of every believer, he wanted every person to have a Bible for himself. His linguistic skills were brilliant, and he set translation and the German language forward by hundreds of years.

3. Catechism
While Luther recognized that the Bible itself is the chief educational tool for believers, he also believed that children and adults alike needed targeted discipleship and training in the faith. So Luther produced two catechisms in 1529. The Large Catechism is for adults and contains a lengthy section on marriage. The Small Catechism is designed for children and is much shorter. Each catechism focused on the same five points: the Ten Commandments (as a way of understanding sin and moral will of God), the Apostles’ Creed (as a summary of doctrine and understanding of forgiveness), the Lord’s Prayer (to help understand God’s mercy), and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as means of God’s grace to us.

Luther wanted the catechism to be used in church as a basis for teaching, but he emphasized in an even greater way its importance for the home. Fathers, as the heads of home, should quiz children and servants at least once each week to make sure they were learning their catechism. Children who failed their catechism check shouldn’t be allowed to eat, and servants who failed were to be kicked out of the household.

4. Congregational Singing
It’s hard to define Luther’s greatest legacy, because he’s such a prodigious figure, but the reformation of church music must rank near the top of the list. Luther: “I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. … Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. I would not exchange what little I know of music for something great. Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart.”

Prior to Luther, the congregation was rarely involved in participating in worship. Luther changed that tradition so much that he’s often considered “the father of congregational singing.” It’s in the singing of the entire congregation that Luther most clearly embodies his doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. In Luther’s church, everyone sang.

Because Luther so valued congregational singing, he published a hymnal in 1524, with 23 hymn texts he authored (and tunes which he may have helped compose). His most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” was published in a later hymnal. Luther taught his people to sing, having choir practices during the week … for the entire congregation. One of Luther’s opponents commented, “The hymns of Luther killed more souls than his sermons.”

5. Preaching the Word
Luther believed in the centrality and authority of the Word of God for all of life. Protestant churches began placing the pulpit higher than the altar, because salvation comes to us through the Word. Luther was remarkable in his ability to preach in church and lecture at the university.

We have 2300 extant sermons of Luther’s. In the year 1528 alone, he preached 195 sermons in 145 days. He believed that the preacher’s job is to lay open God’s Word for the people.

He offered this advice to a struggling preacher:

“Do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter, and leave the rest to God. Look solely to his honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears. I can tell you preaching is not a work of man. Although I am old and experienced, I am afraid every time I have to preach. You will most certainly find out three things: first, you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace. You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased, but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.”

And I love this section from one of Luther’s Christmas sermons:

‘The inn ought to have been burned with brimstone, for even though Mary had been a beggar maid or unwed, anybody at such a time should have been glad to give her a hand. There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: ‘If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the Baby! I would have washed his linen. How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!’ Yes, you would! You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don’t you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself. The birth was still more pitiable. No one regarded this young wife bringing forth her first-born. No one took her condition to heart.”

Praise God for Martin Luther, the lion of the Reformation, who more than anyone else embodies the personality and boldness that produced a spiritual and theological revival that—in many ways—continues today.

Reformation: Martin Luther (1483-1546), Part 3: Luther’s Flaws

Personal Struggles
Martin Luther is known today as a rather crass man, but it’s worth noting that he reflected his generation. As Roland Bainton notes, “Life itself stank. One could not walk around Wittenberg without encountering the odors of the pigsty, offal, and the slaughterhouse. And even the most genteel were not reticent about the facts of daily experience.”

Luther also enjoyed a good drink. He was rather proud of his ability to hold his beer. He had a large mug that had three rings around it. The first ring down he named “the Ten Commandments,” while the second was called “the Apostles’ Creed,” and the third “the Lord’s Prayer.” Luther reveled in the fact that he could drain the mug down through the Lord’s Prayer, while his friend could only get to the 10 Commandments. That being said, there’s no record of Luther’s ever getting drunk.

Luther struggled his whole life with severe depression. He tended to get physically ill, but the physical battles paled in comparison to his emotional and spiritual illness. In 1527, Luther wrote, “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God.”

To those who struggle with depression, Luther offers help. He believed that intense struggles are often the only way to press through to genuine answers for major religious problems. He also commended various strategies for fighting darkness: (1) faith in Christ, (2) anger at the darkness, and (3) the love of a good woman. He also looked to music for help: “We know that to the devils music is distasteful and insufferable. My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues. Getting outside in creation was a great source of encouragement, and he loved to get outside and work with his hands as well as a way of fighting anxiety and depression.”

Above all, Luther looked to Christ. On the cross, when Jesus was most desperate, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Luther noted that in Christ’s abandonment, his cry was a cry of faith. In the middle of the worst year of his life, the year in which he suffered his deepest depression, Luther wrote these words:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Glaring Faults
As we’ve already noted, Luther had more than his fair share of faults. Nevertheless, it’s the last period of his life in which his most notable issues arise. The strain of life took its toll on Luther, making him prematurely miserable and petulant. He grew harder in his views toward other Reformation movements, especially the Anabaptists. Luther wrote, “Although it seems cruel to punish (the Anabaptists) with the sword, it is cruder that they condemn the ministry of the Word and have no well-grounded doctrine and suppress the truth and in this way seek to subvert the civil order.”

The biggest criticism of Luther is that he was a racist, because of his view toward Jews. He said that all Jews should be removed from Germany and sent back to Israel, that synagogues should be burned, and that their books should be taken away from them. That being noted, Luther’s condemnation of the Jews—while extremely regrettable—wasn’t for racial reasons but for reasons of faith. The worst sin that anyone can commit, in Luther’s view, is the rejection of Jesus. So Luther condemned the Jews harshly for their lack of faith in Christ.


Reformation: Martin Luther (1483-1546), Part 2

The posting of Luther’s theses led to a series of debates and trials, culminating in the Diet of Worms in 1521. There were a number of conflicting powers at work within the church and outside that church that protected Luther. First, the pope asked the Augustinian monks to deal with Luther, since he was a member of their order. However, many Augustinians were sympathetic to what Luther had to say. This is, in part, because there was also a conflict between two of the most powerful orders of monks—the Dominicans and the Augustinians.

The Dominicans sided with Tetzel and hastily conferred on Tetzel a doctorate, so he could be permitted to publish and respond to Luther. Soon more capable opponents arose. Cardinal Cajetan, a brilliant scholar and respected churchman pressured Luther to recant at the Diet of Augsburg. Eventually, Johann Eck emerged as Luther’s primary nemesis and debated Luther at Leipzig for 18 days. One of the chief accusations he made against Luther (and what ended up firmly driving the stake between Luther and the church) was that Luther agreed with Wycliffe and Hus: “I see that you are following the damned and pestiferous errors of John Wycliffe, who said, ‘It is not necessary for salvation to believe that the Roman Church is above all others.’ And you are espousing the pestilent errors of Jan Hus, who claimed that Peter neither was nor is the head of the Holy Catholic Church.” It was when Luther admitted to agreeing with Wycliffe and Hus that his fate was sealed. Johann Eck tagged him with a moniker that Luther couldn’t shake: Luther was the “Saxon Hus.”In all this, Prince Frederick the Wise protected Luther. His motives weren’t so much that he agreed with Luther but that he wanted his legacy to be one of true justice and wisdom. He was thus concerned that Luther should receive a fair trial.

Diet of Worms
Eventually, Luther appeared before the new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, at the Diet of Worms. He wasn’t given the opportunity to debate but was shown copies of his works and asked if he would recant or retract what he had written. Realizing the stakes were incredibly high, he asked to sleep on the matter. The question of recanting was posed to Luther again the next day. In reply, Luther said that much of his writings contained basic doctrine that all agreed on, and he couldn’t recant these things.

His interrogator pressed him: “Do you recant, or do you not?” Luther now replied in German (rather than the usual Latin, departing from the accepted norms of debate): “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” The earliest published record of the diet also added these words: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Luther in Exile
After the Diet of Worms, Luther was “captured” by some of Frederick’s men and taken to Wartburg Castle. His abduction was so secretive that not even Frederick himself knew his whereabouts (and didn’t want to know, so he could truthfully claim ignorance of Luther’s whereabouts). Luther dressed as a knight and grew a long beard to disguise himself.

This enforced exile was a blessing in disguise, as Luther made the most of his time away. In just three months he produced a German translation of the New Testament. His translation is brilliant by any objective standard and formed a foundation for the German language for centuries to come. It’s said that his work advanced the standards of translation by 1000 years. It took Luther some time to translate the Old Testament, and the complete Bible was published in 1534. Though he first translated the New Testament in 1522, he continued revising, updating, and improving it until his death in 1546.

The Word forms the beginning and end of Luther’s theology. By rooting authority in the Word, he changed the entire conversation around church doctrine and all of life.

Luther’s Return
Luther went to the Wartburg on May 4, 1521. Seven months later he returned, beard and all, to Wittenberg on December 4, 1521. The Reformation had progressed in his absence; on Christmas Day, 1521, Luther’s colleague, Carlstadt spoke the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper in German, rather than Latin. One of the worshipers was so overcome by the moment that he trembled and dropped his bread on the floor.

Carlstadt had emerged as leader in Luther’s absence and saw that many of Luther’s reforms were implemented, but he also led the Reformation to grow more radical in some unhealthy ways. As the Reformation movement in Wittenberg grew more radical, it led to increased tensions between the Reformers and Prince Frederick. In the midst of the conflict, the town council invited Luther to return home. By this time, Luther was seen as a reasonable, moderating influence, in comparison to the more radical Carlstadt and his colleague Zwilling.

Luther’s return, without Frederick’s official invitation, meant that the Prince couldn’t offer Luther protection from the pope and emperor as he had previously done. Though he didn’t intervene to stop Luther, neither could he truly protect him. Nevertheless, in spite of the risks, Luther opted to return.

Roland Bainton tells the following story of Luther’s journey home recorded by a Swiss traveler:

“The host brought (some) bedraggled travelers into a room where sat a knight with a bushy black beard clad in a scarlet cloak and woolen tights, his hands resting on the hilt of a sword as he engaged in reading. The knight rose and hospitably invited the muddy wayfarers to sit and share with him a glass. They noticed that his book was in Hebrew. They asked him whether he knew if Luther were in Wittenberg. ‘I know quite positively that he is not … but he will be.’ Then he inquired what the Swiss thought of Luther. The host, observing that the pair were well disposed to the reformer, confided to one that the knight was Luther himself. The Swiss could not believe his ears, thought he must have mistaken the name for Hutten. On parting the next morning they let the knight know that they took him for Hutten. “No, he is Luther,” interposed the host. The knight laughed. ‘You take me for Hutten. He takes me for Luther. Maybe I am the Devil.’ Within a week they were to meet him again in Wittenberg.”

Luther returned to chaos. He urged the people to remember that true faith can’t be coerced. In his absence, the leaders of the Reformation had turned to violence, destroying churches, smashing altars, dragging priests out by the hair to shame and ridicule. Luther urged peaceful persuasion: “Give men time. I took three years of constant study, reflection, and discussion to arrive where I now am, and can the common man, untutored in such matters, be expected to move the same distance in three months? Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit wine and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and stars have been worshiped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky? Such haste and violence betray a lack of confidence in God.”

Under Luther’s leadership much of the chaos settled, but the conflict among segments of the Reformation was not one that would easily go away. Luther attempted to articulate a “middle way.” He harshly condemned the abuses and false teachings of the Catholic Church, but he called for a relatively peaceful resistance. During this period Luther continued to fight the for the authority of Scripture over the church. The new pope, Pope Hadrian condemned Luther: “Be not beguiled because Martin Luther appeals to Scripture. So does every heretic, but Scripture is a book sealed with seven seals which cannot be so well opened by one carnal man as by all the holy saints.”

While Luther had many gifts, diplomacy wasn’t one of them. In challenging King Henry VIII of England, Luther wrote to the king, referring to himself as “minister at Wittenberg by the grace of God” and to “Henry, King of England by the disgrace of God.”

Radical Reformation
By far the biggest blow to Luther came when his own followers began to defect from the movement he was leading.  Andrew Carlstadt and Thomas Muntzer led the way. While many of Carlstadt’s ideas actually had biblical warrant (like rejecting infant baptism), he was personally unstable and lent his section of the movement a chaotic, violent tone. Muntzer went even further than Carlstadt, rallying an army “to slaughter the ungodly.” Fortunately, all he accomplished was the burning of one chapel. Though Carlstadt condemned Muntzer, the two were lumped together  and banished from Saxony, the province in which Luther ministered. Muntzer continued to foment rebellion against church and state. As unrest grew, the common people rose up against the princes in the Peasants’ Rebellion. Muntzer attempted to lead the people into battle, but the combined forces of the princes proved too much. The peasant army was surrounded, 5000 were violently slaughtered, and only 600 taken prisoner. Muntzer initially got away but was later captured, tortured, and beheaded.

Diet of Augsburg
Luther and his colleague Phillip Melanchthon led the way in formally articulating the theology of the German Reformation (a theology that would eventually become Lutheranism). They first drafted the Articles of Schwabach in 1529. Emperor Charles V, however, was growing increasingly concerned for the unity of his empire. Germany at this time was a collection of provinces ruled by princes. One of the great unifiers of the Holy Roman Empire had been its religion. Now that some princes were Protestant, while others were Catholic, the empire threatened to rip apart. So Charles called for the Diet of Augsburg, to encourage the Protestant princes to adopt a statement of belief. That statement from June 25, 1530, is largely the work of Phillip Melanchthon and is known as the Augsburg Confession. It forms the basis of Lutheran doctrine to this day.

When the statement was first read, the emperor required that it be read in a tiny chapel, to attempt to exclude the people from hearing what was articulated. But the influence of the princes allowed the dissemination of the document. It was written in both Latin and German. The German reading lasted two hours and was read so clearly that every word could be heard both inside and outside the chapel.

Though Luther initially questioned whether Melanchthon’s irenic spirit would produce a suitable document (he was concerned that the confession would “defang” the Reformation), he gladly approved of the finished document. Though other Protestant confessions would arise, the Augsburg Confession formalized and finalized the theological division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation.

Family Life
In 1523 Luther helped some nuns who had recently escape their convent. A merchant who delivered barrels of fish to the nunnery shipped out twelve nuns in empty barrels. Three returned to their homes, but the task fell to Luther to find places for the other nine. A student wrote: “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall.”

Since Luther was still a bachelor, it was suggested that he solve the problem of a home for one of the nuns. Luther resisted the suggestion because he feared that he could die a martyr’s death at any moment. Yet two years after the dramatic escape in the fish barrels, one nun still remained unaccounted for. Her name was Katherine von Bora. Luther chose a husband for her, a Dr. Glatz. Katherine was completely unwilling to marry Dr. Glatz, but she proposed to Luther that she be matched to another doctor, Dr. Amsdorf, or to Luther himself.

Luther still had no intentions of marrying, but upon returning home to visit his parents, his father was excited at the prospect. What Luther shared as a good joke, Hans took seriously, because he wanted his son to carry on the family name. Martin and Katherine were married—not for love but for pragmatic reasons. Luther gave three reasons for marrying: (1) to satisfy his father, (2) to defy the pope and the devil, and (3) to validate his witness before martyrdom might come.

Marriage did bring some positive changes for Luther: “Before I was married the bed was not made for a whole year and became foul with sweat. But I worked so hard and was so weary I tumbled in without noticing it.” Katie kept the house clean. Luther never received a single payment for any of his writings, though he was by far the best-selling author of his day. Therefore, he and Katie often struggled to make ends meet. He grew to love Katie, eventually paying her the highest of compliments, calling the book of Galatians, “my Katherine von Bora.” Katie and Martin had 6 children, the eldest of whom was named Hans.

In addition to their children, the Luthers took in all kinds of guests, from folks fleeing persecution to students eager to learn from Dr. Martin.