Books Practical

Reading Martin Luther

The Lutheran Church teaches and confesses that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas come together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written in Psalm 119:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” And St. Paul, “Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8)

This is what is written in the first paragraph of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, which is the final section in the Lutheran Book of Concord. Holy Scripture is to be our source and norm for judging all doctrine. Of course, this is what we mean when we say Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone).

Those Lutheran symbols, which make up the Book of Concord, are not judges as are the Holy Scriptures. They are a testimony, declaration, and confession of the faith.

Just as every household ought to have a Bible and hymnal—use TLH (the red hymnal) or LSB (the burgundy hymnal), so also should every household have a Book of Concord. All three of these books would make wonderful Christmas, Easter, birthday, and confirmation gifts.

It may be the case that certain topics and teachings in the Book of Concord are difficult to understand, especially if it is your first time reading through the Book of Concord. But hey! That’s why you have a pastor. Talk with your pastor about the Lutheran Confessions. Engage him in conversation, concerning these theological topics.

Should all of this not be enough and leave you wanting more theology, I would encourage you to read the writings of Martin Luther. Read Luther. Don’t just read about Luther. Don’t just read what other people have to say about Luther. Read what Luther himself had to say. Read his writings. Go to the primary source.

Luther lectured on various books of the Bible. He wrote hymns and liturgies, letters of spiritual counsel, and meditations on Psalms. He wrote wonderful treatises critiquing the Roman Catholic Sacramental system, concerning good works, and how Christians should regard Moses, among many others. Many of his sermons for the church year have been recorded. He wrote prefaces to the books of the Bible, including the Apocrypha. Some of his most famous works are the Bondage of the Will and the Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper. Finally, there are the Smalcald Articles and Large and Small Catechisms of Martin Luther, which the Formula of Concord, in referring to the Catechisms calls them, “the Bible of the laity.” (FC EP Rule and Norm, 5)

If you haven’t read any of Luther’s writings before, you may be surprised how easy he is to read. You don’t have to have an M.Div from the seminary to be able to work through his writings. He is very engaging, always holding up Scripture as the source and norm of doctrine and always clinging to Christ as the only source of salvation. To be sure, some works of Luther are difficult to read through. Sometimes he says things that are confusing or seem odd. But again, you have a pastor. One of the duties of the pastor is to teach the faith.

Luther is certainly not infallible. No Lutheran would say that. But he is a wealth of knowledge that everyone should dig into. So read your Bible. Sing hymns at home with your family. Read the Book of Concord, as it is a correct and faithful exposition of Holy Scripture. Finally, read Luther. Again, don’t just read about Luther or what other people have said about Luther. Ask your pastor where to begin and discuss your reading with him. Read Luther for yourself.

editors note: Here’s a website with public domain versions of many of Luther’s writings:
http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/wittenberg-luther.html

About the author

Pr. Thomas Van Hemert

The Rev. Thomas C. Van Hemert has been the pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Center Point, Iowa, since June 2020. He holds an M.Div. (2020) from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Prior to seminary, he graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Psychology (2015). He is a native of Muscatine, Iowa. Pr. Van Hemert and his wife Elizabeth enjoy the outdoors, staying active, and various other activities.

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