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Luther on love, liturgy, and learning

August 21, 2012 No Comment

by Bill Anderson

Martin Luther wearing a professor's cap

Luther saw love as an important motivating factor for the Christian life. While we cannot keep the Law, Luther says in relation to Romans 13:10 that “love must first be in the heart; otherwise nothing will come of keeping the Law. Therefore first teach how one may attain love, then the Law may be kept….But now Christ does not want His Word kept…as human laws are kept, but from the heart, with love and delight. But who supplies these? The Holy Spirit supplies them and no one else.”

Luther viewed the main purpose of liturgy to safeguard the Gospel, but he also emphasized its educational function. He writes in the introduction to the German Masse that liturgy was especially useful for the young and immature in faith because they “must be trained and educated in the Scripture and God’s Word daily so that they may become familiar with the Bible, grounded, well versed, and skilled in it, ready to defend their faith and in due time to teach others and to increase the kingdom of Christ.”

They must be trained and educated in the Scripture and God’s Word daily so that they may become familiar with the Bible, grounded, well versed, and skilled in it, ready to defend their faith and in due time to teach others and to increase the kingdom of Christ.

Take a look at the Lutheran Service Book. Every part of the liturgy is drawn from Scripture. It teaches Scripture and reinforces Scripture in our minds, hearts, and souls. It keeps God in focus and helps us practice Deuteronomy’s commandment not to forget the Lord our God. Liturgy contains all the essential elements of theology and worship: Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel, Confession and Absolution—in short the Means of Grace—which have spiritual and practical effects.

Luther also saw the educational function of the catechisms. “Catechism” comes from a Greek word meaning “to teach.” Both Luther’s catechisms were designed to teach the essentials of the Christian faith at different levels: The Small Catechism for the young and the Large Catechism for pastors and adults.

The layout of the catechism emphasizes an important theological premise of Luther’s theology—namely Law and Gospel. The Catechism begins with Law (10 Commandments) and moves to the Gospel (Apostles Creed). Note also how Luther, in the Catechism, emphasizes “love” out of gratitude as the motivation to live the Christian life.

Luther had much to say about all kinds of education in various places of his writings. But he makes a concentrated case for the value of education in “A Sermon on Keeping Children in School.” There he argues that even commoners should have access to a basic education.

Having said that, Luther goes further in “To the Christian Nobility,” arguing that those with academic aptitude (highly qualified students) should be encouraged to pursue advanced studies and receive a quality university education. He saw the importance of learning the Liberal Arts because, he said, it makes for a better society. But he warns in this book that Liberal Arts without a solid education in Scripture is vanity:  without a theological understanding from Scripture, the Liberal Arts can be corrupted and corrupting. Scripture, he explains, is the benchmark by which we evaluate all learning.

Learning the Liberal Arts makes for a better society.

Orthodoxy, or “right doctrine”, is absolutely under threat from the scholarly world—both secular and theological—which often appear to have more influence in churches than the Word of God. Pride is often the essence which makes us falsely think that we are smarter than the Word of God (remember Adam and Eve in the Garden). Luther rightly argued that “the purpose of a scholarly life and service is to learn true doctrine about God, to transmit it uncorrupted to posterity, and, calling upon God in the right manner and worshiping Him by true acts of service, to be transferred into the eternal school.”

Liturgy and proper education (learning) reinforce right doctrine—so that we may stand against the “wiles of the devil” and remain true to Scriptural doctrine—which in the end leads to eternal life. Like Deuteronomy and Jesus, Luther emphasized “love” as the pure motivating factor for learning.


This article is a companion to feature article “The thinking Christian.”

Rev. Dr. Bill Anderson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Concordia University College of Alberta and the Director of the Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian Faith.

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