Sin Boldly?

Pastor’s Newsletter Article for February, 2014

On January 5th a group of young people and their families “commandeered worship” at Saint Peter. With a wider involvement of volunteers, and some reworking of our traditional liturgical texts, it was a fun morning — and along the way, those who did the commandeering learned a bit about worship. However, the dismissal that day confused some and concerned others. If you remember, the closing litany was, “Leader: Go forth into the world and sin boldly! People: Thanks be to God, and we will!” These words, based on a letter Martin Luther wrote in 1521, deserve some explanation. (see excerpt, printed on page 4)

1521 was a challenging year for Martin Luther and his colleagues. Luther had a momentous confrontation in Worms, Germany, when he was commanded to recant much of what he had taught and written. He had been excommunicated by Pope Leo. A price had been put on his head. Elector Frederick of Saxony was so concerned about Luther’s safety that he had Luther kidnapped and hidden away for a time at the Wartburg castle near Eisenach. During Luther’s absence, his good friend Philip Melanchthon was left behind to lead the church, and the reformation, from Wittenberg.

What was at stake during these tension-filled months was the church’s understanding of salvation. Was the Roman church correct in asserting that salvation is dependent, at least in part, on one’s participation in the rites and traditions promoted by the church? Or was Luther correct in asserting that salvation is dependent on one-and-only-one thing: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? The question was whether or not the forgiveness we receive from Christ is enough.

Philip’s sincerity and piety were beyond question, but he could at times be preoccupied with his own shortcomings, and the desire to do something about them. Luther, fearing that Philip might begin to teach that some human effort is required to be saved, wrote him a letter on August 1st (The Feast Day of St. Peter the Apostle). In this letter, Luther wrote: “sin boldly… believe boldly… pray boldly…” His intent was to prevent Philip from fearing that his own shortcomings could prevent him from being right with God.

For Luther, “Sin boldly” is not an affirmation of the sinful life — an invitation to be careless in the way we live. It is his insistence that (1) this world is a sinful world and we will never fully escape it (“This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness…”), (2) through our faith in Christ (and nothing else!) our sin is completely forgiven and we are put right with God, and (3) this frees us to live with strength and confidence, not fearing God’s wrath, but delighting in God’s grace, and giving our lives in service to God and the world.

Some have taken Luther’s words to mean that sin doesn’t matter. They couldn’t be more wrong. Sin certainly matters, and it mattered to Martin Luther! And the more it matters, the more profound the Lord’s saving grace is in our lives, and the greater the chance that it empowers us to bear the presence of Christ in this world.

So, readers: sin boldly… believe boldly… pray boldly. With all of our hope placed in Christ, let our lives become more and more a sign of God’s grace and presence in this world.

Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God! Pastor Dave


Luther's letter to Philip Melanchthon August 1, 1521 The Feast Day of St. Peter the Apostle

Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590. Jesus.

Of course, you can only know and absolve those sins which have been confessed to you; sins which have not been confessed to you, you neither need to know nor can you absolve them. That is reaching too high, dear gentlemen."

You cannot convince me that the same is true for the vows made by priests and monks. For I am very concerned about the fact that the order of priesthood was instituted by God as a free one. Not so that of the monks who chose their position voluntarily, even though I have almost come to the conclusion that those who have entered into that state at an age prior to their manhood, or are currently at that stage, may secede with a clear conscience. I am hesitant, however, with a judgment about those who have been in this state for a long time and have grown old in it.

By the way, St. Paul very freely speaks about the priests (1.Tim: 4, ff), that devils have forbidden them to marry; and St. Paul's voice is the voice of the divine majesty. Therefore, I do not doubt that they must depend on him to such a degree that even though they agreed to this interdiction of the devil at the time, now--having realized with whom they made their contract--they can cheerfully break this contract.

This interdiction by the devil, which is clearly shown by God's Word, urges and compels me to sanction the actions of the Bishop of Kemberg. For God does not lie nor deceive when He says that this is an interdiction from the devil. If a contract has been made with the devil it must not endure since it was made in godless error against God and was damned and repudiated by God. For He says very clearly (1. Tim. 4:1 Vulg.) that those spirits are in error who are the originators of the interdictions.

Why do you hesitate to join this divine judgment against the gates of hell? That is not how it was with the oath of the children of Israel which they gave to the Gibeons. They had it in their laws that they must offer peace or accept peace offered to them, and accept into their midst proselytes and those who adhered to their customs. All this took place. Nothing happened there against the Lord or by the advice of spirits. For even though in the beginning they murmured, later on they approved.

In addition, consider that the state of being unmarried is only a human statute and can be readily lifted. Therefore any Christian can do this. I would make this statement even if the interdiction had not come from a devil, but from a devout person. However, because there is no such statement by God concerning the monks, I am therefore not certain that I should make the same pronouncement concerning them. For I would not dare to presume, neither advice another to do so. Would God that we could do this, though, in order to prevent someone from becoming a monk, or leaving his order during the years of his virility. For we are to avoid vexations if there is no relevant scriptural passage available to us, even when dealing with things which are permitted.

Good old Carlstadt is also citing St. Paul (1 Tim.5:9-11), to let go of the younger widows and select 60-year-olds, wish to God this could be demonstrated. Quite easily someone might say that the Apostle referred to the future, while in reference to the past (V.12) they are condemned because they have broken their first troth. Therefore this expression has come to naught and cannot be a dependable basis for the conscience. For that is what we are searching for. Moreover, this reasoning that it is better to be married than to burn with vain desire (1 Cor.7:9), or to prevent the sins of immorality (1 Cor.7:2), by entering into marriage while committing the sin of the broken troth, that is nothing but common- sense. We want the scripture and the witness of God's will. Who knows if the one who is very enthusiastic today will still be so tomorrow?

I would not have allowed marriage for priests for the sole reason of "burning" had not St. Paul called this interdiction devilish and hypocritical, condemned by God. Even without the burning he urged that this unmarried status be cast aside simply for the fear of God. However, it is necessary to discuss these things more thoroughly. For I too would love to come to the aid of the monks and nuns. I very much pity these wretched human beings, these young men and girls who suffer defilement and burning.

Concerning the two elements of the Holy Supper I will not give an example, but give testimony with Christ's words. Carlstadt does not show that those who have received only one element have sinned, or not sinned. I am concerned that Christ did not command either one of the two, just as He does not command baptism if the tyrant or the world withhold the water. So also the violence of persecution separates men and women, which God forbids to separate, neither do they agree to be separated. Therefore, neither do godfearing hearts agree that they should be robbed of one of the elements. However, those who do agree and approve: who can deny that these are not Christians but Papists who are sinning.

There HE does not demand it, and here the tyrant oppresses, I therefore cannot agree that those who receive only one element are sinning. For who can exert power to take something when the tyrant is not willing? Therefore it is only common-sense which observes here that Christ's institution is not adhered to. Scripture makes no definition by which we could declare this act a sin. It is Christ's institution, given in freedom, which cannot be incarcerated as a whole or in part.

It happened to Donatus, the martyr, where several people could not participate because the cup broke or the wine was spilled. What if this happens and there is no other wine available? There are other similar situations. In short, because Scripture does not speak of sin here, I therefore say there is no sin involved.

I am quite pleased, though, that you are re-establishing Christ's method. For it was just that which I planned to take up with you first of all upon my return to you. For now we recognize this tyranny and can oppose it, in order not to be forced to receive only one of the elements.

From here on I will no longer conduct private mass. Rather we should pray God to give us more of His Spirit. For I am expecting that the Lord will soon ravish Germany--which she deserves because of her unbelief, godlessness and hate of the Gospel. However, we shall be blamed for this chastisement, as we are made out to be heretics who have provoked God to this action. We shall be scorned by the people and disdained by the nation. Those, however, will make excuses for their sins, through which He will manifest that the hard- hearted do not become godly neither by mercy nor wrath. Let it happen, let the will of the Lord be done. Amen!

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

On the day of the Feast of St. Peter the Apostle, 1521

paragraph-line This text was translated for Project Wittenberg by Erika Flores and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or suggestions to: Rev. Robert E. Smith of the Walther Library at Concordia Theological Seminary.


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