Experiential Spirituality: Martin Luther (Part 4 of 7)

LutherAn acute reader might notice that all of the travel guides until now have been members of the Roman Catholic Church. The reason for this is that the Roman Catholic Church had a head start on Protestantism when it came to seeking a personal experiential relationship with the Living God. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anyone promoting such a relationship; rather it means that the Protestant church had its hands full trying to survive rather than encouraging the mystics among them.  The reformers also tended to downplay the personal spiritual aspect of God as the Roman Catholic Church was using claims of “miracles and revelations as proof of their legitimacy” [Ruthven 2013, 10]. However if one were to look back through the writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the two giants of the Protestant Reformation, one can see the foundation for an experiential spirituality that would come to light later on in history.

While Martin Luther (1483-1546), the sixth travel guide, didn’t embrace an experiential spirituality like his Roman Catholic contemporaries (St. Ignatius and St. Teresa), he did fight against a purely intellectual faith. Rather he recognized that “reason itself needs miraculous healing and renewal by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit in order to believe in God rightly” [Olson 1999, 354]. Once an individual’s mind, heart, spirit and soul were transformed by God’s grace, the person became a priest of the Almighty. This priesthood of all believers is a radical statement that opened up the throne room of God to the common people of the land. No longer were they cut off from a personal experience with the Living God, having to rely on the ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. They could boldly enter “into the presence of God in the spirit of faith…and cry ‘Abba, Father!’” [Olson 1999, 392].

In addition, Luther was also a pastor who deeply cared for people and wanted them to experience the love and grace of the Living God. This part of Luther comes out best in the various letters he wrote to friends and love ones. For example, when his mother was sick Luther encouraged her to cling to Jesus knowing that we do not have to “fear him but approach him with all assurance and call him our dear Savior, our sweet Comforter, the true Bishop of our souls” [2003, 35]. At another time, Luther wrote to a friend imprisoned for his faith telling him that he was not suffering alone, but that Jesus was there in prison with him. Neither Jesus nor Luther would “desert” him; rather he was to be of “good courage” and Jesus would “strengthen [his] heart” [2003, 198]. In all these pastoral letters, there is an assumption that each person could experience the presence of Jesus in their lives. This was a faith that went beyond simply knowing about the Scripture into the realm of experiencing the touch of God in one’s personal life.

To be continued….

 

Bibliography

Luther, Martin. 2003. Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel. Trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert. Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing.

Olson, Roger E. 1999. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Ruthven, Jon Mark. 2013. What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Traditional Religion vs. Biblical Emphasis. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Word & Spirit Press.

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