Was Luther’s Pastoral Theology Antinomian? (Part 6)
The Conclusion: Luther Was A Faithful Pastor
Luther’s own personal experience of Anfechtungen and the pastoral care he received from Johann Von Staupitz helped him to think clearly about how he assisted those suffering from similar despair. From the early years of his ministry, Luther continually comforted his flock in the midst of grave temptations to look to Christ and remember that, “such a person must also know Christ aright and know that only by him alone are all our sins paid and God’s grace given to us, lest he presume to deal directly with God and without this mediator” (Luther 186). He understood that a proper perspective of the good news of passive righteousness in Christ, and a proper use of the law, is required to counsel a man suffering in the manner of Jerome Weller. Luther was not an antinomian. He was a pastor concerned with the right use of the Law. Luther was an adept pastor in encouraging Jerome to put aside the Decalogue when the pastoral care situation required it. He directly addressed this pastoral approach in his Lectures on Galatians, when he wrote,
Therefore when I see that a man is sufficiently contrite, oppressed by the Law, terrified by sin, and thirsting for comfort, then it is time for me to take the Law and active righteousness from his sight and to set forth before him, through the Gospel, the passive righteousness which excludes Moses and the Law and shows the promise of Christ, who came for the afflicted and for sinners.” (Luther 7)
Further, Luther conceived of despair as the alien work of God in allowing Satan to tempt us to look within ourselves for our standing before God. He believed the best remedy for this temptation was to mock Satan and do the opposite of what he says. It is necessary for the believer to fight Satan and even commit some small sin to avoid the greater sin of turning inward and being damned in his own self-righteousness. Thus, Luther’s advice to Jerome to commit some small sin was not an encouragement to rebuff the Law of God, but rather an encouragement to use the Law rightly.
Luther’s July 1530 letter to Jerome Weller is not the problem it seems to be at first reading. Luther was not encouraging Jerome Weller to deal with his despair through licentious behavior. Luther was not being merely bombastic. Luther was consistently applying his understanding of law and gospel to help a beloved friend fight off the temptation of Satan to turn inward in the midst of deep despair.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999).
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).