Luther on the legalism of being anti-tradition

I was recently reminded of this quote from Luther while reading a book that was bashing the church’s uncritical acceptance of many of its traditions. While I’m all for reflecting deeply on the biblical and theological basis of Christian practice, I’m also skeptical of people who feel the need to reject a particular practice just because they don’t see it in the Bible. By all means, let’s have a discussion about whether particular practices undermine the Gospel and hinder Christian faithfulness in the world. But, as Luther points out, rejecting a tradition or a practice can be its own form of legalism.

There are plenty of people who hear us talk about the freedom of faith and immediately turn it into an opportunity to follow their own worldly desires and longings. They believe that all things are now allowed. They attempt to demonstrate their freedom by showing contempt for ceremonies, traditions, and human laws. It is as if their identities as Christians depended solely on the fact that they do not observe appointed days for fasting and abstaining from meat or that they refrain from the customary prayers. Their noses upturned, they scoff at religious regulations, but in actuality they end up diminishing all else that pertains to the Christian faith. The opposite extreme is found among those who rely solely for their salvation on their reverent observance of ceremonies….It is evident that both sides are in error because they neglect the important things necessary to salvation while making noisy arguments about issues that are trivial and secondary.” The Freedom of a Christian (Fortress 2008), pp. 89-90

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on July 3, 2010, in Historical Theology, The Church and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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