Thursday, February 22, 2007

True Christian Piety, part 1

True Christian piety does not consist primarily in what we do but in recognizing what our God has done for us.

Author: John M. Brenner

pi·e·ty n. pl.: The condition of reverence and devotion to God that comes with faith in Christ.

pi·e·tism n. :Making subjective standards of piety and religious experience the essential measure of Christianity or the Christian faith.

Luther was not the first to try to reform the church. Many before him recognized that something was wrong in the life of God's people. But most who went before Luther focused on behavior or organizational reforms.

Luther, however, recognized that the real problem in the church was not how people were living but what the church was teaching. The Roman Church emphasized what people were to do to contribute to their salvation rather than teaching that Jesus has accomplished everything for salvation in our place. Rome had raised tradition and the decisions and decrees of popes and councils to a position of equal or superior authority to the Holy Scriptures.

Medieval piety included making pilgrimages to "holy" places and praying to Mary and the saints. Taking monastic vows and doing works of penance were considered meritorious. Among the common people, knowledge of the basic teachings of the Bible was often minimal. The Lord's Supper was viewed as a sacrifice we offer to gain God's favor rather than a gracious meal of life by which God offers and seals the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Striving to gain God's favor by leading a life of medieval piety drove Luther to the point of despair. The more he tried to keep God's law and appease God by what he did, the more his conscience became burdened with the knowledge that all of his efforts fell far short.

Piety in Luther's time

As Luther studied the Scriptures, he came to understand that true Christian piety does not consist primarily in what we do but in recognizing what our God has done for us. The message of the Lutheran Reformation centered on God's full and free forgiveness won by the perfect life and sacrifice
of God's own Son. Jesus made
full atonement for our sins. He has defeated the Prince of Darkness and opened heaven's doors. True Christian piety consists in trusting that message.

To foster true piety, Luther and his colleagues translated the Bible into
the language of the people, published books of sermons and devotional material, and wrote hymns and catechisms.

Luther's Small Catechism provided a summary and explanation of the basic truths of Christianity in terms so simple that even a child could understand. Those basic truths were so important that he reviewed them every day. In his preface to the Large Catechism, Luther wrote,

I, too, am a doctor and a preacher. . . . Yet I continue to do as a child does that is being taught the Catechism. Mornings and when I otherwise have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I like, but must remain a child and student of the Catechism.

Read on:

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