On our commemoration today of the sixteenth-century theologian Martin Chemnitz, we read an excerpt from The Second Martin: The Life and Theology of Martin Chemnitz.
In the years after Martin Luther’s death, Martin Chemnitz became known as a defender of Luther’s teachings. He was consistent in his confessions and became known as a theologian who was swayed only by Scripture and not by politics or economic gain. In our devotional reading, we learn about Chemnitz’s view on tradition in the church, especially in light of his always putting Scripture first.
The ECT [Examination of the Council of Trent] is our best source for information about Chemnitz’ attitude toward tradition. . . . Chemnitz does not hold a fundamentalistic or simplistic view on this matter. He was an excellent student of church history, as were Luther and Melanchthon. Chemnitz, the conservative respecter of the “purer ancient church,” was not about to throw out the baby with the bath water. He wanted to preserve that part of tradition which was edifying for the church of his day and for its posterity. His treatment of this subject in ECT is a classic which sets a standard for Lutheran thinking that still is followed today (ECT 217–307). Unlike the Anabaptists, who had no appreciation for the history or tradition of the church, and who wanted to make a leap from the New Testament era to their own time (much like many of their fundamentalistic and biblicistic successors in the 20th century), Chemnitz had high respect for the ancient church and held with Luther that Lutheran theology was part of the great continuum of theology stretching from the New Testament down to the present. Chemnitz argues in the ECT that not the Lutherans but the Romanists have departed from the great tradition of the church, which had included justification by faith. Thus the inclusion of the three great creeds in the Book of Concord, and the reference to them in the FC [Formula of Concord] were the Lutherans’ way of stressing their commitment to the “tradition,” the continuum of the faith, which had been “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Yet there was enough confusion about the matter of tradition within Lutheranism and enough attacks on Roman traditionalism, even by ecumenically minded people like Melanchthon, so that Trent was able to find a way to attack the Protestants on this point. In defense of their own position they had to counterattack. This gave Chemnitz an opportunity to frame the remarkable reply that appears in his ECT. In his usual cautious and objective manner he asserts that tradition, correctly understood, is a good thing. . . .
Chemnitz makes clear that Lutheranism did not hold a fundamentalistic attitude toward tradition or the rejection of all things Roman Catholic; but all such beliefs and practices must be rooted in Scripture or at least in no way opposed to Scripture.
May the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, by His Holy Spirit guide and enlighten the minds of both those who teach and those who learn and bestow upon them a true love for sound doctrine and keep our minds within the boundaries of the simple truth, so that we may learn, teach, and ever hold fast the true, simple teachings which are pleasing to God and salutary for the churches, and so that we may refuse to back away from any controversies necessary in order to protect and preserve the correctness and purity of this teaching. (Martin Chemnitz, 1522–86)
Devotional reading is from The Second Martin: The Life and Theology of Martin Chemnitz, pages 230–31 © 1994 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Prayer is from The Lord Will Answer, page 122 © 2004 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.