Over the past couple of days I have posted two blogs on Luther’s view on preaching. The bulk of these blog posts are taken from a research paper that I wrote for a Martin Luther class that I took in seminary. I have not revised this research paper in order for it to be a blog or anything like that. I am simply posting each section of the paper on this blog each day.
With that being said, today we are on part three of this six part series. Monday, we had the introduction. Tuesday we saw how Luther believed that preaching needed to be Word driven. Today, we are going to see how Luther believed that preaching needed to be clearly articulated.
A Brief Word
Preachers would be wise to take heed to what Luther has to say about preaching in a clear, simple way so that all might understand. This is a common thought among great preachers. George Whitefield, John Stott, and Richard Sibbes say things that are very similar to what Luther has said regarding this subject.
The average church goer would be wise to take note of Luther’s teaching on this as well. We would all be better stewards of the Gospel if we studied it so diligently that we were able to teach it to a four year old simply and clearly. Also, we would be better evangelist if we took what Luther says seriously. I say that because in evangelism, you cannot use all kinds of churchy language. You are talking to people that have often times never been to a church, nor have they ever picked up a Bible. With this being the case, you have to teach them. You cannot teach them in a lofty manner (which usually happens when you do not have that great of a grasp on the subject). You must teach them in a simple manner (which becomes easier and easier as you study a little more diligently). Anyways, there is much to be said regarding this subject. I hope to write a blog on the importance of teaching and preaching simply in the coming weeks, but this will suffice to show the importance for now.
Part 3-Clearly Articulated
Luther’s aim in preaching was to get people to understand the Bible. He was not interested in proving himself to be the wisest man in Wittenberg. Rather, he was concerned for the salvation of his hearers. Therefore, he sought to preach in a way that common men and women could understand. Luther understood Christ to have done the same thing. He said, “Christ could have taught in a profound way but he wished to deliver his message with utmost simplicity in order that common people might understand. Seeing that Christ did this, he wanted to imitate his Savior.
Luther also believed that the best preachers are the ones that can teach this way. Luther said, “Accordingly he’s the best preacher who can teach in a plain, childlike, popular, and simple way.” This was incredibly important to Luther. So important that he deplored people who did not preach with simplicity and clarity. Regarding preachers that did not do this, Luther said, “Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another.”
Here Luther is condemning preachers that are seeking to be profound. They want to make a name for themselves. They have no interest in laying out the Gospel promise so that a child can take hold of it. They want to impress the learned so that they can be highly esteemed. Luther knew that this was not the reason a preacher ascends the pulpit though. He says, “Philip (a very intelligent companion to Luther) doesn’t need to be instructed, and I don’t teach or lecture for his sake, but we preach publicly for the sake of plain people.” Luther could not prepare a sermon having only Philip Melanchthon in mind. That would be disgraceful. The preacher must have the uneducated and blue-collar laborers in mind. That is why, when Luther was talking to a student named Bernard, he said, “Therefore, my dear Bernard, take pains to be simple and direct; don’t consider those who claim to be learned but be a preacher to unschooled youth and sucklings.”
Luther believed preaching should be done with clarity and simplicity. He wanted kids, farmers, and servants to be able to lay hold of the main point of the text so that they could hear God speak to them and thus lay hold of the blessed Lord Jesus. He took pains to be diligent in his study so that he could be clear in his proclamation. He also believed that any good preacher was going to labor to do the same. But what was it that Luther was seeking to be clear about? Luther believed that good preaching was soul searching. Therefore, he sought to be clear about the sinfulness of sin within the lives of his hearers. This is what we will turn our attention to tomorrow (Lord willing).
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Table Talk, 384.