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Law and Gospel in Martin Luther’s Pastoral Teachings as Seen in His Lecture Notes

Finding Guidance in Genesis and Galatians to Serve the Household of God

AiHe Zheng

The author presents a close reading of Martin Luther’s lectures on Galatians (1531) and Genesis (1535–1545). It reveals that Luther employed his unique understanding of Law and Gospel to inculcate in his students the understanding and desire to faithfully live out their callings in the vocations to which God had appointed them. He provided resources to do the same in the parishes they were to serve. Though in recent years the field of Luther studies has begun to appreciate the invaluable pastoral insights of this experienced master of pastors, the research has focused primarily on Luther’s early works. Moreover, little attention has been given to exploring Luther’s message as he cultivated an upcoming generation of pastors in his classroom. This work seeks to address this lacuna.
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4. The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel in the Civil Realm


Historical Background

From October 12–14, 1518, just about one year after Luther posted the Ninety Five Theses, the German reformer was summoned to Augsburg to be interviewed by Cardinal Cajetan. The desired outcome of that meeting, at least from the medieval Catholic side, was to calm the storm that Luther had stirred up. Part of Cajetan’s mode of persuasion involved exposing Luther to the growing threat from a feisty heathendom—the Turkish army was quickly progressing toward the West and testing every European Christian’s nerve. Cardinal Cajetan claimed that the religious divisions caused by Luther’s Theses had weakened the political strength of the Holy Roman Empire. Consequently Cajetan demanded that Luther should retract his theological teachings in order to safeguard ecclesiastical as well as political unity in the face of that crisis. Already in that unique historical circumstance, religious and political matters were inextricably mixed.

If Cardinal Cajetan’s warnings were largely rhetorical in 1518, then eleven years later the situation had become an extremely disturbing reality. In 1529, the armies of the Ottoman Empire had reached the gates of Vienna. The name of Suleiman the Magnificent (1494–1566) truly was the very present fear for every Christian in Western Europe. To respond to this imminent crisis, Charles V summoned the German princes together once again to Augsburg in order to form a unified counter force to defend his empire and Christendom. Reaching an agreement between the medieval Catholic and Evangelical groups was the...

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