A lesson for the next generation is to continue to depend on God’s Word for what you believe and teach.
Joel D. Otto
My grandfather, Professor Armin Schuetze, celebrated his 100th birthday in April.
Milestones that end in two zeroes are worth mentioning. He served in the full-time public ministry for 51 years, the last 33 years as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary where he taught pastoral theology and counseling—courses which his son now teaches—and church history and the Lutheran Confessions—courses which I now have the privilege to teach. He especially loved teaching the courses on Luther.
This is, of course, another milestone year—the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. I asked my grandfather what he would want the next generation to know and remember about the Lutheran Reformation. He said, “If God hadn’t sent Luther to reclaim the truth that we’re saved by grace alone through faith alone, who knows where we would be?”
He then went on to emphasize the other sola, the other alone—sola Scriptura or Scripture alone. In fact, if it were not for “Scripture alone,” how would we know about the certainty of our salvation by grace alone through faith alone? How would we know anything about Jesus?
Scripture alone—not traditions, not human reason, not dreams or visions, not feelings or emotions— is the source of teaching. It’s how God reveals his saving work in Christ. That’s why Luther said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Scripture alone—not my prayers or personal decisions—is how God gives me the gift of faith. The gospel in Word and sacraments is the power of God for my salvation. That’s why Luther wrote, “The Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.”
Scripture alone—not the latest gimmick or the preacher’s entertaining stories—is how God gets his work done in the church. Proclaiming his Word is the mission Jesus gave to his church. That’s why Luther preached, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word. . . . I did nothing; the Word did everything” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 51, p. 77).
Scripture alone is why Luther preached and taught almost to the day he died. It’s why he translated the Bible into the language of the people. It’s why he wrote his catechisms. It’s why he penned countless letters comforting and encouraging people with the gospel. It’s why he wrote hymns to sing the Word into people’s heads and hearts. It’s why he wanted every child to have an education so everyone could read the Bible.
And it’s why my grandfather, even in retirement, wrote books, taught Bible classes, and spent three months (in the dead of winter!) at the WELS mission in Russia when he was 82. It’s why, when I visited him a few years ago, he was in his study with his Hebrew Bible and Luther’s commentary on the Psalms.
I remember his remarks at his 90th birthday celebration. He was thankful that his 7 children, his 28 grandchildren and all their spouses, and his great-grandchildren (now numbering more than 60) were all baptized children of God who regularly heard God’s Word.
If there’s any lesson from the Lutheran Reformation—and from a 100-year-old professor—maybe that’s it. Be in the Word. Read it. Hear it. Learn it. Memorize it. Proclaim it to family and friends. It works!
Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017
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