The Church can be understood best at two points in its history: at the time reflected in the book of Acts and the Epistles, and at the time of the Reformation.

It is more difficult for us to project ourselves into the experience of the early Church because of our inability to duplicate certain advantages they had, namely, the immediate experience and authority of those who had known our Lord in the flesh and the unique outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We are closer to the experience of Luther and the other Reformers because their Christian experience was partially the result of the mediation of the Bible, the history and customs of the medieval church community, and the drag of all the accretions of the human upon the divine institution. An examination of Luther’s experience as a member of the church is helpful, therefore, as a starting place for our own understanding.

The Bible invoked against Rome

In the providence of God, Luther, a devoted and disciplined monk of the Augustinian Order, was called upon to lecture from the Bible. Also in the providence of God, he was led to lecture from three sources, all of which forced him to decision over against Rome. He lectured on the Psalms, Galatians, and Romans; and both in the study and in the classroom the logic of his material led him eventually to see that he was justified by faith alone, that Christ was the only Mediator between him and his God, and that neither he nor his salvation needed the trappings and ceremonies of the Romanist hierarchy. Luther’s experience was highly individualistic. He found himself in a saving relationship to God through Jesus Christ, and this experience of salvation with its accompanying assurance was not the result of nor had ...

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