No, this is not another Volkswagen commercial, I am am not asking you to stand at attention or you do not have to say, “Bless you!” as if I was sneezing. Anfectungen is a very old German word. Theology has lots of words and well, it is annoying and tedious to some people. But they have a ryhme and reason to them. That is why I ask you to please indulge me on my use of Latin or Greek words. In many of my articles, I am attempting to share with you my discoveries in theological language. It is similar to visiting a foreign country like a tourist and asking the natives what the road signs mean and learning to say to right words to buy a coffee with milk and three sugars. I found out enough to navigate around town, the coffee was good and I am just sharing my experience with you.
I noticed the word Anfechtungen studying church history and specifically about Dr. Martin Luther. He had his struggles with understanding God and salvation. Since Martin was a boy was that he haunted by insecurity concerning his salvation even when he was translating the Scriptures into German after he torched the World with his writings. He describes these insecurities as Anfechtungen (German) or Tenatio (Latin) or Afflictions (English, oh you know that language don’t you?).
Richard P. Buchard wrote that, “Anfechtungen is the (German) word that Luther used to describe the overwhelming times of spiritual trial, terror, despair, and religious crisis that he experienced throughout his life. At the heart of such an Anfechtung was the terrifying feeling that God was going to judge and condemn the sinner at any moment. In the wake of such a feeling came subsequent feelings of deep sadness that God had forsaken one.”
I was surprised and actually encouraged that Martin Luther struggled terribly in his life with feelings of despair concerning his soul. It was not a psychological depression but a spiritual war that raged in him. He had a hard time conveying his feelings but it seems that he struggled terribly with issues about God, his wrath, election and predestination. He felt like he was dying and going to hell and if these afflictions lasted for even for ten minutes he would have would have turned to ashes. (see Luthers Works 31:129).
It may describe the Christian persons struggle to understand spiritual truth in those hard to understand, “senseless times” when you are attempting to study the scriptures and let God speak to you through his word and then suddenly you are body slammed with some trial or (dare I say it) demonic attack. During the beginning of the Protestant Reformation Luther had serious fights with the demonic powers and any time the truths of scripture are illuminate to your heart, Satan become active like the birds attempting to eat that seed.
Luther considered his spiritual trials as good. His Anfechtungen were valuable because they drove him to Scripture and compelled him to cling to God’s promises. They taught him by experience, how sure, mighty, and comforting, God’s promises can be. Thus, he not only knew, but lived God’s Word. Thus it is through the Scriptures that Luther overcame his Anfechtungen. When the onslaught of darkness began he would turn not just to any word of Scripture, but to the Gospel portions of Scripture, the promises, which spoke of Christ’s completed salvation and of God’s present help and mercy. Luther’s Anfechtungen were crucial to him, for they drove him into Scripture; and once inside the Scriptures they continually drove him to Christ.
The Christian is called the live Vita Passiva the receptive life or the life that receives the truth of God from the scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit. This involved three things: prayer (oratio), meditation (meditatio), and temptation (tentatio).
All three revolved around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s word… These three terms describe the life of faith as a cycle that begins with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, concentrates on the reception of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s word, and results in spiritual attack. This in turn leads a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation. The Bible is the only book of salvation and using your own mind and reason were useless. If you use your own understanding like Lucifer you and others will plunge from heaven to hell.
Luther, however, does not here reject the careful reading, grammatical analysis, and literary exegesis of the Scriptures, in favor of reliance on the direct mental guidance by the Holy Spirit. He does not claim that through prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the reader receives special insights into the text of the Scriptures, its true meaning. Rather, Luther presupposes that God the Father grants His life giving, enlightening Holy Spirit through His word. So the student of theology prays for the enlightenment, guidance, and understanding that the Holy Spirit alone can give through the Scriptures. Three correct ways to study theology according to Luther based on his teaching from his first volume of German writing of Psalm 119.
Kneel down and earnestly pray that God will reveal his truth to you. The Holy Spirit must be both teacher and tutor through earnest heartfelt prayer, it is then that the heart or the person praying knows they can never master the scripture but they desire the scripture to master them. God will not grant the gift of the Holy Spirit’s illumination without the written Word, the Bible. The scriptures were not to be used as a spiritual launch pad into heavenly places. But Luther taught that you were go into your little room and pray approaching God without self promotion or achieving spirituality but coming as a beggar. That is the problem with us, religion will make you a salesman, Christianity a receptive beggars, unworthy in and of ourselves but blessed by the grace of God. Luther did not visualize the spiritual life in active terms as a process of self-development but in passive terms as a process of reception from the Triune God. In it, self sufficient individuals became beggars before God.
We inwardly hear what we outwardly hear. We are not theorizing or engineering truth in our theological laboratories. It has nothing with religious manipulation that gets God to do something for you. But it is a lifelong process of being a humble student of the scriptures.
Meditatio-meditation. Meditation is an issue of the heart but not just the heart. It is extroverted not introverted. It is an outward physical activity. As a Roman Catholic monk Luther was instructed in silent contemplation, but real meditation was more speaking the word to ourselves and out loud and listen to the scriptures with our whole heart. In his studies of the word meditation in the Bible he found that it involved speaking, whispering, shouting, chattering, singing, humming even groaning. It is like smelling good food and tasting it slowly relishing the savor and flavor. We rub it like an herb that releases its fragrance and healing powers as it is crushed. We do not assimilate the Word but the Word assimilates us and produces holy living. We do not use the scripture to mould our own lives the Word moulds us into the image of Christ.
Tentatio-Agonizing struggle. Luther called this temptation but it was more than a solicitation to do evil by Satan. To Luther it meant Satan’s attack upon our faith in Christ and God’s condemnation of us as sinners. As long as we operate by our own power, with our own intellect and our own too human notions the devil lets us be. But as soon as we enter into real meditation and prayer and begin to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit, the devil begins to stir up contradiction, opposition and persecution. He will attack from enemies where our congregation meets or the enemies of the gospel in the world. Hearing and receiving truth can be so exciting. But there are times it can be so painful. Satan wants to undo the hidden work of God’s Word in us and the devil tries to drive it out so that we will not operate in the power of the Spirit.
But these attacks are counterproductive and end up making you a real theologian, because these attacks will teach you to seek out and love God’s Word. Satan’s attack drives us back to God’s Word as our only resource. If we rely on our own wisdom and power we will fail. Our weakness makes us trust in God, we experience the suffering of Christ; we are drawn away from ourselves and drawn near to Christ.
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