Kolb, Robert & Charles P. Arand. The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
Chapter 8 “The ‘Means of Grace’ as Forms of God’s Word” pp. 175-203.
Luther recognized that, along with speaking, God attaches His power to physicality to accomplish His purposes (Kolb & Arand 2008, 175). It is quite reasonable to recognize that God would use physical means to do His will. The use of external signs is common in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Kolb & Arand 2008, 176). Luther and his followers identified instances of God’s power and working through his word and physical signs to save people as “means of grace” (Kolb & Arand 2008, 176). In every instance of conversion there is an external means of grace. Specifically, aside from the simple hearing or reading of God’s Word (an external element), in baptism and communion, God connects His promise of forgiveness to a physical element to accomplish His will (Kolb & Arand 2008, 177). In preaching and absolution, as in baptism and communion, the person making the proclamations is one of the physical means (Kolb & Arand 2008, 178). In the Smalcald Articles God delivers grace to believers: preaching, baptism, communion, absolution and mutual encouragement of Christians (Kolb & Arand 2008, 179). All these are examples of God’s Word working through various earthly instruments.
In its oral use, preaching of forgiveness is the primary way God’s Word reaches to people (Kolb & Arand 2008, 180). Proclamation of God’s Word is what gathers and sustains His people. Although the power of God is in His Word, Lutherans recognize that some people are more suited for various ministry roles than others and may work in different ways (Kolb & Arand 2008, 182). Yet it is the proclamation of God’s Word which acts.
Another way God’s Word acts is in words of absolution. Here God’s forgiveness speaks to individuals (Kolb & Arand 2008, 184). Luther considered engagement with a confessor to be very important to the Christian life. This brings encouragement and correction to the troubled conscience (Kolb & Arand 2008, 184).
A third way God’s Word is used is through mutual conversation and encouragement in daily life (Kolb & Arand 2008, 185). One of the great strengths of the Small Catechism is that it provides natural ways to encourage others with Scriptures. This personal encouragement was something Luther called all Christians to do (Kolb & Arand 2008, 187).
Luther encouraged a careful hearing of God’s Word as it is read, or, for those who could read, as they read the Scripture (Kolb & Arand 2008, 188). After prayerfully hearing a biblical text, we can meditate on the meaning. This will normally result in some sort of temptation or struggle, which Luther saw as a call back to prayer (Kolb & Arand 2008, 189).
Luther also classified the action of God’s Word as sacramental (Kolb & Arand 2008, 190). In baptism, God uses water and the Word to deliver faith and new life to the recipient (Kolb & Arand 2008, 190). Luther was quick to affirm his agreement that baptism is God’s covenant work, not man’s (Kolb & Arand 2008, 192). Though baptism is God’s action Luther rejected any idea of it being treated lightly by humans. If God has rescued a person from sin that person should flee sin (Kolb & Arand 2008, 195).
Communion is also seen as an example of God’s Word, sustaining faith (Kolb & Arand 2008, 196). Counter to a rejection of the almost superstitious view of communion, Luther encouraged biblical balance, recognizing communion as a supernatural gift but not magical in nature (Kolb & Arand 2008, 197). Again, like baptism, communion must be received by faith (Kolb & Arand 2008, 198). In communion, God delivers exactly what He says he will: body and blood for forgivenesss (Kolb & Arand 2008,199). This is also a function of God’s Word.