Monday, December 28, 2015

Living with Luther by J. M. Weidenschilling

J.M. Weidenschilling was a master at summarization and brevity. He produced many short works on basic subjects for the Missouri Synod in the 1940's and 50's. Some of the most famous and widely used were: Our Bible; Our Church; and, Our Creed. Living with Luther is a slender 48 page booklet originally designed to be used in the classroom. It could also easily be used as an introduction or jumping off point for an adult study or a tract for anyone wanting a brief overview of the life of Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Living with Luther was published by Concordia Publishing House in 1945, was slightly revised in 1970, and reprinted numerous times. The illustrator was Gustav Koenig. The Lutheran Heritage Foundation also worked to have it translated into Lithuanian in 1996 (translator: Renata Ambrazeviciene).

Weidenschilling was working in the tradition of Gustav Just's Life of Luther to provide a concise, basic summary of Luther's life and introduction to the Reformation. The two works cover much of the same ground, often even in the exact same sequence and manner. The pictures in the older volume are again used in Weidenschilling's, though they are supplemented with additional illustrations.

Yet there are a few noticeable differences. Living with Luther is half the size of the earlier work, 48 pages as compared to 103. Weidenschilling also has a narrower scope. He eliminates the ground covered in both the first 5 chapters of Just's Life of Luther that swiftly tell the story of church history from the apostles through the early church and the Medieval period, as well as the material in the two concluding chapters on the post-Reformation period and the Lutheran Church in America. Two very helpful additions in Living with Luther are the map of important places in Germany on the inside cover and the timeline of important dates in the life of Luther on the inside back cover.

If I could only have one, I would prefer the older book by Just. It, at least in summary, ties Luther and the Reformation with the preceding history of the church and gives a nice postscript that leads one to Lutheranism in America. Also, at twice the length, Just's book addresses important topics on the front against the "throw the baby out with the bath water" reformations of the Reformed and the Anabaptists that are almost entirely lacking in Living with Luther.

On the other hand, the comparison is not entirely fair. Life of Luther and Living with Luther are similar, but different tools. Weidenschilling was trying to produce a very brief introductory pamphlet on Luther and the Reformation, and in this he succeeds brilliantly. An adult could learn plenty from Living with Luther, but you could also read it to a young child. The language and length make it a simpler volume, and should earn it a place on your bookshelf.

One can find copies to purchase on bookfinder or Amazon or here, but I would not be surprised if your church library already has it on the shelf. Probably the best place to purchase this book is at Anchor Books and Tracts for $3.50, shipping included!, (scroll down to the seventh book on the page to find it).

Here is the Table of Contents:

The following is an excerpt from Living with Luther, perhaps my favorite chapter as it is so simply, yet beautifully, written, explaining how Luther and the Reformation extolled the teachings of the Bible concerning family and home life under the Gospel:

In the Catholic Church monks, nuns, and priests are not allowed to marry. When Martin Luther entered the cloister, he had to make a pledge that he would never marry. But when he had learned to know the teachings of the Bible, he saw that it was wrong to make such a promise and that he was not obliged to keep it. Luther was anxious, too, to show the world what a blessing of God a Christian home is. He urged all pastors to marry and have families. In order to set them a good example, he decided to start a home of his own.  

God gave Luther a good Christian wife in Katherine von Bora. She had been a nun, but had come to the knowledge of the truth through Luther’s writings. She left her convent, and in 1525 Luther married her. His father and mother were very happy when they learned of their son’s marriage. The Elector gave them the cloister in Wittenberg, in which Luther had been living, to be their home. Six children came into this home. One, Elisabeth, died before she was a year old. The oldest child was Hans, or John. The two other boys were Martin and Paul. The second daughter was Magdalena; and the youngest, Margarethe. The early death of Magdalena brought great sorrow into Luther’s home and heart. She had been the favorite of everyone. She died when she was thirteen years of age. As the sad father knelt at her sickbed, he prayed, “I love her so dearly, but since it is Thy will, dear God, to call her away from here, I willingly let her go so that she may be with Thee.” Magdelena herself was ready and willing to go to her Savior.

Luther had a very happy and lovely home life. He and his wife brought up their children in the fear of God. Luther loved to be with his children. He would play with them, tell them stories, hear their lessons, and sing with them. There were often friends and guests in the home, and Luther always supported relatives and poor students and treated them as members of the family. In the evening he would gather everyone around him; then all would sing together, or he would tell them interesting things about God’s Word and about his experiences. God’s Word was used every day in Luther’s home. The children had to recite the Catechism, say their prayers, and read aloud from the Bible.

Luther made Christmas a time of joyful celebration. He showed the members of his church how to observe this festival in a happy and God-pleasing manner. His hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” puts everybody in the right Christmas spirit. We are told that the words and melody of this lovely Christmas hymn came to him while he was thinking about his Christmas sermon and was at the same time rocking the cradle in which one of his babies was lying. It is also said that he was the first to bring a fir tree into the house at Christmas and decorate it with fruits, nuts, and lights.

Living With Luther, by J. M. Weidenschilling (p.40-2)

Need To Get Level: 9/10 for pastors and laymen. 

This slim volume would be excellent for a class on Martin Luther in a parochial school, Sunday School, homeschool, adult Bible class, etc. It is a handy summarization for the pastor, parent, or teacher to have on the shelf. I have personally used it at home and in the classroom. You won't regret getting it for yourself, or as a gift for someone whom you wish to introduce to Luther and the Reformation.

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