Theme: Victory in Spiritual Warfare
In this week’s lessons, we see the importance of song in worship.
Scripture: Psalm 149:1-9
In yesterday’s study, I concluded with the point that while Christians can serve as soldiers, they are not to try to advance the work of God by killing its enemies.
According to Franz Delitzsch, one of the best older commentators, Thomas Muenzer used Psalm 149 to incite the German farmers to military action in the Peasant’s War at the height of the Reformation.1 But it was a sad abuse of Christianity. The war began near Schaffhausen in 1524, seven years after Luther had nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, and it lasted until 1526. By the end of the first year there were some 30,000 farmers in arms, refusing to pay taxes, church tithes or feudal dues. In March of 1525, they circulated a document called the “Twelve Articles” in which they claimed the right to choose their own pastors, pay only just tithes, be considered as free men rather than serfs, enjoy fair rents, and other such reasonable demands. They were also favorable to the Reformation and opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.
The peasants expected Luther to support their cause, and Luther’s first response was sympathetic. He acknowledged the injustices done to the farmers and blamed the rulers of both state and church for their responsibility. But Luther didn’t endorse the rebellion, even though many of its goals coincided with his own.
Why not? Why did he react this way, when nearly everyone, the peasants above all, expected him to side with them? Luther feared anarchy for one thing. He also believed that God has established the authority of princes. To rebel against the powers that exist is to rebel against God, he said. But Luther also knew that the power of the sword has not been given either to the church or to individual Christians, and he was aware that our weapons are not the world’s weapons and that arguments alone have divine power “to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
According to Luther, the Reformation would proceed non vi, sed verbo—not by force, but by the power of God’s Word. And it did!
The Peasants War was a tragic episode in the Reformation period. More lives were lost in that war in Germany than in any tumult prior to the Thirty Years’ War. Some 130,000 farmers died in battle or afterwards as a result of retaliatory punishments. Germany was impoverished. The Reformation itself nearly floundered. But it did not, because it was advancing by the power of the Word of God, by persuasion and by prayer, as God blessed the teaching of the reformers. Can we use the Bible’s military language? Yes. We can sing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” We can advance Christ’s banner. But as we do, we must not forget the verse of that other battle-imaged song:
For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums,
but deeds of love and mercy, the heav’nly kingdom comes.
Our equivalent of Psalm 149 is the spiritual warfare of the Christian life, and “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11, 12). We will conquer, but we will do it, as it says in Revelation, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony” (Rev. 12:11).
1Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 3, p. 411.
What mistake did the German farmers make in assuming that the Reformers would support their cause?
What does it mean to say that the power of the sword has not been given either to the church or to individual Christians?
How does the Christian distinguish between which things in this world are biblical and which are cultural and/or political?
What is our equivalent of Psalm 149?
Prayer: Ask the Lord for wisdom to know how to do his work and will according to the means given in Scripture.