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Martin Luther: Anabaptist by Conscience, Lutheran by Compromise, Scoundrel All-Around – Part 4

by on March 2, 2018
  1. Introduction & Biographical Overview
  2. Anabaptist by Conscience
  3. Lutheran by Compromise
  4. Scoundrel All-Around & Conclusion

Martin_Luther--Anabaptist_by_Conscience__Lutheran_by_Compromise

Scoundrel All-Around & Conclusion – Part 4

Scoundrel All-Around

Faith Alone

MartinLutherWindow

Martin Luther, stained glass window. Photo by Cadetgray, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Martin Luther’s espousal of the idea of justification by faith was probably the second most important idea brought to consciousness by the Reformation (the most important being the authority of Scriptures). It was an excellent and Biblical idea until one got to the bit about “faith alone”. “Only faith can save” yes, “faith alone” no. The following paragraph is Luther’s own words and are excellent except for the second instance of the word “alone”.

 

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our Justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without our own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us… [1]

If he would have said, “…that only this faith justifies us…” I could not have argued with his position. It’s totally Scriptural and right. Only faith can save us. However, the only time that the phrase “faith alone” appears in the Bible is in the phrase “a man is justified… not by faith alone…”[2]

Jesus Christ stoops and lets the sinner jump on His back, and so saves him from death… What a consolation for pious souls to put Him on like this and wrap Him in my sins, your sins, the sins of the whole universe, and consider Him thus bearing all our sins! […] When you see that your sins cleave to Him, then you will be safe from sin, death, and hell. Christianity is nothing but a continual exercise in feeling that you have no sin although you sin, but that your sins are thrown on Christ. It is enough to know the Lamb that bears the sins of the world; sin cannot detach us from Him, were we to commit a thousand fornications a day, or as many murders. Is not that good news if, when some one is full of sins, the Gospel comes and tells him: Have confidence and believe, and henceforth your sins are remitted? Once this stop is pulled out, the sins are forgiven; there is nothing more to work for. [3]

One of the most fundamental errors in Luther’s soteriology was the idea that Jesus’ righteousness is put on over us like a coat that covers up our sinfulness. God then sees Christ’s righteousness and ignores our true state of sinfulness. This meant that it did not really matter how much we sinned or if we kept on sinning. Jesus’ coat of righteousness would cover us.

A true soteriology sees Jesus’ blood as cleansing us from all sin as we walk a life of righteousness.[4] We are then pure and free from sin. It’s not a matter of sweeping sins under the carpet. Sins are actually paid for and removed. New sins we commit must be paid for as well. We are holy and meant to live holy lives. We are no longer sinful after being cleansed in Jesus’ blood; we have the ability to live holy lives.

This wrong soteriology lead to such atrocious statements as the following paragraph written by Martin Luther:

Seek out the society of your boon companions, drink, play, talk bawdy, and amuse yourself. One must sometimes commit a sin out of hate and contempt for the Devil, so as not to give him the chance to make one scrupulous over mere nothings; if one is too frightened of sinning, one is lost… Oh, if I could find some really good sin that would give the Devil a toss! [5]

We are still reaping the consequences of Luther’s soteriology. Many times when I’ve shared the gospel, I’ve run across people that think they’re saved despite living lives of wickedness because Luther taught that Christ’s righteousness covers all their sins like a coat. They put on the coat by having “faith alone” in Jesus.

Infant Baptism

Luther believed that Baptism was a work that God did in a person. He also believed that faith was necessary for Baptism. However, he also believed in infant baptism. He reconciled this apparent dichotomy by saying that the faith of the parents and godparents affected God to change the heart of the infant—if God could change the heart of a hardened sinner, surely He could change the heart of an innocent infant. Furthermore, Luther cited John the Baptist leaping in the womb—a spiritual response—and children coming to Jesus. He also cited the Israelites circumcising infants—a spiritual symbol—and extrapolated that God’s ways of dealing with people had not changed that much. [6]

We, of course, believe that faith must exist in the person being baptized and that it must be a belief and decision on the part of the person being baptized. There is clear Biblical evidence to that end. However, it appears, from my limited research, this is one issue in which Luther was being honest and straightforward. Furthermore, he had the disadvantageous position of infant baptism being the orthodox status quo, which rightly affected him. Finally, his logic does not have glaring holes.

So perhaps this the wrong section for infant baptism—his scoundrel-ly ways do not shine very clearly on this issue—but it is a deviation from Anabaptist doctrine, thus needs to be included.

Hell

This also led Luther to reject the idea of hell torments: “It is enough for us to know that souls do not leave their bodies to be threatened by the torments and punishments of hell, but enter a prepared bedchamber in which they sleep in peace.”[7]

Little needs to be said on this false doctrine. The Scriptures in Matthew 25:41, Revelation 14:10-11; 20:10; 21:8 are clear.

Anti-Semitism

Luther spoke out against the Jews in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Silesia. Josel of Rosheim, the Jewish spokesman who tried to help the Jews of Saxony in 1537, later blamed their plight on “that priest whose name was Martin Luther—may his body and soul be bound up in hell!—who wrote and issued many heretical books in which he said that whoever would help the Jews was doomed to perdition.” Josel asked the city of Strasbourg to forbid the sale of Luther’s anti-Jewish works: they refused initially, but relented when a Lutheran pastor in Hochfelden used a sermon to urge his parishioners to murder Jews. Luther’s influence persisted after his death. Throughout the 1580s, riots led to the expulsion of Jews from several German Lutheran states.

Luther was the most widely read author of his generation, and he acquired the status of a prophet within Germany. According to the prevailing view among historians, his anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed significantly to the development of antisemitism in Germany, and in the 1930s and 1940s provided an “ideal underpinning” for the National Socialists’ attacks on Jews. Reinhold Lewin writes that “whoever wrote against the Jews for whatever reason believed he had the right to justify himself by triumphantly referring to Luther.”

According to Michael, just about every anti-Jewish book printed in the Third Reich contained references to and quotations from Luther. Heinrich Himmler wrote admiringly of his writings and sermons on the Jews in 1940. The city of Nuremberg presented a first edition of On the Jews and their Lies to Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer, on his birthday in 1937; the newspaper described it as the most radically anti-Semitic tract ever published. It was publicly exhibited in a glass case at the Nuremberg rallies and quoted in a 54-page explanation of Aryan Law by Dr. E. H. Schulz and Dr. R. Frercks. On 17 December 1941, seven Protestant regional church confederations issued a statement agreeing with the policy of forcing Jews to wear the yellow badge, “since after his bitter experience Luther had already suggested preventive measures against the Jews and their expulsion from German territory.” [8]

Martin Luther’s hate is partially responsible for the Holocaust and the years of anti-Semitism in Germany. Thus, once again we see the deserved-ness of the label “Scoundrel All-Around”. The Scriptures (even from Luther’s precious book of Romans) say:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;

Romans 10:12 (NASB)

Marriage

Intercourse is never without sin; but God excuses it by his grace because the estate of marriage is his work and he preserves in and through the sin (of intercourse) all that good which he has implanted and blessed in marriage.[9]

Little needs to be said here other than it indicates Martin Luther’s absurd misunderstanding of sin and the heart of God. First, if he thought that God made us in a way that to exist, we had to sin, it is no wonder that he was fine with “sinning more that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1) since such a misunderstanding of sin would minimize the importance of sin to a large degree. Second, it is quite sad that he misunderstood the heart of God to such a large extent. So much of God loves beauty and pleasure. To come to such a conclusion on sex in marriage means that he missed out on knowing God in a very fundamental way.

“The marriages of the ancients were no less sacred than ours, nor are those of unbelievers less true.” Consequently there should be no prohibition of marriage between Christians and non-Christians. “Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk…. and do business with a heathen, a Jew, a Turk, or a heretic, so also I may marry any of them. Do not give heed to the fool’s law which forbids this… A heathen is just as much a man or a woman created by God as St. Peter, St. Paul, or St. Lucy.”

A woman married to an impotent husband should be allowed, if he consents, to have intercourse with another man in order to have a child, and should be permitted to pass the child off as her husband’s. If the husband refuses consent she may justly divorce him.[10]

Both of these immoral heresies bear little comment or repudiation, but rather serve as a stark and visceral proof of the title “Scoundrel All-Around”.

Conclusion

Martin Luther was one of the main driving forces behind the Reformation—a movement that brought thousands to Christ and gave millions access to the true gospel for the first time. It also helped scale back the reproach to the name of Christ from those that called themselves by His name.

Unfortunately, as Luther gained power and became reliant on the power of the state to bring about his reforms, he began to compromise on some issues—he began to go against his conscience. He also introduced a number of new errors which even the Catholics recoiled at. Finally, on other issues he went flying to the other ditch—especially on the faith/works issue.

Thus when one examines the body of evidence, I believe the conclusion on Martin Luther can be justly summarized as: “Anabaptist by Conscience, Lutheran by Compromise, Scoundrel All-Around”.


Bibliography

“Luther, Martin (1483-1546)”. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.

“Martin Luther”. Wikipedia.

Brecht, Martin. (tr. Wolfgang Katenz) “Luther, Martin,” in Hillerbrand, Hans J. (ed.) Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, 1:460.

Durant, Will. The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI – The Reformation.

Luther, Martin. “The Smalcald Articles,” in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, 289, Part two, Article 1)

Luther, Martin. The Estate of Marriage.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII, Ch. IV. (http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/history/7_ch04.htm).


This series of posts was adapted from a term paper written in March 2011 by Hans Mast for Anabaptist History & Theology class at Calvary Bible School, taught by Elam Stoltzfoos. Hans is a former student of many of Frank Reed’s classes at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute.


[1]Luther, Martin. “The Smalcald Articles,” in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, 289, Part two, Article 1) (Quoted in: “Martin Luther—Early Life: Justification by Faith”. Wikipedia.)

[2]James 2:24 (NASB)

[3]Quoted in The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI – The Reformation. Will Durant. p. 374

[4]1 John 1:7

[5]Quoted in The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI – The Reformation. Will Durant. p. 374

[6]Luther, Martin (1483-1546)”. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.

[7] Weimarer Ausgabe 43, 360, 21–23 (to Genesis 25,7–10): also Exegetica opera latina Vol 5–6 1833 p. 120 and the English translation: Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 vols. (St. Louis: CPH), 4:313. (quoted in: “Martin Luther—On the mortality of the soul”. Wikipedia.)

[8]Martin Luther—Anti-Judaism and antisemitism”. Wikipedia.

[9]Luther, Martin. The Estate of Marriage. (quoted in: Hoover, Peter. The Secret of the Strength. p. 232)

[10]The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI – The Reformation. Will Durant. p. 354-355

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