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Martin Luther: Anabaptist by Conscience, Lutheran by Compromise, Scoundrel All-Around – Part 1

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


Introduction & Biographical Overview – Part 1


Martin Luther was a great man and a scoundrel. He had the honesty to recognize that there was something fundamentally wrong with the Catholic church and he had the intelligence to see some of the solutions to those problems and he had the sheer bull-headed stubbornness to push many of those changes through. Unfortunately, his methods of pushing those changes through—using the state and nationalism as a power and motivator—caused him to compromise with his conscience. Also, too much power plus overmuch faith in his own theological discernment caused him to come to some very strange (and ungodly) conclusions on some issues.

What is heartening in all of this is that some of the conclusions he came to originally match those of the Anabaptists. Unfortunately, he later compromised because they were too difficult to implement. However, this fact along with the general spirit of the Reformation gives birth to the following summary of Anabaptism:

Anabaptism is the culmination of the Reformation, the fulfillment of the original vision of Luther and Zwingli, and thus makes it a consistent evangelical Protestantism seeking to recreate without compromise the original New Testament church, the vision of Christ and the apostles.

–Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptist Vision

Note: I should point out that I started this term paper with the subtitle simply being “Anabaptist by Conscience, Lutheran by Compromise”. I viewed Martin Luther as a great man who accomplished a lot, but who was (somewhat understandably) overcome by pressures to compromise. However, once I began reading a lot of what he actually wrote (things that are usually left out of the summary histories), I became quite disgusted and felt compelled to add the last defining phrase: “Scoundrel All-Around”

Biographical Overview


One might imagine that somewhere in America lived a mid-to-lower class family with a hard-working father who had big dreams and boundless ambition for himself and his sons. He wanted his oldest son to become a lawyer. His son worked hard at becoming a lawyer, but described school with such endearing terms as whorehouse, purgatory, beerhouse, and hell. While this indeed is a somewhat typical Middle America scene, in this case it happens to be a Middle Ages scene with none other than Martin Luther, the famous leader of the Reformation, as the protagonist.

Schooling and Monastic Life

Luther did work hard, beginning his studies at four every morning, but nonetheless felt it was “a day of rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises.” On one day he was flogged fifteen times for improperly declining a noun.[1] He finally gave up his law studies and switched to philosophy which he found much more fulfilling and important. However, he still felt something was missing; Wikipedia writes, “Philosophy proved to be unsatisfying, offering assurance about the use of reason but none about loving God, which to [him] was more important. Reason could not lead men to God, he felt… For [him], reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. Human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation, he believed, and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him.”[2] Martin Luther received his master’s degree in 1505.

While riding horseback, he was nearly hit by a lightning bolt from the sky and cried out to Saint Anna in his terror, vowing to become a monk. Wikipedia summarizes his time as a monk thus:

Luther dedicated himself to monastic life, devoting himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage, and frequent confession. He would later remark, “If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them.” Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.”[3]

Luther’s commanding monk told him he should become a priest and pursue academics in order to overcome his excessive introspection. Between 1507 and 1512 he earned a number of degrees from the University of Wittenberg, culminating in being inducted into the senate of the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg and being conferred the position of Doctor in Bible, a position he held the rest of his life.

Spark of the Reformation

When Johann Tetzel, a papal official, came around selling indulgences with the marketing phrase, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory’s fires springs.”, Luther was unhappy with the perversion of the Bible that such teaching represented. He wrote 95 Theses (entitled Disputation for Clarification of the Power of Indulgences) and sent them to the Archbishop of Mainz with a respectful foreword asking for his consideration and judgment on the matter.

Luther is famously said to have posted the 95 Theses to the Church of Wittenberg’s door, but that myth has little basis in fact. The only written record of such an event was written by someone who wasn’t near Wittenberg at the time and wrote in the same work other myths contradicted by written accounts by primary witnesses. On the contrary, Luther’s personal servant who wrote a close account of events wrote only that he respectfully and quietly sent them to the Bishop. Luther himself never mentioned posting them on the church door. It wasn’t until a year later, when he had received no response from the Bishop or Rome, that his friends translated the 95 Theses to German and had them printed and distributed.[4]

Will Durant in The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI – The Reformation writes of the 95 Theses:

[Luther] did not consider his propositions heretical, nor were they indubitably so. He was still a fervent Catholic who had no thought of upsetting the Church; his purpose was to refute the extravagant claims made for indulgences, and to correct the abuses that had developed in their distribution. He felt that the facile issuance and mercenary dissemination of indulgences had weakened the contrition that sin should arouse, had indeed made sin a trivial matter to be amicably adjusted over a bargain counter with a peddler of pardons. He did not yet deny the papal “power of the keys” to forgive sins; he conceded the authority of the pope to absolve the confessing penitent from the terrestrial penalties imposed by churchmen; but in Luther’s view the power of the pope to free souls from purgatory, or to lessen their term of punishment there, depended not on the power of the keys—which did not reach beyond the grave—but on the intercessory influence of papal prayers, which might or might not be heard.[5]

The distribution of the 95 Theses sparked the widespread Protestant Reformation (including the Radical Reformation) whose foundations had earlier been laid by John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

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]The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI – The Reformation. Will Durant. p. 342

[2]Martin Luther—Early life: Birth and education”. Wikipedia.

[3]Martin Luther—Early life: Monastic and academic life”. Wikipedia.

[4]Walter Krämer, Götz Trenkler, Gerhard Ritter, and Gerhard Prause are all historians that attest to the mythical status of the Wittenberg church door posting, according to Wikipedia.

[5]The Story of Civilization, Vol. VI – The Reformation. Will Durant. p. 340

Martin Luther


Martin Luther

In memory of the recent anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, this week the blog will feature Martin Luther as presented by Hans Mast. Luther is one of the most amazing men of Church history not to mention of all history. He single-handedly broke the more than one thousand year monopoly of the Catholic system over the organizational Church.

As an Augustinian monk, he brought the concepts of Augustine into the Protestant Reformation. His understandings have shaped Protestant beliefs and hermeneutics for the years since his time.

While in hiding from those who intended him harm, “He made God speak German” by translating the Bible into the German language. His legacy has transcended centuries and is the basis of Evangelical thought today.

In spite of his many accomplishments, there is an often overlooked side to this reformer. He could be, and often was, very harsh and unyielding to those who would dare to disagree with or counter his direction.

The Anabaptist community felt his wrath through martyrdom from the Protestant, Lutheran world. One of my instructors referred to some of Luther’s language as “vitriolic jargon.” Martin Luther was and remains a powerful enigma.

The guest author for this series is Hans Mast. Following is his brief bio in his own words:

Hans Mast is a former student of Frank Reed’s at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute. He attended SMBI and the Institute for Global Opportunities, graduating from SMBI in 2008. He enjoys travel, photography, entrepreneurship, reading, and writing. He writes the Newslines column in the conservative Anabaptist monthly magazine Sword & Trumpet.

Hans is a personal friend, a good thinker and a careful scholar. You will find his research and writing to be engaging, balanced, convicting and practical.

Thank you Hans for sharing your paper with biblicalbrethrenfellowship.

The next four posts will total five thousand words. They will be longer than the typical posts on this blog. They will be worth your time.

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

Frank Reed

The Blessing of Love


The Destitution of Service
By Oswald Chambers

… the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. —2 Corinthians 12:15

Natural human love expects something in return. But Paul is saying, “It doesn’t really matter to me whether you love me or not. I am willing to be completely destitute anyway; willing to be poverty-stricken, not just for your sakes, but also that I may be able to get you to God.” “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor…” (2 Corinthians 8:9). And Paul’s idea of service was the same as our Lord’s. He did not care how high the cost was to himself— he would gladly pay it. It was a joyful thing to Paul.


The institutional church’s idea of a servant of God is not at all like Jesus Christ’s idea. His idea is that we serve Him by being the servants of others. Jesus Christ actually “out-socialized” the socialists. He said that in His kingdom the greatest one would be the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11). The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet— that is, being willing to do those things that seem unimportant in human estimation but count as everything to God.


It was Paul’s delight to spend his life for God’s interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost. But before we will serve, we stop to ponder our personal and financial concerns— “What if God wants me to go over there? And what about my salary? What is the climate like there? Who will take care of me? A person must consider all these things.” All that is an indication that we have reservations about serving God. But the apostle Paul had no conditions or reservations. Paul focused his life on Jesus Christ’s idea of a New Testament saint; that is, not one who merely proclaims the gospel, but one who becomes broken bread and poured-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.

Rules for Life


Who makes the rules for your life?

Is it God or is it you or another person or some kind of a system?

That is the choice you have to make in life:

Who makes the rules for your life?

That will answer all the other questions of your life.

Many options are available but really there are only two options.

Either it is God or it is something else – those are the options.

You get to decide.

What have you decided?

Two Sad Sins


My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

As reported by: Jeremiah 2:13

Love or Self


She has done a good work for Me. —Mark 14:6

If what we call love doesn’t take us beyond ourselves, it is not really love. If we have the idea that love is characterized as cautious, wise, sensible, shrewd, and never taken to extremes, we have missed the true meaning. This may describe affection and it may bring us a warm feeling, but it is not a true and accurate description of love.

Have you ever been driven to do something for God not because you felt that it was useful or your duty to do so, or that there was anything in it for you, but simply because you love Him? Have you ever realized that you can give things to God that are of value to Him? Or are you just sitting around daydreaming about the greatness of His redemption, while neglecting all the things you could be doing for Him? I’m not referring to works which could be regarded as divine and miraculous, but ordinary, simple human things— things which would be evidence to God that you are totally surrendered to Him.

Have you ever created what Mary of Bethany created in the heart of the Lord Jesus? “She has done a good work for Me.”
There are times when it seems as if God watches to see if we will give Him even small gifts of surrender, just to show how genuine our love is for Him. To be surrendered to God is of more value than our personal holiness. Concern over our personal holiness causes us to focus our eyes on ourselves, and we become overly concerned about the way we walk and talk and look, out of fear of offending God.

“…but perfect love casts out fear…” once we are surrendered to God (1 John 4:18). We should quit asking ourselves, “Am I of any use?” and accept the truth that we really are not of much use to Him. The issue is never of being of use, but of being of value to God Himself. Once we are totally surrendered to God, He will work through us all the time.

Oswald Chambers


Feminists and Men


Feminists know two kinds of men:

1. Those who can be controlled

2. Those who cannot be controlled and have to be eliminated