All Hail the Protestants Part 1: Martin Luther Kicks it Off

At this point in the Christian story Mormons may even know a little bit about the sort of Christianity that shaped and taught young Joseph Smith. With the advent of Protestantism in Christianity’s historical evolution, Mormons may think they know what prompted Joseph to go kneel down in the woods and ask God what his next move should be. They do know for sure, as part of core Mormon doctrine, he was trying to find his place amongst the wide array of third and fourth generation Protestants he grew up with in the weeds and woods of woolly Upstate New York, in the first decades of the 19th century. The truth of the matter however, is that the frontier American evangelists that Smith, his family and friends knew had little in common with the roots of either Protestantism or the Reformation Movement. 

The first definitionally “Protestant” or “Reformation” movement in the Church of course was the Great Schism of 1054. In this, the Eastern and Western Church excommunicated itself from itself. You may remember this had mostly to do with the Nicene Creed which had been in contention with the Eastern Church for hundreds of years by then. There were a number of other issues and the exact date that this schism became fixed and irrevocable is still debated. But in retrospect, it also had very much to do with the Western Church’s increased claims that the Roman Pope was the direct Apostolic heritage of Peter, and thus had primacy over all the other Popes, Priests, Holy Orders and of course, that meant the Eastern Bishops. The Eastern Bishops weren’t buying that argument in particular. When it came to a head they split Christianity formally into two clearly opposed and independent factions. 

The first generation of what we now call actual Protestants were in fact just Roman Catholics with a personal bitch against the Pope, the Priesthood, and the various Orders and/or the government of the Holy Roman Church in general. Not one of them probably started out with a mind to leave, damage, or compete against the Roman Catholic Church at all. They wanted to “fix” it. Hundreds of years later it’s very romanticized and spiritualized, but I use the colloquial word “bitching” here, because it is in fact exactly what was going on: routine, common, street-level bitching. There was no deep or serious intent to revolt from the Holy Roman Empire. At the right place, at the right time, and with the right person however, a well-worded bitch session can change the world. The very first official “Protestant,” the igniter of the Reformation’s Big Bang, was Martin Luther, a German monk with 95 reasons the Church was going to hell in a handbasket. 

170px-Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_Monk Martin Luther was a German monk, ordained Roman Catholic priest and scholar born in 1483. He had a bright but sarcastic educational career in good schools and his wealthy and influential father shuffled him through a a great primary education in prestigious academies and encouraged him to get into law. His father, Hans Luder, (Anglicized later as Luther) made his fortune buying leases on copper mines and operated smelters. Coming from the lower classes, described in the day as “peasantry,” his father in particular was keen to place young Martin in the best and highest social and academic circles possible. He spared no expense in either Martin’s education or in wrangling the lad into social or religious positions to show off his genius. His father’s career plan had as its main objective gaining his son a high place in the civil service. His father served on four important regional civic councils and had a great deal of respect and influence locally. 

Following his father’s advice, Luther first pursued juris prudence but found law dry and uninspiring. He is quoted as claiming the law represented only uncertainty. He drifted almost immediately into into philosophy and made many explanations in the record that what he wanted was assurances about the nature of life. He had a special interest in the thinking of Aristotle, again following something of a traditional Augustine-like attraction to Platonist mentalities. Unlike Augustine however, even from an early age Luther was a very religious youth, actually overly-pious and highly critical of the profane habits of his fellows at school, and the laziness and ungodliness of society in general. He described his college as a “beerhouse and a whorehouse.” he concluded that pure reason could only bring answers about man but the only way you could learn about God is through divine revelation and the Holy Scriptures. 

Most Mormons naturally would find this to be a very familiar concept, but as I say, what Martin Luther was up to had very little to do with the religious environment or motivations Joseph Smith was most familiar with some three hundred years and more later. I’ll expand upon this when I deal with Luther’s translation of the Bible into German, but for the moment I’ll say that Luther’s concept of “divine revelation” is rather different than that of the Mormon’s “personal revelation” or “revelation” in general, as was his attitude to the “Holy Scriptures.” For one thing, he didn’t think a lot of them were Holy. And apparently, divine revelation to Luther was whatever he’d decided the scripture should mean, even if he had to write it out clearly himself. 

The story goes however, that Luther was riding a horse in the countryside one day in not very dubious weather, on his way back to his post at university, when a bolt of lighting came unexpectedly out of the sky and hit the ground almost right on top of him. (Perhaps this is the origin of the expression, “It came to me like a bolt from the blue.”) In any case, he was so upset, he rushed to his father telling the story, and saying, “ Praise Saint Ann, I will become a Monk.” Luther apparently felt that if God or Nature or like itself could just come blazing to an end in an instant without a hit of warning like that, then he should dedicate every last second of it making sure he was getting into heaven and serving God, rather than other vain and mortal pursuits. 

That of course is the Lutheran-to-neutralish Protestant version. If you want a study in revisionist history, or historical impressionism, first have a read from the official Catholic Encyclopedia:  Then read the same summary of Luther’s life in the Wikipedia or any other source you care to Google: 

The Catholics obviously included the entire scope of Lutheran detractors in their history of the, well, it’s beyond a schism, it’s a revolt. If you listen to the Roman Church, Luther was the son of a brutal, money-grubbing blue-collar hick with delusions of grandeur who beat the hell out of his little Martin trying to buy into the aristocracy. The child Martin fled this brutal home life into the monastery, not out of a call from God, but in a desperate attempt to get out of the house so his father couldn’t abuse the hell out of him any more. His mother, by Roman Catholic accounts, was a whore and a washerwoman—not being sure which was the worse epithet. The fact that he was excommunicated and told the Pope to take a hike was not surprising, since he was the product of a false-conversion and a rebel in the first place. 

Frankly, I found so many contradictory sources on simple things like his days at school and other basic history I’m still not sure of the chain of events, but this is the best composite I could muster: 

At the age of seventeen in 1501 Martin Luther apparently entered the University of Erfurt depending upon who you want to listen to. He received his Bachelor’s degree in philosophy 1502. Three years later, in 1505, he received a Master’s degree and enrolled in the law school of that university. He then dropped out after the thunderbolt incident (allegedly) and joined the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt in 1505. 

Once in the monastic life however, nobody disputes the fact that our Martin threw himself into flagellations and fastings, pilgrimages and the whole gamut of extreme dedication to the Augustinian order he had joined. In the Lutheran version he just could not do enough to feel close to God. In the first generation of Roman Catholic detractors’ version, it appears that it was at the library there at the Erfurt monastery that he first ran into a copy of the Bible. Subsequent Roman Catholic versions say this is silly, and later generations of Roman Catholic detractors have admitted that he wrote extensively throughout his life about Biblical matters and obviously was familiar with the Bible from his youth. 

Johann von Staupitz, Luther’s Superior in the monastery, decided that Martin was spending too much time in his struggles over some grand universal revelation about life, the universe and everything. He encouraged Martin to continue his academic career and lay off the self-inflicted punishment a while. In 1507 Luther was ordained to the priesthood. In 1508 he began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. He  earned his Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies on 9 March 1508. He also completed a Bachelor’s degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard which was the fundamental textbook of theology in the Middle Ages, in 1509. On 19 October 1512, the University of Wittenberg accredited Martin Luther the degree of Doctor of Theology. 

Luther soon became a world-renowned lecturer and scholars and theologians came to hear his explorations of Church doctrines and Biblical principles. Then he became more and more pointed in his criticisms of the way the Church was being administered and a thing called “indulgences” in particular, which were basically bribes to the Church keep God from sending you to hell for your sins. The Vatican needed a lot of money for expanding its empire, and it reaped most of its expenses for building monuments, basilicas, chapels and cathedrals like St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, from essentially granting the nobles of Germany, who had tons of cash in the day, a forgiveness of any sins they felt like committing for a suitable donation to the cause. 

On Halloween of 1517, Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. These were basically complaints against the Pope and Church in general that Luther claimed violated Biblical injuncture. Protestants often point to this event as the start of the Protestant revolution.  however,  John Wycliffe, John Hus, Thomas Linacre, John Colet, and others had already made similar complaints against the Roman Church without getting any attention from the Pope. Luther made specific charges of the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, and he further made allegations damning the position of the clergy in regard to it’s role in determining individual salvation in general. 

In part due to the invention of the printing press, Luther’s 95 thesis were published almost overnight all over Europe. His bill of complaint came along at a time where not only was regional public acclaim ready for a reasoned argument against the Holy Roman Empire, but all of Europe and England were struggling with the subject of the Roman Pope and his puppet Emperors. Technology of the day suddenly allowed Luther’s well-crafted attack to be duplicated and transmitted worldwide. Though he never apparently intended it, his 95 theses, and eventually all of his writings became legendary in the Protestant movement. 

Luther’s observations were condemned as heretical by Pope Leo X in the bull Exsurge Domine in 1520. He was give 60 days to recant his 95 theses, and defend his writings. He was given another 60 days to confirm his public recantations to Rome. Luther was soon informed that the Pope had gathered all his writings and publicly burned them in Rome as heretical works. Luther responded by publicly burning his issued copy of Exsurge Domine

On January 3, 1521 the Vatican published the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem ([It] Befits [the] Roman Pontiff), excommunicating Martin Luther. It was customary after this step, to turn the heretic over to civil authorities to be burned or beheaded or hanged depending on how pissed off the Pope was with them. 

Consequently Luther was summoned to either renounce or reaffirm his views, at the Diet of Worms on 17 April 1521. When he appeared before the assembly, Johann Von Eck, by then assistant to the Archbishop of Trier, acted as spokesman for Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fifth. He presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings. Eck asked Luther if he still believed what these works taught. Luther requested time to think about his answer. Granted an extension, Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day. 

When the counselor put the same question to Luther the next day, the reformer apologized for the harsh tone of many of his writings, but said that he could not reject the majority of them or the teachings in them. Luther respectfully but boldly stated, “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” 

On May 25, 1521, the Emperor declared Martin Luther an outlaw. This in those days meant among other things, he was without protection of the law and anyone could kill him without legal retribution. As precarious a decree as this was, the usual course of the Holy Roman Empire would have been to torture a confession out of him and light him on fire. Or more often, produce a surprise set of new witnesses against the accused, like the say-so of a couple of paid whores or Church lackeys who only had to testify that they saw him having sexual intercourse with a goat or calling upon the name of Satan after stubbing his toe. 

Luther had powerful friends however, one of whom was Fredrick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, his own prince. Frederick kidnapped him as he left the Diet and kept him about a year in Wartburg Castle. Luther grew a huge beard and dressed like a knight and called himself “Jorg.” He wandered around town and listened to common German dialects, which he used to continue his work translating the Bible from Greek and Latin sources into common German. He also not-so-secretly kept in touch with other Church rebels and Reformers by visitation and correspondence. 

Martin Luther published the first Bible in his nation’s most common tongue in 1534. He used mostly a Greek Bible, a recent 1516 edition of Erasmus, later called Textus Receptus for the New Testament he published in 1522, followed by the Old Testament in 1534, which completed Biblical canon. In many prefaces to the Biblical books he openly debated and sometimes berated the validity for even including them, and placed several of the ones he disliked out of their usual order in an appendix in the back–Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation. Then he deliberately left them out of the index. He dropped entirely Tobit,  Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, all of which were central and universally kept parts of the “Apocrypha.” He edited out parts of Esther and parts of Daniel which were longtime Old Testament canon in both Jewish and Christian tradition. 

In the process of publishing his Bible, he was amalgamating into a common, mutually familiar language all of the many mutually undecipherable dialects he found in the streets, cities, villages and farms in what is now most of modern Germany. Martin Luther essentially invented the modern German language and taught it to a linguistically confused nation through the media miracle of Gutenberg’s new printing press. 

The German humanist Johann Cochlaeus notes: 

Luther’s New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity.”[19] 

Luther seems also to have given William Tyndale, an English Reformer and Biblical publisher/translator, safe haven and assistance in translating the same Greek-Latin sources for Tyndale’s English Bible. Tyndale’s New Testament of 1522 was a chief source for the King James Version of the New Testament roughly a hundred years later. 

Martin escaped martyrdom and lived peacefully to a ripe old age in the same small German town he was born in. In this time he wrote a little about everything. Some of these works now are claimed to be written by friends and students and a whole conspiratorial Protestant Movement full of mythical geniuses he associated with who borrowed his name or authority. But some of the things accurately attributed to Luther by his detractors I find refreshingly common, like urging his followers to, “Tell the Devil he may kiss my ass.” I find an earthy honesty of spirit in it. Luther was a sage of the middle-ages who loved his beer and spoke his mind. Queen Victoria’s bland, sterile, simpering virginity hadn’t yet infected the Church. 

There is such a thing as too much honesty when it comes to Luther’s attitude toward Jews however. Later in his career Martin Luther took rather a nasty anti-Semitic turn and started hammering away against the Jews, which he referred to as “That accursed race.” Originally he was quite tolerant of them, thinking they simply hadn’t heard the gospel and thus had no chance to accept its truth. After many years of his overtures to the Jews, and these efforts producing little interest in mass conversions to Christ, he began to preach that the Jews were eternally damned and set in their own evil, anti-Christian ways. He made moves to expel them from German politics entirely. He wrote a treatise entitled, On the Jews and Their Lies, and often quoted Christ in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus called them “a brood of vipers and children of the devil.” There was a little socio-political intrigue there in Luther’s motivations as well, since in Luther’s day Church Law superseded civil law, and the Jews were exempt in this arrangement from Church laws against usury, and could charge whatever interest they liked in making loans and other business arrangements. Luther in many ways conditioned the German public for the acceptance of Adolph Hitler’s similar theories against the Jews, and fed a longstanding resentment that found the nation very accommodating of Hitler’s “Final Solution” by suggesting they were all sneaky, unprincipled heathens out to steal the wealth of the nation and sabotage the happiness of good Christians all. 

Martin wrote and preached at one point that his followers should, “…burn down Jewish schools and synagogues, and to throw pitch and sulphur into the flames; to destroy their homes; to confiscate their ready money in gold and silver; to take from them their sacred books, even the whole Bible; and if that did not help matters, to hunt them of the country like mad dogs.” (Luther’s Works, vol. Xx, pp. 2230-2632 as quoted in Stoddard JL. Rebuilding a Lost Faith, 1922, p.99.) 

But Luther’s crazy anti-Semitic streak wasn’t his only gap in enlightened Christian thought. I’ve made references to Luther’s problems with the “approved” Biblical canon of his day a number of times. Here again are just a few of the disparaging comments he’s on record as having made about the Bible: 

Regarding the New Testament Book of Hebrews: It need not surprise one to find here bits of wood, hay, and straw (O’HarePF. The Facts About Luther, 1916–1987 reprint ed., p. 203.) 

The Epistle of James: “St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. . . [It is] not the writing of any apostle” (Luther, M. Preface to the New Testament, 1546.) 

The Book of the St. John the Revelator: “About this book of the Revelation of John…I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly-indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important-and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep…My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it” (Luther, M. Preface to the Revelation of St. John, 1522). 

Martin Luther on the Old Testament: 

“Job spoke not as it stands written in his book, but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon wrote and made this book.” 

“Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it…Solomon did not, therefore, write this book.” 

“The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much…” 

“The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible.” (as quoted in O’Hare, p. 202.) 

Of the first five books of Moses:  “We have no wish either to see or hear Moses” (Ibid, p. 202.) 

In his most famous dispute translating his German Bible, he responds to critics who claim he’s inserting his own personal religious doctrine into his translation, particularly Romans 3:28 where he adds to the writer’s assertion that we are “saved by grace,” the word “alone,” making the reading, “saved by grace alone.” 

You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word alone is not in the text of Paul…say right out to him: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,’…I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word ‘alone’ is not in the Latin or the Greek text (Stoddard J. Rebuilding a Lost Faith. 1922, pp. 101-102; see also Luther M. Amic. Discussion, 1, 127.) 

While this quote is used by his enemies to suggest he considered himself above the original writers, he also replied in other sources: 

The text itself and the meaning of St. Paul urgently require and demand it. For in that very passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law . . . But when works are so completely cut away — and that must mean that faith alone justifies — whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this cutting away of works will have to say, ‘Faith alone justifies us, and not works’.” [121] 

In a sense, Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Version” wasn’t doing anything that Martin Luther hadn’t already done in his German translation of the Bible. 220px-Luther46c 

Luther’s saga contains “Road to Damascus” incidents above and beyond the fabled lightning strike that sent him to the monastery and changed not only his Christian walk, but the entire Christian world. One such insight struck him while climbing a mountain and led him to give up his monastic life instantly when he finally realized self-induced misery was just a waste of his time and piety. Another came when he stopped dreading the “gospel” or “good news” as some sort of inevitable come-uppance with the Lord and realized it was really a promise of unconditional forgiveness and he could stop beating and fasting and stone-bedding himself into penance. There’s also a great story in there about smuggling nuns out of a convent in herring barrels and marrying one. All this makes good reading for the Lutheran or anyone else, but is irrelevant for Mormon study purposes. 

According to the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia, Luther’s main theological contentions were thus: 

  • The Bible is the only source of faith; it contains the plenary inspiration of God; its reading is invested with a quasi-sacramental character.
  • Human nature has been totally corrupted by original sin, and man, accordingly, is deprived of free will. Whatever he does, be it good or bad, is not his own work, but God’s.
  • Faith alone can work justification, and man is saved by confidently believing that God will pardon him. This faith not only includes a full pardon of sin, but also an unconditional release from its penalties.
  • The hierarchy and priesthood are not Divinely instituted or necessary, and ceremonial or exterior worship is not essential or useful. Ecclesiastical vestments, pilgrimages, mortifications, monastic vows, prayers for the dead, intercession of saints, avail the soul nothing.
  • All sacraments, with the exception of baptism, Holy Eucharist, and penance, are rejected, but their absence may be supplied by faith.
  • The priesthood is universal; every Christian may assume it. A body of specially trained and ordained men to dispense the mysteries of God is needless and a usurpation.
  • There is no visible Church or one specially established by God whereby men may work out their salvation.

    If you’re the Roman Pope or any other authority in the Holy Roman Empire, some of these issues are a real threat to the established order—like directly discarding not just the entire structure of any Church at all, but throwing the priesthood call freely out to the unwashed masses. The bulk of his other contentions are just rehashes of theological battles Augustine fought over a thousand years earlier. The issue of indulgences, even the Pope knew were wrong. They were just profitable and necessary for the temporal advancement of a comfortable Papal clubhouse and the armies of labor, craftsmen, and soldiery to maintain it. Luther however, went through a number of phases theologically and organizationally before he died, and in fact never totally got a church or full litany of dogma organized. Originally, yes, he thought the common body of Christ could just elect its own priests, discern its own truths and run its own Church. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before a little disaster called the “Peasant War,” got him re-thinking this whole concept. 

    Initially, Luther seemed to many to support the peasants, condemning the oppressive practices of the nobility that had incited many of the peasants. As the war continued, and especially as atrocities at the hands of the peasants increased, Luther came out forcefully against the revolt; since Luther relied on support and protection from the princes, he was afraid of alienating them. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), he encouraged the nobility to visit swift and bloody punishment upon the peasants. Many of the revolutionaries considered Luther’s words a betrayal. Others withdrew once they realized that there was neither support from the Church nor from its main opponent. The war in Germany ended in 1525, when rebel forces were put down by the armies of the Swabian League. 

    Luther resented Germany’s domination by a group of clergymen based in Rome, and these nationalist feelings may have motivated the Reformation to some extent. During the Peasants’ War, Luther continued to stress obedience to secular authority; many may have interpreted this doctrine as endorsement of absolute rulers, leading to acceptance of monarchs and dictators in German history. 

    The Peasant War also gave birth to the appearance of three “prophets,” and a number of other hyper-Reformationists that went well beyond anything Luther had in mind. Luther had opened a Pandora’s box of individual, charismatic Christian rebellion. Luther subsequently fell back on a more conventional Church structure with an elite, institutionally educated clergy who ran the show and lost most of his faith in the greater body of Christ to govern itself. 

    Zwickau prophets and the Peasants’ War

    Main articles: Thomas Müntzer, Zwickau prophets, and Peasants’ War 

    On December 27, 1521, three “prophets”, influenced by and in turn influencing Thomas Müntzer, appeared in Wittenberg from Zwickau: Thomas Dreschel, Nicolas Storch and Mark Thomas Stübner. The crisis came in the Peasants’ War in southern Germany in 1525. In its origin a revolt against feudal oppression, it became, under the leadership of Müntzer, a war against all constituted authorities, and an attempt to establish by revolution an ideal Christian commonwealth, with absolute equality and the community of goods. There were some common points between the Zwickau prophets and the later-developed Anabaptists. 

    Münster Rebellion

    Main articles: Münster Rebellion and Münster 

    A second and more determined attempt to establish a theocracy was made at Münster in Westphalia (1532–5), led by Bernhard Rothmann, Bernhard Knipperdolling, Jan Matthys and John of Leiden

    All things considered, Lutheranism, of all the Reformationist ideas had the most reasonable and measured spread into its country of origin. Not too surprisingly however, each of the various Reforming countries who followed his example, found its own heroes and its own doctrinal basis for Reformation, and went eagerly about persecuting, even civilly arresting and institutionally trying and slaughtering anyone who preached a different gospel, whether it be a Roman Catholic gospel or any of the competing “Reformed” gospels. Luther carried on some wild debates with a Swiss Reformer named Zwingli for example, about whether or not the Host actually was the flesh and blood of Christ. Though neither Luther nor Zwingli would have been inclined to set one-another on fire, hang, or chop off each other’s heads, the fact remains that had one or both of them tried to carry on the same debates a few years later in front of major Reformationist and prime Protestant, Jean Calvin’s Geneva religious empire, they’d have been bound in chains, had their books piled upon them and they’d  have been lit up in the public square. Clearly, one of the main features of historical Christianity, the oppressing and killing off its rivals, dissenters, and free-thinkers, was not a feature of the Church being “Reformed” in the Reformation. It was just being passed on to a new set of Inquisitors. 

    In the end, Luther ended up with a professional clergy running a highly organized, institutional church, and this apparatus was entirely supported by the general congregation. Luther’s new church is still claiming to be One Church, Catholic and Apostolic.” The big difference in Luther’s Lutheranism compared to the Roman Catholicism he’d left was that the congregation got to vote on who they were going to pay to tell them what to believe. 

    Modern Lutheranism is too broad a subject to be of interest to me in this context, nor could I or anyone else fully cover the insanely diverse directions it has gone in all of these centuries. In the American Lutheran variants alone we just achieved yet another split over whether actively Gay ministers can be ordained. Previous splits occurred over whether women pastors can be ordained. Splits have taken place over the issue of the inerrancy of the Holy Bible, and the Missouri Synod claims the modern King James Bible to be inerrant in spite of Martin Luther’s serious condemnation of major parts of it. Other synods use a wide number of other Bibles that have little in common with Martin Luther’s work as well and insist the Bible has to be read in social context and contains a high portion of symbolic and allegorical content.

    You can send homosexuals to hell and shut the mouths of your women in God’s house, or you can ordain all of the above to be your ministers, and still call yourself a “Lutheran.” Or you can take the middle road, and ordain confessed Gay ministers who aren’t sexually active, or let women and Gay’s do everything else but minister, perhaps become lay ministers. The Bible can be inerrant and fixed four hundred years ago by King James of England, or five hundred years ago by Luther of Germany, or it can be a groovy paraphrase published when hippies and Jesus-Freaks roamed the campi of America in tie-dyed T Shirts and faded bellbottoms. Stern old Pastor Wilhelm will send teenage girls to hell for wearing lipstick and going to the school dance, and Pastor Shirley T. Ransexual will tell them that Jesus loves the sinner, and invite them back to the rectory to play Black Sabbath and drink really thin coffee, along with Pastor Bob, the young hip youth pastor just out of divinity school who always wears a big hood-ornament-looking crucifix medallion and turtleneck instead of his vestments. It all comes down to a vote and a list of by-laws when you’re a Lutheran. And yes, I’ve been there and done that.


    About lrwhitney

    American Saint but not Utah product.
    This entry was posted in 9 All Hail the Protestants, Part 1 Luther and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

    5 Responses to All Hail the Protestants Part 1: Martin Luther Kicks it Off

    1. Paul Preus says:

      No disrespect, but you really need to site your sources and do a little more research before attempting to educate the public on the teachings of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church. I say this because I believe it is a noble cause to show people the errors of Mormonism, but if you are not demonstrating good scholarship in regards to Lutheranism it is hard to believe you are doing the same with Mormonism. Just a couple of examples: 1)”the Missouri Synod claims the modern King James Bible to be inerrant;”2) “Originally, yes, he thought the common body of Christ could just elect its own priests, discern its own truths and run its own Church. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before a little disaster called the “Peasant War,” got him re-thinking this whole concept.”
      The Missouri Synod makes no such claim about any translation of the Bible. If you want to know what the LCMS teaches about inerrancy I would direct you to “Luther:Word, Doctrine, Confession” by Robert Preus, and “What does inerrancy mean?” by .Arthur Carl Piepkorn.
      Luther never changed his doctrine about the priesthood of all believers. Luther always made a distinction between the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9) and the Office of the Holy Ministry (Matthew 28:19; John 20:19-23). The “Peasant War” brought to Luther’s attention that his teaching on the “priesthood of all believers” was being seriously misinterpreted and flat-out rejected, but he did not change his doctrine on the ministry or the priesthood of all believers.
      In regards to Luther’s criticism of certain books of the Bible you first need to understand the distinction between antilegomena and homologoumena books of the Bible. Second, you need to read what Luther said about the antilegomena books (Hebrews, James, Revelation, etc.) toward the end of his life. Also, in regards to James, Luther in 1522 made harsh statements about the book, but later in 1536 spoke highly of the book (WA DB 41:578-90; 1536). Also, when Luther describes James (and Hebrews) as “straw,” he is referring to its mundane, moral topics and not to its truthfulness. Luther is simply making a contrast between James and other NT Epistles and is not dismissing James outright (again, read about the distinction between antilegomena and homologoumena).
      In regards to Hebrews (antilegomena) Luther says, “it is still a marvelously fine epistle…We should be satisfied with the doctrine that he bases so constantly on the Scriptures…Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with them, but accept this fine teaching with all honor; though, to be sure, we cannot put it (antilegomena) on the same level with the apostolic epistles (homologoumena)” (AE 29: 107-241).
      In regards to Revelation Luther says, “Because its interpretation is uncertain and its meaning hidden, we have also let it alone until now, especially because some of the ancient fathers held that it was not the work of St. John, the Apostle (Therefore, it is antilegomena)…By that, however, no one should be prevented from regarding this as the work of St. John the Apostle…We can profit by this book and make good use of it. First, for our comfort! We can rest assured that neither force nor lies, neither wisdom nor holiness, neither tribulation nor suffering shall suppress Christendom, but it will gain the victory and conquer at last” (AE 35:399-411).
      Hopefully this will give you a better opportunity to present the teachings of Luther and the Lutheran Church. If you really want to know what Lutherans teach I would point you to the Lutheran Confessions of 1580.

      • lrwhitney says:

        I sincerely appreciate your input and though I hope nobody would mistake this conversational-level exploration of American Christianity and its relationship to Mormonism for a “scholarly” exercise, I indeed strive to deliver as much accuracy as can be spared in an endeavor to weave together rather a lot of theology, philosphy, and sociology into an interesting narrative. It is not my intention to parse out Lutheranism or Mormonism for that matter, down to every fine point of history or doctrine, because that indeed is scholarship and as such would be confined to the same dusty shelf where my father keeps his Doctor’s thesis, to be known, discussed, and respected by a very small circle of peers keenly interested in the Soviet Union and the Industrial Revolution.

        This is after all, Religion for Mormons and other Idiots, with an emphasis on Religion for Idiots. Most people, Mormons of otherwise think Martin Luther is that dead civil rights guy we get the new holiday for, and that’s about it. If I flesh out Lutheranism even a little better than that I count it as a job well done.

        You make a very valid point also that I should cite references, or as the average reader might call them, “those boring interruptions of the story.” I do however make full use of 21st Century technology and list a host of direct links the curious reader can easily click and instantly read most of my sources and many others often representing opposing opinions just for fairness. I can’t link to all of my sources, because for instance most of my sources for Lutheranism in particular are my father’s side of the family who founded a very strict little Evangelical Free Church out on the prairie some hundred and fifty years ago and who have been deeply involved in every permutation of Lutheranism ever since. Another great source comes from long conversations in the pub with Pastors, Martin, Pari, and Trevor. The Lutheran roots of my family go back to Norway and a famous fellow there by the name of Hans Nielsen Hauge.

        Now, my only reason for citing Luther’s criticism of Holy Scripture is in the ironic context of many of his followers today claiming that the same books he gave scathing reviews, reviews which you only reinforce in your response here, to be “inerrant.” This also in the context of a Biblical canon that hadn’t exactly been decided yet, by “Christianity.” So the Bible the modern LCMS claims to be “inerrant” isn’t even the same “Bible” Luther was looking at to begin with. You only reinforce my contention that Luther, Calvin, the Anglicans and other Protestants, as well as the Roman Church undertook generations of opinionating about a host of books before the modern canon evolved, many of which ultimately got dropped, and some of which got included in spite of much criticism about either their worth or veracity. The modern canon resulted by screening sacred records through the very process you cite in the writings of Martin Luther. This as opposed to the silly notion proposed by many evangelicals that God just wrote it all down in King’s English in the exact order, word-for-word exactly as He intended and handed it to the Church.

        You’ve given me some great sources–sources that would unfortunately require heading to the main library downtown and putting the list on reserve, over the course of weeks. But I may be in a position to give you a few quick, easily verifiable sources than you may not be aware of, only a click away. I would submit that what Luther had to say about inerrancy some five hundred years ago may have little to do with what the LCMS or any other variant might be teaching today. Likewise, the LCMS position on inerrancy seems to be highly dependent upon what day it is, who you’re talking to, what the last conference decided, and which way the wind is blowing. Since Pastor Martin was lecturing me out of the King James Bible I may have been imprecise to give the impression that his claims of inerrancy were relegated only to that specific translation. But he did indeed claim the King James Bible he was reading from to be inerrant. If that applies to other translations as well so be it–but then I must muse further, that it’s oxymoronic to claim that the Bible is inerrant and then also contend that any and all translations of it are also inerrant, given the widely and hotly contested scholarly and clerical debates that continue to ensue with every new attempt at the “perfect” translation of the Bible. But my main point here was that the LCMS considers the bible to be the inerrant, literal word of god, and I must point out that to imply as you seem to do in some way, that the LCMS has never claimed the Bible to be inerrant is not correct in any case:

        (Quote from the above LCMS web site: The Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word, in which He reveals His Law and His Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the sole rule and norm for Christian doctrine.)

        (Quote from the above: The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod believes the Holy Scripture is different from all other books in the world because they are the Word of God. They believe holy men of God wrote the Scriptures. They believe the Holy Ghost communicated with the holy men to inspire them and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures should be taught by the Scriptures. They believe the Holy Scriptures contains no errors or contradictions and that they are the infallible truth, the foundation of faith and the sole source for all proclaimed doctrines. They reject any doctrines that do not accept the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures and consider these doctrines erroneous and blasphemous.

        The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod believes the Bible is inerrant and have believed in the Scripture alone ever since the Lutheran Reformation…)

        That last link by the way, also gives a history of several schisms and rebellions out of the original Concordia Seminary centered around the notion of inerrancy and other doctrines, like the ordination of women and whatnot. You should also note that this is a linear exposition and I probably dealt with most of your objections in earlier or later chapters (posts) like:

      • lrwhitney says:

        Had another go recently with the good Lutheran pastors I chum around a bit with and turns out I wasn’t too far off from pastor Martin’s point. Without links to protect his professional standing, I’ll cut and paste a bit of some dialogue he reiterated on the subject:

        “MARTIN: I realize that KJV-only people tend to be hard to reason with. I did not, until recently, realize that they are also bigots. I am not speaking of those who prefer the KJV, nor of those who follow the Majority/Byzantine Greek Text, nor of those who appreciate the KJV, or highly praise the KJV, nor those who have chosen to use only the KJV in their worship. That’s great, and I get along just fine with these people, and mostly agree with their assessment.

        KJV-onlyism is a far more exclusive club than that. To belong, you must believe that: * The KJV text is inspired by the Holy Spirit, perfect, and inerrant. * The Greek and the Hebrew are inferior to the KJV text, and subservient to it. * No other English translation is acceptable under any circumstances, no matter how accurate or faithful to the Greek and Hebrew it may be. * You are sinning if you use an English Bible that is not the KJV. … but here’s the clincher that I did not realize: * If your native tongue is not English, you have no right to the Bible in your own language. You have to use the KJV, even if you don’t speak English. Otherwise, you have no inerrant Word of God. In fact, you are sinning if you use a Bible that is not the KJV. In other words, KJV-onlyism is also by nature bigoted.

        PUB-GOER II: People actually believe that? Or should the question be: There are Lutheran sects that go that far?

        PUB-GOER III: I’ve never known any Lutheran(s) to believe that. But I have known some KJV-only Baptists and Pentecostals, and the above lists fits what they told me. When I objected that only the Greek and Hebrew originals are “inspired,” I was basically hissed at. lol

        PUB-GOER III The reason I say Lutheran sects is because I pay attention to these groups. They exist. In fact, there’s a little group called the Illinois Lutheran Conference that exists because WELS stopped using the KJV….”

        PUB-GOER IV: Wow, I knew the KJV-only crowd was nuts, but now they sound just like most Muslim sects with their whole ‘only the original’ text of the Koran, which was canonized after Mohammed’s death, is the right version and even translations into modern Arabic are error prone and thus cannot be used to argue theological points’ attitude. One word for both groups: Bibliolatry.

        MARTIN: Bibliolatry is a loaded word, if only because it is leveled against anyone who believes that the Bible is verbally inspired and inerrant, and that, despite manuscript and translation issues, we still have the perfect Word of God. Bibliolatry also tends to imply that anyone who allows the words of the Bible to reign over human reason is a Bible worshiper. For these reasons, I do not use the term. But aside from that, I agree.”

        Now, I’ve already posted a reply with numerous quotes from LCMS web sites claiming Biblical inerrancy, and yes, in the context of the above beer-soaked tavern-based conversation the LCMS and a couple of offshoots came up specifically regarding choice of the KJV and claims of inerrancy. You may be correct that the LCMS has waffled on the point, or that those within the LCMS left and formed their own sect of Lutheranism. But my point about the LCMS remains essentially vindicated, certainly relative to any other “real” Lutheran sect as you term it, and certainly relative to the LDS position.

        The LDS position on the King James Bible as I have said several times in several places, is a bit enigmatic on the opposite end of the spectrum from the LCMS. The former claims the KJV is not the be-all-and-end all, but has become emotionally and spiritually dependent upon using it exclusively. The latter claims the scriptures are inerrant, complete, God-breathed, and perfect, but then don’t really commit themselves to any particular version of it. Either of those positions is oxymoronic.

    2. Paul Preus says:

      I appreciate your prompt response. Maybe my upcoming response will be beyond what you were intending in your blog post, but I think I need to clarify what your pastor friend apparently was unable or unwilling to do. I certainly do believe in the inerrancy of Holy Scripture. It is not anything I can prove to you, since my argument would be clearly circular (The Bible is the Word of God, the Bible makes the claim that it is inerrant, therefore it is inerrant and the Word of God)…it is an article of faith, which one believes after he has been made a child of God through the blood of Christ, through the preached Word (Romans 10). But when Lutherans say that Scripture is inerrant we are not talking about a translation of any kind, not even Luther’s translation (In fact a good Lutheran Greek scholar is more than free to criticize Luther’s translation and some do, especially since his translation was based on Erasmus’ compilation of the Greek texts, which is now known not to be the most reliable compilation). Instead we are speaking of the original autographs. This is why many scholars work very hard to produce, to the best of their ability, the original text in the original Greek/Hebrew language. This is why no educated Lutheran would ever subscribe unconditionally to any German, English, etc. translation of the Bible. To do so would be clear legalism and stubborn ignorance. This is why our pastors are supposed to learn the original languages so they can read and understand the original document as it was written to Christians of the 1st and early 2nd century.
      But you are correct….we certainly do believe, teach, and confess the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of Scripture…this is an important article of faith. If one professes to be a Christian yet believes the original manuscripts written by the Prophets and Apostles contain errors and are not necessarily authoritative then he can pick and chose to his own liking what he believes is true and not true (Jesus Seminar), which is subjective and helps explain the many countless sects which have arisen throughout Christendom.
      We also believe is the perspicuity(clearness) of Scripture. The Bible makes claims and statements. The authors of Holy Scripture claim that what they have written is the truth, therefore we do not have the freedom to change the original intended meaning of any portion of Scripture even if the culture changes and its claims become politically incorrect (women in the ministry, homosexuality, the nature of man, etc, etc.). We simply do not have the liberty to make such changes to the clear words of Scripture…they say what they say. I know you may not have the time, but the books I suggested you read would give you a better understanding of what Lutherans teach on this important article of faith, better than I can in a short response like this. I think also you would see a clear difference between what Lutherans teach about the inerrancy of Scripture and what the “Evangelicals” or the non-Christian Mormon sect teach.
      You have said you come from a long line of Norwegian Lutherans. So do I, my father is 100% Norwegian. I am quite familiar with Hans Nielsen Hauge. My ancestors are those of Hermann Amberg Preus…I’m sure as a former Lutheran you are familiar with the family name, or maybe not. My ancestors would not have been on the same page as Hauge on many issues. Hauge had pietistic tendencies and had a low regard for the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the Office of the Ministry. He also, as a result of his teaching of Justification, has been accused of teaching what people call “cheap grace.” The Apostle Paul teaches: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means (actually the Greek would be more like “Hell, no!”) How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” But that is another issue. This does explain, however, how you ended up in the Evangelical Free Church. This would be pretty consistent with the teaching of Hauge.
      One more point (sorry for my ramblings). You are absolutely correct that Lutherans believe in Scripture alone when it comes what Christians should believe, teach, and confess. This is very important and distinguishes us from the Roman Catholic Church, the “Evangelicals,” and most definitely the Mormons. Lutherans believe that Scripture interprets Scripture. The Roman Catholics believe that the “Church” and tradition can interpret Scripture, which often leads to the “Church” contradicting the clear words of Scripture. Also, the Christian church traditionally never allowed antilegomena to interpret homologoumona. This is why the Roman Catholics teach salvation by works (James interprets Romans) and purgatory. This also explains why many “Evangelical” groups teach a 1000 year reign of Jesus, an earthly reign from Jerusalem, etc. (Revelation interprets the Gospels). The so-called “Evangelicals” claim to teach the inerrancy and perspicuity of Scripture, but their funny teaching regarding the end times, their denial of salvific benefits of baptism (1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism now saves you.”), their denial of the real presence (Matthew 26:26: “Take eat, take drink this IS), show that this really is not the case. The Mormons also make this inerrancy claim about Scripture and their Book of Mormon. But their Book of Mormon and the teachings of their church (sounds kind of like the RC’s) end up interpreting Scripture instead.
      I apologize again for my rant, and it may not be pertinent to the point you were trying to get across to your audience, but I get a little defensive when the Lutheran Church (according to the Confession of the Book of Concord) is characterized as having the same view of Scripture as the Mormons and even the so-called “Evangelicals.”
      By the way, I came about your blog because I’m right now working on a paper in which I am comparing and contrasting the Mormon faith with the Confessional Lutheran faith. Some of your posts have been helpful, thank you.

    3. JR says:

      I do not see a problem with what you wrote. I too have read about these same things from many sources and you ARE telling it correctly.

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google photo

    You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s