Martin Luther

General Teachings/Activities*

-  Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German theologian and a major leader of the Protestant Reformation. He is sometimes called the father of Protestantism, and one of the major branches of "main-line" Protestantism -- Lutheranism -- is named after him. Luther was the son of a Saxon miner. He entered the University of Erfurt when he was 18 years old. After graduation, he began to study law in 1505. In July of that year, however, he narrowly escaped death in a thunderstorm and vowed to become a monk. He entered the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits at Erfurt, where he was ordained in 1507. The following year he was sent to Wittenberg, where he continued his studies and lectured in moral philosophy. In 1511, he received his doctorate in theology and an appointment as professor of Scripture, which he held for the rest of his life. Luther visited Rome in 1510 on business for his order and was shocked to find corruption in high ecclesiastical places in the Roman Catholic Church.

He was well acquainted with the scholastic theology of his day, but he made the study of the Bible, especially the epistles of Paul, the center of his work. Luther found that his teachings diverged increasingly from the traditional beliefs of the Roman church. His studies had supposedly led him to the conclusion that Christ was the sole mediator between God and man and that forgiveness of sin and salvation are effected by God's grace alone (sola gratia) and are received by faith alone (sola fide) on the part of man. This point of view supposedly turned him against scholastic theology, which had emphasized man's role in his own salvation, and against many church practices that emphasized justification by good works. (We say "supposedly" because in his Small Catechism of 1529, Luther clearly denies grace alone and faith alone in favor of adding baptism and the sacraments.) His approach to theology soon led to a clash between Luther and church officials, precipitating the dramatic events of the Reformation.

The doctrine of Indulgences, with its worldly view of sin and repentance, became the specific focus of Luther's indignation. The sale by the church of indulgences -- the remission of temporal punishments for sins committed and confessed to a priest through the payment of money -- brought in much revenue. The archbishop of Mainz sponsored such a sale in 1517 to pay the pope for his appointment to Mainz and for the construction of Saint Peter's in Rome. Luther posted his famous 95 theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Although some of the theses directly criticized papal policies, they were put forward only as tentative objections for discussion.

In 1520, Luther completed three celebrated works in which he stated his views. In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, he invited the German princes to take the reform of the church into their own hands; in A Prelude Concerning the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he attacked the papacy and the current theology of sacraments; and in On the Freedom of a Christian Man, he stated his position on justification and good works. The bull of Pope Leo X, Exsurge Domine, issued on June 15 that same year, gave Luther 60 days to recant, and Decet Romanum Pontificem, of Jan. 3, 1521, excommunicated him.

His reforming work during subsequent years included the writing of the Small and Large Catechisms, sermon books, more than a dozen hymns, over 100 volumes of tracts, treatises, Biblical commentaries, thousands of letters, and the translation of the entire Bible into German. Luther's failure to reach doctrinal accord with Ulrich Zwingli on the nature of the Eucharist (1529) split the Reform movement. Nonetheless, Luther found personal solace in his marriage (1525) to a former Cistercian nun, Katherina von Bora; they raised six children. (Adapted and/or excerpted from Funk & Wagnall's New Encyclopedia, Webster's New Biographical Dictionary, and Grolier's Electronic Encyclopedia.)

-  We are told today that the rallying cry of the Reformation was: Sola Scriptura! Sola Gratia! Sola Fide! (Scripture only, Grace only, Faith only). But is this what Luther actually believed and taught? In 1529, Luther published his most popular book, the Small Catechism. By commenting briefly in question and answer form on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, baptism, and the Lord's Supper, the Small Catechism explains the theology of the evangelical reformation. As Luther's theology is presented in the following excerpts from the Small Catechism, ask yourself this question: "If this theology was presented to you anonymously (i.e., without Luther's name on it), what would you think about the so-called saving faith of its author?":

1. Luther & the Altering of the Ten Commandments -- Luther's rendering of the Ten Commandments follow:

(1) You must not have other gods.
(2) You must not misuse your God's name.
(3) You must keep the Sabbath holy.
(4) You must honor your father and mother. [So that things will go well for you and you will live long on earth].
(5) You must not kill.
(6) You must not commit adultery.
(7) You must not steal.
(8) You must not tell lies about your neighbor.
(9) You must not desire your neighbor's house.
(10) You must not desire your neighbor's wife, servant, maid, animals or anything that belongs to him.

Notice how the Second Commandment of God (Idol/Image-making -- Exo. 20:4-6) is nowhere to be found! Instead, to come up with Ten Commandments (after eliminating No. 2 and renumbering the remaining No.'s 2-9), God's Commandment No. 10 is divided into two parts to get No.'s 9 & 10. This is EXACTLY what you will find in the Roman Catholic Catechism. It's easy to understand why popery wanted no prohibition against idols, statutes, and images, but isn't it strange that Luther went along with this altering of the Word of God! (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Pe. 3:15-16; Rev. 22:19).

Not surprising from a man who would alter Scripture, Luther did not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture either. Well known is his low esteem of the epistle of James. He called it an "epistle of straw." In his opinion, it did not contain the gospel. In his translation of the Bible, Luther placed the epistle of James after Revelation, because he disliked it so much.

2. Luther & Baptismal Regeneration -- (Note specifically: II.)

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism: The Simple Way a Father Should Present it to His Household.

I. Q. What is Baptism?
A. Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water contained within God's command and united with God's Word.

II. Q. What does Baptism give? What good is it?
A. It gives the forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the Devil, gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, just as God's words and promises declare. (Emphasis added.)

Q. What are these words and promises of God?
A. Our Lord Christ spoke one of them in the last chapter of Mark: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be damned."

III. Q. How can water do such great things?
A. Water doesn't make these things happen, of course. It is God's Word, which is with and in the water. Because, without God's Word, the water is plain water and not baptism. But with God's Word it is a Baptism, a grace-filled water of life, a bath of a new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul said to Titus in the third chapter: "Through this bath of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that we, justified by the same grace are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying." (Emphasis added.)

IV. Q. What is the meaning of such a water Baptism?
A. It means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, in turn, a new person daily come forth and rise from death again. He will live forever before God in righteousness and purity.

Q. Where is this written?
A. St. Paul says to the Romans in chapter six: "We are buried with Christ through Baptism into death, so that, in the same way Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, thus also must we walk in a new life."

Is not this gospel of "baptism for salvation" another gospel? (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). Numbers III. & IV. above also touch on the "sacramentalism" aspect of baptism, again, much like the Roman Catholic sacraments. (See Endnote detailing Luther's teachings on baptism from his Bible commentaries.)

3. Luther & Consubstantiation/Sacramentalism -- [Consubstantiation: the actual substantial presence and combination of the body and blood of Christ with the eucharistic bread and wine according to a teaching associated with Martin Luther (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary).] [Sacramentalism: belief in or use of sacramental rites, acts, or objects; specif.: belief that the sacraments are inherently efficacious and necessary for salvation (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary).]

The Sacrament of the Altar: The Simple Way a Father Should Present it to his Household.

I. Q. What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
A. It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink, established by Christ Himself. (Emphasis added.)

III. Q. What good does this eating and drinking do?
A. These words tell us: "Given for you" and "Shed for you to forgive sins." Namely, that the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given to us through these words in the sacrament. Because, where sins are forgiven, there is life and salvation as well. (Emphasis added.)

IV. Q. How can physical eating and drinking do such great things?
A. Of course, eating and drinking do not do these things. These words, written here, do them: "given for you" and "shed for you to forgive sins." These words, along with physical eating and drinking are the important part of the sacrament. Anyone who believes these words has what they say and what they record, namely, the forgiveness of sins. (Emphasis added.)

Obviously, another of the Roman Catholic "means of grace" carried over into Lutheranism. (An interesting note: in the book Huldrych Zwingli: His Life and Work, the author noted that the disagreement between Zwingli and Luther over the Lord's supper had deeper roots than simply the presence of the Lord in the elements. Luther clung to his consubstantiation view because, "According to Luther, 'Only the real presence guarantees the Lord's Supper as a means to transmit salvation'" (p. 132).

The above issues were supposedly the key doctrinal issues Luther was fighting Rome over!

Sola Scriptura? -- Luther altered the Ten Commandments! Sola Gratia? -- Luther had grace being dispensed through baptism and communion! Sola Fide? -- Luther added baptism and the sacraments to a simple believing faith! Based on these contradictions, and the clear words of Paul in Galatians 1:6-9, what should be our position concerning Luther's true saving faith?

-  History shows that the "Young Luther" took a more Biblical position on some of these doctrinal issues. In his later writings, he reverted back to the Catholic views, as demonstrated above in his teachings on baptism and "communion." In his earlier writings, Luther clearly taught "baptism of believers." He reverted later on when he was confronted with the necessity to organize the church in those provinces that had rejected Catholicism. Many of the dukes introduced the "Reformation" in their territory because they could confiscate the vast real estate holdings of the monasteries. In this situation, Luther decided to organize the churches as a State Church. Perhaps his teachings changed because of political "necessities."

Whatever the reason, as far as one can tell by reading Luther's Catechisms, Large and Small, in the end, precious little of popery was rejected by Martin Luther, save the practice of indulgences detailed in Luther's 95 theses. All this probably should not be of any great surprise, since the "Reformers" were just that -- bent on "reforming" Catholicism, not on "transforming" it, and certainly not on rejecting it outright.

Luther's Catechisms must be considered the defining statement of his beliefs. After all, that's the meaning of "catechism" -- "an instructional summary of the basic principles of a religion, in question-and-answer form" (American Heritage Dictionary). Also, Luther's Catechisms are the documents upon which the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) was founded. So, it doesn't much matter what Luther wrote or taught outside of his Large and Small Catechisms. He had 16 years to change them if he had changed his beliefs between the time of their publishing in 1529 and his death in 1546. There is no evidence of his doing so.

As was suggested earlier, if these beliefs were presented you anonymously, would you not say that the author was a heretic, without saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?! Strange then that with Luther's name attached, excuses are made -- such as: "You misunderstand what he says"; "Something was lost in the translation"; "The words don't have the same meaning they had in the 16th century"; and "How dare you attack Martin Luther!"

-  But some men say, "What about all of Luther's 'good works'? Don't they testify to his saving faith?" By 1537, Luther's health had begun to deteriorate, and he felt burdened by the resurgence of the papacy and by what he perceived as an attempt by Jews to take advantage of the confusion among Christians and reopen the question of Jesus' messiahship. Apprehensive about his own responsibility for this situation, he wrote a violent polemic against the Jews, as well as polemics against the papacy and the radical wing of the reformers, the Anabaptists. Luther maliciously slandered anyone he disagreed with:

(a) Luther encouraged true Christians to murder Catholic bishops and destroy their property (Against the Falsely Called Spiritual Order of the Pope and the Bishops):

"It were better that every bishop were murdered, every [monastery or convent] rooted out, that one soul should be destroyed ... But if they will not hear God's Word, but rage and rave with bannings and burnings, killings and every evil, what do they better deserve than a strong uprising which will sweep them from the earth? And we would smile did it happen. ... All who contribute body, goods and honor that the rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God's dear children and true Christians."

(b) With the dawn of the Reformation in 1517, it seemed that Jews might fair much better. Luther rallied to their cause and published a pamphlet in 1523 which he entitled, Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. In it he sympathized with the Jewish plight, mocked their enemies, and hoped to show Jews that Jesus was their promised Messiah. When they refused to convert, Luther changed his attitude, and in 1542 he wrote a book entitled, Against the Jews and Their Lies. For 200 pages, Luther poured out passionate diatribes of anti-Semitism that few have matched since his time. He termed Jews "alien murderers and bloodthirsty enemies" who "practiced all sorts of vices." In his vicious reviling of the Jews, Luther urged burning of synagogues, destroying of Jewish homes and prayer books, and confiscating of Jewish property:

"Know, O adored Christ, and make no mistake, that aside from the Devil, you have no enemy more venomous, more desperate, more bitter, than a true Jew ... let their synagogues be burned, their books confiscated, that they be forbidden to pray to God in their own way, and that they be made to work with their hands, or, better still, that the princes expel them from their lands, and that the authorities -- magistrates as well as clergy -- unite toward these ends."

Right up until his death, Luther kept calling for various repressive measures against Jews -- burning of their schools, confiscating their literature, prohibiting rabbis from teaching on pain of death, and confiscating their wealth and assigning them to manual labor. Poliakov wrote, "Luther's last sermon at Eisleben, the city of his birth, four days before his death [February 18, 1546], was entirely devoted to the obdurate Jews, whom it was a matter of great urgency to expel from all German territory." "We are at fault for not slaying them," Luther fumed. To Luther, a dead Jew was a good Jew. He even used profanity against them so vile that it cannot be quoted here. Unfortunately, the teachings of Luther on Jewry became part of the theological framework for the Nazis. (Excerpted and/or adapted from the April/May 1993 issue of Israel My Glory.)

(c) The acid tongue of Luther was often used in personal attacks and ridicule of alleged heretics, opening the door for persecution by those who very likely needed little excuse. Luther, after dialoguing with the humble peacemaker Casper Schwenckfeld over their differences regarding the Lord's Supper, referred to Schwenckfeld as Schwein feld, the German term for pig (11/96, The Berean Call). Luther also condoned the active persecution of the Anabaptists, including their wholesale slaughter! (Plain and Amish, by Bernd G. Langin, Herald Press: 1994). The Catholics readily obliged by burning the Anabaptists on the stake and the Reformers tied their hands together on their back and threw them into the rivers. Of the Anabaptists, Luther said, "Who seeth not here in the Anabaptists, men not possessed with devils, but even devils themselves possessed with worse devils?"

-  It never ceases to amaze how historical figures gain a reputation based upon total ignorance of the facts. Can true Christians just ignore Luther's altering of the Word of God, his teaching of baptismal regeneration, his theology of Sacramentalism? Should we ignore his hatred for the Jews and his encouraging of violence in the name of Christ? We sure wouldn't tolerate such things from the common man in the pew -- why for Luther? One never wants to judge a man's heart. Yet, his fruit we are to judge (John 7:24; Matt. 7:13-23). I wonder how many false gospels a man has to preach before we judge and warn as Paul did (cf. Gal. 1:6-10)?

* Some of the information in this report was derived from an Internet resource provided by Project Wittenberg, "home to works by and about Martin Luther and other Lutherans." It is a project of the Walther Library at Concordia Theological Seminary.

Though not covered in his Catechisms, Luther was also a devotee to the Mary of Roman Catholicism. In his own words:

"... she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. ... God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. ... God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her" (Luther's Works, American edition, Vol. 43, p. 40, ed. H. Lehmann, Fortress, 1968). (Emphasis added.)

".... she is rightly called not only the mother of the man, but also the Mother of God. ... it is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God" ("Sermon on John 14:16": Luther's Works [St. Louis], ed. Jaroslav Pelican, Concordia. Vol. 24. p. 107).

"Christ our Savior was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb. ... This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that" ("On the Gospel of St. John": Luther's Works, Vol. 22. p. 23, ed. Jaroslav Pelican, Concordia, 1957). (Emphasis added).

"Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees" (From the Commentary on the Magnificat).

[Endnote: The fact that Luther's Catechisms teach baptismal regeneration is clear. When we take a look at his other writings on the subject of baptism, Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone has a hallow (heretical) ring to it. In his commentaries on various books of the Bible, Luther wrote the following comments: (Emphases added.)

Romans 6:3 -- "We are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and His death. Having been baptized into His death ... we are merely baptized into everlasting life and the kingdom of heaven ... We have merely taken the first step to seek after eternal life. ... Therefore it is necessary that we should be baptized into Jesus Christ and His death (Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, p. 85).

Galatians 3:27 -- "[Speaking of putting off the garment of sin and putting on Christ] This is not done by changing of a garment, or by any laws or works, but by a new birth, and by the renewing of the inward man; which is done in baptism, as Paul saith: 'All ye that are baptized, have put on Christ.' ... they which are baptized are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Ghost to a heavenly righteousness and to eternal life ... This is diligently to be noted, because of the fond and fantastical spirits, which go about to deface the majesty of baptism and speak wickedly of it. Paul contrariwise commendeth and setteth it forth ... As if he said, Ye are carried out of the law into a new birth, which is wrought in baptism. ...[through which] ye are clothed with a new garment; to wit, with the righteousness of Christ." (A Commentary On Saint Paul's Epistle To The Galatians, trans. Robert Carter, pp. 346-347)

Luther and those who have perpetuated the doctrine of baptismal regeneration are responsible for a whole raft of false teaching that afflicts Christianity today. No doubt but what our modern day Church of Christ teaching on baptismal regeneration came from Luther's Protestantism. Though Luther would probably cringe at the thought, this false teaching has resulted in the Mormon perversion of baptizing for the dead ("Martin Luther and Baptismal Regeneration," a tract by E.L. Bynum, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas).]  [Return to Text]

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 4/97