Section 8B ... Controversial Issues


003white Index To Section 8B... Controversial Issues


Martin Luther ...
An Ill Earned Reputation Based Upon Total Ignorance of the Facts?

Please Note: Each coloured link within the article will lead you to a related topic on a different page of this site. However, while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may, or may not, agree with the views expressed on those pages, or anything else on this site..

Also See Section on Doctrines of Grace or Calvinism



Martin Luther... General Teachings/Activities

Martin Luther's Sacramental Gospel

Martin Luther's Devotion to Mary


Martin Luther... General Teachings/Activities
"Copyright BDM. (Bible Discernment Ministries) All Rights Reserved"

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. [Also See The Myth of Faith Alone]

    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. [Also See Baptism]

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). More About Luther and his Devotion to Mary Below

[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]




Martin Luther's Sacramental Gospel
by Dwight Oswald*

    "... you have this baptismal regeneration, preparing stepping stones to make it easy for men to go to Rome. ... I pray you never rest upon this wretched and rotten foundation, this deceitful invention of antichrist." -- Charles Spurgeon (From his sermon titled Baptismal Regeneration)

    "The fact that Christianity is a religion of salvation is expressed in the sacramental life of the Church. ... Baptism and the Eucharist [are] sacraments which create in man the seed of eternal life. -- Pope John Paul II (Quoted from Crossing the Threshold of Hope, pp. 74-75)

    "To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to 'be saved.' To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever." -- Martin Luther (Quoted from The Large Catechism)

The false sacramental gospel of "Baptismal Regeneration," as proclaimed by Martin Luther and others, has probably (God only knows) led more people to hell than any other error propagated and tolerated within the ranks of professing Christianity.

"More books have been written about Luther [1483-1546], the great German Reformer, than about any other figure in history, except Christ" (The History of Christianity, Lion Publishing, p. 368). Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. The next day he was baptized as a Roman Catholic at St. Ann's Church in Eisleben. As a young man he attended the University of Erfurt in preparation to become a lawyer. One night [1505] on his way to his parent's home he was nearly struck by lightening. In terror he vowed that if Saint Ann would save him he would become a monk. Following this, much to the consternation of his father, Luther joined himself to the Cloister of Augustinian Friars in Erfurt. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1507. During this time, Luther desperately tried to earn favor with God through a life of rigid asceticism. It brought no peace.

On a business trip to Rome in 1510, Luther was shocked by the corruption and worldliness he witnessed in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1511, his Augustinian order sent him to the University of Wittenberg, where he completed his doctorate of theology. Shortly thereafter, he was given the position "Chair of Biblical Theology" at Wittenberg, which he maintained for the rest of his life.

Sometime between 1512 and 1515, Luther supposedly came to realize that man is not justified by his own works but rather by faith alone. On October 31, 1517, he placed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg. For the most part, they challenged the practice of selling "indulgences." Initially, Luther's desire was for REFORMATION to take place within the Roman Catholic church. In 1521, the Pope excommunicated Luther. In 1525, Luther married a former nun by the name of Katherina von Bora. They had six children. Luther died in the same town he was born -- Eisleben, Germany in 1546.

An Evangelical Reputation -- A Sacramental Gospel
Luther is quoted favorably by just about everyone in professing Christianity. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists often refer to him as a champion of "Justification By Faith ALONE." However, that is only half the story. It is absolutely amazing that very few seem to realize that Luther in fact believed that we are saved by "faith alone through baptism." However, you can't have it both ways at the same time -- "Faith Alone" and "Faith through Baptism." The addition of "through baptism" in effect contradicts "faith alone."

In reality, Luther did not hold to JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE! If he had really held to this, he would have rejected the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration." He did not! In fact, Luther called for the death of those (Anabaptists) who outspokenly believed in JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE and practiced BELIEVER'S BAPTISM. To get away from a gospel of works salvation, Luther referred to baptism as "God's Work" and not a work that man does. However, the OBJECT of Luther's faith was not Christ ALONE, but CHRIST plus BAPTISM. That is ANOTHER GOSPEL!!!

Luther's Catechisms
Luther wrote down the "essentials" of the faith as he saw them in what is known as Luther's Catechism. There was the SMALL CATECHISM geared toward children and his LARGE CATECHISM geared toward adults. Both Catechisms deal with five things: The Ten Commandments; The Apostles Creed; The Lord's Prayer; Baptism; and Communion. Luther himself said:

"In the catechism, we have a very exact, direct, and short way to the whole Christian religion. ... The catechism is the most complete and best doctrine, and therefore should continually be preached; all public sermons should be grounded and built thereupon. ... the catechism, I insist, is the right Bible of the laity, wherein is contained the whole sum of Christian doctrine necessary to be known by every Christian for salvation. ... We should esteem and love the catechism, for therein is the ancient, pure, divine doctrine of the Christian Church" (Table Talk -- Martin Luther, translated by William Hazlitt, pp. 139-140).

    "Luther said that he would be glad to have all his works perish except the reply to Erasmus and the catechism" (Here I Stand -- Roland H. Bainton, p. 263).

Luther in His Own Words from The Large Catechism (All from The Large Catechism of Martin Luther, translated by Robert Fischer)

    "It remains for us to speak of our two sacraments, instituted by Christ. Every Christian ought to have at least some brief, elementary instruction in them because without these no one can be a Christian ... First we shall take up Baptism through which we are first received into the Christian community. ... Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved" (pp. 80-81). (Bold added.)

    "Hence it is well described as a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water, for through the Word Baptism receives the power to become the "washing of regeneration," as St. Paul calls it in Titus 3:5. ... Thus faith clings to the water and believes it to be Baptism in which there is sheer salvation and life ..." (p. 84). (Bold added.)

    "'He who believes and is baptized will be saved,' that is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive the salutary, divine water profitably. ... But it becomes beneficial to you if you accept it as God's command and ordinance, so that, baptized in the name of God, you may receive in the water the promised salvation" (pp. 84-85). (Bold added.)

    "He always [the Christian] has enough to do to believe firmly what Baptism promises and brings -- victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God's grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts. In short the blessings of Baptism are so boundless ... Now here in Baptism there is brought free to every man's door just such a priceless medicine which swallows up death and saves the lives of all men. To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, "But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body." ... No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than Baptism, for through it we obtain perfect holiness and salvation, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire" (pp. 85-86). (Bold added.)

    "Thus we see what a great and excellent thing Baptism is, which snatches us from the jaws of the devil and makes God our own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new man, always remains until we pass from this present misery to eternal glory. ... As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in Baptism ..." (p. 90). (Bold added.)

Further Quotes from Luther on Baptism

    "The Anabaptists cavil as to how the salvation of man is to be effected by water. The simple answer is, that all things are possible to him who believes in God Almighty" (Table Talk, p. 180).
    "Just so, when we are baptized into everlasting life and the kingdom of heaven ... Therefore it is necessary that we should be baptized into Jesus Christ and His death" (Commentary on Romans -- Martin Luther, translated by J. Theodore Mueller, p. 101).

    ... made children of God. ... by a new birth, and by the renewing of the inward man, which is done in baptism ... For, besides that they who are baptized are regenerate and renewed by the Holy Ghost to a heavenly righteousness, and to eternal life ... And this is to put on Christ truly, according to the gospel. ... This is diligently to be noted, because of the fond and fantastical spirits, who go about to deface the majesty of baptism, and speak wickedly of it. Paul, contrariwise, commendeth it, and setteth it forth with honorable titles, calling it, 'the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.' And here also he saith, that 'all ye that are baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.' Wherefore baptism is a thing of great force and efficacy" (Commentary On Galatians -- Martin Luther, translated by Erasmus Middleton, pp. 221-222). (Bold added.)

    "... so, it is to be observed, must you also be saved in baptism. Just as that water swallowed up all that was then living, of man and beast, so baptism also swallows up all that is of the flesh and of the corrupt nature, and makes us spiritual (Commentary On Peter & Jude -- Martin Luther, Kregel Publications, p. 169). (Bold added.)

    "Luther attached great importance to his baptism. When the Devil assailed him, he would answer, 'I am baptized'" (Here I Stand -- Roland Bainton, p. 287). Excusing Luther's Sacramental Gospel

Many make excuses for Luther, claiming that since he had just come out of Roman Catholicism, he couldn't be expected to have all of his theology correct. One could concede this on so-called "secondary" issues, but the issue here is not secondary but PRIMARY! (1 Tim. 2:4) The issue is HOW Christ is received. That is ESSENTIAL!!! It should again be pointed out that the Anabaptists did have their doctrine correct concerning baptism, yet Luther called for their death. It is not that Luther did not give careful thought to the issues. He did!:

    "If anyone after my death should say: If Dr. Luther were living right now, he would teach and hold this or that article differently, for he did not sufficiently consider it, against this I say now as then, and then as now, that, by God's grace, I have most diligently compared all these articles with the Scriptures time and time again, and have gone over them, and would defend them as confidently as I have now ..." (Luther's Works, by Robert H. Fischer, p. 360).

Therefore, "faith alone" for Luther meant believing God saved one through the ritual of Baptism. He said it many times. He said it clearly! And yet today many Evangelicals and Fundamentalists do not really understand that Luther dogmatically held to "Baptismal Regeneration." In fact, if one did not believe in the Sacrament of Baptism for salvation, then Luther held that your faith was in vain -- even if you were baptized:

    "... the Anabaptists [reject] baptism, and therefore they cannot efficiently baptize ... (Table Talk -- p. 180).

Luther held that those who believed water baptism was only a symbol and not a sacrament (means of grace) were not saved:

    "In 1527, he wrote with regard to the Anabaptists: ... 'Let everyone believe what he likes. If he is wrong, he will have punishment enough in hell fire.' ... Most emphatically he believed that the wrong faith would entail hell-fire ..." (Here I Stand, Roland Bainton, p. 294).

Luther and the Lord's Supper
Luther believed that through baptism one becomes a Christian. And, thus, it resulted in salvation on the basis of "faith alone." Communion was for maintenance. Luther taught that through communion, one received forgiveness of sins that threatened one's relationship with Christ and strength for Christian living:

    "For here in the sacrament [Communion] you receive from Christ's lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God's grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils" (The Large Catechism -- p. 98).

Not Far Removed from Roman Catholicism
"Luther taught that the sacraments of baptism and Lord's Supper are vehicles that communicate the grace of God. ... Luther's concept of baptism did not differ markedly from the Roman Catholic view; he retained much of the Roman ceremony connected with the rite. Luther taught baptism is necessary to salvation and, in fact, produces regeneration in the person. ... Luther also upheld infant baptism, teaching that although infants are unable to exercise faith, God through His prevenient grace, works faith in the unconscious child. He based the baptism of infants on the command to baptize all nations (Mt. 28:19)" (Paul Enns in the Moody Handbook of Theology, pp. 452-453). (Bold added.)

Luther and Evangelicals Today
Today, ecumenism reigns! Lutherans are embracing unity with other "baptismal regeneration" denominations and also embracing reconciliation with Roman Catholics. Tragically, many "Evangelicals" also see a place for spiritual fellowship with those embracing a sacramental gospel. In fact, some of the leading "champions" of the "Evangelical" faith clearly hold to the same basic sacramental gospel espoused by Martin Luther. Michael Horton would be one example. He is currently president of Christians United for Reformation and vice-chairman of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He writes:

    "In Baptism, we have been swept into the new creation and in the Supper we are actually fed with the body and blood of Christ as pilgrims on the way to the Promised land ..." (Michael Horton in the May/June 1997 issue of Modern Reformation, p. 14.)

R.C. Sproul would be another that holds to Luther's sacramental gospel teachings.

The Sacramental Gospel is Another Gospel
One would have to agree with Luther that only the right kind of faith will get you to heaven. However, the OBJECT of your FAITH must be Christ ALONE and not baptism!!! I would earnestly contend that the Scriptures teach that your FAITH must be directly in CHRIST ALONE!!! (Gal. 1-3) To rest in a Sacrament (even partially) is to deny the reality of the ONE mediator who is Jesus Christ HIMSELF (1 Tim. 2:5).

The Gospel is that Christ died for our sins and rose again (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). The gospel is distinct from baptism (1 Cor. 1:17). John 3:16 promises "whosoever believes in Him [Christ] should not perish." ... Jesus said the one who believes has "passed from death into life" (Jn. 5:24). John's essential purpose (20:31) was to write so "believing you may have life in His name." John completely left out New Testament church baptism! Are we to believe John didn't get the GOSPEL right?

Paul explains that the one "who does not work but believes on Him ... his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5). Again, Paul says that "with the heart one believes unto righteousness" (10:10), and the promise is WHOSOEVER "shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (10:13). TRUE believers are those who "have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). They have counted all things loss to gain Christ and acquire the righteousness "which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (3:7-9). Just as Abraham was saved by faith alone (Gen. 15:6), so are we (Rom. 4; Gal. 3)! The "just shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38)! All that believe are justified from all things (Acts 13:39). Our hearts are purified by faith (Acts 15:9).

Ordinances have always been symbols. In the Old Testament, they looked forward to Christ (Heb. 8-10). In the New Testament, they look back to Christ (1 Cor. 11). Symbols can never save -- only the substance which is Christ can save. To rest in ordinances or rituals instead of Christ alone is to trample under foot the Son of God, to show contempt for His precious blood, and to insult the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29). If faith is real in the heart, then the expectation of Scripture is that believer's baptism (obedience/good works/fruit) will follow!

* This report has been excerpted and/or adapted from an article in the November-December 1997 Earnestly Contending For The Faith, Pastor Dwight Oswald, editor (a ministry of Southview Bible Church, 2007 South 7th Street, Council Bluffs, IA 51501.


Martin Luther's Devotion to Mary
Dave Armstrong

Despite the radicalism of early Protestantism with regard to many ancient Catholic "distinctives," such as the Communion of the Saints, Penance, Purgatory, Infused Justification, the Papacy, the priesthood, sacramental marriage, etc., it may surprise many to discover that Martin Luther was rather conservative in some of his doctrinal views, such as on baptismal regeneration, the Eucharist, and particularly the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(Most of The Above Topics Are Covered in The Section On Catholicism)

Luther indeed was quite devoted to Our Lady, and retained most of the traditional Marian doctrines which were held then and now by the Catholic Church. This is often not well-documented in Protestant biographies of Luther and histories of the 16th century, yet it is undeniably true. It seems to be a natural human tendency for latter-day followers to project back onto the founder of a movement their own prevailing viewpoints. Since Lutheranism today does not possess a very robust Mariology, it is usually assumed that Luther himself had similar opinions. We shall see, upon consulting the primary sources (i.e., Luther's own writings), that the historical facts are very different. We shall consider, in turn, Luther's position on the various aspects of Marian doctrine.

Along with virtually all important Protestant Founders (e.g., Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer), Luther accepted the traditional belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary (Jesus had no blood brothers), and her status as the Theotokos (Mother of God):

    Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . "brothers" really means "cousins" here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4, 1537-39)

    He, 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. (Ibid.)

    God says . . . : "Mary's Son is My only Son." Thus Mary is the Mother of God. (Ibid.)

    God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary's Son, and that Mary is God's mother . . . She is the true mother of God and bearer of God . . . Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus, not two Christs . . . just as your son is not two sons . . . even though he has two natures, body and soul, the body from you, the soul from God alone. (On the Councils and the Church, 1539)

Probably the most astonishing Marian belief of Luther is his acceptance of Mary's Immaculate Conception, which wasn't even definitively proclaimed as dogma by the Catholic Church until 1854. Concerning this question there is some dispute, over the technical aspects of medieval theories of conception and the soul, and whether or not Luther later changed his mind. Even some eminent Lutheran scholars, however, such as Arthur Carl Piepkorn (1907-73) of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, maintain his unswerving acceptance of the doctrine. Luther's words follow:

    It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God's gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.

      (Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," December [?] 1527; from Hartmann Grisar, S.J., Luther, authorised translation from the German by E.M. Lamond; edited by Luigi Cappadelta, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, first edition, 1915, Vol. IV [of 6], p. 238; taken from the German Werke, Erlangen, 1826-1868, edited by J.G. Plochmann and J.A. Irmischer, 2nd ed. edited by L. Enders, Frankfurt, 1862 ff., 67 volumes; citation from 152, p. 58)

    She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin- something exceedingly great. For God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. (Personal {"Little"} Prayer Book, 1522)

Later references to the Immaculate Conception appear in his House sermon for Christmas (1533) and Against the Papacy of Rome (1545). In later life (he died in 1546), Luther did not believe that this doctrine should be imposed on all believers, since he felt that the Bible didn't explicitly and formally teach it. Such a view is consistent with his notion of Sola Scriptura and is similar to his opinion on the bodily Assumption of the Virgin, which he never denied - although he was highly critical of what he felt were excesses in the celebration of this Feast. In his sermon of August 15, 1522, the last time he preached on the Feast of the Assumption, he stated:

    There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith . . . It is enough to know that she lives in Christ.

Luther held to the idea and devotional practice of the veneration of Mary and expressed this on innumerable occasions with the most effusive language:

    The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart. (Sermon, September 1, 1522)

    [She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures. (Sermon, Christmas, 1531)

    No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity. (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation, 1537)

    One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God. (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521)

Luther goes even further, and gives the Blessed Virgin the exalted position of "Spiritual Mother" for Christians, much the same as in Catholic piety:

    It is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his true Mother, Christ is his brother, God is his father. (Sermon, Christmas, 1522)

    Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother. (Sermon, Christmas, 1529)

Luther did strongly condemn any devotional practices which implied that Mary was in any way equal to our Lord or that she took anything away from His sole sufficiency as our Savior. This is, and always has been, the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Luther often "threw out the baby with the bath water," when it came to criticizing erroneous emphases and opinions which were prevalent in his time - falsely equating them with Church doctrine. His attitude towards the use of the "Hail Mary" prayer (the first portion of the Rosary) is illustrative. In certain polemical utterances he appears to condemn its recitation altogether, but he is only forbidding a use of Marian devotions apart from heartfelt faith, as the following two citations make clear:

    Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation. (Sermon, March 11, 1523)

    Our prayer should include the Mother of God . . . What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor . . . We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her . . . He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary. (Personal Prayer Book, 1522)

To summarize, it is apparent that Luther was extraordinarily devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is notable in light of his aversion to so many other "Papist" or "Romish" doctrines, as he was wont to describe them. His major departure occurs with regard to the intercession and invocation of the saints, which he denied, in accord with the earliest systematic Lutheran creed, the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Article 21).

His views of Mary as Mother of God and as ever-Virgin were identical to those in Catholicism, and his opinions on the Immaculate Conception, Mary's "Spiritual Motherhood" and the use of the "Hail Mary" were substantially the same. He didn't deny the Assumption (he certainly didn't hesitate to rail against doctrines he opposed!), and venerated Mary in a very touching fashion which, as far as it goes, is not at all contrary to Catholic piety.

Therefore, it can be stated without fear of contradiction that Luther's Mariology is very close to that of the Catholic Church today, far more than it is to the theology of modern-day Lutheranism. To the extent that this fact is dealt with at all by Protestants, it is usually explained as a "holdover" from the early Luther's late medieval Augustinian Catholic views ("everyone has their blind spots," etc.). But this will not do for those who are serious about consulting Luther in order to arrive at the true "Reformation heritage" and the roots of an authentic Protestantism. For if Luther's views here can be so easily rationalized away, how can the Protestant know whether he is trustworthy relative to his other innovative doctrines such as extrinsic justification by faith alone and sola Scriptura?

It appears, once again, that the truth about important historical figures is almost invariably more complex than the "legends" and overly-simplistic generalizations which men often at the remove of centuries - create and accept uncritically.

Index To Controversial Issues