Church History: Martin Luther Part 1

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60 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    We’ll have three or maybe even four pieces on Luther alone.
    It’s difficult on a blog to write just enough to keep people going and not too much to have them drop off.
    We will look more closely as we go at the foundational doctrines and yes, we will examine his later writings about the Jews, his enemies, and the peasant rebellion.

  2. Xenia says:

    the matter was more about papal authority <<<

    With the Catholics, it always boils down to papal authority. That was behind our schism from them, too.

  3. Paige says:

    Thank you, Michael.

    Att the risk of repeating myself for the third time this week, “some things never change”…….

    You wrote: “The two bombshells he throws are a rejection of the churches exclusive authority to interpret Scripture and he affirms the priesthood of all believers.”

    Well, well, well, well…..

  4. Michael says:


    Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
    We’ll see more and more things of a similar nature as we go.

  5. Michael
    Nice job – I do hope you’ll also touch on Luther’s eucharistic theology, which I imagine will come as a surprise to many! I wonder, has anyone really established the kind of Church Luther envisioned in the early days of the Reformation…

  6. Michael says:

    Thank you…and I hope many click on your name and engage with the Martyrs Project!
    I will try to touch on that…and if I don’t, I expect you to do so. 🙂

  7. Jean says:

    Nice article Michael! It’s great to learn this history. Thank you!

  8. Michael says:

    Thank you, Jean…it’s our family tree.
    We spend a lot of time relearning what they already tried to teach us…

  9. Lutheran says:

    Depends on what you mean by “eucharistic theology,” I guess. Luther affirmed the Real Presence, but not in the same manner as the RCC.

    He’s not the only Reformer to affirm as such. Calvin, to a (much?) lesser extent (I”ll let Michael weigh in).

    John Wesley was an ordained Anglican priest. “In 2004, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its view of the sacrament and its belief in the Real Presence in an official document entitled This Holy Mystery.”

    A Charles Wesley hymn:
    Come and partake the gospel feast,
    Be saved from sin, in Jesus rest;
    O taste the goodness of our God,
    and eat his flesh and drink his blood

    Now I’ll duck before the experts on each tradition weigh in. 🙂

  10. Michael says:


    We’ll delve into that pretty deeply as we go through this period.
    I believe what MP is referring to is not just an understanding of a doctrine about the Eucharist, but the place of the Eucharist in the life of the church and it’s theology and practice.
    We’ll get there. 🙂
    Calvin believed in the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist…and we’ll get there too.
    I’m trying to make this bite sized church history…

  11. I think Lutheran is pretty close. Today, however, I think there are fewer RCs or Lutherans using Thomistic categories based on Aristotelian notions of accidence/substance. We are likely all much closer to the Eastern Church in not trying to categorize “the mystery”. Just my opinion…

  12. I was going to ask The Project to clarify his terminology.
    Real Presence means exactly that – that the real body and blood are present in the elements right there at the time of the institution – very few will hold to that tight of a definition.

    Luther’s reality in the presence and the efficacious work of the sacrament was so binding that if a crumb fell to the floor and a mouse ate it, the mouse was then consuming the body & blood … and perhaps even getting saved 😉

  13. Michael says:


    In that first book I referenced , Luther also calls for Aristotle’s books to be thrown out of the church in rather lively, Luther like fashion. 🙂

  14. I think “Real Presence”, as Luther understood it, along with his real reverence for the consecrated elements (as Disciple indicated) is probably closer to most Catholic and Orthodox thinking today, apart from those who want to cling on to the Aristotelian categories simply because they undergird so much of Aquinas. Of course I’ve always been attracted to the early “Catholic” Luther. I think the more pressing question and point of division today is Forensic Justification – which I find nowhere in patristic writings, but which undergirds the entire Reformation in its many forms.

  15. Lutheran says:

    Not sure what you mean by “forensic” justification — not sure Luther himself would’ve gone for that (though I’m not positive what you mean by it).

    Justification was the norm with the early fathers. See Thomas Oden’s “The Justification Reader.” Oden is an expert on patristic writings. He shows that there was “consensual agreement” on salvation by grace through faith in the first 5 centuries of Christendom, until it started fragmenting. According to Oden, “Luther’s and Calvin’s justification teaching was profoundly anticipated in both eastern and western patristic writers.”

    So there’s that.

  16. I guess the question about “presence” is answered when responding to the question – “what are you taking into your mouth?

    Here is a good article on Forensic Justification by my buddies over at The Brothers of john the Steadfast.

  17. JoelG says:

    Why not just say the Eucharist is mysterious and call it good? Mysterious like Luther’s haircut in the picture. What’s that style called? The “donut”?

  18. Just think how lucky we are that someone had the presence of mind to snap that photo of Luther just as he was hammering away. 🙂

  19. PP Vet says:

    Forensic Justification? Does that have anything to do with Forensic Files?

  20. Jean says:

    Forensic justification is not a doctrine to which I subscribe.

  21. The key in the photo above is the other postings on the door. There was nothing special that Luther did that day.

    That’s what folks did then, post you views on the door. Think of it as your16th century Facebook wall. One of those probably says “Like” if you are for the Pope.

  22. I am assuming that forensic here is referring to the second definition meaning “Of or relating to courts of law.”
    Interesting…reading up on forensic justification now.

  23. Learner says:

    The more I read from and about Luther the more I’m endeared to the man…I’m Reformed and a Calvinist but I’d much rather have a beer with Luther than a glass of wine with Calvin…Luther’s earthiness and wit would do the modern church a world of good. Martin Luther is still reforming the church today…

  24. Learner says:

    Luther’s distinction of law and gospel, passive vs. active righteousness and the theology of glory as opposed to the theology of the cross have been particularly helpful to me.

    I would highly recommend “The Genius of Luther’s Theology” by Robert Kolb and Charles Arand for a introduction to Luther’s teaching and these major themes.

  25. “I would highly recommend “The Genius of Luther’s Theology” by Robert Kolb and Charles Arand”

    Great recommendation – and both men are The Book of Concord scholars.

  26. SJ says:

    Newb here. I like this blog. Thank you.
    At 5, is there such thing as Eucharist theology? Do this in remembrance of me. Is there more?

  27. SJ,
    “Do this” – when you ask “Do What?” then you develop a theology.

    So, when Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of me” What is the “this”?

  28. Babylon's Dread says:

    Seems to me that Luther’s call upon the Christian nobility was answered and therein lies the key to the Reformation’s success. Luther’s rebuke of Rome’s exploitation was congruent with the self-interest of getting Rome out of their pocket. It is never that simple but “follow the money” is and was a pretty good way to unpack a matter.

  29. I always say Luther was a just a man, a man of his times – good and bad – he was no prophet. The only difference was that he got off his butt and did something.

    Usually the difference today between people who accomplish something and those who do nothing.

  30. Nonnie says:

    SJ, welcome!!!

  31. Steve Wright says:

    The key in the photo above is the other postings on the door
    On some college campuses, he would get in trouble for covering up other people’s flyers with his massive poster there… 😉

  32. PP Vet says:

    “I always say Luther was a just a man”

    MLD, do you deny that he was an angry, wayward, and immoral man, who most likely concocted the doctrine of justification by faith to assuage his own deviancy?

    Also unscrupulous and reckless.

    I think I read that on the Internet.

  33. Xenia says:

    I wonder if Martin Luther suffered from a disorder called religious scrupulosity, a condition where the person feels they can never do enough to get right with God? And when he developed his doctrine of justification, it let him off the hook and he could relax?

    Not meaning to be disrespectful but when I read descriptions of Luther’s struggles as a monastic, this thought came to mind.

    Again, no disrespect intended.

  34. Xenia says:

    From Wikipedia:

    Scrupulosity is a psychological disorder characterized by pathological guilt about moral or religious issues. It is personally distressing, objectively dysfunctional, and often accompanied by significant impairment in social functioning.[1] It is typically conceptualized as a moral or religious form of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD),[2] although this categorization is empirically disputable.[1]

  35. “MLD, do you deny that he was an angry, wayward, and immoral man…”

    I don’t know about concocting the justification thing, but I am sure that he was all the things you listed above … as am I – this is why I can call myself his disciple – he taught me why I need Jesus everyday all the time, not like others who tried to teach me to not need him as much by cleaning up my act.

    Wouldn’t that be terrible to be a good person and not need Jesus?

  36. And I agree with Xenia, that at that time in history under the influences of the ancient churches, you would have to be out of your human mind to think that Jesus saves you on his own.
    To say it out loud would make you certifiable.

  37. Jean says:

    But in some ways, some of the modern churches are not that much different than some of the ancient churches, but the categories have changed to the issues du jour, such as: What bible translation to you read; What eschatology to you believe? What sins does God really hate? What is your position on gender roles? Are you ecumenical? What Christian authors do you read? Are you Calvinistic or Arminian?

    Only now, if you give the wrong answer, instead of being called certifiable, you might be called an apostate or abomination.

  38. Xenia says:

    MLD, I think there is something inherent in the RCC bean-counting system that can drive people who are serious about their salvation nuts.

  39. Steve Wright says:

    Xenia, do the orthodox teach a purgatory?

    Anyone, do (can) the Catholics teach to anyone a definite claim on purgatory? How to avoid it entirely…how to know how long to expect to be there…etc.

  40. Jean says:

    Steve, this excerpt partially addresses your question:

    “We believe that God gave us a free will so that we could choose between right and wrong, good and evil. Our free will allows us to make the one fundamental choice — to love God. An act of the free will also entails responsibility. When we choose not to love God and thereby sin, we are responsible for that sin. God in His justice holds us accountable for such sins, but in His love and mercy desires us to be reconciled to Himself and our neighbor. During our life on this earth, if we really love God, we examine our consciences, admit our sins, express contrition for them, confess them, and receive absolution for them in the sacrament of penance. We perform penances and other sacrifices to heal the hurt caused by sin. In so doing, we are continually saying “yes” to the Lord. In a sense our soul is like a lens — when we sin, we cloud the lens; it gets dirty, and we lose the focus of God in our lives. Through confession and penance, God cleanses the “lens” of our soul. When we die, if we leave this life fundamentally loving God, dying in His grace and friendship, and free of mortal sin, we will have eternal salvation and attain the beatific vision — we will see God for who He is. If we die with venial sins or without having done sufficient penance for our sins, God in His love, mercy and justice will purify our souls, “cleanse the lens” so to speak. After such purification, the soul will then be united with God in heaven and enjoy the beatific vision.”

    I’m not RCC, so if I want to understand what they believe, I would go to an official RCC source or knowledgeable Catholic.

  41. I want to give this a try
    1.)What bible translation to you read? The ESV – but I think they are all good.- Our denomination is switching from NIV to ESV
    2.) What eschatology to you believe? Amil – most cradle Lutherans are Amil and don’t know it.
    3.) What sins does God really hate? God hates all sin. The question is, are the things we are against actually sin?
    4.) What is your position on gender roles? I am for them. In the church, in life and in the restroom.
    5.) Are you ecumenical? with those I agree with 😉 I guess it depends on what you mean by ecumenical … I can go out and have a beer with anyone, I can’t just pray with anyone.
    6.) What Christian authors do you read? Actually none. I gave up reading Christian books because over the past 30 plus yrs I find they are all reruns. I use books for reference material – but you will never find me in the Christian Living section of a bookstore. Almost all my reading is James Patterson and I rotate through my 60 volumes of Perry Mason books.
    7.) Are you Calvinistic or Arminian? Neither – my tradition precedes them.

    And I am certifiable – just can’t figure out if I am apostate or an abomination to these groups … not God.

  42. @ #35 MLD said, “Wouldn’t that be terrible to be a good person and not need Jesus?”

    Amen, MLD. With your permission I am going to put post this up on my office wall.

  43. Steve Wright says:

    Jean, this source describes purgatory as “necessary” and does not seem to allow for its avoidance.

  44. Jean says:

    Steve, I don’t really know anything about purgatory. It’s about 117 on my learning list.

    In my own understanding, God will complete my sanctification sometime between the moment I die and the moment I am raised. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to need a lot of sanctifying. What’s your view?

  45. Learner says:

    “he taught me why I need Jesus everyday all the time, not like others who tried to teach me to not need him as much by cleaning up my act.” Bingo, perfectly said.

  46. Xenia says:

    Xenia, do the orthodox teach a purgatory?<<<


    The Catholics hardly teach it anymore, either. I went to a Catholic funeral last week and while the service was conducted in Spanish, I might not have caught all the nuances but as far a I could tell, Purgatory never came up. In his homily, the priest talked about how the mother of the deceased (a 27-year old man who was killed by a hit and run driver) would see him again in the Resurrection. The Resurrection was mentioned many times as the hope of the Christian.

  47. Xenia says:

    I am not especially adverse to the idea of a purgatory, by the way. I am definitely adverse to attempts to bribe God to let people out early.

    The thing about Purgatory is that everyone there is saved. They will eventually end up in heaven. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatory is a rather nice place where Christians who aren’t quite fit for heaven get to take a course in remedial Christianity. I don’t believe there is such a place, though.

    People who believe in imputed righteousness will see no need for a place like Purgatory. I believe that would include most Protestants.

  48. Steve Wright says:

    Thanks Xenia. I find the teaching of purgatory just about the most heinous, vile, doctrine man (Satan) has imagined. I am glad the orthodox have no part in it.

  49. Babylon's Dread says:

    Looks like fun…
    1.)What bible translation to you read? The ESV – The NIV is the worst written to ensconce reformed traditions… And I like the Kingdom Translation

    2.) What eschatology to you believe? Amil- no other view grasps the presence of the kingdom.

    3.) What sins does God really hate? His apostles primarily came against immorality and idolatry…

    4.) What is your position on gender roles? Genders necessarily compliment, in Christ there is no gender but in life there are complimentary roles in family life.

    5.) Are you ecumenical? I was raised Lutheran, led to Christ by a Catholic, discipled by a Presbyterian, educated and ordained by Baptist and adopted by Renewal Charismatics and I am willing to share the table with any or all of them and others who name Jesus as LORD.

    6.) What Christian authors do you read? Many; NT Wright, Scott Hahn, Ben Witherington, Craig Keener, Scot McKnight, Gordon Fee, G K Beale, William Hendriksen, Paul Johnson, Rodney Stark, Philip Jenkins, many others including popular authors.

    7.) Are you Calvinistic or Arminian? I do not define my theology by these antonyms, I am covenantal, amillennial, kingdom … if pushed I would have more affinity with the remonstrants

  50. Xenia says:

    1.)What bible translation to you read? One with the Septuagint.

    2.) What eschatology to you believe? Amil

    3.) What sins does God really hate? All of them but He will forgive all of them.

    4.) What is your position on gender roles? Traditional.

    5.) Are you ecumenical? No.

    6.) What Christian authors do you read? These days, only Orthodox.

    7.) Are you Calvinistic or Arminian? Neither. Those are Protestant Categories.

  51. Michael says:

    1.) What bible translation to you read? ESV…because Packer was the editor. 🙂

    2.) What eschatology to you believe? Pre wrath, pre mill…with lots of questions and much gleaned from Amill.

    3.) What sins does God really hate? I wasn’t aware He liked any…but neglect of any of the least of these is up there with idolatry.

    4.) What is your position on gender roles? In what area? In the church, traditional, but studying.

    5.) Are you ecumenical? Very…though very tenuously with the renewal crowd, present company excepted.

    6.) What Christian authors do you read? Calvin, Packer, Wright, Sprinkle, Vermigli, Koestenberger, Peterson, Brown, Sailhamer, Bruggemann..on and on…

    7.) Calvinist. Very. I suspect there was a Genevan in the woodpile…

  52. Jean says:

    For Protestants who are defenders of bible inerrancy, how do you square the fact that the NT authors used primarily the Septuagint, which was written around 250 BCE, but Protestant bibles use primarily Masoretic texts that were written around 700 CE?

  53. Jean says:

    Seeing as so many of you answered these critical 7 (the perfect Hebrew number) questions, I can now see that some of you will need a good cleansing in purgatory 🙂

  54. Michael says:


    I don’t worry about it.
    The differences are minimal in my opinion and don’t effect any essential doctrine.
    All the best translations have notes where textual differences are noted.

  55. Xenia says:

    I’ve read the whole Septuagint and while the extra books are interesting for sure, I think you all can get along without them. But when St. Paul quotes the Old Testament and you can’t find the quote in your modern Bible, chances are he’s quoting the LXX.

  56. Steve Wright says:

    Michael, after your church history study this topic could make an excellent multi-part series of articles.

    I must say I have never heard of the quoting of the LXX be used in any way as a concern about inerrancy. I have heard people who, in my opinion, overstate the case of the LXX, especially concerning Jesus. Whether or not Jesus knew and could speak Greek, (and many assume He could and I have no problem with that), He certainly was not speaking Greek to the Jews and most definitely was not reading a LXX scroll in the synagogue. Yet, every word He spoke that we have recorded was written by the NT authors in Greek (with those couple of Aramaic exceptions)

    Paul on the other hand….of course even there in many places Paul is not QUOTING the LXX but basically giving an (inspired) paraphrase heavily influenced by the LXX, to of course his largely Gentile audiences.

  57. Steve Wright says:

    I would add that I have had some conversations with a language scholar I am blessed to know, about the heavy Targum influence upon Paul in certain places in Romans.

    It also seems the likely explanation to his use of Psalm 68 in the Ephesians 4 passage about the giving of gifts…at least it makes the most sense to me. (I had to teach on that Psalm a couple weeks ago)

  58. 1.)What bible translation to you read? HCSB is my favorite. I’ve fallen in love with it. KJV is #2. Most are pretty good.

    2.) What eschatology to you believe? Pre-mill.

    3.) What sins does God really hate? I have been struck in my recent study that idolatry seems to hold a special place in the spectrum of sin.

    4.) What is your position on gender roles? “soft” complementarian.

    5.) Are you ecumenical? That’s a word that needs more defining. I don’t really cooperate with Roman Catholics on things like missions, so I guess, no.

    6.) What Christian authors do you read? John Phillips is my favorite, and thanks to my church, I now have everything he ever wrote.

    7.) Are you Calvinistic or Arminian? No. Funny thing is Calvinists always call me an Arminian, and Arminians always call me Calvinist. There is a traditional Baptist Soteriology that seems to lie outside of those two categories.

  59. Babylon's Dread says:

    Calvinists really think it is impossible to fail to be one or the other. Thus the use of the term monergism to describe salvation as being the work of just one agent. They love to let others know that they must be synergist and thereby take credit for some piece of their salvation tis taking glory from God and making salvation a work and not grace.

    In theology the categories are sovereign.

  60. everstudy says:

    I’ll join in…

    1) ESV
    2) I lean Amil, but am open to being wrong.
    3) All of them
    4) Pretty traditional (as is my wife 🙂 )
    5) I’m becoming more tolerant of other denominations, but only to a certain point.
    6) None really.
    7) Reformed.

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