Skip to comments.Was Martin Luther Wrong?
Posted on 10/31/2001 8:11:42 AM PST by AnalogReigns
There is no such thing as merit;What Was Wrong with Luther?
but all who are justified
are justified for nothing (gratis),
and this is credited to no one
but to the grace of God. . . .
For Christ alone it is proper
to help and save others
with His merits and works.
Justification is conferred in baptism,
the sacrament of faith.
It conforms us to the righteousness of God,
who makes us inwardly just
by the power of his mercy.
The New Catechism (of the Roman Catholic Church)
I have found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics.
Was Martin Luther Wrong?
Since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, by faith alone (sola fide) has been the defining doctrine of evangelical Christianity and the way of justification the defining difference between Roman Catholics and evangelicals. But in recent years these differences seem to be increasingly ignored by evangelical leaders such as Billy Graham, Charles Colson, Bill Bright and others. A noticeable trend has been developing.
Most so-called Christian booksellers carry books from both evangelical and Roman Catholic publishing houses, with little differentiation. A leading evangelical recording artist, Michael Card, recently recorded and toured with Roman Catholic monk/musician John Michael Talbot. Evangelicals and Catholics are found praying together, worshipping together, and studying the Bible together. While these things have not gone without criticism, their widespread acceptance has led a number of evangelicals to ask:
Whatever happened to the Reformation?
Was Martin Luther wrong, after all?
Or does it really matter?
Today marks the 484th anniversary of Luther's famous posting of 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenburg a move seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It seems fitting, therefore, to ask this crucial question as we commemorate his revolutionary act. After all, to Luther it was the Gospel itself that was at stake... no less so today as then.
The gospel according to Rome is the "good news" that a sinner may be justified if he or she receives the sacraments, has faith, and cooperates with grace to the point of becoming inherently righteous. That justification is effective as long as the believer refrains from mortal sin. If the person loses justification by mortal sin, he or she may be restored to justification by the sacrament of penance. If the person dies not in mortal sin but with impurities, he or she can get to heaven after being cleansed in purgatory.
Was Luther wrong in standing against this "gospel"? If not, shouldn't the fact that so many evangelicals are acquiescing to Roman Catholicism disturb us?
Using the Bible as your guide setting your emotions and prejudices aside, while engaging the mind you be the judge...
Rob Schläpfer : Editor
What was the matter with Martin Luther? some might ask. The matter with Luther was a matter of the greatest possible urgency.
The matter with Luther was that sin matters.
The matter with Luther was that salvation matters,
ultimately and eternally.
Luther felt the weight of these matters to a degree few people, if any, have felt them in human history. These issues mattered enough to Luther to compel him to stand against the authority of church and state in a lonely and often bitter contest that made him Luther contra mundum. [=against the world]
Following the ancient Aristotelian form-matter schema, historians have pinpointed the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) as the material cause of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. It was the chief matter under dispute. Luther considered it "the article upon which the church stands or falls." At a personal level he understood that it was the article upon which he himself stood or fell.
Thus, since the Reformation the doctrine of sola fide has been the defining doctrine of evangelical Christianity. It has functioned as a normative doctrine because it has been understood as essential to the Gospel itself. Without sola fide one does not have the Gospel; and without the Gospel one does not have the Christian faith. When an ecclesiastical communion rejects sola fide, as Rome did at the Council of Trent, it ceases being a true church, no matter how orthodox it may be in other matters, because it has condemned an essential of the faith. Whereas at Worms Luther stood, at Trent Rome fell and remains fallen to this day.
The Character of God
The dilemma Luther experienced in the anguish of his soul was related in the first instance to his correct understanding of the character of God. One of the essential attributes of God (essential in that without it God would not be God) is his justice. The Scriptures clearly reveal that the God of heaven and earth is just. This means far more than that the judgment he renders is equitable. It is not only that God does what is just, but that he does what is just because he is just. His righteous actions flow out of his righteous character.
That God is eternally and immutably just posed for Luther (as it should also pose for us) the ultimate dilemma, because we are not just. We are sinners lacking the perfect justness of God. Our sin violates the supreme standard of righteousness found in God's character. This is the burden Luther felt so keenly, but which we tend to treat lightly. We are inclined to think that God is so merciful that his mercy will annul or cancel out his justice. We assume that God will grade us on a curve and that he is quite willing to negotiate his own righteousness.
As sinners with recalcitrant hearts, human beings have no fear of the justice of God, in part because they are ignorant of his law and additionally because, when they are aware of it, they hold it in contempt. We have all become, as Jeremiah said of Israel, like a harlot who has lost the capacity to blush (Jer. 6:15; 8: 12). We assume that our works are good enough to pass the scrutiny of God at the final tribunal. And we do this despite the apostolic warning that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Rom. 3:20).
People who consider themselves just enough in their own goodness do not tremble before the law and feel no need for the Gospel. For such, the matter of justification is not of great importance. It is merely a "doctrine," and to the contemporary church few things are deemed less important than doctrine. "Doctrine divides," we are told. "What matters is that we have a personal relationship with Jesus. The doctrine of justification doesn't save us; it is Christ who saves us."
Certainly doctrines do divide. Certainly doctrines do not in themselves save us. Certainly we are called to have a personal relationship with Christ. However, doctrine also unites. It unites those who share one Lord, one faith, one baptism. And though doctrines do not save us, they correctly inform us of how we are saved.
It must be added, too, that having a personal relationship with Jesus does not save us unless it is a saving relationship. Everyone has a personal relationship with Jesus. Even the devil has a personal relationship with Christ, but it is a relationship of estrangement, of hostility to him. We are all related to Christ, but we are not all united to Christ, which union comes by faith and faith alone.
Luther understood what David understood when he asked the rhetorical question,
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O LORD, who could stand? (Ps. 130:3)
The question is rhetorical because no explicit answer is given. The answer is nevertheless obvious:
No one by himself can stand before a God who takes note of our iniquities, for we are all sinners. The problem is that the Lord does mark iniquities and promises to bring every one of them into judgment. Moreover, as long as we remain outside of Christ we are continually heaping up judgment against the day of wrath.
The only way an unjust person can escape the day of God's wrath is to be justified. Only the justified will stand in that day That is why the matter of justification is so vital. It is not a mere theological abstraction or a petty doctrine. The struggle of the Reformation was not a contest of shadowboxing, nor was it a tempest in a teapot. It is perilous to think it was much ado about nothing or simply a misunderstanding among theologians and clerics. To be sure there were issues that were confused and obscured in the heat of the debate. But it was crystal-clear that the core issue was the way of justification, and the two sides took not only differing positions but mutually exclusive and irreconcilable positions in the debate.
What Is Justification?
Justification refers to a legal action by God by which he declares a person just in his sight. The Protestant view is often described as "forensic justification," meaning that justification is a "legal declaration" made by God.
What is often overlooked in discussions about justification is that the Roman Catholic communion also has its version of forensic justification. That is, Catholics agree that justification occurs when God declares a person just. However, when evangelicals speak of forensic justification, the phrase is used as a kind of theological shorthand for sola fide, and what is tacit is the assumption that God declares people to be just who in themselves are not just. Rome teaches that God declares people just only when they are in fact just. They are declared to be just only if and when justness inheres within them. Both sides see justification as a divine declaration, but the ground for such a declaration differs radically.
Rome saw justification as meaning "making just," based on the Latin roots for the word justificare (Justus and facio, facere), which in Roman jurisprudence meant "to make righteous." For Rome, God only declares to be just those who have first been made just...
The differences between these two "gospels" is in grave danger of being lost in our day. Efforts to heal the breach between Rome and the Reformation have yielded confusion among many. The issue cannot be resolved by studied ambiguities or different meanings attached to the same words. The crucial issue of infusion versus imputation remains the irreconcilable issue. We are either justified by a righteousness that is in us or by a righteousness that is apart from us. There is no third way.
R. C. Sproul
Sola Fide! Sola Gracia! Sola Scriptura! Sola Christos!
It is written we are to give no room to the devil. But Luther gave the devil not only room, but a country. The evil fire of anti-semitism would grow through his words, untill Nazis republished his tracts, his words against the jews, to ultimately lead to the death of 6 million men, women and children. Luther let satan have a foothold. It was all the devil needed to accomplish his genocide of the children of Israel. Do not allow a satanic foothold in your life. All it leads to is holocausts.
I was raised in a "mainline" reformed church. The Reformation project does not seem to be going well lately to me.
I have seriously considered (to the point of going through RCIA) and rejected, for now, Roman Catholicism (my wife and daughters are RC, and I wish I could join them).
But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the fruits of the Reformation, as manifested by the tide of apostasy and heresy in American and European Protestant churches, are sour and getting rapidly worse.
Unlike you, I am not at all sure what to do.
Martin Luther was plagued by scrupulosity, and his narrow, erroneous theological "by faith alone" finding was simply an unfortunate remedy to keep himself out of the nuthouse.
Read The Fixing, by Kingsley Amis.
Well, this should change soon anyway as soon as the RCC declares it was Mary after all who forgives. As an ex-Catholic I will never be able to re-accept that the RCC thinks of itself so magnificently as to stand in the sunlight of God - between me and God, and claim to be able to interpret and re-interpret His love for me and how God will accept me again.
Purgatory, indulgences, sinlessness of Mary, her deathless entry into heaven, baptism at birth, works required for slavation, confession only to a priest, the infallibility of the Pope, the Pope's ability to speak to me as would Christ - just a few of the many problems one has in accepting RCC's version of what I read with my own eyes in the Bible.
Luther's discourses with Erasmus concerning "sola fide" are wonderful. Even Erasmus could not spin his way out of Luther's burning arrows directed at the RCC's corrupting of the Word.
Whether Luther was wrong - for you literalists - he called the Epistle of James the "Epistle of Straw".
Unjustified = remaining outside of Christ.
Justified = proclaiming faith in Christ.
Sounds like a "work" to me.
Nothing you can do in your own strength can ever be as beautiful or as precious as who you are in God. In salvation, you are God's workmanship--- His poem. Stop struggling in your works and start learning how to be His work. Rest from your works, and rejoice in His works. You are the very poem of God. Get that right and your life will become beautiful poetry.
Also Luther's statements against the Anabaptists and of course the Roman Catholics were every bit as inflammatory as those he said against the Jews--all based on his theological certainty that their beliefs were leading them--and others--to eternal hell.
The Nazis were profoundly anti-Christian (and therefore anti-Luther) however--atheistic in full, and we cannot blame their holocaust on Luther, they only used what was convenient for their own godless hatred. As many or more Roman Catholic Germans (and Austrians etc.) participated in murdering the Jews as did Lutherans.
We shouldn't let Luther's zealous overstatements cloud the clear and wonderful things he found in scripture about the gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone.
Yeah he ran up against this:
James 1:22-25 (KJV)
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
This quip...from a letter to a friend, is often taken out of context. He was comparing the book of James to Romans, I believe. Having actually translated both books from the original languages, I think he felt a right to comment upon them in a personal letter...Luther never preached the book of James as unworthy. Contra popular (Catholic) belief, Luther also never removed James from the New Testament, which he translated.
About indulgences--while this was the proximate cause for the Reformation--Luther, and all the other Reformers, didn't see it as central, it was merely a symptom of deeper corruptions of doctrine within the Roman Church.
Show me a credible history that Baptists even existed as churches before the Reformation (or really even before the 1700s in England). Sorry, with the exception of the persecuted Jews, Western Europe was entirely Roman Cathoic before 1517--otherwise you got burned at the stake.
I know its hard to say (for Baptist and non-Baptist alike...), but Baptists are Protestant too...
Well, not entirely. There were heretics. There were always heretics.
But they were heretics for a reason.
They were wrong.
It's amazing to me that the accusation against Protestants is repeated again and again after hundreds of years. Faith as the FOUNDATION for works, not mingled with works, is what Luther and orthodox Protestants have always taught.
Think about it historically--are the historically Protestant people-groups somehow more libertine than Roman Catholic? The USA has historically had a majority of Protestants--are we somehow less moral in our lifestyle than say France, or Italy? As James is saying, REAL faith always brings works along with it...but the foundation and starting place for good works is faith alone in Christ' works alone.
I don't think I was letting "Luther's zealous overstatements" to cloud my opinion of him, I just wanted to point out what can happen when any of us allow satan a foothold in our lives.
However, William Tyndale, was another man who also had as much do with the Reformation as Luther did. (Albeit, the English Reformation) Yet, the remarkable account of his life and his extraordinary accomplishments (including martyrdom)are little known or appreciated.
The Fabricated Luther: The Rise and Fall of the Shirer Myth, by Uwe Siemon-Netto (CPH, 1995).
Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview, by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. (CPH, 1993).
The Rev. Charles Henrickson
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
The Roman church always had dissenters, but until the Reformation, their beliefs were not uniform, nor were they anything but few. The Church and King burned anyone alive who would dare openly criticize Rome's hegemony.
While I believe there has always been a faithful remnant in the Church, they weren't necessarily Baptist in belief. The only scholars who teach that there is an unbroken chain of Baptists are, ummmm, fundamentalist Baptists, for some reason.
MARTIN LUTHER, DOCTOR AND CONFESSOR
(Tune: "King's Lynn," LW 193/194)
All praise for blessed Martin,
Our teacher in the faith,
Confessor of the gospel
That saves from sin and death.
You were his mighty fortress,
Though devils filled the land.
Now may we say with Luther,
"God help me. Here I stand."
© Charles M. Henrickson, 1996
Quite a relief, I'm sure.
Uh, yeah! Duh!
I am an evangelical Christian, and I too believe this.
Salvation from Christ alone, known from scripture alone, through grace alone, by faith alone (the "solas").
These are the distinctives by which evangelicalism is, and has always been defined. The Roman church doesn't accept any of these. The article posted explains why this is so worrisome.
If this is what passes for Roman Catholic argument, no wonder Luther was so sucessful...
Why would you want to join a faith that believes you can be saved by having water sprinkled on your head when you are a baby? Are you crazy!?
I would never even consider marrying a woman that doesn't believe what the bible really says.
Catholics claim to follow the bible, but in reality follow a man made version of the bible.
Yeah, sure! < /sarcasm >
Don't the Baptist calim the "once saved, always saved" garbage?
With all respect, if you are a Christian, you do not believe those bliefs of "orthodox Roman Catholicism" -- nor does Dr. Graham -- about the RC church.
The real issue in the Reformation was certainly not predestination or free will, but whether or not the organization then known as 'the church' controlled 'the means of grace', i.e. whether people went to heaven or hell depending on their relationship to the church. Luther and the other reformers said loudly -- and properly -- that only one's relationship with Christ counts and that comes through faith and not through or because of affiliation with some wholly human organization.
Unfortunately, the RCC retreated every more harshly to defend its perogatives -- and not those of Christ -- in the counter reformation. And so, even today, if you look at some portions of some stated doctrines of the RCC -- and you ignore the operative ones -- Christians can find commonality with the RCC. [That, by the way, is why you can find some Christians in the RCC -- they simply ignore large portions of RCC 'teaching'.]
But the fatal evil which Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the others so clearly saw is still there and clearly taught and reinforced to this day by the RCC. They are fearful that if they don't continue to claim 'control' of who goes to Heaven and Hell, people won't pay any attention to them. They would certainly be better off -- and come closer to a Christian message -- if they jetisoned that nonsense. But I doubt they will at this late date.
BTW, Luther saddled his church -- the Lutheran Church -- with a lot of bizarre doctrines ('consubstantiation'-- a halfway point between the manmade RCC doctrine and the Biblical view, peculiar substantive effects of infant baptism, etc) in a futile attempt to hold out an 'olive branch' to the RCC to see if it would or could reform itself. It would not.
And it still won't.
IMO, that would be a good thing.
Evangelicals and Roman Catholics may want to battle over whether it is Sola Fide or whether works are an essential part of our salvation. I'm not sure Jesus would be proud of either one because both miss the essential point of the Gospel - it is a "Gospel of the Kingdom of G-d," not a "Gospel of Fire Insurance for those who will die some day." It is a Gospel of Life, not a Gospel of Death.
D. James Kennedy teaches us to ask, "Are you saved?" If they ask what that means we are to respond, "If you were to die tonight, would you go to Heaven?" This makes Christianity a religion of the dead. But Jesus told us "I came that they might have life."
What did Jesus do? Did He make a way for us to be forgiven of our sins? Yes! Did He make a way for us to have eternal life? Yes! Did He make a way for us to live like Hell and still go to Heaven? See Romans 6 and answer that for yourself.
To really understand the depth of our Salvation look at the theme that runs through Scripture:
In Genesis 1 and 2 G-d and man lived together in the Garden. Adam and G-d spoke 'face to face.' But when Adam sinned he was turned out of the Garden as we are told in Genesis 3:23. Adam could no longer dwell with G-d.
In Exodus 19 G-d attempts to join with His people, making them a nation of priests. But in Exodus 20:19 the people recognized that they were not holy enough to stand before G-d so they asked Moses to seperate the people from G-d for their safety. G-d created the Tabernacle and the Aaronic priesthood after this.
Hosea gave us the most clear picture of the relationship G-d wanted with his people. G-d saw us as his bride. We were wayward but He was willing to pay any price to redeem us to Himself.
In Jesus He paid the price. The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was torn in half. The Way was made.
Romans 5:1 says that because we have been justified by faith we have peace with G-d.
This is the key to our salvation. We have peace with G-d. We are no longer at war with Him. We can live in His presence. It is a Gospel of Life. Life with G-d. We don't have to wait until after we die, although it will be more complete when we are no longer in this broken world. Jesus told us in Luke 11:20 that the Kingdom of G-d had broken out among us. It is advancing forcefully and we are to take hold of it as told in Matthew 11:12.
If only we would quit arguing among ourselves regarding faith and works. Salvation is so much more than a token that lets you get into Heaven. It is your freedom from Sin so that you may enter into a relationship with G-d. You can do that today. Not after you die! TODAY!
Given that, why would you want to wait? That would be like a newleywed waiting until after death to consummate the marriage. You can start living for G-d today! If that isn't an act of faith, I don't know what is. If that doesn't produce works, I don't know what will.
Why is it so hard to give credit to the Reformation for making Baptists possible?
There are lots of Bible believeing Christians who disagree on believer baptism too--that is excluding children from the church...both then and now.