Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Context

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms

Sola ScripturaLooking at the broader context of Luther’s theology, we should note several tenets of his theological program that are vital to understanding his church-state construction. As outlined in Freedom of the Christian, perhaps foremost in Luther’s reformation theology was the importance of sola scriptura, that “true Christianity can be restored only if the authority of the word of God as found in Scripture alone replaces that claimed by ecclesiastical institutions, canon law, and medieval theology.”[8] Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith had implications for his political doctrine as well, as external works were viewed as the fruit of grace, and thus took on a character of service rather than necessity for salvation. The priesthood of all believers allowed Christians a personal and direct relationship with God. For Luther, any institution or doctrine that undermined these facets of man’s relationship to God must be destroyed. Understanding these doctrines as fundamental for Luther’s theology as a whole, J.M. Porter concludes concerning political ramifications that, “The three great Reformation doctrines serve as a prism through which Luther examines all dimensions of human existence, including the political.”[9] Continue reading

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Luther on Secular Authority

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

No one even somewhat familiar with the life and work of Martin Luther would deny either that he wrote massive amounts of material over the course of his life or that he was extremely vitriolic and opinionated in some of these writings. For all of Luther’s famous reformation ideals and his seemingly deep pastoral intentions, for many scholars, Luther’s greatest legacy remains his darkest, namely the Lutheran heritage of Christian antinomianism and hatred for Jews that he bequeathed the German people. While few draw clear lines of connection between Luther and Hitler’s Third Reich, almost no serious scholar denies that some form of connection between the two most famous German men in Western history. Luther’s themes of Christian antinomianism and hatred for the Jewish people come across most clearly in On Secular Authority and On the Jews and Their Lies, respectively.  Throughout both of these writings, Luther speaks with characteristic zest and rhetorical flair, demonstrating his opinionated stance on both the relationship between sacred and secular authorities as well as the Jewish people. Determining an overarching theme to both of these works remains difficult, though one finds an interesting contrast between the uses of scriptural references in these two works. Overall, Luther’s main argument in On Secular Authority and On the Jews and Their Lies appears to be the clear superiority of Christ and His Church to any competing claims of authority, either on the secular level or among another religious group such as the Jewish people. Continue reading

Readings from Martin Luther

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

Martin Luther remains one of the most influential men in Western History, as his attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church sparked nearly 500 years of debate and division within Western Christianity. It has been said that more has been written about Luther than any other person aside from Jesus of Nazareth, as vast amount of Luther’s writings and complexities concerning his life, teaching, and writing abound. In examining his Preface to the Latin Writings, the famous Ninety-Five Theses, and Freedom of the Christian, Luther presents a variety of concerns and ideas in the earliest stages of what is now called the Protestant Reformation, including his critique of institutionalized power, abuses concerning indulgences and the penitential system, the priesthood of the believer, proper Christian ethics, interpreting Romans 1.17 and justification by faith, and a variety of other theological tropes and concerns. Examining these writings as a whole, Luther’s main argument appears to be that God’s gift of faith should enable the Christian to live as both free from the necessity of works-based justification and the institutionalized penitential cycle as well as remaining duty-bound to love of neighbor and continued penitence for sin. Here we will look at each of these three accounts of or documents from Luther’s early reform program, drawing out their respective main concerns within the scope of Luther’s overall early reformation of the Church. Continue reading

Comparing Historical Luthers: Reformation Breakthrough

This post is part of our series on the Historical Luther. Today’s post examines Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb’s respective positions concerning Luther’s “Reformation Breakthrough.”
Rendition of Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses

Rendition of Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses

Scholars have long debated over Luther’s critical and radical breakthrough that led to the reform movement in Wittenberg (and indeed across Europe during the Age of Theological Reform); whether this understanding was a single idea or multiple ideas, where such an idea came from, whether the development of the idea was sudden or gradual, and so on. Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb each offer differing perspectives concerning Luther’s reforming principle that challenged and changed the Western Church.[1] Oberman argues that the road to the “reformation breakthrough” began in earnest with Luther’s development of the principle that, “careful heed to the scriptures was the only scholarly basis for theology and thus the reliable standard of truth.”[2] In terms of chronological development of ideas, much of Luther’s early processing appears to be lost to historical research. Despite the lack of much clear evidence concerning the breakthrough aside from Luther’s own autobiographical account of the incident, Oberman argues that between 1518 and 1519 Luther came to an understanding of ‘justification by faith,’ and began “teaching the righteousness of God as that righteousness through which we are made righteous.”[3] This landmark interpretation of St. Paul in Romans “rent the very fabric of Christian ethics” and caused a great deal of turmoil within the Church.[4] Though in Oberman’s interpretation this understanding for Luther was opposed at every turn by the Devil, this fundamental shift in the understanding of justification formed the basis for Luther’s subsequent theological development, as well as the theological development of many other reformers and Protestants. Continue reading