Contend Earnestly: Lutherans and Luther

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lutherans and Luther

I am currently reading "Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings" and I came across a quote that I want to share. I will tell you first of all, that I do believe, for the most part, that the widespread Lutheran church has departed grossly from the teachings of Luther. But, I also know that I am no historian of Luther or the Lutheran church, so feel free to correct me. I come across the quote below and wonder how those in the Lutheran church would respond. I will also tell you that I am a Calvinist but would never say that I am a follower of Calvin, nor would I respect a church that called themselves, "First Church of Calvin" or something of that same title. I only use the term Calvinist to show my convictions in soteriology. Maybe that is the same response that I would get from a Lutheran following this quote, but it would seem that they would follow more closely Luther's convictions on Scripture than they currently do.

So here is the quote and wouldn't mind a discussion on "Should Lutherans be calling themselves Lutherans, and/or should we ever name a church after a man?"

A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion (1522)

After the Diet of Worms, Luther went into hiding at the Wartburg Castle. While there, he received reports of increasing popular unrest, precipitated by attempts to reform church and society by violent means. In December 1521, Luther wrote this document, urging restraint in the institution of reform measures. In the context of his arguments for his followers to move slowly, surely, and without violence, he included these oft-quoted words.

…In the first place, I ask that men make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine [John 7:16]. Neither was I crucified for anyone [I Cor. 1:13]. St. Paul, in I Corinthians 3, would not allow the Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I—poor stinking maggot-fodder15 that I am—come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold. I neither am nor want to be anyone’s master. I hold, together with the universal church, the one universal teaching of Christ, who is our only master [Matt. 23:8].


Anonymous said...

I don't believe Luther nor Calvin would approve of Christians calling themselves by their names. Though I am reformed in my theology, I try to refrain from using names of other men to describe my views. The Reformers bleed and died against a Church that venerated saints, I believe the last thing they'd desire would be for that same thing to occur in our churches today. Good post.

Justin Evans said...

That is an amazingly direct quote. I have often put forth the idea that Luther would be disgusted at the thought of a denomination not only being named after him, but that it was one who for the most part had turned liberal in their doctrine. But to hear Luther himself denounce it clearly as in this quote is quite powerful.

I agree that we do not follow men but Christ alone. Whatever ones perception of a "title" or "description" of our doctrine is how they will define us. I would consider myself a Calvinist, depending on how that is defined. And in many ways, in this same sense, I would say I am "Lutheran" in my doctrine in that I agree with Luther wholeheartedly that Scripture alone is the authority for the church.

But then again, Luther had his baggage as well that I would not adhere to. But thanks be to God that he was used to break from such blatant blasphemy.

Seth McBee said...

The issue for me comes when I would say that I am a Calvinist or reformed in my soteriology but my eschatology and some of my other views are not reformed. Such as the reformed view on the Sabbath and the reformed view of such things as youth group or children's church. These things don't necessarily need to be "died on a hill" for but for me to say that I am completely reformed in all my views would be misleading. So I would be a baptist, calvinist, progressive dispensationalist, pre-millennialist, but the end only will die for Christ. For above all these I am a Christian and the others only describe my views. They are more specific than some would say, as they would say they aer "biblicists" too vague for me.

Anonymous said...


Saying your Reformed or that you're a Calvinist speaks to much more than simply your soteriology. Calvin was a Presbyterian as well. This means he believed in a particular form of church polity, infant baptism and would have considered dispensational eschatology heterodoxy.

If you affirm the doctrine of God's sovereign election I think that will benefit you throughout your sanctification. But, I'd be wary of calling yourself a Calvinist or Reformed simply based on the embracing of this one doctrine.

Seth McBee said...

that is why I said that is why I am Calvinist in my soteriology and do not call myself reformed because I know the differences. I have a friend that is a reformed pastor and am very careful with the words I call myself. But, I know that calling myself in my soteriology a Calvinist points to exactly what I mean. If you ask me on my eschatology I would call myself a progressive dispensationalist. Again, this is why it can be both helpful and a curse to label ourselves. I also know that Calvin was a paedo-baptist and therefore do not align myself with that part of his life either. I think we both know that to call yourself a Calvinist meant a lot more or involved more breadth in the 17th and 18th centuries than it does today. I use Calvinism as a thought on my soteriology and that is where it stops and that is why I also have to add some "titles" to further my other thoughts and that is also why I don't label myself as reformed.

Anonymous said...

I think today, the terms are pretty well set. If someone calls themselves a Calvinist, I do not assume more than the TULIP. When I hear Covenantalists, I then ask, Baptistic or Presbyterian.

Usually when someone says they are Presbyterian, you do not need to probe any further on their views. Not so with Baptist, Calvinist, or Lutheran for that matter.

Nice quote. I never read that before. Thanks for posting it.

Seth McBee said...

Actually what I have found is that with the Presbyterian's it is hard to know what is going on. Justin and I were just talking about this tonight. If they are an independant Presbyterian church (member) then what I have found is that they are pretty solid (Sproul for instance) but those associated with the Presbyterian USA seem to be getting pretty liberal and especially up here in the Northwest very seeker sensitive.

Am I wrong? This has just been my run in with it. I don't want to put all of them into one melting pot if I am off here.

And as a Baptist it is very disheartening to see where our denomination has gone...I thank God for the new Founders Baptist movement and men like Al Mohler for his direction within the SBC.

Anonymous said...

I do agree. PCUSA is vert liberal, while PCA is pretty solid.

I do not count PCUSA at all, anyway.

Every denomination has its liberal, moderate, and legalistic "branches"

So, I was a bit general.

Anonymous said...

Opps Vert= Very :-)

Seth McBee said...

As you said I don't intend on "representing names" but to say that we should just abolish using names to defend what we believe seems a little too far. I don't even act as though I am a follower of Calvin perse or a follower of this or that or this person or that person, but if you ask me my position on soteriology I will definitely say that I am a 5 point Calvinist but I also better have my verses to back up my position because I am not defending Calvin I am defending the Sovereignty of God. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. I know there are some who take this way too far, but to say we should just abolish the use altother is little too much, in my opinion.

Who are we to defend? God and the Bible of course, and even say defend is little much as God doesn't need to be defended. But if I tell you Tony that I am a 5 point Calvinist, progressive dispensationalist, baptist doesn't this give you a starting point of where I am? Then, we would continue to speak of my thoughts on Scripture to tell you where I stand.

How is this wrong? Seems like it removes a lot of barriers to better understand someone's position. Again, not a follower of Calvin but only of Christ. It is only a description of Scriptural truth. Such as, and this is a little strong, but when I say that I am a Trinitarian you know where I stand, do I still need to defend that truth? Of course.

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