Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, Wittenberg Beer, and the Power of the Word

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it is only fitting that I quote from Martin Luther himself–that truly flawed German monk God in his sovereignty and providence chose to change the religious and political landscape Europe and the rest of the world.

The following quotes is taken from a sermon Luther preached in Wittenberg in 522:

Once, when Paul came to Athens (Acts 17[:16-32], a mighty city, he found in the temple many ancient altars, and he went from one to the other and looked at them all, but he did not kick down a single one of them with his foot. Rather he stood up in the middle of the market place and said they were nothing but idolatrous things and luther_beerbegged the people to forsake them; yet he did not destroy one of them by force. When the Word took hold of their hearts, they forsook them of their own accord, and in consequence the thing fell of itself. Likewise, if I had seen them holding mass, I would have preached tot hem and admonished them. Had they heeded my admonition, I would have won them; if not, I would nevertheless not have torn them from it by the hair or employed any force, but simply allowed the Word to act and prayed for them. For the Word created heaven and earth and all things [Ps. 33:6]; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners.

In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.[1]

_____________________________

[1] Luther, M., 2012. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. Third Ed. Eds. T.F. Lull and W.R. Russell, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, pp.293-294.

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7 Responses to Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, Wittenberg Beer, and the Power of the Word

  1. Jon Hughes says:

    I would have loved to have debated theology with Martin Luther over a few beers, although he’d probably have reduced me to the foetal position before condemning me as a heretic. My old pastor often said that Luther and Calvin were both heroes of his, but he’d rather have gone on holiday with Martin Luther!

    Luther was courageous, opinionated, and the perfect wild boar for such a time as that to be loose in the vineyard. God may be raising up bridge-builders today, but as far as I’m concerned we owe Luther a great debt, even if the Reformation can be seen looking back as tragedy as well as triumph.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Jon,
      In my own theological journey, Luther was that first spark. But in terms of theologizing, I’m often at the feet of Calvin.

      I could see how a beer with Luther is preferred over Calvin. Calvin comes over as a bore. I agree. 🙂

      How was the reformation a tragedy?

      • Jon Hughes says:

        Hi TC,

        The Reformation was a tragedy because the magisterial reformers became the very thing they opposed in persecuting those who understood the Bible differently. A real Pope was replaced by a paper Pope – the only problem being that no one could agree on what exactly the Bible taught; hence the thousands of denominations today, disagreeing with one another based on the ‘plain meaning’ of Scripture.

        If we are to take Jesus’s command seriously to love one another, and that by this people will know that we are His disciples, we’d have to acknowledge that the Reformation was tragedy as well as triumph. I believe that the Reformation was necessary, but I also believe that there is a time to build up as well as tear down – and surely it behoves us all to stop taking ourselves so seriously and have a bit of hermeneutical humility when it comes to our understanding of the Bible (I’m preaching to myself!) and work towards ecumenical unity.

        Conservative evangelical denominations have no chance of heading in this direction as long as they are bound by an inerrant text and their particular interpretation of it. Heck, they’re still at loggerheads with one another, let alone other Christian traditions. Meantime, the world looks on and scoffs. We’re still in our youth. It’s time to grow up.

  2. Lon Hetrick says:

    What a great quote! 🙂

    • Jon Hughes says:

      Lon,

      It is a great quote, but rings hollow when we realise that Luther stated repeatedly that those upholding false doctrine should be punished by the sword by the secular authorities.

      A deft touch from Martin there…

      It’s a bit like Calvin absolving himself of responsibility for Servetus’s burning because it was really the Geneva Council that decided it!

      The irony is that I owe my freedom of religion as a Baptist more to secularism than Protestantism. Shame on us all.

      • Lon Hetrick says:

        I appreciate your call to be objective. The reformers brought both good and bad into the church since they were both redeemed and sinners. I’ll try to be objective about their positive and negative contributions without diminishing either. I agree that the chief evil they enabled was opening the door to sectarian divisions. Though, I believe the American spirit of autonomy greatly accelerated the trend.

  3. Jon Hughes says:

    Lon,

    Yes indeed, Luther was a deeply courageous man of conviction and I wouldn’t want to diminish his achievements, nor that of the Reformation in general – especially as by comparison I live a very ‘safe’ and uneventful life. (There’s nothing worse than a ‘keyboard warrior’ ranting when others are going out and changing the world.)

    The thing is, however, that we too are both redeemed and sinners, yet are not condemning each other as heretics and advocating the death penalty for wrong doctrine. What was different then compared to now? Luther like us lived after the coming of Christ who called His followers to love their enemies and presumably not call for their deaths. Perhaps the ‘sin’ aspect of our zeal for the Lord comes out when the church yields the power of the state, or at least influences it, when it comes to enforcing correct theological thinking?

    Perhaps a secular age is not all evil then?

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