Luther — Sinner or Saint?

In this anniversary year of the Reformation (31 October 1517), I’ve posted several articles examining Roman Catholicism through a somewhat apologetic lens.

Today, I wanted to discuss those obvious traditions that Protestants find so … unfamiliar:

  • Making confession to a priest
  • Calling the Pope, Father
  • Transubstantiation
  • Praying to Mary
  • Purgatory

However, I posted a rather lengthy comment on a previous article discussing some things I was saving for a future post, and feel it appropriate to share those thoughts in blog format. The comments are relevant to this series of articles on the post-Reformation schism that exists between Catholics and Protestants. (Following the reprint I will have some closing thoughts.)

I take no sides here except as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Begin Comments

Of course, my prejudice — for what it’s worth — is that I relate the Holocaust to German nationalism fueled by the anti-Semitic overtones of the Reformation. For me, this is a very sensitive issue not understood by the Protestant laity which holds Martin Luther in high regard.

When Luther went to Rome, ostensibly seeking reform, he initially said nothing about the peculiar traditions of the Catholic Church — many of which were gleaned from the Apocryphal books written during the Intertestamental period. For example, the German church profited handsomely from the indulgences paid by the wealthy aristocracy. Luther wanted to keep that money in Germany, and out of the hands of Rome.

On a related issue, Luther saw the banking system as a threat to German autonomy. The bankers, by chance, happened to be Jews who were profiting (across Europe) as capitalist financiers.

Luther’s mission was this: Liberate Germany from the Catholic Pope and Jewish bankers.

Much has been written about Luther’s anti-Semitic nationalism, but this history is unknown, or not taught in the Protestant Church. We must understand Luther’s motivations in order to judge the righteousness of his movement.

Reviewing Martin Luther’s book, On the Jews and Their Lies, author Jim Walker commented:

Although Luther did not invent anti-Jewishness, he promoted it to a level never before seen in Europe. Luther bore the influence of his upbringing and from anti-Jewish theologians such as Lyra, Burgensis, (and John Chrysostom, before them). But Luther’s 1543 book, “On the Jews and Their Lies” took Jewish hatred to a new level when he proposed to set fire to their synagogues and schools, to take away their homes, forbade them to pray or teach, or even to utter God’s name. Luther wanted to “be rid of them” and requested that the government and ministers deal with the problem. He requested pastors and preachers to follow his example of issuing warnings against the Jews. He goes so far as to claim that “We are at fault in not slaying them” for avenging the death of Jesus Christ.

So vehemently did Luther speak against the Jews, and the fact that Luther represented an honorable and admired Christian to Protestants, that his written words carried the “memetic” seeds of anti-Jewishness up until the 20th century and into the Third Reich. Luther’s Jewish eliminationist rhetoric virtually matches the beliefs held by Hitler and much of the German populace in the 1930s.

Luther unconsciously set the stage for the future of German nationalistic fanaticism.

Walker cited author William L. Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) who wrote that Luther created a new Protestant vision of Christianity by a fervent German nationalism.

Author Eric W. Gritsch (Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment) wrote that the “missionary Luther” was a propagandist for German nationalism — a political reformer whose patriotism should have created a substitute for the rule of Roman Catholicism. He further wrote that German nationalism, unconditional patriotism and conditional theology propelled the Reformation.

Hitler called Martin Luther one of the greatest reformers. Against the historical backdrop one might doubt the righteousness of Luther’s reforms.

Here’s what I think.

First, let me say that the Catholic Church is not without sin. Having said that, I believe that confusion and division are from Satan. Nothing has caused so much confusion and division than the Protestant-Catholic split.

I believe that Luther’s theological differences were intended to conceal his nationalistic intentions. He was politically motivated to break from Rome, and his 95 Theses served as a formal declaration of German independence.

He split the Church in two, and the Church has suffered consequentially.

Luther’s theology, I believe, does rise to the level of heresy. On Sola Fide, alone, he mishandles the word of God (if only to incite disagreement with Rome).

This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness … if this article stands, the Church stands; if it falls, the Church falls. — Martin Luther

Catholics do not disagree that we are saved by faith. The issue, as I pointed out in the article, is the Book of James (see notes). Luther didn’t like what it said so he disputed its canonicity. He also didn’t like Hebrews and Revelation because they were too Jewish.

I look at the fruit of the Reformation and I see the Holocaust, and tens of thousands of Protestant Churches that teach every kind of oddball theology.

End Comments

On that last comment about oddball theology I’m reminded of the Quaker Church that abolished the sacraments of baptism and Communion because the Bible teaches that we are not saved by works.

There are many books and articles that discuss what motivated Martin Luther. Indeed, Luther’s own writings are sufficient to cast doubt on whether he was inspired by God, or his own personal interests. The Reformation must be examined in light of this knowledge. For example, following are excerpts from Luther’s book, Of Jews and Their Lies:

My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire. Second, that all their books — their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible — be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted. Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country. Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it.

He who hears this name [God] from a Jew must inform the authorities, or else throw sow dung at him when he sees him and chase him away.

Burn their synagogues. Forbid them all that I have mentioned above. Force them to work and treat them with every kind of severity, as Moses did in the desert and slew three thousand. If that is no use, we must drive them away like mad dogs, in order that we may not be partakers of their abominable blasphemy and of all their vices, and in order that we may not deserve the anger of God and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Let everyone see how he does his. I am excused.

If I had to baptize a Jew, I would take him to the bridge of the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words I baptize thee in the name of Abraham.

The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves.

It is not difficult to understand why a son of Abraham would be suspicious — even afraid — of that kind of Christianity. Compare the writings of Paul with Luther, and ask yourself which man was inspired by God. The greater question is this: What is the Church of Christ?

If the Pope is the Man of Sin, and Martin Luther an anti-Jewish nationalist then where does the disciple of Christ go to worship?

Hint: God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24).


In context of the previous article (wherein I discussed the doctrine of justification), the following quotes (intended to refute James 2:24) are presented to support my claim that Luther’s theology was heretical.

It is more important to guard against good works than against sin. [1]

Good works are bad and are sin like the rest. [2]

There is no scandal greater, more dangerous, more venomous, than a good outward life, manifested by good works and a pious mode of life. That is the grand portal, the highway that leads to damnation. [3]

1. Trischreden, Wittenberg Edition, Vol. VI., p. 160.
2. Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III, pg. 47.
3. Ibid, pg. 128.

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