24 Sep 2009

Thinking about Martin Luther? Disciple? Heretic? Worse?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Church, Church History, Grace, Kingdom, Martin Luther, Restoration History
Greetings from the land of Saguaros and Scorpions. Sometimes I am simply amazed at, in MY perception, how tunnel visioned we as a group of people can be.

Here at Palo Verde we have been doing our 120 Days through the Bible. Last night in my Bible class we reviewed the reading since Sunday (Joshua 1-Judges 10). As we have gone through and read this material in God’s word I have once again been struck by two significant facts that seemingly smack us up side the head:

1) Yahweh is incredibly gracious, long suffering and merciful

2) God’s People are incredibly rebellious, blind, disobedient, reach incredible LOWS … it is hard to conceive of a LOWER point than in some of Judges. And yet though full of sin and apostasy they remain God’s People (reading Psalms 105, 106, and 107 together stresses this point).

Surely if that which was written before was for our learning we can learn something about the way God relates to his people. He calls them to a very HIGH ideal and deals with them with incredible long suffering and mercy.

Further when we look at the leaders of God’s People from Joshua to Samson the quality seems fairly low (Joshua clearly being the best of the bunch but then there was the Gibeonite episode). If Samson showed up on my door step to ask my daughter out I’d call the cops!!! Yet the Lord of Grace did in fact use them and blessed their feeble efforts.

Now when I move from the history of God’s people within Scripture to that of “profane” history and I see men like Martin Luther and ask myself how he would compare to Jepthah or Samson. Clearly he was mistaken (like Joshua whose mistake cost the ENTIRE people!) on stuff. Even important stuff. Yet I wonder if God changed how he looked at human beings from the time of Samson to Martin Luther? One wonders if Luther would have been satisfied with just one night of dew on the ground and a dry cloth? Or if Luther would have visited prostitutes before bringing a visitation to the Philistines? I am just wondering “out loud?” Are Luther’s sins greater than those recorded in Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” I wonder if the grace Samson found was denied to Luther?

Interestingly enough it is only in fairly recent times that restoration Christians decided that Luther was not much better than a pagan. Alexander Campbell could chastize those who CLAIMED the epitaph “Protestant” as traitors to Luther,

O for another Luther, to lash the popery of false Protestants, who prefer implicit surrender of their own judgment to the decision of … pretenders to divine wisdom ...”

In his debate with Rice, Campbell extolled his gratitude and respect not only on Martin Luther and John Calvin but their predecessors. Specifically of Luther and Calvin he says these astonishing words about Luther and Calvin. They,

were God’s chosen vessels to accomplish at the proper time a mighty moral revolution, whose might, sway and extended empire over the human mind and destinies of the world, have not yet been fully appreciated.” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 587).

Those are interesting words. Now Campbell, someone will say was not inspired and I agree. His opinion matters for nothing right!!! However I think Campbell recognized something quite significant … perfection of either understanding or practice is not what makes one a part of the family of God or makes a people the People of God.

Could it be that Luther was in fact truly a disciple. That term is used to describe the “Way” that is the people of Jesus in the NT more than any other term (by a long way). It neither implies “arrivedness” or “perfection” … rather the term implies the people of God are sophomoric and imperfect … always learning and growing.

Thus I think Luther was in fact a disciple of Christ. How Luther’s errors are worse than Israel’s I fail to be able to discern … but that is just me. Lord, we pray thee, to have mercy on our arrogance and our inability to even perceive YOUR work in the cracked pot Martin Luther.

Bobby Valentine
Tucson, AZ

14 Responses to “Thinking about Martin Luther? Disciple? Heretic? Worse?”

  1. Randall Says:

    Humanly speaking, we stand on the shoulders of giants, including Luther, Calvin, Hus and a number of others.
    Thanks for a great post brother.

  2. Bradford L. Stevens Says:

    Luther’s passion was for the salvation of his congregants. What set him off was the practice of the sale of indulgences which he knew was a perversion of the gospel. I don’t think he ever anticipated what would happen when he nailed his 95 thesies to the door of the castle in Wittenberg. He was fortunate to have lived far enough away from the papal authorities to be protected by the German nobles. But, some of my heroes were those unknown Anabaptists who discovered that it was not the sacraments that brought salvation; but, faith. Of course they died at the hands of the papacy and the Lutherans. I dare to believe that we will run into some of those brave souls in heaven. Jesus told his followers in John 10 that he had sheep that they knew nothing about. He is the great shepherd and he gets to decide who are his sheep. Whatever he decides is o.k. with me. Wherever He has a child, I have a brother or sister.

  3. Dee Andrews Says:

    Bobby –

    I’ve not commented in FAR too long, but keep up with your nearly daily, nonetheless, both on FB and here.

    Many blessings to each of you tonight!


  4. ben overby Says:

    Luther was a disciple of Jesus. How could anyone argue otherwise? He’d been mentally and emotionally healthier, however, if he’d paid more attention to Paul, esp. at Ro. 7, and understood that sin was in his sarx–(and was something other than “him” in Christ) and would have gotten over his “miserable sinner” complex, a complex so much of Christianity continues to embrace in its language today. We are all in debt to him and Calvin. They were Christians, saved by grace and justified by faith, like the rest of us who are in Christ.

  5. Perry Says:

    Martin Luther is my all time favorite hero of the past. He told off the religious ninnies of his day.
    I love ALL of his writings.

  6. Jeremy Says:


    As Justus has started Boy Scouts, he expected to memorize certain mottos and promises. The motto being “Do your Best”. Certainly no one could argue the fact that that is what the God of mercy dictates for His people to do!

    Does this mean there will not be failure? Absolutely not! God in His grace and mercy is able to look past our failures to the heart of our intentions.

    Luther, for all his mistakes, was clearly doing his best in his service to the King. A powerful lesson for all of us!

  7. Keith Brenton Says:

    Anyone who can write “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” has got to have the same kind of heart as someone who could write Psalm 18 or Psalm 31.

    And wasn’t that fellow called “a man after God’s own heart”?

  8. kingdomseeking Says:

    It is easy from a postmodern mind-set to see the flaws of modernism that helped provide a new paradigm from which Martin Luther and other reformers were able to critique the papal hold on Christianity. Whatever critiques are warranted, the good the reformers did outweighs whatever mistakes they made. But I wonder how this post might apply to some of our historical CoC leaders such as Foy E. Wallace and Ira Y. Rice, two leaders who divisiveness and militant pulpit presence I believe to have left quite a damaging mark upon the CoC.

    Precisely, how do we name particular mistakes for what they are and yet treat those who made such mistakes ina gracious manner? There seems to be tension between the two, especially the closer to home one gets.

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  9. cwinwc Says:

    Great post Bobby. Those of us that choose to live in a vacumn of history, even “church history” will be condemned to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

    I shudder to think of the damage that has been done with respect to those who believe in the “Great Pit (after the 1st century the church ceases to exist until the late 1700’s / early 1800’s when the Churches of Christ come on the scene) Theory of Church History.”

  10. Anonymous Says:

    As always, your thinking is very challenging. I too wonder what our churches would be like if we had not allowed ourselves to swayed by the likes of Wallace and Rice. It seems to me that we would be better off sitting at the feet of Luther and Calvin, who tried to reform the church, rather then those who do more to divide, rather then teach “salvation by grace through faith!”(Eph. 2:8)

    Good post Bro.,


  11. Matthew Says:

    He did a ton of good, probably we should be thankful for him.

  12. Gardner Hall Says:

    Thanks Bobby,
    Luther was certainly a giant and it’s hard to imagine that God would not consider him as a disciple in spite of some pretty rough anti-Semitism and questionable political entanglements. God is indeed more merciful than we can imagine and it is right for you to emphasize that attribute. However,we should also be willing to challenge some of the rougher doctrinal and even ethical edges of those like Luther (and yes, Ira Rice, Foy Wallace and those like them as well). The danger comes when we only want to emphasize God’s mercy while minimizing his rectitude, or vice versa.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Just Sunday morning in Bible class as we are studying the book of Ephesians I commented how we owe a great debt to men like Luther and Calvin. Even though in (some) things I stand opposed to (some) things they taught. Disciples, certainly they were. You just have to read a very small amount of their writings to see Whom they believed in and were students of. Eternal judgment belongs to God and God along. He will pronounce who is saved by Grace through faith. We get up in the air when it is thought that someone condemns someone else. {rightly so} But how do we think we can judge someone saved? We can think or believe that someone has come into saving relationship through grace and faith. God is still the judge. I appreciate what Luther and Calvin and many others has given us but I will allow God to judge them.
    Sonny Owens

  14. Doug Says:

    I find this hilarious. If people condemn him, they need to stop using sola scriptura.

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