Luther was not like Gandhi

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I’m deeply troubled by the church,” said the pastor, “but, like Luther, I’ll wait to be thrown out.”

February 18, 2006, marks the 460th anniversary of Luther’s death – a proper occasion to recall the kind of man he was. To be sure, he said, “I would not have it that people fight on the side of the gospel with force and killing . . . . The world is to be won over with the Word.”

But this does not mean that Luther was like Gandhi, a man of passive resistance. Luther did not preach in a corner, nor did he just talk. He was a man of action.

  • On December 10, 1520, Luther burned the papal bull and other papal documents because, as he said, “I am, however unworthy, a baptized Christian, in addition a sworn doctor of Holy Scripture, and beyond that a preacher each weekday, whose duty it is on account of his name, station, oath, and office, to destroy or at least to ward off false, corrupt, unchristian doctrine” (LW 31:383).1The burning was not simply a symbolic act to counter the papal directive earlier that year to burn his books. It was essentially a public act of separating from the Roman church.
  • In 1521 Luther wrote to his mentor, Staupitz: “This is not the time to be timid but to raise the voice loudly.” Under the pressure from the church, however, Staupitz caved in. Their friendship ended.
  • Luther helped clergy find calls and, beginning in 1527, established supervisory visitations of congregations. This meant, in fact, starting a new church.
  • In 1530 Luther and his colleagues drafted the Augsburg Confession in defense of their movement. This document was not an irenic appeal to preserve an existing unity. It was not an attempt to negotiate a compromise. Rather, it was political document drafted to demonstrate that the Reformers belonged to the “great consensus” (CA 1) of the church, in order to keep the Emperor from crushing their movement.

Luther did not wait “to be thrown out.” He fought with every means available, even book burning, for the truth of the gospel because salvation is at stake.

“I’m deeply troubled by the church,” said the pastor; “like Luther, I too will stand up for the truth of the gospel.”

1 For this doctrine is our only light, which illumines and directs us and shows the way to heaven … we can be saved without love … but not without pure doctrine ….” (LW 27:41).