Monday, February 19, 2007

Questions About Martin Luther

I have always heard different things about Martin Luther. I think his thoughts on grace were right on. However, recently while reading "Jerusalem Countdown" by John Hagee I came across some information that disturbed me greatly. I have worked at a couple "Lutheran" churches and I have never heard an inkling of this. Here is what I read.

Martin Luther
(A.D. 1483-1546)

It was Martin Luther whose anit-Semitism was deeply appreciated by Adolf Hitler. "The worst, evil genius of Germany," wrote Dean Inge, "is not Hitler, or Bismarck, or Frederick the Great, but Martin Luther."
When Martin Luther introduced the Reformation. he was convinced that the Jewish people would be delighted in his new version of Christianity and would join him in an assault on the Roman Catholic Church. He was wrong! In the beginning, Luther made complimentary remarks about the Jewish contribution to Christianity. When the Jews did not follow him, he turned on them with a vulgarity and a vengeance that greatly appealed to the German people.
His doctrine provided many suitable texts for Hitler's program of extermination. The most vicious, Jew-hating statements Luther ever made were to be found in his tract entitled "Concerning the Jews and Their Lives." In it he stated:

Let me give you my honest advice.

First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire. And whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it. And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians...

Secondly, their homes should be broken down and destroyed. Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer books and the Talmud in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blaspheme are taught. Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under the threat of death to teach anymore...

Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to Jews. Let them stay at home. Sixthly, they ought to be stopped for usury. For this reason, as said before, everything they possess they stole and robbed us through their usury, for they have no other means of support. Seventhly, let the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the axe, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses as is enjoined upon Adam's children. We ought to drive the lazy bones out of our system.

If however, we are afraid that they might harm us personally, or our wives, children, servants, cattle, et cetera...then let us apply the same cleverness (expulsion) as the other nations, such as France, Spain, Bohemia, et cetera...and settle with them for that which they have extorted from us, and after having it divided up fairly, let us drive them out of the country for all time.

To sum up, dear princes and notables who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free from this inseparable Jewish burden...the Jews.

Two days after writing this tract, Martin Luther died!

Now this is the first that I have ever heard of anything like this about Martin Luther. If this information is correct, and Luther did in fact write these things I am ashamed to have worked for a couple Lutheran churches.

Please tell me when Luther said these things. What response was there from others? What does the Lutheran church have to say about these writings and comments? Please let me know. I was amazed to read this. For those of you that attend a Lutheran church or a Lutheran seminary, how does this make you feel? Please respond.

Thank you.


Austin Lorenzen said...

I was aware that Luther, like many of the other giants whose shoulders we now stand upon, had an anti-semitic streak. Here are two thoughts I would urge you to consider as well as the other information you are reading:

1. This is not uncommon. Western culture has evolved, and we have exorcised many historical demons that sit as blights upon our otherwise strong culture. For example, the Founding Fathers, for all of their strength and virtue, could not help themselves and acted upon their financial self-interest and preserved slavery when it was possible to write it out of our country from the beginning. As repugnant as I find their support of racism and slavery, I still regard these men as some of the most remarkable in history. Our country has since paid a terrible price to correct their poor choice and rebuked this blot on their otherwise stellar character. But I am not ashamed to be an American because racism and slavery is a part of our instutitional past.

2. That leads me to my second thought, which is that the ELCA for over a decade has had a dialogue with the Anti-Defamation League on this topic. In 1994, the ELCA issued a declaration rebuking Luther's anti-semitism. I believe that moving forward, this counters the historical record, and is the precedent that the ELCA's efforts are based upon moving forward. Luther, like all of us, was sinful, and his errors are not God's fault, they are his, and we can acknowledge those and move forward. One of the strongest tools of the enemy is to get us to believe that Good, which inevitably includes flawed individuals with grevious faults in its history, is not Good because of that.

I feel confident, as a fellow Protestant, that the Reformation of the faith has done great good for the world, and was the genesis of great things such as the Renaissance and Enlightenment, not to mention the millions of souls that have been saved because of the new way the Gospel was proclaimed that did not happen prior to. We have to understand that as we have evolved, our understanding of what is acceptable has evolved as well, and that when we apply today's standards to history, we will continue to find blights such as this. The key is to do what the ELCA has done, which is to acknowledge it and move forward, confident that God can use all of our broken efforts, regardless of the taint carried with them, for His plan and glory.

Chris said...

I heard that Lutherans like to eat babies.

Reisetter said...

I was raised in a Lutheran church, worked in the same Lutheran church for many years, still go to that Lutheran church (ELCA); and every time I have to admit that to someone, there's part of me that's ashamed.

Not because of Luther's extreme anti-semitism, which I would never condone, but because of several positions the ELCA or many people within the ELCA have taken:
Five years to decide if homosexuality pleases God - and then still not having a decision?
Baptismal universalism?
A tendency among clergy to sign petitions against the war in Iraq way faster than petitions against abortion? (tens of thousands of deaths vs. millions of deaths)
The erosion of biblical authority?
Plus a couple other controversial things I'll keep to myself, lest I offend anyone reading this more than I already have.

Like someone else already wrote, Luther was a sinful guy that God used to bring about a much needed theological reformation. His extreme anti-semitic streak only confirms that every last position he took couldn't have been infallable. (That's one of the arguements I use with my friends who believe in infant baptism and 'consubstantiation'.)

Regardless of Luther's flaws and the some ridiculous positions of the church that bears his name today - we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater - especially the babies that Lutherans like to eat! (That was hilarious, Hagenow!)

Luther's position on law and grace was revolutionary and it is right on the money. Same with salvation "by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone."

Granted, today, those pillars of the Christian faith aren't just held by Lutherans, nor did they originate with Luther. But God did use him to rekindle an insistence on those truths at a time where churches were even more wacked out than they are now.

Someday they'll look back on all of us and see both moments of greatness and moments of shame. Now, hopefully, our moments of shame aren't extreme, public anti-semitism, which could be responsible for kindling one of the greatest human atrocities, ever, but never the less, when the record is written, we'll be guilty of shameful moments.

(I'd be interested in reading someone's arguement that Jesus himself had some pretty direct things to say about unbelieving Jews. Was Luther just following our Lord - but then took it a little overboard?)

Why do I still go to a church whose positions I largely disagree with. That's for a later conversation.

Vitamin Z said...

Luther was a loose cannon (much akin to Reisetter and Hags :) )

Luther was known for saying really wack things for the sake of getting his point across.

What is right? Of course not, but it's pretty consistent with the feelings about Jews in his day and with his personality.

You really can't name a guy who God has used greatly in this world who did have major flaws.

Calvin approved of the burning of Anabaptists, etc.

All the characters from the Bible that God used that were wack sinners....

Mitch Hoffman said...

Serious. This blog has a lot of big words. I do not claim to be a scholar, therefore, I will not be one. word.....mizzle$$

Matt Sharp said...

I'm with everyone in regards to the fact that Luther was a sinful, flawed leader. One in which God used mightly , thus giving me hope that God might be so pleased to use me.

To flip the concern would be the fact that Bastron (or anybody else) is reading John Hagee...if Luther was a anti-semit(which it would appear that he is) Hagee is a scary version of an Anti-Luthern in this regard.

Anybody that puts an Israeli flag inside their church in support of the country of Israel and then tells us that good Christians should lock arms with Israel because they are "God's chosen people today." Even though at this point in Redemtive History they have rejected their Messiah. Yikes.

I will never say that Luther was a perfect man. Look at Jonathan Edwards, he owed a slave. That's not going to keep me from reading his stuff. Theologically he's a giant of whom I'm not worthy.

Let's not forget that Luther's anti-semitism would not have been an issue at his's only something historians have dug up in order to discredit him. The main thrust of Luther's ministry was reforming the church. Look at how much he wrote (books, sermons, essays etc) and this is all they have. A few lines and paragraphs here in there. Obviously it wasn't something he spent a lot of time in study about.

Hagee, on the other hand, has a ministry with it's main thrust dedicated to dooms-day, pro-Israel, out-of-control dispensationalist theology.

Thankfully, in 450 years (forget that lets just say 25) nobody will be talking about John Hagee and we'll still be talking about Martin Luther (unless of course the "rapture" happens before then, ha).

Glad I could be apart of the conversation. Pray for the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tim,

There is no question that Luther was a product of his times and that German anti-Semitism is long standing. I have to regularly remind myself that Luther was a forgiven sinner. I grew up in the south and saw wicked racial prejudice. Sometimes I was brave and challenged the bigotry. Sometimes I took the easy way out and said nothing. The older I get, the more I realize that our Lord Jesus was the only perfect person to walk this earth and that all my other heroes had clay feet. As Lutherans we owe many of our Jewish brothers and sisters a deep and heartfelt apology.

Grace and Peace,


Tim said...

I would agree with what Sharp says about Hagee. My father had read the book and wanted me to read in order to get my take on it. Hagee does seem to be obsessed with the dooms-day theology. I have seen him on television as well, and all he speaks about is death, and does seem to throw out a lot of scare tactics. Don't worry Sharp I am not in to Hagee. I had never heard this stuff about Luther so I was just throwing it out there.

I agree with everyone that God uses people with major flaws. I appreciate everyone putting in their 2 cents.

Sharp I hope to see you on here more. Thanks for adding to the discussion, and keep up the ministry over in the Middle East. I am proud of you man.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

Yes, an ugly side of Martin Luther to be sure. I don’t know what forces shaped his opinions there, but I have added a couple of links that are helpful in understanding the history as well as the denouncements of modern Lutheran church bodies including the ELCA. If Mr. Hagee wants to continue digging he will also find that Luther didn’t like the peasants very much, or the Catholics, or the Calvinists, or the Anabaptists, or anyone who thought they could earn God’s favor by their own good deeds and used that same language against them.

Luther and Tim Hardaway should talk.

How are things? Good to hear from you! Scott

Sharp said...


Thanks for clearing things up for me. Now I can sleep knowing you're reading the book to honor your father.

Last comment...My feeling is that Hagee and others like him (including many in the dispen-theology relm) are guility of being anti-arab. Their chosen theology has blocked them from having compassion to Muslims, especially Palestinians and the crap that Israel does. Does not God desire justice as well.

They should realize that if they really love Israel so much they should be working to see souls saved among the Muslims so that (according to their theology) the glories of Israel would return.

The End....Soli Deo Gloria...I'm out.

the sife said...

Luther's writings, specifically The Jews and Their Lies (referenced by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf) played an important role in Hitler's attitudes, and later, the Holocaust. Originally, Hilter opposed antisemitism on religious grounds. Luther helped clear that obstacle.

You shouldn't be ashamed for Lutherans because Luther influenced Hitler's antisemitism. Rather, you should be ashamed for them because they've chosen to identify their denomination by the name of a man (against his own wishes and contrary to I Corinthians 1:13-15) over Christ, and, in many cases, appear to place his writings on par with scripture. That's why you should be embarrassed for them.

steve turnbull said...

iThe comments above pretty much handle all the major issues already, so there's no need for me to pile on. Nobody thinks Luther is perfect. He was powerfully wrong in these opinions, along with millions of other people in the 16th century. He was wrong about other stuff too, and he'd probably agree with that were he still alive today. He was also, though, powerfully right about some important things, and that is what spawned a movement that wound up stuck with his name (against his own wishes, I would hasten to add).

Let me add this, though, in agreement with Sharp's criticism of Hagee: If somebody wanted to criticize the historical figure of Martin Luther, it would be much more interesting to debate the substance of his theology, such as the centrality of justification by faith or the right distinction between law and gospel. There are profitable fights to be had there. But it only betrays one's own intellectual inabilities to pick at inflammatory comments (even ones that are horrifically wrong) on the fringe of his writings, thinking that this qualifies as substantial or damning criticism. One simply has to do better than that..

fever said...

I agree with Sife the most so far.

the sife said...

the Sife. Show some respect. :)

fever said...

...and Turnbull. Comments such as Hagee's make things appear as if Luther's thoughts on Jews were central to his work by incorrectly attempting to set these thoughts in the center--which they were not. One would do better to look deeper at the foundation upon which these thoughts (though wrong, I agree) were built and deal with that. One can throw rocks all day at windows of a house--the house still stands (though it might be a bit more drafty!).