Luther on Church

Martin Luther (I’ve been getting a kick out of reading his stuff lately), when writing on church says the following if you patience to read:

“The Scriptures speak of the Church[23] quite simply, and use the term in only one sense; these men have added and brought into general use two more. The first use, according to the Scriptures, is this, that the Church[23] is called the assembly of all the believers in Christ upon earth, just as we pray in the Creed: ”I believe in the Holy Ghost, a communion of saints.“ This community or assembly consists of all those who live in true faith, hope and love; so that the essence, life and nature of the Church[23] is not a bodily assembly, but an assembly of hearts in one faith, as St. Paul says, Ephesians iv, ”One baptism, one faith, one Lord." [Eph. 4:5]

Thus, though they be a thousand miles apart in body, yet they are called an assembly in spirit because each one preaches, believes, hopes, loves, and lives like the other. So we sing of the Holy Ghost: “Thou, who through divers tongues gatherest together the nations in the unity of the faith.”[24] That means in reality a spiritual unity, because of which men are called a communion of saints. And this unity is of itself sufficient to make a Church,[23] and without it no unity, be it of place, of time, of person, of work, or of whatever else, makes a Church.[23] On this point we must hear the word of Christ, Who, when Pilate asked Him concerning His kingdom, answered: “My kingdom is not of this world.” [John 18:36] This is indeed a dear passage, in which the Church[23] is made separate from all temporal communities, as not being anything external.

And this blind Romanist makes of it an external community, like any other. Christ says even more clearly, Luke xvii, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here, or lo, there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:20, 21] I am astounded, that such strong, clear words of Christ are treated as a farce by these Romanists. For by these words it is clear to every one that the kingdom of God (for so He calls His Church[25]) is not at Rome, nor is it bound to Rome or any other place, but it is where there is faith in the heart, be a man at Rome, or here, or elsewhere. It is a nauseating lie,[26] and Christ is made a liar when it is said that the Church[25], is in Rome, or is bound to Rome—or even that the head and the authority are there by divine right. Moreover, in Matthew xxiv. He foretold the gross deception which now rules under the name of the Roman Church, when He says: "Many false prophets and false Christs shall come in My name, saying: I am Christ; and shall deceive many, and show great signs, that if possible they shall deceive the very elect.

Wherefore, if they shall say unto you: Behold, in the secret chambers is Christ, believe it not; behold, He is in the desert, go not forth. Behold, I have told you before." [Matt. 24:24–26] Is this not a cruel error, when the unity of the Christian Church[25], separated by Christ Himself from all material and temporal cities and places, and transferred to spiritual realms, is included by these preachers of dreams in material communities,[27] which must of necessity be bound to localities and places. How is it possible, or whose reason can grasp it, that spiritual unity and material unity should be one and the same? There are those among Christians who are in the external assembly and unity, who yet by their sins exclude themselves from the inner, spiritual unity. Therefore, whosoever maintains that an external assembly or an outward unity makes a Church,[25] sets forth arbitrarily what is merely his own opinion, and whoever endeavors to prove it by the Scriptures, brings divine truth to the support of his lies, and makes God a false witness, just as does this miserable Romanist, who explains everything that is written concerning the Church[28] as meaning the outward show of Roman power; and yet he cannot deny that the large majority of these people, particularly in Rome itself, because of unbelief and evil lives, is not in the spiritual unity, i. e., the true Church.[28]

For if to be in the external Roman unity made men true Christians, there would be no sinners among them, neither would they need faith nor the grace of God to make them Christians; this external unity would be enough."

In full agreement of all said points. We’re so very confused in our understanding of the word “church”.

Underestimating a Thirst for Power

Luther wanted to reform the Catholic Church. And he thought this would happen if he just got the Bible in to enough hands. If people just heard the truth through teaching and preaching.

I identify with his optimism. But also see it as foolishly underestimating how tightly people in power will maintain a grip on their positions. Failing to see the truth if it smacks them in the face because of what’s at stake for them.