In Defense of Martin Luther (part 2)
|August 31, 2011||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog, Short Essays|
2. Unclean language
3. Hostility to science and reason
A third criticism is Luther’s alleged hostility to science and reason. Concerning science, it is claimed that his resistance to Copernicus’ new theory shows his ignorance – but his negative reference to “a certain new astrologer who proved that the earth moves” is dated 1539, four years before Copernicus published his famous work. After Copernicus published his theory in 1543, Luther made no reference to it that we know of. His close associate and friend Philip Melanchthon initially opposed Copernicus, but later expressed his approval of and even admiration for Copernicus (for more details see In Defense of Martin Luther by John Montgomery).
As to Luther’s contempt for Aristotle and for human reason independent of divine revelation, the belief that human nature is innately corrupt, and naturally prone to error, conceit, folly, and selfishness is an observable fact of life and also a basic biblical teaching. Ignorance of that is the fatal flaw at the heart of all futile schemes for drastically reforming society – and the idolatry of excessive devotion to Aristotle so widely evident in Luther’s day was in need of rebuke.
Luther valued reason in its proper place, within the confines of God’s revelation, and made extensive use of it in learning, argumentation, and exploration of the truth. He was more rigorously logical than are many popular thinkers and writers of the modern era whose misguided abuse of logic leads them from one mistake to the next.
4. Luther’s responsibility for later events in German history
A fourth criticism is that Luther somehow magically created the German nation and single-handedly molded it into a people that, more than 400 years later, would follow Hitler and exterminate the Jews. This assertion is breathtaking – as if Luther were to blame for Germany’s unification under Bismarck; for its defeat in WWI; for the German reaction to the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles; for the inflation of the 1920s; for the very real threat of Communism which Hitler skillfully exploited; for the emergence in the 19th century of new philosophies of nationalism, racism, totalitarianism, and secular philosophical anti-Semitism (such as that of Kant) unknown in Luther’s time.
“But,” it is claimed, “Luther taught obedience to the authorities!” This supposedly formed a national character that persisted unchanged for centuries under Luther’s spell and caused the Germans to follow Hitler. Strangely, this blind obedience was absent in the fiery nationalistic responses to French domination of Germanyunder Napoleon. Jesus taught submission even to foreign invaders, and this was part and parcel of Luther’s concept of obedience to the authorities as ordained in the Bible.
German obedience to authority was not much in evidence in the revolutions of 1848, nor was it evident in the hostility to Allied terms after WWI. The victorious Allies, too, were authorities ordained by God. Hitler did not display any Lutheran reverence for the state when he sought to overthrow it in 1923, and neither did his followers when they sought to overthrow the Weimar Republic. A strict application of a Lutheran view of government, by the way, would have justified Hitler’s execution after his failed putsch against the Bavarian government. Finally, the Russians under Lenin and Stalin, the Chinese under Mao, the Italians under Mussolini, the Cubans under Castro, all of them succumbed to totalitarian governments without the benefit of a Lutheran tradition to teach them obedience to cruel dictators who ruled by repression and by fear.
Also, Luther’s concept of obedience to the state did not extend to belief and doctrine. Luther openly defied the authorities, at the risk of his life, when he felt that they intruded into matters of biblical faith and teaching where they had no right to go. His understanding of governmental power was clearly limited, and his teaching and example prevented no German from saying 400 years later: “The Germans are not the master race. Racial purity is a false concept totally contrary to biblical teaching. Hitler is not the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. The Jews are not the enemies of humanity, but people like everyone else. The power and glory of Germany is not the most important thing in life. What really matters is where you will spend eternity. What does it profit you if Germany is a great power and you are lost and go to hell? What does it harm you if Germany loses some territory but you have peace with God and eternal life in Christ?”
If enough German pastors had preached this, and if enough Germans had believed it, Hitler would never have come to power – but, this message was conspicuously absent. Why? Because of Luther? No, there were three reasons. One was fear – people wanted to stay out of a concentration camp (and even before Hitler became Chancellor outspoken opponents were liable to beatings and even murder).
A second reason was the theological liberalism that had completely altered the church from within. That the bible was merely a human book full of myths and errors; that Christ did not die on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world or rise from the dead; that he was not God come to earth in human form – these and other such changes throughout the 19th century resulted in seminaries, churches, and pulpits dedicated to a type of Christianity totally foreign in its essence to Luther’s powerful Reformation faith (though the outward forms were observed). In his book The God who is There, Francis Schaeffer clearly shows how the theologians of our own time have also abandoned historic Christianity and adapted themselves “to the surrounding secular climate and consensus.”
Thirdly, much of orthodox Christianity had degenerated to a theological system without the vitality, living faith, and love that are supposed to characterize biblical Christianity. “Salvation by faith” had become “Salvation by acceptance of doctrines,” and Christianity had become a philosophical system rather than a living communion with Christ.