In Defense of Martin Luther (part 4)
|September 30, 2011||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
2. Unclean language
3. Hostility to science and reason
4. Luther’s responsibility for later events in German history
5. Luther and German nationalism
a. Some misconceptions
b. Luther’s worldview
In response to the argument that Luther was responsible for later abuses of nationalism, we need to consider first, Luther’s overall world-view; and second, European nationalism in general (5c). Really, this line of argument – “Luther was a great German, therefore he was responsible for everything that happened after him” – is unworthy of academic consideration and should be done away with by legitimate commentators and historians.
Luther understood, like all Bible-believing Christians down through the centuries and until today, that national issues are not of primary importance. Nationalists of various stripes have at various times (with more or less success) manipulated religious enthusiasm for their own advantage, but such manipulations are far from the good news of Jesus Christ. Christians may and should have a legitimate concern for the well-being and security of the countries in which we happen to reside, and the Bible instructs us to pray for the authorities, that we might have peace, but Jesus said that his gospel should be sent into all the world, without partiality or favoritism. That, and serving Christ, should be our primary concerns, not irrational or blind super-patriotism that causes us to forget the love of God and the reality of the world to come after this one.
In his profound and deeply spiritual book Pilgrim’s Progress, 17th-century English write John Bunyan wrote of the town Vanity Fair as having a French row, a German row, and English row, and so on. As we work out our salvation in fear and trembling before a righteous God, national issues must be of lesser importance, and will be with all genuine followers of Christ (who have ever been in the minority, as Christ himself taught). We understand what John meant when he wrote that “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” and are not so foolish as to think – if we believe in the Bible – that our country comes first, right or wrong.
More specifically, Luther believed that there is going to be a day of judgment, and that all of us will stand individually before God, to be either accepted into paradise, or sent to hell, a place of everlasting punishment. He well knew, as do all serious Christians today, that a Frenchman, an Italian, an African, an Asian, or a Jew who is accepted by God and goes to heaven, however low their status here on earth might be, is happier, wiser, better, and more fortunate in the end than a German who dies and is rejected by God. These were Luther’s main concerns: salvation from sin, eternal life, reform in the church, the truths of the Bible, and a life according to its teachings (from which Luther at times, especially in his old age, sadly deviated, as have we all).
The belief in the eternal value of all human life and our equality before God contributed to the gradual death of slavery in Europe while it was still routinely practiced in other parts of the world. It also contributed, along with many other factors, to the emergence of democracy in the West. Those who try to discuss the origins of Western democracy while ignoring the Reformation are badly misinformed. The Reformation contributed as much as the Renaissance and more to the emergence of modern Europe out of the Middle Ages. It is too bad that ignorant anti-religious bias has blinded some so-called scholars to this elementary fact.
The main issue for Luther was not the magnification and the exaltation of Germany. It was, “How do we make peace with God, obtain forgiveness for sins, and enter into eternal life?” He was not concerned with the political boundaries of Germany – and this was the emphasis of Christ as well. When Christ’s “fatherland” was controlled by a foreign occupying power he did not issue a call to arms – instead, he counseled cooperation with the occupying power, and even said that people should do twice as much as they were asked. Jesus was concerned with the kingdom of heaven – how we can enter into it in this life, and be fully accepted into it in the world to come.
Luther had an ordinary and natural concern for the people or ethnic group of which he was a member, and was not indifferent to human ties of language and culture that anyone might feel – but to say as one “scholar” did that Luther was obsessed with “Germanness” is totally false, and a grotesque caricature of a man of European, not merely Germanic, roots and character. Of course, I do realize some are incapable of informed and rational thought on this subject, being so poisoned by hatred, ignorance, and fear of Christianity.
Luther understood, as taught in Acts 17:26, that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth,” and modern nationalism was not an issue for him. Those who want to hunt through Luther’s multi-volume collected works and seize on any use of the word “German” or “Germany” as proof of his nationalism without regarding his overall purpose and life’s work are either dishonest or incompetent. Inevitably, as a German, he was concerned with the various issues of his day, but his emphasis was on the unseen and invisible spiritual world which endures forever, in contrast to this visible world which passes away.
5 c. Modern nationalism
6. Luther and the Jews