OF THE CHURCH
The true church is an assembly or congregation depending on that which does not appear, nor may be comprehended in the mind, namely, God’s Word; what that says, they believe without addition, giving God the honor.
We tell our Lord God plainly, that if he will have his church, he must maintain and defend it; for we can neither uphold nor protect it; if we could, indeed, we should become the proudest asses under heaven. But God says: I say it, I do it; it is God only that speaks and does what he pleases; he does nothing according to the fancies of the ungodly, or which they hold for upright and good.
The great and worldly-wise people take offence at the poor and mean form of our church, which is subject to many infirmities, transgressions, and sects, wherewith she is plagued; for they say the church should be altogether pure, holy, blameless, God’s dove, etc. And the church, in the eyes and sight of God, has such an esteem; but in the eyes and sight of the world, she is like unto her bridegroom, Christ Jesus, torn, spit on, derided, and crucified.
The similitude of the upright and true church and of Christ, is a poor silly sheep; but the similitude of the false and hypocritical church, is a serpent, an adder.
Where God’s word is purely taught, there is also the upright and true church; for the true church is supported by the Holy Ghost, not by succession of inheritance. It does not follow, though St Peter had been bishop at Rome, and at the same time Christian communion had been at Rome, that, therefore, the pope and the Romish church are true; for if that should be of value or conclusive, then they must needs confess that Caiaphas, Annas, and the Sadducees were also the true church; for they boasted that they were descended from Aaron.
It is impossible for the Christian and true church to subsist without the shedding of blood, for her adversary, the devil, is a liar and a murderer. The church grows and increases through blood; she is sprinkled with blood; she is spoiled and bereaved of her blood; when human creatures will reform the church, then it costs blood.
The form and aspect of the world is like a paradise; but the true Christian church, in the eye of the world, is foul, deformed, and offensive; yet, nevertheless, in the sight of God, she is precious, beloved, and highly esteemed. Aaron, the high priest, appeared gloriously in the temple, with his ornaments and rich attire, with odoriferous and sweet-smelling perfumes; but Christ appeared most mean and lowly.
Wherefore I am not troubled that the world esteems the church so meanly; what care I that the usurers, the nobility, gentry, citizens, country-people, covetous men, and drunkards, condemn and esteem me as dirt? In due time, I will esteem them as little. We must not suffer ourselves to be deceived or troubled as to what the world thinks of us. To please the good is our virtue.
Taken from The Tabletalk of Martin Luther (ed. Thomas S. Kepler; Baker reprint, 1979). You may also find this online at CCEL.