We return today to the annual special Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer (October 15, 2016). This year’s special issue is entirely devoted to “Martin Luther, Reformer Convicted by Scripture.”
One of the articles focuses on Luther’s doctrine of the church. In “Luther and the Church” Rev. Martyn McGeown (missionary-pastor laboring in Limerick, Ireland) summarizes Luther’s ecclesiology, while recognizing that he was not a systematizer like Calvin.
For example, McGeown says this about Luther’s view of the unity of the church:
Luther did not deny, or even attack (as his opponents alleged) the unity of the church. Luther never intended to create a second church to rival the Roman church. Luther denied that the Roman church was the church. It was, and had become, a wicked, degenerate counterfeit of the true church. What Luther did (and what Calvin and the other Reformers did after him) in establishing congregations on the basis of the Word of God was to continue the one church of Jesus Christ. Luther’s close friend and ally, Philip Melanchthon, wrote in the Augsburg Confession, “It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places” (Article VII).
And when he ends his article, McGeown brings up Luther’s love for the church:
Finally, Luther loved the church. His great grief was to see what he called the Babylonian Captivity of the church, and his great desire was to see the church restored to her biblical foundations. Above all, Luther saw himself not as a mighty Reformer, or even as a great spiritual leader, but as a humble, yett thankful, member of the church:
I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the faint-hearted, the feeble, and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who believe in the forgiveness of sins, and who suffer persecution for the sake of the Word which they confess and teach purely and without adulteration.”1
That, too, is our thankful confession. We love the church, for in the church we find Christ.
1 Cited by Eugene F. Klug in “Luther on the Church” (Concordia Theological Quarterly [St Louis, Missouri, volume 47, Number 3, July 1983]).