Luther on the church

The church is “a unique community in the world. It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God” (Large Catechism, Third Article, Tappert:416).

“The church is the daughter who is born from the Word; she is not the mother of the Word” (LW 2:101).

“To put it still more clearly: suppose a group of earnest Christian laymen were taken prisoner and set down in a desert without an episcopally ordained priest among them. And suppose they were to come to a common mind there and then in the desert and elect one of their number, whether he were married or not, and charge him to baptize, say mass, pronounce absolutions, and preach the gospel. Such a man would be as truly a priest as though he had been ordained by all the bishops and popes in the world” (LW 44:128).

“There is one sacrament and three signs – the one sacrament is the Word of God, the three signs are preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper” (LW 38:18).

“There is something ridiculous about this conferring of orders. For the Episcopal dignity is not a sacrament nor has it a ‘character’ …. The third function [of the ministry of the Word’ is to consecrate or to administer the sacred bread and wine. Here those in the order of the ordained vaunt themselves and set themselves up as rulers of a power given neither to angels nor the virgin mother. Unmoved by their senselessness we hold that this function, too, like the priesthood, belongs to all, and this we assert, not on our own authority, but on that of Christ who at the Last Supper said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’” (LW 40:24).

“In our time, whenever the pope does not have the authority of the scriptures on his side, he always uses this same single argument against us: ‘The church, the church!’ . . . . With might and main he insists that the church can never be destroyed or overthrow.  This argument persuades many people.  With these and similar arguments these false apostles impressed the Galatians, so that Paul lost his authority among them and his doctrine came under suspicion” (LW 26:15).

“Doctrine directs us and shows the way to heaven. . . . We can be saved without love . . . but not without pure doctrine and faith. . . . The devil would dearly love to corrupt and overthrow these; that is why is attacks us so cleverly with this specious argument about not offending against love and the harmony among the churches” (LW 27:41-2).

“For the church was born by the word of promise through faith, and by this same word is nourished and preserved. That is to say, it is the promises of God that make the church, and not the church that makes the promise of God.  For the Word of God is incomparably superior to the church, and in the Word the church, being a creature, has nothing to decree, ordain, or make, but only to be decreed, ordained, and made.  For who begets his own parent?  Who first brings forth his own maker?” (LW 36:107).

“We are presented here with an example that enables us to know for a certainty it is an accursed like that the pope is the arbiter of Scripture or that the church has authority over scripture. This is what the canonists and commentators on the Sentences have wickedly declared, on the following basis: ‘The church has approved only four gospels, and therefore there are only four. For if it had approved more, there would have been more. Since the church has the right to accept and approve as many gospels as it wishes, it follows that the church is superior to the gospels.’ What a splendid argument! I approve scripture. Therefore I am superior to scripture. John the Baptist acknowledges and confesses Christ. He points to him with his finger. Therefore he is superior to Christ. The church approves Christian faith and doctrine. Therefore the church is superior to them” (LW 26:57).

“In the church a bishop is not made by the succession of bishops, instead the Lord alone is our bishop” (WA 53:74).

“These words [from Isaiah] seriously warn us that we should not think of the church as though it were a worldly state and that we should not measure it by the succession of bishops or by the rank and place of pontiffs…. But the church is constituted in another manner.  For its assembly is not bound to regular succession but to the Word of God” (Melanchthon, cited by R. Goeser, “The Church and the Authority of the Word,” dialog 29:3 [1990] 200.

“We cannot concede to the bishops, either by ecclesiastical or secular right, the power to determine something for the church, even when it is permissible and good” (LW 49: 386-7)