1902 Encyclopedia > Lutherans

Lutherans




LUTHERANS are that body of Christians who adopted the principles of Martin Luther in his opposition to the Roman Church, to the Swiss theologians, and to the sectaries of Reformation times. They called themselves " Evan-gelical" in distinction from the "Reformed" or followers of Calvin, and formed one of the two great divisions of the Reformation Church. In the early days of controversy the stricter Lutherans held it to be their peculiar function to preserve the status religionis in Germania per Lutherum instauratus and to watch over the depositum Jesit Ghristi which Luther had left in their charge. Luther himself was much more fitted to be a reformer and preacher than an exponent of a scheme of theology or the organizer of an ecclesiastical system. His wonderfully sympathetic nature was easily moved, and his own liking and disliking ruled him too strongly to make him able to expound in calm fashion the whole round of theology, giving to each doc-trine its proper place in the system. His nominalist train-ing, his quietism got from the mystics of the 14th and 15th centuries, his occasional fits of morbid melancholy, all kept him from looking at the whole system of Christian doc-trine, and made him intensify the value and importance of special aspects of truth. The early Lutheran theology reflected the character of its founder. It lacked systematic completeness, more especially in its failure to construct a comprehensive doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit, and it swayed from side to side in violent controversies, until at length out of the conflicts emerged the Form of Concord, which, it was hoped, would succeed in pacifying the church. The dogmatic symbols of the Lutheran Church are usually said to include nine separate creeds, three of which are taken from the early Christian Church while six are the production of the 16th century. They are the Apostles' Creed, the Nicaio-Constantinopolitan Creed in its Western form (i.e., with the filioque), the so-called Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession or Confessio Augustana, the Apology for the Augsburg Confession, the Smalkald Articles, Luther's two Catechisms, and the Form of Con-cord. These nine confessions together make up the Liber Concordix of the Lutheran Church; but only the three pre-Reformation creeds and the Augsburg confession are recognized by all Lutherans. Luther's catechisms, espe-cially the shorter of the two, have been almost universally accepted, but the Form of Concord was expressly rejected by many Lutheran churches. The Augsburg Confession and Luther's Shorter Catechism may be said to contain the distinctive principles of Lutheranism which all Lutherans unite to maintain, but, as the principal controversies of the Lutheran Church all arose after the publication of the Augsburg Confession, and were fought out between men who united in accepting that symbol, it does not contain all that is distinctively Lutheran. The Augsburg Confes-sion itself perhaps owed its universal recognition to the fact that it existed in two forms which vary slightly in the way in which they state the doctrine of the sacrament of the supper, the variata and the invariata; and this also bears witness to the lack of dogmatic coherence which is a characteristic of Lutheranism. Melanchthon's Hypotyposes or Theological Commonplaces (first published in 1521) may also rank along with these creeds as an authoritative ex-position of Lutheran theology; and the changes it under-went in its successive editions show the incompleteness of the system.

The earliest controversy which divided the Lutheran Church arose in Luther's lifetime and lasted till 1560 (1537-60). It sprang out of differences of opinion about the precise meaning to be attached to the term law in Luther's famous distinction between law and gospel. According to Luther, and the distinction runs through all Lutheranism, law and gospel are the two factors which bring home to the individual experience the knowledge of salvation. Law is the rule of life given by God and accompanied by threaten-ing and promise, which counts on fulfilment from selfish motives, threatens, terrifies, and so produces contrition ; while the gospel, which is the message of salvation, comes after the law has done its work, and soothes. In this description the term law has a distinct and definite meaning ; it signifies legal injunction or command; and Luther and his followers were accustomed to say, using law in this definite way, that Christ was not under the dominion of the law, and that Christ's people are also free from its restraints. They said that believers ascend to the Christian life only when they have transcended a rule of life which counts on selfish motives for obedience. The word law manifestly means more than Luther put into this definition, and certain Lutherans who accepted Luther's distinction between law and gospel did not understand his limita-tion of the term law, and taught that believers were not bound by the moral law. These antinomians, of whom Agricola was chief, took Luther's statements about law in the sense of legal injunction, and applied them to law in the sense of ethical rule. The con-fusion perplexed the Lutheran Church for more than twenty years.

The debates which harassed the Reformed Church in the Armi-nian controversy, and the Roman Catholic Church in the Jansenist controversy, appeared in the Lutheran Church in three separate disputes lasting from about 1550 to 1580. In these discussions the stricter Lutherans were on the one side and Melanchthon with his followers on the other. The first dispute was about the relation of good works to conversion. George Major, founding on an ex-pression in Melanchthon's Commonplaces (ed. 1543), said that good works were both necessary and useful to holiness. He was attacked by Mat. Flaeius and Nic. Amsdorf, and after a long and tedious discussion, in the course of which it was made plain that both sides were sadly in want of general principles to guide them, and that important words were used ambiguously, George Major's proposition was condemned because it savoured of Pelagianism. The problem took a new form in the Synergist controversy, which discussed the nature of the first impulse in conversion, and in the controversy about original sin which followed. Pfeffinger taught that the first impulse in convei sion came from grace and was due to the Holy Spirit, but he said that this impulse and its effect might be com-pared with the reviving of a man apparently dead. According to the strict Lutherans the sinner was not apparently but actually dead, and grace was not merely the occasion, it was also the actual cause, of the new life. Flaeius, who had made this last assertion, which seemed to be generally approved of, started a fresh controversy by his assertion that sin was part of the substance of man in his present natural condition, and that man was no more able to co-operate with grace in conversion than was a stick or a stone. This was contradicted by Striegel, a follower of Melanchthon, who asserted that sin had not totally destroyed man's ethical nature, but that grace by its action changed what was morally insensible into what was morally living and sensible, so that there could be an actual synergy or co-operation between God's grace and man's will.





The controversy raised by Andrew Osiander was much more im-portant, and revealed the lack in Lutheranism of a systematic doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit. Osiander felt that Lutheran dogmatic had omitted to make adequate answer to a most important practical question in theology, how Christ's death on the cross could be so brought into connexion wdth each individual believer as to be the ground of his actual justification. The mediaeval church had spanned the centuries by their doctrine of the prolonga-tion of Christ's death throughout time in the sacrifice of the mass, but he could not see any such real connexion of time in Luther's theology. He proposed to get rid of the difficulty by saying that justification is a real work in the believer done by that same Christ who had died so many centuries before. He distinguished between redemption, which he said was the result of the historical work of Christ upon the cross, and justification, which was another work of the same Redeemer within the individual, and was the influence renewed daily of the Saviour upon each believer. The controversy which followed was full of ambiguities and misunderstandings, but out of it rose two distinct theories, one of which was generally adopted by the Lutherans, while the other has become a character-istic of Reformed or Calvinist theology. Striegel declared that the principal effect of the work of Christ upon the cross was to change the attitude of God towards the wdiole human race, and that in consequence whenever men come into being and have faith they can take advantage of that change of attitude, the ground of their assurance being that because of what Christ did God regards all men benevolently. Calvinist divines, on the other hand, found in Osiander's criticism the starting point of that close connexion between Christ's work and His redeemed which is expressed in the doctrine of the limited reference in the atonement.

These controversies all implied more or less vagueness in the earlier dogmatic teaching of Luther. Others, however, arose from what may be called the distinctive teaching of Luther upon the sacra-ment of the Lord's Supper and what was implied therein. In the article LUTHER it is stated that Luther, at least after the peasants' war, held strongly a theory of the connexion between the elements (the bread and wine) and the body and blood of Christ in the sacra-ment of the supper which has been called consubstantiation, and that this theory depended not merely on certain scholastic defini-tions of bodily presence but also on the supposition that the attri-bute of ubiquity belonged to the glorified body of Christ. A large number of Lutherans, followers of Melanchthon, were inclined to depart from these views and approach the more reasonable opinions of Calvin, and this occasioned controversies about Crypto-Calvinism and about Christology. The university of Jena was the theological headquarters of the stricter Lutherans, while Wittenberg was the centre of the Philippists or Crypto-Calvinists, as the followers of Melanchthon were called. At first the controversy mainly gathered round the questions of the corporeal presence, the oralmanducation, and the literal eating of Christ's body by unbelievers as well as by the truly faithful, but it soon included discussions on the person of Christ, and into these discussions Reformed theologians were brought. The result was various conferences at Maulbronn (1564), which only confirmed both parties in their peculiar opinions ; at Dresden (1571), where the Lutheran theologians of Wittenberg and Leipsic renounced the doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's body and agreed with the Calvinists ; and elsewhere. It seemed as if the Lutheran Church was about to fall in pieces.

Out of these disputes came the Form of Concord, due principally to Jacob Andrea? of Tubingen, to Martin Chemnitz of Brunswick, and to Nicolas Selnecker of Leipsic. Various theological conferences were held, and various articles of agreement more or less successful were framed, of which the most notable was the Torgan Book of 1576 ; and at last in 1577 the Form of Concord was published, and after much discussion and negotiation was adopted by most of the Lutherans in Germany. Its recognition was mainly due to the exertions of Augustus, elector of Saxony It was also adopted by the Lutheran churches of Sweden in 1593, and of Hungary in 1597. It was rejected by the Lutheran Church of Denmark and by the churches of Hesse, of Anhalt, of Pomerania, and of several imperial cities. It was at first adopted and afterwards rejected by Brunswick, by the Palatinate, and by Brandenburg. The German churches which refused to adopt it became for the most part Reformed or Calvinist ; and the Form of Concord, which ended the more violent theological controversies among the Lutherans, greatly decreased their numbers and territorial extent.

The divided state of Germany in the 16th century, aided by the maxim of the peace of Augsburg which gave Protestantism a legal standing, and by the consistorial system of ecclesiastical rule which followed in consequence, divided the Lutherans in Germany into a number of separate churches as numerous as the principalities. At the peace of Augsburg the adherents to the Augsburg Confession were recognized legally as having a right to exist within the German empire, and the power of determining whether the Roman Catholic or Lutheran confessions should be the recognized creed of the state was left, with some reservation, in the hands of the supreme civil authority in each separate principality (cujus regio ejus religio). This virtually gave the direction of the church of each German state into the hands of the supreme civil power therein ; it belonged to the princes in the various principalities and to the municipal councils in the fiee imperial cities. This legal recognition of the supreme authority of the civil power in ecclesi-astical affairs was intensified by the adoption in the Lutheran Church of the consistorial system of church government, which was the distinctive mark of the Lutheran as opposed to the Reformed Church. The consistorial system took a great variety of forms, but it had one common characteristic : it simply transferred the jus episcopale from the bishops to the civil authorities, and, as the bishops ruled their dioceses in ecclesiastical and other matters by means of councils or consistories appointed by themselves, so in the Lutheran Church these old episcopal consistories were transformed into councils whose members were appointed by the civil rulers. Thus each petty German state had its own church with its special organization and peculiar regulations. Richter in his Evangclische Kircheno?'dnungendesl6ten Jahrhunderts (2 vols., 1846) has collected more than one hundred and eighty separate constitutions of churches adhering to the Augsburg Confession. This minute subdivision makes it almost impossible to recognize any unity in the Lutheran Church save what comes from the profession of a common creed.





The publication of the Form of Concord drew the strict Lutherans more together, and set over against them in Germany a Calvinist Church, and the divided state of Protestantism greatly weakened its strength in the religious wars of the 17th century. As the smaller German states came together in larger principalities the awkwardness of the separate Protestant churches was more keenly felt. Many attempts were made by conferences, as at Leipsic (1631), Thorn (1645), Cassel (1661), to unite Lutherans and Reformed, though without success. At length the union of the two churches was effected mainly by the force of the civil authority in Nassau (1817), in Prussia (1817), in Hesse (1823), in Anhalt Dessau (1827). These unions for the most part aimed, not at in-corporating the two churches in doctrine and worship, but at bringing under one government the two confessions, and permitting every congregation to use at pleasure either the Lutheran or the Heidelberg Catechism. They were sometimes accompanied, as in Prussia, by a separation of the stricter Lutherans, who formed themselves into dissenting churches. The separation in Prussia was caused mainly by a new liturgy which Frederick "William III. forced on the church, and which the dissenters or Old Lutherans refused to use. The divisions caused in this way were at first repressed but were afterwards tolerated, and have reproduced them-selves in the flourishing Lutheran Church of the United States.

See Ritschl, "Die Entstehungder Lutherischen Kirche" (Zeitsch.fur Kirchengesehiehte, i. 1); Hundeshagen, Beitrage zur Kirchenver-fassungs Geschichte, &c, 1864 ; Dorner's History of Protestant Theology; Hering, Geschiehte der leirehlichen Unionsversuche seit die Reformation, 1836-38 ; Sack, Die Evangelische Kirelie und die Union, 1861. (T. M. L.)




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