What do LDS think of Martin Luther?

I have a small, blue hardback volume entitled Lecture on Martin Luther (The Deseret News Press, 1926) by Thomas Carlyle.  It’s sitting on my desk.  I just read it.  Let me tease you with some highlights:

Luther too was of our spiritual heroes; a prophet to his country and time (13).

But I find Protestantism, whatever anarchic democracy it have produced, to be the beginning of new genuine sovereignty and order.  I find it to be revolt against false sovereigns; the painful but indispensable first preparative for true sovereigns getting place among us (18).

At bottom, as was said above, we are to consider Luther as a prophet idol-breaker; a bringer-back of men to reality (32).

But as to what stood on sound truth and the word of God, he could not recant it.  How could he?  “Confute me,” he concluded, “by proofs of scripture, or else by plain just arguments; I cannot recant otherwise.  For it is neither safe nor prudent to do aught against conscience.  Here stand I; I can do no other; God assist me!”  It is, as we say, the greatest moment in the modern history of men.  English puritanism, England and its parliaments, Americas, and vast work these two centuries; French revolution, Europe and its work everywhere at present; the germ of it all lay there; had Luther in that moment done other, it had all been otherwise! (34).

I will call this Luther a true great man; great in intellect, in courage, affection and integrity; one of our most lovable and precious men.  Great, not as a hewn obelisk; but as an Alpine mountain–so simple, honest, spontaneous, not setting up to be great at all; there for quite another purpose than being great!  Ah yes, unsubduable granite, piercing far and wide into the heaven; yet in the clefts of it fountains, great beautiful valleys with flowers!  A right spiritual hero and prophet; once more, a true son of nature and fact, for whom these centuries and many that are to come yet, will be thankful to heaven (44-45).

This is your recommended holiday reading from the First Presidency – witnessed on the first page.

What do you think?

Do I hear an “Amen”?  And again I say, Amen.

(smiling)

Now where can I find the LDS orators praising John Calvin as a mighty hero?  This year is the big 500th.

27 comments

  1. Carlyle himself had some crazy, authoritarian thoughts. Hard to believe the LDS church would recommend him.

  2. “If there is anything virtuous lovely or of good report, we seek after these things.”

    That’s an LDS Article of Faith. If Carlyle had any good ideas, why not incorporate it? We are always free to pick and choose what we accept from other faiths and people, aren’t we?

  3. Luther was by God’s design the one called to reform the church. He wasn’t perfect ( which should speak volumes to those who think God’s elect should be).

    I’m a Reformed Baptist but I love Luther. He spoke as a pastor speaking to peasants who were so lost since they only knew church as a place to go on Sunday and listen to foreign words (Latin). They had no hope of knowing the truth, which is Christ’s sacrifice for our sin and the imputation of His righteousness towards us. Luther taught this. And it was his contribution to the church at large.

    Big difference from Joseph Smith who taught a gospel of self-righteousness.

  4. From a talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard in General Conference:

    We owe much to the many brave martyrs and reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Huss who demanded freedom to worship and common access to the holy books.

    William Tyndale gave his life because he believed so deeply in the power of the Bible. He said, “The nature of God’s word is, that whosoever read it, or hear it reasoned and disputed before him, it will begin immediately to make him every day better and better, till he be grown into a perfect man” (in S. Michael Wilcox, Fire in the Bones: William Tyndale—Martyr, Father of the English Bible [2004], xv).

    Honest, diligent study of the Bible does make us better and better, and we must ever remember the countless martyrs who knew of its power and who gave their lives that we may be able to find within its words the path to the eternal happiness and the peace of our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.

    Although these early Christian reformers agreed on many things, they ultimately disagreed on many points of doctrine. This resulted in the organization of numerous Christian denominations. Roger Williams, an early champion of religious liberty, concluded that there was “no regularly-constituted Church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance; nor could there be, until new apostles were sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming he was seeking” (see William Cullen Bryant, ed., Picturesque America; or, the Land We Live In, 2 vols. [1872–74], 1:502).

  5. Luther’s main contribution to the Christian faith was a “restoring” of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. As a former LDS, I’d be interested in how they interpret this doctrine. I came to understand this doctrine only after leaving the LDS Church

  6. Praise God for your blog!

    I’m excited to see this kind of conversation in Eastern Idaho.

    I live in St. Anthony and work in Rexburg. It’s nice knowing we’re not alone up here in the upper valley.

  7. Todd, I like your website in general , and this topic is interesting. Over at Mormon Coffee, I’ve asked the question several times to different LDS posters: “Tell me, please, SPECIFICALLY, what is it about the teachings and work of Martin Luther that you look up to ?? Maybe they thought I was baiting them…….well, maybe some truth to that, I’m just not as nice a guy as I should be…..but what I got in response was a whole lot of shuffling and mumbling.

    MOst of it like, “he shared some precious truths……” “he had some great ideas….” “he was a pioneer against dead tradition…..” I think you get the point. Maybe I just didn’t listen as well as I should have (always a possibility) but I’m still waiting on an answer to what I thought was a pretty simple question.

    Any takers over here ????

    HEY: a round of German beer and NEAR-beer all ’round
    in honor of the good Dr.Luther…………GERMIT

  8. J. Rod Taylor,

    If you are really interested on a Mormon perspective on Paul’s teaching of justification by faith, I recommend you read Blake Ostler’s second volume of Exploring Mormon Thought. He has several chapters related to biblical scholarship on the subject.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  9. TYD,

    Thanks for the info. I’ll look for Mr. Ostler’s work at my local Deseret. As a former LDS, I never heard much on Paul. I remember in high school seminary learning other parts of the Bible but for some stange reason Apostle Paul’s epistles were overlooked.

    May I suggest you look at “Complete Sermons of Martin Luther”, or better yet his commentary on Galatians.

    J. Rod

  10. As an Anglican who has been part of the LDS-Phil e-mail list for some time, I find that there are different levels of Mormon apologetics, discourse, etc. This is just like Christendom and our various branches and levels of engagement. Ostler and many others have a much more nuanced and sophisticated take on things than do many internet apologists, or the average member that you’ll meet on the street. I think we would do well as Christians to engage with the best of current LDS thinking, rather than continuing to bang on the same old drums that we always do. IMO, the New Mormon Challenge was a good step in this direction.

  11. “The truth of the gospel is that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the law. The corruption or falsehood of the gospel is that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the law.”
    Commentary on Galatians 2:4-5 – Martin Luther

    “Good works have always been valued more highly than faith. Of course, it’s true that we should do good works and respect the importance of them. But we should be careful that we don’t elevate good works to such an extent that faith and Christ become secondary. If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolotry. This has occured both inside and outside of Christianity. Some people value good works so much that they overlook faith in Christ. They preach about and praise their own works instead of God’s works.”

    Faith Alone- A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther

  12. Going back to the original post here and tying it to J. Rod Taylor’s last one:
    My guess is that most LDS would praise Luther for a focus on the Bible vs. “creeds and man-made traditions.” The LDS attack tradition, the creeds, the councils, etc. all the time. I don’t agree with this, but that’s what they think.
    What authority should Luther’s commentary on Galatians have to any Mormon or any Christian for that matter? Simply throwing his words around won’t help in the apologetic project. I suspect that we will have to exegete Galatians to our LDS friends and point to what *Paul* said, not what Luther said about what Paul said.

  13. J. Rod Taylor,

    I think if you buy Blake’s book(s) on amazon you’ll save money. And although I believe that Deseret does sell Blake’s books, I don’t know if every local Deseret store does. Blake’s website can be found here:

    http://blakeostler.com/

    Although his books obviously aren’t online, he has written a number of articles that can be accessed for free. I thought you might be interested.

    This conversation has reminded me Todd that I wanted to ask you where you currently are in Blake’s third volume.

    TYD

  14. “Good works have always been valued more highly than faith. Of course, it’s true that we should do good works and respect the importance of them. But we should be careful that we don’t elevate good works to such an extent that faith and Christ become secondary. If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolotry. This has occured both inside and outside of Christianity. Some people value good works so much that they overlook faith in Christ. They preach about and praise their own works instead of God’s works.”

    As a Mormon, I think I could get fully behind that statement.

  15. Seth R.,

    Glad you agree with Luther’s statement above. But I am curious what you think of the other one from his commentary of Galatians:

    “The truth of the gospel is that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the law. The corruption or falsehood of the gospel is that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the law.”

    Commentary on Galatians 2:4-5 – Martin Luther

  16. I think most Mormons are pretty uncomfortable with the fact that Luther had to downplay or even reject the Epistle of James to bolster his preferred interpretation of the religion established by Jesus Christ. (As a former Mormon you will remember how important the Epistle of James is to Latter-day Saints.)

    Latter-day Saints who are aware of Luther’s position on James (many are not because it’s not that relevant to the daily lives of Latter-day Saints — however, I find it curious that many Lutherans/Evangelical creedalists also do not seem to be aware of Luther’s dismissive view of certain books in the biblical canon), often will find it extremely unfortunate that because the straightforward doctrines found in James contradict or otherwise interfere with Martin Luther’s preferred interpretation of the more opaque writings of Paul, Luther felt justified in dismissing James as a “stroherne Epistel” to prevent such interference.

    It is also unclear how Evangelical creedalists, following Luther, can accept such an approach in order to stick with their preferred reading of Paul and yet hold to a view of the Bible as both inerrant and sufficient.

    Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints look up to and appreciate the work that Martin Luther did even if we have a more well rounded understanding of the relationship between and necessity of both faith and works (thanks to the guiding principles of renewed revelation in the latter days).

  17. John F: could you flesh out for me the comment

    “Latter-day Saints look up to and appreciate the work that Martin Luther did….”

    again, I’m left wondering, what work is that ?? I ask the question because when I look at the specifics of what Martin Luther did and taught, I’m at a loss to explain how you would want him as an example to look up to

    he did indeed buck the status quo (much like Joseph smith) but your religion seems (to me) to have much more in common with what Martin fought against.

    thanks GERmIT

  18. Rod, I would not be comfortable getting behind that statement of his.

    LDS have typically viewed the progression of world history thus:

    Jesus and the Apostles – Universal Apostasy – Dark Ages – Reformation (Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, etc) – Restoration (Joseph Smith)

    I think this view is a little inaccurate in more than one respect (for instance, the “Dark Ages” is turns out, weren’t really so “dark” after all). But it does illustrate a logical progression that the LDS view Luther being a part of. Not that he was doctrinally correct, but that his work laid a foundation of religious openness and freedom that ENABLED the Restored Gospel to occur. We view the reformers as an essential historical ingredient in the formation of the LDS faith.

  19. Seth: I think I see your point about the histroric position of the Reformation, and the flexibility or opportunity that the after effects made for many groups, including yours. ONe irony , to me, is that this historic timeline could also be drawn:

    strict hierarchy and concrete (defined in the specifics) priesthood ===to=== much less hierarchy and the priesthood of the believer; not one particular earthlly office ‘over all’==to==== back to step one (Prophet instead of Pope…..priesthood of SOME….. bible plus revelation (compared to the earlier ‘bible plus teaching magisterium of the church )

    so Luther leaves step ONE for…….what ????

  20. germit,

    I would have to ask, a little tongue-in-cheek whether religious anarchy is the logical destination point for the Protestant timeline?

    Yes, I know I’m being a twerp.

  21. Seth: actually, not at all, the sola scriptura foundation COULD produce a “billion popes”, authorities unto themselves, and some make a compelling case that the seeker friendly movement is “exhibit A” I recognize the argument, and it has some merit. But “sola” CAN also be joined with a biblical view of authority (not very much like yours……sorry) and accountability and the end result can be something much more God honoring.

    Good points…….dont’ leave the tongue-in-cheek toooo long….you never know……..

    GERMIT

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