The Church

At Wartburg Luther was submitted to a quieter life, placed beyond events, a situation that brought about his great literary activity such as his translation of the New Testament, which later was succeeded by a translation of the Old Testament. He thus came to exert significant influence on the formation of the German standard language.  

At some point, news of unrest in Wittenberg reached Luther’s lonely dwelling in Wartburg. Reckless people had taken power, and the entire movement was threatened by chaos. In this situation, Luther saw it as his duty to intervene, regardless of the danger.  

The Elector discouraged him in the strongest terms and declared that if Luther returned to Wittenberg, it was doubtful whether he was able to protect him. To this Luther responded in a letter: I come to Wittenberg under higher protection than that of the Elector, and I have not the slightest intention of asking for your Electoral Highness’ help.  

Vigour and courage characterized Luther in this situation as in all others, and in March 1522 he was again back in Wittenberg. Now it was make or break. He wanted to test the effect of the new understanding that the Gospel might have on worship, the Church and parish life. When he arrived to Wittenberg, he saw that Karlstadt, a professor at the university, and other extremists had turned everything upside down and introduced new set-ups of worship and church life. Luther had to retort.  

It took him 4-5 years, before a new form of worship was devised, the one that later became the model for all Lutheran churches. By and large, it reflected a conservative approach. As much as possible of the old worship was preserved. Only that which conflicted directly with the Gospel or pointed to justification by deeds or made God’s forgiveness conditional was purged.  

The core of the new understanding is that the Church is the people of God who live by his Word. Christ is present in the Word, whether read or preached, and this is the centre of all worship.  

In the same way as when Christ in Palestine went about doing good, healing the sick, overcoming evil spirits and preaching the Gospel to the poor, suffered, died and raised from the dead on the third day, thus he is now present and acting in his congregation through his Word.  

The new understanding leaves no room for the Catholic clergy, which in some way is a kind of means or mediator between God and man. In contrast, Luther upholds the general clergy, meaning that anyone, who is baptized, is also pastor in the sense that he has the same access as everyone else to the Word of God and his grace. The Lutheran clergy itself has no special power or privilege. The fact that it is inaugurated only implies that the congregation entrusts the pastor as its servant preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, which belong to the congregation. Bishops and pastors are servants of the Church, not its masters, much less its foundation. For that time, this is a very important “anti-hierarchical” feature targeted at the priesthood (the hierarchy), which throughout the Middle Ages had exercised both spiritual and temporal power.  

This is why the understanding of the Lutheran Church is incompatible with High Church emphasis of the necessity of ministry and ordination as a foundation of the Church. A third aspect of the new understanding is that Luther did not pay much attention to liturgical issues or to the Church as an institution as such or to its organization. To Luther there was not one particular true form of worship. He believed in freedom for the congregations to organize themselves as they wanted to.  

It was of great importance that Latin was abolished as the language of worship. Essential parts of the former Latin liturgy were replaced by German hymns sung by the congregation. This created a new demand, and the amazing thing was that Luther himself managed to create the hymns that were needed.  

In order to create a new evangelical church life, Luther turned his attention to children’s Christian education. He desired to establish good schools – also for girls, which in those days was far from being obvious, and he wrote the Small Catechism for the purpose of the children’s religious education. In the Small Catechism the law and the Gospel are expressed in terms so simple that any child could understand it.  

The first experiences with regard to the ability of the congregations to take matters into their own hands were not encouraging, consequently “visitation” and supervision of the conditions of pastors and congregations were badly needed. In this situation, Luther and his associates saw no other alternative but to appeal to the country princes for assistance.  

The Church is – like the individual – subject to the conditions of justification. It only lives by God’s grace and approval. But it cannot make itself master. One of Luther’s harsh accusations against the Church of Rome is that it, as he saw it, has made itself master of the Word of God.

The Lutheran Council of Great Britain
30 Thanet Street London WC1H 9QH
Registered Charity No. 232042

The Church

At Wartburg Luther was submitted to a quieter life, placed beyond events, a situation that brought about his great literary activity such as his translation of the New Testament, which later was succeeded by a translation of the Old Testament. He thus came to exert significant influence on the formation of the German standard language.  

At some point, news of unrest in Wittenberg reached Luther’s lonely dwelling in Wartburg. Reckless people had taken power, and the entire movement was threatened by chaos. In this situation, Luther saw it as his duty to intervene, regardless of the danger.  

The Elector discouraged him in the strongest terms and declared that if Luther returned to Wittenberg, it was doubtful whether he was able to protect him. To this Luther responded in a letter: I come to Wittenberg under higher protection than that of the Elector, and I have not the slightest intention of asking for your Electoral Highness’ help.  

Vigour and courage characterized Luther in this situation as in all others, and in March 1522 he was again back in Wittenberg. Now it was make or break. He wanted to test the effect of the new understanding that the Gospel might have on worship, the Church and parish life. When he arrived to Wittenberg, he saw that Karlstadt, a professor at the university, and other extremists had turned everything upside down and introduced new set-ups of worship and church life. Luther had to retort.  

It took him 4-5 years, before a new form of worship was devised, the one that later became the model for all Lutheran churches. By and large, it reflected a conservative approach. As much as possible of the old worship was preserved. Only that which conflicted directly with the Gospel or pointed to justification by deeds or made God’s forgiveness conditional was purged.  

The core of the new understanding is that the Church is the people of God who live by his Word. Christ is present in the Word, whether read or preached, and this is the centre of all worship.  

In the same way as when Christ in Palestine went about doing good, healing the sick, overcoming evil spirits and preaching the Gospel to the poor, suffered, died and raised from the dead on the third day, thus he is now present and acting in his congregation through his Word.  

The new understanding leaves no room for the Catholic clergy, which in some way is a kind of means or mediator between God and man. In contrast, Luther upholds the general clergy, meaning that anyone, who is baptized, is also pastor in the sense that he has the same access as everyone else to the Word of God and his grace. The Lutheran clergy itself has no special power or privilege. The fact that it is inaugurated only implies that the congregation entrusts the pastor as its servant preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, which belong to the congregation. Bishops and pastors are servants of the Church, not its masters, much less its foundation. For that time, this is a very important “anti-hierarchical” feature targeted at the priesthood (the hierarchy), which throughout the Middle Ages had exercised both spiritual and temporal power.  

This is why the understanding of the Lutheran Church is incompatible with High Church emphasis of the necessity of ministry and ordination as a foundation of the Church. A third aspect of the new understanding is that Luther did not pay much attention to liturgical issues or to the Church as an institution as such or to its organization. To Luther there was not one particular true form of worship. He believed in freedom for the congregations to organize themselves as they wanted to.  

It was of great importance that Latin was abolished as the language of worship. Essential parts of the former Latin liturgy were replaced by German hymns sung by the congregation. This created a new demand, and the amazing thing was that Luther himself managed to create the hymns that were needed.  

In order to create a new evangelical church life, Luther turned his attention to children’s Christian education. He desired to establish good schools – also for girls, which in those days was far from being obvious, and he wrote the Small Catechism for the purpose of the children’s religious education. In the Small Catechism the law and the Gospel are expressed in terms so simple that any child could understand it.  

The first experiences with regard to the ability of the congregations to take matters into their own hands were not encouraging, consequently “visitation” and supervision of the conditions of pastors and congregations were badly needed. In this situation, Luther and his associates saw no other alternative but to appeal to the country princes for assistance.  

The Church is – like the individual – subject to the conditions of justification. It only lives by God’s grace and approval. But it cannot make itself master. One of Luther’s harsh accusations against the Church of Rome is that it, as he saw it, has made itself master of the Word of God.

The Lutheran Council of Great Britain
30 Thanet Street London WC1H 9QH
Registered Charity No. 232042