Defending the Faith: Martin Luther Holds True to His Theses

Defending Lutheran beliefs can be difficult, especially against those who fervently believe differently than you. Martin Luther had to defend his theses against hostile adversaries, including Pope Leo X. Talk about a difficult battle! Lutherans commemorate him today to show thanks for his faithfulness to doctrine and to give God thanks for granting Dr. Luther the strength to profess the true faith to all who would listen. In honor of his commemoration, read a passage from a sermon given by one of his students, Johann Mathesius, from Luther’s Works, Companion Volume, Sixteenth-Century Biographies of Martin Luther.

Now, while Dr. Luther earnestly continued teaching, lecturing, preaching, and writing in Christ’s name and in His Word, Doctor Johann Eck stepped forward, desiring to disprove Doctor Martin’s doctrine of true Christian repentance and to defend the indulgences and primacy of the pope in Rome—that the pope is the supreme head of the universal Christian Church. … He arranged a disputation in Leipzig on these topics with Karlstadt, and then with Luther, for whom he himself obtained a safe-conduct.

The Leipzig Disputation

Doctor Luther held fast to the Word of the prophets and apostles ... and he publicly testified that Jesus Christ is the only and highest Head of the holy Christian Church since the time of Adam, and will remain so to the Last Day, even as St. Paul in Colossians 2 clearly calls the Lord Christ the Head of the Christian Church and Lord over everything in heaven, earth, and hell. In the same way, Dr. Luther used God’s Word to explain the article concerning true repentance and conversion to God: that the only true penitent is one who recognizes his sins through the Law and is contrite from the heart; who acknowledges the blood, sacrifice, and intercession of Jesus Christ to be the sole payment and satisfaction for our sins and the sins of the whole world; and that such a justified, reconciled, and accepted sinner, having been blessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, is obligated to enter upon a new and holy life, to glorify God, and willingly to do many good works in accordance with God’s Word, as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. All this can be discerned at length in the acts of the Leipzig Disputation, which began on June 27 in the year 1519.

Open Letter to Pope Leo X

In light of the disputation in Leipzig and the treatise that followed, many people began to lose respect for the pope. 

In April [1520], Dr. Luther wrote to Pope Leo … a remarkable preface, in which he offered to perform obediently everything that the pope would impose upon him, save that he would not recant his doctrine, which he had confirmed with the Word of Jesus Christ, and [wrote] that no one was able to interpret or judge this Word by means of the wisdom of reason and human understanding, much less to condemn it.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eck, with his baseless disputations and scurrilous books, was helping Dr. Luther confirm that the Roman Curia is the true Babylon, in which the true Antichrist was holding dear Christendom captive with his decretals, idolatrous worship, and [monastic] orders, as Dr. Luther was writing concerning the ban and Babylonian captivity, attacking all the innovations of the Roman religion and its forms of worship invented by human beings. He also taught that Jesus Christ instituted the Supper in its entirety and made the Christian request that the Bride of Jesus Christ again be allowed the whole Supper of the Lord’s true body and blood and that a true Christian Mass along with the distribution of the Lord’s Supper be reestablished.

The Effect of Martin Luther’s Writings

With these writings Dr. Luther ignited a new fire ... and many rushing waters came together in an effort to extinguish this blaze, which was helping to consume and burn up all the monasteries, chapters, and all the trafficking of the Roman Mass. The man from Stolpen also stumbled over God’s Word ... seeking by means of his assistant and his assistant’s assistants to deploy public edicts in defense of the public robbing of the Church—that one kind [the cup] was hidden away and withdrawn from the baptized laity.

Dr. Luther, however, armed himself with the clear Word of Jesus Christ and drove back all his enemies and the opponents of God. For since Christ commands all of His disciples to drink from His cup the true blood of the new testament, not even all the popes, councils, bishops, officials, universities, scholars, monks, chapters, or old custom are able to prohibit the reception of both kinds in accordance with Christ’s institution.

Excerpt adapted from Luther’s Works, Companion Volume, Sixteenth-Century Biographies of Martin Luther copyright © 2018 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. This excerpt has been amended from the original manuscript. Some footnotes have been omitted.

To read more biographies of Martin Luther, order this companion volume of Luther’s Works below.

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