This and the following treatise were written by Luther with particular reference to the congregation at Leisnig, a little Saxon town on the Mulde river. In the spring of 1522 the entire parish had gone over to the Lutheran movement. The priestappointed by the abbot of Buch, who held the right of patronage, was dismissed and two evangelical ministers, Heinrich Kind and Johann Gruner, were elected by the congregation; the order of worship was revised, and steps were taken to make the congregation financially self-supporting. On September 25, 1522, Luther, whose plans for Wittenberg had been crossed by the radical movement under Karlstadt, visited the congregation, at their request, and discussed with them these various reforms. On January 25 of the following year the congregation sent two accredited representatives, Sebastian von Kotteritzsch and Franz Salbach, to Wittenberg, to obtain Luther’s approval of their unanimously adoptedordinance of a common chest, and to request him to prepare for them an order of worship as well as to put the congregation’s right to call its own ministers upon a scriptural basis. To all of these requests Luther responded in the course of the following spring; to the first by publishing the Leisnig ordinance with a commendatory preface; to the second in the Von Ordnung Gottesdiensts in der Gemeine; to the third in the present treatise.
Luther here draws the practical consequences of his view of the Church, which antedates the indulgence controversy and is found substantially complete in his first lectures on the Psalms (1513). The only specifically new feature added was the principle of the spiritualpriesthood of believers, which dawned upon him after the Leipzig Disputation. f67 Our treatise, therefore, contains nothing new, but is a convenient summary of a view scattered references to which may be found in many of Luther’s previous writings, with an eye constantly upon the actual conditions of a definite local congregation. In the first line he calls himself “Ecclesiastes” or preacher, and this is the point of view from which he writes. He shows that the ministry is nothing else than the ministry of the Word. And since the Word belongs to all, the congregation has the inherent right to have ministers of the Word; if its minister is not such a minister it has the right to dismiss him and to elect one who is. The call of the congregation is emphasized as that which makes a minister, even apart from ordination; if the minister thus elected be refused ordination, his call is tantamount to ordination. The secular authorities are to be appealed to, in an emergency, to furnish ministers. Emergency, or necessity, plays an important role throughout, and the later state rule (Notbischofe) is foreshadowed. The last paragraph is Luther’s strongest statement of the supremacy of the Word in the sacredoffice. The treatise is of particular value as a clear expression of Luther’s ideal of congregationalism, a position which he never gave up, though later he was compelled under the stress of circumstances to content himself with state rule.
The translation is based on the text ofCLEMEN, 2:325 ff. The treatise is given also in the Weimar Edition, 11:406 ff., Erlangen Edition, 22:141 ff. St. Louis Edition, 10:1538-49; Berlin Edition, 7:141 ff. Besides the introductions in these editions, compare the Lives of Luther byKOSTLINKAWERAU (5. ed., 1903), 1:517 f., and byBERGER, 2:2 (1919), 56 ff., as well asKOSTLIN’ S Luther’s Theologie (2. ed., 1901), 1:333 ff., and TSCHACKERT’ S Entstehung der lutherischen und reformierten Kirchenlehre (1910), §§20 f., 34. The most thorough recent discussion of the origin and development of Luther’s conception of the Church is in K.HOLL’ S Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Kirchengeschichte, 1: Luther (1921), 245-325. A line of reasoning similar to that of our treatise is pursued by Luther in his De instituendis ministris (fall of 1523), on which seeKOSTLIN-KAWERAU, 1:630 ff. ALBERT T. W. STEINHAEUSER ALLENTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
From this it follows undeniably that bishops, foundations, monastic houses, and all that crew have long since ceased to be either Christians or a Christiancongregation, though they have flaunted this name as their exclusive possession. For whoever knows what the Gospel is can see, hear and understand that they are based, to this very day, upon their human teachings and have driven, and are still driving, the Gospelfar from them.
Whatever such folk do and say must be regarded, therefore, as heathen and secular.
Secondly, in this matter of judging teachings and of appointing and dismissing teachers or pastors, not the least attention is to be paid to any human decree, law, precedent, usage or custom, whether it be decreed by pope or emperor, by princes or bishops, whether it have been observed by half the world or by all the world, whether it be in existence for one year or for a thousand years. The soul of man is eternal and above everything that is temporal; therefore it must be ruled and equipped with an eternal word alone. It is most absurd to rule conscience, in God’s stead, by means of human law and long established custom. We must be guided, therefore, in this matter by the Scriptures and the Word of God. For the Word of God and the teaching of man cannot but clash when the latter undertakes to rule the soul. Of this we desire to give a plain instance in the question before us.
For Christdecrees the very opposite. He takes from the bishops, theologians and councils both the right and the power to judgedoctrine, and confers them upon all men, and upon all Christians in particular. He does this when He says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice”; and, “My sheep do not follow a stranger, but flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers. As many as have come are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not hear them.” Here you see plainly who has the right to judge teaching. Bishops, pope, theologians, and anyone else have the power to teach; but the sheep are to judge whether what they teach is the voice of Christ or the voice of strangers. What reply can be made to this by the windbags who bluster and shout, “Councils! councils! Ah, we must listen to the theologians, the bishops, the great majority; we must look to ancient usage and custom.” What! God’s Word yield to your ancient usage, your custom, your bishops? Never! We therefore let bishops and councils decide and decree what they please; but when we have God’s Word on our side, it shall be for us, and not for them, to say whether it is right or wrong, and they shall yield to us and obey our word.
Here you see plainly enough, I fancy, how much trust is to be placed in those persons who deal with souls by means of the word of men. Who does not see that all bishops, foundations, monastic houses, universities, with all that are therein, rage against this clear word of Christ by shamelessly taking from the sheep the judgment of doctrine and appropriating it to themselves by their own impudent decree? Hence they are certainly to be regarded as murderers, thieves, wolves and apostate Christians, who are here openly convicted not only of denying the Word of God, but of setting up and carrying out decrees in opposition to this Word. Thus it behooved antichrist and his kingdom to do according to Paul’s prediction in Thessalonians 2:3.
Our third passage is from St. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test all things; hold fast that which is good.” Note that Paul would have no doctrine or decree to be observed unless it be tested and found good by the congregation that hears it. For this testing certainly does not pertain to the teachers; they must first declare that which is to be tested. Thus, in this passage also, the judgment is taken from the teachers and committed to the pupils among Christians; hence there is a vast difference between Christians and the world. In the world the ruler commands what he pleases, and his subjects accept it; but “among you,” says Christ, “it shall not be so.”
Among Christians everyone is the other’s judge and, on the other hand, also subject to the other. The spiritual tyrants, however, have turned Christendom into a temporal power.
Our fourth passage is again a saying of Christ’s, in Matthew 24:4, “Take heed that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.” But what need is there of adducing further passages? All the warnings of St. Paul in Romans 16:13, 1 Corinthians 10:14, Galatians 3:4,4 and 5, Colossians 2:8, and everywhere else, as well as the sayings of all the prophets in which they teach that doctrines of men are to be rejected, these altogether deprive the teachers of the right and power to judge any teaching, and assign this right and power to the hearers with urgent commands and on pain of losing their souls. So that the hearers not only have the power and the right to judge all preaching, but are obliged to judge it under penalty of forfeiting the favor of DivineMajesty. Thus we see in how unchristian a manner the despots dealt with us when they deprived us of this right and appropriated it to themselves. For this thing alone they have richly deserved to be cast out of the ChristianChurch and driven forth as wolves, thieves and murderers, whose rule and teaching are contrary to God’s Word and will.
We conclude, then, that where there is a Christiancongregation which has the Gospel, it not only has the right and the power, but is in duty bound, according to the obedience it pledged to Christ in Baptism, and under pain of forfeiting its salvation, to shun, to flee, to put down, to withdraw from, the authority which our bishops, abbots, monastic houses, foundations, and the like exercise today; since it is plainly to be seen that their teaching and rule are opposed to God and His Word. Thus our first point is established certainly and firmly enough, and we should depend upon it that to put down or to shun such bishops, abbots, monasteries, and the like rule, is a divine right and necessary for the salvation of souls. A Christiancongregation, however, should not and cannot be without the Word of God. It follows therefore logically enough from the foregoing, that it must have teachers and preachers to administer this Word. And since in these last accursed times the bishops and false spiritualrulers neither are nor have any intention of being such teachers, and are moreover unwilling to give us or to suffer us to have such teachers; and since we ought not to tempt God to send down anew preachers from heaven: therefore we must do as the Scriptures say, and call and appoint from among ourselves men who are found fit for this work, and whom God has enlightened with understanding and endowed with the requisite gifts.
Now you will say: “But, unless he has been called to do this, he dare not preach, as you yourself have repeatedly taught!” I reply: Here you must consider the Christian from a double point of view. On the one hand, when he is in a place where there are no Christians, he needs no other call than the fact that he is a Christian, inwardly called and anointed by God; he is bound by the duty of brotherlylove to preach to the erring heathens or nonchristians and to teach them the Gospel, even though no one call him to this work. That is what St. Stephen did ( Acts 6:8 and Acts 7:2); the office of preaching was not committed to him by the apostles, yet he preached and performed great wonders among the people. Philip, Stephen’s fellow-deacon, did the same ( Acts 8:5), without having received the office of preaching. The same is true of Apollos ( Acts 18:25). In such circumstances the Christian looks, in brotherlylove, upon the needs of poor perishing souls, and waits for no commission or letter from pope or bishop. For necessity breaks every law and knows no law; moreover, love is bound to help when there is no one else to help. But, on the other hand, when the Christian is in a place where there are Christians, who have the same power and right as he, he should not thrust himself forward, but should rather let himself be called and drawn forth to preach and teach in the stead and by the commission of the rest. Indeed, a Christian has such power that he may and should arise and teach, even among Christians, without being called of men, in case he finds the teacher in that place to be in error, provided that this be done in a becoming and decent manner. Such a case is plainly described by St. Paul in Corinthians 14:30, where he says, “If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.” Notice what St. Paul does here. He commands the man who is teaching to hold his peace and to retire (among Christians!), and commands the hearer to arise, even without a call, because necessity knows no law.
If then St. Paul here bids anyone, in case of necessity, among Christians, to arise even without a call, and calls him by virtue of this word of God; and if he bids the other to retire, and deposes him by virtue of these words: how much more does an entire Christiancongregation have the right to call a man to this office whenever it becomes necessary! And it is always necessary, and never more than now. For in the same passage St. Paul gives to every Christian the power to teach among Christians whenever it becomes necessary, “Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be admonished”; and, “Desire earnestly to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues; but let all things be done decently and in order.”
Take this passage as a most sure basis, which gives more than sufficient authority to the Christiancongregation to preach, to permit men to preach, and to call preachers. Especially in case of necessity, this passage itself calls everyone in particular, without any call of men; so that we might have no doubt that the congregation which has the Gospel may and should choose and call, out of its number, one who is to teach the Word in its stead.
Moreover, even if they were the right sort of bishops and desired to have the Gospel and to appoint the right sort of preachers, they could not and should not do this without the consent, choice and call of the congregation; except in cases of necessity, in order that souls might not be lost for lack of God’s Word. For in such necessity, as we have seen, anyone may provide a preacher, either by personal request or through the power of the secular authorities; nay, he should himself step into the breach and rise up and teach, if he be able, for necessity is necessity and knows no bounds, just as, when firebreaks out in a town, everyone should hasten to lend a hand and not wait to be asked.
But since in our days the necessity exists, and there is never a bishop to provide evangelical preachers, the example of Titus and Timothy does not apply here. We must rather call a preacher out of the congregation, whether he be confirmed by Titus or not. For the people to whom Titus ministered would or should have done the same, if he had refused to confirm their preachers or if there had been no one else to appointpreachers. These days are altogether unlike the days of Titus; then the apostles ruled and desired the right sort of preachers, but now our despots desire none but wolves and thieves.
And why do the raging tyrants condemn us for electing and calling in this manner? They themselves do the same thing, and have no other way.
Among them no one is ever appointed pope or bishop by the authority of one man, but he is elected and called by the chapter and thereupon confirmed by others, bishops by the pope as their superior, but the pope himself by the Cardinal of Ostia as his inferior And if one should happen not to be confirmed, he is none the less bishop or pope. Now I ask the dear tyrants this question: If the election and call of their congregation can make a man a bishop, and if the pope is pope solely by virtue of his election without confirmation by any other authority, why should not a Christiancongregation make a man a preacher solely by virtue of its call? (My argument has the greater force because, forsooth, they regard the estate of bishop and pope as superior to the office of preacher.) Who has granted this right to them and withheld it from us? The more since our call has Scripture in its favor, while theirs is but a human fable without Scripture, whereby they rob us of our rights. They are tyrants and knaves, dealing with us as the devil’s apostles are bound to do.