Monday, February 01, 2010
Luther: Is The Church Over Scripture?
Further they object: The church has accepted the four gospels, others they have not accepted. Thus the church is master over them. If not, who would know which gospel were true, perhaps Bartholomew's gospel or another? That sounds just as if we had the gospels from the church and not from God. Christianity has accepted the book, they say, therefore Christianity is over the book. I accept the teaching of Paul, therefore I am over his teaching. Oh, that they had made the distinction between confessing and haying authority! The Christian church confesses that the teaching, the Gospel, the book are true. But thereby the church is not given the authority over it. Then I could also say: I accept Christ, therefore I am over Christ. Or I would say of the prince of the land: Duke Hans of Saxony is my prince, not Duke George and the Margrave. I accept the former, not the latter; therefore because he is my prince, I am over him. Would he allow this? Would he allow his command to be changed? Is that indeed consistent?
Similarly, a lawyer could say: This command the emperor has fixed, that one a false teacher has fixed. Therefore this scholar stands over the emperor because he can distinguish between what the emperor has fixed and what another fixes. You've got to be kidding yourself! So they conclude quite foolishly: The Christian church confesses that this book and its teaching are true, therefore it is over them. These are rotten hoaxes. Christ has given the church this authority, to separate between truth and falsehood, as he says in Matthew 7:15: "Beware of false prophets!" When the evangelical teaching spread throughout the world from the apostles, upright teachers saw and received it; but other books that did not correspond to this, they discarded. So we also do. But I cannot conclude: Because I accept John's gospel, I am over the same. For this reason say: It is not true; the Christian church does not have the authority to change a single letter. For it is written in Matthew 5:19, "Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven." Add nothing and take nothing away. It should remain as Christ has ordered it.
Source: Irving L. Sangberg, Tr., The 1529 Holy Week and Easter Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther (St. Louis: Concordia Academic Press, 1999), pp. 40-41.