Thursday, August 13, 2015

Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther: Anabaptist right to stand up and speak in a church comes from "the pit of hell" and deserves death

This is another follow-up post in regard to The Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther in which I think the author has presented a caricature. The blogger states,

Luther hated the Anabaptist practice of every-member functioning in the church, which is envisioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Hebrews 10, asserting that it was from “the pit of hell.” Luther and the other Reformers violently denounced the Anabaptists for practicing every-member functioning in the church. The Anabaptists believed it was every Christian’s right to stand up and speak in a church meeting. It was not solely the domain of the clergy. Luther was so opposed to this practice that he said it came from “the pit of hell” and those who were guilty of it should be put to death.The Anabaptists both believed and practiced Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 14:26, 30-31 that every believer has the right to function at any time in a church meeting. In Luther’s day, this practice was known as the Sitzrecht—“the sitter’s right.” [5] Luther announced that “the Sitzrecht was from the pit of hell” and was a “perversion of public order . . . undermining respect for authority.” Within 20 years, over 116 laws were passed in German lands throughout Europe making this “Anabaptist heresy” a capital offense.[6]
[5] Peter Hoover, Secret of the Strength, 58–59.
[6] Peter Hoover, Secret of the Strength, 59, 198.

This was also published in a book by the same person:



What interested me was the documentation for Luther's "pit of hell" comment and that Luther thought the death penalty was needed for those practicing the "sitter's right." There wasn't any meaningful documentation provided. One of the sources cited above, Hoover, Secret of the Strength, says the following, and this appears to be the basis for the assertions:
But what the reformers could not tolerate -- what made them fearful, and eventually furious, with the Anabaptists -- was the Anabaptists' high regard for inner conviction and low regard for the voice of the church. "This heretical persistence in following an inner word," thundered Martin Luther, "brings to nothing the written Word of God!" In a sense he was right. The Anabaptists did not follow the Scriptures (and their "correct interpretation") like Martin Luther wanted them to be followed. They followed a man. And in following him (instead of Luther's church, or Luther's Bible) they got their hands onto the thread that pulls the fabric of civilization apart. This, the reformers correctly discerned, and it made them desperate enough to pass the death penalty upon them. Huldrych Zwingli began and Martin Luther kept on violently denouncing the aufrührerischer Geist (stirring-up spirit) of the Anabaptist movement, which they found, above all, in their "silly teaching" of the Sitzrecht (the "sitter's right"). The Anabaptists took literally the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 14:30-31: "And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged." They called this the "sitter's right" and calmly implied that they, when moved by inner conviction, had as great a right to speak and to act as any pastor, any priest, any reformer or bishop or pope. This audacity, this "Sitzrecht from the pit of hell," Martin Luther and his friends believed, could be dealt with only by fire, water, and the sword. "Even though it is terrible to view," Martin Luther admitted, he gave his blessing to the death sentence upon the Anabaptists, issued by the elector, princes, and landgraves of Protestant Germany on March 31, 1527. The sentence was based on the following four points: 1. The Anabaptists bring to nothing the office of preaching the Word. 2. The Anabaptists have no definite doctrine. 3. The Anabaptists bring to nothing and suppress true doctrine. 4. The Anabaptists want to destroy the kingdom of this world. "For the preservation of public order" both Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli promoted the total elimination of the Anabaptists (through capital punishment) as a matter of utmost urgency. They accused the Anabaptists of a crime against the public, "not because they taught a different faith, but for disturbing public order by undermining respect for authority." Philipp Melanchthon, Luther's close friend and adviser wrote: "The Anabaptists' disregard for the outer Word and the Scriptures is blasphemy. Therefore, the temporal arm of government shall watch here too and not tolerate this blasphemy, but earnestly resist and punish it." Urbanus Rhegius, the reformer of Augsburg, wrote: "The Anabaptists cannot and will not endure Scripture." And within twenty years, no less than 116 laws were passed in the German lands of Europe, which made the "Anabaptist heresy" a capital offence. 
This other website makes a similar charge, and includes a quote:
Luther finally took a decisive stand against them in 1531 over the issue of whether believers could rise in church and interrupt the preacher. This was, in his opinion, “the sitter’s right from the pit of hell,” and “even though it is terrible to view,” he gave his blessing to the death sentence for the Anabaptists issued by the princes on March 31, 1527. They called this the “sitter’s right” and calmly implied that they, when moved by inner conviction, had as great a right to speak and to act as any pastor, any priest, any reformer or bishop or pope. 11 Luther’s chief concern was that the Anabaptists “brought to nothing the office of preaching the Word.” He cared not that he indicted Paul in this, for the apostle had instructed the members of his churches to stand up and speak when one of them had a revelation, inspiration or teaching. When this happened, Paul taught, the one already speaking should sit down!
The footnote (11) simply says, "Peter Hoover, The Secret Strength, Benchmark Press." So, it appears, all roads lead to this source. The entirety of this book is online, so I went full-circle.

Luther on "The sitter's right"?
What was not tolerated by Luther and subject to banishment by the authorities was unauthorized preaching. Luther also would not approve of people getting up and interrupting a church service to say something, but these are different things.

It is possible that the text in view by Hoover is from LW 40 (cited below). Luther wrote against "clandestine preachers" who were sneaking into the churches to stir up dissention. Note below Luther's reasoning in regard to 1 Cor. 14:30 in comparison to the Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther:
Undoubtedly some maintain that in I Cor. 14, St. Paul gave anyone liberty to preach in the congregation, even to bark against the established preacher. For he says, “If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent” [I Cor. 14:30]. The interlopers take this to mean that to whatever church they come they have the right and power to judge the preacher and to proclaim otherwise. But this is far wide of the mark. The interlopers do not rightly regard the text, but read out of it—rather, smuggle into it—what they wish. In this passage Paul is speaking of the prophets, who are to teach, not of the people, who are to listen. For prophets are teachers who have the office of preaching in the churches. Otherwise why should they be called prophets? If the interloper can prove that he is a prophet or a teacher of the church to which he comes, and can show who has authorized him, then let him be heard as St. Paul prescribes. Failing this let him return to the devil who sent him to steal the preacher’s office belonging to another in a church to which he belongs neither as a listener nor a pupil, let alone as a prophet and master.
What a fine model I imagine that would be, for anyone to have the right to interrupt the preacher and begin to argue with him! Soon another would join in and tell the other two to hush up. Perchance a drunk from the tavern would come in and join the trio calling on the third to be silent. At last the women too would claim the right of “sitting by,” telling the men to be silent [I Cor. 14:34]. Then one woman silencing the other—oh, what a beautiful holiday, auction, and carnival that would be! What pig sties could compare in goings-on with such churches? There the devil may have my place as preacher. But the blind interlopers do not realize this. They think they alone “sit by,” and do not see that any one else has just as much right to hush them up. Neither do they know what they say, nor get the meaning of what St. Paul says here about sitting or speaking, about prophets or people.
Whoever reads the entire chapter will see clearly that St. Paul is concerned about speaking with tongues, about teaching and preaching in the churches or congregations. He is not commanding the congregation to preach, but is dealing with those who are preachers in the congregations or assemblies. Otherwise he would not be forbidding women to preach since they also are a part of the Christian congregation [I Cor. 14:34f.]. The text shows how it was customary for the prophets to be seated among the people in the churches as the regular parish pastors and preachers, and how the lesson was sung or read by one or two, just as in our days on high festivals it is the custom in some churches for two to sing the Gospel together.[Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 40, pp. 388–389). Philadelphia: Fortress Press].
Luther concludes,
So much for the words of St. Paul. To sum it all up, the infiltrating and clandestine preachers are apostles of the devil. St. Paul everywhere complains of those who run in and out of houses upsetting whole families, always teaching yet not knowing what they say or direct [Tit. 1:11]. Therefore the spiritual office is to be warned and admonished, and the temporal office is to be warned and admonished. Let each one who is a Christian and a subject be warned to be on guard against these interlopers and not to heed them. Whoever tolerates and listens to them should know that he is listening to the devil himself, incarnate and abominable, as he speaks out of the mouth of a possessed person. I have done my duty. I am innocent, as I said in my commentary on Psalm 82. Let the blood of anyone who does not follow good and honest advice be upon himself. Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 40, pp. 393–394). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Conclusion
I haven't found anything yet from Luther's pen saying that those practicing the "sitter's right" deserve death. It could be that practicing this constituted sedition, but it's the author of the "Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther" to verify this claim or clarify the claim. It would also be the responsibility of the author to meaningfully document  the “the pit of hell” quote in regard to "the sitter's right." Both of these are within the realm of possibility for Luther, but as I said previously, the author shouldn't make Luther worse than he actually was.

Certainly Luther had shocking beliefs, but making him worse than he was goes overboard. Note how the author builds his caricature of Luther claiming that "Luther announced that 'the Sitzrecht was from the pit of hell' and was a 'perversion of public order . . . undermining respect for authority.' Within 20 years, over 116 laws were passed in German lands throughout Europe making this 'Anabaptist heresy” a capital offense." 116 laws were passed in regard to "this Anabaptist heresy" the "sitter's right"? 116 laws on this one practice? That's not even what his source, Peter Hoover claims. Hoover states, "Urbanus Rhegius, the reformer of Augsburg, wrote: 'The Anabaptists cannot and will not endure Scripture.' And within twenty years, no less than 116 laws were passed in the German lands of Europe, which made the 'Anabaptist heresy" a capital offence.'"


Addendum: Luther on the Death Penalty
Certainly Luther was not fond of the Anabaptists. He did have vacillating views on capital punishment in regard to them. I went over this many years back. Luther did support a broader concept of religious freedom previous to 1530. He then saw public blasphemy and sedition as two offenses that should be reprimanded. The death penalty may be invoked in certain instances. Then he signed Melanchthon's proposed legal document in which all Anabaptists were to be suppressed. It is possible though that his last position was that only seditious Anabaptists should be executed, the others should be banished. For the details, see my paper here.


Addendum #2 8/19
The Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther has been revised in regard to the issue I raised about documentation. The article now says,

[5] Peter Hoover, Secret of the Strength, Benchmark Press, 1999, pp. 58–59. Hoover points out that Luther and the other Reformers despised the Anabaptist teaching of listening to their spiritual instincts (“inner word”). That is, the Anabaptists believed the Spirit still speaks to God’s people today. Hoover says that Luther “violently denounced” this as well as their practice of “the sitter’s seat.”

[6] Peter Hoover, Secret of the Strength, Benchmark Press, 1999, pp. 59, 198. Hoover clearly states that Luther and his friends believed that the practice of “the sitter’s seat” — the open sharing for mutual edification they envisioned in 1 Cor. 14 — was to be “dealt with only by fire, water, and the sword . . . Luther gave his blessing to the death sentence upon the Anabaptists . . . for the preservation of the public order” (p. 59). In addition, Hoover points out that “Martin Luther and his colleagues met at Speyer on the Rhein in 1529 . . . At that time they passed a resolution: ‘Every Anabaptist, both male and female, shall be put to death by fire, sword, or in some other way’” (p. 198).

There is nothing in either of these extended footnotes that answers the issues I raised in regard to Luther's view of "the sitter's right." No meaningful documentation or reference from Luther's pen saying that those specifically practicing the "sitter's right" deserve death was provided. Nor was any meaningful reference to "the pit of hell" comment provided. All that was done was to provide more information from Peter Hoover (some of which I actually posted already in this entry). It appears to me the author(s?) of the Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther think that "the sitter's right" and the death penalty for Anabaptists (that the Magisterial Reformers came to hold) means the same thing. In essence, it all boils down to being sloppy with the facts.  

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