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Luther and the False Brethren Hardcover – June, 1975
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I bought Mark Edwards' Luther and the False Brethren in 1991 and finally started to give it a serious read last week. SO SO interesting, and chilling. If we are looking for heros, we can't find many here.
Mark Edwards wrote this in 1975. I can't believe there are zero Amazon reviews. This is an important work. by Standford Univ Press, by one of America's great mainline Reformation historians.
Edwards notes that when Luther began his struggle for Reform, he was fighting the Roman Catholics. But soon he opened up a second front -- against other Protestants ("evangelicals"). He saw the Baptists (just about all of them, I think) as explicitly non-Christian, Satanic, unsaved. His concerns (if not the absolute value he assigns them) were very legitimate-- for starters the Baptistic were by definition invalidating the sacraments, and thus the most basic Christian identity, of everyone else. And yet (unlike the other moderate reformers like Calvin, Bucer, etc.) he was doing the same thing the Baptists were doing (invalidating their Xian identity) toward the Baptists! And further, Luther also used virtually the same language against Zwingli, Bullinger, and even Bucer (not Calvin, though).
The Roman Catholics at the time returned Luther's bile with interest -- depicting him as the greatest heretic in church history. (I remember years ago reading in the huge Catholic Encyclopedia the same sort of unqualified language -- they were likely more charitable to Pelagius and Arians than toward Luther).
Interestingly though, unlike the Catholics, most of the Protestants that Luther attacked did not return the same to Luther. Edwards shows that they mostly attacked his ideas, not his person or salvation; they attacked his language in his polemics; and they attacked his lack of Christian charity. But, according to Edwards' account, the other Protestants never accused Luther of being Satanic, unsaved, or non-Christian.
Sadly, it makes me see that the Protestant movement I am heir to was truly birthed in schism and lack of Christian charity. Just because the Catholics may have been wrong on some theology and seem to have even worse charity doesn't excuse this sin of Luther's.
And yet, it also gives me hope. The other Reformers do seem to be able to put the brakes on the sectarianism to some extent. (Though their fragmentation into so many denominations stinks, they are an improvement on their pioneer). And I think: the Church endured a Luther, we can endure our modern individualists and ecclesiastical war-mongers.
BTW -- I am not any less taken by so much of Luther's theology. I'm just thinking in the terms that good ethos is as important as good theology. They are equally essential. Good ethos with bad theology is terrible. Good theology with bad ethos (Luther, Machen): also terrible.
After readings Edwards, it seems that the Roman Catholic's top leaders, in their Luther interactions, come off as: mixed theology, terrible ethos;
Luther: better theology; terrible ethos;
Zwingli and Baptists and the radicals: mixed theology, good ethos;
Bucer and Oecolampadius and Bullinger: better theology, good ethos.
That's an over-symplification, but suggestive of the need for more who will stand for firm theological convictions, but in a way that treats other Christians as brothers and that debates with charity and love toward those who differ. Bucer and his ilk are a good model for that.