In Our Wisdom

Russ Rentler over at Crossed the Tiber asks a really good question in a recent blog post: If Martin Luther, the man granted the first patent on Bible-alone theology, invoked the saints, why do modern-day Protestants feel that invoking the saints is “unbiblical”? Russ quotes Luther as saying:

When in his frailty, a man invokes the saints, he invokes Christ, and without fail he will reach Christ whenever he calls upon their names, for wherever they are, they are in Christ and Christ is in them, and their name in Christ’s name and Christ’s name in their name.

Luther, as historians will tell you, was personally devoted to the greatest saint of them all – the Blessed Virgin Mary. He taught that she was the spiritual Mother of all Christians:

Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.

On that basis, Luther had no qualms concerning the recitation of the Rosary, as long as those praying it understood Mary’s place in the economy of salvation.

We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.

Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger.

Them’s fightin’ words as far as modern-day Evangelicals are concerned, because, hey – nobody in the Bible prayed the Rosary! Paul never said that Christians ought to invoke the saints! This is all unbiblical in the extreme!

Luther’s beliefs morphed throughout his lifetime – the same man who could teach his Protestant congregation in all sincerity that they will “reach Christ” when they call upon the saints later abandoned that teaching – PROOF, Protestants say, that Luther really was sent by God to straighten Christianity out. As the years passed, so the story goes, Luther distanced himself further and further from Catholic error, and his doctrine became correspondingly more and more biblical! That supposedly accounts for the above quotes – they were uttered during Luther’s “transitional phase.” Well, Luther’s beliefs certainly did morph and fluctuate throughout his lifetime – they’ve got that right. In his earlier days he preached tolerance towards the Jews; at the end of his life Mr. Sola Scriptura, whose doctrine was allegedly becoming “more and more biblical” felt that he had Biblical backing for his desire to give the Nazis a headstart if the Jews would not convert:

What shall we Christians do with this condemned people, the Jews? We cannot tolerate their conduct, now that we know about their lying, scorn, and blasphemy. If we do, we support these things. We cannot extinguish divine wrath nor can we convert. With prayer and godly fear, we must practice sharp mercy so we can possibly save at least a few from hellfire. However, we dare not punish them ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse already has them. This is my sincere advice:

First, burn synagogues and Jewish schools, covering with dirt whatever remains. Do this so no man will ever again see these things. This will honor our Lord and Christendom. God will know we do not knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blasphemy. Whatever we unknowingly tolerated (I also was ignorant), God will pardon us. Now informed, if we protect a place, it would be the same as if we were doing these things ourselves.

Second, you should destroy their houses because within them they pursue the same aims as in synagogues. They can live under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. Then they will know they are not our masters, as they boast, but are living in captivity, as they constantly moan before God.

Third, you should seize all their prayer books and Talmudic writings because they put forth idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy.

Fourth, you should forbid their rabbis from teaching–under penalty of death. For they have forfeited this right. They hold Jews captive with Mosaic Law. Moses clearly adds, “What they teach you in agreement with the Lord’s law.” Those villains ignore this teaching. They want only obedience, contrary to the Lord. They infuse the poor people with this poison. (In the same way, the pope also held us captive, making us believe all the lies coming from his devilish mind. He did not teach God’s word, and therefore he forfeited this right.)

There’s more, but I’ll spare you – it’s not anything present-day Evangelicals would endorse, by any means. The moral of the story? You can’t have it both ways, honey. Either Luther’s beliefs were changing to become more and more “biblical,” or they were just changing as Luther’s whims changed, blowing in the wind like a plastic grocery bag. Far from being proof that the doctrine of sola Scriptura holds water, Luther’s mutating beliefs should actually cause one to suspect that maybe the Scriptures aren’t as perspicuous as Martin in his wisdom would have liked us to believe….

Another example of this is the sad case of the Long Evangelical Snooze – the lack of Protestant outrage over the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 – occasioned by the fact that there is simply no Bible verse that states that “thou shalt not kill the unborn child in the womb.” In its wisdom, the Southern Baptist Convention in 1971 passed the following amendment:

WHEREAS, Christians in the American society today are faced with difficult decisions about abortion; and

WHEREAS, Some advocate that there be no abortion legislation, thus making the decision a purely private matter between a woman and her doctor; and

WHEREAS, Others advocate no legal abortion, or would permit abortion only if the life of the mother is threatened;

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that this Convention express the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.

The Convention continued pro-choicing its way through the 1970s, only beginning to take a firm stand against the murder of unborn children in the early ’80s under the influence of theologians like Francis Schaeffer. Which leads to a question:

If the theology behind the doctrine of sola Scriptura is correct, why could those who employ it not see clearly that they were facilitating the continued MURDER of unborn children for some 10 years? How many children died while Evangelicals waited for the perspicuity of Scripture to kick in?

Seriously, if sola Scriptura is all that, why didn’t it “work” when clarity on the issue of abortion was so desperately needed? And why was the Catholic Church, which supposedly wanders in error, the undisputed leader in the fight against abortion from the beginning? Not to mention the fact that to this day many Protestant denominations which claim to rely on the principle of sola Scriptura are pro-choice because, in their wisdom, they feel that because the Bible never mentions abortion, the practice must be okay in the eyes of God (see: The Biblical Basis for Being Pro-Choice).

I would like to propose that if sola Scriptura is truly the system put in place by God upon which Christians must rely for guidance, then it MUST “work” in one particular area – soteriology. All Bible-only Christians MUST be able to open up a copy of the Scriptures and come away with a clear, unequivocal answer to the Question of all Questions: What must I do to be saved?

No problem there! I would have told you when I was an Evangelical. Christians differ in their understanding of many doctrines; that’s why there are different denominations. But when it comes to The Essentials, we are all on exactly the same page – and there is nothing more essential than knowing what you have to do to gain eternal life! All Protestant denominations teach that you must have faith alone in Jesus Christ alone!

And be baptized.

Huh? Oh, yeah, well… certain Protestant denominations do in their “wisdom” teach the necessity of baptism based on verses such as Jn 3:5, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, and 1 Pet 3:18, but that doesn’t mean

And speak in tongues.

What?? Okay, there are goofy charismatics who read Romans 8:9 (“And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ”) and deduce therefrom that being filled with the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation, and since by their estimation speaking in tongues is the visible sign that you’ve been filled, you must speak in tongues or you are not saved. I really wouldn’t put much faith in

And persevere to the end.

Now, look! I know that some Protestant denominations reject the “once-saved/always saved” understanding of Scripture, based on verses like Mt 10:22, Mt 24:13, Mk 13:13, Rom 11:19-22, 1 Cor 15:1-2, Gal 5:2-4, Col 1:21-23, 2 Pet 2:20-22, Heb 3:12, Heb 6:4-6 and Heb 10:23-29, but seriously, you have to take that kind of teaching with a grain of

In what sense is this a common Protestant soteriology? What is the one unanimous Protestant answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” No one can claim that Lutherans who insist on baptism based on “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” are somehow ignoring the plain truth of the Scriptures to follow their own depraved desires! No one can claim that Methodists who insist that one can lose his salvation have no Scriptural backing for this belief: “Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” If the theology behind the doctrine of sola Scriptura is correct, Protestants should be able to answer this Question of Questions WITH ONE VOICE, because if Protestants can’t tell someone how to be saved, nothing else they can tell them really matters….

Bible-only Christians need to confront the fact that while the Bible itself does not err when it teaches us what we must do to be saved, the human beings who must interpret the Bible certainly can and do err! There MUST be an infallible interpreter who can say to us, “This is the understanding of the Scriptures handed down to us by the apostles.” Otherwise, who can tell you for certain what you must do to be saved? Not Protestants – they reject the infallible interpreter, opting to rely on their own wisdom and understanding when proclaiming the word of God, resulting in many different voices teaching many different “truths,” all operating under the same sola-Scriptura premise. They fail to notice the irony of their position – the doctrine of sola Scriptura, which demands that each Christian interpret the Bible for himself or herself according to his or her understanding, runs counter to the clear command of Scripture itself: Lean not unto thine own understanding. Rather, we are enjoined to “trust the Lord with all our hearts.” The Lord established the Church. It does take a lot of trust to rely on the Church that Jesus established to interpret the Scriptures for us, the Church to which He made the promises “He who hears you, hears Me” and “The gates of hell shall not prevail against My Church” – more trust than Martin Luther could muster when he felt he had a “better idea.” But to trust in its place the Reformers’ ever-changing, work-in-progress miscarriage of the truth, or any other human being’s, for that matter, is just a case of relying on one’s own wisdom.

That splat you heard was the baby of authoritative teaching being thrown out with the Reformation bathwater. Protestant Christians surely should miss the little guy….


On the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo

Deo omnis gloria!

  1. After my first reading of On Christian Liberty 35+ years ago, I was offended by Luther’s clear disengenuity and pettiness. He writes as if nobody else in the 1500 odd years of Christianity had ever thought anything worth considering. He consistently insults his Catholic readers (it only recently occurred to me that, since the Reformation, his Protestant readers are too divorced from the sensibilities of Catholics to even see how insulting much of Liberty is, or see that Luther consciously produced a work of adolescent provocation aimed at his enemies).

    But the main thing that has struck me in the last few years, as I’ve plowed through hundreds of pages of German philosophy since the Reformation, is the total silence on Thomas and the Schoolmen, except for the occasional dismissive insult. Protestantism insists on rejecting and disparaging Scholasticism. Even (at the time) atheists like John C Wright discovered in Thomas a real, serious philosopher, pursuing an even-handed, open-minded assessment of not only his own beliefs, but of their opponents’ beliefs. But Thomas cannot be tolerated. Compare and contrast: as you’ve pointed out: many a Catholic critic has gone to the website of any particular Protestant sect, and argued over the positions stated in that sect’s own words – yet, one almost never hears a Protestant state Catholic positions in the way any educated Catholic would state them, despite a plethora of readily-available Catholic sources that spell out every Catholic doctrine. Instead, we tend to hear stuff like: Catholics believe the Pope is sinless, or that they are not allowed to read the Bible, or that they are saved by works – and on and on.

    I’ve sadly reached the conclusion, the one reached by convert Orestes Brownson 150 years ago: that Protestantism requires the death of reason.

  2. Even as a Protestant it seemed to me that Luther was deliberately rude and bumptious – like somebody who had “problems.” After reading a biography, I was just glad that I wasn’t a Lutheran, thinking that he was THEIR problem, not mine….

    And no, Protestant apologists don’t seem to be able to give an accurate summation of Catholic doctrine; I’ve seen some of them come close, but that only made their error more pernicious. That was what truly shocked me when I was looking into Catholicism – they seemed like intelligent people, but they didn’t seem to realize that they were avoiding the point of Catholic arguments. I would have had a great deal more respect for the Protestant position if they had addressed Catholic beliefs head-on.

  3. Mark said:

    Renee, I’ve been having trouble seeing your blog through our firewall, but it occasionally comes through. I guess I still see alot of the same issues: Treat Luther as infallible, then throw out the anti-semitic stuff. (BTW, the RCC was equally inhospitable to the Jews–even thru WWII–even with its infallibility so glass houses etc.) And also to cherry pick the verses again to fit the Catholic meme after accusing Protestants of doing the same(they all must be read in context). Personally, I think many protestants know littel about the Solas and SS in particular. On another note, there are such a wide variety of opinions and beliefs in the RCC, (pro-SSM, pro abortion) that I dont’ understand why Evangelicals aren’t just given a free pass from the Vatican. I think until the RCC cleans house (via excommunication–and not just the Dog-Eucharist ones) I find it hard to take most of these criticisms seriously. I do find your articles interesting, but it does show a lack of understanding of the High view of Scripture in protestant theology.

    • That’s a pretty serious misrepresentation of my views (“treat Luther as infallible,”) considering that I dedicated an entire post to the fact that Evangelicals disagree profoundly with a number of Luther’s ideas. Far from believing that he is infallible, they are forced to create a fictional Luther of whom they can actually approve:

      And that’s my problem with the issue – Evangelicals want it both ways. They want a Luther they can be proud of – even if they have to make one up.

      If you believe that the Church was “inhospitable” to Jews even through World War II, you will have to take that issue up with the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli:

      I guess the rabbi just wasn’t aware of the “inhospitable” Catholic attitude of his day. When asked why he did not become a Protestant, Zolli answered: “The Catholic Church was recognized by the whole Christian world as the true Church of God for 15 consecutive centuries. No man can halt at the end of those 1,500 years and say that the Catholic Church is not the Church of Christ without embarrassing himself seriously.”

      Smart guy, that rabbi.

  4. Mark said:


    I don’t understand the RCC vitriol against Luther, as he was one of many Catholics at the time trying to right wrongs in the church.

    I think much of the negative view of Luther is a caricature of pulled quotes out of context. He was grating and offensive, but mostly in response to the criticisms he received. No clean hands on either side. I don’t agree with everything Luther has written, same for Calvin. It’s because there’s a higher standard that each has to be measured against. It’s much harder to say that for the Magisterium. I know we’ll disagree on that as well. I do think you have a habit of making a uniform caricature of protestants to make your case, much like protestant apologists can do with catholics.

    As for the Church in WWII, the RCC wasn’t the only one that had failings ( ) –just see Bonhoeffer’s efforts against the LUtheran church in Germany as well.

    It was Christian individuals that made the difference.

    • You do have a habit of refusing to address answers to your objections….

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