Luther on Life without Dichotomy -- By: James Edward McGoldrick

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 05:1 (Spring 1984)
Article: Luther on Life without Dichotomy
Author: James Edward McGoldrick


Luther on Life without Dichotomy

James Edward McGoldrick

The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was a fundamental belief of all the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century, but none gave it greater emphasis than Martin Luther. The great German father of the Reformation regarded this doctrine as the basis for a proper understanding of the Christian life. His teaching on this subject stressed the wholeness of the believers life as a priest before God regardless of his occupation. Luther believed that this doctrine demolished the sacred/secular dichotomy of the medieval church, a false dichotomy which undermined the entire biblical teaching about salvation and its implications for the Christian in the discharge of his social responsibilities. The true Christian life, in Luthers understanding, is the life of service rendered eagerly to ones neighbors, for true faith is always active in love.

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Writing to Christians in the first century, the Apostle Peter admonished them to recognize that they composed “a spiritual house, …a holy priesthood, offering sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Believers, Peter said, “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [they] may declare the praises of him who has called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:5, 9 NIV).

The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers to which Peter referred is an indispensable distinctive of biblical faith, and without it true Christianity cannot endure. The church was, however, still in its infancy when professional priests rose to prominence and assumed the role of necessary mediators between God and men. A sharp cleavage consequently developed between the clergy and the laity, and Christians were instructed to regard the priests and monks as members of a sacred estate and to view themselves as the secular estate. Medieval teaching depicted the church as a ship sailing toward heaven with priests and monks aboard. Laymen had to swim or be towed by ropes attached to the ship. Many people, of course, drowned in a vain effort to pursue the vessel of salvation. In the medieval view secular

occupations were regarded as spiritually inferior to the sacred calling of the priesthood. Laymen were taught to depend upon the clergymen as those who dispensed saving and sanctifying graces of which the institutional church was the fountain.1

In the Middle Ages the Christian life was construed in terms o...

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