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What Luther Says

Martin Luther's 'On The War Against The Turks'

In the past 48 hours, we've taken an honest look at the terrorist attacks in Paris, France and also attempted to point out what the only Christian response should ever be.

Today, here's a brief and fascinating perspective from Martin Luther on a "Just War Against The Turks" written by Dr. Matthew Phillips that was published only a month ago.

In the early sixteenth century the Ottoman Empire had become the dominant power in the Middle East. When Suleiman the Magnificent (r.1520-66) became Sultan in 1520 the empire included modern Turkey, Syria, Northern Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, the west coast of Arabia, and the Balkan territory of southeastern Europe. During his reign Suleiman added southern Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern coast of Arabia, most of North Africa, Hungary, and the Crimea. The Ottoman Turks fought aggressive wars on all fronts against Christians and other Muslims. When Suleiman’s army defeated the Hungarian army (and killed King Louis II of Hungary) at the battle of Mohacs in 1526 many Europeans rightly feared a massive Turkish invasion. In the fall of 1529 Suleiman’s army did lay siege to Vienna (the main city of the Hapsburg territory). Archduke Ferdinand I, brother and later successor of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, led the defense of Vienna. 
Martin Luther had published On the War Against the Turks in April 1529 as an explanation of how to properly fight the Ottoman Turks. In short, he rejected the idea of a crusade for two main reasons. First, crusades were pilgrimages by which the penitent performed acts of satisfaction to deal with the temporal guilt of contritely confessed sins. Since Luther rejected this understanding of repentance as early as 1517, he could not endorse crusades as a proper religious activity. Second, the idea of a crusade confused the earthly and spiritual kingdoms. Popes called the crusades as holy wars to fight against Muslims, pagans, or heretics. Dr. Luther repudiated the notion that priests or pastors should call or lead such a war. [W. Perry Copus, Jr., “Luther, the Crusades, and Just War,” Logia 18, 4 (2009): 7-11; and my post here: Luther on Crusades] 
While Martin Luther did reject penitential warfare, he affirmed the idea of a just war. In On the War Against the Turk he explained how a defense against Suleiman’s army could take place justly. First, the Turks had initiated an aggressive war, which Luther compared to robbery and piracy. Second, Luther explains that Christians must resist the Turks through spiritual means: 
Every pastor and preacher ought diligently to exhort his people to repentance and to prayer exhort. They ought to drive men to repentance by showing our great and numberless sins and our ingratitude, by which we have earned God’s wrath and disfavor, so that he justly gives us into the hands of the devil and the Turks. (LW 46:171) 
Dr. Luther made it clear that sinful Germans had earned God’s punishment and that the Turks could be a divine means to carry it out, even if the Turks were demonic pawns. However, this did not mean that the civil authorities should not defend their land from an aggressive attack. In fact, as the earthly authority, the imperial office had the obligation to do so. Additionally, if called upon by the proper civil authority, Christian men could fight against the Turkish aggressors in good conscience. As Luther wrote: 
If there is to be war against the Turk, it should be fought at the emperor’s command, under his banner, and in his name. Then everyone can be sure in his conscience that he is obeying the ordinance of God, since we know that the emperor is our true overlord and head and that whoever obeys him in such a case obeys God also, whereas he who disobeys him also disobeys God. If he dies in this obedience, he dies in a good state, and if he has previously repented and believes in Christ, he will be saved. (LW 46:185) 
Finally, Dr. Luther explained that only problems arise when the spiritual and earthly authorities act against their divinely-ordained purpose. That is, the emperor must deal with secular matters like war and clergy should never exhort Christians to fight as acts of piety.

Now, I'm sure there will be some who will instantly cringe over this as they recall Jerry Falwell's remarks following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but Luther's writings here are founded in God's Word.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, pray for peace, but prepare for the possibility of a just war.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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