Martin Luther as Missionary

lutherThis paper has been published previously on “Go!” But, I have had requests to publish it again. Over the next number of Mondays, an adapted version of a paper I presented on Martin Luther will be posted.  The topic of the presentation is “Luther as Missionary.” This paper was presented at Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton on October 30, 2008.

John Warwick Montgomery, writing almost 40 years ago, says, “A current joke has to do with a new Martin Luther doll: you wind it up and it just ‘stands there!’”  Montgomery asks, “Did Luther just stand there – at Wittenberg, at Leipzig, at Worms, at Marburg – or did he move dynamically with a sense of mission to the lost?”  (John Warwick Montgomery, “Luther and the Missionary Challenge,” In Defense of Martin Luther.  (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1970), 160.  This chapter (pp. 160-169) is referenced extensively in this paper.)

Martin Luther has been accused of not being sufficiently mission-minded by historians of the stature of Gustav Warneck.  (Gustav Warneck, Outline of the History of Protestant Missions (Edinburgh& London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1906). Ruth A. Tucker, professor of missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids asserts, “Martin Luther was so certain of the imminent return of Christ that he overlooked the necessity of foreign missions. He further sought to justify his position by claiming the Great Commission was binding only on the New Testament apostles, who had fulfilled their obligation by spreading the gospel throughout the known world, thus exempting succeeding generations from responsibility.”[1]   (Tucker, Ruth A., From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions.  Second Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004, 97.)  Kenneth B. Mulholland, Dean and Professor of Missions and Ministry Studies at Columbia Biblical Seminary and School of Missions, Columbia, SC maintains that “Luther taught that the Great Commission had already been fulfilled. Christ, Luther said, gave the Great Commission to the apostles.  And they preached the gospel throughout the world. Since that was done, no longer is the church responsible to carry the gospel to other lands. So Luther said, ‘There is no need for missions’”. (“From Luther to Carey: Pietism and the Modern Missionary Movement,” Article 1 in a two part series adapted from “Planks in the Platform of Modern Missions” delivered at Dallas Theological Seminary, Nov. 2-5, 1997)

James Warwick Montgomery, reacting to such assertions, says that “to attribute such views to Luther is, however, to fly directly in the face of the evidence.” (Montgomery, p. 162)

Next Monday we will begin to explore the evidence that supports Montgomery’s assertion.

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