Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview
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Luther’s Congregation—


Luther’s relationships to the Wittenberg church centered primarily in his office of preacher (Plate XIII). In his sermons he made announcements to the congregation and took stands on situations within it. Luther substituted as pastor when Bugenhagen was absent. Bugenhagen was in Denmark introducing the Reformation from July 1537 until July 1539. Luther took over his weekday sermons and preached on Matthew 18–24, normally on Wednesdays. When Bugenhagen returned, Luther continued this series of sermons on Sundays from the fall of 1539 until September 1540. In the Saturday sermons he treated John 1–4.1 With this series of sermons Luther completed his serial expositions of the Gospels. When Bugenhagen was in Schleswig-Holstein from February until May of 1542, and in Hildesheim and Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from August to November, Luther again filled in for him as pastor, but this time he was unable to handle the weekday sermons for health reasons. In 1542 Luther preached only a single time in Wittenberg, and the next year he was in the pulpit only four times.2 The number of Luther’s Sunday and festival sermons also dropped in the other years. The most were in 1537 when there were fiftytwo, and in 1538 when there were sixty-three. In 1539 he preached thirty-nine sermons; in 1540, thirty-three; and in 1541, only ten. In 1544 he was able to preach forty times, and in 1545 he delivered thirty-three sermons.3

Luther was able to speak about the Wittenberg congregation as “my congregation,” and he felt accountable to God for it, since as a preacher he had the highest office committed to him. Because of this position, he would tolerate no abuses in his church. This had nothing to do with vanity or an authoritative attitude. He could also say: “You have enough thoughtful and excellent preachers,” and he considered himself only one among the rest.4 He wanted his sermons to be understandable by the simple people and the young. He loathed his colleagues who sought to impress the intellectuals. One had to speak to the people as simply as a mother speaks to her child while nursing it.5 A preacher must be certain that his task is to proclaim the true doctrine and he


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Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546


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