The Colloquy of Marburg is no doubt the saddest event of the Reformation. If one views the Reformation as the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church since Pentecost, then it is hard to see the ultimate failure of The Colloquy of Marburg as anything less than the work of Satan. Normally we should think of Satan, against the church, as on the defensive. We are told by Jesus that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church—and gates are defensive in nature. Still, Satan does go on the offensive, especially one can safely assume at a time of revival.
The proceedings opened on October 1, 1529. It seemed wise, at first, to prevent direct debates between Luther and Zwingli, as both seemed to be too fiery. Thus the colloquy opened with conferences between Luther and Zwingli’s lieutenant, John Oecolampadius, and between Luther’s second in command, Philip Melancthon and Zwingli.
The Lutherans and Zwinglians agreed on everything, across the board, except one. The interpretation of Christ’s words “this is my body,” (Matt. 26:26) when instituting the Lord’s Supper. On all other aspects of the sacrament (ordinance) they agreed: That Christ commanded it, that it was of profound significance and importance to the spiritual life of the believer, and that is must be approached with great reverence. They agreed the Rome was in grave error in its policy of withholding the cup from the laity. But on the details of the interpretation, they could not agree. Luther held to consubstantiation and Zwingli to a memorial view.
Summarizing these views:
- Transubstantiation (Rome): the elements actually change into the body of blood of Christ.
- Consubstantiation (Luther): There is a corporeal presence of Christ in the elements, although the elements themselves do not change.
- Memorial (Zwingli): Nothing happens to the elements; the Eucharist memorializes Christ’s sacrifice.
As regards this main point of contention, no agreement was reached. The Articles of Marburg, which summarize the results of the colloquy, contain the doctrine of the Trinity, of the personality of Christ, of faith and justification, of the Scriptures, of good works, of confession, of government, of tradition, and of infant baptism. The fifteenth article, treating of the Lords Supper, defines the ground common to both parties even in this debatable region, recognizing the necessity of participation in both kinds (bread and wine), and rejecting the sacrifice of the Mass. It then proceeds to fix the point of difference in the fact that no agreement had been reached on the question whether the true body and blood of Christ are corporeally present in the bread and wine. Nevertheless, the adherents of each doctrine are recommended to display Christian charity to those of the other. These articles were signed by the ten official members of the colloquy: Luther, Jonas, Melancthon, Osiander, Agricola, Brenz, Oecolampadius, Bucer. Hedio and Zwingli. The personal contact between Luther and Zwingli led to no mental rapprochement between the two; but in the following year the Articles of Marburg did good service as one of the preliminaries to the Augsburg Confession (1530), and remain a valuable document for the fundamental principles common to the Lutheran and Reformed Churches.
The sad part was, that while Luther signed, he actual spirit was of this mind: to Luther, his view on the Lord’s Supper, which maintained that the Christ was present corporeally, was non negotiable. He would agree that while Christ is the true vine (John 15:1), you did not pick grapes from him. And he would agree that while Christ is the door, he did not contain hinges. He insisted, however, that “this is my body,” was meant to be taken literally. Any other view, according to Luther, was heresy. There was to be no unity between the Swiss and German Reformations.
So we see, in spite of his signature, that the Augsburg confession of 1530, the first of the great Reformed confessions, contains these two articles (the first I include only because of its interest to Baptists)
Article IX: Of Baptism
Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God's grace.
They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
Article X: Of the Lord’s Supper
Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise.
It is not easy to understand why Luther took such a stand. Even assuming his view is correct, it seems that his reaction indicated that Zwingli deliberately distorted Christ’s message concerning the Lord’s Supper. After all, as Baptists we may think the Presbyterians are wrong in baptizing children, but I think most would view the mistake as an innocent mistake, and we would not claim that fellowship is precluded, or that the Presbyterians are heretical. If our pastor ever became persuaded that infant baptism was biblical, then I suspect he’d be baptizing infants by the following week. Similarly with the manner in which Presbyterians view Baptists.
Luther, however, did not see Zwingli as in “innocent error.” His words were quite harsh. At one point, Zwingli argued, "Jesus also said I am the vine," and "I am the door," but we understand what He was saying. Luther replied, "I don’t know, but if Christ told me to eat dung I would do it knowing that it was good for me."
Although Zwingli declared with tears in His eyes that there were none with whom he should like better to make common cause than the men of Wittenburg (Luther and his followers), Luther was hard and unyielding. “You are of another spirit than we,” he said. The story goes that Luther refused to shake Zwingli’s hand; but instead wrote the words: ‘This is My Body’ (hoc est corpus meum), on the velvet of table before him and stormed out.
Later we see an ironic postscript to this debate. It comes in the form of Calvin’s view of the Lord’s supper, which we’ll call the dynamic view. John Calvin taught that Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine was real, but only spiritual, not corporeally. According to Calvin, the Lord’s Supper is far from memorial. Ironically, later, Luther (definitely) and Zwingli (possibly) later read Calvin’s writings on the Lord’s Supper and seemed to agree with Calvin’s views.
Some have speculated that it was Philip Melancthon who pressured Luther. The reason is that Luther, to a small extent, and Melancthon, to a much greater extent, held some hope of reconciliation with Rome. If so, Melancthon might have reasoned that compromise with Zwingli’s view on the Lord’s Supper would have squashed any hope of a reunification.
Philip Melancthon (1497-1560)The German scholar and humanist Philip Melancthon (1497-1560) was the chief systematic theologian of the early Reformation and principal author of the famous Augsburg Confession of 1530.
Philip Melancthon was born Philip Schwartzerd at Bretten in Swabia, the son of George and Barbara Schwartzerd. His earliest education was supervised by his father and grandfather and, after their deaths in 1508, was directed by his grandmother's brother, the famous jurist and Hebrew scholar Johann Reuchlin. Schwartzerd means "black earth," and Reuchlin is said to have been so impressed with his grandnephew's scholarly talents that he insisted that Philip use the Greek form of "black earth," hence the name Melancthon. The young Melancthon studied at Pforzheim and Heidelberg, receiving a bachelor of arts degree from the latter in 1511. He took his master's degree at Tübingen in 1514 and began to lecture there on Latin and Greek literature.
Melancthon was already present at the first serious dispute between Luther and Rome, the 1519 Debates in Leipzig. During the debate with Johannes Eck, the astute Papal theologian, Melancthon wrote little notes to Luther citing Bible passages contradicting the preeminent position of the Pope--the contended issue in the debate.
Luther, the prophet among the Reformers, worked tirelessly on his new theology, but he often lacked a systemized approach. In 1521 Melancthon took over this task, writing the first valid summary of reformed theology (fifteen years before Calvin would pen his) the "Loci Communes" (Common Places). Luther felt so enthusiastic about this book that he even wanted to include it in the Bible.
The Diet of AugsburgIn 1530 the emperor Charles V convened the Diet of Augsburg. The threat of the Turks was great and the situation between Rome and those seeking reform was bringing disunity and weakness to Europe. Melancthon and the German princes wanted Charles and the Diet to grant them freedom to preach biblical doctrines and to worship with legal status. Melancthon drew up the famous Augsburg confession, and on June 25, 1530, the document was read aloud at the Diet. Many were astonished when they heard the graceful way Melancthon presented the propositions (most of the statements were positive affirmations of faith rather than attacks on the papacy).
Although the reformers did not receive what they had desired from Charles, they did have biblical articles of faith that remain the standard confession for conservative Lutheran Churches to this day. The events at Augsburg laid the groundwork for Protestant victories in the future.
While Luther was alive, it seemed to be the case that Melancthon regarded him with such awe that he never would disagree with him, at least in public. Melancthon once stated: "I would rather die than be separated from this man." Nevertheless, Melancthon had considerable influence, and probably was the power behind the failure, at Marburg, to achieve unification between the Swiss and German Reformations.
Melancthon never agreed with Luther’s strong predestinarianism, but he never argued with his hero. Melancthon, as it turned out, was more of a clone of Erasmus (the renaissance near-reformer) than of Luther. But on this matter he refrained from engaging in debate with Luther. Still, in hindsight it is clear that while Luther was teaching predestination as a central verity, Melancthon viewed the doctrine as a threat to evangelism and an unacceptable form of fatalism.
Luther died in 1546, after which Melancthon openly broke with Luther and began inching the church back to a semi-Pelagian position.
A drift from Luther is denied by the Orthodox Lutheran Church—which still venerates Martin Luther to a degree that far exceeds how Calvinistic churches view John Calvin. Indeed, in many ways the conservative Lutherans are among the most conservative Christians anywhere. For example, there has been more of a move in Calvinistic churches toward liberalization, for example in the roles of women, than in conservative Lutheran churches.
This paradoxical shift—away from Luther on a doctrine that he felt so vital—the doctrine of predestination—while at the same time steadfastly standing by Luther on virtually everything else (even where Luther erred) is the legacy of Philip Melancthon.
Actually, Melancthon tried to shift the Lutherans away from Luther in two areas. In the less important area, he met violent opposition and failed. In the more important area, he succeeded.
Melancthon attempted to inch the Lutheran view of the Eucharist, the consubstantiation view, closer to Calvin’s dynamic view. That is, from the idea of a real corporeal presence during the Lord’s Supper to a real, spiritual presence that was a means of grace—i.e. it was far from Zwingli’s memorial view (in which the believer did everything) to a supernatural view (in which God dispensed grace, as it were.) In a way, this was probably a radical change in Melancthon’s view—for he always seemed to have an eye toward reconciliation with Rome.
At any rate, on this effort he failed. His views on the Lord’s Supper made the Lutheran faithful suspicious, and he was accused of being a crypto-Calvinist.
To this day, although the term consubstantiation is not used, Lutherans proclaim essentially the same doctrine, and still teach of a corporeal presence of the Lord during the Eucharist.
Luther was Monergistic, Melancthon was SynergisticIn regeneration (monergism), the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ independent of any cooperation from our unregenerate human nature. He quickens us through the outward call cast forth by the preaching of His Word, disarms our innate hostility, removes our blindness, illumines our mind, creates understanding, turns our heart of stone to a heart of flesh -- giving rise to a delight in His Word -- all that we might, with our renewed affections, willingly & gladly embrace Christ.
The Century Dictionary defines it as follows:
"In theology, the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration - that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration."It means that the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly comes to through regeneration -- and if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, he/she ignore the teaching of the Apostles, for Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).
It is in contrast to synergism which the Century Dictionary defines as
"...the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives."Luther, like Calvin to follow, was monergistic to the core. In his catechism, Luther wrote:
I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and abundantly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers, and on the last day he will raise me and all the dead and will grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true.Now, to be sure, the Lutheran version of synergism is not the same as the typical, semi-Pelagianism of most modern evangelicals. It can be put this way:
- Reformed View: Regeneration, which is irresistible, precedes faith.
- Evangelical View: Faith precedes regeneration
- Lutheran View: Regeneration precedes faith, but that regeneration is resistible
The Lutherans DisagreeThe Lutherans claim they are faithful to Martin Luther in all aspects. How is it that done? It is done by claiming that late in his life Luther changed his position. They will concede that when Luther wrote his greatest book, Bondage of the Will, in 1525, he was a stout predestinarian. It’s hardly an arguable point, since the book speaks for itself as one of the great works proclaiming the doctrine in clarity.
So what evidence to the Lutherans present? It is fairly weak, and it is entirely circumstantial. There are no writings to which they can point in which Luther retracts or softens his view on predestination. Indeed, he wrote such a definitive tome on the subject that had he changed his view he surely would have made a great deal of noise in doing so.
The evidence that the Lutheran Church proclaims is that, in the last years of his life, Luther stopped writing about predestination, and preaching about it, and instead focused his energy on the sacraments. Given that the sacraments involve human activity it is reasonable, according the Lutherans, to suppose that Luther softened his view on monergism.
However, the truth is simply that the lay of the land was such for Luther, during his latter years, that the issues he dealt with were with the commands rather than the decrees of God. What was man’s obligation and responsibility to God, and how should man approach the sacraments in a worthy manner. There simply was Lutheran controversy, during his lifetime, on the doctrine of predestination, other that what was apparently brewing in Melancthon’s heart.
For Calvin, it will be just the opposite. In his later years, he faced stern opposition to predestination, and so had a need to address the topic more and more as time marched on. This is part of the reason why the doctrine is erroneously associated much more with Calvin than with Luther.
The bottom line is that the Lutheran Church made two serious errors in following (or not) Martin Luther. They chose to stay with Luther where he erred, on the doctrine of consubstantiation, and chose to deviate from him in a far more important matter relating to the nature of our salvation.
In choosing between Luther and Melancthon, they followed Luther in his Eucharistic error, and followed Melancthon in his sotierlogical error.