A Sketch of Luther’s Political Theology on the Question of Church and State with Reflections concerning the Current Responsibility of the Church in Society

[1] Luther strengthened drastically the role of the individual over the institutions of church and state. This was because Luther located the kingdom of God in each individual’s inner soul, so that the authority of Catholic Church might rapidly decline and that state power could be desacralized. Securing independent interiority, individuals were given opportunity to redefine functions and limits of the state and its power.

[2] The individuals to which Luther referred are individuals who can set themselves apart from the masses. However, in the midst of the present mass democracy and mass media, individuals cannot be expected to get away from the public into a self-world. With the ever increasing weight of the exercise of power by the state and in politics over individuals, every Christian is a part of the masses, busy with conforming to the standards of the world. Modern technological civilization, which may put the survival of the human species in danger, prevails in individuals’ everyday lives and in their souls through national policies. Luther found the significance of the existence of the state in the role of preservation of the world, but the state, which leads the expansive reproduction of technological civilization, may no longer be the qualified institution for that role. The church needs to be in the position of counterforce to the state for the sake of the conservation of humankind and the formation of true individuals. Luther’s theology of paradox requires churches to recover the position of the prophet.

Significance and Limit of the State and Politics.

[3] The state Luther knew and contemplated is different from the modern state, but his political theology is still meaningful in the sense that it deals with the essential function and limit of public power. The kingdom of the world, or the worldly kingdom of Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine, refers to the state as a political community. The term ‘the world,’ when linked with the concept of ‘the kingdom of the world,’ indicates the external space outside of the individuals’ inner minds. Culturally it refers to a collective way of living through customs and institutions that involve and lead individuals’ worldly lives. The phrase “of the world” can be used value neutrally but often comprehends the critical sight that denounces the general pattern of the worldly life as the fruit of avarice and the will to power of human beings. When Luther called the state “the kingdom of the world,” it stands for the critical awareness of the state’s law which reflects predominant customs and the trendy style of human value judgment.

[4] Confining the mission of the church to service and forgiveness, Luther’s revolution took away the juridical authority from the Catholic Church, so that the modern state could emerge under the clear separation of church and state. As a result, religion turned into the private sector of individuals, and the regulation of social ethics became the domain of the state[1] and civil society. This is one distinct feature of secularization which occurred in the aftermath of the Reformation. The fact that civil society, not the church, occupies the province of social ethics means that human life moves into a new epoch of reason, not of faith. To use Augustinian terms, it is an epoch of low reason rather than high reason and high level morality. Luther did not intend this transition. Despite this, it is certain that Luther’s theology provided huge potential for that social and political change.

[5] In 1520, Luther remarkably noted the equality of all works done by faith in Treatise on Good Works, and then in his letter To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation he noted the equality of status between the priests and the laymen through the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This declaration of equality was necessarily bound to generate a resistance to authoritarianism in various fields. Homogenization of space and time is closely related to the removal of inequality of human beings. If the beginning of hierarchy in human history started with the religious dichotomy of the sacred and the profane as anthropologists say, Luther pulled out the root of long standing authoritarianism by eliminating the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane which had remained in medieval Christianity. The demands later on for liberty and equality of modern civil society undoubtedly owe much to this radical change of religion. Thus, it is noteworthy that, ironically enough, Luther’s argument of the bondage of the will contributed more to the appearance of modern liberal individuals than Erasmus’ quasi-Pelagianism. If human will is enslaved by the power of sin, belief in God is not natural but a miraculous event as Luther noted. Faith is not any longer something that can be confirmed though visible religious activities or moral behaviors. What matters is what the inner mind’s reliance rests upon. As a result, faith becomes the matter of self-confidence of each individual, and everyone becomes a responsible subject of faith.

[6] In fact, the original sin as understood by St. Augustine and the bondage of the will as explained by Luther represent “the misery and blindness of the human race.”[2] The wholeheartedly operated general pattern of human life is rooted in sinfulness. With the awareness of the enslaved will of the human being, one gains a fundamentally critical mind about the naturally accepted customs and morals. Sin basically refers to the sin of the world, that is to say, the evil of the structure in which humans habitually live their everyday lives. Individuals are sinful in the sense that they are involved in the evil of the world structure. Therefore, the doctrine of the bondage of the will urges ordinary people to repent and gives them a critical viewpoint in regard to the world. This brings a prophetic position, if it does not fall to pessimism. Today’s Christianity needs to meditate on the doctrine of the bondage of the will, in order that it may not be simply civil religion that conforms on the whole to the demands of civil society reflected in the state’s policy.

[7] Expression of truth with substance related terminology as in Plato’s philosophy or in the onto-theological teaching of St. Augustine, (that God is, in order of an ontological grade, a greater being of prominence than the world)[3] is hardly seen in East Asian culture. As for Luther, his existential thought presents a great contrast to the onto-theological thinking, but shows its trace when he asserted his thought as if the kingdom of God is more substantial than the kingdom of the world.[4] However, this rhetoric serves as a platform of freedom. The kingdom of God which is more real than the world is not situated out of the world, because it refers to nothing less than the interiority of individuals that is represented by freedom and love. Therefore, the substantiality of the kingdom of God strengthens the independence of individual who live in the world with tension with it, or the prophetic stance of the church facing the natural reality of the worldly kingdom, the state.

[8] Luther’s criticism of the state and politics can be basically found in his critique about the positive law in comparison with the natural law or, occasionally, in his seeming identification of the world with the kingdom of the devil. However, the kingdom of the world is not itself the kingdom of the devil but one of the two areas of the lordship of God, in as much as it creates and keeps social order and external peace. Nevertheless, the administrative principle of the kingdom of the world has the power that unconsciously and consciously takes captive individuals’ minds and keeps them from living the kingdom of God, which can be called satanic power. Within the law of the state as a political community is engraved the general pattern of the world, and such a worldly trend possesses human souls with spiritual power. That’s why Luther called the devil the ruler of the world or the god of the world, using biblical terms. If expressed in terms of political theology, sin of unbelief is nothing but the propensity to be attached to the world and politics without faithfulness to the kingdom of God. That is what the corrupt nature and evil propensity of the human being is like. If one neglects and doesn’t live the kingdom of God in one’s inner world, the external world can be satanic to that one.

[9] Everyone is subjected either to Christ or to the devil. If one’s inner soul is captured by the god of the world, the worldly kingdom can be the world of the devil. Actually, Luther described the state as the rule of sin. It all depends on each individual, whether the state and politics are divine or wicked.[5] To those who possess the kingdom of God in mind, the state can be a divine area where God is at work. With this in mind, Luther could initiate secularization by having a negative opinion of the medieval ideal of monastic life and regard the secular job as a divine calling of God. Obviously, Luther is far from advocating for historical immanentism, which accepts whatever happens in the state as God’s work. Whether it is the church or state, any objective institution itself does not ensure full truthfulness or falsehood. It is each individual’s inward soul that fulfills the will of God through institutions. Contrary to historical immanentism, Luther’s theology is focused on the passion of Christ suffering the sin of the world. Luther’s theology of the cross includes demythogization of human civilization and has the requirement of the prophetic stance of the awakened minority.

[10] According to Luther, neither underestimation nor overestimation of the state and politics is desirable. Politics cannot and should not be expected to solve all troubles of human beings. Considering the possibility of the confusion about government as satanic, Luther not only rejected the medieval form of theocracy, his view also differed from the Calvinistic form of theocracy which tried to realize the evangelical life of Christians in the form of law. Also, Luther vehemently denounced the theocracy of Thomas Müntzer who strived to turn the political community into the kingdom of God.

[11] For Luther, the state and politics can preserve the world but cannot save one’s soul. Politics can contribute to a better condition of life but a better condition does not mean a better life. Better life has something to do with enhancing spiritual piety. Salvation, namely promotion of spiritual freedom and love, can be achieved otherwise rather than through the political order. It is a task to be worked out through the spiritual battle in each one’s inner mind. In the matter of salvation and of creating the kingdom of God, each individual is a responsible subject. In this respect, Luther believed that the deterioration of the external environment may help to promote the inner freedom. This is part of the reason he advised people to follow even unjust public power. The ethic of persecution operates in the way that can lead to a fortification of the individual’s inwardness that is independent of the external.

[12] However, Luther understood the importance of the external condition of life from a realistic perspective. Politics should not be underestimated. For most people, the aggravation of the condition of life destroys life itself. Therefore, it is important for public power to administer efficiently the production of goods necessary for supporting people’s lives and to create peace by just distribution of products. Justice forms the basis of external peace. Production of national wealth and just distribution are integral parts of the preservation task of government. When the peasant war broke out in 1525, in a letter, Luther blamed princes and lords for their exploitation of poor common people in the first part of his admonition to peace.[6] In another letter during the war, Luther points out that the rage had long been nursed by rulers.[7] This demonstrates Luther’s awareness that the unjust exercise of public power ends up disturbing its obligation of preservation, causing the insurrection of ordinary people.

[13] The preservation task of the state is carried out through working out retributive justice as well. Luther was aware that the juridical authority of the state is the apparatus to prevent the vicious circle of vengeance.[8] Interference of the state as a third party with strong authority into the retribution of evil keeps the process of achieving justice away from the private emotion of hatred of the injured party. Revenge is not justice but the seed of the devil which is able to destroy the world as a whole. Just juridical proceeding based on law is pivotal in the sense that it maintains the peace of the political community by rationalizing a vindictive mindset. The state is a godly order, as long as it builds up the peaceful environment for the sake of the inward kingdom of God of each individual.

[14] Luther’s saying that there would be no need for state power if the world were composed of true Christians[9] denies by no means the necessity of existence of the state but demands that Christians should be ready to be a minority who dwells on the higher level of morality than state law requires. Of course, a relatively small community may run on the basis of the law of evangelical love without lawful coercion. However, Christians live in the world,and their citizenship of a political community is an indispensable part of their citizenship of the kingdom of God. Thus, the Reformer’s condemnation of Anabaptist anarchism evolves from his theology of creation that regards the world on the whole as God’s world. This also explains why Luther thinks that even pagan countries are under the rule of natural law.

[15] If individuals or churches lose the dialectical tension of Luther’s theology of paradox, there may remain only the admonition of submission to the public power of the state in Luther’s political teaching. That would be a distortion of Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine.[10] Not to be divested of the paradoxical tension, the spirituality of distancing oneself from the world is needed. This is possible only when one lives the kingdom of God in one’s inner world. Otherwise, everyone is guaranteed to be busy with following the worldly pattern. Externally as members of the kingdom of the world, every Christian takes on a role in preserving the world by doing their part faithfully to make common goods and to respect the law of the state. Internally and spiritually, Christians must overcome the political order and take a form of counterforce regarding politics and civilization. This naturally leads to a prophetic position longing for the transformation of the world.

The Church as Counterforce of the State

[16] Today, an institution like the church should take a prophetic position with spiritual and moral leadership with awareness of the limit of politics. This is especially because there has remained no more ability for individuals to keep tension with the world. The individual’s inner independence that sustains Luther’s theology of paradox can hardly be found today. His principle of interiority no longer works in this rapidly changing technological civilization. The distinction between the internal and the external has been demolished, and the external has occupied the realm of the internal. The religious concept of sin has little function and the legal concept of wrongdoing prevails. Theological righteousness grows pointless and only civil justice abides in everyone’s awareness. An individual whom Luther established as an eschatological subject has become profoundly inert. It is more true today what Luther once implied of his own day: it’s hard to see true Christians, and it has become mostly impossible in the present age for Christians to have spiritual power to take their stand against the general standards of the world.

[17] If it is still crucial to have tension with the world for Christian identity, the church must take the position of counterforce to the state. Now that individuals’ inward kingdom of God is occupied by the outward kingdom of the world, the church as an outward institution is needed to confront the outward state. In Lectures on Genesis, Luther located institutional order of the church before that of household and state. He comments that God’s law to prohibit eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil formed the basis of the church. Without committing sin, Adam and his descendants would have gathered before the planted tree of the knowledge of good and evil to praise God and His Word. This way Luther asserted that from the beginning the church has been instituted with “an outward place, ceremonial, word and worship”, as God required “an outward form of worship and an outward work of obedience to God.”[11] To be sure, the corruption and distorted theology of the Catholic Church drove Luther in the direction of strengthening individuals’ inwardness and relatively weakening the institutional character of the church. Nevertheless, Luther’s ecclesiology is not reduced to the invisible church. The church goes far beyond the mere sum or association of the internal worlds of believers. Today, the authority of the church as the outward entity independent of the outward state needs to be rediscovered.

[18] Historically, Luther did damage to the sociological status of the church by removing the surpassing authority of the church over individuals and the state. This happened along with the liberation of individuals from the heteronomous rule of the church, as Luther’s theology took away the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane. However, rediscovery of the sociological and soteriological position of the church is urgently needed since freedom of individuals is increasingly eroded by state power. To explain the necessity of the existence of the kingdom of God, Luther often cited Jesus’ saying of John 18:56, “My kingdom is not of this world”; not of this world but in this world.[12] Now that the state is definitely representing this world, the church must recover the position of the sign of the kingdom of God in this world and get ready to be a counter part of the state.

[19] Even in Luther’s evangelism which is characterized by its “anti-churchism,” the visible church is important for the formation of the individual’s faith. When Luther defined the church as a gathering or congregation of believers, he based the church on religious individualism and at the same time takes the visible church as a historical reality seriously. Actually, Luther called the church a ‘mother of belief’ in the sense that the individual’s faith arises thorough the preached words in the church. He paid attention to the effect the faith of the community of saints has upon individuals.[13] Moreover, Luther spoke of one holy church in which individuals are members of the church which is the body of Christ who is the the head. In this regard, the church is not just created by a gathering of believers but already an object of faith.[14] The invisible church and visible church where God’s Word is preached and sacrament is held are in the relation of inseparable distinction.

[20] Luther recommended resisting public power which breaks into individuals’ souls. He said this for the matter of faith and freedom of conscience. Today there are no democratic countries which press anyone to believe a certain religion. However, the influence the exercise of the public power of the state has upon individuals is tremendously increasing. Economic policy, housing policy, education policy, monetary policy, refuge policy and environment policy of the state are having huge impacts on the whole course of individuals’ lives. Also scientific and technological advancement is largely supported by the state. Nobody knows what kind of disaster is hidden in artificial intelligence and genetic engineering. The state is no longer a dictator in the traditional sense but has become a channel for materialistic civilization and, as a ruler of the world, occupies individuals’ souls. The confusion of government (confusio regnorum) takes place not visibly but invisibly thorough political ideologies and economic growth. With tension between two kingdoms fading away, the kingdom of the world alone prevails and politics and economics overwhelm people’s whole minds.

[21] Luther secured free self-judgment of individuals when it comes to the question of divine truth. Today, however, no one is free enough to make judgment about technological civilization on one’s own. The pretention of freedom of choice is not about whether one uses technologically newly developed products but about whether using either this product or that. Catching up with new technology has become the matter of survival for corporations and individuals. Human beings seem to be losing the ability to discern what is good or bad as they sink deeper into the order of necessity.

[22] Luther spoke of passive resistance against state power which interferes with one’s free inner world. In fear of disorder, he advised to protest not by physical power but by words which make judgment about what is right and wrong. Then, passive resistance is also resistance. As an output of Luther’s theology of paradox, passive resistance is a combination of both obedience and resistance. Being equivalent to the ethics of persecution at the time of the primitive church, passive resistance holds spiritual resistance against the unjust measures of secular authority. It involves believer’s spiritual superiority over worldly power. In this respect, its passivity involves an active aspect. It can be paradoxically called, so to speak, active passivity. It is not simply to be subjected in fear but, rather, to subject persecutor spiritually with respect and love for truth. Externally and physically it looks passive but internally and spiritually is very active. As Christian’s passive righteousness imputed from Christ in Luther’s doctrine of justification produces the most serious and faithful reaction to the world, passive resistance is a result of the most triumphant and active spirit.

[23] Luther’s passive resistance can be a way contemporary churches follow. This is primarily because the weapon the church fights with is words clothed with spiritual and moral authority. The saying of Ernst Troeltsch is significant that the power of the church is invisible, even though Luther did not underestimate the value of visible church.[15] In Luther’s ecclesiology, the fundamental identity of the church is in the fact that it is home to God’s Word. Pubic office of the Word was considered profoundly important by Luther. He asserted God’s will is revealed through human words. The human being, as a speaking creature (homo loquens), becomes the hermeneutical subject who takes part in the revelation of God’s Word through interpretation. Even so, it is God, not man, who leads the interpretation and revelation of the Word. The Holy Scripture is its own interpreter.[16] God’s Word and human words are not equal in their hermeneutical status. It is God’s Word that interprets words of the world. This is the iconoclasm that the Word works out. The human being becomes the true subject by God’s grace alone.

[24] The churches’ words must take up the post of being the host of the Word that interprets the worldly affairs and the current civilization. The church must inspire the world with the words that promote freedom and love, another name of salvation in Luther. In the face of the detailed moral questions that were newly raised in the 16th century, such as the regulation of seemingly unfair profits of commercial activity, Luther preached in the form of formal ethics principally with a criticism of increasing human greed. However, churches now may have the duty to provide more concrete initiatives and alternatives, now that the state’s competence for preservation of the world is questioned.

[25] Luther assigned the work of conservation of the world to the state. However, today’s crisis of civilization requires the church to take seriously the preservation issue. Long before Hans Jonas estimated the continuous existence of humankind as the utmost ethical value amid the crisis of global demolition,[17] Luther viewed the preservation of humankind as one of the two divine missions to which humankind is called by God: faithfulness to the salvific order of the kingdom of God and preservation of the order of the kingdom of the world. Luther apparently thought with the apocalyptic viewpoint that the world is always under the threat of total destruction. At the moment, when the survival of the human species is put in danger due to the uncontrollable technological advancement and the environmental crisis, Luther’s apocalyptic thought deserves to be examined in new light. This apocalyptic way of thinking arises when the power of evil is seen to be predominant enough to destroy the entirety of humankind and the world. When the sin of humankind caused by individual avarice becomes a huge spiritual power of evil ruling over individuals in the world, Luther called it the devil or Satan. An apocalyptic thinker is interested more in preservation than progress or prosperity.[18] Now, churches face a need to fight with the state with such an apocalyptic view point. In other words, the preservation issue can no longer be attributed to the state.

[26] When it comes to tackling the problem of the conservation of the human species, churches must be interested in curbing the expansion of the acquisitive instinct of consumer culture. Environmental destruction, excessive consumption of natural resources and the increase of meat based diets all come from the greedy desire of human beings. Ascetic self control cannot be considered just a medieval and old-fashioned virtue. Luther rejected the asceticism of the Catholic Church as a means of salvation, but he did not deny the necessity of the ascetic attitude itself. Abstinence in the midst of a secular life Max Weber viewed as a protestant peculiarity that was part of the spirit of Luther’s Reformation. However, due to modern capitalistic ethics that easily justify the pleasure seeking lifestyle and the self-centered pursuit of profit, increasing consumption of commodities and craving for properties have become limitless. Obviously, low level morality which calls for self-realization or self-fulfillment does its part for the liberation of people by making individuals open and honest to their feeling and needs. However, facing climate change and the possible demolition of existence of humankind, ascetic moderation about consumption of natural resources, diet habits and even preference for convenience in everyday life can be a newly required virtue. Apparently it is time for churches to engage in the transition of global life style. As the representative of individual persons, churches must be able to confront the state which is the representative of current civilization.

[27] Meanwhile, as far as the preservation issue is concerned what Luther was primarily concerned about was the human inclination of violence. This is the longstanding and classical issue about which biblical spirituality is concerned. Luther saw the possible destruction of the whole world caused by the war of all against all without the restrictive power of state law. For the matter of conservation and peace, it is always crucial to curb the vicious circle of revenge in human society. What it takes to complete this task is jurisdiction and love. The jurisdiction is of the state and love is of Christian spirit. It is noteworthy that Luther considered renunciation of revenge as one of the ten marks of the true church.[19] It is partially because of concern for the preservation of the world that Luther attributed the work of forgiveness and love to the church, while setting the state to monopolize the jurisdiction. Love alone can fundamentally and ultimately cut off the vicious circle of reciprocal violence. In other words, the essence of the church as a community of love, not of justice, is not limited to the order of salvation, but also has something to do with the order of preservation. Now that individuals are easily absorbed into the hatred that the masses bear at the age of limitless competition, it’s becoming all the more important that the church takes the issue of the masses’ frustration seriously.

[28] Luther demanded a motive of love even to those who appeal to the court in order to defend their profits. As for executors of law, he also urged them to carry out their missions with love and awareness of God’s calling. Having pride in one’s social status or being swayed by personal feeling is banned. Luther considers any public office good and godly in itself. This is external righteousness of the office. However, the execution of the office can be good or bad, depending whether the person who engages in the office is good or bad.[20] Good or evil of the person is the matter of intention and heart. It refers to an internal motif of the performance of one’s duties. The intention of seeking one’s own end or popularity is not in harmony with godliness of the office. As for soldiers, they must refrain from needlessly killing people or satisfying their antagonistic self-will even in the bloody war of suppression.[21]

[29] The godly and precious office in itself can be misused by the faults of persons. The external righteousness of the office is not sufficient by itself but made complete with the internal righteousness. This is that Luther urges to meet the demand both of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world, both the order of salvation by internal motive of love and the order of preservation by external justice. Then, to what extent does the internal motif affect the legality of the performed office? As a conclusion, the abuse or the misuse does not have an effect on the external righteousness of the office itself.[22] Internal wickedness of the executor is the matter of the kingdom of God and he or she will be condemned to hell before God[23] but not here in the kingdom of the world. The fact that the fulfillment of office is legally effective regardless of the possible accusation of immorality or theological sinfulness of inner motif shows an aspect of legal positivism. If so, what does it mean that goodness or badness of the execution of the office depends on whether the executor’s intention is right or wrong? And what kind of sense does it make to demand a motive of love in exercising public power as this seems unrealistic in reality?

[30] In as much as Luther demanded love in lawful acts, he was far from Machiavelli, his contemporary political scientist. To be sure, like Machiavelli, Luther asserted that politics cannot operate through the gospel of love. From the perspective of legal positivism, politics is not necessarily linked with ethics. On the other hand, Luther required the inward motive of love even in political and legal acts. By doing so, he, unlike Machiavelli, established Christian political thought at the outbreak of dawn of modernity.[24] In this respect, politics and ethics are not separated from each other. It can be said that political realism and political idealism are combined in Luther’s thought.[25]

[31] Luther’s requirement of motive of love or exclusion of animosity in the process of disciplining wrongdoing seems to have something to do with the concern for preservation. With hatred toward the offender, retribution of evil would be a beginning of a vicious circle of revenge, so that retributive justice may be a start of new evil. This gives us an idea that reciprocal justice might easily involve an unjust aspect because of accompanied personal feeling of excessive hostility. That’s why Luther thought that a just office in itself is to be completed by a just person. Even though the subjective motif does not affect the objective legality of the performed office, retributive measures taken with an unjust motif or feelings of hatred are theologically bad in the sense that it creates and leaves a retaliatory spirit behind that may somehow shake the stability of human relations in a community and put preservation of external peace in danger. This is such a frequent occasion that human society may be always under a potentially explosive situation. Such being the case, Luther’s requirement of the motive of love is not ideal but a realistic commandment for the peaceful conservation of the world.

[32] Therefore, love as a principle of the kingdom of God and justice as a principle of the kingdom of the world are complementary. As legal justice assists the order of salvation of the kingdom of God by maintaining external peace, theological love helps the preservation of the world by lessening vindictive mindsets. As the love commandment is an age old theological subject, Luther’s originality consists in his realistic interpretation of the commandment of love. He focuses on love that goes with civil justice.[26] Love must be in relation with the flip-side-of-the-coin of justice. Interpreting the commandment of love in The Sermon on the Mount, Luther reached the conclusion of the necessity of both punishment of evil and love for the evildoer. This interpretation comes from his realistic conviction.[27] The power of evil is so destructive that it should not be covered over with love but be necessarily suppressed with another strong power. In this regard, he is not a pacifist or an advocate of non-violence. And feelings of hatred for the wrongdoer are technically not less destructive than wrongdoing itself. So much so that it must be replaced by love for justice itself, or more constructively love for the offender. This love includes respect for the criminal’s own person in terms of the dignity of being human.

[33] Luther’s interpretation of the love commandment reflects biblical wisdom for the sake of the sustainable prosperity of the human community. Since appealing to law with love is hardly seen in common people, Luther concluded it is the work of the Holy Spirit beyond the ability of reason.[28] As a spiritual institution for humankind, church must have charge of addressing the spirit of love for a neighbor from the realistic point of view that Luther possessed. If it concerns the issue of the sustainment of the world, it is urgent and an eschatological responsibility the church faces.

[34] In fact, modern society is based on the virtue of justice, rather than love. As well as the medieval East Asian countries, medieval Christendom placed emphasis on high level morals of love to practice the Christian ideal. There was a feeling of wariness about money and materials, and the individuals’ sacrifice was easily commended in the name of love. However, as individuals’ sense of rights radically increases in the modern society, justice has taken the position of a basic virtue of social relations. The low level morality of justice contributed to the restriction of the abuse of public power and the enhancement of human rights. However, it is an undeniable fact that hostility is usually involved in making justice. Contrary to love which unilaterally goes beyond reciprocal compensation, justice is based on reciprocity that is just. Reciprocal justice easily involves reciprocal violence with hatred and insult. With no question being raised about it, animosity is easily justified as part of justice. Then creating sacrifice may continue in the name of justice, which causes and nurses satanic power of vicious circles of violence.

[35] Breaking out of vicious circles of reciprocal violence is a classic issue that is still crucial for the safety and security of the world. The increasing hatred of the public coming from the expansive influence of politics that has party-spirit and divides a whole nation, and possibly a whole planet, is today’s power of sin that poses a threat to the preservation of the world. Luther’s interpretation of the love commandment from the perspective of the moderation of feelings of hatred and hostility will give the church the godly words needed for the sustainable prosperity of humankind.


[36] The church today must get ready to set itself up against the destructive power of the state and politics. The sociological and soteriological position of the church needs to be reinforced. This is especially so because individuals have lost the status of being free agents of self-judgment, being overwhelmed by the tremendous power of technological civilization connected with economic growth. Facing the environmental crisis and increasing hostility on the earth, the church must take on the task of preservation of the world that used to be attributed to the state by Luther. As Luther’s insight already shows, preservation is not just the matter of law but that of the combination of law and Gospel. As home to God’s Word, the church’s assignment has grown to be singularly the most responsible institution for the sake of conservation of the world of creatures.



[1] Richard Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, A historical study. (N.Y.: Hesperides Press, 2008), 57.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, (LW 33: 98).

[3] In his earlier writing, De vera religione, Augustine explains sin and death of human beings in terms of decline of the grade of being caused by turning from God as the highest being and toward worldly things which is less being. Augustine, Of True Religion in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953-1966), vol.6, 236 (xi, 22).

[4] Martin Luther, A Sermon on Keeping Children in School, (LW 46:237).

[5] In the light of religious subjectivism, Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine can be properly understood as “a theory of the two-fold nature of reality.” John Witte Jr., Law and Protestantism, The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  2004), 89.

[6] Martin Luther, Admonition to Peace, A reply to the 12 articles of the peasants of Swabia, (LW 46:19ff.).

[7] Martin Luther, An Open Letter on the Harsh Books against the Peasants, (LW 46:82).

[8] Martin Luther, Temporal Authority, (LW 45:102). The Sermon on the Mount, (LW 21:111).

[9] Martin Luther, Temporal Authority, (LW 45:89).

[10] There was no one in 16th century who limited the secular authority as much as Luther. Hans-Martin Barth, The Theology of Martin Luther: A Critical Assessment, translated by Linda Maloney(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013) Chapter10, §5,2.

[11] Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, (LW 1:106,109).

[12] Luther says, “He (Christ) came into the world, that he might begin God’s kingdom and establish it in the world. Therefore, he says before Pilate, “My kingdom is not of the world…”” Temporal Authority, (LW 45:88). The verse of John 18:56 is also cited in the letter which was designed to denounce Thomas Müntzer.  Martin Luther, Letter to the Princess of Saxony Concerning the Rebellious Spirit, (LW 40:50).

[13] The subjective faith of each individual and the objective faith of the church correlate to create Christian belief. One can even say, “Faith always comes to me through others.” Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, translated by Thomas Trapp (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 267. Meanwhile, Luther argued that joining the operated sacrament without faith has no value for one’s salvation. On the other hand, he concedes that the faith of the community covers and complements the one who takes part in sacrament with weak faith.

[14] Günther Gassmann, “Luther in the World Wide Church Today” in Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, Edited by Donald Mckimm (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 296.

[15] Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of Christian Churches, translated by O. Wyon (London: GeorgeAleen & Unwin, 1931, 1956), 481 and 563.

[16] “sui ipsius interpres.” Martin Luther, Assertio omnium artictdorum M. Lutheri per bullam Leonis X. novissimam damnatorum  in Weimar Edition (D. Martin Luther’s Werke. Kritishce Gesamtausgabe, Weimar, 1883-), Vol.7, p.97.

[17] Hans Jonas, The Imperative of ResponsibilityIn Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 99-100. The ontic fact of humankind’s existing at all makes it their first and ontological commandment to continue as such, while their well-being is the second commandment.

[18] An increasing number of thinkers hold an apocalyptic attitude about modern civilization. They include Hans Jonas, Jacques Ellul, and René Girard. Jonas stresses the need of the prophecy of doom, rather than the prophecy of bliss. Focusing on the autonomy of modern technology, Ellul defines the present epoch as the time of infertility of faith. He considers his thought close to the type of ‘Christ and culture in paradox’ that Luther’s theology belongs according to the classification of Richard Niebuhr. Cf., Jaques Ellul, Jesus and Marx. From Gospel to Ideology, translated by J. Hanks (Grand Rapids: Erdmann, 1988), xv. Girard sees it as verydangerous for modern theology to move further from the apocalyptic mindset with optimism about human reason and history. Cf. René Girard, The One by Whom Scandal Comes, translated by Malcom DeVeboise (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014), 68.

[19] David Daniel, “Luther on the Church”, in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 347.

[20] Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, (LW 46:94-95).

[21] Martin Luther, An Open Letter to Harsh Books Against the Peasants, (LW 46:82).

[22] Martin Luther, Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, (LW 46:97).

[23] Ibid., (LW 46:84).

[24] Article 16 of “The Augsburg Confession” says, “…it (the Gospel) does not destroy the State or the family but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such ordinances.” Having a motive of love is a way of practicing charity in the political and legal order of the state.

[25] Pierre Mesnard, L’essor de la philosophie politique de XVIème siècle (Paris: J.Vrin, 1977), 233.

[26] Luther’s divergence from monastic tradition is a break with the traditional exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount. Luther thought that the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount is not dedicated to the saints in monastic life but to Christians living in society. Jaroslav Pelikan, Divine RhetoricThe Sermon on the Mount as Message and as Model in Augustine, Chrysostom, and Luther (Crestwood: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2000), 128f. This new vision of Luther leads to a new interpretation of the love commandment in harmony with civil justice.

[27] It is in connection with a secular person’s retributive duty that Luther interprets the love commandment of the Gospel in his Temporal Authority and Lectures on The Sermon on the Mount.  pparently, Luther’s concern is that the retribution of evil to secure external peace cannot reach its goal when it is performed with vindictiveness.

[28] Martin Luther, Temporal Authority, (LW 45:104).

Myung Su Yang 

Dr. Myung Su Yang is Professor of Christian Studies at Ewha Womans University in South Korea.  The Society for Christian Ethics hosted him as a Global Scholar in January, 2020. At the annual meeting, he presented a paper for SCE titled Luther's Reformation and His Political and Social Ideas for Korean Church and Society.