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From Worms to Marburg—Our Problem Today

by Dr. James G. Kallas

April 13, 2008

WordAlone Network Annual Convention


At Worms, Luther took a stand. He opposed the prevailing politically correct view, insisting that Scripture, not papal opinion, was the final authority.

Five hundred years later, at Marburg, a Lutheran professor, Rudolf Bultmann, also took an opposite stand, insisting that the New Testament was archaic and not acceptable. It had to be updated and modernized, demythologized, accommodated to prevailing public opinion.

That is our problem today.


The immediate background to Worms was Tetzel selling indulgences, offering escape from Purgatory for money donations. But the conflict was larger than that. The issue was the understanding of sin. What is sin? And what did Jesus do about it?

The Bible defines sin in three ways: as rebellion, as guilt, and as bondage. The Catholic church saw sin as guilt for which a price had to be paid, a punishment levied. Jesus’ death paid the price for man’s guilt, actual and original, up to his baptism. After baptism, man was on his own. He could either pay the penalty for his guilt later in Purgatory, or offset his acts of sin with good works, such as penance or purchase of indulgence.

But according to Luther and his understanding of the Apostle Paul, sin was bondage, slavery under Satan: “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” Penances, indulgences, good works could not redeem. God alone could set us free.

At Worms, Luther was told to abandon his interpretation of Paul and the Scripture or face condemnation. He rejected the prevailing view, insisted that the Word Alone and not prevailing cultural concepts or papal opinions were the final authority. And his stand altered western history.

(Years later, after the Augsburg Confession, the Catholic church in the decrees of the Council of Trent acknowledged that Luther had been right and that the Apostle Paul did indeed call original sin (concupiscence) bondage. But the Council of Trent went on to insist that Scripture as it stood was not the final authority: “This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic church has never understood it to be called sin...”).


Bultmann, agreed with Scripture and with Luther, affirming that Jesus saw Satan as a reality and man as enslaved. But, Bultmann went on to say that even though Jesus believed that the world was invaded by demonic forces, such a view today was unacceptable. Modern man refused to accept such archaic beliefs. Such ideas were mythological and deemed absurd by contemporary society. If the church wanted to remain relevant, Scripture had to be rewritten, its antiquated terminology set aside.

That program of rewriting Scripture, demythologizing, has become the modus operandi of most of the main line churches, and is today the primary problem facing conservative Christians. The Bible is no longer seen as authoritative. Instead, the final authority is found in prevailing cultural views, that which modern man will accept.

The consequences of such a collapse of conviction are colossal. We have lost our theological anchor. Traditional values have been abandoned, centuries old convictions undermined and emptied out.

The answer is to stand once more with Luther, insisting that truth is found in The Word Alone. The Bible needs no rewriting. Its idiom may be cast in a bygone culture, but its content remains constant and true. No demythologizing is needed, only allegiance to The Word Alone. Our task today is to tell the old, old story, let it be our theme in glory, the story of Jesus and His love.