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Luther's Burning of the Papal Bull: Encouragement to Flaunt Church Discipline?

In October of this year, Prof. D. Kuiper of the PRC Seminary gave a public Reformation Day lecture with the above-noted title in Loveland, CO and Hull, IA. The links to the lecture may be found here and here, and you are encouraged to listen to it in its full form.

In future issues of the Standard Bearer (Dec.15, 2021 and Jan.1, 2022) this lecture will be printed in an abridged form. But we may give you a glimpse of what he had to say about this intriguing subject in this post.

"...In burning the papal bull that threatened him with excommunication, Luther was not merely reacting, nor revolting, nor flaunting discipline. He was simply indicating he did not fear Rome’s discipline, because it did not need to be feared.

"This Luther made clear in two treatises that he wrote, shortly after he burned the papal bull. The first is entitled “Against the Execrable Bull of the AntiChrist.” In it Luther says that Rome has merely declared that Luther is a heretic, and such a declaration alone does not in fact make a man a heretic. However, to show from Scripture that a man’s teaching is contrary to Scripture is to demonstrate that he is a heretic. But Rome did not do this to Luther.

"The second is entitled “Why the Books of the Pope and His Disciples were Burned by Dr. Martin Luther.” The first of Luther’s five reasons was that he was following the example of believers in Acts 19:19, who burned books of idolatry and witchcraft. Second, as a preacher, he must ward off or destroy false doctrine. Third, not merely was the pope in error, but to maintain his error the pope condemned the preaching and teaching of the true gospel. In other words, Luther did not merely and rashly burn the books of someone with whom he disagreed. Rather, Rome’s hatred of truth is explained by its love for the lie. Fourth, Luther indicated that others had burned his books earlier, without the pope’s permission; why, then, would the pope take issue with Luther burning books? Finally, by burning these books Luther hoped to strengthen the common people in their faith. In conclusion, Luther quoted thirty false statements excerpted from the books that he burned, each of which regarded the pope’s authority, power, and liberties.

"By burning these books, Luther was not merely thumbing his nose at the pope, nor returning tit for tat. Rather, Luther was saying that Rome’s view of the papacy, and Rome’s doctrine of the church and sacraments, demonstrated that it was a false church. Her preaching, her administration of sacraments, and her excommunication were not that of Christ, but of Antichrist."

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