Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 11, 1951

Letter To A Lutheran

Bill J. Humble, St. Petersburg, Florida

Mr. L. Acker,

Lutheran Hour Speaker

The International Lutheran Hour

3558 South Jefferson Avenue

St. Louis 18, Missouri

Dear Mr. Acker:

A short time ago Miss Jean Anderson, a member of the Ninth Avenue church of Christ, mailed you a little booklet, "Why We Left the Lutheran Church," by Claude Guild. Your lengthy reply of November 17 to Miss Anderson was given to me.

Since I have taught church history in a Christian College, I am quite familiar with the work of Martin Luther. I honor the great reformer for loosing the Bible from the Catholic cloister; yet I certainly cannot agree that the church which bears his name is the New Testament church, the body of Christ. Hence, I trust that you will think seriously about my Comments upon your letter.

You accuse brother Guild, the author of the little booklet of not "going to church anywhere," when he says that he is a member of no denomination. Evidently it is impossible for you to conceive of anyone's being a member of the Lord's church without also being a member of some denomination. Think of the Christians of the first century. What denomination did they belong to? None! They were Christians. They were members of Christ's church, no denomination. Why isn't this enough for us today? If people could be Christians in the first century without joining any denomination, why can't we do the same today? Then you say, "If he assembles himself with some group, then it must go by some name." Certainly so, but not his name; rather the Lord's name. It is a church of Christ. (Rom. 16:16)

Let us think more of the name which we are to wear. You state: "Martin Luther rediscovered the Bible. That is the reason I am a Lutheran." In turn I would say: Jesus Christ died for me, and I was baptized into the name of Christ. That is the reason I am a Christian. That is why I dare not wear the name of any man lest I honor him more than the Son of God. In I Cor. 1:10-13 Paul rebuked the church in Corinth for being divided and admonished them to be united in the same mind and the same judgment. They were divided over the name which they should wear (as we are); each was saying, "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." Paul gave them an absolute test for determining the name which they should wear, when he asked, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized into the name of Paul? Paul argues that unless he had died for the Corinthians, and unless they had been baptized into his name, they had no right to be identified by his name. Now let us apply that test. Was Luther crucified for you, Mr. Acker? No. Were you baptized into Luther's name? No. Then you have absolutely no right to wear his name, according to the reasoning of an inspired apostle of Christ.

You state that you wear Luther's name because he "rediscovered the Bible." According to your reasoning, Paul should have asked in I Cor. 1:13, "Did Paul rediscover the Bible for you?" Think of the claims which some of the Corinthians might have advanced for wearing Paul's name, claims similar to the one which you have given, yet far superior to it. They could have said, "We were led from pagan idolatry to Christianity by Paul. He gave us the inspired revelation of the Father." Yet all of that did not justify their wearing Paul's name! Mr. Acker, since Luther did not die for you and since you were not baptized into his name, you have no right to be a Lutheran. Paul taught the Corinthians to be content with the name Christian. Isn't that enough for you? "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name." (I Peter 4:16).

Martin Luther's personal convictions are ignored by his followers; for the reformer said, "I pray you leave my name alone and not to call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians." (Michelet, Life of Luther, 262).

There is one statement in your letter with which I wholeheartedly concur; for you write, "Baptism is very definitely commanded by Jesus." To prove this statement, you cite John 3:5, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Since you regard the birth of water and the Spirit as baptism, and since Christ made this essential to one's entering the kingdom of God, it logically follows that there is no salvation without baptism. This being true, it becomes a matter of primary importance to determine what constitutes scriptural baptism; and here again we come to the parting of the ways. The Bible teaches that baptism is immersion in water; whereas the church of which you are a member regards sprinkling as sufficient to satisfy the Lord's command.

Who will deny that immersion and only immersion was authorized by the inspired teachers of the first century? Paul wrote, "We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4) John baptized at Aenon, because there was much water there (John 3:23); yet a little water would satisfy a Lutheran preacher's needs for a lifetime! When the eunuch was baptized, he and Philip both went down into the water; he was baptized; they came up out of the water. (Acts 8:38) Should you read these passages over the Lutheran Hour, your audience could arrive at but one conclusion: one must be buried in water to be baptized. Why, then, do you teach and practice sprinkling for baptism? In doing so you cling tenaciously to one of the innovations introduced by Roman Catholicism, the church Martin Luther attempted to reform.

Your explanation of the origin of denominationalism is excellent. You write, "The reason we have denominations is because we have such false teachers. As long as men persist in letting reason hold sway, and refuse to accept the Bible as it stands there will be different denominations." Now will you accept what the Bible says about baptism, "as it stands," a burial in water? If so, you must renounce sprinkling forever. If not, you stand condemned as a promoter of denominationalism, according to your own explanation of why such a condition exists!

You attempt to justify infant sprinkling on the basis of original sin, stating that little infants need to be baptized because of the "original guilt that is upon all men." At least your doctrine is internally consistent at this point. It is amusing to observe some of your religious friends, who do not believe in depravity, baptizing babies; for they have neither logical nor theological reason for their practice. But is man born into the world totally depraved? You affirm that he is; yet my Bible states that "the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father." (Ezek. 18:20) This principle being true, how can all men bear the guilt of Adam's transgression? The spirit of man comes from God; it is the candle of the Lord. (Eccl. 12:7; Prov. 20:27) How can this spirit be depraved when it came from God? Christ said that except men be converted and become as little children, they would not enter heaven. (Matt. 18:3) Did he mean that one must become like a depraved little sinner to inherit heaven? If such are the citizens of heaven, I fear that hell will be sparsely settled!

Rom. 5:12 is claimed as your fortress for the doctrine of depravity, and you challenge any opponent of the doctrine to explain this passage. Evidently physical death is intended in this verse, nothing more; for Paul reasons that all shall be made alive in Christ. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." (I Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:12-15) If you assume that all are made sinners in Adam unconditionally, Paul's logic would force the conclusion that all are saved unconditionally in Christ; and you would find yourself in the camp of the universalists. If you say that men become sinners as they follow Adam in violating God's law, you have found the truth, but you have surrendered your doctrine of depravity and with it, your reason for sprinkling infants.

To defend the Lutheran practice of confessing sins to a minister prior to absolution, you quote John 20:21, 23 and state, "God gives the power to the church and to its ministers to pronounce the absolution upon the repentant sinners." This particular Lutheran doctrine indicates that Martin Luther's goal was never attained; for at this point you have not reformed Roman Catholicism, you have retained it. The great Catholic author, Cardinal Gibbons, justified the Catholic confessional by quoting this same passage and commenting, "The forgiving power was not restricted to the Apostles, but extended to their successors in the ministry unto all times and places." (Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, 344) As the apostles announced the plan of salvation by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they revealed the conditions upon which sins would be remitted. Their work was completed, and this power was never intended for subsequent generations, whether Catholic or Lutheran.

In conclusion, may I suggest that if you or any, other representative Lutheran minister would be willing to discuss these issues publicly here in St. Petersburg, the Ninth Avenue church of Christ would be happy to join in making arrangements for such a debate and to endorse a gospel preacher to defend our side of the propositions. Both sides, of course, would have to agree that such a discussion would be conducted on a high and honorable plane.

Mr. Acker, you occupy a place of prominence and power, but that does not make you right. I firmly believe that the Lutheran church is a human denomination, wearing a human name, and teaching human doctrines. If so, membership in its ranks will avail you nothing. I pray that you may have the intellectual courage to re-examine your convictions, testing them by God's unchanging revelation.


Bill J. Humble