Martin Luther - Theology of the Cross

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1 This paper examines Martin Luther’s theology of the cross and discusses how it has impacted North American religious life.

Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross In Protestantism, there are two distinct guiding philosophies that are normally used as the foundation for the teaching and worship of the church. These philosophies are the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Which philosophy a church practices is up to the individual church; however, it is rare, possibly even unheard of, for both philosophies to be utilized together in the same church. The theology of glory and the theology of the cross are both so very different from one another, that to mix them would be a challenging enterprise. The theology of the cross was formulated by the founder of the Protestant churches, Martin Luther, and continues to have an impact on theology and on churches today, nearly five hundred years after its creation. This paper examines Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, compares it with the theology of glory, and discusses how the theology of the cross continues to have an impact on churches today. To Martin Luther, Jesus Christ is the only moderator between God and humans.1 Through his death, he effects a reconciliation between God and man. Christ, through his death, has removed God’s wrath from humankind. Martin Luther created his theology of the cross as a distinct opposite of the theology of glory that the Catholic church accepted at the time. While the theology of glory seeks to know God directly in His divine power and glory, the theology of the cross seeks out God in His sufferings. The theology of the

“Augustana,” The Luther Project, n.d. .


2 cross views humans as being called to suffer for their sins, and to rely on the redemptive power of Jesus Christ to save them. The theology of the cross is meant to destroy the self-confidence of humans so that they will allow God to do everything for them. Therefore, the theology of the cross leads a person from moralistic activism to pure receptivity.2 In order to properly understand the theology of the cross, it is first necessary to understand how it compares to the more commonly used theology of glory. The theology of glory begins with a one-time trip for the new Christian to the metaphorical cross of Jesus Christ.3 The theology of glory directs the teachings of the gospel only to unbelievers, in order to get them saved. Once someone is saved, their need to continue hearing the gospel supposedly vanishes. When a person comes to the cross of Jesus Christ, their sins get wiped away, and then they need never make this trip again. In the theology of glory, repentance is defined as a sinner being sorry for his or her sins and resolving not to sin anymore.4 This repentance then results in the sinner wanting to lead a better life according to the laws of Christ. If you later backslide and begin sinning again or having problems leading a Christ-like life, you can either rededicate yourself to Christ or make an emotional commitment to be stronger and to avoid sin and temptation. You do not, however, need to go back to the Cross, as you have already been there. The theology of glory states that once a person is saved, he or she is always saved.5

Ibid. Don Matzat, “A Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross,” Issues, Etc. 3, no. 2. (1998) . 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. 3


3 Further, the theology of glory tends to produce people who believe themselves to be better than other people because they have been saved. People who have been saved in the theology of glory tend to think of themselves as better than those who have not been saved. These people who have been saved then go out and share their testimony with those who have not been saved in the hopes of getting them saved, too. Sometimes, there are other steps to take after getting saved through the theology of glory, such as sanctifying oneself, a process which involves removing ones’ old sinful nature so that...
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