Martin Luther and Andreas Karlstadt studied and worked together in the German town of Wittenberg during the early 1500’s. These two young men dreamed of a day when the Bible would be read widely and its instructions taken seriously – yet neither would have imagined their small town would one day be “ground-zero” for the Reformation.
Two young men with nothing to lose but their own careers for biblical truth. Their friendship was firm as together they debated the powerful Vatican heirarchy. They stayed firm as they were threatened by the Vatican powers to recant their biblical beliefs, and it was together that these two theologians were finally excommunicated from the church by Pope Leo.
But then something happened to cause these two firm friends to eventually go their separate paths.
Karlstadt told Luther that if they really were going to be Sola Scriptura – “the Bible alone” as the foundation for their faith – then the Ten Commandments of the Bible should also be taken seriously. In particular, Andreas Karlstadt would focus on two of God’s commandments that had fallen into disrepair since the cross of Christ:- The second commandment of not bowing down to images and statues (Exodus 20:4-6); and the fourth commandment of honouring the seventh-day Sabbath as a sacred day (Exodus 20:8-11).
Luther the pragmatist wanted the Reformation of the sixteenth century church to progress at a pace that allowed people to keep up, but Karlstadt the revolutionary wanted all of God’s light immediately. And so these two once-great-friends quickly became public adversaries. In 1524 Luther published an article that described Karlstadt’s radical ideas as the work of a modern-day “Judas”, and Karlstadt responded by calling Luther a “papist” and even “a cousin of the Antichrist”.
These difficult times of debating divinity tested tight friendships, and sometimes these friendships were brought undone. The Reformation needed Martin Luther’s pragmatism but it also needed Andreas Karlstadt’s zeal for all of God’s truth. Today, students of God’s Word might be forgiven for wondering what the Reformation could really have achieved if these two friends and colleagues remained exactly that.
Jesus once said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35) – and despite their different approaches to church reform Martin and Andreas did have a brotherly love for each other. Late in the evening on the 13th of June 1525, Andreas Karlstadt knocked on Martin Luther’s door. Andreas was desperate – he needed shelter and a place to hide. Even though it was Martin’s wedding night with his new bride Katherine, Martin Luther of course opened the door and took Andreas in.
The lesson from the relationship between Martin Luther and Andreas Karlstadt is that in pursuing biblical truth God’s people are stronger together.
Author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This blog is a series of articles and “rambles” on the Reformation and christian church history.