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True and False Worship by Martin Luther

Articles on Puritan Worship and the Regulative Principle

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True and False Worship by Martin Luther

Text: Math. 2,1-12. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

The True And False Worship Of God.

232. No better distinction is to be had here than God’s Word. The worship which is there taught must surely be the true worship; but that which is set up beside God’s Word or outside of it, as invented by men, must certainly be the false Herod-worship. Now the worship of God is nowhere established, except in his commandments. For without doubt he alone serves God who keeps his commandments; just as a servant in the house is said to serve his master only when he does, and attends to, whatever his master bids him to do. However, if he does not do this, even if he otherwise does the will of the whole town he is not said to serve his master. So then, whoever does not keep God’s commandments, does not serve God, even though he keeps the teachings and commandments of all men.

233. Now the worship of God consists in this: that you confess, honor, and love God with your whole heart, put all your trust and confidence in him, never doubt his goodness, either in life or in death, either in sins or in right living, as the first commandment teaches. To this we can attain through the merit and blood of Christ alone, who has gained for us and gives us such a heart, if we hear and believe his word; for our nature cannot have such a heart of itself. Behold, this is the chief worship of God and the greatest thing, to wit, an upright Christian faith and love to God through Christ. Therefore the first commandment is fulfilled by us through the precious blood of Christ, and God is faithfully served from the heart.

234. In the second place, if you honor God’s name, and call upon it in need, and openly confess it before the tyrants and persecutors of this true worship, not fearing them, but punishing the Herodians and guarding, as much as you can, that they do not dishonor God’s name, which is truly a great thing and takes the burdens of the world upon itself. See, this is the second article of worship which is kept in the commandment.

235. Thirdly, if you bear the holy cross, and must suffer much because of such faith and confession, that you must risk for it body and life, goods and honor, friend and favor; this means rightly keeping and hallowing the Sabbath, since it is not you, but God only who works in you, for you are but a suffering, persecuted man. This is the third article of worship, and is included in the third commandment. See, here is the first table with the first three commandments, which are contained in the three articles, faith, confession, and suffering. By this the present life and the world are renounced and God alone is praised.

236. Fourthly, we come into the second table, and henceforth you serve God, if you honor father and mother, are subject and obedient to them, and help them where they need it before all mankind, and if you do not without their consent, go into orders, when they are in need of your services in some other way.

237. Fifthly, that you injure no one in body, but show kindness to everyone, even to your enemies, that you visit the sick and prisoners, and give a helping hand to all needy, and have a good, kind heart for all men.

238. Sixthly, that you live chastely and temporately, or always honor your marriage vow, and help others to honor theirs.

239. Seventhly, that you do not deceive or injure anyone or take advantage in business; but that you lend and give to everyone or exchange with him, as far as you can, and protect your neighbor against injury.

240. Eighthly, that you guard your tongue, and injure, slander, or belie no one, but defend, excuse, and spare everyone.

241. Ninthly and tenthly, that you do not covet any man’s wife or property.

242. See, these are the parts of truly good worship. This and nothing else God requires of you; if you do anything more, he does not value it. This is also clear and easy to be understood by everyone. Now you see that the true worship must be common to all classes, and to all men, and only this alone dare be found among God’s people. And, where another worship is found, it must certainly be false and misleading; as that is what will not be common to all, but limits itself to some especial classes and men. Thus far we have spoken of the true, universal, and only worship.

243. Now let us see the false, peculiar, factional, and multifarious worship which is not commanded of God, but made up by the pope and his priests. There you may see many kinds of monasteries, orders, and cloisters, of which one has nothing in common with any other. One monk wears a large, another a small shaven crown; one wears gray, another wears black, another white, another woolen, another linen clothing, another made of hair; this one prays on such days and time; this one eats flesh, that one fish; this one is a Carthusian, that one a barefoot monk. This one has such ceremonies; that one others; one prays with the stool toward Rome; another with the bench toward Jerusalem; this one conducts mass so, that one differently; this one is bound to this monastery, that one to another; this one bawls in this choir, that one in another, and the churches are full of their mutterings. They live too in celibacy and have all kinds of disciplines. And who can name all their countless, factional, odd, and sectarian practices?

Well, now this worship has vomited forth another, yet more overgrown. There is neither limit nor measure to the building of churches, chapels, monasteries, and altars, to founding masses and vigils, to establishing hours of prayer, and to creating mass vestures, choir caps, chalices, monstrances, silver images and ornaments, candlesticks, tapers, lights, incense, tables, and bells. Ho, what an ocean, what a forest of these things there is! into this has gone all the devotion, tribute, money, and property of the laity; this calling increasing the worship of God and caring for the service of God, as the pope calls it in his divine right.

244. Compare now this article with true worship, and tell me, where has God ever commanded anyone a letter of the article? Do you still doubt then that the whole clergy under the pope is nothing but the creature, the empty show, or the imposture of Herod, only that people may be hindered and turned away from the true worship? These are the altars and the groves over which the prophets lament regarding the people of Israel, that every town set up its own grove and altar, and forsook the true temple of God. Just so has this ungodly, superstitious, popish, Herodian worship filled all the corners of the world and has forced away and destroyed the only true worship of God.

245. Perhaps you look about and think: What, could so many people be wrong all at once? Beware, and do not let their number trouble you; hold fast to God’s word; he cannot deceive you, though all mankind be false, as indeed the Scriptures say, Psalm 116, 11: “All men are liars.” Do not be astonished that so many are now in error, for in the days of Elijah there were only seven thousand righteous men in all Israel, I Kings, 19, 18. Tell me, what were seven thousand men over against all Israel, of whom there were more than twelve hundred thousand fighting men, besides women and children? What was even the whole people over against the whole world that was all at one time in sin? What then is to be now, since Christ and the apostles have spoken such terrible things of these times that even Christ himself says, Luke 18, 8: When the son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? These must be great and terrible things and must lead a great many people astray, and those most of all of whom one should expect it the least shall be ruled by the Anti-Christ who leads the world astray. We should be certain, since we do not regard God’s judgment and do not take his wrath to heart, that it would be no miracle, if he retained scarce one man on earth as righteous.

246. This is the last and worst time, of which all Scriptures has spoken so terribly. Thank God, therefore, that you see his word, telling which is true and which is false worship. Then see that you remain therein and do not follow the mob that wanders without God’s word. If those scarcely remain steadfast who have God’s word and hold fast to it, where shall those stay who, without God’s word, follow their own head? Therefore, let him doubt who will; God’s word and worship convincingly show that the pope is the Anti-Christ and the priests his disciples who lead all the world astray.

247. See now, has it not been well arranged? The Herodian worship has brazen bells, and these are many and large, with which they allure the people to such worship. As the worship is, so also are the bells or allurements. God has given to the true worship other and right bells, namely the preachers who should ring and sound such worship into the people. But where are they now? Those are dead, senseless bells, and they would be more useful if one made pots and vessels of them. Just so the worship is dead and useless, and it would be better if one carried on such a business in the field of jugglery.

248. See, this is the worship of Herod which pretends to worship Christ and serve God, and is nothing but deception. Yet it plays the hypocrite so well that it daily deceives many good, pious people, and has often deceived them, as Christ says, Matth. 24, 25, that they shall lead astray, if possible, even the elect. As it happened to St. Bernard, to St. Francis, and to St. Dominic, and others, who however, did not perish in error, nor remained in it, since their saving faith kept them safe through such error and led them out.

249. So also it happened to these pious wise men. They had a good, true faith and purpose; still they were mistaken in Herod, thinking his pretence true and believing his lies, and were ready also to do as they were told and to be obedient to him, had they not been otherwise instructed from heaven. So it happens today, and so it has happened, that many are obedient to the pope, and believing in simple faith that his existence is right and good, thus falling into error. However their Christian faith helps them that such poison does not in the end injure them, as Christ says, Mark. 16, 17-18: “And if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them, if they believe in my name.” But what drink can be more deadly than such lies and hypocrisy of false teaching and wrong worship?

250. According as we have now learned to know Herod’s worship and perceived his artful hypocrisy, let us now see too his evil purpose and maliciousness, with which he plans to destroy not only the true worship, but also Christ, the King, and his whole kingdom. He attempts to do this in three ways. First, with the same hypocritical appearance of this false worship. For such an appearance of worship is so strong an enticement from true worship that it can be overcome only by especial grace, so that St. Paul well names it energiam erroris, a strong working of error. The people cannot defend themselves against such seduction, where there are not true bishops and preachers who preach the only true worship, hold the people to the pure word of God, and forbid the false worship; as the prophets did in Israel, and were all for that reason put to death.


Excerpted from Luther’s Epiphany Sermon in The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, volume 10 (Minneapolis: Lutherans in All Lands, 1905). This sermon appeared in two editions of a pamphlet under the title: The Difference Between True And False Worship, Dr. Martin Luther, 1522, and 1646. And under the title, “An Exposition And Explanation Of The Papacy In Its Own Colors,” by Dr. Martin Luther, 1522.

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