Winning Hearts and Minds

On March 6, 1522, Martin Luther returned permanently after an approximately ten-month stay in the Wartburg Castle.  The electoral duke of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, had sent Luther to the Wartburg after the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, issued the Edict of Worms in May 1521.  The imperial decree made Luther an outlaw.  It also could implicate anyone who supported him.  In Luther’s absence the leadership of the early reform movement in Wittenberg fell to his young colleague, Philip Melanchthon.  Other theologians, like Andreas Karlstadt, began to implemente reforms to the liturgy and called upon the townspeople to remove images and statues from churches.  The Wittenberg town council approved many of these reforms in early 1522.  

Beginning on March 9, Luther preached eight sermons in eight days.  These sermons were later published and became known as the Invocavit Sermons because they were preached starting on Invocavit Sunday in Lent.  In these sermons, Luther took on the issues that had caused problems in his absence: changes to the divine service (the Mass) and the removal of images from churches.  However, he argued with great conviction that the gospel cannot be enforced by law and even what may be good changes can be done too quickly.  First, Luther stated that the people must be taught why these changes are necessary, then, after a time of instruction, officials should make the necessary changes.  He also stated that God’s preached word and right teaching would bring about more lasting change. He expressed it famously in this manner:

“For where the heart is not good, I care nothing at all for the work.  We must first win the hearts of the people.  But that is done when I teach only the Word of God, preach the gospel, and say: Dear lords or pastors, abandon the mass, it is not right, you are sinning when you do it; I cannot refrain from telling you this.  But I would not make it an ordinance for them, nor urge a general law.  He who would follow me could do so, and he who refused would remain outside.  In the latter case the Word could sink into the heart and do its work.  Thus he would become convinced and acknowledge his errors, and fall away from the mass; tomorrow another would do the same, and thus God would accomplish more with his Word than if you and I were to merge all our power into one heap.  So when you have won the heart, you have won the man–and thus the thing must finally fall of its own weight and come to an end.  And if the hearts and minds of all are agreed and united, abolish it.  But if all are not heart and soul for its abolishment–leave it in God’s hands, I beseech you, otherwise the result will not be good.” Martin Luther, Eight Sermons at Wittenberg (1522), in Luther’s Works 51:76 [Emphasis added]


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