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Were Martin Luther and Joseph Smith kindred spirits?

"I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:408-12: 26 May 1844 (Sunday Morning), p.373–p.374)

"No theologian has taught a doctrine of good works as well as I have." (Martin Luther, The History of Christianity in the Reformation Era, Brad S. Gregory, Ph.D., The Teaching Company, 2001)

Martin Luther and Joseph Smith appear to have lacked humility, both claiming to be the best. The apostle Paul also struggled with pride but apparently recognized this as he wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

The theology of Martin Luther evolved from 1513-1519. From age 36 until his death in 1546 he preached what he had since 1519. Joseph Smith's doctrine also evolved from 1830-1844 when he was killed at age 38. We will never know if Joseph Smith would have come to a final theology or would have continued to change it. Too bad Joseph Smith didn't have a protector like Price Frederick of Saxony!

The death of Joseph Smith gave him many years less on this earth than were given by God to Martin Luther. Unlike Martin Luther, Joseph Smith never had a chance to define a consistent and final theology. In April of 1844 Joseph Smith was still moving into new and uncharted waters that no one since has been able to navigate, not even Brigham Young. Martin Luther claimed that the premature death of Zwingli in battle against the Catholics was a sure sign that he was not favored of God or at least was wrong about the Eucharist. I wonder if Martin Luther would have placed Joseph Smith in the same category as Zwingli?

Martin Luther and Joseph Smith shared a mistrust of the Old and the New Testaments that have been passed on to us by the Catholic Church. Below I quote from that speaks of Luther’s problems with the Bible. The same words could have been used to describe Joseph Smith. I am very interested in the strong similarities between Smith and Luther. I think there is something very important to be learned by comparing the founders of these two Christian movements:

"Martin Luther, in accord with his posture of supreme self-importance as restorer of Christianity, even presumed, inconsistently, to judge various books of the Bible, God's holy Word.

"Of the Pentateuch [Luther] says: 'We have no wish either to see or hear Moses. Job . . . is merely the argument of a fable . . . Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it . . . Solomon did not, therefore, write this book . . . The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness . . . The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible . . .'

"The books of the New Testament fared no better. [Luther] rejected from the canon Hebrews, James, Jude and the Apocalypse. These he placed at the end of his translation, after the others, which he called 'the true and certain capital books of the New Testament.' . . . 'St. John is the only sympathetic, the only true Gospel and should undoubtedly be preferred to the others. In like manner the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul are superior to the first three Gospels.' The Epistle to the Hebrews did not suit him: 'It need not surprise one to find here bits of wood, hay, and straw.' The Epistle of St. James, Luther denounced as 'an epistle of straw.' 'I do not hold it to be his writing, and I cannot place it among the capital books.' He did this because it proclaimed the necessity of good works, contrary to his heresy. 'There are many things objectionable in this book,' he says of the Apocalypse, . . . 'I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is a sufficient reason for rejecting it' . . .

"[Luther’s] pride was intense . . . In this spirit of arrogance and blasphemy, he did as he willed with the sacred Volume . . . He feels abundantly competent, by his own interior and spiritual instinct, to pronounce dogmatically which books in the canon of Scripture are inspired and which are not . . . He . . . believes he has the faculty of judging the Bible without danger of error."

Smith's doctrine evolved from a view that the Godhead consisted of One God in Three Persons to a endless expanse of gods without number. In April of 1844, Smith was still coming up with new doctrines and teachings that were never fully embraced by the LDS church due to his untimely death just a short time later that year. Smith never finished his work. He, like Muhammad, didn't give much thought to a successor and as a result the church "restored" by Smith broke up into several parts, the main portion becoming the Brighamite church as they were known by those of the Reorganization.

The development of doctrine is not bad in itself. Jesus taught us that the Holy Spirit would be sent to teach all things (John 14:26). It appears that doctrinal development in a linear fashion is much easier to accept as being true since this type of development is consistent with the past and the future. Catholic doctrines and practices place importance on remaining faithful to what the Apostles taught and upholding these traditions consistent with all that has been revealed even as the "Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth" (Catholic Answers). Smith and Luther were both quick to discount portions of the Bible that did not fit in with their own personal views. The similarities in their approach to God's Word is what I find interesting, showing that they both set themselves in opposition to the revealed Word of God.

The fact that both Smith and Luther were boastful men, translators, and leaders of restoration movements makes their similarities worth looking into. Were they on the same side? Why didn't God restore the true church through Luther? Why was Joseph Smith needed? Why did God protect the life of Luther while allowing both Smith and Zwingli to die early deaths? Did Smith and Zwingli do something to offend God, as Luther claimed in the case of Zwingli?

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