47 On the Brink of War Worksheet       47 On the Brink of War


When the Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, died, his younger brother John took his place. On August 16, 1525, he told an assembly of ministers that they must preach “the pure Word of God, without any additions of man.”[i] Someone asked if it was still ok to say mass for the dead and bless the water and salt. John replied, “Everything, ceremonies as well as sermons, must be conformed to God’s Word.” At this time, there was still no organized church besides the Roman Catholic Church and John the Elector of Saxony expected all the priests in his dominion to make these reforms.

The Real Church 

In Wittenberg, Luther felt the need for organizing the evangelical ministers apart from the Roman Church, which had condemned them and cast them out of fellowship. Melanchthon’s response to Rome was, “Let not the pope, bishops, the monks, and the priests exclaim: ‘We are the Church; whosoever separates from us, separates from the Church!’” He boldly declared, “There is no other Church than the assembly of those who have the Word of God, and who are purified by it.”[ii]

Planning for War

The pope and the emperor sent threatening letters, giving the reformers reason to believe that together, they had plans to crush the Reformation as the violently as the Peasant Revolt had been crushed. The Elector John and the landgrave Philip, one of the German land-owning lords, formed an alliance to withstand an attack at the upcoming council meeting in Augsburg. They did not attend the council but sent their representatives with a message.

John and Philip blamed the Peasant Revolt on their severe treatment by the church and rulers. They said the military action that stopped the peasants would not work against the Reformation because “It is neither by fire nor by sword that God’s truth can be torn from the heart.” They warned that terrible calamities would fall upon the empire if violence were used against the Reformation.

Philip tried to convince John to form a military alliance with other states that supported the Reformation. Luther wanted them to trust God for the defense of the Reformation. Melanchthon warned that an alliance of evangelical princes would provoke an attack from their enemies.

Nevertheless, ten princes gathered together with the Elector of Saxony in an evangelical alliance almost as powerful as the pope’s forces.  In response, the princes who’d banded against the reformers appealed to Emperor Charles V for assistance accusing the Reformation princes of inciting a general revolt. The emperor promised that after meeting with the pope he would come to Germany and fight the Reformation.

The Most Powerful Weapon

As usual, Luther resorted to a power greater than physical weapons. He wrote to Myconius, “Exhort the people to contend valiantly before the throne of the Lord by faith and prayer, so that our enemies, vanquished by the Spirit of God, may be constrained to peace.” He added, “Our chief want, our chief labor is prayer; let the people know that they are now exposed to the edge of the sword and to the rage of Satan, and let them pray.”

The struggle between the reformers and the Roman Church and its supporters was a fight for authority. The reformers held to the authority of God in the Scriptures. The Roman Church and its defenders stood behind man’s authority through the pope. The Reformation had on its side the Word of God, faith and the prayers of the people. The Roman Church had ancient tradition and the emperor’s weapons.

[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 597.

[ii] Ibid., 599