As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we take a brief look at the lives of some of the most influential and important Lutheran theologians.
The foremost person of the Reformation was, of course, Martin Luther. In a previous article we introduced a second Martin, Martin Chemnitz, who lived during the time of Luther. As important as the second Martin and others were in contributing to the Reformation begun under Luther, there were other faithful confessors who lived and worked in what is known as the post-Reformation era. Two of these confessors, both born after the death of Luther, were Johann Gerhard and his nephew, Johannes Quenstedt. Quenstedt was born at Quedlinburg, Germany, in 1617. He died in 1688, 108 years after the publication of the Book of Concord.
Quenstedt began his university study in 1637 at the age of twenty at the University of Helmstedt. The university had a liberal theological bent. He concluded his education at Wittenberg in 1644. Almost immediately he began to lecture on geography at Wittenberg. He received his doctorate in 1650. For three years he was professor of logic and metaphysics (a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world). He was also a professor of theology until his death in 1688.
Quenstedt has been called the “bookkeeper of Lutheran orthodoxy.” At Helmstedt he was a student under Georg Calixt, a disciple of Melanchthon. Calixt held that the object of theology was not so much purity of doctrine as the promotion of the Christian life. That idea is championed today by most of Protestantism, many TV evangelists, and the church growth movement. These manifestations of today’s misguided Christianity are basically unionistic (that is, advocating unity among people who are not agreed in doctrine). Calixt tended toward unionism, leaning toward the Catholic Church as well as the Reformed. Quenstedt rejected the unionistic tendencies of his teacher. He set forth an orderly form of theological study that included Christian ethics, but he rejected and countered Calixt’s crass analytical (scholastic) approach to the study of Scripture. He promoted apologetics (defense of the articles of faith) and polemics (strong refutation of doctrines contrary to Scripture). His convictions were gathered from, and firmly grounded in, the Scriptures.
In his defense of the faith and refutation of what was contrary to God’s Word, he maintained a “quiet, mild, and irenic (tending to promote peace) disposition.” In his advocacy of Lutheran orthodoxy, he demonstrated this trait in his Ethica Pastorum (1673). In this work, said one reviewer, “. . . he advises to temper severity with gentleness in resisting heretics and to distinguish between the tempters and the tempted; [and] warns against pedantry [ostentatious show of learning] in the pulpit.”
In his personal life he endured sorrow. He was married three times. His first two wives each died shortly after marriage. His third marriage was blessed with twelve children.
We appreciate the steadfastness of a man who was bold but humble, fully convinced but of quiet disposition. This is a gift to be cherished and emulated by us as we testify to and defend the faith in this day. We further appreciate the simplicity of his confession: “The Holy Scriptures contain with perfect fullness and sufficiency all things necessary to be known in order to Christian faith and life, and therefore to the attainment of eternal salvation.”
Daniel Fleischer is a retired pastor and former president of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. He lives in Oakdale, Minnesota.