Christianity in Politics, Current Events, Lutheranism

Practical Lutheranism: Luther on the 5th Commandment and Refugees

I have been reading through the Book of Concord, which is a collection of the Lutheran Confessions. I think it is vitally important for one who, like me, claiming to be Lutheran to be familiar with these documents. They are, after all, what we believe and confess. I decided to start a series of posts as I’m reading through the Book of Concord to highlight various areas I think are important.

The Fifth Commandment and Refugees

There is much fear in the world today over the question of Syrian Refugees. I’ve been reading through the Book of Concord and I ran into the section on the Fifth Commandment. I was taken back by how lucid Luther’s interpretation is there, and it has some serious application for today:

Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no [hu]man, but show [them] all good and love; and, as we have said, it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says Matt. 5:46.

One can see these same thoughts echoed in the discussion of the seventh commandment:

…we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors’ interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes (251-252)

What is particularly uncomfortable about these words is the word of law that is contained within them: “both friends and foes” are included in these commands. We ought to further their interests, “help, share, and lend to” them “when they suffer any want,” and show them “all good and love.” Luther is abundantly clear on this point: “it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies.”

Could more prophetic words have been written by Luther? Surely, the times in which we fear our enemies and wish to do nothing but avoid them are legion. Today is but one example of human injustice to fellow humans. But the words of the Commandments brook no argument, and Luther’s interpretation makes this abundantly clear: “to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue…” and we are given a higher calling.

Those objections that would point to individual instances of violence, those who would alleged terrorists sneaking into our borders, and the like: the word of the law is spoken, and it is a powerful one: Christ’s calling is higher. When they suffer–even when our enemies suffer–we ought help them. If that means letting in the Syrian refugee fleeing from the violence in their homeland, if that means the “illegal immigrant” running from poverty and destitution, then so be it. There is no question here. There is no exception for fear that they will “steal our jobs” or that they speak a different language or have a different skin color or a different religion or anything of the sort. The words Luther writes here are clear: “it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no” one.


Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


4 thoughts on “Practical Lutheranism: Luther on the 5th Commandment and Refugees

  1. J.W, I am sure you must be aware of the Cologne events. 1,000 men fired firecrackers into a crowd and attacked it. According to the final tally (some sources still quote the interim figure) there were 126 gang rapes and 47 horrifically violent gang sexual assaults. Similar events involving mobs of up to 500 took place in other towns and cities across Germany. The Police first covered this up and then tried to pretend they had no evidence linking the events to Asylum seekers, though they knew otherwise from the beginning.
    All of this was entirely predictable, it is over 10 years since the Oslo police first published stats showing 100% of aggravated rapes were committed by men from Muslim countries whose immigrants arrive as “refugees”. I use inverted commas as 99% of asylum seekers in Northern European countries have passed through safe countries and have no right of asylum.
    The nightmare for the German people goes on, as more horrific crimes against women and children occur every day, though the police do their best to avoid recording them.
    So my question is, what right do you have to condemn women and girls to rape, gang rape and torture? How is abandoning the rights of women and Jews and Christians moral? I’m not taking aim at the US policy which, like the UK’s, pre vets refugees to check they are genuine and a low risk. But to say every illegal immigrant is a refugee because they are fleeing poverty even if they are not persecuted is how Gwrmany became an unsafe country for women Jews and gays overnight. And it’s not true, most “refugees” spend large sums to get to their destination.
    I haven’t exegeted here. We have discussed whether the Bible condones illegal immigration before. I just would like to know how you justify sacrificing others to horrific crimes, as the policy you advocate inevitably entails as proven by Germany, Sweden, Norway etc. Especially in order to take in people who aren’t refugees in international law and who, in many cases, come with the intent to destroy our society.
    I’m not trying to be aggressive here. I don’t doubt your integrity, just your reasoning.

    Posted by Giles | February 8, 2016, 8:00 AM
    • Thanks for the comment and the challenge on this issue. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like this is effectively the central point of your comment:

      The nightmare for the German people goes on, as more horrific crimes against women and children occur every day, though the police do their best to avoid recording them.
      So my question is, what right do you have to condemn women and girls to rape, gang rape and torture? How is abandoning the rights of women and Jews and Christians moral?

      The way this is all phrased points to something that goes on underneath the surface of many of these discussions: namely, the assumption that these people are unsafe/criminal/rapists even before it happens. Further, the way your phrased all of this in your comment shows, if you’re accurately stating the facts, that there is covering up happening. But of course no Christian worldview would endorse such a cover up, and certainly no Lutheran view–which is explicitly what I’m getting at here. The Lutheran view would put forward the government’s job as enforcing the law and bringing punishment to evildoers, which is exactly what ought to be happening. But, by contrast, we ought not to assume that people are wrongdoers who have not done any wrong. Nor should we lump entire categories of people together and just label them all as dangerous.

      You see, the argument you’re making here is one which depends entirely upon making these kinds of assumptions. The way you’ve phrased this comment predicates the whole conclusion on the notion that those who are being called refugees will become criminals and rapists, and then you shift the blame for the crimes that it is assumed they are going to commit onto those who would argue as I did here. But when one looks at the assumptions your argument depends upon, I think it is extremely difficult to see them as showing the kind of love of neighbor and–yes!–even enemies that is required by Scripture. This doesn’t say we ought to let evil go unpunished, but it is to say that we ought not assume people are evil who have not committed those evil acts. Your comment obfuscates this and turns the two groups into but one.

      And, finally, a brief comment on this part of what you wrote: “And it’s not true, most ‘refugees’ spend large sums to get to their destination.”

      Okay, let’s grant that. Similar things happened in World War 2 as Jews and others fled Germany and German-controlled areas by spending “large sums to get to their destination.” Perhaps they weren’t impoverished there, but often they would arrive impoverished, having just spent “large sums” to get elsewhere. Moreover, even if money was not the issue, would anyone take seriously the notion that they ought to have stayed in Germany or Poland or the like because there wasn’t poverty? (And of course there was, but we’re using this as an illustration.) I think the answer should be an obvious “no.” You see, to grab onto that one part of what I was saying and then act as though I’m trying to say that’s the only reason (as is required by the way you proceeded to argue) is to misrepresent my argument.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | February 8, 2016, 1:14 PM
      • Thank you. It wasn’t my intention to misrepresent your argument. I was just trying to push back.
        Yes I agree, my argument did indeed assume that illegal immigrants from violent and misogynistic cultures will be more likely to commit these crimes. There’s plenty of stats and data on this though less than there ought to be due to the culture of PC. Is that unfair to illegal immigrants from these countries who don’t fit the stereotype? It certainly would be if I said they are all rapists.
        But they are all illegal immigrants unless they come direct from a country in which they are persecuted (in which case the refugee convention immunises them against prosecution). And to note that an influx of group x leads to a rise in rape is not IMO unfair to the non rapists in group x. It’s just to recognise facts. Does that justify discrimation against people from Muslim countries? Not in my view. But, if we know that opening borders will lead to an unsafe country for women, Jews etc, then yes that is an argument against opening the borders. It’s not as if this mess couldn’t have been predicted.
        With respect to enemy love. If you invade my country and try to harm my children, I am obliged to love you nonetheless. If one takes the pacifist view (which tempts me) perhaps I should restrict my resistance to non violent means. But it doesn’t oblige me to support a policy which renders women unsafe. Love for our enemies doesn’t require me to sacrifice my daughter. Nor does it debar me from making a rational risk assessment based on available data.
        But let’s face it, we aren’t going to agree. I appreciate your civil response. You believe my policy stance is immoral and unchristian. I believe the same of yours. But hopefully we can each accept that the other want to be both moral and Christian. We just have different views as to how to get there.

        Posted by Giles | February 8, 2016, 3:34 PM


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