One of the most beloved figures in all of Christianity is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Though Mary plays a prominent theological role in all denominations, certain Christian traditions are more reserved in their adulation of her. In particular, Lutherans have clearly established limitations on how they view and honor Jesus’ mother.
To Lutherans Mary is the mother of Jesus and a magnificent example of humility, servanthood, devotion, and faith. Contrary to Catholic theology, Lutherans don’t believe she was immaculately conceived, sinless, or bodily removed from Earth. She is also not a co-mediator with Christ and people shouldn’t pray to her.
Many Christians, including Catholics, have elevated Mary to near equal footing with the Son she bore. In the Lutheran tradition, Mary is also deeply revered. Still, the prevailing belief among Lutherans is that the fundamental principle of sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), and sola scriptura (Scripture alone) trumps all feelings of respect and empathy for one of Christianity’s most endearing figures. Keep reading to learn more.
Who is Mary to Lutherans?
In the Lutheran tradition, Mary is revered in much the same way as she is throughout Christianity. In other respects, however, she is not afforded the same lofty position as she is in Catholicism.
Much of this difference of opinion between Lutherans and other Christian denominations when it comes to competing views about Mary can be attributed to the fundamental theological underpinnings of Lutheranism itself.
The Three Solas of Lutheranism
Lutheran beliefs concerning Mary align with their theology of justification which states that salvation is given through God’s grace and achieved only through faith.  The theological pillars upon which much of Lutheranism is based are affectionately known among followers as the “three Solas”:
- Sola gratia “by grace alone” – salvation is solely a gift from God and not dependent on one’s own actions
- Sola fide “through faith alone” – it is through faith alone, and not good works, that one receives God’s grace
- Sola scriptura “in scriptures alone” – one of the foundational beliefs of Lutheranism is that the Bible alone shapes the Lutheran faith’s beliefs and practices, for it is the inspired word of God 
It is within this framework of theological edicts that the Lutheran view of Mary (and all spiritual concerns for that matter) must align with the beliefs and practices the biblical convictions that shape Lutheranism. With these guiding principles in mind, here is a look at the role of Mary in Christianity through the Lutheran lens.
Lutherans Believe that Mary is the Theotokos
As the birth mother of Jesus, Mary is viewed by Lutherans as the Theotokos, or Mother of God.  This exalted title was settled as a matter of Christian doctrine and formally bestowed upon Mary by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431.
The belief that Mary is the mother of God is rooted in the Christian faith’s acceptance of Jesus as being both human and divine. Thus, as the birth mother of Jesus, he of the Holy Trinity, Mary is rightfully viewed as the Theotokos, and Lutherans wholeheartedly embrace this belief.
Mary as the Queen of Heaven – Luther’s View
From the Lutheran perspective, it is important to distinguish Mary as the mother of God versus the saintly status that has been bestowed upon her by other Christian traditions. In his written work The Magnificant, Martin Luther espoused his (and Lutheranism’s) views on Mary’s proper place in the Christian hierarchy. 
- While upholding her rightfully bestowed title of mother of God, Martin Luther also points out that God chose Mary to bear the child that would be Jesus Christ, and such appointment was an honor of unparalleled magnitude
- She is known as the Blessed Virgin Mary, not because of her own piousness or virtue, but because God performed his heavenly work through her
- Mary serves as a valuable lesson to all Christians of how even through the lowliest and humblest of God’s servants can He work His heavenly deeds
- Despite the clearly defined boundaries that Lutheranism places on its reverence of Mary, Martin Luther was unabashed in honoring her, even referring to her as the “Queen of Heaven” and stating with great conviction, “Was not hers a wondrous soul?”.
Lutherans Views on Mary as a Mediator of Grace
Like the overwhelming majority of Christians around the world, Lutherans hold a special place in their hearts for Mary. But unlike their Roman Catholic counterparts, Lutherans do not view Mary as a mediatrix or as having an intercessory role.  The founding father of Lutheranism, Martin Luther, was unabashedly adoring of Mary but was also quite firm when setting the boundaries for revering her:
- Lutherans take their prayers directly to Jesus Christ because all believers have access to Him and because He is the sole intercessor before God
- It is unnecessary, and fundamentally un-Lutheran, therefore, to pray to Mary for that which ought to be prayed to Jesus alone
- Jesus Christ does not bestow God’s graces through Mary (or through any saint for that matter)
- Martin Luther rejected the idea of intercessory prayer to Mary because he believed that to do so would impinge upon Christ’s exclusive role in salvation
Concerning the idea of Mary acting as a mediator for the attainment of grace, Lutherans find themselves in the clear minority by believing that while she is certainly worthy of deep reverence and respect, prayer to Mary and seeking grace through her are, in fact, adiaphora – not necessary for salvation. 
In fact, Martin Luther is known to have expressed the firm opinion that when reverence toward Mary (or any other person) is taken too far, whether by placing her on near-equal footing with her son Jesus Christ or through direct intercessory prayer to her, such acts are tantamount to idolatry.  Luther urges his followers not to confuse acts of grace that manifest themselves through people with the actual source of such grace.
Lutherans Believe in the Immaculate Conception
In a bit of a plot twist, Martin Luther is widely regarded as having accepted the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception centuries before the Catholic Church declared it as Christian dogma in 1854 (Martin Luther died in 1546).
Even more surprisingly, Luther preached that “Mary’s soul was effected without original sin” and “thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” despite the fact that the Bible itself does not explicitly acknowledge this. 
However, the Immaculate Conception is best described in the Bible’s book of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 26-38. In his later years, Luther apparently became less vocal about his view on this matter of Mary’s sinlessness in keeping with the key Lutheran principle of sola scriptura.
Luther’s Soft Stance on Mary’s Bodily Assumption
On the Catholic doctrine that after her life on earth came to an end, the body and soul of Mary rose (was assumed) into heaven, Lutherans are somewhat passively accepting of this dogma by virtue of the absence of any vocal or formal objection. In fact, Martin Luther is known to have preached on the subject. 
In one of his final sermons on the Feast of the Assumption (August 15th is considered a holy day by many Christians to mark the date of Mary’s ascent to heaven), Martin Luther eloquently expressed:
There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened, we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith . . . It is enough to know that she lives in Christ.
Luther seemed to have been open to some idea of Mary’s assumption to heaven, if not begrudgingly, then by acquiescence.
Jesus does not bestow graces through her, but Mary holds a special place in the hearts of Lutherans as the beloved Mother of God.
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