Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Luther Day

Happy Reformation Day! ;-)  I'd post the picture of my family in front of the Wittenberg door but can't at moment.  Some of you may know that October 31 is not only Halloween but the day Luther nailed his famed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral.  I first learned about Reformation Day when a church didn't want to celebrate Halloween and found another reason to do something when all the other kids in town were having fun.

My kids have about an hour and a half a week in the German gymnasium on religion, and I put them in "evangelisch" or the Protestant (which means the Lutheran/Reformed) section.  For the last two weeks they've watched American movies on Luther (which they couldn't understand because they were translated into German ;-) 

Luther's legacy is often formulated in terms of the Protestant "sola's": sola gratia, solus Christus, sola fide, sola scriptura.  Sometimes a fifth is added but it is more Reformed and less Luther.  One of the things McKnight is treating in his book is the fact that these origins have sometimes led Protestants to focus too much in their thinking on individual salvation, as if we are the center of what it's all about.  

sola gratia: "by grace alone"  On this one I think everyone (including Catholics today) agrees.  It is only because of God's grace that anyone can come to be in right relation with God.  No one can earn salvation.  It is a gift from God.  A good understand of grace in the NT, I would add, implies the necessity of an appropriate response to God's grace, which has been a weakness of Luther's system.

solus Christus: "Christ alone"  Again, I think everyone (including Catholics) would agree that it is only through Christ that anyone can be reconciled to God.  The debate is over what this means.  Two key debate points are over how this works (is God a slave to his justice or did he freely choose this path) and whether God saves through Christ many who have never heard of Christ.

sola fide: "by faith alone" Lutherans and Catholics have come a long way toward common ground on this topic as well.  The point at which Lutherans and Catholics have tension is exactly the point where Lutherans and Wesleyans have tension.  What do we say about those passages where God judges even believers according to their deeds (e.g., Rom. 2:6 and 2 Cor. 5:10), not to mention James 2:24?  For the Wesleyan tradition, deeds do not justify but they can be a key indicator of un-justification in progress.

sola scriptura: "by Scripture alone" What this really amounted to was "back to the Bible."  Luther only turned back the church about a 1000 years.  He didn't touch doctrines that reached their current form in the 300s and 400s, beliefs about things like the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ.  And of course, he felt free to decide which books belonged in Scripture in the first place.  2 Maccabees was rejected; James almost didn't make it; Romans is great.

This was, in my opinion, a high moment in Christian history, October 31, 1517.  There are important discussions and nuances to be made about all of these.  But Luther accomplished his initial goal: perhaps the best "discussion starter" in all history!


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Wesleyans can sit on the fence, so to speak, between supernaturalism and naturalism in using Luther's means of educating the common person.
Scriptures were to be the teaching ground, but this led to fundamentalism, as well!

Scriptures themselves were canonized by a political means that was not "straightforward" during a time when the Church was a political power. The political movements of the Church resulted in "peace agreements" in the Creeds but, not between the West and East. The use of scripture is fundamentally anti-intellectual, as Scripture is "special revelation".

For the naturalist, "Revelation" happens, according to scientists through the senses. Thus, Jesus life is a life of revelation to those that were not accepted into the traditional camp of Judiasm. This is where the Church and the Academy are promoting an "equalization" for the poor in missions.

I like what Milton Friedman has to say; liberty has to be above equality because without liberty, equality cannot exist. Why is this?

If equality is planned, then A and B will decide for C what C will do to result in D. That isn't liberty for C, it is tyranny, and it ends up allowing A and B to grant themselves "commissions" in their plan for equalization (and lack of transparency). Similar things have happened in history that make for political oppression.

Such planning ends up allowing some to take from others, which is not equality before the law! So, whether the taking is in talents, taxation, salary, or social planning as to "life purposes", all of these do not allow liberty.

The Catholic Church "sanctified" Greek philosophy to "speak of God", just as your parents "sanctified" Halloween by using Reformation Day. Why should anything be "sanctified"? Math is math, language is language, history is history....there is no special revelation as to information or knowledge. Otherwise, we allow those with "secret knowledge" to do injustice in the name of "God". But, I don't think that the U.N.'s way of ignoring a universal/international law is going to get us anywhere, either! Diversity should be allowed, but not at the expense of civility or criminality.

This is when we recognize that Constitutional government, such as America's, is a balance between individual liberties of conscience and society's civil laws. America allows freedom of association to prevent religious forms of tyranny, as well as protect religious liberty of conscience in allowing for the religious tribe to solve its own problems. (Problem is; America also stands for human rights/individual liberties, which some religious traditions or civil government don't respect. Aren't individual liberties, then, of primary importance?)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BUT, just as those with "special knowledge" can abuse others by using "God", so can those in political power use their "inside knowledge" to subvert another's "right" to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

John C. Gardner said...

One of the problems with all evangelicals(including Wesleyans) is ignorance about church history. For example, how many people have really heard about Luther, Calvin, even Wesley? What about a potential Wesleyan convert from Islam who asked about our basic history, doctrines, or relations to church history? Would even the so called Biblical, educated Wesleyan be able to answer them? Heart religion is good and pietism has a wonderful history. But, it must be accompanied by intellect and historical/theological knowledge.Actions, heart and mind loving God and our neighbor.

FrGregACCA said...

"Luther only turned back the church about a 1000 years. He didn't touch doctrines that reached their current form in the 300s and 400s, beliefs about things like the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ."

Well, sort of. Luther DID tamper with the structure of the Church's leadership in terms of Bishop, Presbyters, and Deacons, which was completely in place by AD 200, at the latest, and is documented in its current form as early as AD 110 in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. He also did away, for all practical purposes, of the doctrine of the Eucharist as sacrifice, implied in the New Testament and and explicitly documented as early as the Didache. Related to this, he attenuated the Doctrine of the Real Presence. However, perhaps most importantly, rightly reacting to the distortions found in the Roman West since at least the Great Schism, he fundamentally shifted the locus of authority from Church to Bible "alone". In doing so, he ensured the splintering of Western Christendom into hundreds, if not thousands, of competing sects, all claiming to base their beliefs on "the Bible alone".