Reformation Day Reflections from Around the Web

Nohl, Luther: Hero of FaithWondering how to celebrate the 495th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses?

Well, if you happen to study or work at Bethel University (or live in the area), you could stop by my office for our department’s “Reformation ‘PUN’ Day” (10:00-12:00) and enjoy a diet of (gummy) worms.

Otherwise… Remember that the original point of Luther’s theses was to inspire thought and conversation, so take time to read two or three of these reflections written for Reformation Day (or Reformation Sunday, a few days back):

• When I guest-taught our 8th grade Confirmation class this past Sunday, I first asked the students what they knew about Martin Luther. One hand immediately went up: “He fought against racism!”

William Flippin’s essay on Luther for The Huffington Post makes me think that I did okay to respond to that teenager’s slight mistake by exploring the connections between Martin Luther King, Jr. and his 16th century namesake. Flippin concluded:

There are moments in life when you just have to speak up. There are certain moments, certain situations where you think, “I know someone might be mad or disagree, but I just have to say something!”

As African Descent communities of faith, may we welcome those moments when they arise in others. May we pray that those stances of leadership will be in the shaping of future prophetic leaders. May we be people who can’t sit still in the face of injustice, error and oversight. Most of all may the unwavering confidence we have in God’s grace drive us to do good, loving, selfless, joyous, Jesus-glorifying things. Let it free us to serve our neighbors, share our goods and, when necessary, speak our minds. Why? Because sometimes doing so can change the world.

• Carl Trueman of Reformation21 shared “9.5 Theses on Martin Luther Against the Self-Indulgences of the Modern Church,” including “Thesis Three: Martin Luther did not care for the myth of cultural influence nor for the prerequisite cultural swagger necessary to catch the attention of the great and good” and “Thesis Five: Martin Luther was pastorally sensitive to the cherished practices of older Christians.” Not surprisingly, Trueman also celebrated that “Luther did not agree to differ on matters of importance and thus to make them into practical trivia,though he did not define which are the “matters of importance.”

Catholic blogger Kathy Schiffer shared the lament of Cardinal Kurt Koch, leader of his church’s ecumenical initiatives:

The Reformation is not, from the Catholic perspective, a great and grand holiday to be celebrated, a cause for rejoicing.  Rather, it is a sad remembrance, the day which marked the beginning of the fracturing of the Church into some more than 28,000 denominations.  The 500th anniversary of the Reformation cannot, [Koch] says, be called a holiday.  It is a celebration of sin—the sin of pride and divisiveness which thwarted the expressed will of Jesus that we all might be one, just as he and the Father are one.

Luther: The Graphic Novel• Interestingly, the president of the Lutheran World Federation, the Palestinian bishop Munib Younan, also stressed church unity in his Reformation Day message. While he celebrated the Reformation for having “brought back the freshness of the gospel to Jerusalem,” he immediately added that this same “living gospel” unites all Christians and churches, and tried to tie October 31st to a more recent kind of reform:

For many years, Reformation Day was seen as a Lutheran event over against other confessions. Today this has changed. A symbol of that fact is that the Lutheran – Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which dealt specifically with the most divisive issue of the Reformation, was signed and celebrated in Augsburg, Germany, on Reformation Day, 31 October 1999. And we have recently seen the result of further work on the biblical basis of the doctrine of justification together with Roman Catholics, Methodists and the Reformed.

• Meanwhile, the emergent-Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber contrasted “Lutheran Pridefulness Sunday” with the clear focus of the assigned texts for that day:

Sin. What we get on Reformation Day is not a victory parade for the Protestant Reformation, but a lot of talk about sin and law. All sin and fall short of the glory of God and all who sin are slaves to sin and that through the law comes knowledge of sin. Sin, sin, sin. Obviously the people who decide what the readings are for things like, Reformation Sunday, didn’t get the memo that what we are really celebrating is our own awesomeness and how much more clever we modern Christians are than those who came before us who naively believed in things like sin and Law.

(For that matter, Bishop Younan also stressed repentance, specifically alluding to recent efforts at reconciliation with Mennonites: “We therefore remember with humility that the Reformation also brought with it unfortunate social and religious confrontations, also at the hands of the early Lutherans.”)

Martin Luther• Australian theologian Michael Bird acknowledged having “mixed feelings” about the schisms that resulted from the Reformation, but continued to register a protest against the Roman Catholic Church  (calling it “an estranged parent, a mother no less”) and sought its continuing reformation:

The Catholic Church still needs to be reformed to be true to its catholic and apostolic heritage. For me, the biggest error in the Roman Catholic Church is not their view of justification by faith, nor transubstantiation, not even clerical celibacy, but they have formally replaced work of the Holy Spirit with a sacramental system that mediates divine grace. I believe, along with B.B. Warfield, that John Calvin was the theologian of the Holy Spirit par excellence, and it is the Holy Spirit who applies the work of Christ to the believer, not the sacraments. The sacraments are not mere symbols, but are props to recall and rehearse the divine drama of what the Spirit does in the Word.

• Meanwhile, Baptist pastor and Zwingli scholar Jim West complained that “Reformation Day” itself is misleading, since “‘The Reformation’ is, then, little more than a label derived from historical hindsight gazing mono-focularly at a series of events over a period of time across a wide geographical landscape. Each Reformer had roots sunk in fertile ground and their work was simply the coming to fruition of generations of shift in the Roman Catholic Church…. The Reformation was no monolith.” He suggests “Reformations Days”: for Zwingli in Glarus and Zürich, Luther in Wittenberg, and Calvin in Geneva.

• Or if you’d rather not read another thesis… Check out two of the plenary addresses from earlier this month at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History. First, Carlos Eire (Yale) on “The Reformation and the Supernatural”:

Then Mark Noll (Notre Dame) on the history of “Scriptura sola“:

• And cap the day by watching the now-classic “Reformation Polka” that my friend Sam and I produced several years ago. Now over 150,000 hits on YouTube!

Happy reforming!

6 thoughts on “Reformation Day Reflections from Around the Web

  1. hi,
    i didn’t really ‘complain’. i just reminded people of the historical facts. if the lutherans choose to ignore the truth (as they do in the matter of the Supper), that’s their error. 😉

  2. “For me, the biggest error in the Roman Catholic Church is not their view of justification by faith, nor transubstantiation, not even clerical celibacy, but they have formally replaced work of the Holy Spirit with a sacramental system that mediates divine grace.”

    Chris, no! Catholics have not replaced the Holy Spirit!

    We, like you, bow before the Holy Spirit as the transcendent God, the One to Whom we accord all praise and from Whom come all graces. But we believe that when Jesus instituted the sacraments—when He said, for example, “Whose sins you shall forgive shall be forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain shall be retained”—He intended to commission the apostles and their descendants to serve as His emissaries on earth. It is God Who acts in the sacraments, Who imparts graces when the Catholic bows before God in the sacraments.

    So when Jesus said “I will be with you always…”, He meant yes, He’ll hold the entire world in His care; He’ll be present in His Word; but in a special, intimate way, He’ll make Himself present to us in the sacraments.

    1. I appreciate the response, Kathy. Though I think your beef is with Prof. Bird — I was just quoting him on the Spirit as part of an array of responses, Protestant and Catholic.

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