Note from CM: Should be an interesting week. We just got back from Italy and I’ve been immersing myself in Franciscan ways. This Sunday, Reformation Sunday, will be my first week back in the pulpit at my ELCA Lutheran congregation for the rest of the fall, winter, and spring until Easter. We have invited Catholic friends to join us. I may be a bit mixed up, but I’ll still say, “Happy Reformation week!”
Monday with Michael Spencer
Letting Some Air Out of the Reformation Day Balloon
It’s fairly obvious that, at least among some Christians, “Reformation Day” is a new holiday to be celebrated with all the enthusiasm we once reserved for actual holidays. (Lutherans: Party on. You’ve earned it.) I’m waiting for the photos of the “Dress Like a Reformer” party at a reformed church near you.
I’ll admit to having donned the Luther costume and done the Reformation Day lecture for the students at our school on a number of occasions, and I don’t regret having done so. Most of what I said was true. Well….some of it.
In the past year, I’ve read a lot about the reformation and even more about Luther. I’m currently finishing off McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea – a popular history of Protestantism that’s right up to speed — and I’m almost done with Richard Marius’s Luther: The Christian Between God and Death, one of the most profitable biographies of Luther I’ve ever read and I read at least one every couple of years.
My reading on Luther and the Reformation has changed my mind about a lot of things. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but here’s the short list.
- I no longer believe the Reformation, as it’s commonly described by Protestants, is the distinct event we’ve made it out to be.
- I no longer believe Luther ever intended to slay the Catholic Church and establish the wonder of contemporary Protestantism.
- I am becoming increasingly sure that many things in the typical Reformation story are probably mythological, or most nearly so.
- I’m especially convinced that a lot of the typical “Luther story” is probably historically inaccurate. Not necessarily untrue, but plenty of mythology in the mix.
- I am very sure that the humanist and Catholic contribution to the reform of Christianity has been considerably obscured in the creation of a Protestant mythology.
- I do not believe true Christianity was restored or rediscovered in the Reformation.
- I’m convinced that it didn’t take long for Protestantism to accumulate enough problems of its own to justify another reformation or two.
- I believe that a lot of Protestants say sola scriptura when they mean solo scriptura or nuda scriptura or something I don’t believe at all.
- I now believe that tradition is a very good word.
- I believe the Reformation was very secular, political and, eventually, quite violent. To act as if it was mostly a spiritual revival movement is naive.
- I believe we ought to grieve the division of Christianity and the continuing division of Protestantism.
- I no longer believe the theology of the Reformers was the pinnacle of evangelicalism or is the standard by which Biblical truth itself is judged.
- I can see huge omissions from the work of the reformers, such as a theology of cross-cultural missions and much more.
- I believe it is embarrassing to turn the Reformers into icons. Calvin on a t-shirt should win an award for irony.
- I am a Protestant and I always will be, but I no longer take the kind of juvenile pride in Protestantism I did in the past. Much is good, and much has not been good. We have no right to stand superior to any other Christians.
- I want to understand how Catholic and EO Christians understand Protestantism, and I want to do so with a sense of humility.
- I don’t believe in ecumenism at any cost, but I can no longer imagine being a Christian without a commitment to ecumenism on some level.
- There are many sins associated with Protestantism that I need to admit and repent of.
Part of my Reformation Day will be spent contemplating what it means to say “One Lord; One Faith; One Baptism; One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.” Having a party celebrating the division of Christianity doesn’t really strike me as a something I want to do.
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