Luther's Follies


The original link to this post became a target for spammers, so I'm reposting from 2005 (by the way - I'm amazed at the masculine-centered language I used a decade ago):

I just finished reading another biography of the great reformer, Martin Luther by aptly named scholar Martin Marty.

Whether advocate, critic or indifferent historian, it is impossible to chronicle this man's controversial life without noting both praiseworthy accomplishments and troubling inconsistencies. As Luther entered the fray of what would be emerging Evangelicalism, he was wide-eyed, idealistic and indignant toward a corrupt Roman Catholic Church. This much, most of us know. What is truly fascinating, however, is to watch the changes that took place through the progression of Luther's life.

As Luther entered his latter years (in that era, his forties) he became obsessively concerned with the extremity of the Protestant Reformation. He seemed to have expected the movement to begin and end with his indictments against church authority (vs. scriptural authority) and the selling of indulgences. But whether social inevitability or Holy Spirit movement, the changes were far from over with Luther's initial theses. Clergy and parishoners alike pushed for further reform: laity taught the Word, all shared in the bread and wine of communion, infant baptism was questioned... all of this seemed natural amidst the questions Luther, himself, brought to bear.

Were Luther's fears of "too much freedom" founded, or was the Holy Spirit to be trusted in the evolution of the Protestant Church?

Today, I and many others are suggesting certain reformations in America's churches. We desire more freedom - less scientific, clinical, critical approaches to scripture. We embrace mystery over fact - humble relationship over staunch fundamentalism.

However, it seems that in every conversation I engage, I am always met with pushback:

"Well, that may be okay to a point, but you have to make sure it doesn't go too far..."
"You must be certain to predefine what is right and wrong..."

"You can't let go of the black and white of the Gospel or such ideas will snowball..."
The worst is: "But how far is too far? You're approaching a slippery slope, and if you go down this path you may never get back. It's best not to even ask these questions..."

When can we simply trust that the Holy Spirit is qualified to guide the Christian Church? When will we truly believe that God is in control? Yes, there will always be extremists who go too far: Lutheran zealots who murdered Catholic priests. Modern Liberals who reject Biblical truth. The list of failures goes on... but these failures (theological mutations?) are not the norm. Within the church, truth must be trusted as the path the Helper of Pentecost leads us toward. Through prayer, scriptural study, open discussion and pure gut instinct, God can reveal his nature.

Reckless? So was Peter. Counter-culture? So was Paul. Scandalous? So was Jesus.


Can we let go? He promised to catch us...

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