from a time when Luther’s life was widely regarded as being already forfeited [at the hand of the great, almighty and “infallible” Church”]. The shadow of the cross darkens the pages of [his work Operationes in Psalmos], as Luther wrestles with the relationship between the suffering of Christ upon the cross and those which he himself expected to undergo in the near future. Where was God in all this? It must never be forgotten that Luther was not speculating about the nature of God in the comfort of a university senior common room: he himself was under the threat of death for his theology, and in this very threat he saw a paradigm of the hiddenness of God’s self-revelation both in Christ and the Christian life. When Luther speaks of mors, tribulatio, passio, and so on, he speaks as one who believed himself to be close to experiencing them in their full terror, and as one who recognized in the grim scene at Calvary the fact that God had worked through such experiences in the past, and would work through them in the future.I want to comment on the not-so-implicit arrogance that simply oozes from Bryan Cross’s Reformation Day article. He compares the Reformation to the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters (and there’s even a big picture of them). Imagine, he posits, that these protests continued for years,
“during which time the community of protesters divided into different factions, each with different beliefs, different demands, and different leaders. But the protests continued for so long that the protesters eventually built makeshift shanties and lived in them, and had children. These children grew up in the protesting communities, and then they too had children, who also grew up in the same communities of protesters, still encamped in the Wall Street district. Over the course of these generations, however, these communities of protesters forgot what it was that they were protesting.”He continues with the make-believe:
What if Protestantism in its present form is the fractured remains of a Catholic protest movement that began in 1517, but which has long since forgotten not only what it was protesting, but that it was formed by Catholics, in protest over conditions and practices within the Catholic Church? What if Protestantism has forgotten that its original intention was to return to full communion with the Catholic Church when certain conditions were satisfied?Well, what were those certain conditions? Martin Luther outlined them in no uncertain terms: “[W]e do not fight and damn them because of their bad lives …. I do not consider myself to be pious. But when it comes to whether one teaches correctly about the word of God, there I take my stand and fight. That is my calling. To contest doctrine has never happened until now. Others have fought over life; but to take on doctrine—that is to grab the goose by the neck! … When the word of God remains pure, even if the quality of life fails us, life is placed in a position to become what it ought. That is why everything hinges on the purity of the Word. I have succeeded only if I have taught correctly.” (Cited by Steven Ozment, “The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe” (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1980), pgs 315-316 (emphasis added).
In the real world, as in Bryan Cross’s make-believe world, the Roman Catholic Church does not “teach correctly about the Word of God”. And no amount of claiming “interpretive” mastery of the Scriptures fixes that.
But Bryan goes further, and puts make-believe limits on this, and note the bait-and switch. He does not then go on to prove that the Roman Catholic Church does “teach correctly about the Word of God”. What he does do is to imply, “Protestants don’t all agree on the correct teaching, therefore Rome’s method is correct.”
Let us begin to look at Bryan’s reasoning this way.
Consider, there is a totally correct way of understanding the Word of God. It is an ideal, whether anyone gets there or not. Let’s call this perfect understanding “X”.
Luther’s assertion is “Roman teaching is ~X. Roman teaching is “Y”. Even if Luther’s understanding is not quite “X”, it doesn't turn Rome’s teaching into “X”.
In fact, no amount of misunderstanding among Protestant fixes that Roman Catholic “~X”.
Bryan wants you to think, “Protestants disagree among themselves, therefore Roman Teaching is ‘X’”.
But that does not follow in any way.
From a Protestant perspective, it is very easy, among ourselves, to look at Biblical understanding among modern Biblical scholars – with the ever-better understanding of Greek and Hebrew languages, with the better and better historical understanding, and know that we are coming closer and closer to converging on “X”. Whereas, Rome has bought into “Y”, and “Y is ~X”, and “Y” will never be “X”. That’s the real life behind Bryan’s make-believe bait-and-switch story.
Bryan and his Roman Catholic friends are “hear[ing] but never understand[ing]”, seeing but never perceiving”. Their heart has grown dull, fixed on Rome’s “Y”, as it is, “and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed” to everything but Rome.
And thus, as ongoing generations of Protestants continue “to see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and “turn and be healed,” and we draw closer and closer to Luther’s “purity of the Word”.