Friday, August 31, 2012

On “Finding Your Inner Luther”

Five hundred years ago, the church was in ... desperate, desperate need of reform. Then, in to the rescue galloped a posse of the most talented individuals of the day. They had among their number the very finest scholars, they shared a heartfelt passion for the renewing of the church – and they accomplished virtually nothing towards that goal. The rescue failed.

That was the sad story of the sixteenth-century humanists (nothing to do with later atheistic humanists!). But where did it all go wrong? They were absolutely sincere in wanting people to live whole-heartedly for Jesus; they were unstinting in their efforts. The problem was, they never thought they needed to bother with theology. They thought that more devotion would do the trick. And so they never questioned the theology of medieval Roman Catholicism. As a result they were doomed ever to remain prisoners of where the church was at, never able to achieve more than cosmetic changes.

It was only when Martin Luther dug into the theological foundations of the church that it was really reformed.
And what a Reformation! When gospel-theology led the way, the church was renewed beyond all recognition.

* * *

The historical reality of the Reformation is that it was a theological event. True, there were moral consequences, but the Reformation wasn’t first of all about moral self-improvement and tidying the ecclesiastical house. It was about aligning the church's doctrines with Biblical teaching.

It was this that prompted Martin Luther later to comment:
Life is bad among us as among the papists. Hence, we 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).

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