Monday, November 26, 2012

What does this mean?

Next year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which asserts, “We confess together: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”  The Lutheran question is germane at this point.  What does this mean?  Because the real effect of the JDDJ has not been clarity but further confusion.  The Vatican back tracked off the hullabaloo and some Lutherans read over the whole thing again and said "wait just a minute" (the LCMS) and now we have a document that has uncertain status for the signatories and an even more uncertain meaning for the respective groups who "came together."

I just finished watching a Netflix series called Borgia:  Faith and Fear.  Certainly sensational and a little too risque for my blood, it is an interesting view into the papacy and the state of the Church at the time Luther was but a boy growing up.  The hoped for reform did not come.  From Alexander VI we went to Pius III to Julius II and finally Leo X (who excommunicated Luther).  We went from the Borgia Pope to a frail member of the Curia who lasted 26 days to a soldier pope to a pope who quipped "Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it."

Luther was a man with many warts and is in no danger of being canonized either by the Lutherans or Rome.  Lutherans today seem to go to great lengths to distance themselves from some, perhaps much, of Luther's writings (most of which Luther himself did not regard highly).  That said, where would we be without him?  Would the Church be in better shape?  Would the few reforms that Rome has embraced have come earlier than the 400 years after Luther it has taken?  Rome has its own issues and problems and, whatever good or ill Luther did, it is unfair to blame all of Protestantism's errors upon one man.  Yet, all in all, who can deny the sad state the Church was in while Luther's personal turmoil, the political landscape of Europe, and, I believe, the work of the Holy Spirit conspired to raise up on flawed voice for the cause of grace alone?

Reunion with Rome is a long way off.  Lutherans themselves need to agree upon justification before agreeing substantively with Rome.  Which makes the time ripe for Lutherans within and Lutherans looking across the Tiber to ask honestly and seek Scriptural answers to what has become the quintessential Lutheran question:  What does this mean?

We are not Luther at his best and, sadly, Lutheranism often looks and acts and sounds like Luther at his worst.  Before giving up on him, it might be high time we tried being Luther at his evangelical and catholic best -- sort of like our Confessions claim.  Perhaps by being renewed in our own Confessions we might have something solid to say to Rome and to the not yet Christian world around us -- something more than a litany of our faults and failings and the rambling excuses and justifications for them all.  What does this mean?  When we find some clarity in our Lutheran identity we will find the voice to speak to Rome and to rest of the world.

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