Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When he is right, he is right on...

"There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”  Martin Luther

You can blame Luther for many things but the splintering of Protestantism, the rise of the human mind and conscience as judge and definer of Scripture, and the individualistic perspective of truth, faith, and salvation were all there on the drawing board long before Luther raised his voice for reform and renewal.

Luther predicted this sad future and, although lamenting whatever role his reform might have had in it, clearly identified that this was not an outcome owned either by Luther or the Lutherans.  There are many who claim him and who claim to be heirs of his legacy whom Luther would certainly condemn and claim with Jesus, "I know you not."  I hope and pray that Lutherans are not among them but I would be hard pressed to say that Luther would not be at least as scandalized by much said and done by those who formally bear his name as those who claim kinship with him in spirit if not in name.

"I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity. . . . for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better.” Martin Luther to Pope Leo X, January 6, 1519

Luther's voice is impassioned but not crazy.  He bequeathed to his heirs not some rash and reactionary faith but one solidly grounded in Scripture and the fathers of the Church.  Part of our Lutheran identity is to condemn the clowns and buffoons as well as proclaim that which is evangelical, catholic, and apostolic -- even when that lunatic fringe bears an official Lutheran imprimatur.   As much as we are called to address the loons outside Lutheranism, we must also confront and condemn the ones within.  We do so not as the superior to the inferior but as those whose orthodoxy is rooted and grounded in Scripture and the Fathers.  we speak not with the joyful glee of those who delight in the sinner getting what is deserved but as those who grieve disunity, heterodoxy, and apostasy.  We speak not with the quick wit of the pundit but with the patient word of the sage whose wisdom is Christ and whose love is also Christ's own.

One of the great errors of our age is that even when the answers are orthodox the perspective remains personal taste and individual judgement.  Luther's reformation was a churchly one.  As Lutherans we must act and speak as churchly people.  It has often been said that the problem with Lutherans is not that we have no pope but that we have too many.  The authority we refuse to vest with the Bishop of Rome becomes the vaunted clothing of every individual person (both Pastor and lay).  I know that I have certainly transgressed in this area and made public my arrogance on this blog.  It is not without my own regret and repentance.  We have not discarded one pope so that we might all be popes.  We are supposed to have cast off the mantle of one dictator so that the rightful voice of Scripture and the catholic tradition may hold us accountable.  Instead we have cast off every restraint and made ourselves subject to none.

The affection for democracy in church government and the convenient refuge of congregationalism have not brought out the best in us as some have thought.  Instead we vote upon matters only the Word of God should decide and we have made the congregation an individual fiefdom where we can do what we choose with impunity.  Lutheranism deserves better.  Luther deserves better from his heirs.

To be Lutheran is to be catholic, to be Biblical, to be evangelical (Gospel centered), and to be sacramental.  We cannot pick and choose from that list nor should we spend our time bickering over the order of those traits.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  We cannot afford to be sectarian in faith or practice.  It is this that makes the Lutheran light shine -- not blessed Martin the man but this central thrust:  Our Confessions speak with unanimity the faith of the Fathers and the truth of the Scriptures.  There is no Lutheranism apart from this and there are no kin of Luther outside of this.


Janis Williams said...

May all those who accuse you of having on your swim trunks (already up to your knees in the Tiber) read this.

jwskud said...


Misquote of Luther above!