Friday, August 11, 2017
What of Luther?
In one such article, it is asserted: The key issue in debating Luther’s legacy on conscience in the Catholic Church entails whether the teachings of the Church are subordinate to one’s own conscience or whether conscience is bound by the teaching of the Church. But, of course, that is the problem. The key issue is misstated. The key issue was the place of Scripture. Are the teachings of the Church subordinate to the Word of God or do they source and norm the Church's teaching? That was Luther's question. As far the individual, Luther place himself and all Christians also under that Word of God and captive to that Word was his conscience and all true conscience.
Ultimately, my issue is this. I do not expect Rome to lavish praise upon Luther. But what I do expect and what we ought to expect is a fair reading of Luther. If the intent is to trash Luther, there is no scholarship needed. Luther's own words can be twisted and used out of context to condemn him and it is child's play to do so. But a fair reading of Luther is much more difficult. This requires something deeper and more profound than a summary dismissal of Luther.
As we march through the 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses, it would do well if both Lutherans and Roman Catholics spent time getting to know Luther. At the same time, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge Luther's own judgment against his works. They are of uneven quality and some got carried away with passion and emotion. Lutherans, however, are not bound to the ups and downs of Luther's own admission but to the Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions. We appreciate Luther, to be sure, but we do not worship him or his words. Luther must be judged as he admits and, for that matter, as all of us will be judged -- in relation to the Word of the Lord that endures forever.
Perhaps I protest against the impossible. That may be the case. Yet Lutherans and Roman Catholics do little to advance any good cause by appealing to stereotypes. We must work through the material that divides and that which unites us with equal fervor and beneath the Word of God that is both source and norm of what we believe, confess, and teach. Until that happens, ecumenical statements are but window dressing. I had great hope for the Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogues when they began. Lutherans were awaking to our own rediscovery of what we believed, confessed, and taught and Rome was part of this reawakening. Somewhere along the way, we ceased the fruitful dialog in favor of either words vague enough to justify different interpretation or the kind of fake agreements in which we agree to disagree as long as we do not find such disagreements divisive of fellowship. It galls me no less when I read Lutherans who have failed to read Rome accurately. We all have much to repent and not a little of it is the comfort with which we skirt around the hard discussions instead of meeting them head on. That said, the key issue remains one of infallible truth and where it resides. Here Luther was reawakening in his own time a concern for the Word of God that was once heartily acknowledged to bind the teaching and witness of the Church and individual conscience. Perhaps there is nothing more radical than a return to a truth once beloved and now forgotten.