Entries tagged with “reformation”.

A word of thanks to those continuing the conversation about my recent First Things article “Are Lutherans Catholic?”. Gene Veith has some great conversation on the topic going on over at his blog Cranach, and Rev. Larry Peters is writing something similar over at Pastoral Meanderings (with reference to my “Too Damn Catholic” post from over on A Christian Thing). Nathan Rinne has also been contributing to the topic over at the Just & Sinner website.

It’s well worth checking out the conversation going on in these places, and I commend them all to your reading.


My column for the September/October issue of The Canadian Lutheran is available online. That issue of the magazine had a dual focus on international missions and remembering the Reformation. I like to think I tied together those two focuses together in a fairly coherent way in my article, reflecting on St. Paul’s teaching that our faith moves us to share the Gospel. “We believe, therefore we have spoken.” The good news of salvation through God’s grace—the Reformation truth of justification—is not something we keep to ourselves. We can’t keep it to ourselves. It bursts forth from our lips—the Good News that Christ’s death and resurrection has accomplished our salvation.

cl2805-coverLuther could not keep quiet about this discovery; the Good News that we are declared righteous through faith in the Gospel was something everyone needed to know. Like Luther, we too are motivated by the Spirit to tell others that God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s mercy, not their works. Indeed, our faith compels us to share the Gospel. St. Paul explains it well: “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:13-15).

Read the whole article online here: We believe, therefore we speak.

“And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ ” (Matthew 13:27-8 ESV)

So there’s just a few weeks left of summer “vacation” (someone needs to explain to me how working all summer to make money for school constitutes a vacation), and that means I’ve been getting back to the books doing research for my English thesis. I’m writing about the 1547 Anglican book Certayne Sermons or Homilies (alternately known as the first book or former book of the Book of Homilies). Put very generally, I’m discussing Archbishop Cranmer’s editorial role in the construction of the book, and how that literary construction reflects the theology he was trying to impart to the masses.

Anywho, I’ve been reading MacCulloch’s massive, detailed work Thomas Cranmer: A Life for research purposes and it got me thinking about the Reformation era. What a thrilling, but dangerous, time it was. Understanding God’s Word became the concern of every citizen. Nations were ripped apart. Men and women died for their beliefs. The visible church was fractured as God and Satan wrestled for control of the institution and, ultimately, for the souls of those within it.

Today, we see much less of that. People do not seem to care about the faith of their family members, friends and acquaintances. Worse, they don’t even seem to know (or care) what theology their own denominations teach. And so the institution of the church marches a slow funeral march to the graveyard. I sometimes feel that the passion of the Reformation is finally dead.

But our God is a God of resurrection! I see the birth of ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) and remember that the Spirit of God is alive and working in the hearts of men. The ideals of the Reformation – sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura – are still present fighting against the spirit of this age.

When we read the Augsburg Confession, we see admissions that “many false Christians, hypocrites, and even open sinners” are mixed with the people in the institution of the church. Likewise, the 39 Articles confess that “in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good.” It’s so easy to get caught up in despair as we see such evil clearly acting in Christian denominations across the globe. But I frequently forget, as do many others, to recognize the other side of the story. Christian churches, despite the presence of evil among them, must always contain those made righteous in the blood of the Lamb. And God, the hidden God, is at work through them to bring truth to light.

“In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV).

And the darkness will never overcome it.

I have often felt that I was born in the wrong time. Too late, in specific, for my sensibilities place me in an era long since past. And so I grieve my forbears, my deceased friends, though I never knew them save in their writings. It is not that I mourn their passings per se – they have reached what reward was their’s to gain. Rather, I hold this against them: that they have left me here alone, an alien in a foreign land.

It is a trying thing to be the survivor of some great tragedy. You become an object of curiosity, some oddity to be scrutinized upon a stage. You become some other Oedipus whose tragedy continuously unfolds for the viewing pleasure of others. You are many things. But you are not a “real” person. You are not a character whom the audience understands. They may pity you. But they cannot empathize with you. The Playwright has not written your part in that way.

To be fair, I am not the sole person afflicted with time-displacement. I have been so blessed as to chance upon a rather pleasant Mediaeval fellow and a charming Victorian gentleman as well. We are not all the same – I am more inclined, for example, to believe I hail from the days of the Reformation. But we three share an appreciation of each other, a recognition of the importance of history in the present, and a concern for matters of substance: the relationship of reality to language, the underlying meaning of literary discourse, the nature of the soul and Scripture and life and morality. We have asked whether a flower on some unknown planet is in danger of being eaten by an unmuzzled sheep, and we have stood in silence at the heaviness of the thought. We do not always agree on the answers to such questions; representatives of different times seldom do. But we are in accordance that the questions are important, if only because they remind us that there are things beyond ourselves and that despite this, we paradoxically still somehow share in their meaning as members of the same creation.

We are philosophers. We are poets. We are princes of great nations. But we are in exile. Our treasure and our peoples were lost generations before we took our thrones. And we remain stranded in this desperate world of the 21st century.

The major decline of kingdoms such as our own began ages past, but it reached its crisis point in the 1900s. As the West gained wealth and technology unlike that ever before known, it began to be avaricious and slothful. And where two deadly sins burrow their way into the flesh of a society, they leave the sore gaping for the other five parasites to join them.

Today’s western world has devolved into a “country” of total individualism. People stress over personal fulfillment, seeking only to bring pleasure to themselves. And yet they somehow miss the only virtue to be found in an individualistic ideology – that of personal reflection and testing. On this front, they instead adopt the primary failings of communal ideology – that of mass ignorance. The West feels that certain questions, questions of substance, are better left unasked. Contemplating these issues would inevitably require them to evaluate their personal allegiances towards Hedonism. Not that they could name such a thing. To do so would already be to reflect, and that again brings up those needling, unsettling questions. “If I do not think about it,” they would contemplate (if they could contemplate), “then surely the concern cannot exist.” non cogito ergo non sunt.

I used to wonder whether my presence in this time was a bit of a divine joke, inflicted upon me by a well-meaning but unaware God. Of course, as a Reformation-era man, I could not entertain such heresy for long. Instead, I have seen my mind tuned from without to consider the purpose of the time-displaced in light of the concept of dignitarial visits. We are sent as ambassadors, to promote the interests of our nations to a people who do not know of them. We are emissaries bringing good news over time and space. We bring gifts for these people, if they will but receive them. And though I could not fathom so at the first, I have learned that the nation of the 20th-21st century also bears treasures of its own. For no country has been so forsaken by God as to be utterly barren. He has given us abundantly more than we could ever ask, and we are called to share amongst each other the blessings of our heavenly Father.

Hence my friendships with the Mediaevalist and the Victorian. We three desire to learn from each other. And we desire to share those good things God has given us with this world. But when people are so unwilling to remove the stoppers from their ears and the blockers from their eyes, the diplomatic mission we are on stands little chance of success.

You see, they have already declared war on the Past. And that leaves those of us who are time-displaced little more than their enemies.

Today is Reformation Sunday. Technically, Reformation Day falls upon October 31 (that being the date upon which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Church door in Wittenburg). This is the Sunday before that great anniversary, and so it is our day of remembrance. Across the globe, churches today proudly sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” They dress their altars with red paraments, reflecting both the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Reformation, and the martyrs’ sacrifices during this era. It seems fitting then, that on this day we should pause to consider what Reformation is – and what it most certainly is not.

Some time ago, I was sitting with an acquaintance of mine, and our conversation moved to a discussion of Luther. It seemed to me that we had common ground. We both praised him as a hero of the faith, and as a man through whom God did wonders. He was, we agreed, a true follower of Christ, one of those saints in whom we may find inspiration and example. And then this young woman said something which struck me: “I like to think that if Luther was alive today, he’d be right there proclaiming that social Gospel.” I asked her to elaborate and soon discovered that she believed Luther would be pushing for female ordination, homosexual-inclusivity, and all manner of other “justice” issues. But what was remarkably lacking in her depiction of the man was any reference to his faith: no theology of the cross, no salvation by grace alone, and, inexplicably, no sola scriptura.1

It was evident that the Luthers we both so admired were not the same man. She saw a revolutionary; I knew the reformer.

Reformation, contrary to what some liberal factions in the Church today might state, is not about becoming relevant. Quite the opposite, actually. It is about being re-formed, that is to say, formed again into the original image. It is not a new creation, but a returning to the way things once were. The argument, in Luther’s day, was that the Church had departed from its original moorings of Scripture – that they, just as the Pharisees before them, had “for the sake of [their] tradition… made void the word of God” (Matthew 15:6).2 Luther’s desire was to help the Church get back to an authentic and historical Christianity. Consider Luther’s words from his introduction to his Commentary on Galatians:

“I have taken in hand, in the name of the Lord, yet once again to expound this Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians; not because I do desire to teach new things, or such as ye have not heard before, especially since that, by the grace of Christ, Paul is now thoroughly known unto you; but for that (as I have often forewarned you) this we have to fear as the greatest and nearest danger, lest Satan take from us this doctrine of faith, and bring into the church again the doctrine of works and men’s traditions.”3

Luther did not condemn tradition per se, but he did condemn anything which would contradict the Scriptures (and thus, that instrument through which we receive faith). And most certainly Luther would have included in his condemnation those liberal teachings which ignore biblical pronouncements on such issues as female ordination, homosexual-inclusivity, and others where people are so keen to pander to the “values” of our contemporary society. Martin Luther had no desire to be either relevant or rebellious. He wanted to be faithful to Scripture.

And so we see that Luther would never, absolutely never, have become an advocate of the modern concept called the “social gospel.” Doing good works, helping the poor, fighting true injustice… These are necessary things, to be true. And Luther agreed we must do them. But they are not the Gospel, and they should never be confused with the Gospel. The Gospel, in the words of St. Paul, is simple and pure: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This was Luther’s message. This was the message of the Reformation. And this is the message we should reflect upon in this season of remembrance: we have been saved by the grace of God alone.

1Lat. “Scripture Alone.”

2English Standard Version, as are all other Scripture quotations.

3Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Translation Robert Middleton, 1553. Adapted, unknown. Smith, English & Co. Philadelphia: 1860. p. 130.