Countdown Video was “History 101: The Protestant Reformation” by National Geographic
- You will notice I have notecards, which is not my normal.
When I start talking about the lesser known elements of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, and Lutheran teachings it is like chasing a white rabbit down one rabbit-hole into another. Then baked goods and potions that either enlarge or shrink me appear and the Queen of Hearts begins to chase me yelling “off with her head” (Alice in Wonderland reference). Thus, the notecards are to help me avoid all those rabbit-holes.
- Reformation history often paints the Catholic Church negatively.
Sorry! Martin Luther was not alone in believing and teaching that the Catholic Church, at that time, was corrupt. However, it has been 501 years since the Protestant Reformation begun in Germany.
The Catholic and Protestant Churches have undergone and experienced changes during those 500 years. Therefore, I would hope that we can talk about the Reformation, Martin Luther, and Lutheran teaching in a manner that does not bash on our Catholic brothers and sisters.
- Martin Luther was a horribly flawed person.
Although I accept and embrace much of Martin Luther’s writing and teachings, I must admit he was a horribly flawed person.
Luther wrote evil, incorrect information that incited violence against our Catholic, Anabaptist, and Jewish brothers and sisters. As Lutherans, especially considering the mass shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg yesterday (27 Oct. 2018), we must acknowledge these writings, repent from these, and seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.
We need to speak out against such hate and violence.
But, despite these disclaimers there is much that can be celebrated about the Protestant Reformation (16th century).
“A Lawyer, Priest, and Professor Walk into a Bar. The Bartender says “Hi Martin Luther”
These are the word posted in a video, which can be found at the above link.
- Martin Luther may not have actually nailed his 95 Theses to a door 500 years ago, (according to) Derek Nelson, co-editor-in-chef of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther.
- His objections, laid out in the 95 Theses, forever changed Christianity, sparking the Reformation.
- Indulgences, money the church solicited to help souls in purgatory, set him off sparking the creation of Protestantism if it wasn’t for it.
- His work led to the creation of the modern public education system.
- He helped popularize the Bible and gave content to the early printing presses.
- He was prone to insults in his writing.
- “Are you ignorant of what it means to be ignorant?”
- “There you are, like butter in sunshine.”
- “I must stop: I can no longer rummage in your blasphemous, hellish devil’s filth and stench.”
- His sometimes filthy words were often in-kind responses to his own critics, whose words often haven’t survived as Luther’s have.
- He’d almost certainly be on Twitter today.
- “Before Luther, religion was often seen as a path to heaven or an interaction with God alone. Luther helped popularize the idea that faith can help people connect to their neighbor, not just God”
(said Lois Malcolm, professor of theology at Luther Seminary).
- He is also famed for beer. His wife was a craft brewer and her recipes are recreated today.
- He is celebrated 500 years later as one of the great questioners of Christianity.
Art historians have noticed that beginning a couple of centuries before Martin Luther, people are painted as though they are concerned and cranky. This is our image of Martin Luther: a cranky, old, German monk. Although Luther obviously had his cranky moments, that is not the whole of Luther or the Reformation.
During those centuries before the Protestant Reformation (16th century), Reformers spoke against the corruption and abuses of the Catholic Church at that time. However, the social, economic, and cultural realities of their time and place led to their own demise rather than change in the Church.
Martin Luther was able to communicate his concerns with the theological, intellectual authorities above himself in the Church, as well as the common people sitting in the pews. Luther was supported and opposed.
Martin Luther ignited a spark within the perfect storm for the Protestant Reformation.
It was not always peaceful, as it did get violent causing a German civil war of sorts known as The 30 Years War.
Martin Luther continues to be considered among the most influential persons in German history, which is not specifically connected to his religious reforms but rather his involvement with social and cultural formation.
- Luther was concerned with knowledge and education, but it was not limited to religious education. He was concerned with reading, writing, math, and science. Thus, he was central in establishing the modern public educational system.
- Luther helped establish a church and government operated community chest, which served as a ‘welfare system’ for those in need.
The educational system and community chest are examples of Martin Luther directly connecting faith with connecting to and caring for your neighbor. An infamous Luther quote is: “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
Again, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does”.
Martin Luther, as the video highlighted, we well-known for his insults. There is an entire website dedicated to receiving Luther insults from his collected writings.
Martin Luther, however, was not the only face of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. He was supported and joined by colleagues, who were theologians and professors with him at the University of Wittenberg. These men shared in Luther’s questions/concerns and were known as the Wittenberg Theologians.
Martin Luther was reactionary. His theology was always in response to a critic or conversation with a fellow ‘questioner’ and thus it changed and evolved throughout the whole of the Protestant Reformation.
Fortunately, the Wittenberg Theologians included individuals who were less reactionary and more organized/systematic in their thoughts. Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s right-hand man who you have probably never heard of (do not feel bad), collected and wrote much of the theology developed by Luther and the Wittenberg Theologian (including himself) into an organized, systematic theology. Therefore, it would be easier to understand, teach, and argue against critics.
Martin Luther married a strong-willed, smart former nun named Katie (Katharine von Bora), who had a reputation in town as a master brewer (of beer). In fact, her recipes are being recreated today.
Martin (and Katie) Luther would host informal conversation over beer with colleagues and students, who would take notes of the discussion. These notes are published as the “Table Talks”. It bears witness to the evolution of the Reformation, his creative insults and joy for fart jokes, as well as life in general.
It was challenging, but I have selected 3 among the multitude of Lutheran teaching that I embrace full-heartedly and are unique to Luther (Lutheranism).
- Sin is not necessarily something we do, it is who we are.
Martin Luther redefined sin as “being curved in on the self/selfish”.
Therefore, sin is interwoven into every fabric of our being.
There is no avoiding, preventing, or escaping sin because no matter the “good work” you do… you are expecting a reward either in this lifetime or the next.
Martin Luther and Lutheranism holds the tension of various ‘paradoxes’, which demonstrates that our world in not simply “black-or-white”.
Simultaneously Saint and Sinner:
Martin Luther also redefined a “saint” as a forgiven sinner.
We are always a sinner because it is interwoven into our being, but we are always a saint forgiven by God’s grace alone.
Law and Gospel:
The “law” is when scripture (tradition, etc.) informs us that we “must” or “need to” in order to receive and experience God’s grace, to be forgiven, and to enter into God’s kingdom.
The “gospel” is the word of grace that says:
“You have ALREADY been forgiven. God loves you. You are saved.”
Martin Luther taught that Christians needed to hear (balance) the law and gospel.
Example 1: Beer
A balanced beer will ‘balance’ the bitterness of the hops with the sweetness of the malts. Similarly, the bitterness of the law should be balanced with the sweet gospel.
Example 2: My fur-babies
Highlander, my dog, will misbehave. I say “bad boy” and he hides under the bed for a few hours punishing himself. This little dog is in need of the gospel (grace). He needs to hear he is (still) loved and is forgiven.
Valkyrie, my cat, on the other hand will jump onto the kitchen counter which is against the house rules. I will yell “VALKYRIE” and she looks at me with “And what are you going to do about it?”. She needs the law. She needs to be reminded of her need for forgiveness.
Hence, the purpose of the law is to be a mirror held before us reminding us (like Valkyrie) that we are NOT perfect, we are SINNERS, and we NEED God’s grace through Christ.
- The Two Kingdoms
The Gospel of Mark focuses on the message that the Kingdom of God is here now, it is near, and it is not yet (fulfilled). Martin Luther held that two kingdoms co-exist in our time and place, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world (civil). Therefore, we are called to live our lives in such a way that we bring the Kingdom of God further and further into the kingdom of this world. Therefore, do not lock yourselves away in a private room but engage the world being Christ’s light in it.
Clearly, Martin Luther enjoyed his beer. Thus, I have two “beer” quotes to share.
First quote, a friend sent me as an “Irish Proverb”, but I informed her it was Luther:
Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep, whoever sleeps long does not sin,
whoever does not sin enters heaven; thus, let us drink beer.
This second quote bears witness to the Protestant Reformation and my closing point.
Take me for an example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force.
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing.
And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with Philip and Amsdorf the Word
so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.
I did nothing: the Word did it all.
Martin Luther did not understand himself as the Reformer we raise him up as today.
He was a monk, a priest, a University professor, and scholar who shared his discovery of Scripture with people and it was through that word, God’s Word, that the Reformation was born and grew. This Word is not Scripture alone, but as it is proclaimed in Christ himself and our own lives in word and deed.
According to Luther, it was the Holy Spirit (symbolized with red) that used the Word working in, among, through, and even despite us to bring forth God’s kingdom, God’s love, and the knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness.
You might imagine from my red lip color, nails, shirt, and hair that red is my favorite color. Red is NOT my favorite color, but I will adorn it on Pentecost and Reformation because those are the days that we, as the community of believers, recognize, celebrate, and call forth the Holy Spirit to do her work to bring forth God’s Word and the Kingdom of God into our own time and place.
It is important to remember that although the Holy Spirit was at work 501 years ago, the Holy Spirit is still at work today! That is what we celebrate on this Reformation Sunday.
Originally preached on 28 October 2018 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).