Tag Archives: Martin Luther

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Martin_Luther
500 years ago,  an Augustinian monk and priest named Martin Luther ignited the Reformation with his 95 theses.  There have been, of course, a lot of events worldwide and locally to ponder this moment.  It really is difficult to exaggerate the importance of that moment in history.  I read a piece somewhere last week that quibbled over whether or not he had actually nailed these to the door at his Wittenberg church.  He could have sung them out the window for all I care.  He stood in front of a moving tank, that is what he did.

He was not the first reformer, of course.  Jan Huss of Prague met a fiery end for his efforts a century before Luther.  And certainly the mendicant orders, such as the one started by a man named Francis, were aimed at reforming the Church.  But Luther succeeded in ways these others had not. There are lots of reasons for that and a simple blog post cannot do such a discussion justice.

I traveled to Wittenberg more than ten years ago.  I ambled through the house run by Martin’s wife, Katharine von Bora; through Melanchton’s garden; and into the Castle Church where I lit a candle.  This  was and is the epicenter of the Reformation and perhaps modernity, if by modernity we mean the assertion of one’s conscience over the demands of the State or ecclesiastical authority.  With his emphasis upon justification by faith over a works theology; with his attack on corrupt popes and councils and in their place “the cradle of Christ,”  the Bible, and his emphasis upon the priesthood of believers, I could not help but be moved by being in that town where the drama of the Reformation unfolded.

There are, of course, unfortunate and terrible things about Luther.  His anti-Jewish rhetoric, his siding with the State against the peasants and his reluctance to forge a way with Zwingli were grave errors.  We should be aware of these shortcomings and as with any person of such a magnitude, be careful of idolizing him.

If you read the Bible in your own language and not Latin; if you believe you should be able to receive both the cup and the bread of the eucharist; if you believe in the priesthood of believers and by all means, if you rely on the grace of God in Christ and not a works theology, then you should celebrate this moment in history.  And if you are not religious but believe in the sanctity of one’s conscience and the critical engagement of one’s intellect with things religious then this moment also offers you something to celebrate.  The fact is, Luther would not have countenanced Baptists and I am a Baptist clergyperson whose movement emerged on the radical edge of the Reformation in the 17th century.  Still, he is the great Reformer and I walk my spiritual journey along his mile markers:

Sola scriptura  By scripture alone

Sola fide  By faith alone

Sola gratia  By grace alone

Sola Christus  Through Christ alone

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone the Glory. 

If you are so inclined, here is a link to the 95 theses of Dr Martin Luther.  And if you are so inclined, worship in our Protestant assembly held in Jefferson Middle School on Sundays at 10 a.m.  We practice a radical table fellowship that invites everyone to the Table of our Lord, denying no one access to his grace. Such worship is a protest and a counter-sign to a culture in love with death, bereft of any reasonable notion of truth.

~See you Sunday

The Church is…

“Now, anywhere you hear or see [the Word of God] preached,

English: 500th day of birth of Martin Luther (...

believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a ‘holy Christian people’ must be there, even though there are very few of them.”

I like this assertion and description of the Church by Martin Luther.  You’ll note that his definition of the Church is not institutionally based. That is, it is not dependent upon some fuzzy notion of apostolic chain of command nor it is relegated to the history of any one church (like say the Orthodox or Roman Catholic).  The definition rotates around the proclamation of God’s Word.  Hence the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.

I also like that he comments that such a true holy Christian people is not dependent upon some large number of folks.  In the United States, where bigger is better, Christians—and particularly Evangelicals—are inclined to believe that a bigger church is somehow more a church. This is nonsense, of course.  I’ve said for a long time that I’d prefer to be in the midst of a small number of devoted and authentic Christ-like persons than a horde of fools.

As this new year begins and we, Riverside Baptist Church, are faced with remarkable opportunities and solemn decisions that will configure our future for another generation, let’s keep Luther’s assertion in mind.  We are not an institution. We are not a building. We are not a creed.  We are the ecclesia sancta catholica, the holy Christian people who are formed at the point of God’s Gospel to us proclaimed.  I hope you will do your best this year to be in worship with us every Sunday, because the Word is proclaimed, believed, confessed and acted upon in that holy context.

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Preoccupied With The Past?

English: Coat of arms of Franciscan Order in H...

English: Coat of arms of Franciscan Order in Howard University School of Divinity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I’ve been reading deeply into Martin Luther’s life, Charlemagne’s history and Reformation history.  I teach the introductory course to Church History at Howard University School of Divinity so one might assume this is to be expected of me.  Over the last two years I’ve read histories on Pentecostalism, President Garfield, Churchill, the holy war for Constantinople which fell to Islam in 1453, Crusades, histories on Venice and Constantinople, a biography of Zwingli, three volumes on the Civil War by Shelby Foote and as you know I like to visit Civil War battlefields.  I’m apparently preoccupied with the past.

This digging into the past is not confined to professors of history. If you go to a therapist, you’re going to spend some time digging into your own personal history.  And given today’s technology, many netizens spend a good deal of time googling their friends and their enemies.  What does this all mean?

One obvious thing it means is, you and I cannot dig into the future. The future does not exist.  As for therapy and personality development, the assumption is that past behavior is a predictor of future behavior.   We dig into the past because there is so much of it there to be found and excavated.  Individual memory and collective memory is critical for self-awareness and communal awareness.  We have carved onto the Lord’s Table, as does nearly every other Baptist church, the words of Christ, REMEMBER ME.  I hesitate to reduce this to a bumper sticker but for clarity’s sake, let’s just admit to the wonder that by remembering we are re-membered. We are put together. And if a person doesn’t take the time to connect themselves to the past? Interestingly enough, they are doomed to repeat it and their NOW is endangered.  I don’t see how you can live fully in the NOW without reference to the past.

That said, you can’t live in the past.  It is one thing to reference it, it is quite another to give up on living right now and hankering after days gone by. Dylan sang it this way, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.  Augustine (see my previous blog on time) knew the present is always leaning to nonexistence.  Your NOW is about to become past, so act now. Live right now.  Live toward your destiny in Christ.

The signs are all around us with trees turned red, yellow and orange: we have passed a time boundary called a season.  Wise is the person who knows what season they live in.  Wise are they who know that seasons pass.  May Jesus Christ who stepped into our time, dwelt within the tick-tock existence of our mortal lives, grant you everlasting peace.  ~Pastor Bledsoe

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