Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Top Ten Things Most Protestants Don't Know About Martin Luther

For those who are unaware of the subject in my title, let me explain a bit.

Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Germany and grew up to be a Catholic monk. His reading of Scripture led him to take exception to such abuses of true doctrine as the imposition of severe penances on the dying, often in the form of monetary indulgences. In 1517, Martin Luther composed his famous 95 Theses which was a list of his grievances with his fellow clergy, bishops, and the pope in their misadministration of the graces of the sacrament of Holy Orders. He nailed this list to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, which historians cite as the turning point (but by no means the first shot) bringing about the Protestant Reformation.

Many of the points he raised were good ones, such as:

#27: They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

Some, however, were rather ridiculous assertions of his own opinions, forming a statement with no argument behind it:

#25: That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish [a cool concept, but stated without foundation].

Yet in reviewing the Theses, it is plainly obvious to me that he identified himself as a traditional Catholic who was merely pointing out, with significant panache, the moral flaws of the hierarchy around and above him - something I really wish more of our current-day priests would do.

Somehow, however, Martin Luther's act has been a bit of a rallying cry for modern Protestants. He's often portrayed as having seen the flaws of the Catholic Church and desiring "to return to the teachings of the Bible" to counteract the errors of Rome and of the Pope.

I have no doubt that many Protestant theologians and scholars are aware of the deeper story involved in Luther's protest, but I encounter the concept all too often - and believed it myself - that if Luther were alive today, he would not attend a Catholic church, but would probably find himself more comfortable in a non-denomination's evangelical "living room" style church.

If you are of that mindset, I invite you to consider these ten items I learned about Luther by reviewing his 95 Theses:

  • he believed in the sacrament of penance (#2)
  • he believed in self-mortification (#3)
  • he believed in purgatory (#16)
  • he believed according to the Code of Canon Law (#22)
  • he believed in praying for the dead (#26)
  • he believed (at the time, at least) in the authority of the Pope (#38)
  • he believed that indulgences do work to free one from penalties for sin (#44)
  • he believed that the Pope didn't offer indulgences merely to fill the coffers (#48)
  • he believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary (#75)
  • he believed that Peter was the first Pope (#77)
If someone had told me these things as a Protestant, I wouldn't have believed it. Until I read it myself, in which case I would have looked for more historical justification to remain un-united with Rome.

Now, I'm not from a Lutheran tradition. I grew up as a Free Methodist, which came out of the Anglican Church via brothers John and Charles Wesley. To my mind, Anglicans - and their offspring - have less reason to be proud of their disunity than Lutherans. Luther at least thought he was correcting errors. England's King Henry VIII just wanted to escape the authority of the Church so he could "legally" divorce his wife.

To think that two such disparate traditions - the Lutherans in 1517 and the Anglicans in 1529 - would form a sort of anti-Roman coalition speaks volumes to me of the power of our enemy to divide us.

Jesus prayed in John 17: 20-23 (NAB, emphasis mine):

I pray not only for them [the disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

In my recent time at Arlington Beach Bible Camp, I asked not a few people: Would you describe the unity of the modern Church (meaning all Christians, not just Catholics) as being comparable to the unity of the Father and the Son? Moreover, if our unity with God hinges on our unity with fellow Christians as the latter part of the passage says, where does that leave us?

If full unity is achievable... why not go for it? It has to happen one by one, no matter how many thousands do it.

I could go on and on here. But to sum up this post, let me say that as a convert, I find myself in good company. The blogging community is replete with fellow converts. Here are a few of them. The links will be to their own conversion stories (where available), if you're interested in more detail.

The Curt Jester, AKA Jeff Miller
Owen Swain (a former pastor)
David Warren (columnist for the Ottawa Citizen)
Michelle Arnold (Catholic apologist) AND Jimmy Akin (another Catholic apologist) from JimmyAkin.org
A. Carlton Sallet from Upper Canada Catholic

And that's just from the ones that blog.

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