This week is a big week in the Lutheran calendar. We pull out all the stops when it comes to celebrating the Reformation. We eat German brats, wear festive red colors, bring in processionals with flags, crosses, shields and swords and of course belt out loud with much fan fare the bar-tuned melody of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Reformation season is good stuff no doubt. I love this time of the year. I mean, c’mon I was wearing my special Reformation red tie this Sunday and was humming “AMFOG” all day long waxing on about how my wife’s organ rendition kicked some serious bootie. Not to mention the fact that placed prominently in our living room is a Reformation window recounting the life and ministry of the Great Reformer, Herr Martin Luther.
However, I wonder what we are doing when we emulate something that happened 492 years ago like it happened yesterday.
On the one hand, the reclaiming of the Gospel and the pronouncement of salvation by grace through faith is something that should be heralded at all times and in all places. However, sometimes I think Reformation Day (a festival for ALL Christians really) becomes a little more like Lutheran Day. And that is something I think we need to avoid.
The basis of the celebration of the Reformation is that on October 31st 1517 a young Luther ‘posted’ (1) his 95 theses to the Roman Catholic Church. In them he expounded varioius complaints he, and others, had with the RCC at the time. He expected that this would lead to healthy dialogue. What it led to was a raging debate, excommunications and unfortunately a bloody war that lasted 30 years and killed millions.
As Brian McLaren put it, “The 95 theses were statements that were debated to create a new ‘state’ (a status quo Christianity). This unfortunately created hate (the 30 Years War). If almost 500 years ago we had a Great Reformation based on statements maybe we living [today] (in what he calls the ‘Great Emergence’) don’t need theses but questions. These will launch us on a new quest, which creates conversations and people work together instead of being pitted against each other in debate, which leads to hate.” (2)
Now, I am not one to hate on Martin Luther or the Reformation. I am a born and bred Lutheran with some major theological footing in the Book of Concord. However, the words of McLaren cannot help but resonate with me as I’ve seen staunch Lutheranism tear relationships apart.
As McLaren went on he quoted G.K. Chesterton who said, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead.” Yet McLaren added, “They [the dead] should be given a vote, not a veto.”
What he is trying to say and I am attempting to expound here is that it’s cool to celebrate our history, our traditions and our identity. However, it is not okay to ground ourselves so firmly in our tradition and our own particular ‘ism’ that we lose sight of the modern movement of the LORD’s Kingdom. Christianity isn’t something we inherit from the past, but something we inherit from the future. Christ gifts us the restored future of His Kingdom and he yearns, inspires and carries us toward it. We have to begin to look at our own history with humility seeing what has worked well in the past (what still needs to “vote” today per se) and recognize what hasn’t (what should not gain the “veto”); realizing all the while that we may not do any better than those before us despite all our changes.
We have to not only celebrate our history but move it forward in redemptive dialogue. In fact, truly celebrating the Reformation would not mean talking about the Reformation then, but talking about the Reformation going on now.
Imagine with me, if on Reformation Sunday we don’t just talk about Martin Luther, Europe, the 95 theses and what happened in the 16th century but talked about you and me and our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world raising questions of reformation here and now. Imagine that!
That is the spirit of the Reformation. And I encourage all of us to consider what the Reformation means for us today and begin to humbly move forward with questions, with humility, with respect for the past and with renewed energy to see where Christ is leading us as He establishes His Kingdom (and our Kingdom) here on earth.
So “Happy Reformation” indeed as Christ constantly re-creates, restores and reforms His Body!
(1) Catch the word play here. Most tradition (including Philip Melanchton’s account) talks about Martin Luther nailing the theses to the church doors in Wittenburg. There is a lot of debate about this point. Some scholars suggest that instead Luther ‘posted’, or mailed, them to leaders in the RCC. Check out this Wikipedia link to learn more about the 95 theses and discussions about just how they were ‘posted.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/95_theses
(2) All the Brian McLaren quotes come from his talk “The Framing Questions of the New Reformation” given at the Amahoro Gathering in Krugersdorp/Johannesburg, South Africa on June 9 2009.