Amy Deardon has a post today about Martin Luther and Reformation Day, and since she asked for my feedback, I’ll give some.
I know many regard Martin Luther as a hero. I also know one person who, when we were talking about Heaven, said, “We only know for certain one person is in Hell,” and as I was about to say, “Judas?” he said, “Martin Luther.”
Of course at the time, the Catholic Church was badly in need of reform. But you also had people such as St. Philip Neri who were reforming it from the inside. The results he had in Rome showed that people were hungry for a real, active faith. It isn’t necessary to leave a system in order to patch it up. Imagine if your spouse came to you and said, “We need to reform our marriage, so I’m going to divorce you and move a thousand miles away.”
Martin Luther leaves a legacy of differences that pretty much prevent reconciliation between Protestantism and Catholicism.
1) he changed the canon of the Bible from what had been recognized since the fourth century
2) Sola fide, the doctrine that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone
3) Sola scriptura, the doctrine that only what’s in the Bible can be considered authoritative.
Along with sola scriptura comes the injunction that you the reader determine what scripture actually means, which places new Christians in the intriguing position of needing to decide what teachings best align with scripture before they’ve actually read scripture very much at all. So you have to become an expert in order to begin learning. (Which is why some people resort to literalism and all its difficulties.)
As for #1, I have no idea why he thought he had the authority to do that, but you can see why someone would reject external authority and tradition if he wanted to reject several books of the Bible.
For #3, sola scriptura has no scriptural basis. In fact, we mentioned here earlier how the scriptures themselves extol the importance of sacred tradition. In order for sola scriptura to work at all, we’d need an infallible table of contents to go with the infallible scriptures, and we don’t. Jesus didn’t give us a set of documents: he gave us a Church, and the Church gave us the Bible.
And #2, sola fide, my favorite because it creates people who froth at the mouth and snarl things at me like “Are you saying that our SINS can DEPRIVE us of HEAVEN?” Uh, yeah, they can. The Bible doesn’t hold with sola fide either. 1 Corinthians 13:2
If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Salvation comes through faith working in love. In Revelation, the good deeds of the saints are the only things that follow them into the next life. When Jesus talks about separating the sheep and the goats, he talks about it solely in terms of deeds (“I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink,” etc.)
But the ultimate test of anything is the fruit it bears, and what is the fruit of Luther’s work? Well, the Church is definitely reformed, although as I mentioned, others worked within the structure too in order to reform it. Simply leaving will never reform a corrupt organization.
But what we do see is something like thirty thousand different denominations of Protestantism, and I’m not so sure that’s what Luther would have wanted, that anyone who disagrees with a church can shear off and begin his own newly-reformed version of the church. It’s not the unity that Paul talks about in the Spirit, not the unity that Jesus wanted, that we might all be one as he and the Father are one.
EDITED: Amy asked a follow-up question in the comments,and I answered it in the next day’s post.
Also, a reader who didn’t wish to comment in public said:
I just wonder if some mention of the joint declaration on Lutherans and Catholics on justification by faith might be good here?