Reformation Day — It’s about Luther

Image courtesy of Mae

A few moments ago, I wished a friend a Happy Reformation Day. He said he wasn’t sure whether he should celebrate it or not. I said that everybody can celebrate Luther. He agreed, saying that he’d been thinking about such persons as Calvin and Knox. And while Calvin and Knox are certainly part of the Reformation tradition, Reformation Day commemorates a very specific event, which hindsight counts as the start of the Protestant Reformation: Nailing the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door.

This means Reformation Day is not about Calvin and the Reformed or Zwingli or Arminius, but about Brother Martin. It also means we can celebrate this day, contrary to this which I saw on Facebook (by a priest, presumably Orthodox):

Do people really celebrate an event which caused many to reject Apostolic Traditions and led to the splitting of the Church into over 36,000 separate groups?

Today we celebrated Reformation Day at lunch. A Lutheran friend of mine organised the event. We drank German beer. We played ‘pin the theses on the door’. We threw gummy worms into a bag, the winner gaining a bottle of Diet Pepsi (ie. Diet of Worms). We ate a Luther Bible cake. We sang ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,’ and we attempted to write out ’95 Things About the Church We’d Like to Change’, including such insights as ‘More beer’ and ‘Better songs’. When I wanted to add something about sermons that help explain the songs and the liturgy, the Presbyterian with the pen wouldn’t allow it, saying, ‘We are Reformed.’ This is, of course, unfair that a list of things to change about church that includes ‘More Cats’ and ‘Bacon rolls upon arrival with donuts for Jews, Muslims, vegetarians, and Hindus’ couldn’t have my suggestion, especially because I think Luther would have liked it.

Some days I dislike the Reformed. They try to steal the Reformation from the rest of us.

Once again, Reformation Day is about Luther, as well, I suppose, as the series of events his challenge to the Bishop of Rome’s authority set in motion. I favour the Magisterial Reformation, so long as we leave room for the Spirit (I am an Anglican who worships with Presbyterians and digs Lutheranism, after all), but the spiral of events led to Mennonites and Hutterites and Baptists and others as well. Luther’s action finally galvanised the Roman church to stand up and reform herself, a good thing, despite all of the other schisms that have resulted in the West from what transpired.

Luther, even when I disagree with his answers, was asking the right questions. And he held many of my prejudices — keep the liturgy, keep the images, even keep monstrances for the weak, but put preaching back into the centre of worship, bring vernacular Bibles to the people, help people realise that none of their own works will bring them to the safe side on Judgement Day and so forth. Transforming people from living lives of fear in the face of an angry God for whom no good work is sufficient to living lives of joyful obedience in faith that the God of justice will have mercy in the end — this is a good thing.

So drink a beer today in honour of Dr. Luther. He did well.

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4 thoughts on “Reformation Day — It’s about Luther

  1. You enjoyed writing this post! We also enjoyed seeing what you look like in the photo on the previous post. Keep it up – you must have at least one book’s worth of material on this blog and it’s all fascinating!

  2. What is interesting for me is that Luther in his famous “I can do no other” speech, actually acknowledges both “Popes and Councils” and “Reason” as authorities, just not the ultimate or final one. Sola Scriptura is about priority and the hierarchy of authority. Most average Protestants however, really hold to “nuda/Solo” Scriptura, in which scripture is the sole authority, and anything else receives the head-in-sand treatment. Anyone who reads the “Second Martin” (Chemnitz), realizes how important the first few hundred years of the church are for Lutherans. Some even argue that Chemnitz is almost more important for doctrinal reasons.

    • Indeed, people don’t really realise what sola scriptura meant for the likes of Luther, so when Orthodox and Roman Catholic critics lash out at the doctrine, they demonstrate an lack of understanding, but one sadly shared by too many Protestants. I read Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, and one of the Orthodox writers jumbled Luther, late nineteenth-century Anglican liberals, and modern evangelicals all together and proclaimed how untraditional we are. Well, yeah, if that’s what you think an evangelical is…

      I’ve never looked at Chemnitz. These movements all have their founders and consolidators. Cranmer followed by Hooker, and later by the folks c. 1662 and in the Civil War, for Anglicanism. Or Nicene orthodoxy starts with the likes of Athanasius but moves on through the Cappadocians and then Cyril. But if all we ever read is Luther or Cranmer or Athanasius, we miss the wider story of how we have arrived where we are.

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