Friday, November 5, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship With Luther

NOTE: I fully acknowledge that Rachel Held Evans wrote something similar to this not too long ago. It is not my intention to steal my friend's ideas. Also, this was originally posted on my personal blog.

On October 31, 1517, a former Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. Nailing important memos to doors was customary back in those days, but since Luther had the nerve to challenge the Catholic Church’s stance on selling indulgences, this small act of defiance started what later became known as the Protestant Reformation.

I used to be a big fan of Luther. To me, he represented some one who fought against the oppression of legalism by preaching the love of Christ. He was a man who stood up against corruption within the Church. Plus, he was a brilliant theologian. Nowadays, however, I tend to cringe when I hear Luther’s name

First, while going through some Luther quotes, I came across some colorful quotes:

"I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist."

"Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but--more frequently than not --struggles against the Divine Word...."

"Women ... should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children."

"I maintain that some Jew wrote [the Book of James] who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any."


Which brings me to my second point--Luther was definitely not a fan of the chosen people!

“My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire...Second, that all their books-- their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible-- be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted...Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country...Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it…The rulers must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs."


Now there’s something you don’t hear at a Lutheran church!

And yet I can’t say too much because a lot of my heroes didn’t have squeaky clean records, either. John Howard Yoder got into trouble back in the early ‘90s for ‘sexual misconduct.’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, despite being a self-proclaimed pacifist, was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Karl Barth had a mistress. Even Dr. King supposedly cheated on his wife. When does a person’s sins ruin his/her legacy?

For me, I try to find a balance. I recognize Luther as part of the history of my faith, and I admire his bravery when he was faced with opposition. Yes, I also acknowledge Luther was a human being just like me with his own screw-ups and shortcomings. You have to see both sides, or else you’ll turn people into either gods or devils.

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