Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Sunday

I found this essay from the Billings Gazette, October 30, 2010 worth sharing.

Oct. 31 brings a conflict of interest for Lutheran Christians.

At the same time we’re enjoying Halloween, we also mark the anniversary of the Reformation on the same day.

I’ve always wondered what people would think if I dressed up my kids as little Martin Luthers to go door-to-door nailing up pamphlets challenging Christians to get over their superstitious hang-ups and be true to the Gospel of Love.

There are different ways of telling the story of the Reformation, not all of them accurate.

A popular misconception in our time is that the reformers proclaimed “Sola Scriptura” as a way of replacing unquestioning obedience to the church hierarchy with unquestioning obedience to the Bible. In this version of the story, Martin Luther becomes the pioneer of American fundamentalism.

A more accurate version of the story would be that two competing readings of the Bible came into conflict with each other.

The church’s official reading of the Bible assumed that this was a book about sin and guilt and the authority of the church to save people from damnation if they submitted to this authority.

The reformers, when they looked at the Bible, saw a different story. It was a story of God’s love for humanity becoming more important than judgment of sin, or control, or domination.

It was a story of a free gift being offered in Jesus, a gift that cannot be held for ransom by churches or manipulative preachers. They found in Scripture that God’s purpose for humanity was abundant life and love and peace, in spite of the many ways we fail to live up to these ideals.

It was another conviction of the reformers that the church must always be reforming.

The insight they gained was that a human organization that dares to try to represent God in this world will inevitably fall prey to the very worst forms of corruption. The necessary corrective is a constant process of self-critical reflection, always looking at the sins of religious people before proposing to heal the rest of the world.

A look at our religious landscape today might give the impression that the Reformation never happened.

The bad reputation of churches and religious people in our culture is well-deserved, with the most audible religious voices being voices of extremism, judgment, fear and division.

The reputation of the Christian Gospel in our time and place is not of a free gift of life, love and peace, but a gift held captive to prescribed patterns of religiosity, contempt for the poor and vulnerable and nostalgic notions of family, sexuality and marriage.

The insight of the Reformation is that the Christian Church does not have an automatic right to exist.

If it fails to proclaim and exhibit Christ’s love, the church is on its own. Jesus will be at work, even outside the church, if necessary, gathering people who really want grace, love and peace.

The Rev. Eric Thorson is the pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

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