Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who Sent The Reformers to Reform the Church?

The picture: "In this example of Catholic propaganda, the Pope holds his ears while Calvin and Luther battle, with the Bible as one of the weapons." [source]

I've spent some time in the past few days visiting my "old stomping grounds"...the CARM boards. Someone recently showed up asking the same question over and over,

"Did the protestant reformers have a legitimate mission from God to reform the Church?" "The reason for this question: Is in regards to the question in Romans 10:15 "How shall they preach unless they be sent"? I believe that no individual has the right to associate himself with the apostles or attempt to act under their authority; the individual must be sent or commissioned with divine authority."

My immediate response: So the corrupt Papacy and Church should have commissioned Luther to reform the corrupt Papacy and there is a likely scenario.

The counter-response:

Its funny you bring up Martin Luther! Because he agrees that one must be sent from God, as the prophets were, in order to be believed: "Now, Christ interprets his own words. He says that he is the door to the sheep, but all the others who came before him, that is, those who were not sent by God as the prophets were, but came of themselves, uncommissioned, are thieves and murderers; they steal his honor from God and strangle human souls by their false doctrines." A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil, 1523. THE MARKS OF FALSE PREACHERS. Question: If Martin Luther practiced what he preached, who sent him?

I believe: Martin Luther could not have been sent by the Catholic Church, for the ideas of the Reformation are against Catholic teaching, and it was not the Lutheran and other Protestant churches for they were not yet formed when the reformation was being organized.

I took a few minutes to answer these charges and questions. In the same sermon, Luther describes the way the Roman Church had ordained its leaders. He says,

"This verse has been explained as having reference to those who climb, by their presumption, into the best church livings through favor and wealth, recommendations or their own power, not obtaining them by regular appointment and authority. And at present the most pious jurists are punishing people for running to Rome after fees and benefices, or after ecclesiastical preferment and offices. This they call simony. The practice is truly deplorable, for much depends upon being regularly called and appointed. No one should step into the office and preach from his own presumption and without a commission from those having the authority. But under present conditions, if we should wait until we received a commission to preach and to administer the sacraments, we would never perform those offices as long as we live. For the bishops in our day press into their offices by force, and those who have the power of preferment are influenced by friendship and rank. But I pass this by, and will speak of the true office, into which no one forces his way (even though his devotion urge him) without being called by others having the authority."

There was the dilemma: those in authority were often ordaining people unworthy and uncalled for ecclesiastical office. So, when you ask, "If the protestant reformers had a legitimate mission from God (or from someone given power by God) to reform the Church, then who sent them?"... your question proves to be a false question, because a corrupt church does not typically send people on missions to reform her. No, a corrupt church ordains as Luther described above: via corrupt practices. It was those within the Roman Church, those who ascribed to the ultimate authority that is to guide the believer (the Bible) that called for the church to reform her ways. They had a legitimate mission as we all do: to hold people or churches accountable to the God breathed Scriptures as the final authority.

You state, "Martin Luther could not have been sent by the Catholic Church, for the ideas of the Reformation are against Catholic teaching, and it was not the Lutheran and other Protestant churches for they were not yet formed when the reformation was being organized. " This is simply historical anachronism, because Luther argued justification by faith alone previous to Trent, so as a theologian within the Roman Church, he had the freedom to do so. Similarly, there was no complete dogma on the indulgence when Luther posted the 95 Theses. There was no official doctrine as to the effect of the indulgence upon Purgatory. Hence, Luther was not really a heretic (in official “Thus spoke Rome” terms).

As to specifics of ministry, previous to 1525, Luther normally argued all believers were consecrated to the priesthood through Baptism (1 Pet. 2:9). In 1520, Luther noted hypothetically that if a group of Christians taken captive living in the wilderness needed a priest, they could choose one from among themselves, and this would be valid as well. Luther argued that a Christian community had the right to call ministers of the gospel. Luther recalls in his address to the Christian Nobility in 1520, "In the manner aforesaid Christians in olden days chose from their number their bishops and priests. Afterwards these were confirmed by other bishops, without all the pomp which is now in use. In this way St. Augustine, Ambrose, and Cyprian became bishops..."

Luther felt it was his sworn duty to reform the church:

"I, Doctor Martin, was called and compelled to become a doctor out of pure obedience, without my will. So I had to assume the office of a teacher and swear and promise my most beloved Holy Scripture that I would preach and teach it faithfully and purely. In the course of this teaching the papacy blocked my way and wanted to keep me from doing so."

So Luther swore an oath to uphold the Scriptures, it was an oath he was required to make by the Church of his day. In essence, one could argue that the Church, via this oath, required Luther to work toward reformation, and it was they that inadvertently called him to do so. However, since the Papacy balked at Luther's every move toward that end, it's obvious the Papacy would have never called forth any to reform the Church.

"But for the sake of my faith in Christ my concern is that they do not twist and contaminate His Word at their pleasure. Let the Roman decretals set free the pure Gospel, and I shall not lift a finger though they make a clean sweep of all else. What more can or should I do?"

I received back an interesting counter-response:

"I first want to say thank you, for this very well thought out and thorough reply, I read through it several times, to try to figure out how I could possibly start my own reply.We both must admit that the history of Martin Luther is quite an interesting one, and I am not sure if any one book can capture the complete unbiased story that should be told.In my reply I would like to get to the heart of the matter which separated Martin Luther from the Catholic Church."

And then, this person went on to admit and outline the abuses within the Church, and the need for reform, without responding to anything I posted, and then, went silent (after posting incessantly for two days).

I'm not sure what to make of it. I had expected much more actually, and expected to get into "Reformation theory." I have many hundreds of books on Luther, the Reformers, and the Reformation. Indeed, this period in history is multi-faceted. Some books covering this period range from confusing and dull to simplistic and misleading. That being said, I've been recently re-reading Steven Ozment's book, Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution (New York: Image Books, 1993). I read this book, probably 10 years ago. For any of you interested in seeing how the Reformation was understood by the people during the 16th Century, Ozment has compiled an interesting slice of life of the period, covering how everyday people, both Protestant and Catholic interpreted and applied the Reformation. This book isn't dull history, but rather presents the issues and their implications.