Martin Luther's Quincentennial

Martin Luther's Quincentennial

Martin Luther's Quincentennial

What do Baptists owe Lutherans?

This year you will hear a lot about the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of his 95 theses. What's a thesis? Why is it a big deal? And do Baptists have any part in something that sounds Lutheran?

Unfortunately, like many historical stories, the telling of a brash Catholic priest defiantly pounding biblical grace to the door of a historic sanctuary to theologically megaduce the Pope isn't as grand as one might think. Luther was a learned scholar with a gift for preaching. His biblical conviction was obvious in his sermons. What really broke the last straw (Luther pun for the book of James inserted here) was the Catholic selling of indulgences as he was coming to terms with his own understanding of personal acceptance to God.

Luther followed the academic process of the day by outlining his 95 concerns in Latin (the academic language that spanned European territorial and language barriers) to produce what we call today his 95 theses, or what was more locally known as Luther's Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. It was not until friends impressed with his work decided to translate his concerns into German that Luther's argument gained a theological spotlight. This was not a separation from the Catholic church, but rather intended to be a reformation within the Church. In fact, Luther never left Catholicism. Nevertheless, the Church was unimpressed and struggled with Luther's influence the rest of his life (and made Luther a real grump in the process).

The anniversary is a really big deal, even for those of us who are Baptists. It's not as if Luther was the first to discover the biblical concept of "grace alone" for reconciliation with God. It's just that what was regularly embraced in the shadows outside Catholicism was now being propagated from behind the entrenched religious veil. It was the lightning bolt that severed the European church from the European states. Think about that. Regardless of what pop culture advocates, it was the church requesting to be severed from the state, not the other way around. The Lutherans (think followers of Luther, not denominational congregants - Luther was never Lutheran) opened the door for religious disagreement in what was then a marriage of citizenship and church identity. To be a religious dissenter of the day was to be a national traitor, so Europeans were arguing for more than Sunday song style. For them, it was life or death.

Even more profound was the doctrine that acted as the lightning bolt itself. Grace. Grace! This was no in-house debate over communion elements or priestly robes. The stuff of Luther was the core of reconciliation with God. For him to succeed could spell the end of the Catholic empire of the day. This concept of grace is what unites non-Catholic Christians across many denominations. This grace becomes the litmus test of eternal destination. Bringing grace into the light and out of the shadows gave rise to an uncontrollable surge of religious expression. This explosion eventually gave rise to men like John Smyth and Thomas Helwys ... and the rest is (Baptist) history!

Additional Resources and Reading

A Working Church for The Coming Lord