October 31 is the day that the young German monk Martin Luther is said to have ascended the steps of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany to nail his 95 Theses to its door. It was a protest against the corruption and stringent traditions of the established church institution. This pivotal act sparked the Reformation, which promoted the liberty of conscience, salvation by faith, the sole authority of the scriptures, and the gospel of free grace. Luther’s effects on Christianity are largely positive, and he deserves our respect.
However, we also need to grapple with the fact that Luther didn’t really believe in all scripture, as biblical books like Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation did not fit within the order of his mind. Luther saw people as deserving of eternal damnation, and his violent language and attitude toward the Jews prepared the way for the Holocaust.
These matters must not be glossed over. So, how does Luther’s protest endure today? Is there more to challenge?
If I am to celebrate the Reformation, I must engage with these painful facts and continue to protest corruption and injustice in a spirit of love and truth. I must read and reread scripture as a whole and accept the testimony of Jesus. I must continue to engage with the gospel of grace in new ways, always repudiating force and coercion. Being a Protestant today requires keeping the protest alive so the good news about God not yet understood may be recognized.
Craig Ashton Jr.
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