Faith: We continue to hear voices like that of Martin Luther
I've just come back from a pilgrimage of sorts. I spent a week in June in Wittenberg, Germany, the place where Martin Luther spent his life from 1508.
On this journey, I was able to walk the streets that Luther walked, walk the corridors of his former monastery that would become his home, and worship in both the church that was his church (the Stadtkirche Sankt Marien) and the church where he is buried and which is perhaps most famous for being the site where he nailed the 95 Theses in 1517 - the Schlosskirche.
Excursions from the home base of Wittenberg took me to Eisleben: to the houses where Luther was born and died (but only lived a few months in his whole life) and a church in which he preached his last sermon - St. Andreas Church (notably the only one that still has furnishings as it did in the 16th century) - and where he was baptized - St. Peter and Paul Church.
Excursions took me to Erfurt: Luther first went here as a student (1501) and the monastery where he took his vows as an Augustinian monk (1505) and the cathedral where he was ordained a priest (1507). Excursions took me to the Wartburg Castle, where Luther lived in hiding during 1521-22; it is here that one of Luther's monumental works, translating the New Testament - from the Greek "original" - into German was completed.
For some time, Luther posting his 95 Theses has been seen as the "beginning" of the Reformation in 1517. This 500th anniversary seemed to provide a wonderful opportunity to make this pilgrimage.
But, as wonderful as it is to walk some of those same places and worship in those same churches that the namesake of my denomination did, the question for us - Lutheran or not - is how we continue to hear voices like those of Luther.
Here's my first contention: Martin Luther would spin in his grave if he ever discovered that "denominations" of the church had claimed his name. The Reformation began in an attempt to address very real problems in the church of Luther's day. Luther's actions and words threatened the status quo of the church's (and society's) power systems.
Indeed today there are still prophetic moments at which one must speak against power systems. We live in a world that continues to oppress; the challenges of racism, sexism and economic disparity continue to be very real in our world today - and church structures are at least somewhat complacent in these.
Our call to continue to speak in a prophetic voice, as Luther did, as the prophets did: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8, NRSV)
A main goal of the Reformation was to make faith accessible and relevant to everybody. Though Luther is often celebrated as the "Father of the Reformation," very little of what he actually did was "new."
The difference was that, with Luther, there were two important changes that helped what he did stick. His main theological "conversion" - that salvation is offered solely as a gift from God - was the contention of Jan Hus a century before. But, unlike Hus, Luther's ideas could spread quickly because of the invention of the movable-type printing press. (Just think of the power of social media, the internet and 24/7 news cycle today.)
Even Luther's Bible was not the first in German - there had been a number of versions that had been translated from the Latin Vulgate into German prior to Luther's time. The change is that, along with it, Luther advocated very strongly for the public education of both boys and girls, vastly increasing literacy. (The public education system that we have owes, in part, its existence to the Reformation.)
The lasting voice of the Reformation, however, is this (though coined in 1947): "Ecclesia semper reformanda est" (the church must always be reformed). We are called as a church to continue asking the question of why we are doing what we are.
Is it still serving as it should? Or, does it need to change?