Beware the Reformation!
The opening sentence is always crucial for any written text or discussion. It draws your attention and moves you to read or discard it. It also sets the mood – whether it is peacemaking or disturbing. And, it is a warrant for understanding all that follows in the discourse as a whole.
In Luther for Armchair Theologians (somewhat a Luther´s theology for Dummies) professor Paulson´s opening sentence warns: “Let the reader beware!” For what follows is indeed a dangerous business, and when an ordinary man is faced with the challenge of Luther´s groundbreaking thoughts, the results are devastating – either you are totally offended or totally overtaken by the message. The same is the case in a confirmation book Free to Be, where authors´ opening sentence claims: “God has made a decision about you.” How devastating in the world of thought that establishes our dignity face-to-face God by our religious decision!
Lutherans continuously try to encompass what was it about Luther´s theses that ignited the 16th century Reformation and what continuously keeps on being the disturbing voice attacking our domesticated religiosity. Luther´s theological attack was not against the Turks, or the Jews, or the heathens. He aimed for the jugular of the religious life; he aimed for the pious and their piety. His opening words of the famous 95 Theses were not primarily addressed against indulgences; they were targeted at our spiritual pride. They were meant for all those who were either ordained, or active in the church life, and wanted to introduce human devices and methods of reaching God´s heaven. Luther´s opening words read, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent‘, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” What Luther meant was: Continuously repent!… of all your religious ways.
Dietrich Bonheoffer, in the midst of his anti-Nazi struggle, formulated this in his The Cost of Discipleship by his opening sentence, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.” Grace is not cheap for God – it cost Him his own life. Grace must not become cheap for the target of our evangelism – it must cost the sinner his entire life. All-the-more, grace must not become cheap for the active participant: the regular church go-er, the generous offer-er, the small-group spiritual lead-er, etc. As it cost Christ his life, we too must keep on dying to our desires to storm heaven by our spiritual striving and activity.
Today the semper reformanda church has a much harder time than ever before. Today, the enemy is not “the other ones”, the enemy is within our own camp, it is us. Today we need the breakthrough of Reformation the same as before. So, if you were touched and became anxious to find out the rest of Luther´s attack on the human hubris, please, keep on digging deeper in his thought. And if you are noticing that no one and nothing is disturbed during the anniversary of the Reformation, beware!