Column: Reformation or revolution? Assessing Martin Luther’s legacy

The Catholic church, hereinafter “church,” needed to be reformed in the Middle Ages, but we need to distinguish between “reformation” and “revolution.”

 

The church is a divine institution founded by Jesus, containing human members. All humans are sinners. The divine institution has authority to infallibly (properly defined) teach on matters of faith and morals. No one in the church has authority to give false teachings, be corrupt or commit evil acts.

Compare the church to a toddler who plays in the dirt and sometimes messes his pants. The proper remedy is to love the toddler, give him a bath and clean clothes, (reformation), not to throw the toddler or any part of him out with the dirty bath water (revolution). The church needed reformation.

Formed by his being abused by his parents, his confusion about personal sin, lack of trust in God and resulting psychological problems, Martin Luther revolted against Jesus’ teachings and church. He appointed himself as a new messiah, one with authority to change Scripture and 1,500 years of doctrine, thus giving the world an ever-growing catastrophic tower of babel resulting in over 30,000 Christian denominations, with contradictory teachings, each claiming to possess the truth.

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The destructive splintering continues. Clearly, individual interpretation of Scripture makes no sense.

The Holy Spirit cannot be the author of confusion. God does not lead people to contradictory beliefs, because his truth is one. (1 Cor. 14:33).

Luther’s “Bible alone” theory is false. It is not supported by Scripture or common sense. Are you a Bible-believing Christian? The Bible didn’t give us the church. The church gave us the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t support “Sola Scriptura” or claim to be the source of all truth. In 1 Timothy 3:15 the Bible says that the church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.” In Matthew 28:20 Jesus commissioned his apostles to go and teach in his name, making disciples of all nations. Logically, if there is a need for Scriptures, there is a need for the teaching authority that produced them. See also 2 Peter 1:20-21

The Bible says in John 21:25, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”

Holy Tradition is also supported in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” The Bible thus affirms that divine revelation is two-fold, both written and oral.

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A genuine, sincere Bible-believing Christian believes, preaches and obeys everything that Jesus said. When pondering that requirement, keep in mind that Jesus, unlike Bill Clinton, knows what the meaning of “is” is. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Matthew 26:26

Where did the Bible come from? The canon of the Bible was given to the world by the church in the Fourth Century by the Synod of Rome (382) and the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).

The list of books they established was accepted, without practical dispute, until the so-called Protestant Reformation in 1517. The church gave its final, definitive, infallible definition of the Biblical Canon at the Council of Trent in 1546, naming the very same list of 73 books that had been included in the canon in the Fourth Century. Luther threw out seven books of the Bible and attempted to conform Scripture to his personal interpretation, i.e., by adding the word “alone” to Romans 3:28.

No pope, whether good or evil, can change the doctrines of the church revealed in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. Even the few rotten popes we’ve had did not infallibly proclaim any false teachings on faith and morals. No pope, theologian, Martin Luther or any other person has authority to teach heresy directly or to misuse “Development of doctrine” as an indirect subterfuge for changing church doctrines or adding to them.

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Simply put, development of doctrine means deepening the understanding of a doctrine, not getting rid of it or changing it.

What is Luther’s legacy? Many books have been written about Luther. Perhaps Luther is best summed up in John C. Rao’s Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society. (Go to: https://angelicopress.org/product/luther-and-his-progeny/.)

“In the twelve essays contained in this volume – based upon lectures delivered at the 2016 Roman Forum Summer Symposium on Lake Garda, Italy – the authors assess the impact of Luther’s novel theological and philosophical doctrines on faith, political theory, law, ethics, economics, and science – as well as his role in the devastation of Christendom and the creation in its place of the contemporary secular culture of the West. Acknowledging that the Reformation is not ‘the sole cause of the social problems of modernity’ but rather ‘one major cause in a chain of causes,’ the authors nevertheless make it abundantly clear that there is ‘nothing about Luther and his Protestant rebellion that we should celebrate.’”

This column’s Part II next week will reveal the church’s current need for some reformation and explore more of Martin Luther’s beliefs.

 

The writer is a retired lawyer living in Martinez

 

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