October 25, 2015
Madison: So Martin, what did you think of today’s Bible readings?
Martin: Ahhh….my favorite – the letter to the Romans! You know I wrote in my commentary about Romans that “This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament… It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul.” Have you memorized it yet?
Madison: Memorize it?! Me? I don’t know anyone who’s memorized the whole book of Romans!…Why Romans? What’s so special about Romans?
Martin: Romans is “purest gospel” – good news – great news – magnificent news! We are made right with God by faith – faith in what God did for us in Jesus…not by what we do – indulgences and the like.
Madison: Well, yeah! That’s pretty obvious. None of us are perfect after all…if God only cared for us when we did everything right, we’d really have something to worry about!
Martin: Where were you 500 years ago? I could’ve used you! So what are you doing to reform the church these days?
Madison: Me? Wasn’t that your job? Isn’t the Reformation over?
Martin: The church is never done reforming. One of our Reformation slogans was, ecclesia semper reformands, semper reformanda – do you know Latin?
Madison: Not so much.
Martin: Well it means “the church is always reformed, always reforming.” The church has to constantly reform itself .
Madison: But people don’t like to change very much…and reformation means change. How did you convince people that the church needed changing?
Martin: In some ways I pointed out what they already knew. Even those within the church knew there were some things that needed changing… I just pushed them a little J.
Madison: If some people in the church knew there needed to be changes, why didn’t they do it?
Martin: As you said, change is hard. Despite the abuses in the church – and selling indulgences was just one – people were taught that the church and only the church knew the heart and mind of God. And of course, the people couldn’t read the Bible themselves.
Madison: Yeah – I heard that you passed some time in hiding up in Wartburg Castle translating the Bible into German.
Martin: Did that ever make folks in charge angry! Translating the Bible was a capital offense – punishable by death! You know what happened to William Tyndale when he translated the Bible, right?
Madison: I guess it didn’t go over very well?
Martin: Strangled and then burned at the stake! And John Wycliffe? Because of his translating work, his body was exhumed after he died and then burned!
Madison: I suppose the church recognized that there was power in the Word – and they wanted to control the message.
Martin: Did they ever! Another slogan of the Reformation was sola scriptura. Scripture alone has authority in the church!
Madison: No offense Martin, but I wonder if that idea has been misused over the years.
Martin: What do you mean?
Madison: Well for starters, people here in the United States actually justified owning slaves based on Scripture! And then there was the issue of women in the church – people took some of Paul’s letters and said it meant that women should not ever teach or preach in church. Most recently, people have used the Bible to condemn people who are gay. I’m not so sure I like the idea of sola scriptura!
Martin: That’s what I mean when I say that the church must always reform! The Bible is alive! There are the literal words on paper and there is the Living Word – Jesus Christ! I’ve said that the Bible is the manger where Jesus lies…when we read the Bible…when we talk about the authority of Scripture…we’re talking about finding Jesus in the midst of those words on the page.
Madison: But what about those parts of the Bible that are confusing? What about places in the Bible where God seems violent? What about those parts of the Bible which seem to conflict with what we know about science?
Martin: Look for Jesus. When we are faithful to the Bible, we continually look for Jesus. We read Scripture with our full hearts and minds, open to the truths God has revealed in science and medicine and even from other faiths. The Bible is always an open door – never a closed closet.[i]
Madison: But what’s to prevent us from choosing to follow just the passages we like and ignoring the things we don’t like?
Martin: That’s a great question! We read and talk about Scripture together. We’re accountable to the whole of the Bible. If someone chooses a part of Scripture to follow and it doesn’t sound like Jesus…we need to stand up and say something. (You know, “Here I stand” and all that!)
Madison: I’m beginning to understand what you mean when you say the church is always reforming. You know, there was an article in the Washington Post this week about a Lutheran pastor who sounds a bit like you.[ii]
Martin: What’s a Lutheran?
Madison: Well, actually, you’ve had quite a following… Her name is Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She’s been saying that these days the church needs to change – it needs reform. It doesn’t look like Jesus and his band of followers anymore.
Martin: What does she mean?
Madison: Well, she says the church these days looks kind of “squeaky clean”! We’ve surrounded ourselves with people who dress well and speak well and are polite and have good jobs and floss every day… She said, “Jesus never scanned the room for whoever was the most clean-cut and never used any swear words and never made mistakes and understood everything perfectly and lived a sanctified life and then send them to do his work,” “He always used the scoundrels and the broken people and the demoniacs, you know what I mean?”
Martin: I think I do. Reformation is never over. It’s your turn Madison.