“Luther Did Not Fall from the Sky”

Réne Malgo

For the Reformation Year 2017, a flood of articles and books will be published; these will reflect the achievements as well as the sins of Martin Luther and other Reformers. The Midnight Call will also focus on the 500 years of Reformation in a special way this year.

Today, it is above all a matter of writing both critically and efficaciously about Luther. Conservative evangelical theologians complain that he remained too close to the Catholic Church. But they overlook how unusual and revolutionary Luther’s perceptions were in the culture in which he lived. Fundamentalist theologians are often in danger of not looking beyond the boundaries of their own culture. When we criticize Luther—and certainly there is enough where we can and must be critical—then we must be careful that we do not behave as those who close themselves off to any reform, similar to the Roman Catholic Church, which persists in rigid dogmas and is unwilling to question these systems based on the Bible. Luther, trained as a Roman Catholic theologian, did question them.

The great trap into which we might step in regard to the Reformation Year, is that we only see the need for improvement in others and not ourselves. We conservatives also need reforms. There is no perfect system, no perfect church, no perfect theology that does not need to be critically examined again and again, light of the Holy Scripture. Two thousand years of church history should have taught us this well enough.

Of course, the German Reformer was not without sin. While we celebrate his achievements, we should not hide his dark side. His hatred against Jews at the end of his life is and remains inexcusable. There are reasons for this frightful attitude, which do not make Luther’s anti-Judaism “better,” but they put it all into a perspective which makes it hard to sit comfortably on a high horse.—It was about Luther’s end time expectation, which at the end of his life contributed to his terrible failures toward God’s chosen people of Israel.

Meanwhile, secular and Catholic historians question the Protestant reading of the Reformation. They point out that the Reformation would not have begun because Luther had sought a merciful God and found Him in Holy Scripture—as is usually proclaimed in our circles. The discovery of the gracious God has supposedly come later. These historians emphasize more the continuity of Luther’s thinking with medieval theologians and other thinkers before him. This view is certainly not absurd. The Reformation came when the time was ripe. Luther did not fall from the sky. As every other human being—and we today—he was formed and influenced by the culture and time in which he lived, and by the Bible teachers who preceded him.

Indeed, the `, which Luther supposedly nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in October 1517, did not have much to do with the justification doctrine for which he later became known. But, as church historian Carl Trueman points out, Luther had already said much more radical things about the faith, in which the cross of the Lord played a central role. And, this central position of the cross in Luther’s theology is the legacy which Protestants today can and should adopt from him. Our call at the beginning of the Reformation Year 2017 is: back to the cross!  

Until our Lord returns for our redemption, let us remain near His cross, His salvation, His love and His Person, to “know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).—Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, perhaps in 2017!

Midnight Call - 01/2017

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety