An Internal Reformation – Not an External Revolution

By Graham Glover

It’s here. The year 2017. And with it, an onslaught of conversations about an Augustinian Friar who started a chain of events 500 years ago that forever changed the Western Church.

As Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and others begin to discuss anew the causes and consequences of Luther and the reformation that bore his name, we are wise to remember that Luther sought an internal reformation, not an external revolution. This may sound like semantics to some, but it calls to mind a quote attributed to the Lutheran theologian, Peter Brunner, that went something like this: “a Lutheran who does not daily ask himself why he is not a Roman Catholic cannot know why he is a Lutheran”.

In other words, to be a Lutheran is to be in daily conversation with Rome. To be a Lutheran is to seek unity from within and not rebellion from without.

Sadly, many Lutherans and the vast majority of Protestants do not adhere to such principles. For most adherents to the Book of Concord, such talk is akin to conversing with the anti-Christ. For most Protestants, such inclination toward unity is no better than seeking unity with non-Christians. What Luther began as an internal reformation has sadly remained an external revolution, with little or no desire among Lutherans or Protestants to genuinely talk with or actively seek unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ that make up the Roman communion.

Not only is this sad, it is tragic, and betrays, I believe, the very purpose of the Reformation.

I recognize there remains many substantive theological differences between Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and the wide variety of Protestants. These differences should never be glossed over or treated as inconsequential. Indeed, these differences are the very reason Christendom remains divided.

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I also recognize that a short blog post is not going to miraculously end the schism that divides the Western Church. Ink has been spilled, wars have been fought, intense debates and passionate dialogues have continued for the better part of 500 years. And yet the actions of Fr. Luther, his supporters, as well as those that followed a more radical course, continue to focus on that which divides us from Rome, instead of how we can unite back with her.

Such an approach to the Reformation cannot continue. Lutherans especially, but Protestants as well, should heed the advice of Brunner and remember the place from whence we came, that is, Rome. Our earnest desire should be unity, not division, for ours was meant to be an internal reformation, not an external revolution.

This is no easy task. Some, perhaps most, probably think it is an impossible one. But it is past time for the Reformation to reform itself. This doesn’t mean a capitulation on doctrinal integrity. It does mean however that we recognize 500 years of division has created scars that need never have been created. It means that the few issues present at the beginning of the Reformation could very well be the point where a new conversation – a new reformation – can begin.

It means that on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, there remains hope for unity within the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

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37 thoughts on “An Internal Reformation – Not an External Revolution

  1. Happy New Year!

    I wholeheartedly agree. One of the best things we can do is to practice fellowship where we have things in common, make a conspicuous effort to pray, praise, study and listen with other Christians. Try to understand how they hear something in scripture with ears attuned to different underlying assumptions. It is those underlying theological assumptions that cause most of the chafing.

    One of the pastors who regularly guides our bible study converted from Catholicism and sheds a lot of insight. His journey looked East, looked to Canterbury, and settled with us. We talk often of how underlying assumptions color our entire approach. For example, the Roman catechism instructs: “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” This is bolstered by a notion of Purgatory as something more than a final sanctification – that, to a Roman Catholic, the Christian is cooperative in his salvation just the same as he is cooperative in sanctification and is surely responsible for his own damnation if he fails to reconcile. So, Christ is always going to seem insufficient when a Lutheran hears a Roman Catholic – if one earns damnation, one earns salvation (with the help of God). That affects the hearing of scripture. We need to appreciate that, though wrong, it is theologically consistent and logical. We also need to understand that our own hearing has underlying assumptions. To their ears, we are too free and easy, too complacent, to content to receive God’s forgiveness without a quid pro quo – we’re conning God.

    Take the dialog to the assumptions, not to the doctrine and practice that flow from them, and we find both commonality and the roots of disagreement.

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    1. Hlewis, great insights and a good example of where I think dialogue can get unnecessarily muddled if we don’t understand history, context, etc.

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    2. I’ve noticed that in Lutheran circles, there tends to be a more fair treatment of Roman Catholic positions. Roman Catholic theology is much more nuanced and their errors are much more subtle (and thus deceptive), than caricatures which are peddled by most Protestants.

      In my past dialogue with a Catholic brother and sister-in-law, I assumed that they believed we are saved by our works, and not by grace. In truth, Catholics also believe we are saved by grace, but they define grace differently than we do, and thus introduce works into the picture as something which is necessary in addition to faith.

      This misunderstanding is one of the primary obstacles which prevents genuine dialogue between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Protestants misrepresent the Roman Catholic position, Catholics object to the unfair treatment, and the conversation goes nowhere.

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      1. Ken, great points. On the whole, I think you are right, Lutherans do give a more fair audience to Roman Catholics. But as you also note, I think Lutherans get too caught up in a particular interpretation of Roman Catholicism that isn’t always true.

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      2. My wife is Roman Catholic, both of my kids went to CCD, I am in NJ where almost everyone is Catholic and I was raised to understand that we have more in common with Catholics than any New World sect, the descendants of Methodism, or Calvinists. Language is important to Catholic doctrine and a reading of such things as you point out shows similarity. One of the difficulties is that their catechism is long and detailed, there is no simple, mere Christianity to Catholicism and, works aside, many of those who have come to our church from Catholicism talk about the strain of “doing” church and “doing” Christianity the right way. For them, Law and Gospel distinction is meaningless since, to their ears, the Gospel is filled with commands. Consequently, there are many misinterpretations of what the Catholic Church believes and much of this is due to the disparity between the formal doctrines and the practice and talk of Catholics we meet. My wife went K-12 in Catholic school and studied religion, daily. She is conversant at a different level. I am a lex orandi, lex credendi type. In my estimation, that makes Catholicism what the parishioners are taught to do, say, and think moreso than the reality of Catholic teaching, My wife disapproves.

        One thing this shows we have in common is a burden of catechesis with which our churches are both struggling. Praise God that we don’t have the complications they do. At the same time, shame on us for not even doing well with a simpler catechism. If we understand better who we are and where we come from, we can better engage in meaningful dialog. Worst case, we learn about ourselves in the discussion and enrich each other. At the end of the day, speaking together, we are celebrating the things we have in common – we are in the Church, we are Christians, we need to persevere, we need Word and Sacrament, we pray for each other. We build each other up as we are admonished to do according to scripture.

        At this point, my family comes to church with me. My daughter has joined. My wife studies with our groups (which also include people from other churches and faith backgrounds). In the end, we are privileged to share the liberating Good News which is a message for all and it is a message which always wins out.

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  2. Graham,
    In your writings you make distinction between Lutherans and Protestants. Is this simply because of your target audience or is it something more, pointing to even deeper divisions within our church?

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    1. Both. While all Western Christians that are not Roman Catholic are technically in protest, and consequently, Protestant, I think there is a big difference between Lutherans and other Protestant communions. The article below is a good reference (thanks Curt!).

      A key point to remember is that unlike the other reformers (to include King Henry VIII of England), Luther never wanted to leave the Church. He always sought reform from within. Things got a little complicated when he was excommunicated, but his intent was always an internal reformation.

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      1. Luther never wanted to leave the Church. He always sought reform from within.

        While I think that statement may describe Luther during part of his campaign of reform, don’t the facts of how things unfolded, later, tell against that? I think of two data points in particular. First, when declared that no one, not the pope, nor even an ecumenical council, could pass judgment on his theological propositions; only his own interpretation of Scripture would decide the matter. Second, so much of his writing vilified not only the pope in particular, but also his office and the Catholic Church. It’s hard for me to see how these facts, if I am not misunderstanding them, are compatible with a desire to remain within the Church.

        My explanation is that at some point, Martin Luther’s pride came into the picture — perhaps at that moment of confrontation with Eck at the Diet of Worms, to which I alluded above.

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      2. Fr. Fox,

        The doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone is so clearly taught in scripture that it is not a matter of Luther’s personal interpretation.

        I’ve read some of the early Church Fathers, and I agree with what Melanchton noted (I believe it was in the Augsburg Confession) that justification by grace alone through faith alone is present even in their writings, though at times it is less clear and maybe a bit confused.

        There is also zero support in scripture for the idea that saints can perform works of supererrogation, or that the merit which flows from these works can be purchased through indulgences. Nor is there any support in scripture for the idea that the church can grant Christians a shorter stay in purgatory in exchange for a few dollars.

        Was Luther a proud, brash, over-the-top, often crude man? Well, he himself admitted as much. Nevertheless, the Reformation was not about his personal interpretation of scripture, it was about rejecting doctrines taught by the church which had no basis in scripture.

        At first, Luther expected the Pope to take his side and rebuke men like Eck for selling indulgences. The Pope responded by declaring Luther a heretic and then excommunicating him. Were it not for Luther’s protector, the Elector of Saxony, Luther would have been killed just like Hus.

        It seems that Leo X and the theologians of the Catholic Church were every bit as proud.

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  3. As a co-founder of an Ordinariate community, three cheers and hooray. Please, please, do keep working on this, and if there’s anything we can do, let us know, and we’ll try our best. Our Catholic parish is comprised of mostly converts—I’m of Baptist origins, my wife, Anglican. We have Lutherans, Presbyterians, Brethren, Evangelicals, Methodists and others. And we’re all at Altar together each Sunday. After 4 1/2 years of being formally established, we’re still giddy, and chuckle each time we celebrate the ‘Cranmer Mass.’ Such joy.

    We can do this, make it happen!

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  4. Fr. Fox, thanks for chiming in on the conversation. Your point is accurate, Luther came to have a very strong distaste for the papacy. To argue that as his reform went on that he didn’t grow to disdain the papacy is nonsense. I concede that point. (I suspect things were forever tarnished with him when he was excommunicated!)

    But I also believe that at the beginning (the posting of the 95 Theses), he sought to reform from within. He reached out to the pope – to the church. This is in sharp contrast to the other reformers (Zwingli, Calvin, the Ana-baptists, even Henry VIII). And it’s on this point that I think Lutherans especially should reconsider how we understand the reformation. We should long for a return, a reconciliation, to the very place and communion from whence our churches sprang. We should also not be afraid of the papacy itself. Melanchthon was willing to submit (albeit with conditions).

    I think history and subsequent actions taken by Rome illustrate that Luther and his concerns/reforms were needed (you and I can argue to what extent). Many Roman Catholics acknowledge this point. The question Luther and subsequent Lutherans face is what to do when the Church calls you to task? And it’s here that I think the Reformation largely rests, namely, which is authoritative: The Church or a particular understanding of the doctrine of justification, the article on which Lutherans posit the Church stands or falls.

    Next week, I’ll start looking at that question of authority.

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    1. Very much looking forward to the discussion of authority. It is what became the critical, central issue for many in our congregation of Catholic converts.

      I hope this is not too abstract a question to ask, but I have asked it of others, who argue that the Reformation was meant to reform, not replace. That makes sense.

      If this is true, could you point to a range of time (any time period will do) in which you would be willing to be a full participant/member in the Church prior to the Reformation? This question seems to get sidestepped.

      But does it not make sense that the idea of reform would be to something that once was? Something existed before that, while imperfect, was acceptable, tolerable?

      (I’d note that we as Catholics do not have the luxury of disassociating ourselves from the last 2,000 years of Church. We’re ‘all in’ as it were.)

      If so, then, as part of the argument to my Protestant brothers and sisters, we could all say, together, “That’s it! That’s the Church I accept and am willing to assent to!” That period would be our starting point, because Protestants would accept all that came with ‘that’ church.

      Without a willingness to ‘locate and identify’ a church in history, it cuts very sharply across the grain of the basic premise of the Reformation argument that it did not intend to start something ‘new’ but reform that which existed.

      Is it possible to identify a period?

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      1. Greg, thanks for the question. A Lutheran would argue that they/we are part of the church catholic, that the Reformation was not a break from the church, but a continuation of what has always been (this is argument is abundantly clear in the first Lutheran document, the Augsburg Confession). Moreover, I wouldn’t argue that there was ever a “pure” time in the church, that is, a time where the church didn’t have some who espoused theological errors. But in the early 16th century there was, at least according to Luther and his followers and a multitude of other reformers, several issues that were ripe for addressing.

        We see this best in what Luther began his reformation responding to: the abuse of the sale of indulgences. At the time of his 95 Theses, he wasn’t even arguing to abolish indulgences entirely (maybe a topic of another post), but to address the theological errors that resulted from their abusive sale and use.

        As noted earlier, I’ll begin to address the issue of authority next week, but as to your question, I don’t think identifying a time of pureness is necessary.

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      2. Hi Graham, yes, thank you, I’m familiar with that understanding, ie, that the Lutheran church is a continuation. However, ‘pureness’ was not part of the question I was asking.

        It was about a willingness to accept and submit to the Church of a period so that we could wrap our minds and convictions around something coherent, without excepting those things [Protestants] don’t like, whatever they might be. In other words, the Church of Justin? Irenaeus? Athanasius? Augustine? And taking on all that the church and period of your choosing brings with it. I hope that makes sense.

        The continuation concept does not lend itself to what the Church was 220-451, or 534-784, or 978-1246 (all random dates), and saying that we (Protestants) willingly accept *that* Church, even with its imperfections. Otherwise, what we are left with is an infinitely scatter-approach from Protestants who (individually) select from an infinite number of theological convictions and variables.

        It would be great if we eliminated that and just said we all get “this Church” come what may, all in, all together, no escape hatches. What did the Reformers want to reform to? What did it look like when? And when Protestants were all in prior to being Protestants?

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  5. Ken, what if the Pope had capitulated on the issue of indulgences? It seems to me that if he had, Luther would have too and the rest of the Lutheran Reformation would have been muted.

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    1. Graham,

      I think you’re right. If the Church had capitulated early on the issue of indulgences (which they capitulated on partially at Trent), then Luther probably would not have pursued the issue any further.

      However, Luther’s break with Rome was a process. The more he dialogued, debated, argued, condemned, and was condemned, the more he realized how deeply the problems ran. I don’t know all of the philosophical categories for types of causes (frankly, they confuse me). However, I think it’s safe to say that while the immediate cause was the issue of indulgences, the deeper issues which eventually came to light were the issues of authority and justification.

      The sale of indulgences was the immediate cause, and without that practice, the Reformation may have never happened. But once it began, those underlying issues became clear, and that is where the battle was fought.

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      1. Ken, you’re right about the reformation being a process. I guess what I want to continue to explore is has the process gone too far?
        Stay tuned!

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  6. Greg, forgive me if I am mistaken, but it seems like what you’re trying to get as is who (or what) decides what is orthodox Christian teaching. Again, the question of authority. And it is on this point that I think Protestantism (to include Lutheranism) has some glaring holes.

    I’ve written before about sola scriptura and will likely return to that topic again in the weeks to come. There is a French theologian, Daniel Olivier, who wrote a great book entitled, “Luther’s Faith: The Cause of the Gospel in the Church”. His argument is basically Luther’s call for reform was right. His error was that he should have submitted to the authority of the Church when called to task. I find that argument very compelling.

    That being said, I think we should recognize that much of what we know today as Roman Catholicism, was not codified until the Council of Trent, a council called in large part because of Luther…

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    1. Again, if I may, there is a question of “submitting”, here. The implication of what Greg asked and you are saying, is that there is an authority, a structure, an institution, “the Church”, that is separate from scripture, to which we submit. Luther’s contest was with this, specifically. Greg’s question, in my estimation, is loaded with an assumption that some organization, a magisterium, an institution, stands, hierarchically, between the Christian and God’s Word. To submit to something separate from us, makes sense. To submit to something that God institutes among us, is constituted of us, does not.

      You, me, Greg, etc. are not only in the Church but we are part of what makes up the Church – we worship, preach and hear and read the Word, pray and intercede for the world, receive and administer sacraments, confess and receive absolution. All of us are invested in and with the life of the Church. We, corporately, submit to Christ and the teachings of scripture. By doing so, the Church is established and continues with Christ as our head. We are made part of the Church by Christ, not made part of Christ by the Church.

      Even allowing for close communion and exercise of the Keys by those of the priesthood selected from among us, there is no rule they can place upon us for satisfaction, no exercise of a church, outside the norms of scripture. Just as Christ did not come to condemn the world (it stands condemned, as is) and offers salvation as a free gift, the Church can only dispense free grace. This requires only faith in God’s Word, in His promises. There is no room in that for any other submission.

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      1. Hlewis, I like where you’re going with this. The question that remains for me is what happens with there is disagreement on what God’s Word means? In other words, who decides what is the correct interpretation? (Just trying to push the authority question a little more here…)

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      2. Authority is the whole debate. I learned that long ago. We can share much or our heritage and tradition outside this and I believe that is profitable. God’s Word means what it says. But, more than that, it means what it does – when we go into the world, there is a living Word in our good works that calls to the lost. However, if I count my receiving the sacrament as a good work performed before my brethren or as a pious work on behalf of others, I am seriously mistaken. The witness of what I do before the eyes of the lost is the good work which proclaims. So, I would never be content to say that Word is confined to print or a translation or to the original manuscripts we do not possess. In this sense, the Logos is in the book and in my life. But, while witness can call, it cannot explain.

        When confronted with tradition or outside sources for God’s Word and revelation, we can take a cheap shot and point out that Joseph Smith has the same potential for being a prophet, one who speaks for God as any pope. However, I think it most constructive to look at the history of God’s people and the destructiveness of leaning on tradition. Take the Mishnah, the oral Torah. I like to use Christ’s discussion with the Pharisees in Luke 11 to cite the burdens placed on the people by the “church”, the commands and laws added to God’s Law. To this day, rabbis writ “G-d” in English to avoid using God’s name in vain. They are so concerned that they might slip that they fail to even call upon His name, properly. We have kept that awful tradition! I have an old Jerusalem Bible which boldly calls on Yahweh through the Old Testament. It is both jarring and beautiful. The Bible is so wonderful that it even shows us why we cannot rely on tradition.

        Finally, the beginning of Genesis 3, sin enters the world in the abandonment of God’s simple Word, the seeking of meaning and possibilities outside His Word. The only sure revelation we are given is scripture. The Church laid hands through apostolic succession on the leaders of the great heresies. Clearly, the estimation of the Church and bishops is not without error. But all of those heresies fell before the Word, scripture, brought to bear in open discussion. the came about by the wisdom of man interpreting, reading into, looking beyond the Word, usually for justice, for punishment, repayment for evil and redress for good – surely a just God could not accept only Christ’s sacrifice. These were not combated by man’s interpretations but by a simple reading of what we are given to confess from the apostolic teaching handed down to us. What thing is truly of the Church, what is documented to be of the Church and necessary to believe for salvation that is not found in scripture? What burden should we bear?

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    2. Graham, an aside on sola scriptura. We are assured in scripture that it is sufficient to guide us unto all good works, that we are created for such good works, and we are taught that the apostles preached and taught the fulfillment of God’s promises from the scripture they received. Further, we see the early congregations repeatedly admonished concerning the teachings that were left to them and those teachings are spelled out. Every aspect of God’s promise is covered. We have it that scripture is God-breathed, not a creation of mankind or a creation of the Church, it was created for the Church and scripture has guided God’s people since, at least, Moses.We are assured that, though institutions may pass and many things change, God’s Word endures. In other words, the whole (all) Christian life, faith, purpose and the means to instruct in these is taken from scripture.

      Do not be defensive. This is an error too often made in trying to apologize to Rome. God’s Word has asserted itself. The onus is on Rome to show the authority and the word which comes from outside the record of scripture and it needs to show the things which can be added to that which is sufficient for the whole of Christian life. I say this for two reasons:

      1) It is often the view that they are the parent and we the disobedient and straying lost children Let them instruct, instead of posturing or demanding an explanation beyond that which scripture presents for itself.
      2) We, as Lutherans, stand ready, as always, to be corrected by God’s Word.

      If they can show that sufficiency for all of Christian life is not adequate, let them follow with a definition of God’s Word and scripture that is in accord with scripture, not in opposition, or let them refute the nature and claims of scripture and proceed from there. Only in this way can they defend the directions the Catholic church has taken and the structure they maintain is necessary to the institution. Luther’s passion was unchaining the Gospel, tearing down the barriers, pointing to the cross. In the process, he pointed to the once torn curtain that the church chose to mend. Keep pointing until they tear it down. That is proclamation, not revolution.

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  7. Ken Miller:

    Your response to my comment doesn’t really address my point. It’s high on polemics and, I’m sorry to say, low on understanding of Catholic teaching. In any case, why are you so insistent on each and every Christian doctrine having to have explicit support in Scripture? Not that I concede your claims, but even if I did, so what? When does the Bible ever set such a standard? When did Jesus? The problem with Sola Scriptura is that it’s not scriptural.

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    1. Fr. Fox, let me try to meet you half way. I’ll grant you that all Christian doctrine does not need to have “explicit” Scriptural support. I’ll also concede that the Holy Scriptures do not set such a standard. But would you agree that all Christian doctrine must be in conformity with the Holy Scriptures? In other words, not in opposition to it? (Not trying to bait you here…)

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      1. But would you agree that all Christian doctrine must be in conformity with the Holy Scriptures? In other words, not in opposition to it?

        No question. And, although I cannot call a citation to mind at just this moment, I’m quite confident the teaching office of the Catholic Church has said so more than once.

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      2. I think to says a lot about our underlying assumptions and our approach to God’s Word. Of the four Marian dogmas, Lutherans would wholeheartedly agree with Theotokos. We do confess this. The other three Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and Assumption would, for a Lutheran, fall into two categories. The first two may be debated in scriptural context. Should a Lutheran accept either because of the weight of tradition, that would be fine. But no Lutheran could preach or teach these as truths or essential doctrines. The Assumption falls entirely outside scriptural discussion. A Lutheran, again, may embrace such, but not preach or teach it as truth or essential doctrine. Of these three, The Assumption is definitely not in opposition to scripture.

        Add to that, none of these three speak to our Lutheran ears concerning the person of Christ or to any part of salvation by grace, through faith. They play no role in Word or sacrament.

        As to Immaculate Conception or perpetual virginity, it would take a creative reading of scripture or a reading through something other than Gospel lenses, to arrive at these conclusions. Again, this goes to the authority and approaches behind our personal reading.

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    2. Thank you for your willingness to interact, Fr. Martin,

      Please correct me if I my understanding of indulgences at the time of the Reformation is wrong. From what I’ve read, that is exactly what the church was teaching on the subject at the time of the Reformation.

      Trent, from what I understand, reformed the Church’s teachings on indulgences. At that point, the Reformation had gone gone full swing, and any immediate hope of reconciliation was past.

      If the Church, in one sense, admitted that she was wrong to sell indulgences in order to purchase the early release of a loved one from purgatory, why did she not admit as much earlier? Yet Luther was the arrogant one who refused to yield? It sounds as if Leo was being equally arrogant, to me.

      As far as Sola Scriptura is concerned, the doctrine is most certainly taught in scripture.

      Scripture has a unique power and authority which is never ascribed to the words of men, and is defined as that which God has spoken through men (2 Timothy 3, Hebrews 4, 2 Peter 1:20).

      Scripture is the definition of truth, regardless of what men say (John 17:17)

      The idea of a canon of New Testament scripture is contained in the New Testament in multiple places (2 Peter 3, John 17:20, John 16:13). The Canon of Scripture is simply the teachings of the apostles and their close associates who recorded their teachings. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would accomplish this through the disciples.

      In the same book, Peter tells us (a) that scripture is not a matter of private interpretation, but it is the Word of the God recorded by men as they are carried along by the Holy Spirit, and (b) that Paul’s writings fall into this category.

      The Church is not responsible for creating the Canon of Scripture, because Jesus, Peter, and Paul defined the scope, function, and prominence of Scripture for us. We simply recognize what they have given us, and submit to it.

      We also learn from 2 Timothy that Scripture is sufficient for Christians, and that nothing is needed in addition to it. Scripture gives us all that we need to be “complete,” and “equipped for every good work.” Jude tells us that the faith has been once and for all delivered to the saints, meaning that we don’t need any additions to it.

      Sola Scriptura is much like the Trinity. The Church did not create this doctrine, but the Church better recognize it. It is foundational for all that we do.

      When the Catholic Church insists on the distinction between temporal punishments for sins, and eternal punishments for sins, or when they claim that indulgences can remove the temporal punishment for sin, we must insist that they show us where in the scriptures is such a claim made. If they cannot do so, then we ought to reject those teachings, or at best, view them as a matter of private opinion, rather binding doctrine.

      I’ve read Catholic arguments regarding the distinction between temporal and eternal punishments. I’ve read Catholic arguments regarding the ability of the church to loose a person from temporal punishments which might otherwise be suffered in purgatory or made up in this life. The arguments which I’ve read are all based on questionable readings of the scriptures. They are never based on the clear unmistakable teachings of the Bible, and they tend to contradict that which is clearly taught. On these grounds, everyone Christian ought to reject these things.

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      1. Ken, so what do we do win theologians within the Church interpret the Scriptures differently? Ultimately, who decides what is a right intepretation?

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  8. Hlewis, with respect to your comments on the Blessed Mother: I concur that because these teachings are extra-biblical, we ought not do what Rome has done and codify them as doctrine. Do I believe in her perpetual virginity, Immaculate Conception, and her Asssumption? Absolutely. but again, because the Holy Scriptures do not speak directly to them, I err of the side of church history in not making them dogma (remember the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are late Roman dogmas.) That being said, I also think the first of these two teaching (in addition to her being called the Mother of God) speak directly to Christ and are the result of Him. Mary’s holiness fits nicely, I think, into a Lutheran Christology.

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    1. Our confessions, indeed, affirm Mother of God in confessing the Person of Christ. This is essential to our Christology. I am not persuaded that the others fit well and I fell pretty confident that convincing arguments can be made against perpetual virginity, not only from scripture but from the awkward wording in the Church’s historical confessions that advocate for perpetual virginity.

      At the end of the day, the greatest sticking point, to me, is how we deal with the holiness of those fully sanctified and in heaven. Are they dispensers of God’s grace? Do their merits grant them patronage and should we call upon their merits? This is the trouble with Marian devotion (as opposed to Marian doctrine). In my opinion. Christian hearts can and should always be joined in prayer. that includes those who have have gone before us. If I ask the the friends and family that have gone before me to join me in prayer as they did while they were still on earth, that is, in my opinion, appropriate. i am not asking for their peculiar favor or merits but for the continued love and fellowship. If I rely on the merits of others, some graces they’ve accumulated, believing they have more “pull” based on some hagiography, that somehow they are numbered in a superior way, that they matter more to God and I need them to make me more important, that the grace which flows from Christ to me is not enough, I need also the favor of those whom He has favored to amplify my pleas, we are not then joined together in love and fellowship but in structure and hierarchy.

      I think there is room for discussion but, among modern Catholics, I have been treated to softer views which do not reflect the practices I see and hear, even that Purgatory is a final sanctification not to be understood in any sense of time (my Douay bible tells me “Pope Leo XIII grants any of the faithful who read the Holy Scriptures for a quarter of an hour with veneration to the Divine Word and as a spiritual reading are granted an indulgence of 300 days” and this requires the sincerity of my devotion), that they do not pray “to” Mary and the saints. But lex orandi, lex credendi – my Lutheran nominalism says that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, no explanation can make it other than a duck. Just as Lutherans try contort John 6 to be about anything other than the sacrament (sheesh!), if they need to explain and twist to clarify, it is probably other than what they are saying. So, honesty, from both sides in needed.Neither the Church nor scripture requires a cryptologist for interpretation or understanding.

      At the end of the day, we need to associate more openly with other Christians, bring our similarities and differences out in discussion of scripture, with Christ at the center. We’ll learn what we believe, become stronger, and might bring some into a fuller relationship.

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      1. In whatever ways it might further the discussion, here is Zwingli on Mary’s perpetual virginity:

        ‘I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.’

        And here are the Lutherans on Praying for the Dead:

        ‘Prayers for the Dead: A Scriptural and Lutheran Worldview’

        https://sothl.com/2014/09/06/prayers-for-the-dead-a-scriptural-and-lutheran-worldview/

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      2. Again, as the “dead” are still alive in the Church, I have no qualms speaking with them to unite their hearts in prayer with ours. However, I can find no context for, and the link you sent me was a somewhat interesting discussion, prayers “for: the dead. They have passed on to their final judgment and are in God’s presence. To answer the first question – yes, the saints in heaven are fully healed. They in heaven lack nothing which we could wish them to have. As to Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus, as with any prayer, we seek God’s will and to be right with God’s will, we are not trying to alter it. So, Paul is seeking comfort from God, faith in the salvation of Onesiphorous. I would deny such a prayer to no one. But it is still, though indirectly, a prayer for the comfort of those yet in time. Same for the proclamation of “These saints now rest with you; bless them ever, O Lord! They now rest with You; remember them on the Last Day!” This is an affirmation, a proclamation of our sure hope for the ears of those still on earth, not a plea for the fate of the dead. I don’t know many Lutherans who would deny this. Just as I know of none would would want to pray people out of Purgatory or Hell. Funerals are for the comfort and salvation of those still on earth.

        As to perpetual virginity, we have Matthew 1:24-25: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” the “until” is nonsense unless something followed. Further, it was never a sin or an indication of the Fall that spouses ought to have sex and procreate. Celibate marriage is not in greater or holier keeping of God’s commands.

        Our confession “…the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother’s womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate. Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin.” Speaks only to the conception and birth of Jesus unless we project the tradition of the church upon it. The danger, there, is a quia subscription. This would make a the statement an “in so far as” the confession is scriptural and conforms to the traditions of the church. To read it simply as interpretation of scripture means to say only that Christ’s conception was not sexual, that there was no sexual intercourse with God, and that bearing Jesus did not remove Mary’s virginity.

        To me, for the perpetual virginity to have meaning, one would have to advance the argument that God desires married couples not to be fruitful and multiply if they can possibly do otherwise, that sexual desire in marriage is a flaw. I cannot see that Shakers are holier, in this regard (I heard, recently, that there is only one left?) We cannot, as some Catholics do, claim that God had used her womb and that Joseph would be committing adultery against God when God left her virginity intact to be given sinlessly to her husband. I have no objection to someone embracing the perpetual virginity but my Roman Catholic wife believes that this one, of the four, is the least credible.

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