Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thoughts for Reformation Day

On October 31, 488 years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg Germany.  Little did he know, I imagine, the cultural craziness that was about to ensue, or the tradition of church schisms that would continue for the next 500 years plus (to be perfectly fair, the east-west schism had happened hundreds of years before that anyway, so somebody else really started it).

We mention the Protestant Reformation a lot in my Rhetorical Theory class, and it seems that the reformation has something to do with the history of ideas.  It was clearly grounded in what was going on culturally at the time – the Guttenburg press enabled the reformation as well as the development of democratic ideas.  Luther’s idea of the Priesthood of All Beleivers either led to or was influenced by the individualistic turn in thought at that time.  My colleagues in the Rhetoric of Science tell me that Dr Lessl believes the Protestant reformation led to the development of Science.  I had no idea before recently how interrelated all these events are.

So what has the reformation given us, and what has it left us with?  It lead to some necessary changes within the Catholic church in Europe, and undermined the hegemony of church officials, which was being abused plenty.  It began a tradition of criticizing the church and, unintentionally, of division within the church.  I think the criticism is a proud tradition – we need sincere voices of dissent.  I wonder if the constant division, sectarianism, dogmatism and defensiveness is a necessary side effect of an atmosphere that allows for dissent.  I’m sure Luther would be appalled at the sorts of Protestant-Catholic fighting that has been going on since the Reformation, the entirely un-christian tribalism that even leads to war and terrorism in extreme cases.  Must Reform lead to fighting?  How do we change a bad system while acting in love?  Can we be both prophets for change and voices of unity?

3 comments:

joshwall said...

"It began a tradition of criticizing the church and, unintentionally, of division within the church"

I don't know if I think that Luther didn't know what would happen when the first divisions began to happen,(double negative anyone) though I don't think he ever would have imagined that there are over 500 denoms. of baptist. But he was there, he argued with zwingli and didn't attempt to reconcile their respective followers. It seems to me he had some idea of what was coming and what that meant.
Though i am curious what he would say today, specifically looking at a continually more and more divided America...

p.s. for a moment of explanation, though connections are necessary online, I often enjoy them, I'm a friend of morgan foster and found your blog through his site

Rachel Birr said...

"Can we be both prophets for change and voices of unity?"

I sure hope so. How? I'm still working on that one.

Bob K said...

Good question, Bethany. Consider the street-woman from yor previous post, though. How are you and she going to coexist in a church? I mean really. If we allow ourselves to be stereotypical for a moment and just imagine all the things she thinks are non-negotiable about the way church ought to be the only way you and she could be in the same church is if you caved in on some dearly held notions about a number of things. I don't see how we can avoid it.

Maybe we need to draw up a list of non-negotiables and agree to agree on those and make the rest a matter of individual interpretation. We could then be called fundamentalists. That would settle it once and for all.