Reformation 500 Reflections
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.”
So said Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521. Martin Luther was on trial for his alleged heresy that commenced 500 years ago on October 31, 1517, with the nailing of his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther espoused the idea that complete reliance on Scripture, and not a Magisterium, is the source of proper belief (sola scriptura), and that a complete reliance on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not our own good works is the source of God’s pardon for sin (sola fide).
We now stand on 500 years of Reformation history, but not only that; we now also stand in the timeline of history outside both the Gutenberg Parenthesis and the Constantine Parenthesis.
The Gutenberg Parenthesis is the idea that the period starting with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press and proceeding to the end of the 20th Century is a 500-year age defined by textuality that is actually an interruption in the broader arc of human communication. And that we are now slowly returning to a society in which orality – conversation, gossip, and the social network – defines our new media culture.
The Constantine Parenthesis is the idea that the conversion of Constantine in 312 A.D. and the Edict of Milan that followed in 313 A.D. (legalizing Christianity in the Roman Empire) started an 1800-year period of western civilization defined largely by Christianity being favored by the state. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks mark the closing parenthesis so that western society is now slowly returning to a society similar to the first three centuries A.D. when the faith of the individual Christian was in the minority and ran counter to the non-Christian religion of the state majority.
In the middle of all this, the post-modern Millennials are rising up to tell us Moderns that we don’t have it all figured out. These Millennials have grown up in the rise of opportunistic media outlets, which created a marketing tornado wherein they were told everything from new politics to new shampoo can bring ultimate and fulfilling happiness. These Millennials will not come to church for just another participation trophy. No, they want to know there is real truth that really works. They want to see true-Christians doing that truth in service to others and in the pursuit of justice! They want to see a faith that is authentic, that has substance, and that works. They want a Christian faith that looks like and acts like Jesus.
Our society is too complicated to return to a pre-Constantine or pre-Gutenberg era but it seems that Baptists are in the perfect position to lead our new post-Gutenberg and post-Constantine culture into a new Millennial era of Christian thinking that is authentic, has substance, and works for Millennials…and all of us. Baptists have historically advocated separation of church and state, so we have not depended upon state endorsement or accommodation. Baptists are intensely evangelical, and have pursued an applied Christianity that is very personal and that has been in the minority. And, we Baptists have agreed with Martin Luther’s words on the Bible, on prayer, on faith, and on serving others:
“The bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”
“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”
In this 500th year of the Reformation, how happy are we at Immanuel in Little Rock, Arkansas to find ourselves celebrating our 125th congregational birthday with a new pastor who is presenting us, anew, the voice of God in the Scripture and leading us into a new season of a faith that is authentic, that has substance, and that works…in our city!
Happy Reformation 500!