Martin Luther is considered one of the most influential people of the last millennium. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October, it seems appropriate to revisit this man whose name we Lutherans bear.
Actually he would have preferred that we had not adopted his name and focused instead on the gospel message he wanted to proclaim. Luther’s insistence that we are all simultaneously justified and sinners continues to be a vital witness.
He was a brilliant, insightful theologian and pastor. We are still learning valuable lessons from him. But like all of us, Luther was also a flawed human being and has left us with things that we have and must continue to repudiate.
Luther struggled with the idea of his times that a person must achieve perfection in order to earn God’s acceptance. He moved beyond that impossibility by realiz- ing that God graciously accepts us freely.
In our times there is an unhealthy tendency of demanding perfection and infallibility of our heroes and leaders. It seems that a person must achieve perfection in order to earn our acceptance. We often do not treat each other, and ourselves, as graciously as God does.
When this idea is applied to historic figures such as Luther, because of Luther’s flaws, we might feel the urge to remove Lutheran from the way we identify our- selves and get rid of any statues we have erected in his memory.
Such approach leaves no room for an honest appreciation of those who foster positive reforms in spite of their flaws, past or present. This happens in far too many situations these days where a self-righteous putdown is cheered when an effort to make room for discussion and dialogue would be better applauded.
Jesus said something about trying to take a splinter out of someone else’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. It takes a lot of effort to whittle away at those logs but by God’s grace those logs can be shaped into things amazing.
With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaching, it would have been easy to decide simply to celebrate an event that we cherish uncritically and superficially. That approach would have failed to examine what was not well in what was done during the Reformation and its aftermath.
Instead we chose a three-year commemoration. We invited others to remember the Reformation with us, to learn from shared perspectives and to discuss ways that we might work together toward new reformation. It’s a model we need to continue to practice.
Our commemoration has helped us to become more aware not only of Luther and his legacy, but also of the legacy we are shaping. We continue to strive for reformation, facing our flaws and proclaiming the possibilities God’s grace provides for the future.
Kenn Ward, Editor