The following is a guest column article was written by the Rev. Betsy Williams, pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Newark, Ohio.
A friend from Finland described her family’s shy disposition.
“A typical Finlander looks at her feet when you greet. An outgoing Finlander will look at yours. I’m that kind,” she said.
Lutherans are a lot like that. It’s unusual to see us drawing attention to ourselves.
So what’s with the Reformation 500 banner on the side of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on the corner of Fifth and Locust? Are Lutherans starting their own Indie 500 event? Is Martin Luther twirling in his grave? Yes, Martin Luther is probably twirling, but not because we are suddenly hosting car racing events. Luther is often credited with beginning the movement we call “The Reformation.” His enemies called his followers “Lutherans,” he despised the name.
“What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone . . . . How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?” (Martin Luther: Basic Writings, Timothy Lull)
This year the faith community that still goes by his name marks the 500th year since an Augustinian monk proposed 95 theses for scholarly debate in Wittenberg, Germany. He is credited for his teaching of the five “onlies.” Salvation comes by faith alone, through grace alone, by word alone, by Christ alone. With these, he cut anchor to Papal Rome as the highest authority in the land. The reformation movement would eventually lead to wider reforms in law, governance, education, and society.
Much as in our own time, the language between groups was mean-spirited and divisive. Luther was horrified to see his ideas used to fuel a peasant uprising and took side with the landowners to squash the uprising with much blood shed. This gave credence to those who accused Luther of destroying order. Luther became bitter and often sick toward the end of his life. He wrote hateful things that others would later use to justify killing Jews. Almost 500 years later many Lutherans have worked to repair the breech and repent of the hateful past between ourselves, Jews, Catholics, and others who trace their roots to the Protestant reformation.
To read the complete article from the Newark Advocate, please click here.