Reformation Day 2010

I liked Peter Leithart’s quotation and explication of Martin Bucer’s words.   This was his short post:

Bucer wrote, “Because by faith we embrace this righteousness and benevolence of God, it shines in us, and thus he imparts himself, so that also we, too, are driven by some zeal for righteousness.”

He’s got just about everything you’d want there: Righteousness comes by faith; righteousness embraced by faith is not outside us but also “shines in us”; but this shining of God’s righteousness in us is God Himself imparted to us, not some grace-stuff or habitus; and when we embrace the righteousness of God and receive God the Righteous One Himself, we are impelled to live in and for righteousness.  One could hardly do better.

Leithart also wrote a Reformation Day column for First Things, considering the meaning of the Protestant teaching of the “priesthood of all believers.”  Leithart opposes Luther’s understanding of this doctrine with our modern state of affairs in which “the priesthood of the faithful in both its Protestant and Catholic forms has been corroded by fusion with modern individualism.”  Luther saw it differently:

Priestly ministry was ministry within and to the church. To be a priest means to be a priest for someone. “The fact that we are all priests and kings means that each of us Christians may go before God and intercede for the other,” he wrote in a preface to the Psalter. “If I notice that you have no faith or a weak faith, I can ask God to give you a strong faith.” Timothy George captures Luther’s viewpoint in one sentence: “Every Christian is someone else’s priest, and we are all priests to one another” (emphasis added).

But for Luther, the priesthood of believers was not an excuse to abandon the church, but rather described the shape of life in communion with the body of Christ and the family of faith. It was not a call to individualism, but summoned individuals to serve God, others, and the common good of the church. It did not free the believer from obedience to authority or leave him free to do as he thought best….

In the hands of some Protestants, “priesthood of believers” became an anti-ecclesial slogan, a “get out of church free” card. Understood in its original biblical and Reformation sense, the priesthood of believers is quite the opposite. It is not a solvent of ecclesial Christianity but an affirmation of churchly piety and the foundation of a thoroughly catholic church practice. Five hundred years after the event, this Reformation slogan may be even more relevant than it was when Luther first shouted it out from Wittenberg.

Finally, the Desiring God blog re-posted David Mathis’ reflection on the first of Luther’s 95 Theses (“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”) and his last words (“We are beggars! This is true.”).

I’m grateful for the Reformers, saddened by the numerous ongoing divisions in the church that have multiplied since the Reformation, and confident that Christ will someday “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27 ESV).


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