Freedom & Renewal: Lutherans at 500

Freedom & Renewal: Lutherans at 500 May 18, 2015

LRC logoIn case you aren’t hanging around enough Lutherans and Lutheran institutions, I thought I’d let you know that 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of what is widely noted as a watershed moment of the Reformation … Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses (actually, his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, to be precise) for discussion at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517.

Lutherans of many stripes are observing this anniversary in a variety of ways. One of them is the Institute for Ecumenical Research’s Luther Reading Challenge:

“As we approach the 500th anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 2017, Martin Luther is going to be a hot topic of conversation and debate among Lutherans, other Christians, and the media. … an assortment of the reformers writings will be presented here for free – for anyone and everyone to read!”

With a free account, anyone and everyone can then participate in discussion about a focus text each month.  This month, the Challenge is looking at Luther’s key treatise on “The Freedom of a Christian” from 1520.  At the heart of that essay are his twin claims that:

“A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none;

A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”

Teasing out how these things are both most certainly true is the point of his essay, and for many, the heart of his theological anthropology. Christians are free from having to earn their salvation, because God’s grace is the only thing able to redeem sinful human beings. Christians are free, then, to serve their neighbor as Christ would have them do. Luther ties this, as he does all things, to scripture:

“They are both the statements of Paul himself, who says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Cor. 9:19), and “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Rom. 13:8).”

Reading this as a twenty-first century person, I think more about the ways that we human beings live at intersections of freedom and responsibility, liberation and obligation, privilege and bondage. I worry that if each of Luther’s two claims hang out there on their own, they become dangerous. Freedom lingo, without serious responsibility, obligation, and bondage to the welfare of neighbor, is ultimately deforming. Similarly, servant lingo, divorced from fundamental human freedom, liberation, and privilege, becomes oppressive.

So they simply must be taken together for each to mean the best of what they should.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has adopted these twin assertions as a thematic frame for its collective observations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation: “Freed & Renewed in Christ: 500 Year of God’s Grace in Action.” ELCA500.org is promoting efforts of various networks within and partners of the church to observe and reflect upon with a calendar, resources, event news and updates, and links to social media.

I invite you to check out the website, and/or join the Luther Reading Challenge if this kind of theological reflection is of interest to you.

 

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