A Story of Long Debate 500 years ago this week,
a monk named Martin Luther, moved by his own theological struggle and what he saw as the corruption in the church, walked to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nailed up a series of 95 “theses” for debate: Historical marker for the “Reformation.” We are heirs of Luther and those events, theologically and in many other ways. One of the most important was the authority of scripture over against church tradition and the freedom and responsibility of believers to read and understand – to wrestle with – the scriptures for themselves. Jesus came into a time of great debate about scripture. He brought an unexpected understanding of “Messiah” and Kingdom of God. Paul struggled to see a new way of reading scripture that led to a crucified Messiah. Paul talked about diverse points of view (Rm 14). Acts highlights diversity. But the community also had a focus on unity (Jn 17). What united the communities? What was open to diverse points of view? In the 2nd cent. churches under intense pressure began to focus on unity under a structure of authority – bishops. For 300 years the Good News spread in spite of strong opposition. In the 4th cent. emperor Constantine became a patron of the church, which took on the hierarchy and authority of the empire. It became Christendom, the religious governing culture of Europe. Important was limiting and controlling the interpretation of scripture – magisterium.