We’re coming up on the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, and like the author of this article, I have many Catholic friends (here and elsewhere). What do I want them to know? In this article from The Federalist, Anna Mussmann does a pretty good job of explaining.
[…]In their eyes, our admiration for Martin Luther is as misguided as holding a big party in honor of one’s divorce. They argue the Reformation ushered in a world where each individual’s personal taste in interpretation became supreme, leading to the moral chaos and postmodernism that riddles the cultural landscape today. At best, they see Protestants as limping along without the spiritual blessings God bestows through their church yet, like anorexics, rejoicing in this near-starvation.
I readily concede that the Reformation brought costs as well as benefits. Yet as a Lutheran, I am profoundly grateful for the sixteenth-century return to Scripture that reminded us of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, and Solus Christus. I deeply appreciate the Lutheran determination, demonstrated in the “Book of Concord, “to find and cling to biblical truth. That is why I want my Catholic friends to know three things about the event I will be celebrating on October 31.
1. It’s Not about Individualism
Secular historians, like secular journalists writing about Pope Francis, often misunderstand religion. Mainstream history textbooks portray Luther as someone who struck a blow for the individual by rejecting the authority of people who wanted to tell others what to believe. As long as these historians don’t peruse his actual writing, they see Luther as a pretty progressive guy by the standards of 1517. My Catholic friends read this stuff and, quite naturally, pick up the idea that Luther’s teachings led to hyper-individualism.
Yet Luther’s actual theological legacy is not conducive to extreme individualism. He intended to participate in a conversation about reforming errors that were harming the Catholic Church. That is because he wanted to point out where individuals were going wrong by failing to submit themselves to the authority of scripture. […]
It’s true, we are just about as hidebound to what Christians have always believed everywhere as the most traditional Catholic. We don’t do novelty (well some of us do). The Rev Dr Luther was essentially what we would call today a whistleblower. I too have taken Catholic friends to church with me, and especially in the LCMS, they are surprised, if anything we are more liturgical than many Catholic parishes. What Old Luther tried to do was to go back to our roots, in the early church. To be sure there are places we disagree.
The Lutheran Reformation was not about making up new traditions from scratch, but about identifying the parts of the historic liturgy that convey the gospel well. One reason it’s so much fun to talk about philosophy and literature with my Catholic friends is that we share a rich sense of history and see ourselves as taking part in a conversation that has been going on for centuries.
However, we Lutherans disagree with Catholics in a highly significant area. They say church tradition is as reliable a guide as scripture, and that one can safely construct theological dogmas on promises and statements that aren’t found in scripture. Thus they accept concepts like the bodily assumption of Mary as doctrine even though the Bible says nothing on that subject.
Now, Lutherans respect church tradition. The Lutheran reformers frequently referenced the writings of the early church fathers. We, too, are grateful for the history that ties us to the church universal throughout time, and we, too, commemorate the faithful saints who have gone before us (although we don’t ask anyone dead to pray for us—the Bible offers no promise that we will be heard that way).
There is considerably more. Do follow the link above.
I do note that Luther believed in the bodily assumption, but it was something that he took on faith, because, well it isn’t mentioned in scripture. We do, some of us anyway, following Luther’s practice, venerate Our Lady, though.
One of the main points that I always make though is that (so does Anna) without Luther, there is no Trent. He was causal in the reform that the Catholic Church needed badly.
In truth, many Lutherans do as she said, refer to our Reformation as a conservative one, in keeping with the traditional definition, keeping the good and reforming the bad. Some of those that followed had different goals, such as being as not-Catholic as they could be. We (and perhaps the Anglo-Catholics) sit firmly in the middle, Catholic but not Roman, Evangelical but traditional.
Occasionally it’s an uncomfortable spot, as we have neither the Pope nor do we get to make it up as we go. For me, it’s the right spot, as it is for many of us.