Category Archives: common good

The Reformations of 1517 and a Prayer

It was 500 years ago that a monk, pastor and theologian names Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses for debate on the Wittenburg Door ay his university. His intent was purifying and reforming the abuses connected with indulgences. The unforeseen consequences? The division of Western Christianity into Protestant vs. Roman Catholic – and the Protestant themselves continuing their divisions.

There were actually five reformations during the next 50 years after Brother Martin’s posting. The first was the Lutheran one that spread throughout parts of Germany and Scandinavia and influenced Christian traditions everywhere. Luther’s great cry that salvation was sola fide (faith alone) united all Protestants, even as his views on the sacraments and church structure were not always popular.

The second reformation originated in Zurich, under the leadership of priest and humanist scholar Zwingli. He agreed with Luther on grace, but his zeal led to different views on communion, church order and certain theological emphases.

The second Reformed stream in Switzerland was in Geneva, led by John Calvin, the most influential theologian in Protestant history. Calvin was a scholar and his Geneva became the missionary training center for Reformed leaders throughout Europe and the New World.

The third stream was the Anglican tradition. Beginning with King Henry VIII in 1532-34 and stabilized by Elizabeth I in 1559, the Church of England represented a via media between Protestant and Roman Catholic structures and theologies. The Anglican church itself would be torn by conflict for over a century and a half between High Church traditionalists and Puritan reformers and (later) Methodist enthusiasts.

The Anabaptist communities represent the most radical reformers of all. Unlike their Magisterial counterparts (who advocated one religion for each nation), Anabaptist believed that church membership was voluntary and the ecclesial and secular powers must remain separate. They also affirmed that baptism was reserved for those who has a personal experience of conversion; therefore, no infant baptism. They were also pacifists, declaring the incompatibility of true Christianity and the exercise of military power. They were unpopular among all the other traditions, with over 100,000 martyrs in the 16th century.

The final reforming impulse is found in the Roman Catholic church. At the on-again, off-again Council of Trent (1545-1564), the worst moral and political abuses were addressed and traditional doctrines and disciplines reaffirmed. The new Jesuit order led the charge for reform under the inspired leadership of Ignatius of Loyola.

As we reflect on this moment, both lament and celebration are in order. Sober thinking leaders of all traditions acknowledge some of the zealous excesses of all traditions and even Roman Catholic leader affirm that is would have been wise to listen to Luther and not merely resist his ideas. The good news is that out of both the affirmations of faith and the ashes of conflict, many of the key ideas underpinning Western Civilization are strengthened, from the importance of the individual, freedom of conscience (after the exhaustion of more than a century of war), the rule of la (Lex Rex) and the goodness of all work, bother clerical and lay occupations.

Some Wisdom Amidst the Noise, Part 2

As we face personal and community challenges, there is “wisdom from above” that is pure and peaceable and unites love and justice, compassion and empowerment. Here are some more reflections as I listen to God – and that listening is mediated through wise people in my life.

Confusion leads to anarchy and ultimately external control. Clarity leads to accountable liberty and greater personal responsibility. On most issues, ethical/moral clarity is not difficult – it is just demanding.

Reflecting and responding beats reacting and resenting every day.

Instead of castigating former and present leaders, how about constructing new friendships?

Current reactions in our civil conversation are morphing from legitimate dissent to hysterical accusations and perceptions. Instead of anger and violence and quashing voices, how about concrete actions of love and service and policy proposals that have a chance to work? I challenge all parties and groups to think of the common good of all – Black and White, rich and poor, religious and secular.

Grateful for the global church of all ages today: Jewish and Gentile, African and Asian, Near Eastern and Western, in soaring cathedrals and hidden catacombs…from Mt. Sinai to Monte Cassino, from Armenian chapels to American campuses, from bells and incense to freeform dance and song…may their testimonies inspire our fidelity and service.

Choosing contemplation over cynicism, helpfulness over hatred and vision over venom. Such responses are harder than reactions, but so much better for the soul and society.

A Word for Mr. Trump

Dear Donald Trump,
I pen these words with prayers for you and our nation.

You have caused quite a stir.

But unsettling the political landscape is not statesmanship.

For some you are the key to our nation’s survival.
Others see a narcissist running a new reality show.

I think you are – like all people – beautiful and broken – gifted and selfish, concerned about country and struggling with character.

Many share your concerns on immigration and jobs, national security and terrorism, inefficient government and insecurity about America’s future.

I know that many of your positions are “opening negotiating positions” especially the ban on Muslim immigration and the wall with Mexico.

But Mr. Trump, character matters. You cannot shout, “crooked Hillary” and not face your own challenges. I call on you to cease personal insults and offer clarity on:

  • Immigration that remains hospitable.
  • Job creation that keeps goods flowing globally.
  • Abortion: will you support the Republican platform?
  • First and Second Amendment liberties.
  • Racial reconciliation – how to we reduce tensions and engender unity?

And there is much more…

I haven’t decided my vote. Frankly, I am dismayed that neither party could do better.

Will you envision a future and demonstrate the ethics necessary for all to flourish or are you merely one more demagogue we must endure?

Stop the insults. Start sharing insights. Come clean on any hidden issues.

And above all, cease boasting about all you will do.
Please articulate what all of us must do for a better future.

I already have a Savior…I am looking for a public servant.