When Faith Is Challenged
Two years ago, the world celebrated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, thereby initiating the Lutheran Reformation. For a student of Lutheran history, every year since marks a new milestone in the Reformation, and it is good to pause and review the significance of each.
Case in point, from July 4-14, 1519, Martin Luther engaged in a series of debates with John Eck of Ingolstadt. Well, technically it was a debate between John Eck of the University of Leipzig and Andreas Carlstadt of the University of Wittenberg, each with other faculty members in support, including Luther. Carlstadt brought a full library of resources and regularly read from them during the first day of debate. It was a boring but effective strategy. The next day, the rules of the debate changed, and Carlstadt was no longer allowed to read aloud from his books in debate. He soon found himself overmatched with Eck, and Luther had to step in to save him.
The main subject of the debate centered around authority regarding the Church and doctrine. For centuries, the Popes had asserted themselves as the head of the Church and the only ones who can rightly interpret Scripture. Before that, Church Councils were seen as the chief authority in doctrinal matters. Luther argued that the true authority was Scripture itself, and that Pope and Councils had often contradicted themselves. Eck argued that Luther’s position was the same as that of Jon Huss, a condemned heretic.
The debate raged on for many days. Each struck their blows and defended their positions. In the end, two main things happened: 1) Eck successfully painted Luther as a Hussite and as a danger to the Roman Catholic Church.
2) Luther was forced deeper into Scripture and his position on the full authority of Scripture over even Pope and Council was beginning to crystalize, ultimately preparing him for the showdown at the Diet of Worms two years later.
So what does this have to do with us today? Plenty! The first is truth pointed out in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In other words, when we are challenged, particularly when we are challenged regarding Scripture, we are forced to search the Scriptures to find answers. The more challenging the question, the deeper we must dig. Eck’s challenge led Luther to really examine the true authority in matters of faith and doctrine.
A second truth is similar. All of us grow in our faith and understanding of Scripture. This takes time—and study of God’s Word. Far too often, people “feel” their faith, that is, they are governed more by their feelings or their reason than any concrete teaching of Scripture. As Lutherans, that’s not good enough. We need to dig into the Scriptures in order to glean the truth and rightly apply Scripture to the given situation. Scripture, then, is the final authority, not popes or councils or even my own personal feelings.
Staying true to the Reformation,
~ Pastor Ben Golisch