Yeah, I said it. You’re thinking it, and if not, you should be. First, let me ask all non-Christians, nominal Christians, lukewarm appreciators of Jesus, free-thinkers, and other otherwise unaffiliated atheists to metaphorically go to the fridge while my family and I have a spat. Thanks for understanding.
Ostensibly, Protestants will be celebrating in a few weeks the anniversary of when Luther nailed his theological protest, called the “95 Theses,” to the door of Wittenberg Church (or whatever they called it back then) on October 31, 1517.
It was more than theological, actually; the abuses surrounding indulgences were getting out of control, thanks to the unscrupulous John Tetzel and others. As a side note, I have found that the Catholic Church does offer indulgences today. I’m taking a wild charitable guess that whatever their use, Tetzel never represented the church’s teaching faithfully on that. And I think everyone can agree, in terms of ethical and doctrinal abuses by the hierarchy, Luther had a point. Whether you’re going to follow him right out of the (mostly) catholic, undivided church of our Lord Jesus Christ is another matter, perhaps.
Either way, it strikes me as odd that Lutherans and some of the Reformed celebrate this day. As a rabid ecumenical, I apologize for this upcoming dichotomous thinking, but we are either celebrating the fact that the Christian church in the West was epically, monumentally wrong on an issue as trivial as justification for over 1500 years (“What must I do to be saved?”) or we are celebrating the fact that we follow a man excommunicated (justly or unjustly) for heresy and schism. You let me know when you see a cause for celebration.
Pete’s sake, according to Wikipedia, it’s a Lutheran feast day! But you will protest, “Luther recovered the gospel.” I’ll even grant this as a possibility. But gaze upon the tragic side of that coin: it would mean that all those who didn’t follow him, and all who would remain, are apostate, or at the very least, in grave danger of Hell.
The same applies in reverse, obviously. Any way you slice it, it’s a horrible situation, no matter who is right. Whatever one can say about Catholic polemical arguments regarding the Protestant Reformation, one thing is clear: they’ve got the tone of that historical moment exactly right.
You might say, “OK, we’re commemorating the day, not celebrating it.” Fine, call it “Separation Day” or “The Day of Weeping” or, “The Day of Future Unity.” All I’m saying is, don’t be blissfully unaware of the implications of your own theology.
When a non-Christian asks you for more specificity regarding what you believe after you cleverly answer, simply “Christian” as your faith (you know who you are), the question behind the question is, “What’s wrong with you people?”
Read Chris Hitchens. That question-behind-the-question is screaming from every page he writes on the subject. I don’t blame every non-Christian for looking at our plethora of opinions on theological matters and concluding that believing in Jesus is either irrelevant or, even if useful, completely a matter of taste.
It’s stupid to celebrate a day that only emphasizes part of the disunity that drives people to believe that.
Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to Open for Business.