Four hundred and ninety years ago, an unremarkable Catholic monk posted a sheet of almost one hundred complaints at the place where people posted such things in those days. That would be a church door, and the monk, of course, would be Martin Luther. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he had just split the church into a group that would still be known for its “protesting” of Catholic doctrine a half millennia later: happy birthday, Protestant Church.
On Good Friday, it is traditional to look at the narrative of that day approximately two thousand years ago when Jesus was crucified by the order of Pontius Pilate and then try to make sense of it. Jesus Himself offered an interpretation of His future suffering that appears in both Matthew and Luke; in it, He chooses to interpret His death and resurrection as “the sign of Jonah.” What could this possibly mean?
One of the scariest, most uncertain times for a church is a transition in leadership. In most Baptist churches, when a pastor is to resign or retire, it is the standard practice for a committee (or six) to be formed and a lengthy search for a new pastor to begin.
With Thanksgiving now past us, we find ourselves just days away from Advent, and already fully immersed into the Christmas season. Along with the tidings of “peace on earth” and “goodwill to men,” undoubtedly a number of familiar old arguments will also return; arguments over whether “Christmas is over-commercialized” and whether “our civic institutions are supporting state religion” are particularly cherished traditions of the season. It is the same old, same old, and lack of thinking on the subject will allow the debates to rage on despite that.
It was October 31, 1517. Despite popular characterizations, it was merely a standard procedure for the young monk to post his debate proposal on the church door. By no means did he intend to start wars and create a permanent rift in the Body of Christ. It was simply the matter he took seriously the words he was being taught in his seminary classes about what really mattered in this world. Business as usual grated on his conscience. Nor was he alone in his complaints, so he hardly expected to become the lightening rod for institutional efforts to crush every dissenting voice.
It sounds like some kind of New York Times Best Seller’s list political thriller – perhaps a massive conspiracy by former Soviet KGB officers backed by financiers and powerbrokers on the Trilateral Commission to create a new world government. But “A regime unknown to us,” in the language of John Polkinghorne, is not talking about a political intrigue, but something even more intriguing: the idea of an unknown (and, maybe, unknowable) realm of science: the science of God.