Then who, Luther? You?

November 26, 2008

I’m currently reading “Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and his Career” and I’m about halfway through. Martin Luther has just had a debate with Johann Eck concerning Luther’s latest stance on papal authority (that the pope has no authority). During the debate Luther also came out saying that a council of the church doesn’t have authority either. He seems to have based this on them making decisions that are against his own understandings of the Scriptures, in particular, the Council of Constance. He goes on to say that only Christ is the head of the church, in need of no “vicar” even here and now on Earth.

Luther tells Eck, “I give St. Peter the highest honor, but not the greatest power. For he does not have the power either to create, to send forth, to govern, or to ordain the Apostles.” From the context, he seems to be talking about appointing successors to the apostles.

My immediate reaction to this is to say, “Then who has this power, Luther? You?” Christ is gone until he returns at the end of time. Eleven men ordained by Christ did not reach all the Earth with their teachings before they died. Those of us who have come after need guidance. I have often heard Luther’s assertion that Christ is the head of the church even now defended by saying the Holy Spirit is our liaison with Christ, and the Bible is the sole authority because people are unreliable. Honestly, every unreliable person depending on their own individual understanding as opposed to that of a structured, trained, and blessed leadership seems a lot more flawed.

Any person who’s half awake can see where sola scriptura has led to. Every person “led by the Holy Spirit” has interpreted the Bible very literally and very differently. Protestantism has fallen into disarray, with over 25,000 denominations. Each new denomination or even non-denomination becomes more fractured and more permissive. None can recommend themselves except by impressing that their theology or service feels right or is the closest match to a given Christian’s individual interpretation. The body of Christ needs a head, lest it fall into disarray.

I assume that Luther wasn’t calling for an all out anarchy of the generalized church, so it seems to me as if Luther wants to put himself in the place of Christ, the very thing he accusses the pope of doing. It also occurs to me that in the Lutheran church they do indeed create, send forth, govern, and ordain ministers. Maybe it makes them feel better not to call them apostles. What we are left with is that no matter what Luther’s intentions may have been, in effect, he replaced the current authority, Pope Leo X, with himself because he thought he was better read and more intelligent.

Did Luther not realize that someday he would die too? Maybe not all heads of the Lutheran church would be quite as well studied as Luther, or make the same decisions that Luther would in their place. Did it disturb him on his deathbed that he would have to relinquish control of his institution as well? I wonder.

Protestants generally don’t like the authority of the Pope. I’m not a Catholic yet, and I still have difficulties accepting it. But I can’t think of any system that could even work, much less work better. So I find myself standing where I never thought I would. If you believe that Christ was the son of God and died for our sins, giving us the way to salvation, then where can you turn but to the Catholic Church?