This morning, like most every Wednesday morning, I had the privilege to wake up at 5 a.m. and sit around a table with a group of guys to talk about faith and life. This morning’s topics ranged from Superstorm Sandy (we meet in Silver Spring, Md.), to drinking wine, to the resurrection of Lazarus, to eschatology and episiotomy (don’t Google that). Members of the group range in age from 29 to 83 and have professional backgrounds (some retired) varying from the Food and Drug Administration, to the Navy, to engineering, to clergy and a few things in between.
Each Wednesday we read through the lectionary-assigned scriptures, talk about life, and occasionally challenge each other to an intellectual discussion on something that is ultimately trivial. We have sworn each other to secrecy (for the most part) so that our conversations don’t leave the room. And even though it is early, and I am not always at the top of my cognitive game, I love these mornings. I feel privileged to be a part of this group and it has strengthened my faith in ways I probably don’t even understand. I also am aware that at certain points in Christian history this group may have been outside the realm of possibility.
Today is the day we remember the Protestant Reformation. On Oct. 31, 1517 Martin Luther, my denomination’s namesake, nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenburg. It was the beginning of a new movement that brought many changes to the Christian church. Perhaps the change I am most thankful for (other than a new awareness of justification by faith alone, simul iustus et peccator, and imputed righteousness of course) is that the Reformation paved the way for the Bible to be placed in the hands of the people. Before Luther’s German translation was completed in 1534, which happily coincided with advancements in the printing press, it was virtually impossible for any non-clergy Christians to get ahold of, much less read, the book we take for granted.
Individual faith and the ability to study this book for ourselves is a benefit we don’t even stop to consider. I grew up with more Bibles in my home than we could ever use and have countless different versions now in my office. And yes, there are still some places where access to information and printed text is hard to come by, but at least here, God’s Word is always at our fingertips, if we want it to be.
The real gift here is this: our group could meet this morning and each look into the text. We can debate and study and know for ourselves. We can inspect the words and bring different perspectives to the same story. And even if I, the called and ordained pastor among them, was not present, I have every confidence that the guys would be just fine.
We have the advantage of accessibility that just was not known before the Reformation, and I hope this helps us make the faith personal — that this is God’s story for me. It is meant to be personal. We can challenge it, and we can debate it, we can take slightly or vastly different views on it. But I hope we don’t take it for granted.
For the record, I still think this book is best understood, at least in part, in a corporate setting. We are meant to be in community as we share faith and life and we are strengthened by the views of others. Just as something was missing when only the priest had the book, now something is missing if I alone have the book and never gather to worship or grow with others.
But on this Reformation Day I am appreciative of the resolve of those in the past, the gift of this book, a community to share life with, and a culture that allows me to freely enjoy both.
Michael Middaugh is pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, Md.
Martin Luther statue image, By Heidas (please use this link to discuss) (Own work) or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons