LETTER TO THEOPHILUS

`Onesimus' challenges Theophilus again on Lutherans as Protestants

Dear Theophilus,

Again, thank you for your letters and your response to mine. Yet, I am not sure that I did a very good job at getting my point across to you: Lutherans can't correctly be called Protestants. Allow me to try again.

The Zurich Geneva connection (the Swiss) are usually thought of as being the guiding hand for what is today called The Protestant Church. But when the terms Catholic or Protestant are the only Christian options offered on medical forms, Lutherans are at once in a quandary. We are neither, theologically. Yes, the German princes were once called "protestants" but this was not really a theological term.

And yes, Luther's nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church was a loud voice of protest. His translation of the Bible into the language of the people was an even louder one. But, this protest was from within the Church, not outside. The Swiss, Scots, and those who followed them protested from outside the universal (catholic) Church. They wanted to make a complete break from Rome: theologically, liturgically, artistically, musically, culturally, and in all areas of church polity.

In contrast, Luther saw his role as a reformer. He felt that Europe's Church had forsaken its roots, the Scriptures. He thought that to regain her orthodoxy (no capital letter intended), the Church had to return to one source for faith and life. In doing this, he did not intend to bring about another schism, as was seemingly the intent of the Protestants. Because of this, in the end, he even gave up on trying to influence Calvin.

The concept, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction," is basic to Augustine and Luther, and it surprises me that the Orthodox would reject this. By 367 AD other writings and traditions (like the Shepherd of Hermas, the Kerygma of Peter, even the Didache) were left out of the canon, and we ended up with our 27 books of the New Testament. Again, I thought the Orthodox also gave the canon this primacy.

Luther studied Augustine and the early church fathers, and saw how the Church had changed in its teachings. All this caused him to seek to reform by returning to its roots. Luther looked at the Church of his time and found many of its doctrines based on other authorities (tradition and papal mandates). For him, the return to orthodoxy would be found in Sola Scripture.

Now, with all of this said, I suspect that you still want to make me a Protestant. Well, maybe; but only if you see this as coming from an insider. But please, do not make me Calvinist. That shoe will never fit.

                                         —Your friend in Christ, Onesimus

Theophilus' reply:

Of course the Orthodox believe all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction. The canon of the New Testament—which books are in and which were left out—is part of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, which compiled the writings and "canonized" them

We readily agree that the Scriptures are inspired, even infallibly so, and are the primary source of doctrine, reproof and correction. The rub comes with how to interpret them. Every church has its traditions by which it interprets Scripture. Orthodoxy spells its Tradition with a capital T, and maintains that it is directly from the Apostles.

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© 1996 Jon Kennedy