Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thought for the Day

Perhaps, instead of Reformation Day, we should call it Evangelization Day.

Awkward, to be sure.  Despite decades of use by the Roman Catholic Church, we remain unconvinced that "evangelization" is or should be an English word. But, on the other hand, we get a little tired of people who don't know better saying that "Lutheranism is a Reformed church."  They mean well, and they aren't wrong except for that upper-case initial.

But, as Egg readers know, that initial is a problem.  The reformers in Saxony and those in Switzerland took very different approaches to their work -- one side to preserve tradition except where it was incompatible with the Gospel, the other to throw out traditions except when they were commanded by the Scriptures.  (And the English, bless them, tried both strategies alternately).

From a Lutheran perspective, the tumult of the 16th century was, precisely, a rediscovery and re-affirmation of the Gospel, defined as the specific understanding of justification by grace.  Thus, logically, the name they chose for themselves was "Evangelicals."  The Calvinists enacted a far more sweeping program of revision, and its is quite natural that they came to be known as "the Reformed."  They were re-forming the Church in a literal sense, attempting to shape it anew.  By comparison, the more conservative branch settled (and was criticized for settling) for a light revision.

Of course, subsequent developments -- the heavy influence of the Swiss, Pietism, the gradual emergence of a "Protestant" identity in Europe and pressure to assimilate in America -- all created forms of Lutheranism as chock-full of novelty as any others.  It's ugly, but it's true.

But, for those of us whose vision of  fixing the Church remains an Hippocratic "do no harm" model -- that is, minimally invasive reform -- it is a constant nuisance to be thrown in semantically with the ecclesiological Dr. Moreaus of the world.  Yes, to be sure, Luther reformed the Church; but he does not seem to have desired a Reformed Church.

What he did was re-affirm the Gospel.  That is, he re-evangelized the Church, at a time when (as now, and as usually) it was in need of clarity about its mission and its goals.  So, as we celebrate the posting of the 95 Theses, perphas we ought to re-name the day in honor of the poster's own vision:  Evangelization Day.

To be honest, though, it barely matters to us.  We are celebrating the Vigil of All Saints.

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