What better place to discuss a break from Rome than in an Italian restaurant? I connected with a couple of fellas at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and later we went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in Chicago. It was one of those great evenings of conversation that theologues savor. I knew one of the guys already, and the other was a newer acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while. We talked about the so-called ‘quests for the historical Jesus‘ all down the sidewalk until we decided on where to eat. After sitting down and placing our order, we talked about the weather, food, and drink. Then, the three of us got into a rather aggressive theological debate about Luther’s break from the Roman Catholic Church.
Can you see the picture? Three of the most un-Italian guys you can think of raising a ruckus about the Roman Catholic Church in an Italian restaurant. The thought still makes me chuckle.
Anyway, the food was good and the conversation stimulating. The question we addressed was this: Was it right for Luther to create a new ecclesiastical body separate from that of Rome? Why divide the church again? Of course, I thought this was a no-brainer, and one fellah agreed to a point. Luther was excommunicated. What else could he have done? But the other gentleman disagreed. His argument went something like this (my responses follow each):
(1) Luther was a nut. –I have no disagreement there. Luther was probably one of the smartest and strangest dudes in church history. Some of his actions were comical, others were just downright macabre. But it takes an eccentric personality to make the bold history-changing moves he did.
(2) Why didn’t Luther use proper channels to seek reform? — I’m no church historian, but I thought he tried. Furthermore, when you’re being excommunicated from the church, that pretty much stops your in-house efforts.
(3) If Luther sought to create a comparable church (a true church), then why did he make it look so very different from the Roman Catholic Church? The protestant churches were different from Rome on virtually every level.–I think the coming of modernism and individual thought had something to do with that. In Rome, you’d be struggling to change pre-established tradition. The Protestants had a clean slate to start over with no traditions to stop them. The decisions they made reflect Luther’s words at the Diet of Worms: the new doctrines were based on reason and Scripture instead of traditions. Obviously, that would make the church look much different.
No one won our little Diet of Pasta that evening. But it was a stimulating conversation nonetheless.