Yesterday was National Day of Prayer. While I have issues with how that day got started – good can come from anything.
There is a lot of anxiety in the air – including my own. Being in seminary right now could not be more timely, because I feel like it is walking me through this moment, and revealing what needs to be exposed and healed.
Prayer. This semester in church history was mostly about the Reformation, and I am going to talk about that in another post. But we got bookended with two women whose voices we need for a moment like this: Julian of Norwich (so sad we don’t know her real name, but what a blessing we get to know her heart) and St. Teresa of Avila. St. Teresa is a Doctor of the Church – one of four women. I am not Catholic so I don’t know 100% what that means, but I know it is good, and there should be more than four women, considering there are 36 Doctors of the Church.
I have written about Julian of Norwich previously. She wrote during the plague. We aren’t living through the same thing, but it is a moment that is changing us forever-I believe for good #allwillbewell. I highly recommend reading “Showings”. Her imagery of Jesus as our Mother is beautiful and comforting.
St. Teresa of Avila is a Church Mother we also need to know. She was a strong-willed woman. Her dad tried to steer her in other directions but there was no stopping her. I couldn’t love this more. All of the women we have studied had a mystical experience with Christ. St. Teresa’s heart was pierced. She had been in a dry spell and this woke her up and led her to help Christians persevere even in the dry spell. She worked with John of the Cross – yes, she worked with a man! – to reform the Carmelite Order. The church was too worldly. She founded the Discalced Order-they don’t wear shoes. I love that too.
St. Teresa teaches people to pray through a series of water images that comes from her desire to be a companion with the suffering Jesus in the garden. All of the women we have studied used their experience to describe nature and the wounded Jesus.
The first step is drawing water from a well. This will be the hardest step because beginners are used to distractions (this will preach). It also requires picking up the cross, and many quit because they won’t pick up the cross. As prayer advances it will become a water wheel, a stream and finally rain. It is not about an experience, but a process that will lead to love of God and neighbor – and a commitment to serve God with justice and humility.
The Reformation: Martin Luther, Calvin, Zwingli (and Erasmus)
One strength in being a big picture person is I can see the humanity of these men–whose theology I think is not only harmful, but cruel too–because of the context they are speaking in. The Church has sinned and cheated people, and there is a Rebellion going on. The poor have been exploited and we don’t get away with doing that forever. The Bible is not clear about many things, but caring for the poor is quite clear.
Erasmus began to challenge to works righteousness and medieval piety. He did this in large part due to the church selling indulgences- indulgences were given to people when they came to confession and the money was supposed to go to the poor or charity (there is more to it, but I will spare all the details in this post). The church was working on a new basilica and paying off gambling debts. So the church is not trustworthy and I can imagine the betrayal these men feel. Erasmus is so militant though – and I think that language floods our churches too– “law and order” – but according to the militant man. Erasmus is responsible for creating a dualism between flesh and spirit. He misunderstood Paul and the philosophers in creating this theology.
Luther takes it further. Erasmus doesn’t even agree with Luther. But Erasmus inspired Luther – so there is that! I feel for Martin Luther because he was a tortured soul. He struggled with his own personal sins and kept coming to the church for indulgences to clear his conscience. Luther is influenced by Augustine with the personal sin agony. See what happens when we base our theology on people and not what God is saying. Erasmus and Augustine neither one would condone what Luther did with their theology. And Paul is yelling at all of them. It is a never ending cycle of building off someone’s theology with a lack of understanding (or respect) of their theology in full context. At least Luther and Erasmus are contemporaries and can debate each other in person about it.
Luther redacts Paul, and creates the Bible he wants to ease his troubled soul. He created three Solas: Sola fide – Faith alone, sola gratia – Grace alone, sola scriptura- Scripture alone. Keep in mind Luther cut things out of the Bible and then said Scripture alone. He came up with “total depravity” and said humans are only free to sin. We lost the image of God in us with “Original Sin” (thanks Augustine!). Only God is just and all we can offer is our sinfulness.
This is so insulting to God I can hardly contain myself.
But I hear Luther’s pain. I have felt rejection when I was trying to serve faithfully according to what I had been taught. What I have learned is that it is best to work through our pain before we reform the church. Just something I learned along the way. 😁
Then Zwingli – who is lesser known but probably the most influential in our churches, and we had no idea. At least I didn’t. He took it all the way. Get rid of everything not listed in Scripture. He threw out the organ b/c of this for crying out loud! And art- iconoclasm. He started a ministry of the word. There is no mediation of spirit through matter. (Getting really gnostic now!). He also challenges sacraments – they cannot confer grace, only grace already received. It is a memorial. Believe what you want about this, but I believe in a Living God, so I would never make a hardcore theology stance on something like this. They are claiming absolutes on what they know not. And there is something about believing in the power of the sacraments. It is an invitation to the life of Christ – their theology is taking the human today out of the story. The word is no longer living and our story now.
Then Calvin – CALVIN!!!!! Takes all of this even further and adds penal substitution. Jesus’s death took on God’s wrath. This is just getting uglier and uglier, and we have this theology in a lot of churches today-I can’t emphasize this enough. It isn’t good fruit. So much militarism and telling people what to do and believe. and it isn’t good for us psychologically to hear what these men are saying about humanity. Our bodies matter. The Old Testament, Jesus and Paul never sent the message these men are sending. Calvin also believed the civil authorities were subject to the clergy. His followers became aggressive and zealous- very active making society fit their agenda. And it is so strange b/c not only did Luther, Zwingli and Calvin not believe the human is active in cooperating with grace, but they also believed God predestined some people to be damned. So this forcing people to convert and government be what they say it should be- goes against the teaching humans do not participate. They are participating in what they believe.
We need to name this and repent. This isn’t about shame, but correcting our Christian theology so we are good for the world. Body, mind and spirit. All of it matters.