I deal in hope : Carolyn R Scheidies

Blog Martin Luther, Reformer, Agent of Change and All-too human

We live in a culture where if someone on your political side does something wrong, they deserve a slap on the wrist. However, if someone from another point of view does something similar, the knives come out and there is a clamor for destruction—even if that person has done laudable things in his lifetime.

Maybe that is why historians tend to gloss over the darker sides of those with whom they agree, but seek to destroy those with whom they do not.

I have read a great deal on Martin Luther who not only was at the forefront of bringing Christians back to an understanding of salvation as not to be purchased or earned but also as a gift of grace from a God of love. In many ways, he changed the culture of his day to a Biblical view of the dignity and worth of each individual. Recently, I learned of a darker side. 

In the 1520s, Luther showed some compassion for the Jewish people. Twenty years later, his views mirrored the skewed beliefs of his society. He advocated stripping them of their rights and property, among other things. He came to believe some horrible lies circulating about Jewish people. Because he had influence, what he wrote mattered. Unfortunately, he perpetuated common assumptions and myths. That view seems absolutely unacceptable to us today. It seems hard to reconcile the Luther who cared about others with the man who came to despise Jewish persons. Yet, for all that, we cannot dismiss all the good he did in his time.

He lived in a time when the current church structure was corrupt. Priests had enormous power and wealth. They thought nothing of forcing payment from peasants who scarcely knew where their next meal was coming from. One large source of income was from the sale of indulgences, a paper that was supposed to get loved ones out of purgatory and into heaven. Fear was used to make the sale. It was outright theft from those who could least afford it. Of course, those indulgences did nothing at all, but give people false hope.

As he more and more understood the message of salvation as a free gift, Luther confronted the Church about this and other corrupt practices. He hoped to clean up the corruption. Instead, a price was put on his head. Eventually, as he preached and wrote, his following grew as more and more followed a God of love, rather than a restrictive taskmaster.

Marriage laws were a mess. A young man could have his way with a young woman, yet get out of marriage by citing some archaic, and often twisted, restriction of kinship, regardless of how distant or not even by blood. Luther would have none of that. His influence simplified marriage to a sacrament that gave more protection to both parties.

He broke away from the celibacy forced on priests. He assisted in helping some nuns escape and helped them find husbands. He married as well. His wife was a true helpmate. He highly valued her faith and intelligence. Luther was a generous man. When there was a need, he’d give. This didn’t work when he had a family to support. Kate started taking care of the finances. He didn’t believe women were less than. In fact, in a government structure that left women without many legal rights, Luther left his wife property in her own name,

Luther believed in the education of children, and not only the males (especially wealthy ones) as society at that time dictated. He believed in education for all children, boys and girls, and wrote material that was used to educate.

Peasants were considered so much fodder for those in power. Luther cared about the average person, desiring everyone to know His loving God and treating even peasants with dignity.

I have no idea what experiences Luther had over the years that hardened His heart toward God’s people. I don’t know why someone who valued and lived by scripture could not see how much God loved the Jewish people. It is evident he took seriously a book written at that time that posed some of what he came to believe, but surely there is more.

What we need to realize about even the greatest of individuals is that we’re all human. While we may accomplish wonderful things for others and our society, we are far from perfect. We need only look at ourselves and know how often we say and do things we regret. No matter what we’ve said or done, when we realize we’ve done wrong, we absolutely need and can find wholeness, redemption, and forgiveness in Christ.

While the Lutheran church has rightly disavowed Luther’s Jewish stance, they stand on what he accomplished—especially bringing us back to a God who loves and cares for us. Though our culture seems to have forgotten that you don’t have to agree with someone to treat them with respect, let’s choose to respect and show compassion for every person—regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they’ve done—good or bad, or what they believe. How? By allowing God to love others through us. That we can do.

© 2022 Carolyn R Scheidies

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