Every year I teach a unit on the Reformation. It is cursory out of necessity – two weeks with 8th graders is not a lot of time – but provides a helpful gateway into the moral issues we deal with every day. When I reflect on the Reformation, particularly Luther’s involvement in it, I see writ small (and then large again) the universal dance of obedience, conscience, belief, and collegiality.
I’m in no position to propose an alternate ending to the story, but I do wonder about the same things my students often do: What if Archbishop Albrecht and Pope Leo X had read the 95 Theses and thoughtfully considered his objections? What if Luther hadn’t been so dramatic about everything? Were they theologically that far apart, or could each side have come to a resolution without violating their consciences? And what if the Church hadn’t waited until the Council of Trent to add clarity to these theological issues that Luther was already grappling with?
We are so used to being divided these days I sometimes forget that unity was once the goal – and that perhaps it should be the goal. I acknowledge today that Luther did service to the Church by taking a stand against corruption, while also lamenting the division that was a result. Let’s not make an idol out of unity, and so doing forget that true, principled discipleship is the goal of the Christian life, but let’s not disregard the value of unity either.
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. – John 17: 20-23