Lutheran Mythbusters – Ruining your Reformation

Being a Lutheran means celebrating the Reformation, but many of us have gotten sloppy in our Reformation celebrations. Martin Luther himself said that the life of a Christian is a life of repentance. So this Reformation, University Lutheran challenges you to repent of some of those old Lutheran myths and to celebrate the Reformation a little smarter. 

Myth: The 95 Theses were about all of the problems that Martin Luther had with the Roman Catholic Church.
The 95 Theses were about one specific problem that Martin Luther had with the Roman Catholic Church during 1517 – the sale of indulgences. He later addressed other problems that he had with the Roman Catholic Church, including topics such as a requirement of celibacy for priests, the celebration of saints days, transubstantiation in the Lord’s Supper, and the vocation of the papacy.

Myth: Indulgences were an example of the Roman Catholic Church selling forgiveness.
This falls in the same “well….sorrrta…” category in the same way that the “Roman Catholics pray to saints” thing does. Technically the indulgences were the sale of “satisfaction”, an action taken by a penitent in order to show the earnestness of his or her confession. However, since “satisfaction” is considered a requirement for the reception of forgiveness, it is still close enough for our purposes. Just know the back story. (p.s. it’s technically more correct to say that Roman Catholics pray “through saints”, although we still think the practice is unreliable and all prayers should be addressed to God directly.)

Myth: Martin Luther’s hymns were all set to the tunes of old drinking songs.
There is only one reliable instance of when Luther did this, and he apparently regretted it so much when he did that he quickly attempted to change the tune wherever the song was used. Luther did, however, write much of his own music for the hymns that he wrote (around 50 of them!). Here’s an aside: Whatever happened to drinking songs, anyway? Does Sublime’s “What I Got” count as our modern equivalent? Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville”? Can you sing “A Mighty Fortress” to THAT tune?

Myth: All Bibles were written in Latin before Luther translated the Bible.
There were plenty of Bibles written in other languages during Luther’s time. The problem was more that Bibles were amazingly expensive, and that most literate people knew Latin. For this reason, many churches had a Bible chained to the pulpit so that nobody could make off with what was probably one of the most expensive things in the church. This gave rise to the popular notion that the Roman Catholic Church had “chained the Bibles away where people couldn’t read them”. Luther’s translation of the Bible was such a big deal more because it was one of the first mass produced Bibles, which meant it was cheap enough that it could be purchased by a well-to-do family if they really wanted to save up…for months…or maybe even years.

Myth: Martin Luther HATED the name “Lutheran”
Luther never wanted it to seem like the people who followed his line of thinking were schismatics – people who were breaking up the church into little bits. In fact, the word “Lutheran” was used by Roman Catholics as a slur. Eventually, it was more because Luther surrendered his misgivings and gave in to the word that it still exists, not because he ever liked it. Luther would probably shudder a little if he heard you call yourself a “Lutheran,” and would correct you that you should call yourself a Christian or an “Evangelical” (a Gospel-person).

Myth: Lutheranism is a German/Scandinavian religion
Ok, there ARE a lot of “registered” Lutherans in German and Scandinavian countries, but this likely has more to do with family history and government than what it does with faith. Since those European countries have church bodies that are funded by taxes collected by the state, individuals in those countries have to register their religions in order to direct funding to a particular denomination. This does not mean those people ever have to go to church, and many of them do not. If you want to talk about “active” Lutherans who actually worship God, read the Bible, support their church, pray, know the Small Catechism, etc – the current hub of Lutheranism is probably Africa, specifically Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Tanzania. So instead of Brats and Saurkraut, we should probably be celebrating with injera bread and sakay sauce.

There’s probably more that I could list here…but since you made it all the way to the end of this list, here’s a gift for you, a rapping Martin Luther: Happy Reformation Day.