Protestant Reformation

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a movement that was led by a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther, and one that profoundly altered the infrastructure of a Christian Europe.

On October 31, 1517, the day before All Saints’ Day, a solemn day on the church calendar, Luther posted what has historically arrived to be known in theological circles as the 95 Theses, on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

In reality, they were ‘grievances’ he had with the Roman Church, of which he was a huge part.

Luther’s grievance Number One, if it can be called that, was against the price of ‘indulgences’ the church levied on mostly poor peasants, who supposedly committed what the Church considered as sins, in their teachings and in the indoctrinated understanding of the peasants themselves, heavy drinking a chief one among them.

I guess one had to ‘pay’ to the church to have their ‘sins absolved’.

So the math works that, if the flock sin more, the church’s coffers get richer.

This penance offering was used almost entirely to construct The Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, arguably the most breath-taking structure in all the world.

I have stood on the cobble-stoned steps of the majestic Saint Peter’s Square that houses the basilica, with the arms of the gigantic Roman columns all around me as if in an embrace.

To say, I got all goose-bumped would be an understatement.

And The Sistine Chapel. La Capella Sistina.

What is there to say about it? How can one describe it?

the Reformation in Western Europe had followed the Italian Renaissance and coexisted in close historical epoch, one enriching the other.

The famous fresco painting on the chapel’s ceiling, ‘The Creation of Adam’: where God as a dynamic figure on the right, lifting Adam up from his slumber, Adam as the lithe figure on the left, their forefingers reaching for each other’s but not touching, creating that space between them where infinite possibilities exist.

Frankly, It’s disingenuous to soak this all in to a hilt, and then disapprove of the method by which it got there.

It’s equally hard for me to fathom this was the effort of a mere Man. I have no doubt whatsoever it was Divinely inspired. God was there holding the Man’s (a devout one) hand.

So, In a strange sort of admission, I’m glad Pope Leo commissioned it. (Apparently Michelangelo didn’t come cheap. 😁)

However, I wonder what Peter would say to seeing all this. Jesus might say to His most trusted disciple: Hey, Pathrose! This is not what I had in mind. 😉

So in a more real sense, I’m glad the indulgences were done away with.

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The theology of the protestant reformers departed from the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of, at a minimum, three great principles.

  • The sole authority of the Scripture.
  • Justification by faith alone.
  • Priesthood of the believer.

There were other major and significant points as well. It’s too lengthy to elaborate on them in this space. (Each one is a separate blog.)

Christian Community may not be cognizant of these Doctrinal differences, as much as what has really ‘set us up apart’ for five centuries, which are the seminal changes that occurred after and as a result.

This tide-turning movement that happened in the 1500-year-old Church’s history ushered in (among others):

-The end of priestly celibacy (Luther got married),

-Translating the Bible into local vernacular, so that lay people could read, study, and interpret, the Word of God all on their own (Luther translated much into German),

-Incorporating sermons and hymns during worship service (‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, a personal all-time favorite hymn, was written by Martin Luther himself.)

-and priests playing a significant role in parishioners’ daily lives, pastoring of sorts. Parish life became part of one’s spiritual life.

A single man single-handedly stood down the Pope, and Christendom was ruptured along its fault lines.

While the centrality of the Papal authority has enabled the Roman Church to remain as one, the schisms in the Protestant movement have led to innumerable denominations within it, each with different doctrines and core practices. Staying true to its name: as people who protest.

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Exactly 318 years after this major crack in Europe’s Christianity, a similar kind of Reformation found its way across the continent to the Malabar Coast of Southern India, to the Malankara Syrian Church of Malabar and Travancore.

This is known as ‘Navee-karanam’ in Malayalam (meaning Renewal), and The Malankara MarThoma Syrian Church of Malabar was formed in 1835, and has never looked back.

And I’d say The MarThoma Church grabbed this crusade by its horns, and kind of ‘ran with it’. The structure, and The Practices.

One would expect nothing less from the ‘Syrian Chrsitians’ of Travancore, right?

-The Singing, the Memory Verses.

-Localized Prayer Groups within a parish (Prarthana Muri), Vicar’s church-mandated house visits (Bhavana Sandarshanam) to parishioners’ homes.

-The ‘Suvishesha Sevika Sankham’, the women’s arm that was solely created to empower women, in a way no one else dared in 1919 Travancore;

An event that was preceded by the founding of the Nicholson Syrian Girls High School in 1910, modeled after schools in Britain for the same great cause of educating girls in a Christian setting.

-The ‘Sannadha Suvishesha Sankham’, dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel.

-The Maramon Convention, a Western-origin ‘revivalist’ gathering, the largest of its kind in Asia.

And so much more.

I can claim without equivocation, that no denomination pays the kind of singular attention to learning the Bible the way The MarThoma Church does, not even Mainline American Protestant churches. Seriously, the best part.

At the core of it, MarThoma Church‘s foundation is and has always been The Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It used to bear that if something’s not in one of the four Gospels, we did not practice it. This may have transformed over the course of the last century, as complacency and the need to conform with outside strictures have crept in, but the core remains pretty much the same.

For better or for worse, here we are, one half of a millennium later.

Regardless of how it all turned out, we all owe much to the forerunners who brought about the positive changes; even the Roman Catholics must be pleased: after all who needs those who press for changes all the time?

And in honour of Martin Luther and one Abraham Malpan (called The Luther of the East),

Happy Reformation Day to all…

Mercy

 

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The Kentucky Clerk And The US Constitution

The Kentucky clerk is back in the news, which is unfortunate for her and for us.

The media come up with these catch names for the characters of their stories, such as ‘Kennedy cousin’, ‘Arizona shooter’, the NY prison worker, and so on, in lieu of their real names. If i said, Kim Davis, you’ll say, Kim who? so, she’s now refusing to claim the licenses are being issued by her office, thus making it invalid or something like it.

Now, i do appreciate this woman’s Christian fervor. I really do. But it seems that she missed a pertinent part of her high school civics class. It must have been the day she was out with the flu, or else she’d have clearly known that the US constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any religious governance is subservient to that. Her church’s cannons cannot supersede what the Supremes have decided. She doesn’t have to like it, she just has to obey.

This brings me to a number of years ago, to the day i proudly appeared for the interview process, as part of my application to become a US citizen. As many, or all of you may know, there is a guide book you can study, to ace the interview. My husband had gone through the process a few years prior, but when the time came, in my know-it-all fashion :), I declared I didn’t need this book. ‘hah! I know all about US history, geography and the political process.’ He kept urging me to at least read the book once to be aware of what kind of questions will be asked. Sad to admit, I’m not typically known for my obedience 😦 , so I went to Boston’s Government Center, without so much as ever glancing at the book. Frankly, in my own defense, I expected questions of the sort, ‘who was our first president’, ‘where is the US capital’, etc.

So, this guy who was interviewing me, assessed rather early in the game, that I was being a ‘smart alec’ and proceeded to one-up me, and started asking ‘secondary’ questions to, I’m sure, trip me up.

He asked: what is the constitution?

Me: it is the law of the land.

Interviewer: what kind of law?

I was thinking to myself, (but didn’t say it out loud): is there more than one kind?

Interviewer: what is the qualifying part of it?

Me: silence. what?

I was miffed. We’re allowed one or two (max) wrong answers, and he was determined to catch me on this one. And, to his delight, I simply didn’t know. Then he ‘smart-aleced’ me back and said: you should know, it is the ‘supreme’ law of the land. He almost gave me a mischievous look that seemed to suggest that I failed. But then he found some mercy(!) deep in his inner being and let me go. He may as well not have wanted to deal with me one more time. 🙂

So for the law: the word ‘supreme’ covers it all. I had known the gist of that even before, but this episode with the astute government clerk, who didn’t want to let me off the hook that easily, cemented it for me, and it has stuck. The courts will always try to stay out of thorny situations, but if someone decided to bring a lawsuit, the rulings will have to side with the law.

Which brings me to a more current story. Recently, a Muslim woman filed a lawsuit against a budget airline, that she couldn’t and wouldn’t serve alcohol to passengers in flight, because it was against her religion. Oh, brother. An obvious option for her in this case would have been to step aside from that job, and find something else to do. But, why choose the obvious option when you can pick the more contentious one, right?

This is America after all. Home of the brave, and land of the free money. God bless America.

So, she went to court to make the airline bend policy for her. Alas for us, airlines operate on minimum staff (for better or for worse), and if one purposely won’t perform her part of the job description, what is the option they’re left with?

I then found it astonishing, that the same folks who’re unhappy with the Kentucky clerk are the ones who thought the flight attendant had a case. No harm in a little double standard. right?! Freedom to practice one’s religion. The first amendment.

I know the government is not the same as a private employer, but the emotions, that precipitate out of these polarizing situations, are the same. I’m principally opposed to the death penalty. Only a God who created us in His image has the right to take it away. But do I think the courts should make it illegal based on the pope’s exhortations? Probably not. However, the High Court’s clerks are welcome to comb through the law books to find some loophole by which the justices can put it in place. By all means, yes, and please do.

But Exodus 20:13 (Ahimsa), should not be the basis for the law. It can only, but certainly, guide our core values and our conscience.

Similarly, abortion is like adultery. bad, bad, bad. wrong, wrong, wrong. We should never commit it. But should we legislate it and make it illegal? I think not.

Hope you’re enjoying the wall-to-wall coverage of the Bishop of Rome. A twenty-first century man who resembles a first century Carpenter from Nazareth. may God go with him.

Happy Saturday… mercy