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May 9, 2012

If Martin Luther was Italian

by Dave Malnes

Can you imagine what the church might look like today if Martin Luther were Italian?

Growing up in a northern European culture and part of the Lutheran tradition, great pain was taken to show no pain, reserve was a virtue, and emotion was only expressed at appropriate times.  This must have been carried over into the practice and traditions of Lutheranism, but not necessarily the theology.  Faith alone and grace alone was a hallmark of the great hymns that Luther and the other great reformers wrote.  In the backdrop of the Catholic church at that time, the words resonated freedom from the chains of theological oppression.  That was true emotion!  Over time, the extraordinary became ordinary and culture may have seeped into the practice of the church.  Emotional expressions during a time of corporate worship was frowned upon, even considered inappropriate, because the seriousness of our sins.  How else can we come before God without forgiveness and grace and what the reformation truths trumpeted?  The fact that we are sinners in need of grace and forgiveness was the focal point in liturgical song and expression.  Somberness was the reflection of our praise — and something that our northern European heritage could more easily grasp.

The fact that we are sinners and in need of forgiveness is certainly a Biblical truth, but is it the focal point of Paul’s letters and the other epistles of the New Testament.  Is the dourness and sorrow associated with hymns sung in minor keys a true reflection of what Christ desires from his saints?  If Martin Luther were Italian, would he reflect more on the sorrow over sin or the joy of the resurrection?  Would there be an emphasis on lent in Lutheranism or six weeks of post-Easter celebration?  If a person is culturally bent toward expressing emotion, then possibly the practice of readily expressing triumphant joy would be a predominant form of religious expression and worship.

Perhaps as a person who grew up in a northern European culture in America, it was much easier for us to express sorrow over sin rather than joy over victory of what Christ has done.  Perhaps because I was taught that to relish over victory would not be an expression of humility.  Maybe even prideful.  And being in the culture of Norwegian fisherman, gloating over a  victorious catch and a safe arrival home from the sea would be considered unlucky.  Perhaps that approach was reflected in our worship together.  As a result, it seems that most Christians have a tendency to view themselves more as sinner rather than saints.

But that is not what the Bible teaches.

Outside of brothers, what word is used the most throughout the New Testament to describe Christians?  Sinners?  Never.  Only when Paul and Peter refer to themselves.  Over one hundred and fifty times, Christian believers are referred to as “righteous”.  And that is an amazing term!  Christian believers are referred to as being right with God.  They are perfect.  Their status is considered freely and fully forgiven.  Right now.  All because of what Christ has already done for us.

Isn’t that an amazing message to share with others?  Isn’t that an amazing thought to carry with us throughout the day?

I agree.  It’s fun and humorous to think of what the church may be like today if Luther were Italian.  I wonder what my church experience may have been like as a child growing up in a different culture?  How would that have reflected upon my view of God, the role of Christ and who he truly is, and my own status as a Christian believer.

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