Luther's Faith in the One, Holy Church (4)

In answering this charge*, it will not do just to make things easy for ourselves. We could, if we wanted, pose a counter question: But what about the unity of the church prior to the Reformation? Half a century earlier, a Pope sent a Bull of Excommunication to be placed on the high altar of the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the most holy place of the Greek Church. This schism between East and West continues to this day...can Luther be blamed for that? Again,around 1400, the unity of Western Christendom was torn apart, rent asunder by the existence of three Popes, each one excommunicating the others...can Luther be blamed for that? But such counter-charges are not an adequate response to the accusation being made. One cannot excuse oneself merely by pointing to the faults of others. The question still remains: What did Luther believe about the unity of the church? What did he understand by "the church"?

It may actually be that Luther understood the church more profoundly than his opponents, and that he did so because he understood it, not on the basis of human speculation, but on the basis of God's Word. Therefore, it may actually be that the truth which Luther discovered could benefit all of Christendom, and that it knocks on the very doors of the Church of Rome and seeks entrance there also.

* I.e., that Luther destroyed the unity of the church, even the church itself.

From a talk given in Erlangen, Germany on 8th August, 1943.

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