Where Is The Martin Luther For American Evangelical Churches?
A lot of people I know are looking at the title and already salivating: Yes! Where is the Martin Luther that is going to lead the American Evangelical Church back into its glorious position as the dominant cultural and political force of the world?
Uh…guys? Sorry to disappoint, but…no.
You are the corrupt Vatican of today, and somebody needs to take a hammer to you and knock some sense into your thick skulls.
The Roman Catholic church has a long history of corruption and abuse of power (to be fair, they are far from the first, much less only, religious organization to succumb to this). As far back as the 13th century this was becoming a serious problem, serious enough for St. Francis of Assisi to feel he had been called by God to “repair My church” (St. Francis started with a very literal interpretation of this command -- fixing a rundown local church -- but soon came to realize he was meant to take on the entire Catholic hierarchy).
St. Francis did a lot of good and still serves as a wonderful inspiration to this day, but in terms of actually fixing the problems in the church…well…let’s just say Pope Innocent III deftly deflected any real change St. Francis might have aimed at them and sent the good man and his followers off to enjoy a monastic life in the countryside, far from the centers of real power.
That only bought the Roman Catholic church three centuries of breathing room before the next crank showed up -- this one a feisty, pissed off German instead of a dreamy, ethereal Italian.
Martin Luther, like St. Francis and many, many, many other pilgrims in the medieval world, had come to Rome to worship at the seat of (Western) Christendom and had been suitably horrified at what he had seen: Indulgences (i.e., buy your way out of hell for a suitable donation), hypocrisy (supposedly celibate cardinals and popes with battalions of mistresses and legions of offspring), greed (boy howdy! St. Peter’s is beautiful but that didn’t come cheap), and a naked lust for power.
Unlike almost everybody else who came home shaking their head but saying / doing nothing to rock the ark, Martin Luther wrote up his famous 95 theses, nailed them to the door of his local church in the same way we’d post a listicle on Facebook today, then sat back and waited for the reply posts.
The fact we have an evangelical church movement (along with dozens of other offshoots) is testimony Luther succeed beyond his wildest dreams (though technically he might think he only achieved something beyond his wildest dreams, not that he had succeeded in his original intent: To spur discussion and reform within the Roman Catholic church).
Look, there’s a lot of conflicting motives behind all the various factions for and against the Protestant Reformation, and I’m not going to even try to encapsulate their history briefly.
Suffice it to say, Rome’s greedy / bossy / domineering / judgmental ways were a sore point with a few million people in Europe, and those few million had the military resources to hold the pope/s and their allies at spear’s distance for a few centuries until finally everybody more or less settled down by the 19th century and found other reasons to fight one another.
Martin Luther was right with his 95 theses* and in the end what historian Rodney Stark has labeled “the church of power” was supplanted -- at least on paper -- by “the church of piety”.
The naked licentious behavior of medieval popes and cardinals was officially censured and whatever sins were committed by the new leadership, they were small indeed compared to the grandiose misdeeds of the past.
Which brings us to the 21st century, out of Europe and into America where our version of the medieval church -- a weaponized / Americanized / huckster driven bastardization of Christ’s teachings loosely called the Evangelical Church movement -- is committing the exact same sins that had set Martin Luther off 500 years ago.
The. Exact. Same. Sins.
Indulgences? Send them good ol’ boys (and gals; we’ve got some shady female preachers, too) some money and get your special anointed healing oil packet -- and if you make your donation now we’ll throw in a genuine prayer rug (1 square inch) from the Holy Land.
Hypocrisy? The louder some Evangelical preacher screeches about gay sex, the more likely he’s going to be found in the company of a rent boi.
Greed? The only thing the American Evangelical church can’t buy is taste; the Roman Catholics at least have all that really great Renaissance art to show for their accumulation of filthy lucre but their 21st century counterparts have truly deplorable, plebian tastes, building unamusing amusement parks that fail miserably instead of the magnificent architecture, art, and music of the renaissance church that still stand and inspire millions to this day.
Naked lust for power? Look at who far too many of them feverishly and energetically support in the White House.
Game over, man. Game over.
And it is the end of American Christianity…at least the way it’s been practiced since the first English colonies were established on this continent.
The Christian faith in imploding on the American census. More and more people are leaving the various Christian denominations and checking the “other” box instead…be it spiritual or agnostic or full blown atheist.
It’s not happening for any outside reasons.
Satan isn’t winning a war against Christendom.
Satan is sitting down in hell with a big tub of buttered popcorn, laughing at the spectacle of so-called Christian leaders resolutely dismantling the very church millions of people took two millennia to build.
It’s happening because people inside the churches today get one look at what those organizations really stand for, recognize whatever it is they’re personally looking for it won’t be found in any pre-packaged / consumer branded denominational church, and they hit the silk.
That’s why the American Evangelical church so desperately needs a modern day Martin Luther -- or Martha Luther (makes no never mind to God so long as the job gets done, and the best theologians in the country today seem to be increasingly female).
They need someone who can shake them up, pound some sense into them.
They need someone who will make them genuinely and sincerely ashamed of the horrible job they’ve done represented Christ’s message here on earth and will get them to repent (quite literally, turn around) and follow the actual teachings of Christ instead of trying to line their own pockets and feather their own beds.
* Those of you who wish to point out Martin Luther was also a pretty awful anti-Semite whose writings helped paved the way for first pogroms then the Holocaust, yeah, you’re right. Now shut up: We’re not talking about Martin Luther’s failings but about who today will do the equivalent of the good things he did in order to stop the terrible perversion of Christianity in America.