I'm just sayin'.
But okay. Here's my real purpose in writing. As a Lutheran cleric, I can't help but notice that it is very likely, barring anything really unpleasant, that Benedict's successor will occupy the Holy See on October 31, 2017--the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. I hope to God that this anniversary will not be marked by a celebration of us against them. I mean, wouldn't it be a really swell thing if that anniversary became an occasion for reconciliation between our two denominations?
Historically speaking, the Lutheran reformers, just as the term reformer suggests, never wanted to split the Christian Church. In fact, the great Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchthon, author of the seminal doctrine of Lutheranism, the Augsburg Confession, once wrote:
"...concerning the pope I maintain that if he would allow the gospel, we too, may, for the sake of peace and general unity among those Christians who are now under him and might be in the future, grant him his superiority over the bishops which he has by 'human right.'" (Melanchthon appended this to his signature on the Smalcald Articles of 1537)
Granted, things were a bit different in Melanchthon's day than in our own. I take it from the above statement that he'd be perfectly happy to submit to papal authority should such authority be used in accordance with what Melanchthon saw as scriptural authority. With 500 years of water under the bridge, I don't see Lutherans and Roman Catholics reuniting under the new pope. However, I do think that we can present to the world a mutual respect for the differences which each tradition brings to our shared faith in Jesus Christ.
To my way of thinking, the greatest reform a new pope can make will be to invite Lutherans to join with our Roman brothers and sisters at the table of Our Lord. Both denominations teach the Holy Eucharist proclaims Christ's death as sacrifice for human sin.
"While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them saying, 'Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" (Matthew 26: 26-28)
Okay. We can quibble about transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation and scores of other issues, but they are minor compared with the above statement, to which we all agree.
I would hope that the next pontiff takes a page from the book of a pretty darn good pope who, in my humble opinion, had the most positive effect on world Christianity of any pope in modern history.
Pope John XXIII, like Martin Luther before him, changed the language of the mass to the language of the common people and encouraged Catholic Christians to begin reading the Bible. This was huge. So huge, in fact, that Lutherans actually have a special commemorative date (June 3, the day of his death) in which we honor John XXIII as a Renewer of the Church. This pope also opened the door for dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. I, myself, have participated in Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogues and have greatly enjoyed the experience; however, I have to wonder if, after fifty years of talking, we have made much progress towards reconciliation.
What a tremendous statement of unity it would be for all Christians if Lutherans and Romans came together to share the grace of God in the Lord's Supper. In my parish, I routinely invite all baptized Christians to come to the altar and participate in the meal. It would simply be a sin against hospitality to invite anyone into our house and not feed them.
"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galations 3:28)
So c'mon, Rome! It's been half a millenium. We're willing. What about you?
Thanks for reading, my friends. As always, I invite your comments.