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November 2, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

Reformation Sunday was celebrated last Sunday, October 27.  It celebrates the nailing of Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses” on the door of the Wittenberg Church calling for debate on the subject of indulgences.  It was the eve of All Saints Day in the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church which falls on October 31.  Usually Reformation Sunday comes closer to what we call Holy Evening, the evening before All Saints Day, or Halloween.

Luther was disturbed by what he saw as the corruption and idolatry that had crept into the Medieval Church.  Much of this was corrected by the Counter Reformation in Roman Catholicism but this did not begin until 1545 and the Council of Trent.  Luther nailed he theses to the wall in 1517.

From a Protestant point of view Luther got so much right.  He was a master exegete of Scripture.  This was his assignment in the Roman Catholic Church.  He was a teacher of the Bible at the Un9iversity of Wittenberg.  One thing however he got wrong, not at the beginning of his ministry, but toward the end of his life.

At the beginning of his ministry he saw the Jewish people as allies in the reform movement he was undertaking.  After all they were fervent in their opposition to idolatry and had been badly treated by the Church during the medieval period.  In a tract entitled “THAT CHRIST WAS BORN A JEW” written in 1523 he said, “If one deals in a kindly way with the Jews and instructs them carefully, many of them will become genuine Christians and turn again to the faith of their fathers, the prophets and the patriarchs.”

By 1543 Luther was thoroughly disheartened by the Jewish response to the Reformation.  Luther’s personality was always somewhat irascible.  He turned on Judaism in 1543 with vehement malevolence in his lengthy discourse titled “ON THE JEWS AND THEIR LIES.”  In it he rejected the consistent witness of the Church from the time of the Church fathers through Augustine, that Israel would be restored at the end time and Messiah would rule the world from Jerusalem.  Luther rejected any restoration of Israel and any future for the Jewish people.  The proof of this theology for Luther was the Diaspora.  If there was a future for Israel God would have returned them to their land by this time.  He says, “In brief: Because you see that after fifteen hundred years of misery (when no end is certain or will ever be so) the Jews are not disheartened nor even cognizant of their plight, you might with a good conscience despair of them.  For it is impossible that God should let his people (if they were that) wait so long without consolation and prophecy.”

He also asserts that if the Jews ever do seem to return to the land promised them by God Christians should “quickly become Jews.”  But if this does not happen, and Luther was sure it would not, “Then it is entirely ludicrous that they should want to persuade us into accepting their degenerate laws, which are surely by now after fifteen hundred years of decay no longer laws at all.  And should we believe what they themselves do not and cannot believe, as long as they do not have Jerusalem and the land of Israel.”

Luther simply did not live long enough.  It seems God keeps his promises in his own time.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs