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On Faith: 'We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people'

The year 2017 constitutes an important anniversary in the history of western civilization. Five-hundred years ago, Martin Luther submitted the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg University faculty beginning the Protestant Reformation.

While interpreting these events can make for an interesting discussion depending on one's faith tradition, the question that I wish to explore is "What motivated Martin Luther?"

The year 1505 was a pivotal year in Luther's life. Luther had very recently lost a close male friend named Alexis in a lightning strike. Alexis' death forced Luther to confront the question of "What were to happen to me if I were to die tonight?" One night while returning to law school from the family home, Luther got up in a thunderstorm. Luther fearing for the outcome of his soul in a fit of desperation called out "Save me! Saint Anne, I will become a monk."

Luther enrolled in the monastery within a couple of weeks. He was as dedicated a monk as one could be. Luther would confess his sins before God up to 20 times a day. When Luther would step into private confessional booths, he would stay there for hours trying to remember every individual sin he may have committed. When these actions, could not bring Luther peace he proceeded to take more drastic actions. Luther proceeded to sleep on concrete floors as punishment and stay in his dark room for days without food or water. This behavior got so extreme that his fellow monks found him near death on several occasions. Luther became a Bible professor because his fellow monks were looking for a way of distracting him.

Luther eventually has his spiritual awakening as he comes across Romans 1:17 "The righteous shall live by faith." This discovery along with a variety of both religious and political factors led to the eventual birth of the Lutheran church.

So why do I resonate with Luther's story and consider myself a Lutheran? One could debate points of scriptural interpretation for years without coming to satisfactory conclusions. I believe Luther to be history's greatest theologian, because of his brutal honesty regarding human nature. Luther never claimed to have it all together at any point in his life. He struggled with both depression and anxiety nearly every day of his life. It was because of these things though that makes our Christian Gospel truly "good news." Luther came to believe that God's promises extend to us not at our best, but also at our worst. Luther realized that the Christian life would be dealing with a continual tension between being both sinner and forgiven saint.

As Lutherans, we don't tend to practice personal testimonials. The reason for this is because of what testimonials often imply about the shape of the Christian's life. Luther realized that any human system of spiritual growth eventually makes it in a way into either the ditches of spiritual pride or spiritual despair. Such a revelation led to Luther realizing that this means salvation must not be dependent on our efforts, but rather what Christ does for us. This passive nature of faith is why Lutherans hold infant baptism to be at the center of our belief system.

Critics of Martin Luther will accuse him of being "vulgar" and "temperamental." A simple, internet search will confirm these critics to be correct. The critics though miss the point. For it was because of Martin Luther's lifelong imperfections that he came to serve as one of the Gospel's greatest champions.

Our congregational vision at Sychar Lutheran where I serve is "We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people." We claim "People with problem-free lives won't fit in here." We identify as Lutherans because Martin Luther spoke to these realities of a Christian's life.

On Faith is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders. Pastor Stew Carlson serves Sychar Lutheran Church in Silver Bay. He can be reached at