Institutional Purity & the Diet of Worms

I know some of you might be confused by the title of this post. Let me assure you up front that it is not about how you make your body pure by eating worms 🙂 . This topic is much too heavy to settle well in your stomach even if it were steak.

The theme of the next three posts is really about is that we have done a great disservice to the Body of Christ by believing that we are the only ones who totally understand what being a Christian is really about. The belief is that since we are the only ones who have it right we must keep our institution pure no matter what is required. We must not let the heretic get a foot in the door. In my mind this grossly inflated belief is one on the primary reasons we have more than 35,000 different flavors of Christianity today. So let’s get on to the first round of this idea. More posts will follow this one on this topic.

For the first fifteen hundred years or so the Catholic Church had pretty much the sole authority and power when it came to being a Christian in the western world (no I am not forgetting about the Eastern Church; I just choose to not address that here). They decided what the heart and soul of God was about. Not many, at least successfully, challenged that authority. Then along came a lowly monk by the name of Martin Luther. He was a person who was totally obsessed with his sinful nature. To try to find some relief he studied the Bible and discovered a small verse in the Epistle of Ephesians where it is told that we only saved by the grace of God and absolutely nothing else. He clung desperately to this tiny verse for relief of his long time suffering of inadequacy. Using that verse he studied the Bible to find other possible confirming words. He was convinced that this small verse was at the very heart of what it meant to be a Christian and the Catholic church just had it wrong. The Catholic Church at the time did not put much credence to that particular sentence. Since “they” were to sole authority when it came to being a Christian they insisted that Luther recant his words. They insisted that he publicly admit that he was wrong and to therefore return to the true Christian fold. The Diet of Worms was an edict put out by the Catholic Church to admonish Luther. Here are some of the words:

For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.

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Of course this was not the first time for the Catholic Church deemed someone a heretic. They had done it many times before. The most notable instances were the Inquisitions of the 13th century. There they tortured thousands and thousands of people in some of the most grievous ways possible in order to get them to “admit” that they were wrong and the church was right about this or that.

After more than a millennium of autocratic authority the Catholic Church had some pretty serious problems. It was time to take them down a notch or two and that is what Luther ended up doing. He challenged the institutional purity concept of the Church and to a certain degree won out.

Next time we will delve further into this topic of institution purity. Did this idea disappear after Luther successfully challenged it? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact as a result of his actions it then grew exponentially! More on that the next time.

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