Archive for the ‘Spout-offs’ Category

Why Sola Scriptura?

1 Comment Sunday, January 6th, 2013

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The second of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.

Three years ago I called Martin Luther one of the great individualists of our age. Sola Scriptura is the reason.

Sola Scriptura – the first of the five Solas which set the doctrine of the Reformation apart from the Roman Catholic church – means that the responsibility to understand the truth falls primarily on individuals as such, not on individuals as members of a church. One cannot “outsource” the task of truth-seeking to a larger body. Every individual has the inalienable responsibility to understand scripture, and the right to interpret it according to his own conscience.

This was the crux of the debate between Luther and Erasmus. Desiderius Erasmus (whose compilation of the Greek text of the New Testament Luther used for his own German translation) had become alarmed at the upheaval caused by the Reformation, and urged moderation. After all, Erasmus argued, doctrine isn’t that important, and for controversial matters we can just trust the judgement of Rome.

That attitude, Luther responded in On the Bondage of the Will, is damnable laziness. The scriptures are clear – and even if they were not, the most Rome could do is to help others to understand through persuasion. It could not substitute its own understanding for theirs. And should it be wrong (which indeed Luther had shown it to be from the scriptures), the authority of Rome is no excuse for the individual who accepts its doctrine at face value.

When the Gospel came to Greece, the Bereans were called noble for “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). “These things” we now consider to have been authoritatively inspired, having found that they were indeed so. How much more therefore should we test against scripture interpretations coming from Rome, Wittenburg, or Geneva?

“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments,” Luther said in the face of the full authority of Rome, “I can and will not recant, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other.”

It should be obvious, then, that Sola Scriptura does not mean that any interpretation is as good as any other. It does not mean that one can end a disagreement with “well, that’s just my interpretation.” It merely claims that the way to salvation is to be found only in the scriptures, and that the responsibility to find it cannot be transferred or absolved. It does not, on its own, advance any particular interpretation – but that task is taken up by the subsequent Solas.

Why Semper Reformanda?

No Comments Friday, January 4th, 2013


At the beginning of the 16th century, with few exceptions, being European was practically synonymous with being Catholic. Numerically and politically, the church could hardly have been more successful. Yet, it was not healthy. The great systematic-apologetic tradition, spurred by competition from Judaism (Paul’s epistles), Roman paganism (Augustine’s City of God), and later Islam (various works of Thomas Aquinas), had degenerated to the point that Luther could dismiss contemporary Scholastic theologians as mere “sophists”. Popes frequently acted as vaingloriously as princes, both politically and personally. And worst of all, fiscal profligacy had led the church to seek profit from the sinner’s desperation before God.

After Luther posted his 95 Theses disputing the sale of indulgences, by which the Pope from a “storehouse of merit” purported to be able to remit sins for a fee, Rome’s proud threats made it clear that the path to internal reform was closed. If not for the new printing press and powerful friends in Germany, he would surely have been silenced along with the several would-be reformers in the centuries preceding him.

In our time, by contrast, the Catholic church is hardly recognizable as the same institution. Yes, its doctrine is largely similar, but the corruption has – with a few visible exceptions – been largely rooted out, especially from the higher echelons. It stopped waging wars, it opened itself to scientific advance, and no pope after the sixteenth century has had an illegitimate child.

Why the change? Hegemony – especially religious hegemony – is sclerotic. When everyone is Catholic, it’s no wonder if Catholicism doesn’t mean much. The Reformation not only recovered the vitality of the Christian religion within its own circle (and re-energized the systematic-apologetic tradition with works such as Calvin’s Institutes), but rejuvenated the Catholic church by shattering its complacency.

Semper reformanda ecclesia est. The Church is always reforming – the ecclesiological equivalent of creative destruction. And as Israel learned many times in the Old Testament, when internal reformation fails, external discipline is never far around the corner.

In our day, Protestant hegemony in America is likewise rapidly waning. This is to be welcomed. As sclerosis sets in when those of conservative temperament feel safe enough to take the torch, thereby preventing internal reform, so vitality will be restored only when the Church is again countercultural enough that it must be always reforming.

Though the structural effects of the Reformation were important, the particular doctrines which it recovered – doctrines which to this day set it apart from the Catholic church – were even more so. In five subsequent posts I’ll talk about the doctrine behind each of the five songs on the forthcoming album.

Black Metal and The Reformation

5 Comments Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Martin Luther

Black metal is about individualism. Often times it comes dressed up in vestments of paganism or satanism or misanthropy, but at its core it’s about the freedom of the individual in the face of society (NSBM notwithstanding); a rejection of external norms and authority in pursuit of internal vision.

This of course comes in many flavors – from bombastic Wagnerian viking metal longing for forgotten days, to introspective post-black-metal retreating from the world to a place of inner beauty, to the uncompromising misanthropy coming from the second wave of Norwegian black metal. The expressions are diverse and are wrapped up in the particular ideologies and aesthetics of the bands, but they are all tied together by a string of dissatisfaction with the state of things; a desire to break away from the status quo.

Long before the first corpsepainted hand picked an electric guitar, there was a man from the heart of Europe who shared these sentiments. Disgusted by the hypocrisy and incensed by the herd mentality of the church of his day, he made a statement bigger than burning a church ever could. 95 statements, in fact. His name was Martin Luther, and his cause was the rejection of external norms and authority in pursuit of internal vision. His cause was freedom of conscience.

“Therefore I cannot and will not recant, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other.”

Black metal has traditionally tended to express itself in opposition to certain things: against society, against Christianity, against pop culture, against people in general at times. This is not unexpected; the individualist must rail against the herd mentality wherever it may be found. Yet in many cases, like a child taking “Fido” to refer to all dogs, many black metal bands came to rail against these things not for their negation of the individual, but simply as sort of a subcultural taboo. At one point – and still to some – antitheist philosophy was even a necessary prerequisite to black metal.

Thus, one herd mentality has been substituted for another. As the individualist thread wears thinner, we get contingents of black metal bands (NSBM and otherwise) built on philosophies of cultural pride to the point of xenophobia. We get paganism just as puerile as the worst of suburban religious practice. This is not individualism; this is not the spirit of black metal.

Martin Luther was one of the great individualists of our age. Let the black metal community stand with him in condemnation of rote tradition, blind following, and the unexamined life. Certainly there is herd mentality to be found everywhere. Certainly there is need for reformation now as then; for constant self-examination in the face of unquestioned belief. Ecclesia semper reformanda est. Yet let the community not be too hasty in writing off a group which it views from the outside: it has more in common with the core of the Reformation than it might like to admit.

The next album Feste Burg will be thematically based on the Reformation. There will be five tracks corresponding to the five Solas of Protestant doctrine, as well as several shorter interlude songs.