“Sin boldly” Wrote Martin Luther to his friend and theological colleague Philip Melanchton at the beginning of reformation. The very fact that this statement remains provocative is a testament that this reformation and its spiritual liberation are still ongoing and greatly needed.
“Sin boldly” Martin Luther wrote and he was subverting the very essence of the false medieval religious system. The medieval church skillfully used feelings of shame and guilt in combination with the religious category of sin, to trap, manipulate, enslave and exploit people on a massive scale (entire continents). This truly totalitarian system surrounded individuals from birth to death, at home and at work, in private and in public. It permeated huts of serfs but also (to a lesser extend) castles of nobility, prescribing what to feel, what to think, what was allowed and what was not.
“Sin boldly” wrote Martin Luther although he was born to and largely remained a son of this medieval superstitious world. Early in his life he took this neurotic religious world-view seriously and tried to comply. He employed all his German sincerity and thoroughness, but to no avail; he could not measure up. In fact, no one could; that was exactly how this whole spiritual system of enslavement was intentionally built. Then something snapped in him. Luther, by that time a trained biblical scholar, realized the artificial nature of this system. He started to unmask it. Reformation, the process of spiritual liberation, had started.
“Sin Boldly” Martin Luther wrote thus starting reformation. But it is an unfinished quest. Until this day this statement makes religious people uncomfortable! It is because across the religious spectrum, from conservative Evangelicals to the most Liberal social activists, religion was reduced into religiously-justified morality. It is so particularly in America with its knack for pragmatism even in matters of religion. Religious people of different stripes apply religious morality from different angles, with different agendas and with different goals. At the end, conservative as well as liberal moralists want to improve or correct either individual or collective behaviour.
“Sin Boldly” wrote Martin Luther, because he wanted to liberate people from enslaving obsessive-compulsive religiosity. People are uncomfortable because they are still under the spell of the ritualistic, mercantile religion which Sigmund Freud so aptly described as an organized collective neurosis. This critique of religion is particularly suitable for any church which forgets about the true message of Jesus and his liberating power. God loves us, we do not deserve it in any way, it is a free gift of grace. Only if we are liberated, can we rejoice in divine grace.
“Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!” There is a diametrical difference between guilt-ridden religion founded in fear and joyful faith rooted in divine grace. Come this Sunday to celebrate the ongoing Reformation, come to celebrate joyful faith.