The History-Changing Power of Questions

Martin Luther wrote many books, preached many sermons and left many marks on this world and eternity. His German translation of the New Testament shaped the German language. His dispute with Rome fashioned the Protestant Reformation. And it all began with questions. Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses Against Indulgences was originally a written list academic conversation starters.  It was not his first list of theses (you would do well to read through his 97 theses against Scholastic theology over your next coffee break!) However, it was the list of 95 nailed to that church door in Wittenberg, 31st of October, 1517, that caught everyone’s attention. For example, number 82 on the list says something like this:

“If the Pope can empty purgatory for the sake of money to build a church, why does he not empty purgatory for the sake of holy love  . . . ?”

His questions and statements were like a string of tweets ahead of their time. They were dismissed by the authorities as errant, dangerous and divisive.  However, they struck a nerve with common folk and soon started to trend across Europe.  Instead of just beginning a debate with a fellow academic or two, those questions went viral and played a key role in launching the Protestant Reformation – a theological revolution in Catholic Europe.

At that time there was a prevailing narrative and a dominant force controlling the narrative of religious Europe.  God used Luther’s biblical and theological enquiry to drive truth into error and to start a much-needed revolution. 

There have been many times throughout history where a dominant force controlled a prevailing narrative.  That force may be religious, political, ideological, or some combination of the three.  When something is not right, many will quietly comply with the expected thought processes. Many will avoid the risk of upsetting others or putting themselves in the sights of the thought police. But some will dare to ask questions.  And when someone asks a question, they will always be told to stay quiet and not to swim against the tide.  It was true in Luther’s Germany.  Four centuries later it was true in Hitler’s Germany.  And it is still true in our world today.  Questions get shut down, because questions unveil truth.

So, if you ask a question today, you can expect to be urged to stay quiet.  Perhaps your concerns will be “fact-checked” or perhaps your concerns will be labelled as “conspiracy theories” and summarily dismissed.  If you share those concerns on social media, you may find yourself not only criticized by others, but censored by the platform itself. As pastors and preachers we cannot be naive and think the current censoring trend will stay in the political realm. More conservative religious folks, such as people who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, are increasingly being targeted in our times.

I have not done a good job of asking questions of my world.

Sunday is coming and perhaps, like me, you need to be focusing on the sermon. Let’s pray that Sunday’s sermon touches hearts, but let’s also pray that God might use us to ask questions during the week. It could be that God uses something as insignificant as a question on social media, or in conversation, to put cracks in a powerful narrative, to put doubts in peoples’ minds, and to put the power of the gospel to work in our still fallen world.

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