Many scripturally-faithful, Gospel-centered Protestants will celebrate their spiritual heritage leading up to Reformation Day on October 31, marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses. But some Unitarian Universalists have expressed their excitement, too.
One local Unitarian Universalist congregation in Colorado plans to celebrate Reformation Sunday (a few days ahead of Reformation Day), claiming their faith tradition embodies the spirit of the Reformation. The pastor of the congregation wrote the following in the local paper:
If you are prone to questioning religious authority and asking spiritual questions that irritate the status quo, let this service be your welcome to the hope of Unitarian Universalism. … Protestant religious denominations are beholden to the Reformation movement begun by the likes of Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other spiritual pioneers. UU’s advocate for the authority of reason and conscience where “the ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, nor a document, nor an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual.” This sense of radical independence in spiritual matters owes much to the “protest” of Christian religious reformers 500 years ago.
Surely other Protestants find it puzzling to hear a Unitarian Universalist claim to share Luther and Calvin as spiritual patriarchs? It’s true that the Reformers engaged in “questioning religious authority.” But this was not for the sake of agitation in itself. Rather, they sought a return to first principles of Christianity.
This begs another obvious question. Which first principles do Unitarian Universalists seek to recall through celebrating Reformation Day?
Surely not Soli Scriptura or Solus Christus. To say the least, these two assertions seem rather exclusivist for Unitarian Universalism. Neither the Bible nor Christ represent the common denominator among “Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, atheist and agnostic, believers in God, and more” traditions which Unitarian Universalists claim to unite.
True, the Reformation appealed to the conscience of individual Christians to interpret Scripture and discern theological error. But the movement also reemphasized principles that run contrary to the stated core values of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
The UUA presents itself as an anti-dogma “living tradition” with “democratically” decided values. Directly contrary to Soli Scriptura, Unitarian Universalism bases its seven core Principles on “sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience.” Specifically, their six Sources include:
- “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder”
- “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men”
- “Wisdom from the world’s religions”
- “Jewish and Christian teachings”
- “Humanist teachings”
- “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions”
As far as Solus Christus, Unitarian Universalists reject a “shared concept of the divine,” implicitly denying the salvific work of Jesus Christ. Furthermore the tradition refuses to “promise…ironclad answers” except those “informed by both science and spiritual traditions” regarding questions about life after death.
I suggest that UUA needs its own modern day Reformation. But there’s a problem. Unitarian Universalism lacks a cohesive set of first principles to which prospective reformers the likes of Luther and Calvin can return.