500 Years of Reformation (October 2017)
At the end of this month, even as most people will be thinking about witches, ghosts, and monsters, we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 2017, we will mark Martin Luther’s writing, posting, and invitation to debate the 95 Theses, also titled “Disputation on the Power of Indulgences,” as the beginning of the theological reawakening of the church in Europe.
The 95 Theses were truly only a beginning. Martin Luther did not understand this writing to be a break with the Pope and he did not realize how much attention and debate this little writing would generate. In fact, Luther would soon regard the issue of indulgences as of less importance than many other theological issues and abuses that he called the Church to reform. October 31,1 1517 was an unexpected beginning of call to change for many years to come, for the rest of Luther’s life and beyond.
For this Augustinian monk, priest, and university professor, the unrelenting and life-long drive to call for change came out of a huge “a-ha” moment. As he studied the Bible, he discovered for himself what was truly the Good News (the “Evangelical” in our name) that is the core of Christianity. This Good News had become so buried in church practices and politics that even priests and monks could no longer see it.
Amazing, we might think, that the center of the faith could be so lost, but, in truth, we know this is true even in our own time. How many in our own time claim Christianity as their faith but in the next breath speak in terms of earning their way to heaven? How many equate the gospel with morals? How often do we hear of preachers leading with fear and damnation rather than God’s love and welcome?
The Reformation began 500 years ago, but it continues in each of us today and into the future: we are continually being called to re-formation in the gospel of Christ. So, even as we celebrate this anniversary, we will once again remember some of the key issues for Luther and the reformers 500 years ago. Those theological issues continue to give us life and to challenge us. As much as the Reformation changed Europe, the gospel is leading us to even more dramatic change personally, as a congregation, as a denomination, and, yes, even as a nation.
Throughout the month of October my messages and our worship will focus on some of the main theological questions of the Reformation: salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ; God’s Word and the Bible; the Church as God’s building of saints and sinners; the theology of the cross; and God chooses you first. I hope we will all be moved again with the same zeal that propelled Martin Luther to risk his life and stand against great opposition for the sake of the Good News of Jesus. He was re-formed by the moving of the Spirit, filled with the joy and peace of Christ, and moved with compassion to share what he had re-discovered. May we all be such agents, sharing God’s love and changing the world.
In the grace and peace of Christ,