I am very grateful that my kind husband took time to write the following.
Please read, enjoy the history lesson,
and - moreover - I pray you are enjoying the liberty found in Christ alone!
While most of the world is busy right now in the throes of Halloween (which at its best is an over indulgence in Resse Cups and Snickers, and at its worst is a celebration of and emphasis on that which is demonic) it is good for Christians to take a step back and give some celebration for that which has some substance, namely the Gospel and its wonderful working in the hearts of sinful humanity.
Historically this is what Christians (or at least Protestant Christians) have celebrated on October 31st . This is Reformation Day! For the Gospel believing Christian this day should get the same airtime as July 4th and September 11th. Like these days, October 31, 1517 marks a moment in history so momentous that nothing would remain the same after the events of the day unfolded. It was on this day that the German Monk, Martin Luther, nailed his famous ’95 Theses’ on the front door of the Wittenberg castle. Essentially this was a paper chocked full of protests (hence the name ‘Protest – ants’) that Luther made against the Roman Catholic Church.
Nailing the 95 Theses
Luther had much to protest! For reasons known only to God Himself the Catholic Church had, by this point in history, been allowed to drift into serious doctrinal error. As Luther (and others as well) began to search deeper and deeper in the Scriptures the discoveries of what was found when compared with both the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church created major discrepancies. The proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ for Luther was the Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences.
Essentially an ‘indulgence’ is a spiritual commodity. It is a partial or full remittance of punishment due for sin. In Luther’s day most people held to the belief of some sort of purgatory (an intermediate state of suffering one must pass through until they have paid enough for their sins and can move on into heaven and ‘saint-hood’). Simply put, the Pope not only propagated this belief but also preyed upon it by his sell of such indulgences. Here is how it worked:
Suppose you lost a loved one a few years ago and were concerned about their spiritual well being. Well worry no longer. The kind, benevolent Pope has decided to run a special on ‘indulgences’ when, once bought, can be used to speed your loved one through the purgatory fires and expedite their entrance into heaven, and thus be rid of suffering once and for all. Who cares if you are suffering in this life and have little to live on? Your suffering is not worth comparing to the torment your loved one is in. How cruel is it of you to hold onto your money when giving it to the Church can alleviate so much pain for those you love. Or perhaps you really do not love them after all? Perhaps you are just plain selfish and calloused to the needs of others. This is exactly what the people of Luther’s day were hearing! The Pope even sent traveling salesmen to serve as ancient infomercials and thus create more sales. One of the most famous, John Tetzel (whom Luther had the most to deal with), is credited with coining this sales pitch, “When the coin in the coffer does ring, the soul from purgatory does spring.”
The selling of "indulgences"
The monk Luther could take it no longer! If the Pope had such power to grant such forgiveness why did he need the money of peasants to do so? Could he not simply grant the forgiveness free of charge? Well, sure he could but then how could he build his magnificent Basilica in Rome? Wearing his gospel lenses Luther saw how unbiblical and destructive such thinking was. He penned his paper, grabbed his hammer and nail, and posted his “Protests” on the castle door (sort of a community bulletin board). He did so, and thus sparked what is now referred to as the “Protestant Reformation”. What Luther and the other leaders of this movement sought was not a split from the Catholic (simply means Universal) Church, but rather a reforming of it. They wanted to bring the belief and practice of the church back into line with the Gospel. Thankfully, God used them to do just that (though not all of the Church was ‘reformed’).
A glimpse of Luther's 95 Theses.
To read them for yourself,
Well enough of the history lesson. What is the relevance for us? I am sure most of the people who read this will be Protestants, so should we simply applaud ourselves that we are on the right side and go watch football? No! What then should we do? Let me encourage you to do 3 things :
1. Give Thanks! Thank God for how He used mighty men like Luther to steer a ship so drastically off course back to Gospel currents. None of us will know this side of heaven how beneficial such redirecting has had on our lives as a nation and individually as well.
2. Remember and Anchor! We all have blind spots! We all have holes in our Theology! What belief or practice of ours will the next generation of Christ followers look back on at and marvel that we could believe or practice and still call ourselves ‘Christians’? We are all hard-wired to deviate from truth! We are all ‘prone to wander’! How then can we ensure that we will stay on the right track? Let me suggest using the 5-fold truths of the Reformation to help anchor us to true Gospel thinking and true Gospel living. Commonly referred to as the ‘Five Solas’ (Sola being the Latin for “only”), these phrases will serve as safety ropes and anchors as we seek to navigate life.
Sola Scriptura (The Word of God alone)
Sola Fide (By Faith alone)
Sola Gratia (By Grace alone)
Solus Christus (In Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (For the Glory of God alone)
IN all of our thinking and living let us ask ourselves:
Are we basing everything on the Word of God alone? Or does our tradition, at times, trump the clear teaching of the Word?
Do we teach and believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and in Christ alone? Or do we teach (or imply) that it is Christ plus something else? Do we say ‘grace alone through faith alone’ and then live like salvation depends on our doing? Deep in our hearts are we planning on offering some sort of ‘indulgence receipt’ of our own works when we stand before God on the final day?
Are we living for the glory of God alone? Or do we give lip service to such glory while we seek to establish our little kingdoms on this earth?
These questions and others like them are good ways to cause us to remember and anchor our hearts in the Gospel!
Finally, after we have given thanks and examined our heart let us offer up a response of the heart. Singing is one of the best ways to do this, and what better song than Luther’s own, A Mighty Fortress is our God!
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.
Let us hold firmly to that Word that is above all earthly powers and let us hold loosely to goods and kindred here on this earth. The prince of darkness will always seek to get us to reverse our grips. Do not tremble at him, but look to Christ and always seek continual reformation in your heart. This is what I am thinking through this Reformation Day! (I will still enjoy a Snickers or two though! :)