The Protestant Reformation

Oct. 31 of this year  will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, begun when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Monk, nailed his “95 theses,” or complaints with the Church, to the door of the Church in Wittenberg, Germany. We asked local pastors to send us their thoughts on the reformation. Our first response comes from Pastor Jim Martin, St. Paul Lutheran Church & School, Peachtree City.

Reformation is a good thing. Things need to be re-formed, re-shaped, from time to time.

People in particular.  Churches, too … because they’re made up of people.

As a Lutheran pastor, I gained an appreciation for the Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther, and the reformation movement that he helped ignite in the church of his day. Oct. 31, 2017, marks the 500th Anniversary of Luther nailing his “95 Theses” to the “city bulletin board” of Wittenberg, Germany – namely, the church door.

Reformation and Renaissance walked hand-in-hand throughout Europe in the late 1400s and 1500s. Renewed interest in scholarship led theologians to study the Bible in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. They discovered how far from the teachings of Jesus some church practices had gone astray.

Scientists of the day felt empowered to challenge accepted theories of their day.

Creative minds were enriching lives with inventions like the printing press – without which the writings of Luther, Calvin and other reformers may have remained hidden in church libraries.

Freedom to challenge the status quo, and the establishment which protects it, is at the heart of reformation. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the status quo served the purposes of those who were in power.  “Selling forgiveness” through indulgences generated income for the church. Sadly, it also obscured Jesus’ message of forgiveness as a free gift of God to those who see the error of their ways and ask God to forgive them. (Did you ever wonder how different our lives would be if there was a revival of real forgiveness in our nation?)

It’s easy to see abuse of power in hindsight. However, it takes a special gift to discern our own abuse of power and then to make the needed changes … whether it’s happening in our churches or in our society. Everyone has their own perspective on what is right and good. Luther and other reformers realized they desperately needed a clear moral compass, God-given principles, to guide the necessary changes.

What I’ve come to appreciate about Luther and others was their intense desire to discern God’s will, and set aside personal preferences. Behind that desire was a deeply-held belief that there is a God who is capable of revealing His character, and His purposes for His creation.  Not many people in our world today would deny that the way Jesus treated people is the best example of what God wants … love one another, as I have loved you.  However, many, many people in this world, I suspect most of our readers included, would agree that those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus often fall far short of His ideal.

What I especially appreciate about Jesus is that He taught … and lived … forgiveness.

“I do not condemn you … go and sin no more.”  He encouraged the most basic kind of reformation … a change of heart.  I believe in the need for reformation today because my heart still needs changing after 70 years of living, 48 years of marriage, and 44 years of pastoring.

Jesus was crucified for trying to change human hearts.  The amazing thing is that His cross and His empty grave are the clearest testimony in all human history that the One who is responsible for this world and all its creatures is still in the “business” of reformation — one heart at a time.

That’s the kind of Reformation I want to celebrate!