This past Sunday morning I preached for the 125th anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., the “mother church” of the Northwest District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I also preached that afternoon at a Circuit Reformation service at Zion. Both services were exceptionally inspirational, enhanced with excellent musical and choral presentations by very talented musicians, conductors and vocalists, some from Concordia Portland! And how were the sermons? You’ll have to ask the folks who were in the pews!
In the U.S., October 31 is observed as Halloween, a day focused on witches, ghosts, goblins, tricks and treats. More importantly, as most Protestant Christians are aware, October 31 is also the date in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” or statements on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.
These Theses were designed to restore to prominence the central teaching of the church that forgiveness and salvation are gifts of God, not the result of good works. The Catholic Church of the 15th and 16th centuries had lost its Gospel focus, which had been replaced by the teaching that forgiveness and salvation must be purchased. Penance and indulgences as a means to spiritual peace were a very real part of the lives of Catholic people in those days.
One man, Johann Tetzel, was trying to raise money for the building of a cathedral in Rome. His sales pitch included the chant: “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings, the soul from purgatory springs!” Don’t want to spend time in purgatory? Spend some money now!
The Protestant Reformation aimed to restore the church, which had become deformed over centuries by false doctrine and wrong practice. This Reformation would bring about the rediscovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, endorsing with ringing clarity the great Biblical principles of:
- sola gratia (we are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own works);
- sola fidei (God’s gifts are ours through faith alone that itself is a gift from God); and
- sola scriptura (these truths are contained in Holy Scripture alone).
Luther’s attempts to reform the church were not well received by all, especially by the Pope. Luther was excommunicated and exiled. Although he went into hiding and lived in fear for his life, he was a man of conviction and courage. If alive today, I truly believe he would have much to say about needed reform in the Christian church. I’ll write more about that another time.
This is the last Perspectives article before Election Day, November 4. I encourage all who read these words to participate in the very important process of electing leaders at national, state, regional and local levels. We need truthful and courageous leaders, not only in the church but also in the world, including our own nation. Exercise your privilege and responsibility to vote!