Next Tuesday, October 31 is the day we’ll observe as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Many Christians, especially we Lutherans, have been anticipating this day for some time.
The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the central truth of Christianity that eternal salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, through faith in Christ our Lord.
Here’s a brief summary of the Reformation and its primary causes:
- In the late 15th century the Catholic Church was afflicted by internal corruption.
- The sale of “indulgences” raised money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
- Indulgences made people believe deceased loved ones could be released from purgatory.
- The slogan was: “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
- Onto this scene arrived a troubled man named Martin Luther.
- Luther saw God as a God of justice and was tormented by unforgiven guilt and sin.
- In a thunderstorm during which Luther’s traveling companion was killed by a bolt of lightning, Luther exclaimed, “Save me, St. Anne. I will become a monk!”
- He survived, became a monk, but could find no peace with God through his own effort.
- Luther’s discovery of God’s grace came primarily from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
- What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by what Luther had discovered.
- He boldly spoke biblical truth to the church’s power by posting his 95 theses, intended as an invitation for debate on topics of faith and church practice.
- Pressure was placed on him to retract his criticism of church belief and practice.
- He refused to do so and was threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church.
- Asked to retract his writings, Luther simply stated: “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, for I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
- Ultimately, Luther was excommunicated for refusing to retract his beliefs.
The assertion that salvation comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our own doing was the primary catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. That truth is the essence of the Christian faith still today and I pray that will continue till Jesus comes again!