500th An­niver­sary: The Chris­tian Re­for­ma­tion

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - OPINION - Gene Linzey Re­flec­tions on Life

Next Tuesday is the 500th an­niver­sary of The Chris­tian Re­for­ma­tion. How­ever, the Re­for­ma­tion wasn’t a one-time event; rather it was an on­go­ing process.

It was 500 years ago, on Oct. 31, 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 the­ses (com­plaints) on the Wit­ten­burg Church door. A the­sis, in this sense, is a state­ment or idea put for­ward for dis­cus­sion, and to be proven or dis­proven in the en­su­ing de­bates. But Martin Luther was an­gry. Why?

Al­ready de­sir­ing to re­form the Church, sell­ing in­dul­gences for the dead was the last straw! What are in­dul­gences? I’ll tell you in a minute. Please un­der­stand that sell­ing in­dul­gences was a tiny part of the over­all prob­lem. But Luther had to start some­where.

Martin Luther (a Catholic Monk, priest, scholar, the­olo­gian, lawyer, and pro­fes­sor) was not the first who wanted to re­form the Church. But he was the first who wanted to dis­cuss with the pope about the Church’s abuse of the peo­ple. Leo X (Gio­vanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici) was the Pope in 1517.

What were these com­plaints about? All 95 were about how Church lead­er­ship was de­fraud­ing the poor church mem­ber. Num­bers 1 and 86 are printed here:

1. “When our Lord and Master Je­sus Christ said, “Re­pent” (Mt. 4:17), he willed the en­tire life of be­liev­ers to be one of re­pen­tance.”

86. “Again, why does not the pope, whose wealth is to­day greater than the wealth of the rich­est Cras­sus, build this one basil­ica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor be­liev­ers?” (Mar­cus Licinius Cras­sus, born 115 BC, had be­come a Ro­man Sen­a­tor, and was said to be the rich­est man in Rome.)

Luther’s point in No. 1 was: The Church was not sup­posed to ex­tort money from peo­ple; rather it was sup­posed to teach peo­ple how to live a Godly life. And point No. 86 is self-ex­plana­tory. (You can find a list of the 95 the­ses at: http://www. luther.de/en/95the­sen.html.)

Back to in­dul­gences. The Ro­man Catholic Church teaches that when peo­ple die, they don’t go to heaven right away. Rather, they go to pur­ga­tory to un­dergo pu­rifi­ca­tion un­til they have be­come holy enough to enter heaven. But, and here’s the catch, if the fam­ily or friends bought an in­dul­gence, the per­son could be re­leased from pur­ga­tory much sooner. And, the more they paid, the sooner the loved one could be re­leased.

But Luther and many oth­ers re­al­ized what the Bible teaches: money can­not buy sal­va­tion be­cause Je­sus’ life, death, and res­ur­rec­tion fin­ished the job. They re­al­ized that we are saved by grace through faith in Je­sus Christ. Je­sus com­pleted the plan of sal­va­tion; and fur­ther purg­ing was un­nec­es­sary, quite im­pos­si­ble, and an in­sult to our Sav­ior. Ac­cord­ing to New Tes­ta­ment teach­ing, our des­ti­na­tion — heaven or hell — is de­cided BE­FORE we die.

As men­tioned pre­vi­ously, Luther wanted to dis­cuss his ideas with the Holy See (Pope Leo X). But he didn’t know that a group of men had vowed to mur­der him, so his friends kid­napped him un­til the furor died down.

A ma­jor fact that was buried in the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal tur­moil is this: Luther had no in­ten­tion of break­ing from the Catholic Church or break­ing the Church apart. In­stead, he wanted the Church leaders to read and un­der­stand the Bible so they could pu­rify or re­form the Church. But the leaders weren’t in­ter­ested. Af­ter Luther’s death, his fol­low­ers cod­i­fied his the­ol­ogy and devel­oped what we call Lutheranism, which gave rise to the Lutheran Church.

Some have called the Re­for­ma­tion a Rev­o­lu­tion. Ei­ther way, peo­ple be­gan to read Scrip­ture for them­selves and faith be­came a per­sonal mat­ter rather than an im­posed creed.

This 500th an­niver­sary is a tremen­dous event. Nev­er­the­less, true re­for­ma­tion takes place within our hearts and minds as we turn from sin and live for God.

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