500th Anniversary: The Christian Reformation
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.