500 years ago today, we’re told, a German scholar aged 34 pinned a notice for debate on a church door and the impact went viral. It was translated, distributed throughout Germany, on to Rome and beyond. The scholar was Martin Luther, and this nailing of his 95 theses began the Protestant Reformation.
In his theses, Luther confronted false teaching and malpractice in the church. He objected to the way the church extorted money from the poor, and pointed to the wealth of the Pope. Mostly, however, he condemned the practice of selling ‘indulgences’: - pardons for sin, provided by the church in return for payment. For Luther, forgiveness could not be bought or sold, it comes through repentance and faith and only God can grant it.
Luther’s theses expressed the doctrine of justification by faith. Restored relationships with God come through God’s grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone. This reading of the New Testament became the foundation for the Reformation.
Five hundred years later, the Church has moved on. Christians worship in some 43,000 denominations, expressing their Christianity in different cultural ways. The majority of Christians are not white or European but from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Dialogue has brought healing. Nearly twenty years ago, the World Lutheran Federation and the Catholic Church signed a joint declaration. By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit.’
Lord, when we cry with Luther, ‘Here I stand I can do no other,’ help us humbly to receive the insights from those who stand somewhere else. In Jesus’ Name. Amen