Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Hebrews 13, verse 1.
If you’re a protestant follower of Jesus, then today is a special day. Five hundred years ago this very day, an obstreperous monk named Martin Luther put his life on the line and challenged the church to a debate. A professor, Luther strongly disagreed with the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which were “get out of hell” declarations the Pope would give you if you paid him enough. At the time, the church was selling indulgences to pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther considered this to be sinful and a bastardization of the Scriptures. So he nailed 95 debating points (theses) to the door of his local church in Wittenburg, Germany. Over the next few years, everything changed. The church split. The Gospel was finally translated into languages common people could understand. Mass printing, itself a new industry, soon allowed the mass communication of that Gospel in ways never before possible. The political power structure that had existed for nearly 500 years was shaken. And the basis for what we know as “Western Civilization” took a great step forward.
Luther’s point: we need to love one another as brothers and sisters. We do that by sharing the love, grace, and forgiveness that only Jesus Christ can give. It doesn’t come from the church. It doesn’t come from the pope. It doesn’t come from having your time in a place they called “Purgatory” shaved off. It doesn’t come from good deeds. Forgiveness of sins ONLY comes from Jesus. Somehow, over time, that message was lost in the traditions, corruptions, and practices of the church Saint Peter left behind. Luther started the process of chipping off the barnacles and making the ship of faith seaworthy again.
That happened on this All Hallows Eve, October 31, 1517.
In Protestant churches all over the world, the last Sunday of October is traditionally known worldwide as “Reformation Sunday.” My family used to attend a church in Colorado where, every Reformation Sunday, we held a German festival of remembrance for what Luther did. Great food, lederhosen, German music; it was fun and good fellowship. Martin Luther was a hero of the faith, and we who follow the Protestant tradition owe him a debt of gratitude for having the courage to stand up and say “what about this?” My friend, Jerry, (who I met while attending that church in Colorado) once said something that stuck in my mind: “every Sunday is Reformation Sunday.”
Noodle that thought for awhile, then take it a step further. EVERY DAY is Reformation Sunday.
Jesus gives us His Gospel, His Word, as His personal communication to each of us. He gives us called servants of the church to help us understand it, and He gives us other people to reinforce and build up our belief. But when you boil it all down, Jesus is talking to each of us individually. Folks like Dr. Luther help us to understand that talk. We should stand up to anyone and anything every single day when people and things get in-between ourselves and our Lord. Every day we should challenge our faith. Every day we should echo Luther and say “here I stand” and base our stand only on the Word of God. Everything else, well, isn’t the Word. Every day, we should take courage from what Luther and others did and rely only on Jesus for our salvation and only on God for everything in our lives. Every day we should remember the blessings of living in the world Luther helped to shape.
Yet we should also remind ourselves that “there are no Lutherans in heaven.” There are no Baptists, or Wesleyans, or Episcopalians, or Catholics, or Methodists or Presbyterians or any other flavor of Christians in heaven. There are only followers of Jesus there. If you believe Jesus is your savior and that He is the only way to an eternity of love, then the denominational label you wear (or don’t wear) doesn’t matter. Worship where you’re comfortable and go where you’re led. Just don’t get too wrapped around the axle about the label. Indeed, I wonder if Martin Luther wouldn’t be horrified to learn that a large group in the church he founded is named “Lutheran” instead of “believer.”
No matter, all of that started 500 years ago today. When you get a few minutes today, Google Martin Luther and read up on what he did. Then say a prayer of thanks for it.
For further reading: Romans 12:10.
Lord, thank You for inspiring Martin Luther, for all he and so many others did to expand Your church, and for letting me live in a time when I can learn about You from all they have done.