Luther’s Big Anniversary

This year marks 500 years since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther – a German monk and professor of theology – nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act is considered the official beginning of the Reformation.

To celebrate this anniversary some European countries have declared special events and programs. Ukraine, for example, has declared an official program called R500 that includes special teaching in public schools about the Reformation and Protestants. This is particularly interesting considering how Protestants in Eastern Ukraine have suffered persecution from separatist authorities.

In honor of this anniversary I’ll be posting some of my favorite quotes from Luther over the next few months. I grew up going to Lutheran school, so I have some familiarity with him and affinity for him.

Luther’s Large Catechism begins with some insight about the first commandment:

The First Commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me

That is: Thou shalt have and worship Me alone as thy God.

What is the force of this, and how is it to be understood? What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God?

Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith and trust of the heart which settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. That is as much as to say: “See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another,” i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart cleave to or rest in any other.

To read the continuation, click here.

Happy Reformation Day!

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499 years ago today, Martin Luther – a German professor of theology, priest and monk, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Church (ironically on the eve of All Saints Day – AKA: Halloween) in Wittenburg, Germany. This act is considered the spark which ignited the Protestant Reformation.

If you own a Bible in your own language, that you can read any time you want, you have the Reformers to thank for that. It was not always that way; people fought for these things.

Before Luther, there were others who sought to bring reform to the church. John Wycliffe (1331-1384) published the first English translation of the Bible. Jan Hus (1369-1415) started a movement of the prolific teaching of the Bible to the common people, and was ultimately executed in Prague. Peter Waldo (1140-1218) commissioned a translation of the New Testament into the local vernacular of southern France. Each of these people were persecuted for trying to put the Scriptures into the hands of the common people.

In 1516, John Tetzel was sent to Germany to raise money for the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. His means of raising money was the sale of plenary indulgences, which promised the release of a person from purgatory, based on their purchase.

The sale of plenary indulgences had been one of Jan Hus’ major contentions with the medieval Catholic Church, and Luther took issue with it as well: the idea that God’s favor or blessings could somehow be earned, not to mention purchased, was something he whole-heartedly rejected. Furthermore, the concept of purgatory is in conflict with the Biblical teaching of the sufficient atonement of Christ on the cross.

Luther had long struggled with feelings of condemnation and never being able to measure up, but had experienced an epiphany when he read Habakkuk 2:4: Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

This led Luther to the other places in the Bible where this phrase is repeated: in Romans 1:17, in Galatians 3:11, in Hebrews 10:38 – where the message is clear: It is not by our own works that we are justified before God, but it is God who justifies us as an unearned gift of His grace, and we receive that justification by FAITH. That is how Abraham became righteous (Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness – Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3 & 22), and that is how we receive God’s righteous, which he has provided for us in Christ!

Luther’s re-discovery of this Biblical truth came through his reading of the Scriptures. He became convinced that everyone needed to be able to read the Scriptures for themselves, and that the practice of the church at that time, of keeping the Scriptures out of the hands of the common people, was something that needed to end. He believed that people had the capacity and the right to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures for themselves. Luther himself, in the pursuant years, translated the Bible into German, a translation which is widely used to this day.

Luther came to believe that the Scriptures alone are the source of theology, that justification is by Christ alone through faith alone.

The 5 “solas” (alone statements) of the Reformation are:

  • Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
    • The Bible is the only source of Christian doctrine
  • Sola Fide (by faith alone)
    • Justification is received by faith alone
  • Sola Gratia (by grace alone)
    • Justification is by God’s grace alone
  • Sola Christus (through Christ alone)
  • Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

This October 31st, I hope you’ll remember that there is something much better than “fun size” candy bars: having God’s Word available to you, for you to read and understand yourself.

After all – what is “fun” about “fun size”?  There’s nothing fun about tiny candy bars. They should be called “sad size”…

In April 1521, Luther was brought before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, at which Luther was commanded to recant his teachings. Luther thought he would have a chance to defend his ideas. Charles would only accept an absolute recantation. Luther refused to do so.

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Here is a portion of Luther’s statement at the Diet of Worms:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me.”

If the Reformers could speak to us today, they would tell us this: the Reformation never ends. It is a continual movement of returning to the Scriptures and examining our lives and our practices in light of them.

Happy Reformation Day!

Don’t Forget the Actual Holiday Happening Today

Today is Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Schlosskirche, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Today is a great day to remember the work of the reformers which you unquestionably benefit from. Men who struggled for us to have the freedom to read the Bible for ourselves, in our own languages – and consider for ourselves what God says to us in the Scriptures. Today is a day to be thankful for the return to Biblical theology and the doctrine of grace that these men fought for.

The Holiday America Forgot

Today is October 31st. That means that today, all across America, neighborhood children are going to come knocking at your door to try to coerce you into giving them candy by threatening retribution if you don’t comply. We call it Halloween, and yes, in its modern form, it’s innocent enough. In fact, as I wrote in this post earlier this week, Halloween is a great opportunity for Christians to think missionally,  as it is the only day of the year when most of your neighbors will come knocking on your door.

However, October 31st is a much more historical and significant day in the history of the world. Before anyone considered dressing up as a superhero or a robot, October 31st was celebrated for a different reason: It is the day when in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Church (ironically on the eve of All Saints Day) in Wittenburg, Germany. This event is generally regarded as the catalyst of the Protestant Reformation, thus – for centuries before Americans came along and capitalized on Halloween and commercialized it, October 31st was celebrated amongst Protestant Christians as Reformation Day.

These days, Reformation Day is still a big deal in Germany and other parts of Europe, but in America it is only celebrated by a handful of Lutherans, Reformed Christians and other protestants – albeit, most of them celebrate it as a Halloween alternative, and still get dressed up and hand out candy to kids. If you really want to make a splash at one of these events, here’s a tip: dress up as Martin Luther. You’ll probably be the only one (no you won’t; I was being facetious). If you really want to wow all your Lutheran friends at the Reformation Day party, then you should actually dress up like Johann Tetzel – you will be the hit of the party (not really). By the way – I’m allowed to make Lutheran jokes; I went to Lutheran school growing up – Missouri Synod baby. That’s right.

Anyway, obscure Lutheran references aside – I am thankful for the work of the reformers. Men like Luther and Calvin, and Hus and Wycliff before them. I’m thankful that we have been given the freedom to read the Bible for ourselves, in our own languages – and consider for ourselves what God says to us in the scriptures. I am thankful for the return to Biblical theology that these men worked for.

I used to speak at an annual Reformation Day gathering in Hungary, and what was always said at those meetings was that we must remember that the reformation of the church is never over; it is a continual need, that we come and examine every practice and every doctrine according to the Word of God, even in our protestant churches. The Word of God must always remain our standard and our guide in all things.

I hope you have a great October 31st, and remember today that the fact you can have a Bible in your own language, that you can read any time you want, and have God speak to you personally through it – that’s not something to be taken for granted! The teaching of grace that you (hopefully) hear in church – that’s not something to be taken for granted. These things were fought for – and we reap the benefits. Keep that in mind while you eat “fun size” candy bars for the next several weeks, and give thanks to God for what happened on October 31st, 1517.