The Reformation’s 500th Anniversary
This year marks the 500th year since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in the German city of Wittenberg. What sparked the Reformation in 1517? What made Dr. Luther so upset that he needed 95 points to explain his dissatisfaction with the way things were done in the Roman church of his day?
Let’s examine some of these 95 points. In the first two, Luther says that God requires us to live lives of repentance all the time, and not just to repent when you participate in the Catholic sacrament of penance. In the sixth point he says that only God can accept penance or forgive sin, and not the pope. In the 11th point he humorously says that the Biblical teaching of penance was changed to purgatory as a way to have your sins absolved while the bishops slept (Matthew 13:25).
Most of the 95 theses relate to the evils connected to the papal practice of buying indulgences to have one’s sins absolved and therefore shorten one’s stay in purgatory. The money for these indulgences was then used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One of Luther’s most strongly worded pronouncements against indulgences is in the 32nd point of his 95 theses. It reads as follows: “#32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.”
What does the Bible teach about repentance and forgiveness of sin? The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV). No deeds or payment of penance are necessary to earn His forgiveness, just acknowledge and confess your sin in a humble and sincere spirit of contrition (Psalm 51:17). That is good news indeed! Praise God for such an undeserving gift of grace to such an undeserving sinner like me!
Aren’t you grateful that we are no longer living in the medieval world of Martin Luther? Yet, lest you become too complacent, may I remind you of a form of evil that we face today that is no less dangerous and lethal – a Laodicean spirit of complacency, lethargy, and apathy that attempts to deny the existence of sin and void it out of our vocabulary. We live in an age of universalism that says God loves everybody and He will not allow anyone to be lost. There will be no judgment, no consequences, no punishment for sin. We breathe the spirit of “everyone does what is right in their own eyes.”
This hits at the very nature of God – His grace and justice. He cannot be a forgiving God only. That would make the cross unnecessary. His justice gives meaning to the cross, which enables Him to dispense grace. That is the God whose justice makes me feel safe, and whose mercy gives me hope.
Reformation hits at the heart of tradition and custom. What is there in your life and mine that we need to allow His Spirit to convict us of? What patterns of behavior and custom need to change in your life right now?