Dear Fellow Children of God,
Do you know what day we celebrate on Monday, October 31? That’s an easy question for most. October 31st is Halloween*. Right? Yes, but more importantly, October 31 the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed The 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Luther was a professor at the University. These theses, or statements, were simply meant to debate the practice of that time of selling indulgences. These theses or statements were also meant to look at the larger issue of how God works to save the world. But, in Luther’s time as the printing press was just coming into use, these 95 statements, written in a backwater town in Germany, spread quickly. It has been estimated that most literate people in Europe had read these theses within 30 days of their posting!
Therefore, the posting of these theses began what is known as “The Reformation”, which still affects and influences our world today. In fact, in 1999 when lists were being published, Life Magazine named Martin Luther as the 3rd most important person of the millennium. Time Magazine named him number 4. And, worth noting is that Luther posted these theses on October 31, 1517. This year, 2016, is 499 years since this important event. Next year we celebrate 500 years since the beginning of the Reformation!
This may all be good information about history, but you may wonder what this has to do with our own lives, and our own faith. The Reformation was an outward expression of Luther’s inner spiritual struggle about sin and salvation. Ultimately, the principle issues of the Reformation were described in the phrases, “Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura.” Or, translated from Latin, the motto of the Reformation was, “By Grace Alone, By Faith Alone, By Scripture Alone.”
So, I will share with you how this affects me personally. These statements continue to be my understanding of what God’s word says about His work in Jesus, and how He saves and guides us today. These principles of “By Grace Alone, By Faith Alone, and By Scripture Alone” continue to guide me as a Christian and as a pastor. Or put in another way, when life gets complicated I find that it is important to go back to the basics, back to the foundation. So when church, or politics, or personal life is difficult, these principles are basics that guide me.
These principles guide me because I believe they actually state what God’s word says. There is an inner voice in all of us that constantly asks, “What must I do to please my Creator?” That was the struggle Luther had. The church of Luther’s time taught the salvation was gained as people kept various laws and ceremonies of faith. But, in Ephesians 2 we have God’s answer to this inner question and struggle. “4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved. . . 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Luther learned that Scripture teaches that all are sinful and have rebelled against God. No one deserves or can earn salvation by their own good work. It is only by God’s grace, His undeserved love and mercy in Jesus, that people are forgiven and saved. It is only by faith that people receive this gift, not by works.
So, when I wallow in guilt, or when I swell in pride, it is humbling, freeing, and empowering to know that my eternal life in heaven is not something I earn. O, what a fix I would be in if my eternal life depended on my own good works! Forgiveness and salvation have been won for me by Jesus’ death and rising. I can’t trust myself, but I can trust God! My eternal life is a gift I receive as I believe or as I trust in Jesus as my Savior from sin! What a gift!!
Part of Luther’s struggle was also where to find believable truth in the midst of many competing claims in the church of his day. Does that sound familiar? Luther saw that Scripture, in many places, claims to be the very word of God Himself given to His people. His experience proved this claim to be true. Luther found that when other teachings or claims are confusing, or can’t be trusted, Scripture alone is from God alone. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
So, when there are questions or disagreements today, my practice is to go to the word of God. I don’t just look for one verse, but for what all of Scripture says. Even if I don’t totally understand in my human mind, I trust God to guide me by His word!
All of this may seem to make Martin Luther some kind of super hero. But, like all the other characters in Scripture, Luther was a man who struggled with temptation and failures. So, another “sola” came to be stated. “By Christ Alone.” It is Jesus who is the center of Scripture and the center of history. It is by Jesus that God has saved me, and the whole world. And, when we are struggling and the world is going crazy, it is in Christ alone we find hope and strength and life.
So, now how do you answer? Do you know what day we celebrate on October 31?
A Child of God, Thankful for Luther’s Contribution to Biblical Christian Faith,
* Halloween by the way is derived from the title for this day as “All Hallows’ Eve.” The church celebrates November 1 as “All Saints Day”, a day to remember those the Lord has called home. The night before All Saints’ Day is “All Hallows (saints) Eve.” How different is our cultural celebration of Halloween compared to this religious observance!
P.S. Here are some pictures from last Sunday’s “Alaska Potluck” on Discipleship / Stewardship Sunday. (I should have taken pictures of the food too.) https://goo.gl/photos/hUefn7SvoYKbFEDS6
P.P.S. Martin Luther did not, by the way, want the church that followed his return to Scripture to be named after him. He wanted it to be called, “The Evangelishe (or Gospel) Church.” However, after Luther’s death his followers called it the “Lutheran” Church.
P.P.P.S Twice in the last 15 years Kathy and I have toured Germany and sites of the Reformation. Here are some pictures of important places. https://goo.gl/photos/GqESkRtsgR9Qs6PR9
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.