Saturday, December 16, 2017

Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Rev Dr. Arlynne Turnquist

It was 500 years ago on October 31, the Eve of All Saint’s Day in 1517, that the German theologian, Martin Luther, posted 95 Theses in Latin pertaining to the sale of Indulgences on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg, Germany. The 95 Theses in Latin were intended for a scholarly debate among intellectuals.

So many people have traveled to Germany this year in commemoration of this event. They tell me that the church doors have now imprinted these 95 Theses in bronze on those doors.

The posting of the 95 Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation but it was the invention of the printing press, also in Germany-Gutenberg, at that time had a lot to do with the cataclysmic spread of the Reformation throughout Christendom. Only the schism of 1042 which separated Christianity into the Eastern and Western branches was greater. In 1517 the Bible was chained to the wall in monasteries and churches and not available in the vernacular of the people. The printing press changed all that. Martin Luther’s fiercest objection was to the church teaching on the sale of indulgences which claimed to set people free from purgatory and grant them eternal salvation. However, Indulgences was basically a money making scheme. A leading RC at the time , Fr. Johann Tetzel, had a saying, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

Luther’s great contribution was to establish the primacy of the Word of God/ the Bible in spiritual matters. He brought the Word to the people of God. The Bible IS the Word of God. The Inspired Word of God—Inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is the ultimate authority in our spiritual lives.

Luther himself had a radical transformation in his own life when he recognized that the passage in Romans 1:17 referred to God’s righteousness. Starting vs. 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. v.17 For in it the righteous of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.” (That’s quoting Habakkuk) 2:4 in the OT.)) Or as stated in Ephesians. 2:8, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is a gift of God.” Good works come as a result of faith. We cannot work our way or pay our way into Heaven or obtain salvation. It is a gift freely given to those who believe in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. As stated in Romans 10:8, ‘“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.” (That is saved from eternal death to eternal life.”) We are justified by grace through faith.

The Greek language, like the German language, has several declinations and cases: nominative, genitive, accusative, dative. to indicate what is being modified and said. As my Greek professor pointed out, for Luther his ah-ha moment was a grammatical discovery i.e. he discovered that the word “righteousness” was in the genitive or possessive case—-meaning it was the righteousness of God and a God given faith that we live by—-not our own. Up to that point Luther had felt the condemnation of his sinful nature and inability to please or get right God—no matter how much he confessed his sins or how many good works he did. This grammatical discovery released Luther (& subsequently all humanity) into the grace of God—-knowing it was/ is God who declares (as in a courtroom before a judge), us—you and I and all humanity— righteous in the eyes of God. -that we are right with God the Father— because of Jesus. - That is why the sale of indulgences for salvation was such an anathema to Martin Luther and of course he blamed the Pope.

From the posting of the 95 theses in 1517, the reformation ideas spread in the language of the people via the printing press (akin to the internet in our era), to other Reformers—Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, representing the Presbyterians, Moravians, Anabaptists - predecessors of our modern denominations.(In England -Henry VIII- different—his son by Jane Seymour, Charles VI (mentors) , it was during the reign of Elizabeth the 1st, that the Reformation ideas were established. As an aside; the young Emperor Charles, the 5th in Germany - was fighting the Turks on Western front and as a result could not control or do anything about the Reformation ideas. Charles V- was a nephew of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII first wife. The Reformation spread throughout Europe through the coalescing of Charles V occupation with war, the rise of renaissance ideas and the printing press. This Reformation movement was followed by the Peasants War, the Counter Reformation, the 30 Years War and so many centuries of hostility between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

In my opinion, it wasn’t until the Vatican II Council, called by Pope John 23 in the 1960s, that the Roman Catholic Church came to the appreciation of Scripture/the Word of God that ML & the Reformers had stood for At the time Pope John called the 2nd Vatican Council, he asked in a prayer “that God the Holy Spirit would open the windows of Heaven and pour out the Holy Spirit upon the Council as at the First Pentecost. “ This prayer was prayed every day for all 5-6 years of the Vatican 2 Council in every church, monastery, nunnery,—every RC facility throughout the world

—every day. The results were amazing. This I know from the inside, so to speak, because I was led into the RC charismatic renewal i.e. we prayed for three years back in 1965 for a charismatic prayer group. When the Lord answered our prayer and raised one up, it was at the RC student center. I understand—even from the Monsignor at Three Rivers that the RC Church has slipped back into some of its old ways and practices or not implemented all of the Vatican 2 teachings. So there still is not full communion between Catholics & non-Catholics.

That aside, it was simply amazing at the kickoff to this Reformation Year to have the Pope involved. Last year, October 31st 2016, a prayer service was held in the Lund, Sweden Cathedral with Pope Francis participating along with three leaders of the LWF -Lutheran World Federation. This was followed by a service for the public in the Arena in Malmo, Sweden. Prior to going to Sweden Pope Francis apologized for the teaching on indulgences in the 16th century and asked Catholics to forgive those who had persecuted them.

The last Sunday of October in the Lutheran Church (& some other protestant denomination) is always celebrated as Reformation Sunday—-Red is the liturgical color off the day.

I also was ordained to the Ministry of Word & Sacrament on Reformation Sunday 1989 on October 29th. (28 yrs ago) I resisted the call to the ministry for many years, but after graduation from seminary there was a long wait for a call to a church. During that time, with time for lots of doubts, God gave two helpful confirmations ‘to hang onto’ while awaiting call. (God sometimes speaks to us through Scripture—the Word comes alive in one’s spirit.) One confirmation to me that God had called me was Romans 4:17, which reads in part, “God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence those things which do not exist.” And then I was given in prayer a picture of the ‘red stole’-the color always used at Lutheran Ordinations. When the call came (after a long wait) it was to two churches in Texas, one Lutheran and the other about a mile away which was Episcopal. These two churches were “yoked in ministry” basically to survive the oil boom gone bust. in West Texas.

At the time this ‘yoking’ of two different denominations was just starting and literally fulfilled Romans 4:;17, “God’s calls into existence those things which do not exist.” Also, the date chosen for my Installation at the two churches in Texas was chosen by the Dallas bishop. It was November 19th which happened to be the death date of my pastor father, 19 years earlier on November 19th. That to me was a wonderful confirmation that I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do. It was if one member of the family had laid the mantle down and 19 years later another member of the family had picked up the mantle.

So now on this 500th Anniversary, of the Reformation, it is interesting how the year has been observed and for the faith of this congregation, St. James’, and your witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am privileged to be here with you and thank you for your witness.

The Gospel for today reminds us that we are to ‘love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind—and to love our neighbor and ourself.’ Love is at the center of our faith; love is essential to our physical and emotional well- being, and ; and Love is our primary calling as followers of Jesus. For GOD IS LOVE (1John 4:16). In the words of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” Returning to the theme of the day,

Luther in the explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed stated,” (which we all had to memorize in catechism,) “ I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength (understanding or effort) believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth…..” All of us. He is Lord of the Church. (This is most certainly true.) Thanks be to God!

(Besides traveling to the sites of the Reformation in Germany, (Switzerland etc), throughout the Lutheran Church there has been an emphasis on studying the Small Catechism, in Bible Studies, Adult Forums (first introduced by Luther in the 16th century so that parents could teach their children the basics of the Christian faith);, also travel log by Rick Steves entitled, “Luther and the Reformation,” available on website, & given to all the elca congregations in the US; and a new film created by Thrivent Financial, “Martin Luther: the Idea that Changed the World,”shown in theaters and also on pbs-tv. To name only a few ways the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation has been celebrated.)

No comments: