Celebrating the Reformation
What did Luther do and why does it matter?
by Sonja G
During the weeks leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, St. Peter will have a series of temple talks highlighting Martin Luther’s Legacy and the Reformation. The first is below…
Here we are . . . three weeks from celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. As a Lutheran church, we celebrate the Reformation every year, complete with a good ol’ fashioned hymn or two that hearkens back to our connection with Martin Luther. There’s always a good feeling to that time of year . . . usually a cool, crisp feeling as you walk into church . . . and then a church bustling with life and activity warms the soul. The Reformation is a big deal. And this year, we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther getting the whole thing started. This week, and then the next three weeks, we will have a Temple Talk related to “being Lutheran” or the Reformation. To do that, it seems prudent to provide some information about what Luther did and why it matters..
So we go back to October 31, 1517 when 34 year old Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the Wittenberg Castle church, determined a discussion needed to be held about a current policy and supposition of the church: that church held control of the merits (power) of Christ’s cross and resurrection and could sell it. Most Christians recognize such a practice as ludicrous and God’s grace through the saving work of Jesus Christ is freely given. But that wasn’t the only issue that needed discussion: Christian liberty, authority of the church, and even the reality of the church were some of the topics. Luther wanted to have a debate about what was going on and being taught in the church.. He didn’t think of himself as a reformer; he believed that was something only Jesus could do. He was simply pointing the way. There was a lot there, though, so here six of Luther’s primary focus points:
- Luther insisted that God’s word, not our decisions or works, creates faith in us and makes us Christians
- Luther indicated Christians are righteous and sinner at the same time – not as an excuse to sin, but to be honest about ourselves (sinners) and God’s mercy (righteousness).
- Faith itself can never be a work we do for God, but a relationship God creates with us through Word and Sacrament.
- Luther’s Theology of the Cross wasn’t a theory about the Cross, but his belief that God is revealed in humble ways where people might not expect to see him or look: a manger, a cross, among sinners, etc.
- Distinguishing between law and Gospel is not to differentiate between the Old and New Testament, but between the way God’s Word works: through God’s love and mercy, we become new, clean, and alive in Christ.
- Luther wasn’t looking to have a church named for him, but preferred to think of all believers as Christians. Yet, his teaching and writing became so popular that people followed him and espoused those beliefs.
That’s why it matters for us today. We are St. Peter Lutheran of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – tied to Lutheran churches all over the country and, indeed, the world. And while the Lutheran church continues to reform itself in terms of how it meets the needs of the world, the teachings of Luther remain central to our identity. And what is that identity? What does it mean to be Lutheran? We’ll get to that next week.