On October 31, 1517 one of the most important events of the last 500 years took place. It was on that day that a German Monk, whose name was Martin Luther, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. For us that not only seems like a really, really long time ago but it also seems like a rather insignificant act.
In Luther's day, the door of the church was a place where important information would be displayed. Martin Luther had seen corruptions in the Roman Catholic Church of his day and believed that by pointing these things out that he could be an agent for change. This is a big part of why Martin Luther posted these theses to the door on the 31st of October. We know October 31 as Halloween, which is our way of saying "All Hallows Eve". Halloween is the night before the church holiday known as All Saints Day. A day when the church gathers to remember the saints who have gone on before us. While we do not get too excited about celebrating this day in 21st Century Edgerton, it was a very big deal for the people in Luther's day. People would be going to the church and they would see that this monk had made a post to the church door regarding the corruption in the church.
In our day we get worked up over social media posts but this posting was far more than just Martin Luther putting his opinion out there on Twitter or Facebook. This act was a statement against a very powerful entity. The church held power that our modern churches just do not carry. The power was centralized and it had significant influence alongside the government. Not only was what Luther had posted significant for those who would have approached it at the castle church in Wittenberg on that All Saints Day, but this message ended up being spread around to many other places. With the advent of the printing press information could be reproduced and disseminated around the Empire.
This is important because if it would have just been a group of people in Wittenberg the voice of Luther could have been very easily silenced. Others had spoken out against the practices of the church but they were quickly silenced because, at best, the concerns expressed were limited to a very small geographical area because information was not able to be spread as quickly. When that is the case, it is very easy to put down a resistance. By the time the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire were able to try to do something about Martin Luther, he was a bit of a celebrity. He had voiced concerns that resonate with the people and to kill him would make him a martyr and perhaps even increase awareness of his cause.
While the 95 theses are seen as the beginning of the Reformation, they were not the primary focus of the Reformation. The primary concern that was addressed in the 95 theses was concerning the selling of something called indulgences. These were essentially "Get out of Purgatory" cards. While the practice of selling these had been around for some time, the money needed to build Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican increased the practice. Luther was outraged that the church was selling these and this led to the posting on the door of the church but the selling of indulgences was not his only issue with the church. He believed that they had mixed the free gift of God with the works of humans. For Martin Luther this was a gospel issue. The church had stepped away from salvation as the gift of God solely by faith and had mixed in other requirements in order to be saved. In other words, the good news was not really good news. You had to do something and there was very little assurance of salvation.
This is the important message we need to remember regarding the history of the Reformation. It is easy for us to see some of the more obvious differences between historic, confessional Protestants (Reformed, Presbyterian, and Lutheran) and the Roman Catholic church. We get stuck on the teachings of purgatory, the veneration of Mary, and the fact that they have seven sacraments instead of two. While all of these are important differences, the biggest difference between confessional Protestants and the Roman Catholic church is doctrinal. Confessional Protestants teach that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ's work alone. We do not mix the grace of God with any of our works. We are saved solely by God's radical rescue of sinners through the perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That work is sufficient and we do not need to add anything to it. Ever.
This is the primary message of the Reformation. While there are many things that distinguish Protestant and Roman Catholic piety and practice, the issue was ultimately a doctrinal issue centered on justification by grace alone through faith alone. Just as our Reformation forefathers were adamant about getting the gospel right, we too must remember the importance of that saving message. It is the message that we are to hear, believe, and proclaim.
With Reformation Sunday this coming Sunday and the 499th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, it is a good week to learn a little about Martin Luther.
Ligonier Ministries has a free video from R.C. Sproul's "The Holiness of God" series entitled "The Insanity of Luther". Click here to watch this 34 minute video.
This week's free resource comes from the folks at White Horse Inn. Below you will find a short video on "How to Read the Bible". It gives some concise and valuable information on how to get the most out of God's Word.
Sermon delivered on October 9, 2016 at First Reformed Church in Edgerton, MN.
Monergism.com has a lot of free ebooks and audio. One excellent resource that they have available is "Basics of the Reformed Faith" by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. Dr. Riddlebarger is a pastor and a regular host on the White Horse Inn radio program. You can get this resource from this page on the Monergism website.
The file you will download for this eBook is a .mobi file which can be used on a Kindle. The best method for getting these types of files on your Kindle is to download the file and then email it to your @kindle.com email address. You can find this address by going to "Personal Document Settings" in your Amazon account. Attach the downloaded file in an email to your @kindle.com address and it will be sent to you Kindle device.
On October 16 we will be having our second "Foundations in Faith" class. This month we will be looking at how we received the Bible. We will look at how both the Old and New Testament were transmitted and received by the church. We particularly focus on modern questions that have been raised regarding the authority of the New Testament. We will also do a quick study on how translation works and the differences between many of our modern English translations.
Foundations in Faith will take place on October 16 at 4:00 PM in the Fellowship Hall. These classes are designed to me independent from one another so if you missed our first session in September you are still welcome to join us for this class. Everyone is welcome!
One of the things that you can do to improve your Bible reading is to think big picture about the story that is found in the Bible. While we want to be able to apply what the Bible means to our lives in 2016 in Edgerton, MN we cannot properly do that until we understand and take hold of the big picture of the Bible.
We can see the importance of this by looking to the story that Jesus unfolded on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. In that story we come across the resurrected Christ interacting with a couple of his followers as they are on the road. The two people are downcast and Jesus inquires of why they are so upset. They seem shocked that this man doesn't know about all the events that have taken place in the past few days in Jerusalem. Jesus then takes the time to unfold the scriptures for them regarding what the Messiah would have to endure. Verse 27 of Luke 24 tells us that "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Clearly Jesus is letting those sojourners on the road and us know that he is the center of scripture. To paraphrase theologian Michael Horton, if we are going to try and understand the Old Testament we should probably try to interpret it the way Jesus did, just to be safe.
That means that when we come to scripture our reading of it needs to start with an assumption that this book is pointing us to Jesus in some way. It is tempting to read from the Bible and read yourself into it. It happens all the time and it happens to the best of us. On a radio program recently I heard pastor and theologian John MacArthur talk about the first sermon he ever preached. It was on the resurrection. MacArthur said that he preached on rolling away the stones in your own life. While it may be encouraging to hear that you can roll away the figurative stones that may be blocking success or happiness in your life, the story of the resurrection is not about that. The story of the resurrection is about Jesus and what he has done to save us. In the resurrection Jesus wins victory over death, hell, and the devil and secures for us the reality of our own resurrection from the dead.
Like I said before, "rolling away the stone in your life" may be encouraging for a time, but it pales in comparison to the real story that the resurrection of Jesus is telling us. The message of the Bible is one of God's grace and mercy. If we miss how the whole of scripture points to Christ and his saving work for us we are not rightly handling God's Word. When we handle God's word rightly, we can know that we are faithfully coming to an understanding of who God is and what he wants us to know about himself.
The next time you pick up your Bible to read take a moment to remember the gospel. By centering yourself on Christ's perfect life, death, and resurrection you will be heading into your Bible reading with the main message of the entire Bible in focus. This will help to give you a Christ-centered approach as you dive deeply into the word of God.
Sermon delivered on Sunday October 2, 2016 at First Reformed Church in Edgerton, MN