Monday, October 24, 2011

95 Theses 95

A week from today is Halloween Day!  It is also Reformation Day!  So, since both days fall on the same day, one can dress up to look like Martin Luther or Philip Melancthon and see if people can guess who you are!  You may not get a lot of candy but you may get some raised eyebrows.  Even Luther and his buddy PM got raised eyebrows in their day because they challenged the status quo.  They did not believe everything that came down the religious pike of their day and they stood their ground even in the face of excommunication from the church.  (In their day the teaching from The Church was that there was not salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church so to be excommunicated meant eternal damnation.)  Even when Luther was faced with bodily harm or death, he still refused to recant his beliefs.  He posted his list of objections to the teachings of the Church of his day on the church of the castle at Wittenberg which is where the public notices would have been posted.  This was the equivalent of writing an email and pushing reply all in his day.  Everyone who was anyone who could read would read what was posted on the church door and spread the word.  It took a while but eventually it created a firestorm of controversy, so severe that Luther had to leave the priesthood and hide out to save his life. 

The main objection that Luther had to the teachings of the day had to do with the idea that was being pushed by the Church hierarchy that one could buy relief from Purgatory for dead relatives.  This was called "indulgences" and when one bought an indulgence for a specific dead person, that person would be given less time in Purgatory.  Luther thought this idea was insane, much less not scriptural, and he began to teach that one could not buy one's way out of Purgatory and one could not buy one's salvation.  In fact, he challenged the very basis of works over faith to insure salvation.  Soon, Luther was teaching that salvation came about by faith alone (thanks to Paul's letter to the Romans) and that average citizens could understand the Bible for themselves (once they could read and actually had a Bible to read).  Soon his followers were shouting, "Solo Scriptura!  Solo Fidelis!" 

When my wife and I were in Germany two years ago, we rode from the train from Leipzig to Wittenberg to visit the places where Luther had lived and worked.  We went to Wittenberg Castle Church and saw the door where now the 95 are enshrined in metal on the door and there is a list of them inside the church in both German and English so that everyone can read them.  We were there at noon when a short service was being held and a short organ concert was given.  The church contains several stained glass windows and paintings dedicated to Martin Luther.  In front of a bookstore on the main street is a large, life size cut out of Martin Luther with whom I had my photo taken.  He is still very prominent in the memory of many Germans and revered as a saint-like figure to them.  In fact, they are preparing for a grand celebration of his nailing the theses to the door, the 500th anniversary to be celebrated in 2017. 

Martin Luther's example to modern persons of religious faith is his belief that each of us can read the scriptures and understand what they say and that we do not need a religious person to tell us what it means.  Yes, we can enlist teachers to help us in our understanding or we can take classes to aid us in our quest, but in the final analysis it is what we believe to be true that matters.  Luther also gave us the idea of the "Priesthood of All Believers" as an inheritance.  That means that each of us is a priest in our own right and can understand the meaning of the scriptures as we seek ultimate truth.  We can understand what the Scriptures say to us individually because the Holy Spirit will grant understanding to us.

So, Happy Halloween and Happy Reformation Day!  Enjoy and celebrate and give thanks for a monk who would give up his right to be a monk and a priest so that all could know that they were priests in following their belief in the God who cannot be bought but can be approached through faith alone. 

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