By Joel A. Hess –
This month, people around the world will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Five hundred years ago, a little-known monk and professor at a little-known college in Germany nailed 95 statements against the popular practice of selling indulgences. He assumed a good discussion would follow and that the wiser leaders of the Church, including the pope, would agree with him. Instead, he discovered that the Church’s hierarchy was all in on this Gospel robbery.
Indulgences were and are still taught by some Christians. Basically, they are an exchange of good works for time off in purgatory. Purgatory is a place where some Christians think believers go before they go to heaven. There they receive the temporal punishment due them for their sins.
There were many people before and during Luther’s day who disagreed with this practice, as well as other recent innovations within the Church at the time. They pointed to the incredibly clear and repetitive teaching of Jesus and the apostles that sinners are completely forgiven of ALL their sins by the blood of Jesus. They receive this forgiveness by believing in Jesus’ promise that He forgives them. Purgatory and temporary punishment vs. eternal punishment are manmade calculations and have no basis in Scripture or much of the tradition of Church teaching.
The reformers were not calling for the Church to do anything NEW, but to stick with the OLD, the ORIGINAL: the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church. The teachings of the Reformation are not 500 years old at all; they are 2,000 years old! They are the teachings of Jesus’ Church period. The public statements of the Reformation such as the writings in the Book of Concord regularly produce proofs from Scripture and Church Fathers.
Ultimately, the Reformation is not an academic, cultural/ethnic, or political event. The Reformation is about God preserving the Good News for sinners! We are all sinners. None of us can make up for our wrongs. Our only comfort and hope is in Someone and something outside of ourselves: Jesus Christ! His life, His death, and His resurrection completely made up for EVERY SINGLE SIN ever committed in the history of mankind!
If you believe that, then you HAVE it! All of it! For free! Why? Because God says so. When Jesus says “Peace,” and when His people say, “Peace,” they mean it. Your sins are paid for. Your death has been conquered. You are forgiven, and you will rise again from the dead. Like the thief on the cross who had no time to make up for anything, he only desperately trusted that Jesus was the One. To him, Christ said, “You will be with me in paradise.” He didn’t say, “After you spend 1,000 years being purified in purgatory,” Ha!
The Reformation started with Christ, who struck down the Pharisees who liked to also put the burden of salvation upon the backs of the people. The Reformation has always been about Christ, who also used nails—nails that pierced His hands and feet, nails that killed the Word made Flesh so that we may have forgiveness and life.
The Reformation continues! We all want to create our own religions centered on ourselves and our efforts, right? We want to put the burden of our sins back upon ourselves. We want to put our destiny back upon ourselves. And the devil loves it! Therefore, every worship service at a Christian church should be a little Reformation. For through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, He kicks Satan out, knocks our ego down and sets us safely up upon Jesus and His Words of Life! Semper reformanda! Always reforming!