Have you ever wondered what the Lutheran Reformation was all about?
This year, Lutherans and Roman Catholics will continue to work together to heal their relationship with each other – as we mark the 500th Anniversary of the day, in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s “95 Theses” criticized the Church’s continued efforts to sell indulgences, and insisted that the Pope has no authority over Purgatory and that the doctrine of the “Merits of the Saints” has no foundation in the gospel. While the actual posting of this document wasn’t radical (the doors of churches were used as public bulletin boards in Luther’s time), the contents of the document created a deep rift within the Church and Martin Luther was, eventually, declared a heretic.
The relationship between Lutherans and Roman Catholics has not been easy. Martin Luther penned many vicious attacks against both the Roman Catholic church and the Jews of his time – which have been denounced by modern-day Lutherans. The Roman Catholic church tried to respond to quickly-changing dynamics in the Church by launching its own “Counter Reformation” and a fierce conflict arose – culminating in the Thirty Years’ War (the deadliest of the European religious wars – where nearly 8,000,000 people lost their lives). Lutherans and Roman Catholics became deeply divided. But, as time continued to pass, the conflict began to slowly cool. The Second Vatican Council, which began to meet under the leadership of Pope John XXIII in 1962, explored ways to build bridges between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church released a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” – that lifted-up areas of theological agreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics – and, recently, the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity released its document entitled, “From Conflict to Communion.” Just this morning, Pope Francis arrived in Sweden to join in a solemn commemoration of the Lutheran Reformation – believing that encounters of this nature bear testimony to the fact that, even though Lutherans and Roman Catholics still remain divided on dogma, Christians can – and must – work together and pray together in our quickly-changing world.
In this week’s message, “What was the Lutheran Reformation all about?”, we focus upon the key Biblical issue that stood at the heart of Martin Luther’s arguments against the prevailing practices of the Church. This is NOT a divisive message that’s been designed to deepen the rift between Lutherans and Roman Catholics! Instead, it’s a message that’s meant to lift-up St. Paul’s teaching of “justification by grace through faith” – and that can help people to better-understand the key Biblical truth that drove Martin Luther forward in the face of strong opposition. This is a message that drives us to the foot of the Cross – where “peace with God” can still be found – and where we can continue to re-discover the God who offers us forgiveness, strength and healing through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.