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No Martin Luther Costumes at Target?

This week is Mission Sunday (remember to come early 2nd service folks!) and also marks the anniversary of an important moment in church history. 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted a copy of his Ninety-five Theses  to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. These theses stated two central beliefs: that the Bible is the supreme religious authority, and salvation comes through faith, not by works. Luther’s action is seen as the beginning of what would come to be known as the Protestant reformation.

Luther was a miner’s son who became an Augustinian monk after university. He was born at the time when the church, under the immoral Pope Alexander VI, was in a very low place. Pope Alexander and his immediate successors oversaw the sale of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins. The sale of these indulgences by professional pardoners, with some of the profits going toward the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, was a scandal to many Christians.

Luther developed a deep anxiety about his own salvation and attempted to purify himself through good works, doing penance for real and imaginary sins. His relief came suddenly when reflecting on Paul’s affirmation that the “just shall live by faith” through the unmerited grace of God, shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17).

The Ninety-five Theses expressed these insights and caused much debate. In 1520, Luther then printed three widely read tracts, urging nobles to join in the reform of the church, attacking the church’s sacramental system that he felt denied Christians the benefits of the gospel, and proclaiming the freedom in God’s promises to those who live by grace and faith alone.

Because of these teachings Luther was summoned to the city of Worms and put on trial. In his defense, he appealed to Scripture, under whose authority both his adversaries, the emperor and the pope, professed to live. He held that unless he was shown by the Bible that he was wrong, “I shall not retract one iota, so Christ help me.” Tradition also suggests that he exclaimed, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”

Luther, however, was declared a heretic and condemned. He was hunted by the forces of the emperor but hidden and protected by German princes. Under their patronage he helped to shape the reformation through his sermons, commentaries and other writings.

The Roman Catholic Church, unable to ignore Luther and other reformers, called the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which carried out some of the reforms Luther had sought, even as it condemned him and his followers.

Like the rest of us, Luther wasn’t perfect; he had his moral shortcomings and blind spots. But God used him to bring needed reform to the Body of Christ. All Presbyterian churches are part of the reformation tradition begun by this German monk.

So, feel free to dress up as Martin Luther for Halloween--if you can find a costume!

Grace and peace,

Pastor Paul