Second Scripture Reading: Romans 3.21-30 October 29, 2017
Reformation Sunday – 500 Years Young!
by Rev. Bill Jennings
Introduction: In just two days, October 31st, the Christian world will mark exactly 500 years since Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Augustinian monk fixed his list of 95 “theses” or arguments against the Roman Catholic Church on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. That event put into motion what we now call the Protestant Reformation and the appearance of the Lutheran, Reformed and Anabaptist churches. Why is that important to us in late October, 2017? And why should we celebrate that?
First of all, we need to try to understand what made such a radical split in the Christian Churches necessary. What happened between Pentecost, the birthday of the Church and the rapid expansion of the Church we read about in the Book of Acts and what the Church had become in the early 16th Century when Martin Luther arrived on the scene?
At Pentecost the N.T. church was planted in the Mediterranean basin where everyone spoke the same language, Greek and later Latin. That is why the New Testament’s original language was Greek. But as the centralized power of the Roman Empire began to fade and withdraw, so also did the common languages of Greek and Latin. Nation states like France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Britain, Scandinavian and Slavic nations and eventually Russia, each one with their own language. The Church, for whom the Bible was then written in Greek and Latin did not keep up with this expanding linguistic diversity. So, to make a long story short, the common people of these rising nations lost touch with the Word of God, which became the “Private Property” of the educated Clergy. That separated the Clergy from the people. The Clergy had access to the Bible; the people did not!
As a Result of this, all kinds of doctrines not covered in the Bible crept their way into Church Doctrine, like the doctrine of Purgatory, which gave way to the practice of paying the local priest for his prayers to help loved ones to escape Purgatory and to move on up to Heaven! That was one of the biggest issues that troubled Martin Luther.
Luther was troubled by this because before he really digested in his mind and heart the biblical text of Romans 3.21-30 and Ephesians 2.1-10. Luther believed that he had to satisfy the stern Justice of God by his own efforts and works to earn God’s favor. For years Luther strived by punishing his body by flagellation, by taking pilgrimages to Rome, even climbing the steps to St. Peter’s Cathedral on his knees (!) to please God and thus purchase his salvation by his own efforts. But none of that worked. His conscience still gave him no peace! What changed him? Luther finally discovered that there is No way that he could ever satisfy the Justice of God. God did it for us in Jesus Christ. It is a Gift! It is a gift that can only be received By Faith! Because Faith itself is a gift from God.
You might say, “Wait a minute – I have faith. I believe. Don’t I get a little credit for that? If you trust someone, it is because he or she is trustworthy. If you don’t know if that person is trustworthy, that is a leap in the dark! Our trust in Jesus is because He is trustworthy, and if you don’t know that yet, read the Scripture – test the evidence to see if Jesus is or is not trustworthy!!
That is why Jesus said, “Diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5.39).
And, again, on Resurrection night, Jesus told his disciples, “This is what I told you when I was still with you, ‘Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms…This is what is written, ‘The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all the nations beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Lk. 24.44, 46)
All of this brought not only Luther, but all the Reformers, to proclaim the core values of the Reformation: some of which are the following:
Christ Alone is our only way to God the Father (John 14.6 & Acts 4.11-12). Today in our world deeply penetrated by Political Correctness, we will often find that this truth is almost daily challenged, calling believers “bigots” and “intolerant”. Of course, they say,
“All religions are equal and they all lead to the same place, or Heaven.” According to a recent survey made by Gordon Conwell Seminary, a full 70% of Americans believe that Jesus is not the only way to the Father, 65% of all Christians believe that and 56% of so-called “Evangelical Christians” believe that! This has caused the Seminary to declare that: “The growing number of Christians who are troubled by Jesus’ claims to be the single course to salvation indicates how much the world has come to live in us as we attempt to live in the world. We easily allow the push and pull of our culture to define our beliefs, commitments and way of life, even while giving lip service to the name of Jesus. Perhaps the Pew Forum poll will be a wake-up call as to how much Christians have allowed the world to shape their sentiments.”
By Grace Alone are we justified by God without any contribution of our efforts (Romans 3.22-24 & Ephesians. 2.4-5 & 8).
It is Through Faith Alone that Grace come to us (Romans 3.22, 25-26. 29-30) and Ephesians 2.8-10).
Scripture Alone is the ultimate authority for the life and faith of the follower of Jesus. The best guide for us is how Jesus used Scripture. When he was tempted by Satan immediately after his baptism, he used Scripture, and from all places, that dusty old book of Deuteronomy, saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” For the second temptation, Jesus also answered from the same source, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And finally, Jesus responded to Satan’s third attempt with these words: “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”
Now, Luther and his contemporaries had a very legitimate excuse for not reading the Bible. Their Bibles were written in a dead language: either Latin or Greek! The vast majority of people of the 16th Century had no access to the Bible. Now, just take a look inside your Bible. What is the language you find? Of course, it is English. So what is our excuse for not reading our Bibles? I will let that question lie in our minds to be settled in the privacy of our own conscience.
One final word needs to be said on this Reformation Sunday. This is in no way meant to be a tirade against the Roman Catholic Church. We, in Murphy enjoy outstanding relationships with the Catholic churches in our region, especially in our cooperation together in the Sharing Center.
It is also worthy of note that in Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn that we sang at the beginning of this service that the great Enemy whom he mentions is not the Pope or the Catholic Church, but Satan himself, “the Prince of Darkness”, and “our ancient Foe”.
Yet, the issues that troubled Martin Luther, John Calvin and other Reformers are still very much alive in the 21st Century in Murphy, North Carolina as they were in the 16th Century in Wittenberg, Germany.
The Scriptures are still the only authority for the life and work of the Follower of Jesus.
Jesus is still the only author and finisher of our Salvation
God’s Grace is still the only gift that will bring to us that Salvation.
Faith and Trust in God is still the only way through which that Grace will reach us.
So the Reformation and its core values are still as valid today as today’s newspapers.
Let Us Pray…