Countdown to the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation: October 31, 2017
On October 31, 1517 a 34-year-old German monk named Martin Luther nailed a document containing 95 theses, or propositions, to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.
In those theses, Luther attacked the prevailing understanding of his age that the Christian Church had the power, through the sacraments, to ensure a person’s salvation. Luther also strongly challenged a related concept—that we are saved, or made right with God, by virtue of the things we do. Rather, Luther said, being in right relationship with God, or our salvation, comes about as a gift of God. It is grace. We do not earn this grace by our works or the things we do. Rather, being made right is God’s free gift, or grace, given to whomever God chooses. Those who know and experience that sense of grace will then seek to live as they believe God intends them to. Trying to live a faithful life is the result of experiencing
God’s grace and feeling oneself in right relationship with God, not a necessary precondition to experiencing God’s love and grace. Luther’s understanding quickly gained wide support and initiated what we now know as the Protestant Reformation. Other church leaders in Switzerland (Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin), Scotland (John Knox), and England (Thomas Cranmer) picked up Luther’s ideas, modified some of them, and started other movements to reform the church. We are the inheritors of this tradition.
Luther’s conviction about being saved by God’s grace came from a sudden insight as he wrestled with a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. For Luther and other Reformation leaders, scripture was the primary means through which we hear God’s Word. They did not believe the Bible is the literal Word of God, but they did believe that as we read scripture and wrestle with it, collectively in worship as well as in individual and group study, we can hear God’s Word to us and for us.
is our God..