From the Pastor

October 2017 Newsletter

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance, for us to do.” Ephesians 2:1, 3-10

Well, there you have it. That’s the foundation of the Reformation- that we are saved by grace, through faith, which is a gift of God. We are not saved by our own works; but once we are saved, God has prepared good works for us to do.

Doesn’t sound very revolutionary, does it? That’s because all Protestants, of whatever variety, have taught that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and not by what we do- for 500 years. God does expect us to live changed lives and do good works, once we are saved; but we are not saved by our own efforts.

500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk in Wittenberg, Germany, named Martin Luther, nailed 95 theological statements about grace and salvation to the door of the Wittenberg church. The statements were written in Latin, the language of scholarship at the time; Luther was a professor of theology at Wittenberg University, and he was proposing a scholastic debate. He disagreed with the Roman Catholic understanding of indulgences at the time. Luther taught that forgiveness of sin cannot be purchased, on anyone’s behalf.

Roman Catholics today agree with Luther that pardons from sin is a gift of God and not something purchasable. However, in Luther’s day, the Pope needed money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The new basilica was designed by Michelangelo and is still one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures. But it wasn’t cheap. To raise money, the Pope authorized clergy to sell indulgences. The idea was that contributing money would help a soul get out of purgatory and into heaven. One of the most efficient fundraisers, Johann Tetzel, was working in Luther’s territory. Tetzel’s motto was, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Luther objected on the grounds of theology and also of social justice. Why, he asked, should poor people be browbeaten into contributing money for the souls of their family members, when the Pope was rich?

It was not Luther’s intention to start the Reformation. He wanted a scholarly debate, and for indulgence sales to stop. But Luther’s friends translated the 95 Theses into German, and from there, they spread all over Germany. Eventually, the Pope began investigating, and Luther was excommunicated four years later, in 1521. The Reformation had begun. Luther kept on writing, teaching, and translating into German, and the local German princes liked the idea of being independent of Rome. There were both political and theological reasons why the Reformation took hold very quickly.

Sometimes I wonder if we would be Protestant today if the Pope had decided not to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica!

Our own founding father, John Calvin, was a French Catholic lawyer who was persuaded by Luther’s theology to join the Reformation. Though there are some differences between the teachings of Luther and the teachings of Calvin, there would have been no Presbyterians if there hadn’t first been Lutherans.

So for that reason, we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Sunday, October 29th. I’ve heard that Martin Luther himself might come make an appearance outside our church door! You won’t want to miss this worship service. A 500th anniversary is even more historic than we are!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Janet

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