Searching For Relevance
Remembering A Past That Speaks To Our Future
October 27, 2017
Everyone is aware that this next week brings the annual event of Halloween, a holiday second only to Christmas in popularity and the merchandising. But alongside this day comes a lesser known celebration, especially for the year 2017. Of course, I am speaking about the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation — specifically the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 points of protest against practices of the Catholic Church on the doors of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. His intent, along with the many reformers who preceded him, was not to break from Catholicism, but purge it of its misuse of immense wealth and power. Chief among Luther’s complaints was the sale of indulgences, which were an ecclesiastical way of buying a place in heaven for yourself or another.
This simple act of Luther ignited a spark that coalesced into a fire that burned throughout Europe for centuries. It assisted in the creation of nations. It toppled monarchies. It set the stage for democracy — the ownership of personal property — and many other socio-political-economic changes — changes that eventually found their way to America and we benefit from, as well as struggle with, today.
My point? This period changed the world forever. The theological discussions and debates of the time altered how we viewed the interchange between religion and science. It raised the question of every individual’s welfare and toward that, the responsibilities and obligations of the state and its leaders. Who had authority over whom, and where in it we find faithful and common ground. A concern not limited to the practices of the church, but also their implications for society at-large. One such debate we still wrestle with is to find a balance between the rights of the individual with the overall welfare of everyone. Underlying all of which is, Who decides these things are from where are such values derived? Every individual? Leaders? The Church? God? In so many ways, the revolution in thought and life started by these Reformer 500 years ago, rages on!
I thoroughly enjoyed our four week study on this subject over the past month. I had not reviewed much about this church history since my seminary days. But am glad that I did, as it reminded me of how needed the voice of the church still is for our world today. Many didn’t like what Luther had to say, it was not merely challenging, but threatening. Many died for the ideals Luther, along with the expanding number of Reformers sought to implement for the society of their day — not just the church?
It is my hope and challenge that as Christians we can continue in this rich tradition of debate and dialogue that seeks to better the well-being all today. Not seeking victory over, but discussion with those in and out of our tradition who also seek to sincerely work for the good of all, even as we recognize that we may come from varied traditions and understandings of scripture. It is my prayer, that the seeds of a Reformation planted 500 years ago, be more than a memory, but a also an inspiration for the Church today. Such faithful action wasn’t easy then and it most certainly won’t be easy today.
May we have the courage, as a faith community, that is willing to continue asking the hard questions, not for selfish gain or power, but in order to work toward shared solutions, through a sincere sharing of our faith.
Rev. Dr. Keith Haemmelmann