On October 31,1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther posted an invitation to a debate on his church door at Wittenberg. The invitation, entitled “Ninety-Five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” listed 95 statements about some quite basic issues Luther had with the way salvation and forgiveness were being taught to God’s people and with the misuse of scripture.
Luther, who was growing in his understanding of faith, scripture and church history and tradition, wanted to engage the church in a conversation about these things with an eye toward reforming practice. The church’s power structure at the time, however, wasn’t very much interested in debate and definitely was not interested in reform. In 1521, after many commissions and decrees, Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic church.
Of course, that was not the end of it. People copied down his work and the newly invented printing press was used to distribute it throughout Christendom. Debates were held, people talked, and a reform movement was on the way spreading throughout Europe. One of those individuals whose imagination was captured by reform thinking was John Calvin. He would go on to write the Christian Institutes, which forms the theological heritage and framework for the Presbyterian Church.
500 years later, many of the ideas that Luther and Calvin would promulgate still hold importance for us today. The freedom of conscience for the believer, the inclusivity of the church, the importance of an educated and questioning laity are all touchstones for our faith today. Beginning in midOctober and continuing through November, we’ll be exploring some of our theological roots as we join our Lutheran friends in celebrating 500 years of Reformation. Expect a little bit of scripture, a little bit of history, and a dash of “why in the world is this important for a 21st century Christian.”
Looking forward to seeing you in church!