Almost 493 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Luther sent a copy of his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to Archbishop Albert of Mainz. As the story goes, on that day Luther also made the 6 minute walk from his house to the Castle Church and posted the Theses written in Latin questioning the practice of the selling of indulgences which would remove the temporal guilt of sin of anyone alive or dead and thus free them from the pains of purgatory (this is overly simplified, for brevity’s sake, you can look at Wikipedia and New Advent’s articles on Indulgences). This kicked off a series of events that is called the Lutheran Reformation (which was followed by the Calvinist Reformation and the Roman Catholic counter-Reformation).
The question comes up is the Reformation still relevant? To which I would simply respond, Yes. Here’s why:
- The Gospel is still being undermined in the Church’s preaching and teaching:
- Every time Law and Gospel are confused, mingled, or where the Law takes precedence over the Gospel, the Gospel is undermined
- The Gospel often is not even preached in the Church and instead moralistic or therapeutic “messages” have taken the place of the proclamation of the Gospel
- Many of the same problems that Luther addressed are still problems today
- You can still buy/obtain indulgences
- The papacy has claimed for itself powers above all other pastors and bishops
- While the preaching of many Catholic priests is far more Biblical and Chrsit-centered, it is now many Protestant pastors who have abandoned God’s Word and the preaching of the Gospel (see the above points).
- Christians, by and large, barely even know the content of their faith.
- Luther stated in the Small Catechism that every Christian should at least be able to know and understand the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, the Office of the Keys (Confession and Absolution), and the Lord’s Supper
- The very marks of the Church have gone by the wayside
- For many Christians, Baptism is a rather meaningless event that happened sometime in their history and (as far as they are concerned) isn’t relevant to their everyday life.
- The regular reception (weekly… at least!) of the Lord’s Supper is a rarity… even amongst Lutherans who boast that we keep the Mass, offer the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day and keep it with more reverence than the Roman Catholic Church
- Private Confession and Absolution has all but disappeared from Protestant Churches
- Scripture has become a proof text rather than the source of preaching and teaching
- The Liturgy continues to be watered down and the catholicity of the Church is regarded as passé and in exchange man made new measures are held up as ways to grow the Church.
So is the Reformation still relevant? Yeah, you betcha! Is the state of the Church in dire straights? Definitely. But there is hope. God’s Word is strong and effective… and while we live in a culture where more and more people have not heard the Gospel, the post-modern culture embraces a plurality of ideas. While this can be seen as a threat to Christianity, it also is a great benefit, it gives the Gospel a place in the public discourse.
So, this Sunday, I will be thankful for the events of 493 years ago… but this isn’t to lift up a German priest who kicked off the Reformation… but it is time for the Church to place Christ Crucified at the center of everything we preach, teach, and do.