Wednesday, November 1, 2017
The Church of perpetual Reformation
It’s been 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses to the door of “All-Saints” Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
“Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money,” Luther wrote in Thesis 86.
Luther rejected indulgences, the view that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased, and recommended a theological conversation. Instead, he sparked the Protestant Reformation. The One, Holy, Catholic Church was fractured into groups with divergent opinions.
Luther, John Calvin Huldrych Zwingli, and others, led the charge for massive doctrinal changes. They relied on “sola scriptura”, the reliance of scripture versus the bearing of tradition, in forming new theological approaches. In addition to theology, the call for change was motivated by the rise of nationalism, lost faith in the power of the Pope and the alleged corruption of the Church.
It was a Reformation that never stopped. The Church, as the “rock” of faith, is an institution embroiled in an unending movement of reform. The strength of the Church is not in its ability to stay the same. It’s in its ability to remain relevant in an evolving world. The Church, as the “rock” in a volatile world, remains relevant in its ability to cultivate faith when the questions change.
Being a God of “yesterday, today and forever” implies our ability to steadily catch up to the mind of God. It assumes an intellect beyond what we have known. It embraces the presence of God in science and honors the lessons of history. It refuses to remain stuck in a dogma formulated with limited knowledge.
Reformation offers the freedom to listen to new voices. New prophets emerge to force us to listen to the hearts of people dismissed by the ways we practice faith. For Luther, it was the voices of the poor who witnessed the increasing wealth of the Pope. Today, Reformation happens when there are places where we are forced to hear how others live their faith.
Reformation is the ongoing activity of the Church. The power of reform is in creating rooms for others to become witnesses to how God speaks today. Reform is happening wherever there is a place called a church. It also happens in places not called a church. It happens whenever people ponder the meaning of faith.
Reform is the challenge to hear and find God. It happens when people feel abandoned by the Church. The power of reform begins when people scream “me too”.
Reform happens when people demand a place for everyone to be loved. Reformation takes place when people are left out or collect tough tasks to earn admission. Reform disputes all forms of detachment and challenges us to honor the work of God in a variety of places. God is present beyond the things forced in our imagination.
Reformation is the call back to God. It is happening everywhere we look. It’s happening in all of our churches and all of our denominations. Reform is taking place in churches labeled by race – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, African or multicultural. Reform transcends theology and liturgy. It has no bearing on the age of its membership or if the people cling to tradition or welcome a non-traditional format.
Reformation is a call for liberation and is rooted in the demand of inclusion. It consistently challenges us to consider the assumptions of our faith claims. Are we guilty of making ourselves better than others by virtue of our privilege? Have we used gender to foster thoughts of male supremacy, or have we used race to denigrate other races? Is faith used to suppress the people too weak to make it on their own, and do we offer service to bring greater attention to our privilege?
Reformation is the consistent practice of the Church. It happens when we pray for unity and peace. It’s exhibited through what and how we preach. It acknowledges how faith is embodied through our service together.
It’s been 500 years since Luther inspired the Reformation. Today, in remembering that day, we acknowledge the need to reform the messenger of the Reformation. We denounce Luther ‘s views toward the Jews. We deplore his writings that called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues and the confiscation of their money.
Luther’s anti-Semitism demonstrates the need for continued reform. In reforming the work of the reformers, the work of the Reformation continues today.