2017 has been a special year for Lutherans and many members of the Protestant family as this is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s heartfelt desire was to address certain issues he had with the Church, a Church he loved and served.
Five hundred years later we look back and can celebrate the many reforms that have taken place in the Church on earth, including a deepening relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church. What though are some of the gifts we enjoy today in the Church because of Martin Luther and other reformers?
First – the message of grace: When Luther first was able to read the Bible, he came to understand that we are saved by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. That in fact our God is a loving and gracious God who desires our salvation. He is not a vindictive God seeking pleasure in our punishment.
Second – translation of the scripture: When Luther translated the New Testament into the German language, it was the first time ordinary people could hear and read God’s Word in their own language. According to experts today there are over 7,100 living languages. As of September 2016 the entire Bible has been translated into 636 languages and the N.T. into 1442 languages according to Wikipedia. God’s living Word continues to be spread around the world.
Third – music: Luther was a gifted musician and prolific hymn writer. He wrote new tunes for old hymns, wrote new hymns and put the music to the word. The reformation inspired generations of musicians to use their gifts and talents to find expression for worship, to praise and to celebrate the God of our salvation. Music of all styles and traditions fill churches around the world.
Fourth – the catechism: Most of the ordinary people of Luther’s German were illiterate and ignorant when it came to knowing the faith. Luther wrote his Large Catechism to be used by pastors to instruct adults and parents. He then wrote the Small Catechism for parents to use in their homes to teach their children. There were five parts to the catechism – The Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed and the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Christian education of adults and children is still a foundation of the Church today. These and other writings were also used in schools throughout Germany to instruct children in reading and writing.
While we acknowledge the work and the gifts of Martin Luther to the Church, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is more about how God has and continues to renew and empower His Church on earth. We are called to carry His light into a world that is broken by sin. We are called to proclaim Hid message of hope and redemption through Jesus Christ. And above all, we are to be witnesses of the life and salvation that is available for all people through Christ and Christ alone.
The writer is the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Sidney.