By: Frank Espegren
500 years ago, a movement that changed the course of the Church and all of Western Civilization was just beginning to gain steam! The Reformation, as it later came to be called, traces its deepest roots back to Germany - Wittenberg, to be exact, which, at the end of the Middle Ages, was a sleepy University city.
You might think the question is, “What was in Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation?” However, the question really isn’t “what,” but “who?” The answer to “who?” - an insistent and unsettled Augustinian monk and university professor named Martin Luther, who, much to his surprise, found the teachings and programs of the Church impeding his understanding of just how gracious and loving God was, and just how much Jesus Christ had done to save him.
Luther could not, and did not, abide these impediments, for it was not in Luther’s personality to just “grin and bear it.” So as the narrative goes, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther pounded 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg – matters that he wanted discussed and redressed, not for the sake of argument, but for the well-being of the Church, its people – the Reformation was on!
It took one individual speaking up in a bold way. Later, as his conflict with the Church reached its zenith, Martin Luther famously held the line. When asked to retract the Biblically-supported theological positions he had taken with which the Church took issue, Luther famously said, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”
But it took more than Luther. It also took a recognition that times were changing with regard to authority. It took bold lay leaders, like Philip Melanchthon, who many say was as responsible for the Reformation occurring as was Luther. It took changing communications patterns – the printing press allowed the Reformers’ thinking to go viral, at least as viral as pen and ink would allow. It took politicians and government leaders creating, or at least allowing, a culture and environment where minority position voices could survive, literally, and be heard.
But mostly, what I think about the Reformation is this: it may be 500 years old, but “reforming” the Church is as important and relevant today as it was 500 years ago in 1517. The real question as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is this – what needs changing, adapting, correcting today. In short, what needs to be “re-membered;” taking and using the very best of our “Lutheran” tradition, while not neglecting what the Holy Spirit urges that we draw from today? All to better discern God’s will, live faithfully, and be of service to neighbor!
The Reformation is a big deal – not just historically, but especially because it lives on. We are a Reforming Church, and that is one of the best things about being “Lutheran!”