PASTOR'S PERSPECTIVE FOR OCTOBER 2017
On the last day of October in the year 1517, a professor at the local college posted a bulletin containing certain points he hoped to discuss with his fellow academics. His writing style was considered polemic, meaning that he took a hard stance on one side of the issue, inviting debate and dialogue from the other side. Unintentionally, the theses that he posted sparked outrage in his community and throughout the Europe. The decades that followed that October posting have become known as the Reformation. The professor’s name was The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther. In his 95 Theses, he questioned the selling of indulgences, a theologically murky practice in which people could buy their dead relatives a pass out of purgatory and into heaven. The reason his theses sparked outrage was because Pope Leo X approved of the sale of indulgences in order to fill his coffers to finance major construction projects in Rome.
Martin Luther did not intend to break away from the Roman Catholic church of which he was a pastor and professor. His 95 Theses and the volumes of work he produced were meant to renew the Roman Catholic church from within. Along with the corruption he saw in Rome, he was also concerned with the faith of the members in congregations throughout the Holy Roman Empire. He stressed the authority of the Word of God found in Scripture over the traditions of the church; that good works did not earn God’s approval but instead that faith alone assured it; and that God’s grace was made known tangible in the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. When he was excommunicated from the church that he loved, he and his fellow reformers put in place much of what has come to be known as Lutheranism: worship in the language of the people; the centrality of theologically sound music; a Christian education system that includes learning the catechism; and vocation – the idea that all occupations that are honest and godly are equally valuable to God and the world.
This month we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. In many ways it is a celebration. Luther is on every toe 10 list of the most influential people of the last millennium. The Reformation, along with Guttenberg’s printing press and the discovery of the “New World” changed our understanding of the world. However there is much to lament: the Christian church began splintering at the Reformation and continues to not be united. There are countless denominations claiming to be the true church. Wars have been fought and people have been killed for being a part of the wrong church. Families have been torn apart because of differences. Even after 500 years, Catholics and Lutherans cannot share Holy Communion together.
As your pastor, I believe it is vitally important to continue the work of Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics (and all other denominations as well) should look first to the Gospel as our guide, not to tradition. We also need to uphold our similarities and recognize the Holy in each other. Groups like Area Churches Together are visible witnesses to how ecumenical groups can serve God’s world together. The more individual Christians and denominations can work with other Christians and denominations, the more we will be transformed by the Holy Spirit and show the world that’s God’s love is stronger than historical divisions. I invite you to join me, not only this month but always, in reforming our church and our faith so that it more closely resembles who God in Christ is calling us to be.
Peace+ Pastor Kowitz