October 22 - 26, 2008



The Ever-Reforming Church

Lutherans, especially, take note of Oct. 31, "Reformation Day" to many Protestant churches.  It recalls the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed "The 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

By posting The 95 Theses, Luther publicly challenged a dubious, unbiblical practice that had become a lucrative cash-for-absolution scheme in the Roman Catholic Church. In one egregious form, faithful people paid for indulgences that promised to release the souls of long-departed loved ones from Purgatory and deliver them to Heaven. The sales slogan was, "When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs!"

The only established church in Western Europe at the time, Rome had for centuries preserved its spiritual monopoly by persecuting its critics. Many who could not be bought or bullied into silence were put to death in gruesome ways. But unlike other "heretics" who came before him, Luther escaped execution through powerful political connections, extremely opportune timing and pure luck. Yes, God works in mysterious ways. 

We celebrate Reformation Day for its historical significance, but all churches should observe the day with prayer and soul-searching. The 95 Theses challenged bad theology and a corrupt religious practice that the church not only tolerated but actually encouraged for one simple reason: It made lots and lots of money. No doubt some church leaders could justify indulgence selling because, after all, the money would strengthen the church and enable it to carry on its work, which was good.  

Unlike 1517, today most of the world enjoys a free religious marketplace, where all manner of theologies and practices cry out for attention. Not surprisingly, some churches encourage way-out practices with a shaky biblical foundation that make their pastors and churches very rich, indeed. God's church has always attracted wolves in sheep clothing who profiteer by distorting God's truth. Reformation Day inspires us to challenge falsehoods and profiteering in the name of God.

But church leaders and pastors should also use Reformation Day as the occasion to look at our own practices, our own theologies, for the subtle ways way we bend God's truth to accommodate the interests of money in our own lives and our congregations. The church is a creation of the Holy Spirit, but it is run by mere humans who are all-too human. The church is always in need of the Spirit's guidance and renewal. On this Reformation Day, let us open our hearts and our congregations to the Holy Spirit's re-forming of us.

Rob Blezard, Editor and webmaster
Reprint rights gladly given to congregations for local, nonprofit use. Just include the following note: "Copyright (c) 2008, the Rev. Robert Blezard, archive.stewardshipoflife.org. Used by permission."

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