from Pastor Ken Schmidt

“The need for Ongoing Reformation in the Church!”

Text: John 8: 31-36 (Especially v31-32), Ephesians 2:8-9.

Dear Christian Friends! Today is the 31st October, and traditionally it is not only celebrated as Halloween, but for us as Lutheran Christians, it is Reformation Sunday. For it was on this very date 504 years ago today, that the Catholic priest Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses (or points for debate), to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, hence sparking the Protestant Reformation, one of the truly great events in human history.

Now today, Lutherans sometimes are misunderstood, by those outside of Lutheranism, for the very name that we carry, namely that of a person, Martin Luther. Most other Christian denominations are named for some other reason, eg Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, 7th Day Adventist, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, etc. So those who look at us, may think that we idolise or worship a man, Martin Luther. Yet, that is nothing further from the truth, for rather, we worship and adore, the very one whom Luther so vigorously pointed the Church back to, and that is Jesus Christ himself. When people first called Christians, ‘Lutherans’, it was not a title of love or endearment, but rather a slur, a nickname, meant to belittle and denigrate them, and their message.

In fact, Luther himself said in his writings; … ‘I ask that people make no reference to my name; let them call themselves ‘Christian’, not Lutherans. For what is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone. How then should I – poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am – come to have people call the ‘Children of Christ’, by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names, and call ourselves Christian, after him whose teaching we hold!’ (Luther’s Works Vol 45).

We today recognise, that God used Martin Luther and other Reformers, to turn the Christian Church back to the Holy Scriptures, and the pure teaching to be found in the Scriptures. Therefore, while we may talk about Martin Luther – especially on Reformation day, – we don’t focus on him, but on the one in whom Martin Luther trusted, Jesus Christ, our Lord! This morning it is our aim, to focus upon several of the important truths, that were restored to the Church, by the Lord, through the Reformation period. These significant truths, are sometimes remembered by their Latin titles, each beginning a Latin word, meaning ‘Alone’! Hence we have what are called the 5 great ‘Solas’ of the Reformation, namely; ‘Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria!’ Which means; ‘Grace alone’, ‘Faith alone’, ‘Christ alone’, ‘Scripture alone’, and ‘Glory of God alone’!

These ‘5 Solas’, define as a summary, the Biblical Gospel: that salvation with God, is by; ‘grace alone’, received through ‘Faith alone’, ‘faith in Christ alone’, as described in ‘Scripture alone’, and to the ‘glory of God alone’. These ‘5 Solas’, are a summary of the Bible’s teaching, and they refute every false gospel, or anything that would add to the Gospel of God’s amazing grace.

Yes, so called Protestants, protest any other Gospel. And 504 years ago, the Church had a big problem, for the medieval, Roman Church was teaching another Gospel. And that wasn’t its only problem, for the medieval Church was actually in an extremely dark place 500 years past. The Church then, was more of an Empire. At the time, it crowned and deposed Kings, it owned vast tract of land, it authorised military campaigns, had a massively corrupt clergy, who were bent on money and power, and the fame and sex, that came with that.

Worship was more of a spectator sport, and a mechanical transaction. It was something that you showed up for, and observed. The common person watched, as priests performed strange rituals, and said strange things in Latin, a language they did not understand. Not only was participation in the worship service withheld, from the people, the Bible itself was withheld. The Scriptures, though originally written in koine Greek, the common trade language of most of the world, translations were restricted to Latin, and the Bible was actually illegal to own, or be read by the common person.

More terrible still however, is the fact that a false gospel was being preached, that salvation with God, was based on our own personal performance, and our ability to obey God’s law.  Which of course no one can do, and so two other strange teachings then popped up. The first related to the fact, that some people do live such exemplary lives, and therefore they were made by the Church,  into special ‘Saints’. (This neglects the Biblical fact, that the word ‘saint’ in the New Testament, refers to every baptised believer in Christ). And the second new idea, was the concept of ‘Purgatory’, a place where people supposedly go, to be purged of their sin, so they can at last enter into heaven, after some ‘purging’. These two false teachings then built onto each other, in a strange way, to produce an even more bizarre false teaching, called, ‘The Treasury of Merit!’

The Church taught that the extra-good people, the ‘Saints’, had done more than enough good deeds, to earn their way into heaven. And so, there was all this extra goodness (‘merits’), stored up that could be dispensed. The Roman Church believed that it held the key to the Treasury, and could dispense it out in the form of an indulgence, which grants you time off your sentence in purgatory. You could earn an indulgence, for acts of penance, or other righteous deeds, like pilgrimages to holy places, interacting with holy relics, and most importantly, through monetary donations.

Yes, 500 years ago, it so happened that the Roman Church was in the midst of building the world-renowned St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, (a building that some of you may have visited and seen), well this was the time of its construction, and a massive fundraiser across the Roman Empire, was under way to fund its construction. Sadly, the ‘Treasury of Merit’ was used, as its key instrument, for the raising of funds. John Tetzel, the chief fund-raiser in Germany, had created his own ditty that said; ‘When your money in the pot drops, then out of purgatory, a new soul pops!’ (It sounds a bit corny, but it also sounds like the early version of the ‘poker-machines’, we are all so familiar with today – for raising funds, also for our own Governments!)

Well Friends, it is this false gospel message, that drove Martin Luther, on this day 504 years ago, to nail his 95 Theses (points for discussion and debate), onto the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, which began the great Reformation, leading the Church back to the true biblical message of salvation with God, by grace, through faith, in Christ, revealed in Scripture, alone! And that great work, is actually none other than God’s great work, for which he deserves glory and praise, and thanks, alone! For the Reformation was a gift from God, and it is not an exaggeration to say, that much of our modern western culture, as we know it, finds its roots primarily in the Protestant Reformation. It was a movement, that changed and transformed the world, in so many ways, and it is probably needed in our time, again!

Today, for each of us to appreciate anew, something of what the reformation meant to the people back 500 years ago, and even now, can I suggest that you each do something personal and practical, when you get home from Church? Can I suggest that you celebrate the joy of having access to the Holy Scriptures, and to have them written in your own language, and read them with your own eyes, for yourself. Celebrate this, for it truly is a divine gift, and privilege, to deal directly with ‘the Word of God’! Can I then suggest that you begin with, and just read one small, short book of the New
Testament, and that is the book of St Paul, to the Galatians. Yes, the book of Galatians, 6 very short chapters, just 15 minutes reading, and for many of you, much less!

Here St Paul writes to a group of small congregations, in an area known as Galatia, which is in the troubled area of modern-day Turkey. He preached to them the original teaching of the Gospel message. He wrote to counter those who taught, that Christians must be circumcised, in order to be accepted by God. Not grace alone, but something extra, had to also be done. He made it clear that all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, enjoy complete salvation in Christ Jesus. He then shows how the Gospel of grace, leads to true freedom, and godly living. His clear central message is; ‘a person is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ’! What a beautiful, simple, clear, and straight-forward message, that can warm and renew every Christian, and even a non-Christian’s seeking heart.

Further, can I suggest that when you read Galatians, that you might try substituting the words ‘circumcised, and uncircumcised’, with the new words, now very relevant to us, namely ‘vaccinated, and unvaccinated’. (See how this resonates for you!). For, very soon, I believe that this may well be the new biblical challenge, coming into the Church, right here, among us very soon! For we too, are being reminded, as to why the Church truly exists; and that it is to nourish and equip God’s saints, but also to make disciples of all nations, proclaiming freedom in the Gospel, and administering the Holy Sacraments, and that these treasures, are for both, the ‘vaccinated and the unvaccinated’ alike! Think carefully, and clearly about this, for it is not meant, to allow any division to arise among us! We will need to approach this matter sensitively, and with great insight, prayer, and Christian compassion, love and kindness!

Yes, Ephesians 2: 8-9 reminds us; ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast!’

Friends, Reformation is not only something to look upon in the past, but it is meant, in the light of God’s holy Word, to continue to be an ongoing challenge among us, so that we too do not fall entrapped and enslaved, to practices no longer aligned to the Gospel itself, or that are, in opposition to it. Hence another Latin phase, may again be helpful to us this morning, and that is the phrase; ‘Semper reformanda’ meaning, (always being reformed – by the Word of God), and that is the life of the Church.

Today, it is our joy and privilege, to not only talk, and think about the gifts of the Reformation 504 years ago. But it is also our privilege, under the invitation of the Lord himself, to come and fellowship with him, in the blessed gifts promised in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. There the risen Lord himself invites, as the Host, and promises to minister, directly with each of us. ‘Take and eat’, he says; ‘Take and drink, this is my Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness, of all your sins!’ ‘Taste and see, that the Lord Is good!’

Yes, all the blessings, won and accomplished for us, upon the cross 2,000 years ago, are all brought forward, and appropriated to us, in and through ‘the Holy Sacraments’, the ‘mysterion’, ‘the means of grace’, and the enacted message of the Gospel. Treasure, how Christ still wishes, to meet personally with you, and minister directly to the many varied needs of his much-loved saints and heirs, of eternal life. No longer, is your access through intermediaries, saints, human endeavours, holy relics, or finances, but it is truly by grace, through faith, in the Lord Christ Jesus alone. And that is why we can give God the Glory alone, for how the Scriptures have again, truly made him, and his wonderous love, known and felt among us, again and again! Yes, to God be the Glory!


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