July 8, 2020by Reverend Dan on July 8, 2020
“The free gift of God is eternal life.”
One of the most fascinating events in history, at least to my nerdy and geeky self, is how the Reformation started.
Back in the early 1500’s, a German priest named Martin Luther took issue with some of the practices of the Roman Catholic church, of which he was a member and priest. In order to start a discussion of the issues, he wrote a document called “95 Theses” and posted it on the door of the largest church in his area, the Castle Church at Wittenberg. He didn’t post it on the church door as a protest; back then the church door was used as a community bulletin board and he hoped it would open a discussion on how to address the issues. Instead, within two weeks the document, originally written in Latin, was translated into German and with the help of a new invention called the new printing press, the document had spread throughout the whole country. And within two months, it was all over Europe. Never his intent, Luther had started a movement that would change the church throughout the world.
The main topics that were of issue to Luther were three: the nature of penance, the authority of the pope, and indulgences. During the Middle Ages penance was two-fold: first, there was confession to a priest which was then followed by “satisfaction” administered by the priest. After receiving forgiveness from the priest for the sin, the penitent was then required to perform acts of “satisfaction” or penance to pay for his or her sins. Luther felt this was unscriptural, saying God alone could forgive sin, and only through grace. Forgiveness (grace) could not be bought by saying so many “Hail Mary’s”, “Our Father’s”, or any financial offering; it was a free gift from God.
The authority of the pope by this time in history had been abused and corrupted beyond imagination. By the 1500’s the pope was the most powerful man in western Europe. He was head of a church which claimed total spiritual authority in the west, he implemented fees for sin wherein the money came to the church (and over which he had control), and he was considered the living representative of Christ on earth which meant that no one questioned his authority. And as often happens, with that much power comes corruption. The popes became wealthy from the money given the church, they gave high ecclesiastical (church) positions to men with no training or calling (either family or someone paying an exorbitant price for the office), and some of them fathered as many as seven children with different mistresses. It had become so bad that Luther and some of the other reformers called the papal office the antichrist.
Of all his issues, however, it was indulgences that most bothered Luther. An indulgence was something you purchased that would reduce the length and severity of punishment in purgatory before you went to heaven. The concept of purgatory, a “waiting area” for heaven, had developed by the middle ages and people would purchase indulgences so that their loved one could be released from purgatory and go on to heaven quicker. No one questioned this practice (because no one questioned the pope and because let’s face it, how are you going to prove it?!). What caused indulgences to be especially important during this time was that Pope Leo X was raising money to build what would become St. Peter’s Basilica and his main streams of revenue were, you guessed it, penance and indulgences.
All of a sudden Luther had a movement on his hands, and from it would come the three basic tenets of the Protestant movement: the Sola’s (sola is the Latin for “alone” or “only”). We’ll take a look at those three tomorrow to help further understand the history of our church.
“Father, Thank you for the fathers of our faith and for the courage they had to challenge unfounded beliefs and practices. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”