Most of you will be celebrating Halloween tomorrow. It’s fun to dress up (or help your kids dress up), go to parties, eat lots of candy.
Some Christians also celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. It was the day Martin Luther published his 95 theses in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, criticizing the church in its hypocrisy and corruption. This marked the beginning of a movement that changed the church and the western world to this day.
ALL Protestant churches have their roots in the Reformation. This is worth celebrating: We have direct access to God. We don’t need a priest or pastor or the church to mediate between us and God. We also don’t need to be afraid of God’s judgment. God’s mercy and grace is a gift to us, free and undeserved.
Martin Luther is one of my personal heroes. He’s definitely not a saint and he wrote a lot of things I do not agree with. (Some about the role of women, some about Jews, some about farm laborers who were rising up against their masters.) But what I appreciate is he brought the word of God to all people, not just the educated and higher class, but ALL people. He taught liberty of conscience, saying: I want to think for myself and believe for myself so I can be certain about what is good and right. I don’t need some human authority telling me that. The only authority I have is God.
And he was a role model in courage. Even though he was under tremendous pressure from the church and the state, he did not recant his teachings. “If you cannot prove from the Bible that my teachings are false, I cannot and will not recant. It is against my conscience. God help me.”
I also need to mention that Luther did not interpret the Bible literally. He knew it was written in a specific cultural context. He was actually very critical of it, even said some books should be cut from the Bible because they didn’t preach the Gospel. His only standard of interpreting the Bible was Jesus Christ.
This is the foundation we as progressive Christians stand on: Jesus Christ, and our own conscience. Our only measure should be: What did Jesus say and what did he do? (Not: What did the Evangelists say that compiled the Gospels? Sometimes we need to peel away at all those layers and get to what Jesus – likely - really said, and what he meant.)
Another important question to ask is: What would Jesus say and do today, if he lived in this day and age?
As children of the Reformation we are free to think and believe for ourselves. This is why there are so many different Protestant churches that disagree on so many issues. My appeal is: Let’s be compassionate and respectful with each other. Let us remain true to what we believe, but give others the same privilege.
Ultimately, none of us know what is right and true. Only God does. All we can do is be faithful to what God is telling us, and be brave in sharing and living it.
So that as Martin Luther said: Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory.