On Sunday, October 29th, Bethel Grace will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I pray it will be a day of heart lifting worship and joy as we celebrate salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
As we look forward to the celebration of Reformation Day, I want to recognize that this recovery of the Gospel was born out of a deep sense of struggle within a particular man’s heart. Martin Luther carried two heavy burdens, the second perhaps more weighty than the first. The Reformation took flight as the Lord helped Luther resolve these struggles. On the Lord’s Day, we will learn about these two matters, one during a combined 9 a.m. Sunday school gathering, the second during our 10:30 a.m. worship service.
First, Luther had a serious struggle with the Roman Catholic Church of his day. It centered on the doctrine of indulgences. In Catholic theology, there are eternal and temporal consequences incurred by sin. The eternal consequences were paid for by Christ on the cross. The temporal consequences are to be dealt with by the sinner through confession and the acts of penance prescribed by the priest. If you die with lingering sin that has not been dealt with through penance, a place they call “purgatory” awaits as the place of final “purging” before heaven. In Luther’s day, church authorities were selling indulgences, certificates of forgiveness for the temporal consequences of sin. Amazingly, with an alms beyond your tithe, the time required in purgatory could be reduced for you, or a deceased relative. You would receive a certificate assuring this to be the case. Luther believed this practice to be unbiblical and observed horrible exploitations linked to it. As he saw the effects of it in his own town, he fumed. He wrote his 95 Theses, still as a Roman Catholic monk, to challenge and protest this form of theological malpractice.
During our 9:00 a.m. gathering, we will combine our classes and reflect upon Luther’s points of concern. No, we will not try to explain each and every one! We will focus on a handful of his arguments and look at some of the most electric statements. As we do, I pray that a sense of Luther’s boldness will fill our hearts as well. Where do we see spiritual abuse and exploitation taking place? Where do we see significant theological error? Are we willing to stand for the purity of the Gospel?
Second, Luther had a serious struggle with God within his own heart. This man was haunted and oppressed by his understanding of the righteousness of God. It bore down on him spiritually and even physically. He knew God as uncompromising in His righteousness, and he knew himself as hopelessly tainted by sin. None of his works of penance—no religious pilgrimage—none of his efforts to merit God’s favor through religious activity could alleviate his sense of guilt.
Then a breakthrough came. One night he was studying the Book of Romans in the Black Cloister Tower of the University of Wittenburg. He entered “through open doors into paradise,” to quote Luther himself. He came to understand the righteousness required by God not as a human accomplishment, but as a divine gift, given freely by faith alone in Christ alone. His heart was liberated and his soul flooded with worship and spiritual life.
During our 10:30 a.m. worship service, we will reflect on this greatest of Reformation discoveries. We will sing songs to the Lord that celebrate it! We will dig into the portion of Scripture that reveals it! As we do, let’s pray more and more people will have such “tower experiences” of God’s saving grace.
The Reformation Day celebration is coming! We will tell the stories that need to be retained. We will celebrate the heritage of our church. We will look forward to a future standing on the rock of Christ alone.