October Is for Reformation!

Ok, so it's for Halloween, too... but for us Lutherans, the last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday, a day on which we remember the work of Dr. Martin Luther, who, on October 31st, 1517, posted a document for scholarly debate on the door of the Church in Wittenberg. This document, Luther's 95 Theses, outlined not just debate topics, but a revolution against the abuses of the Church of that day.

The issue of the sale of indulgences (an indulgence was a letter granting forgiveness from sin and release from time in purgatory, or sometimes even from hell) to support either public or church-related building projects, the work of the church, the support of governmental figures, or just plain greed on the part of professional sellers of such things, was something that really troubled Luther. Abuses and distortions were widespread, and since ordinary people had no real access to the scriptures to see what God's real intent for them was, there was no way for people to know what to do. They simply believed what they were told that the scriptures said and meant-they couldn't read the plain, clear language of scripture for themselves. 
One of the first advertising slogans
"As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!" This slogan, widely attributed to Johann Tetzel (the Vatican's chief and most successful indulgence sales drone), was extremely persuasive... it was short, easy to understand, and kind of rhymed. 
But how could people judge what was true or not? The church, the political leaders, and even "Rhymin' Johann" all said it was true. And it felt good to pay a few bucks and get yourself (or even a dead relative!) out of "the hot place." The problem was... it wasn't true. And not just because Luther said it wasn't true. It wasn't true because it contradicted the clear language of scripture, replacing God's command and will and the gospel for a crass money-making scheme. Luther knew that if the practice of the sale of indulgences was allowed to continue, it would result in the spiritual damage and even condemnation of countless Christians who believed and trusted the word of the church - when the church's word had been given over to special interest groups, powerful people and secular and church politicians in exchange for money, power, influence and social agendas. I'm certainly glad that could never happen today! (Oh, wait a minute...) 
The importance of understanding scripture and allowing it to speak to us, rather than making it conform to our own values, politics and world view, is as important as it ever was. So... find a Bible Study to join, read the scriptures for yourself, attend worship and hear God's Word read and preached! 
A favorite hymn, written by Martin Luther, is "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word," and will be sung at Trinity on Reformation Sunday (in addition, of course, to "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"!). The first verse of the hymn is something to grab onto: 
"Lord, Keep us steadfast in your Word; Curb those who by deceit or sword, would wrest the kingdom from your Son, and bring to nought all he has done." 
Be Strong in God's Word!
Pastor Larry Becker