27 Oct Reformed and Always Reforming
This Sunday my church, along with many other churches around the country and around the world, will mark the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. October 31, 1517 is the date we Protestants commemorate Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. I’m guessing he had no idea what that one act would start….or become….or the enduring legacy it would leave. He was simply following his conscience, doing what he thought had to be done, doing what he believed God was leading him to do. Such obedience is often fraught with fear and uncertainty and second-guessing. Did I do the right thing? Did I really hear God’s voice or was it my need or my ego that was driving me? There are frequently unintended consequences to such actions as well. Faith in action will upset the apple cart (i.e., the status quo) more often than not.
Martin Luther is a reminder that critical thinking, honest assessment, and confession are essential to the life of the church. I don’t think Luther set out to blow up the church of his era. He set out to call the church he knew and loved to acknowledge that it had gotten off-track, that it had strayed from its core principles and mission, that it stood in need of confession, forgiveness and restoration. Such critique is always best when it can come from within, but when we are too blind to see it or too arrogant to own up to the truth, the needed critique will inevitably come from without. That’s not all bad. Many years ago one of my colleagues was enduring some criticism from one of his parishioners. When I expressed to him how impressed I was with his handling of the situation, he responded, “There are some lessons only my ‘enemies’ can teach me.” More than a decade later those words continue to teach me.
One of the gifts of the Reformation is the idea that we are “reformed and always reforming.” By that we mean that we can never rest on our laurels thinking we have God or faith or life all figured out. God continues to act, continues to speak, continues to lead, continues to reveal to us what it means to be people of faith. The Ten Commandments were set in stone and rightfully so, but God is not set in stone. Faith is not set in stone. God treats us with such dignity and respect that we are each expected to wrestle with how God’s law, God’s Word relates to our present realities. How does faith speak to our challenges and struggles? How does it inform our decisions and actions? How do we put faith into practice to address the real-world suffering that surrounds us?
Martin Luther had the audacity to call the church to account—was it being a lampstand from which the light of Christ could shine? Was it offering hope to those who needed it most? Was it serving the world with the same loving compassion with which Jesus served? As we celebrate 499 years of the Reformation, let us continue to call ourselves to account, for we are still, and always, in need of reformation.
Yours for the Kingdom,