31 October 2009

"crisp, bold and unqualified" and nailed to the door: Reformation Day Reflections

Today is a day to celebrate the perseverance of the most attacked message in history. It was in Martin Luther's day. It is today. And, as it survived utter distortion in Luther's day, it will survive every attack today. The Gospel of Jesus Christ's death in the place of sinners as the sole ground for their salvation will remain.

Consider what Luther stood against on this day in 1517. Nearly the entire Christian world had accepted another "gospel." Indulgences and religious works cleared the conscience of the faithful. The Church was the mediator between God and Man. The cross of Christ was relegated to a magic symbol and Jesus Christ stood, not as Savior, but as the supreme law giver.

This dark day is well described in Roland Bainton's Here I Stand:
The proclamation of this indulgence was entrusted to the Dominican Tetzel, an experienced vendor. As he approached a town, he was met by the dignitaries, who then entered with him in solemn procession. A cross bearing the papal arms preceded him, and the pope's bull of indulgence was borne aloft on a gold-embroidered velvet cushion. The cross was solemnly planted in the market place, and the sermon began.
Listen now, God and St. Peter call you. Consider the salvation of your souls and those of your loved ones departed. You priest, you noble, you merchant, you virgin, you matron, you youth, you old man, enter now into your church, which is the Church of St. Peter. Visit the most holy cross erected before you and ever imploring you. Have you considered that you are lashed in a furious tempest amid the temptations and dangers of the world, and that you do not know whether you can reach the haven, not of your mortal body, but of your immortal soul? Consider that all who are contrite and have confessed and made contribution will receive complete remission of all their sins. Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends, beseeching you and saying, "Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance." Do you not wish to? Open your ears. Hear the father saying to his son, the mother to her daughter, "We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel and hard that now you are not willing for so little to set us free. Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory?"
Remember that you are able to release them, for
'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
The soul from purgatory springs.'
Will you not then for a quarter of a florin receive these letters of indulgence through which you are able to lead a divine and immortal soul into the fatherland of paradise?
This was too much. Again on the eve of All Saints, when Frederick the Wise would offer his indulgences, Luther spoke, this time in writing, by posting in accord with current practice on the door of the Castle Church a printed placard in the Latin language consisting of ninety-five theses for debate.
Luther's Theses differed from the ordinary propositions for debate because they were forged in anger. The ninety-five affirmations are crisp, bold and unqualified.
There is good reason to be thankful for Luther's crisp, bold and unqualified affirmations. It took tremendous courage to pound those nails and God used them to fasten the Gospel on the centuries that followed.

But the attack continues. So on Reformation Day it is fitting to celebrate the sovereign preservation of the Gospel while being mindful of the steady assault. Where do you find your significance? What determines your stature or your reputation? What is your food? Where do you find peace and security? Wherever the answer is something other than the cross of Christ there you have found the attack.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1.6–8)
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:34 PM

    One of the main reasons the church at the time was able to get away with such heresies as indulgences was because people didn't read the Bible. Of course, the reason for this is the majority of people were illiterate in their own language, let alone even understanding Latin, the language of the Bible. So, such corruptions were easy to introduce because who could defend against priests saying that such-and-such was from God?

    And what, exactly, is our excuse for not reading our Bibles in the modern United States? We don't read or write? We don't understand the translation? We don't have money to buy one? No Bibles are available for purchase?

    Our excuses are pathetic (and I am included in this), and with these excuses, we rob only from ourselves. We rob from our knowledge of the truth, our joy to be found in Christ. We follow anyone telling us something we want to hear rather than listening to what God has to say. There is no difference between someone who cannot read the Bible, and someone who can but does not.