1 Thessalonians 1: 1- 10
Matthew 22: 15 – 22
[Jesus said to the crowds in the Temple and the religious leaders, ]
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God's.”
- Matthew 22:21
Five hundred years sounds like a special anniversary. Five hundred years ago this Halloween, a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther posted a document, 95 theses (statements) he had written, on the door of the church in Wittenburg (in what is now Germany). Posting theses was the proper way to lodge a complaint with the church leadership, to open up a discussion. But the vast changes that followed Luther’s calls for the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church went far beyond anything Luther or any of his peers could have imagined.
As Martin Luther preached and taught and wrote, the “Protestant” doctrine essentially boiled down to three fundamental beliefs about how the gospel of Jesus Christ works:
† Salvation is by the Grace of God alone.
† Salvation comes through Faith alone.
† We come to saving faith according to Scripture alone.
In practical terms, Protestant faith led many Christians away from the Roman Catholic Church, its leader the Pope, and traditional hierarchies of religious authorities. Faithfully seeking the Grace of God, Protestant Christians learned to read, they read the Bible for themselves, and they listened for God’s call to each individual person to serve God in their own special way.
Many historians in these last five hundred years have claimed that the Protestant Reformation deserves much of the credit for the United States’ emergence as a democratic republic on the world stage, for capitalism, and for many other elements of the “modern” world— for better or worse.
Our Bethel is one among very many churches which identify as “Protestant.” Article IV of our Bethel church Constitution, “FAITH,” states: “This church acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of man. It acknowledges as brothers in Christ all who share in this confession. It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation, to make this faith its own.”
Because of the Protestant emphasis on the Good News we find in the Bible, in a strange way, Protestant Christians seem to feel as if we were closer to Jesus and the Apostles than we are to the church Reformers and other faith leaders who lived and labored and gave their lives in the twenty centuries between Christ’s resurrection and now. It is as if we could mentally or spiritually “jump over” two thousand years of faith history, as if all those doings and learnings didn’t matter much.
Now, five hundred years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door, it would be a shame if we failed to thank God for what God did through our forebears in the Reformation period. Just as we, today, do our best to “make this faith our own,” so did the Reformers— in a big way !.
We can learn a lot from Luther, and also from the other Reformers: Huldrych Zwingli, Philipp Melancthon, John Calvin, John Knox, Arminius, Menno Simon, and thousands of other Christians who struggled and gave their lives for the Good News of God’s amazing Grace during these past five hundred years.
At the same time, we also owe a great debt to thousands of years of work by other servants of our God, including Coptic Christians, Greek and other Eastern Orthodox Christians, African Christians, and, yes, Roman Catholic Christians. Without them, we would not have the Bible. Huge swaths of the world would not have heard the gospel message. They gave us a rich fabric of traditions which have developed throughout these centuries to help us live our faith in this world— and unless we look them up and give them some credit, we won’t appreciate what we have, now.
... we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
- 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5