Saturday, September 16, 2017


From the Augusta Chronicle 9/16/17:

500 years of the reformation

Why commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation?

In 2017, we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Over the next seven weeks, this series will reveal the variety of ways in which life today bears the marks of the Reformation and its legacy.
Today: Why we commemorate the Reformation Sept. 23: Education Sept. 30: Politics Oct. 7: Conflict and the quest for unity Oct. 14: Marriage and family Oct. 21: Economics Oct. 28: Evangelism and missions

ANDREAS BECHERT/SPECIAL Michael Holahan/staFF The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, is where Martin Luther hung his 95 Theses. In Augusta, the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection on Greene Street welcomes people with red doors “symbolizing that we enter God’s family, the body of Christ through the blood of Christ,” said Pastor David Hunter.
It started 500 years ago with a monk hanging 95 Theses, or topics for debate, on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the eve of All Saints Day in 1517 – a day we know as Oct. 31 or Halloween. Yet, in most Protestant Christian circles, Oct. 31 will always be known as “Reformation Day” for with the hanging of his Theses, the young monk, pastor and university professor Martin Luther birthed the Protestant Reformation.


The presenting issue for Luther might not be a matter of great controversy today. However, the sale of indulgences greatly troubled Luther. The theological thinking of the time was that at one’s death there remained sins needing atonement and acts of penitence. Until that debt had been paid, one’s soul remained in purgatory instead of moving into heaven. An “indulgence” was a sum of money paid to the church on behalf of the dead so that he or she could be released early from purgatory. Selling indulgences became quite a money-maker for the Christian church, with the catch phrase, “As soon as the coin box rings another soul from purgatory springs!”
Luther recognized the selling of indulgences and the theology of purgatory stood in marked contrast to his understanding of the biblical witness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. So, he did what any university professor of the time would do: He challenged the proponents of indulgences to a debate. The 95 Theses were not an attempt to rebel against the pope or the church; they were not a call to revolution; they were an attempt to bring the theology and practice of the church closer to the scriptural witness.
The result of this call for debate was resounding silence. The 95 Theses were written in Latin, a language read and understood by very few. None of Luther’s fellow university professors wanted to debate his points. Those selling indulgences certainly did not want a public questioning of their practices. So for several months nothing happened at all.
Then, at the encouragement of his parishioners, some of Luther’s university students translated his document into German – the language of the people. Interest began to grow, neighboring towns and churches shared Luther’s concerns, and a populist movement began that ultimately spread around the globe.
In 2017, we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Whether one is a church member or not, it is an event worth marking. For not only did the theological trajectory of the Christian church change, with a renewed focus on “grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone and Scripture alone,” but almost every aspect of society felt the impact as well.
Over the next seven weeks, this series will lift up a variety of ways in which life today bears the marks of the Reformation and its legacy. For example:
• The Reformation’s emphasis on making Scripture available in the language of common people encouraged the development of public education and literacy.
• The Reformation’s understanding of the importance and role of local magistrates and government officials helped create the modern republic and democratic systems of government.
• The Reformation’s opening of marriage to priests and pastors resulted in a new role for women in the church and in society.
• The Reformation’s emphasis on the value of every profession, not just clergy, as a godly vocation helped to create modern economic systems and the “Protestant Work Ethic.”
• The Reformation’s renewed hope that all might be saved through faith in Jesus Christ sent missionaries around the globe who brought not only their faith, but also their culture with them.

Yes, the Reformation transformed all of society.

As we commemorate the beginning of the Reformation, it is important to note that some of the movement’s impacts were negative. Initial leaders in the Protestant movement soon found themselves at odds with each other.

Various branches or “denominations” of the church developed, which were often quite antagonistic toward others.

Once those splits developed, it seemed that every minor disagreement led to a new denomination. Some estimates indicate there are more than 30,000 Protestant denominations today, severely undermining attempts at unity.
The fracturing of the Christian church often had political consequences as well. Various political magistrates and rulers chose sides in the conflict.

Some chose out of religious conviction. Others saw opportunity to claim political power for themselves as opposed to allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor.

The response from the church and the empire was swift. The Thirty Years War and the English Civil War are just two examples of the armed conflict and immense bloodshed that followed the beginning of the Reformation.

Protestant churches and communities commemorating the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation can use it as an opportunity to model unity and reconciliation in the midst of our world, which seems to grow more fractured and divisive every year.

In 1999, the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, healing a significant theological division of the Reformation. United Methodists joined the agreement in 2006. In 2017, Reformed (Presbyterian) Christians signed a declaration endorsing the agreement and the Anglican (Episcopal) Church is expected to do the same later this year. 

ALaMY.COM A memorial to Martin Luther stands in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany.

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF This banner, commemorating the Protestant Reformation in 1517, hangs on the wall at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in downtown Augusta.

Here in Augusta, Ga., a community service sponsored and led by churches of several denominations will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Additional denominational services and commemorations will be held throughout this season.

As we mark the history and legacy of the Reformation, may we appreciate the gifts and contributions of our diverse faiths and together work for the common good of our community.
Dr. Matthew A. Rich is the pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta.


Gene said...

The Reformation was a Renaissance phenomenon which was absorbed in the Enlightenment and the humanistic theology that arose from that. Despite the emphasis that both Luther and Calvin placed upon faith over reason, grace over works, and Christology over anthropology the Reformation was a humanistic movement which led, ultimately, to 19th century pietism, existential theology, de-mythologization, and the Bible as literature. Calvin saw this coming, on some level, which is why he so strongly asserted his TULIP theology...Total Depravity is a warning that our flawed reason (tainted by sin and concupiscence) will only lead us to destruction. Irresistable Grace diminishes man and his initiative, and Unconditional Salvation emphasizes the triumph of Christ and the futility of man's intention. Although Catholics frown on Calvin, his theology is straight out of Augustine...somewhere the Church abandoned this greatest of the Church Fathers for the rationalism and Aristotelianism of Aquinas. But, for all of the Church's playing footsie with Reason, she maintained and preserved the the Mass and the Sacramental life of the Church. Vatican II and all that has followed, has increasingly diminished the Mystery in favor of humanistic reforms. Luther and the Church have come full circle and have merrily joined hands.

TJM said...

Before Vatican Disaster II, we called it the Protestant Revolt, which it was. No Catholic should be celebrating the sundering of Christiandom.

Anonymous said...

TJM, you're right and no Catholic will be celebrating the sundering of Christiandom only those who are "Catholic" in name only ...


Anonymous said...

"Sola scriptura" simply does not hold water---the Church PRECEDED the Bible, and not the other way around. Furthermore, how did the early Church fathers know which books were canonically acceptable for the Bible? Well, based on the oral traditions passed on from the days of the apostles. I wonder, had their been a Reformation in the early centuries of the Church, how a fundamentalist pastor would have been able to preach---there were no Bibles in those days and most people could not read anyway.

Anonymous said...

Follow-up to yesterday, some historical trivia: Reid Memorial in Augusta was President Eisenhower's church when he visited the National from the mid 50s to the late 60s. In either 1954 or 1955, he helped lay the cornerstone of the current Ried Memorial sanctuary.

John Nolan said...

The Reformation was a disaster for England (and indirectly for Ireland too). Apart from anything else it destroyed, with ruthless efficiency, most of late medieval/early Renaissance art and music.

The most ludicrous claim in Dr Rich's article is that it (through clerical marriage) enhanced the status of women. in fact Protestantism was far more patriarchal than the Catholicism it replaced. Is this guy not familiar with John Knox?

Also, Protestantism should not be dated from the beginning of Luther's revolt, but from the so-called Confession of Augsburg in June 1530.

Anonymous said...

Father M, I see the Diocese is having a service commemorating the Reformation on October 22 at the Cathedral and an Episcopal priestess will be preaching! Have you made your plans?!? It isn't the first time there has been an Episcopal presence at the Cathedral---in 1995 it was the site of the ordination of the Rt. Rev. Henry Louttit, then bishop of the Savannah-based Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. There was a picture of bishops around the altar and a priestess---may have been the bishop's daughter.