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The last Sunday of October, closest to the eve of All Saints, is commemorated by Lutherans as Reformation Sunday, a day on which to reflect on our heritage as Lutherans. I’d like to imagine the headlines of a newspaper—let’s call it the Wittenberg Witness—recording the beginning of that history…

  • November 10th, 1483 - Martin Luther born in Eisleben, Saxony
  • 1506 - Luther Fears God’s Wrath, Enters Monastery to Appease
  • 1515 - Luther Lectures on Romans: God’s Righteousness Given Freely to all Human Beings!  Said Luther when he made his discovery, “I felt that I had been reborn and that I had passed through wide open doors into paradise!
  • October 31st, 1517 – Indulgences Phony! Scholar Nails 95 Theses for Debate to Door of Wittenberg Castle Church.  Says the theologian, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
  • 1519 - Martin Luther: In Black and White and Read All Over! Says his publisher: “We sent six hundred copies of Luther’s collected works to France and Spain. They are read and appreciated at the Sorbonne. A sizable number of books were taken to Italy to sell everywhere in the cities. I have sent copies also to England and have only ten copies left in the storeroom. I have never had such good luck with a book!”
  • 1520 – Theologian Delivers More Than a Book a Month!  Says Luther: “I deliver as soon as I concieve!”
  • “Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith” cry Luther and co.!
  • “Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides!” shout the Lutherans.  Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone...
  • All Believers Are Priests! Lutherans share responsibility for ministry of the church.
  • June 15, 1520 – Heretic!  Luther Condemned by Pope! The German monk is named a “wild boar in the Lord’s vineyard.”
  • Professor Returns Pope’s Compliment. “Because you have destroyed God’s truth, may the Lord destroy you today in this fire,” says the churchman as he burns the papal declaration.
  • April 18, 1521 - Recant! say Pope and Emperor. Luther’s response, “Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me.  Amen.”
  • 1534 - A Bible in German! Luther translates scripture into language of the people.
  • Reformation! Luther and company introduce changes to the church: bishops appointed by princes, Mass said in German, communion in both kinds.  Popularity with the people rises even more.
  • Down with the Spiritualists!  Says Martin Luther, the so-called “prophets” of Zwickau “have swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all.”
  • 1522 - German Knights at War! Some support Luther, others the Pope.
  • 1524 – Peasants in Revolt! Luther: only princes are divinely appointed to wield the sword.
  • Peasants Follow Muntzer to War. Luther thunders Against Robbing and Murderous Peasant Bands – peasants should be struck down, strangled, and suppressed.
  • Expel the Jews! says famous Reformer.  Luther says all synagogues in Germany should be burned, holy books be taken away.
  • June 25, 1530 - Meeting Called at Augsburg! Reformers set out their faith.
  • February 18, 1546 – Luther Dies in Town of his Birth. Last words: “We are beggars.  That is true.”

These are some of the headlines of our history, just a few of the high (and low) points of our family story. Each event or idea described by a headline is another block in the wall of our family home.
It’s a tumbledown kind of a place, an ambivalent inheritance. There are some very grandiose sections to it – we’re all particularly proud of the grand entrance with its archway that reads “Justification by grace through faith alone” – but there are also some shabby places and spots that are downright decrepit. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, our family’s house is built of walls that have enough honour to raise the head of the lowest beggar, and enough shame to bow the head of the proudest king.
One thing about our house is that it is always under renovation. One of the foundation stones of the place contains a saying that has always been very important to us: ecclesia reformata sed semper reformanda, “the church reformed, but always needing to be reformed.” Always there has been conflict and controversy in our history. Always it has been over this issue: reformation! Which blocks need to be kept? Which discarded? The various renovation projects have been going on for centuries and they continue in our day.
In one way you could say we’re like the restaurant industry. It seems that restaurants have to completely redecorate their dining rooms every few years to stay current and popular with the customers.
Yet on the other hand, we are fundamentally different than a restaurant, which renovates to stay popular. The church continually reforms its doctrines and practices, not to be popular with the world, or to attract more people through the doors, or to be more hip and fashionable with current trends in culture – but to try to reflect more accurately for new times and places what the house of God looks like. We renovate because we have a master plan in mind, given to us by God in the Word. We change the place up, either because we got it wrong in the past, or because what we built then no longer reflects for our people God’s house of mercy and love.
In 2020 we are once again in the midst of a renovation of the house. This time it’s not about matters of faith and doctrine, but practice, especially our practice of church in time of pandemic. Public health measures have made gathering in person to sing our great hymns of faith very difficult. Technology has changed—and very quickly indeed—how we come together as communities of faith. We wonder how we can share the Lord’s Supper anymore. All these things are causing a renovation that’s taking place at breakneck speed, without a blueprint, experimenting with what works as we go.
One thing that remains constant is the grace and love of God that remains the same from age to age. The God of Luther’s great discovery, who is “for us,” whose righteousness is poured out freely, whose mercy endures forever—is still with us no matter the outward renovations to our sprawling house of Reformation. May the strong foundation of grace endure.
Pastor Kristian