On Oct. 31, 1517, in Wittenberg, Germany, Martin Luther posted his thoughts about some theological topics and the practices of the Church. That simple action began the Reformation — a movement that changed Western society.
One man stood against the corruption of the establishment. Luther’s fight was, of course, one of theology. But it was still one man — a monk — against the massive Holy Roman Empire. Luther was threatened, exiled, condemned and labeled a heretic. But his teaching grew in popularity throughout his life.
Those who follow Luther’s teachings number in the millions. Most Protestant churches today trace their lineage, in some part, to the teachings of Luther. The German language exists as it does today in large part due to Luther’s translation of the New Testament.
Yet, this Reformation anniversary is not a celebration of Luther. Even the Lutheran church does not celebrate Luther. Lutheran does not mean a follower of Luther, but of his theological teachings.
Luther and the other Reformation theologians believed that all mankind is sinful, that everyone is guilty of error in God’s sight. They also believed that God will punish those who do what He forbids. The problem is not only that everyone sins, but that mankind’s sinful condition means there is no way to do enough good things to earn God’s love.
The Reformation proclaimed that the solution to the problem is not in man, but in God. Luther and his followers taught that the Bible teaches salvation by God’s grace, through faith, because of Jesus. The message of the Reformation is that the Scriptures teach that God has grace on sinners. He gives forgiveness freely to all who believe in Him. This forgiveness is given through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. All who believe in Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness and eternal life. All of this is a free gift from a loving God.
Luther’s teaching, and that of the Reformation, is often summarized in three “solas.” Sola gratia, sola fide and sola scriptura — by faith alone, by grace alone and by Scripture alone. The key to Reformation theology is found in God’s love for people.
By grace alone means that God gives His love freely. People can’t earn God’s love. People can’t earn forgiveness. God’s love is not gained by human efforts, but given freely by God’s grace.
By faith alone means that those who believe in Jesus as God’s Savior for all of mankind receive forgiveness and eternal life. Faith is something God gives to people through His Holy Spirit, working in the Word of God and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. People do nothing to earn God’s love, but receive it by grace through faith.
By scripture alone means that God has revealed His truth through the Holy Bible. Scripture is the one trustworthy source for the truth about God. The scriptures are properly read in light of Jesus as the Son of God in the flesh.
The Bible teaches that His death and resurrection is the key event in all of history, because there, Jesus died to gain the forgiveness of everyone’s sins. This does not mean that Christians should only read the Bible. Sola scriptura means that the Bible is the only trustworthy source for doctrine and life.
The three solas, by grace alone, by faith alone and by Scripture alone, are all summarized in one more phrase from the Reformation: solus Christus — through Christ alone.
This is really the focus of the Reformation. God’s grace, our faith and the Scriptures are all focused on Jesus Christ. The Reformation moved the focus from the Church to Jesus.
Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany, 500 years ago. Much has changed since then. Many things we encounter daily were influenced by the Reformation. The heart of the Reformation was theology. It was a return to God as the source of mankind’s salvation. It was a focus on God’s love.
First Lutheran Church, located at Seventh and Birch Streets in Tooele City, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this monumental event during Divine Service at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29. The liturgy used will largely follow Luther’s Deutsche Messe (German Mass) of 1526. Following Divine Service will be the Reformation Day Cookout and Potluck, held either on the church lawn or in the church basement-depending on weather. The public is invited.
All who have questions about the Lutheran Church and the teachings of Martin Luther are invited to call the church office at 435-882-1172. First Lutheran Church is a congregation of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Mark Schalmann is pastor for First Lutheran Church in Tooele City.