It’s Reformation Sunday this weekend! Don’t know what that is? That’s ok, it's one of those "Lutheran things".
So, buckle up! We have a church history lesson for today’s blog! If you’re feeling more drinky than churchy right now, you can skip the history lesson and scroll down to the section where I talk about my favorite legends about Luther.
Who are we as Lutherans and where did we come from? Well, it all started with an (in)famous theologian and monk, Martin Luther, who challenged some questionable Church teachings in the 1500s in Germany. For a long time, the Catholic Church considered itself an intermediary between man and God, and it ascribed to a theology of works whereby Salvation was a joint effort between humans and the Divine. God was ultimately the savior, but the individual still had to do good works in order to earn that salvation. Around Luther’s time, a perversion of theology of works surfaced when Church leaders determined that donating money could be seen as good works. This came to be known as Indulgences (no, not our favorite Castle Church IPA), and the church formalized this process by selling Certificates of Salvation to people for the absolution of their sins or the sins of a loved one. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how this practice favored the rich over the poor and widened the gap between those in power and those not in power. Furthermore, most of the population was illiterate, so they were unable to check the Bible against what those in power were telling them.
All of this was deeply disturbing to Luther. Through his own journey, he was beginning to question our ability to work or pay our way to Salvation. He felt he was constantly failing when he attempted to work himself to a place of grace, and he was coming around to the conviction that Salvation may actually be fully a work of Divine Grace. In addition, he was incredibly concerned for the poor in his community, who he felt were being taken advantage of by the Church. So, he did what any good theologian would do and nailed 95 of his ideas about Christianity to the door of a Church in Wittenberg, Germany called Castle Church. His plan was definitely to raise some controversy because his ideas ran counter to what the Church was saying at the time. However, he wasn’t actually planning to create a whole new denomination of Christianity. He just wanted some healthy, public dialogue among theologians to reform the Catholic Church. What he was not anticipating was his 95 Theses spreading like wildfire, igniting a chasm between those loyal to the Catholic Church and those protesting the Catholic Church. This protest eventually became the Protestant religion, and Luther’s theses for reforming the Church began the Reformation, and the Lutheran Church was born.
Fast forward 1500 years to the Lutheran Church of today, where we are still reforming theology in the name of Social Justice and creating a Church Community for all, not just a select few in power. Reformation is all about revisiting theology over and over again, ensuring that we are staying as true to Jesus’ mission as we understand it and letting go of all the rest. This is why we are an affirming Church - we welcome all to the table because we understand that Jesus welcomed all, and we let go of our human judgment about who “deserves” to be there. This is why we believe in Salvation through grace - we recognize that Jesus’ sacrifice is enough for our salvation, and we let go of the belief that there is anything we can do to earn it. All you have to know is that you are loved as you are, just as you are. And even if you don’t know that, God loves you just as you are anyway.
My favorite legends about Martin Luther (they may be true, who knows!)