What needs to change in the church today? It’s now 500 years after the Protestant Reformation was initiated with Martin Luther hammering up his 95 Theses on the doors at Wittenberg. Luther was a German monk who had spent his youth trying to please God, but always feeling sinful, as if there was nothing he could do to ever please God. But his guilt-ridden conscience was set free when he discovered in scripture that God’s saving grace was given freely to him by Christ alone. Luther experienced a powerful change of heart, and was disturbed by the practice of selling indulgences to forgive people of their sins. Money from the indulgences was used to fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica.
In a time when the pope had supremacy over even political leaders, and execution was a normal sentence for insubordination, Luther’s challenge against indulgences put his own life on the line. It would lead to Luther’s eventual excommunication from the Catholic church, years in hiding, and the total transformation of European civilization…as papal supremacy over Christendom was replaced with the Protestant Reformation, with many new forms of Christianity sprouting up around Europe. Luther translated the bible into the language of the German people. The printing press made it possible for literacy to improve, taking the bible from the intellectual wealth of the church (where only hand-written manuscripts existed) and into the hands of the multitudes. The reliance on a priest to absolve someone to the more egalitarian priesthood of all believers empowered many Christians to take their faith more seriously.
My poster here pictures a small handful of men and women influential in the Protestant Reformation from the famous Luther to the far lesser known William Joseph Seymour (who initiated Pentecostalism in the early 1900s). It’s not meant to be exhaustive or even touch on all the major figures. For me, those pictured are a reminder that the so-called “heroes” of the reformation are people just like us. Some of them are political figures, some ordained, some everyday people. People with major flaws who did great things.
So here we are, celebrating 500 years of the Protestant Reformation. Here we are, people with major flaws, belonging to a scattered and divided church with major flaws…in need of a new reformation. Stranger things have happened before. What are you gonna do about it now?