You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been.
In 1517, Martin Luther started the Reformation
The New World was barely known
John Wesley, the Methodist Movement, and the American Revolution were still 200 years in the future
Perhaps most significantly, their image of Jesus was not one of joy, but of fear...
Christianity in the World of Martin Luther
Christians had faced on/off persecution until the mid 300's and emperor Constantine, who united east and west under a Christian banner
But Constantine had a problem, and he solved it by delaying his baptism until it became evident that he was dying
The problem? Christians still sinned after becoming Christians!
The Sin Conundrum
Their baptism imagery was "died in Christ, raised a new creature, sins washed away" so you could now enter righteously into heaven!
But how do you wash away the sins you will commit tomorrow?
The guilt is forgiven in Christ. They thought the "stain" of sin had to be balanced out, washed away by works of righteousness
I still have sinned! Receive forgiveness in Christ, delay entrance into heaven, the sin stains are "purged" in the fires or purgatory
The saints have more righteousness than they need. The Pope can distribute that righteousness as he sees fit, and can delegate that distribution to those under him. So, if you do something nice, like give money to the building fund, you can have your accounts balanced, your sin debt reduced. You earned an "indulgence." By the 1500s, indulgences were for sale...
AND their image of Jesus had become "Righteous Judge" rather than "Blessed Redeemer"
NOT from a well-to-do German family. Going to become a lawyer, until a lightning storm set him on the path of being a monk
He cried (through St Ann) "God save me!" And took his vow seriously...
He became a monk, professor of theology, composer, priest...
Scandalized by the corruption he saw in the church in the sale of indulgences
Also terrified by the sin he kept uncovering in his own heart
Like Wesley, he struggled with finding peace!
On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop protesting the sale of indulgences, with a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", which came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses. As the story goes, Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg on 31 October. And it went viral...
Quotes as saying, "Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me"
His great insight? Luther, along with his contemporaries, viewed the righteousness of God as that which separated even the committed Christian from God, for we could never be that He knew, because he had tried, over and over again. That the righteousness of God was given as a gift through faith, that in Christ we were clothed in God's righteousness, that was the great engine of the Reformation, and perhaps its greatest recovery of Christian truth.
Recovering the image of Christ as Blessed Redeemer
Lessons from the Unfamiliar
Perhaps the biggest change from then to now is the lessening of our anguish over sin.
They obsessed over it; they monetized the washing away of it, all to feel secure. If on All Saints Day you visited the list of relics and holy sites it was possible to receive over a million years off of your time in purgatory, which means it had to be possible to get a million year sentence!
We have almost done away with the word, except for Sunday. Small sins are mistakes, the tendency to sin is "being human," we blame our behavior on our parents or our genetics, and when we feel worthless we shore it up with a healthy self-esteem.
There are many examples... I'll give you one of mine...
What about you? What have you done this week, this day, that you regret, or feel guilty about, or know you really should have done differently? What if that's not just "being human?" What if it's the buildup of "little things" like that which are separating you from God?
The insight of the Reformation was that we are not saved by doing; we are saved by Jesus. But that doesn't mean "go out and paint the town red!"
Remember Luther had this conviction, the conviction that John Wesley had, that the publican had in the parable, that Paul had when he thought of all his good works and qualifications and called them refuse compared to God's holiness: we are sinful creatures who break God's heart by our wounding of ourselves and others, sometimes without even trying, sometimes (God forgive us) with malicious glee. If we shrug that off without dealing with it, without weeping over it, and then try to say, "but God forgives me"... that's not the Gospel. That's us fooling ourselves.
But thank God Luther also had this insight, the insight John Wesley had upon hearing Luther's preface to Romans being read, the insight taught through Jesus' parable of the "publican", the realization that we do not have to cower before the unattainable righteousness of God, for what we cannot attain has been given to us...