A Long Time Ago on a Church Door Far, Far Away
“Living Hope Presbyterian Church is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and shares its commitment to being faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.”
These words are printed in the bulletin each week so that those who are visiting might know where we are coming from. It serves as a general position statement. One of the distinctives of the PCA and of Living Hope as a church in the PCA is that we are doctrinally reformed. There are other denominations that would say the same thing and all of us together would look at this year as a special year, as it marks the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther’s 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany (October 31, 1517). This event is traditionally considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a period of religious and political upheaval in Europe. Luther and those who would come after him, including John Calvin, the father of reformed theology, challenged the practices and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and found themselves at odds with (and in danger from) the church leaders of their day and the political leaders who supported them. And although it was a time of great violence, the Reformation also was a time when Biblical preaching and teaching were rediscovered and the Scriptures were translated into the language of the people. This recovery of a high view of the Scriptures as the Word of God and the evangelical desire for all people to be able to read it and respond are among the best fruits of this period of history.
As for Luther, he was actually arguing in his theses against the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences. This practice essentially involved a person paying money to have the pope forgive the punishment due for the sins of that person’s relatives who were in purgatory, a place in Roman Catholic belief where souls continued to pay for their sins before going to heaven. As additional incentive, indulgence-hawking priests would note that the money received from the indulgences was being put to a “good cause”, the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Sales were brisk in Luther’s area. Here is one of Luther’s theses … all of them are online for those who might be interested:
“Why does not the pope liberate everyone from Purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose.”
These words (and many others like them), spoken 500 years ago, would lead to Luther’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. But they also served to stir up the pot throughout Europe…. the Protestant Reformation had begun.
If you have never taken the time to study this period of world history, if you have never taken a look at Calvin’s Institutes, or read a Puritan paperback, or read Here I Stand, a biography of Martin Luther, or read through the Westminster Confession of Faith / Catechisms or the Heidelberg Catechism, maybe this would be a good year to start a new project! It will definitely be worth your time. May the Lord be glorified as we follow Him together and may our descendants 500 years from now be able to look back and see that we were faithful to the end.