Pastor’s Corner: The Reformation at Five Hundred

November 1, 2017

Five hundred years ago yesterday, October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a long document to the door of his church in Wittenberg: his Ninety-Five Theses. They were actually proposals for a formal debate about the Church’s practice of selling “indulgences” – forgiveness for sins committed by the purchaser or by members of their family. Rather than an academic discussion, however, the document (which spread rapidly among Church officials) kicked off a revolution.

And so we date the Reformation from All Hallows Eve of 1517. Protestantism is celebrating its five hundredth birthday.

At Church of the Holy Cross, we trace our lineage to a different movement of the Reformation: the Reformed branch, launched by the French minister Jean Calvin from Geneva, Switzerland. His support for English Protestants undergoing oppression under Queen Mary meant that Christianity in Britain and New England took on a Reformed flavor. The first missionaries to Hawai’i taught a Calvinist faith.

Protestantism at its best has protected Christians from abuses by its leaders. Particularly in the Reformed tradition, clergy are far more accountable to their parishioners than they were in Luther’s day. It made both the Scriptures and the Lord’s Supper more accessible to the people. It celebrates the conscientious faith of every individual.

Sadly, however, the Reformation has also created a fractious, splintered Church, and fostered generations of suspicion, accusation, condemnation, and actual bloodshed. Luther’s effort to make Christianity more Christian has contributed to horrendously un-Christian acts over the years.

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, the UCC’s Executive for Justice and Witness Ministries, called upon the Church recently to share ways in which we might continue to reform. For me, the first thing to leave behind is this five-hundred-year-old enmity. Let us embrace one another as fellow Children of God, and followers of Jesus Christ. We will continue to disagree with Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, New Hope, and Pentecostal believers on things, I’m sure. But there is no need to reject, condemn, or alienate them.

Let love be the legacy of the next five hundred years.


Pastor Eric

The image is of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, a painting by Ferdinand Pauwels – flickr, Public Domain,

Categories Pastor's Corner Reflections | Tags: , , | Posted on November 1, 2017

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