On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther very innocently posted 95 reasons for there to be debate concerning Roman Catholic doctrine and theology. The doors of the Wittenberg Church were pretty much the bulletin board of the university. Luther was calling for faculty and students to come together to discuss the direction in which the church was heading; a direction that he felt was contrary to scripture and the fundamental principles upon which the Christian Church was founded.
These Ninety-Five Theses were translated from Latin (which was intended for the university’s population) into the German language and widely distributed. Thus, an attempt at scholarly debate became an irritant among clergy, theologians, and heads of state, especially where the sale of indulgences was concerned. In his explanation to this document, Luther wrote that “the law is fulfilled not by our works but through faith, not by anything we offer God but by all we receive from Christ.”
In other words, God’s grace is a gift that cannot be earned by any human endeavor.
Although the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation will not officially be observed until October 31st of 2017, the ELCA is encouraging Lutherans and others within both Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church to utilize this intervening year as an opportunity for study and discussion. Long before he posted the Ninety Five Theses on the doors of Wittenberg Church, Luther had carefully studied the scriptures and written countless papers and letters in an effort to express his concerns.
I will be making recommendations to the Equip team in the near future for our providing opportunities within the congregation for study regarding Martin Luther and the impact of the Reformation upon the church and the world over these last five centuries. It is also important for us to view how Reformation history will continue to impact us far into the future. I encourage each of you take note of opportunities that will be provided in coming months within our own congregation, our synod, and among Lutherans and people of other denominations within our own community. It is also important for Lutherans to know, not just the history of where our legacy originated, but also how our understanding of justification by grace through faith impacts our mission, and our service as Christ’s disciples both now and into the future.
In the nineteenth century, Nicolai Grundtvig set these words to Martin Luther’s tune, A Mighty Fortress: “God’s word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever; to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor. Through life it guides our way; in death it is our stay. Lord, grant while time shall last your church may hold it fast through-out all generations.”
Passing the faith from generation to generation is, indeed, an endeavor worth pursuing.
While having lunch in a nearby restaurant last week, I was aware that the two people at the table next to me were engrossed deeply in conversation. I wasn’t really aware of the topic of their conversation until one person asked with a raised voice: “Well, what are the marks of a true Christian?” At that point I was completing my transaction with the server and on my way out of the restaurant. But, that question lingered in my mind.
How would you answer that question, “What are the marks of a true Christian?” Saint Paul certainly had no problem giving his opinion in his letter to the Christians in Rome:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13).
Paul’s answer certainly leaves the impression that one’s Christian identity is lived out, not off to oneself, but in relationship with fellow Christians and with others in this world. That is one reason Christians seek out communities of faith in which we can worship and be fully engaged. Our vision for Grace Lutheran Church is that we are fully committed to proclaiming Christ as Savior and Lord by sharing the very things that Paul was describing in those few sentences.
Christian discipleship involves growth – spiritually, faithfully, prayerfully, and in our generosity of our time, our personal gifts and talents, and in our financial support of our ministries in the congregation and in our community. You will be hearing shortly from the Stewardship Team about “Celebrate Generosity,” our fall commitment program. There are many innovative and exciting components to this program, and the team is looking forward to sharing through video, temple talks, and printed information the story of Grace congregation’s discipleship and outreach. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the far-reaching impact our congregation has beyond 5010 Six Forks Road, as what we are capable of accomplishing through faithful witness and generosity.
“God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (II Corinthians 9:8).
Yours in Christ,
Whenever the month of July comes around, our thoughts certainly go to the Fourth of July and our appreciation to our ancestors for bravely establishing the foundation upon which our nation has been built for these 240 years. We also remember the countless number of brave individuals over the decades who have placed their lives on the line, as well as those who have given their lives, to preserve the freedoms and rights for their generation and the generations to come. We owe them our gratitude, our respect, and our commitment to continue living by the principles of justice and freedom established so long ago.
As Christians we are also aware of God’s call to be faithful to the Gospel and to our call as Christ’s disciples, both in our communities and in our world. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, proclaimed
For freedom Christ has set us free
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
As a dual citizen, both a Jew and a Roman, Paul lived within the laws of both nations. As a follower of Christ, Paul also knew that he must never relinquish the law of love to which Christ had called him. Following Christ allowed him to make some tough decisions in his life and in his ministry, even though doing so brought him into conflict with powerful forces that took issue with where he stood. Martin Luther later took similar stands, based upon his knowledge of the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both placed the will of God above all else.
Whenever we are faced with making decisions in matters of conscience, let us also remember that we, too, are citizens of two kingdoms while we live on this earth. Therefore, as ones whose lives are guided by God’s Holy Spirit, let us also remember these words of Paul: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another….let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Yours in Christ,