Imagine being raised in the Church. Studying to be a priest and a professor of theology and a monk. Being ordained, finally; and then after ten long years of prayer and study coming to a profound conclusion: The Church is Wrong.
Being a man of good conscience you feel the need to address this. So you publish 95 points of argument in the only way you really can. You nail them to the church door (and send a copy to your bishop).
This is what Martin Luther found himself doing on October 31, 1517. He changed history.
Luther’s 95 can basically be summarized in three basic points.
- You cannot sell salvation
- The Bible is more important than tradition.
- God saves you by grace through faith, not by your own merit.
We are getting close to 500 years of those assertions. Which, we believe, were not really new but simply a restatement of the earliest Christian beliefs that had gotten muddied along the way.
We seem to be in a similar position today in America.
Christianity is tied up in wealth. We hold a false belief that if someone is wealthy they are blessed by God and therefore must be right with God. We aren’t selling indulgences, although in many places wealth gets you a pass in the eyes of the community, but we are letting people’s bank accounts be the test of righteousness. I have written on the dangers of the so-called Prosperity Gospel before (here and here and no doubt other places) and wont belabor my point. Remember Wealth does not equal Salvation.
Even among Baptists who proclaim their devotion to the Bible know very little about it. A 2015 LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day. People are far more sure of what they THINK the Bible says than what it actually says. Even those Protestants who would denounce the Catholic church for its traditions are very unwilling to try anything new, much less ask serious questions about what they believe. I have found when I confront people with challenges to their interpretation of scripture the typical response is “Well, that’s what I have always been taught to believe” and they have nothing more to say.
Finally, while we dearly embrace Salvation by Faith Alone, we are quick to judge someone else’s salvation on their works. Or more specifically on their politics, dress, vocabulary, friends, and even ethnicity. If I never hear “You can’t be a Christian and….” it will be far too soon.
Almost 500 years ago Martin Luther stuck his neck out to challenge what he saw as wrong with the church and in doing so he began the Reformation
The Reformation should be an ongoing thing. We should always be willing to challenge our own beliefs and practices. We are called to ever strive for the example of Christ.
We must learn to live on the razor edge between Prophet (change) and Priest (tradition) and not be afraid to cut when needed.