meditations

The Christian church — always being made new

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For many Christians, this coming Sunday will commemorate and observe an influential theological moment in the life of the Christian Church on Earth. Do you know what many Christians honor on Oct. 31 every year? If you asked your child or grandchild that question, I’m hypothesizing they said “Halloween.” Hopefully, you chuckled and told them, that’s not a Christian holiday. Then you proceeded to tell them that before many folks in the U.S. celebrated Halloween, some commemorated and still do today, the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Germany on Oct. 31.

For those Christians who commemorate the Reformation, one of the most recognizable images is of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, priest and professor of theology at the new upstart University of Wittenberg (founded in 1502), nailing his 95 Theses (composed in Latin; the language of academia at the time) to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on October 31, 1917 igniting the Reformation in Germany. Today, the new consensus among scholars, theologians and historians is that Luther himself did not actually partake in that event. Luther was a prolific writer. His writings can be found in a 55-volume set entitled “Luther’s Works.” In all of those writings, Luther himself never mentions nailing anything to the door of the Castle Church; however, Luther does mention mailing his 95 Theses to his superior, Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg.

While it’s important to speak about this event, I think even more important is what is symbolized by it. For example, if you have ever had an opportunity to visit the Holy Land, then you will see the “supposed sites” of the prophets, disciples and Jesus’ ministry. In some instances, they may be the actual site, but many may not actually be the site where the religious event occurred; however, the symbolism of it being the place stirs your own soul while you contemplate, meditate, look and soak in the sights, sounds and smells of that Holy ground. The likely dramatized version of Luther, a priest, professor, a faithful member of the Church, nailing a document to the door of the Castle Church that draws attention to theologies that do not preach or speak to the forgiveness, grace, mercy and life found in Jesus Christ, symbolizes what the Reformation would eventually become.

Inspired by the work of the Holy Spirit, Luther’s interpretation of Holy Scripture led him to take a stand, and asked the Christian Church to look inward upon itself. The Church is, after all, a living, breathing, ever-changing mission of Jesus Christ, through the ministry of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit until Christ’s return. It’s not some ancient, archaic construct of by-gone days. The Church is the place where, throughout the centuries, people have come to hear the greatest story ever told and are then invited in the sharing of that story to the ends of the earth.

As many Christians come upon this day once again, like Luther, we too, through the Holy Spirit’s invitation and inspiration, are called to look inward at the Christian Church. We are tasked with asking ourselves the hard questions. Do I have faith and trust in the presence of the Triune God in my life? Is the Christian Church still proclaiming the life-changing gift of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen? Are people experiencing that proclamation of Gospel freedom when they worship in my congregation? Is my congregation modeling the example of Christ by being filled with people who care more about the health and well-being of their neighbors over themselves? Do people who encounter me as an individual experience the immeasurable love of the Triune God? If someone feels excluded from God’s love, how might I be God’s tangible vessel? Lastly, though I could certainly have proposed other questions, how might I serve the Church as a faithful voice in its ever-continual process of reformation?

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