The Reformation began 500 years ago in central Europe – a large enough distance in time and space to feel very disconnected from our lives today – something that doesn’t really make a difference. Maybe it even sounds like it’s time to move on and to forget about old differences. But the Reformation has changed our lives for the better, in our homes, our workplaces and our churches.
A faith anyone can follow
Do you wish that sermons were easier to understand? Do you find it much easier to follow the children’s talk? Well, Luther was in favour of simplicity. Unlike other priests he was a father of six children. This gave him a different perspective on teaching the Christian faith that had been missing through the long years of unmarried clergy.
He wrote a number of catechisms (questions and answers for teaching the essentials of faith) and was aware of the need to be clear and simple so that his children would understand and grow in faith. Family talks, children’s church, children’s catechisms – these all display a sensitivity to children that Luther shared. He presented faith in a way that was accessible to everyone, making sure that young age and low education were no barrier to knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.
Luther pointed people to Christ
The Reformation was good for our children, but it makes a big difference at the other end of life as well. Do you worry about death? Or more precisely, do you worry about what comes after? Luther saw his flock struggling under this burden.
People would pay large sums of money for indulgences to shorten their time in purgatory, as they were afraid that the misdeeds of this life would still haunt them after death. At the same time, they feared that their already departed loved ones were suffering for their sins. So Luther pointed them to Christ.
We are saved by faith in Him, not by our own works – Christ’s work is a perfect work that is completely finished. He has paid for our sins on the cross and the Father has put His seal of approval on that work by the resurrection, so we can have confidence that we have been saved, forgiven, justified – even adopted as God’s own children.
While other religions leave people worrying about whether they have done enough to please God, we know that Jesus has done it all for us already. This means we can be uniquely confident in the face of death.
Thank God it’s Monday
In between those bookends of life – infancy and death – there is a great deal of work that seems to have little to do with faith. Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 (or for many people, a great deal longer), we toil away at something that often feels insignificant in the perspective of eternity and irrelevant to the church and to God.
Certainly that was true in Luther’s day. Monks and nuns were among the noblest professions in that time because they dedicated themselves full-time to serving God apart from society and its common drudgery. Their work was holy, special, worthy – it was what God really cared about.
But Luther had a wonderful insight that it’s not the job you do that matters to God so much as the attitude that you take to your work. He saw that every Christian, by virtue of their baptism into Christ, was a priest and so their work was spiritual service. For Luther, Monday morning was a time for cobblers and tailors, farmers and lawyers to go off to their ministries and serve Christ. So we too can look forward to Monday morning as a time of worthy service that we have been called into by the Lord.
That’s not to say that what happens in church doesn’t have any particular importance. Luther saw that when God speaks his words change the world, so when we gather together in church we gather around the Word and listen as God makes a new reality and transforms our lives.
Rev. Jonathan Boyd is minister of Hydepark and Lylehill Presbyterian Churches in County Antrim. He is also a member of PCI’s Reformation Celebration Task Group that is organising October’s Faith at the crossroads – Rediscovering the Reformation events.
Faith at the crossroads is a special celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There will be three opportunities to share in this free celebratory event – 17th October in Dublin, 18th October in Londonderry and 19th October in Belfast. You can find more details here.
This blog is an abridged version of Jonathan Boyd’s Presbyterian Herald article, which appeared in the May 2017 edition. As part of a series on the Reformation, you can also read A brief guide to Luther by Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick, part 1 and part 2 and Dr. Martyn Cowan’s A Reformation woman part 1 and part 2, which is about Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora.
In part two, Jonathan looks at Luther’s view on the Lord’s Supper, how the reformers weren’t above criticism, their attitude to authority and how as a result of the Reformation, we can enjoy freedom of speech.