What the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Means for Your Family
On October 31, people throughout the world will mark the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Although the seeds of the Reformation were planted long before, 1517 was when its green shoot popped up from the darkness of the medieval sod. Martin Luther’s nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenberg ignited the figurative underbrush of Europe, a spiritual forest parched of Living Water for centuries.
Dr. Luther’s Theses blasted away at abuses arising from the practice of selling indulgences, documents for purchase which certified forgiveness of particular sins. “Any true Christian…participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgences letters,” proffered Luther. “Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.” Thesis No. 62 summarized best what Luther had personally discovered: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” These truths were sweet rain to a spiritually thirsty culture.
Still, 500 years later, it may seem a little strange that so much fuss is made about a German monk’s heady mumbo-jumbo discussing teachings that have long since been tossed alongside the theological wagon trail. What does anything Luther did five centuries ago have to do with anything our families experience today? Well, nothing…unless these kinds of questions ever come up in conversations with your children:
Does God love me? How can I know?
What do I have to do to please God? Does He still love me when I sin?
How do I go to heaven? Will I go to hell if I’m not good enough?
How can I know God? Does God know me? Does He even care?
Christian parents in 2017 can answer these questions clearly, confidently and definitively. But most Christian parents in 1517 couldn’t. Put yourselves in their shoes for a moment. In answer to your children’s spiritual questions, you point them to God the Judge, a Deity that demands their perfection to earn His approval. To give your children some solace in light of this bleak outlook, you teach them to ask help from Mary or the saints, since they can identify with the plight of humanity, more than the ascended Christ.
There is no “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” or “God is so Good” to sing with your young ones. There is no Bible to read, let alone to teach, to your children. Spiritual life consists of the mysteries of the Mass, a worship service conducted in a language neither you nor your children understand. There is no such thing as “Bible Study” or “Sunday School.” Your personal and familial devotional life is reduced to static rosaries, icons and shrines. And worst of all, the genuine spiritual concerns you have for yourself and for your children are cleverly exploited, not compassionately addressed, by a corrupt religious infrastructure. Indulgences are peddled like Girl Scout cookies, and relics are displayed with all the novelty of a “Ripely’s Believe It or Not!”
The Reformation changed that reality into our reality, the Christian home of the 21st century. The Bible is easily accessible (literally at our fingertips!) for family and personal devotions, as well as in corporate worship (where it is expounded for practical application). The Gospel can be clearly articulated, understood and believed. Our children can know that God loves them, and they can know God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They can know that God’s love is unmerited and lavishly given. They can know that their Intercessor isn’t Mary or some other fallible saint,” but the God-Man Christ Jesus, who can “sympathize with [their] weakness,” and who makes it possible for them to “come boldly to the throne of grace...” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Their devotional life is limitless, guided by the Holy Spirit through the “living and powerful” word of God (Hebrews 4:12). And even though corrupt religious charlatans may still peddle their wares, your children need never be deceived—they can give each teaching the Berean Test, searching the Scriptures to see “whether these things [are] so” (Acts 17:10-11).
So yes, Luther’s 16th century Halloween Facebook post, and the viral world-wide fallout that followed, is incredibly relevant to today’s Christian family. Without it, most of the tools of discipleship that we take for granted today, including translations of the Bible in the layman’s vernacular, would simply not exist.
The question for us is whether or not we in the Western church will continue what Luther started. The world we live in is not so much different from the world of 16th century Europe. Natural disasters, the threat of radical Islam, political intrigue, societal unrest, and Biblical illiteracy are as real now as they were in Luther’s time. But the difference is that we have the equipment to engage the culture in ways that the Reformers never did. What we lack is their fortitude and their zeal. Despite the abundance of tools at our disposal, far too few Christian families are seriously discipling their children. The rediscovery of the truths of the Gospel created energetic conviction in the Reformers. Unfortunately, our overfamiliarity with them has bred a type of careless contempt, demonstrated by just how easily we back down from those truths in our culture today.
The kind of conviction Luther and the other Reformers possessed isn’t easily blown away by the winds of adversity, but it also isn’t formulated in a bed of roses. As recent Luther biographer, Eric Metaxas, has observed, it was Luther’s own relentless pursuit of the Gospel that made him so indomitable. Pressed by his own despair at the inadequacy of himself to satisfy the just demands of a holy God, he finally found the peace he craved in the promises of God. And with those promises he was ready to withstand the onslaught of the world, the flesh, and the devil. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God,” declared L