This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A 33-year-old monk, Martin Luther, became deeply troubled by something his church was doing, writes Rev Mark Nicholas (Gorebridge Parish Church).
They were selling God’s forgiveness in return for money, a practise called indulgences. If you were wealthy enough you could sin and then pay for forgiveness. Luther could find no justification in Jesus’ teaching for indulgences. So he did what any self-respecting scholar of the time would do and posted his concerns, not online, but on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That small act was the start of it all.
Troubled by his own wrongdoing, Luther read Paul’s letter to the Romans in the Bible, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…” (Romans 1.17) Luther realised that in an act of incredible love, Jesus had already won forgiveness on the cross and offered it to anyone who would trust in him. That is what it meant to be made right with God, not that he never did anything wrong, but because he trusted in Jesus. As Paul goes on to write, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5.6) Luther discovered grace, that in Jesus we are offered this wonderful gift of forgiveness, not because we’ve earned it but because God loves us.
Luther went on to translate the Bible, which was only available in Latin, into German. Then all over Europe translations were made so that everyday folk, both for those who could read and for those who could hear the words of the Bible read out loud, could understand the Bible for themselves. Luther went on to inspire John Calvin who taught John Knox in Geneva. It was Knox who prayed, “Lord give me Scotland or I die!” He would go on to lead the Scottish Reformation in 1560 and the founding of the Church of Scotland of which we at Gorebridge Parish are a part.
Those Reformation years brought so much that was good but also brought regrettable division and conflict, even though we worship the same Jesus. But that lasting Reformation legacy of the rediscovery of God’s grace is one that holds out hope for us all today if we, like Luther, find it for ourselves and put our trust in Jesus.