The Minister's Message for October
If I am in a meeting with other ministers and leaders in the local church or Circuit and the question of communication is on the agenda, there will always be a great deal of complaint and heart-searching that people do not read church notices and information sheets.
Early in my ministry, I was sent on a communication course. One of the proposed strategies was to fasten posters to the ceiling in a church hall or entrance. I remembered that story as I have been thinking about a monk who nailed his plans for change to the front door of a large city church.
Martin Luther (born 1483) was a monk who was disenchanted with the Catholic Church. He was especially opposed to the sale of what were called “indulgences” that, it was claimed, bought off the sins and shortcomings of the purchaser and speeded up their access to heaven. He had 95 points or theses that spelt out his opposition. He nailed them to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31st October 1517 (All Saints Day) when lots of people would be around to read his poster. He also posted copies to leaders in the church and government.
That day, Luther lit the fuse of a transformation of the church in Europe that is still referred to as the Reformation. Within months, because of the printing press, his document was circulating far beyond Germany. There are several threads of Protestant (those who protested) Churches in Europe including the Church of England. The Catholic Church, though it opposed Luther and his allies, did in fact reform in many ways.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that we are very close to the 500th anniversary of Luther’s outing with a hammer.
October 31st is officially referred to as Reformation Day, though the last Sunday in October is often the focus of recollection and worship.
John Wesley, Anglican minister and child of the Reformation. said Luther was a man “highly favoured of God”. In Germany and beyond he encouraged the reformation of the church, worship, theology and belief. He wrote many hymns and by translating the Bible into the vocabulary of the people had an enormous effect on the German language and the eventual unification of the many small states into a single nation.
If Luther had strengths, he also had weaknesses. The protestant church was closely linked to political leaders and nationalism. It took a harsh approach to alternative political views. Luther was outspoken in his anti-Semitism. Just before his death in 1547 he said the Jews should be removed from Germany. Not surprisingly the Nazi’s claimed support in Luther’s writings. John Wesley writing 200 years later thought Lutherans were reformed in opinion and worship but not in their personal lives.
The Reformation fractured and often divided the church. True ecumenism celebrates with all traditions as they bring their strengths and weaknesses to the life of faith.
Rev Bob Sneddon