October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther published his “95 Theses” or points of disputation with the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, which sparked the Reformation. Chief among Luther’s complaints against the Church was the sale of Certificates of Indulgences, which promised forgiveness of sins for souls in Purgatory. Luther condemned this practice on the theological ground that only God had the power to forgive sins. He also presented the ethical arguments that people who invested in the purchase of Indulgences for the dead were less likely to contribute to charities for the living, and that Indulgences exploited the poor.
As the Reforming movement progressed it produced translations of the Bible from Latin into the common languages of Europe, making the Word more widely accessible than ever before. Reformation scholars reclaimed some of the core beliefs of Christianity, such as reliance on Scripture as our source of spiritual authority, and the belief that grace through faith in Jesus, and not good works, is the only way to obtain salvation.
Calvinist Puritans brought reformation theology and practice to New England in the form of Congregationalism, making us direct descendants of the movement that began in Germany with Luther.
The Reformation may be 500 years old, but it is far from over. Five centuries after Martin Luther confronted the church of his time with its sins and called for a spiritual renewal, the United Church of Christ proclaims slogans such as, “Never put a period where God has placed a comma” and “God is Still Speaking” as appeals for the need of Christian Churches of all denominations to remain accountable for recognizing and repenting of the ways in which they have substituted conformity to the world for faithfulness to Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now, as then, we are responsible for diligently proclaiming God’s grace and working for peace and justice, through word and deed, in the name of Christ.