I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise, I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy . . . . The Word did it all. ~ Martin Luther
People tend to associate the Reformation that we celebrate this month with Martin Luther, but Luther associated it with the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. That contrast is an important reminder of what we celebrate this October, and why we do so.
Five hundred years ago, Luther posted his 95 Theses against the Roman practice of selling the full forgiveness of sins for cash. That event is the “anniversary” that we commemorate this year. Yet the 95 Theses were only the start of something; the Reformation itself took much longer. Some say that it continues to this day.
After Rome excommunicated Luther in 1521, and the Roman bishops forsook their charges in Germany (note: Luther and his supporters did not “break” with Rome, but the other way ‘round!), Luther and other supporters of the Reformation had to undertake the important task of caring for the churches in Germany. They preached, taught, developed the catechism, and improved the instruction of clergy and seminarians.
At the same time, they continued to attempt reconciliation with Rome by demonstrating their beliefs from Scripture and the early church fathers, a task that continued even after Luther’s death in 1546. From all these efforts came “the Lutheran Confessions,” or statements of church teaching, contained in the Book of Concord, published in 1580 (63 years after the 95 Theses!).
Sadly, Rome did not repent and come home. Today, we give thanks for increased understanding and friendliness among the divided churches, and we pray for further unity. Yet through it all, we want to see what Luther confessed: the Word did it all! The Word of God, living and active, intervened to uncover the truth and cause faith in Christ crucified to flourish. He died for sinners, and lives for them still—this is what the Reformation is all about. Thanks be to God!