Commemorate Reformation 500
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther presented his 95 theses about the church and its need for reform. Five centuries on is an exciting time to reflect on what we bring forward from the past that strengthens us and future generations for the coming 500 years of ministry of the gospel of Christ.
Although the phrase “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, secundum verbum Dei” (“the church reformed, always being reformed, according to the word of God”) does not originate in the Reformation, we return to it as a watchword because it is accurate to that watershed moment. The powers that be of the church had become corrupt. The Reformation was a time for the European Christians of our tradition to come to their senses.
As Christians, our Presbyterian faith began with the followers of Jesus. But the beginning of our Christian faith as Presbyterian is in the Reformation. The Reformation marks something significant for us: the coalescence of our focus on the Holy Spirit’s ongoing reform of us as a church and as individuals. Martin Luther understood — and clearly announced — that the institution of the church was not equal to God. For it to take the place of God would make it an idol. Institutionalization of the church is not our norm; the ongoing work of God’s sanctification of us is. Jesus Christ is Lord of the church universal. We worship the Triune God, not the church.
God’s ongoing sanctification of us is a gift for how we live together as the church, responding to God. This is why serious study of scripture for all people is an ongoing practice, in addition to communal worship and celebration of the sacraments. This is why we place such a high value on communal discernment in committees and sessions and decision-making. And while we have so much to learn, it is why our habits of conversation push us to listen to every single voice God brings into our midst.
It is no wonder that the Spirit of the Reformation has drawn so many Reformed congregations into social justice. There is not a square inch of this world that does not belong to God and that God does not love. Presbyterians have long been marked by a passion for and commitment to education for just this reason. Learning how God’s world works is an opportunity for praise. Learning about unjust, sinful situations and systems that could be righted and healed is an opportunity for glorifying God by honoring the commandments to love God and neighbor.
And so we take systems and situations of sexism and racism very seriously. While we stumble and err and sin along the way, we strive toward the real-life freedom of grace in Christ for all people.
Furthermore, the world that God loves is not just the world of people, but all that is, all that God has created. Our climate is changing, and we may disagree on why, but there are (at least) two things we know. First, God gave us stewardship of this earth that God called good. Second, no matter why the climate is changing, people are suffering from drought, famine and natural disasters in our time. Our call from Jesus himself is to go to those who suffer and care for them — feed, shelter, clothe, visit them and give them water to drink.
Become an Earth Care Congregation during Reformation 500 or participate in the Presbyterian Hunger Program
“According to the word of God” means that we remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our whole selves — heart, mind and soul. We have recognized for centuries that our Christian life is not just study and it’s not just action: these two aspects of who we are (and they’re not the only two) constantly deepen each other. The more we practice love for one another — for example, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s ongoing presence serving the people of Flint, Michigan — the more we understand what love of neighbor is. And the more we understand what love of neighbor is, the more we can teach others and the more we know how to learn from others about the love of neighbor.
Our response to God’s grace in for us in Jesus Christ reveals our gratefulness in our words and deeds. We read in Scripture that we cannot say we love God while we hate our neighbor. If we are being reformed by God according to the word of God, then we “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” We seek the well-being of others, “the welfare of the city in which we live, for in its welfare, we find our welfare.” How we fulfill Christ’s two greatest commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves makes all the difference. How do we return God’s love?
We return God’s love in worship where we also receive the Triune God’s presence within and among us.
Find prayers, hymns, biblical texts and other resources from communities around the world that will expand the ways in which you are re-formed in worship on the Reformation Resources tab above.
We return God’s love through offering our gifts and tithes.
We return God’s love into the world by actually loving others — all others, for all are our neighbors.
Because of the joy and call in Christ that we experience, we return love to God by gladly sharing our faith in teaching and formation.
I have heard it said that when we pray for God’s kingdom to come we are also praying that we let go of our own. That is the real test of how well our reformed tradition has soaked into us: We worship God, the Triune God, not a denomination or a structure or a book. The God who is through all, in all, and over all is also the God of our conscience. We seek God’s disruption of our corrupt ways of worshiping other gods with our lives. The leaders of the Reformation would rather we honor God than them.