Happy Reformation Day – 95 Reflections

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. [Here I stand. I can do no other.] May God help me. Amen.” — Excerpt from Martin Luther’s statement at the Diet of Worms, April 18th, 1521

Happy Reformation Day! 500 years ago today, Martin Luther posted 95 theses disputing the power of indulgences. Within 4 years, Luther was declared a heretic by the Pope and branded an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor. All Luther wanted at the time was a theological debate among scholars. That debate never happened. But, the series of events that did play out became one of the most important moments in Church history. Because of it, the Church was freed to proclaim salvation by grace through faith in Christ, grounded firmly in the Word of God. It freed the Church, but also fractured it. Catholics and Lutherans, once bitter theological enemies, have reconciled much of our divide. We agree on much together now, but where we still disagree, over doctrines like purgatory, for example, it continues to keep us apart. Yet the Church of Christ in every land marches on, always reforming, always being made new, to the glory of God.

Thank you to all who’ve been walking this journey with me these past 3 months. I have learned a lot along the way and I hope you all have, as well. My main hope is that, not only have we all grown closer to God throughout this journey, but that all of us would be inspired to look for those ways in our own congregations where Christ is not being preached to all people. Where are we getting in the way of the Gospel? How can we reform today so that Christ may truly be made known to all? We often stray from the path when we Continue reading “Happy Reformation Day – 95 Reflections”

Thesis 95 – 95 Reflections

95. and in this way they may be confident of “entering heaven through many tribulations” rather than through the false security of peace.

I think the greatest gift Martin Luther gave to the Church is the “theology of the Cross.” Martin Luther presented this theology as opposed to a “theology of glory.” It shows itself throughout all of Luther’s writings, including the 95 Theses, but is spelled out most clearly in the Heidelberg Disputation[1]. The heart of the matter shows up in these three theses:

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25),

20. [a person] deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

Indulgences came out of a theology of glory, making their work of utmost importance because, after all, God would want it that way. The Church in 1517 had created an evil out of indulgences by Continue reading “Thesis 95 – 95 Reflections”

Thesis 94 – 95 Theses

94. Christians must be encouraged diligently to follow Christ, their head, through penalties, death, and hell,

I absolutely love Robert Farrar Capon’s The Third Peacock: The Problem of God and Evil. It’s been long out of print, but I rediscovered it in a compilation that is still on the market called The Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair with Theology. Capon’s wit in writing is so amazing. It reads as though you are sitting down in his living room and having an argument about theodicy, the problem of a good God allowing bad things to happen. We even stop the discussion and have an aside for “a bit of lunch” for a whole chapter! I sincerely recommend this book! Frankly, however, it’ll be a disappointing read if you are going to search through it thinking Capon somehow has stumbled upon the magic answer, some bastion of hidden knowledge locked away for centuries until now. Instead, Capon takes the most breathtakingly refreshing and honest approach I have ever encountered.

Instead of trying to explain away the problem, like so many other works end up doing, Capon tells it like it is by exploring the whole story in Scripture from creation to the new Heavens and Earth. He never lets God off the hook for the problem of evil since God, indeed, created the whole thing. But, he points to the fact that Continue reading “Thesis 94 – 95 Theses”

Thesis 93 – 95 Reflections

93. May it go well for all of those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

I shudder to think about how tormented Luther felt over whether or not God truly loved or cared for him. Between his feeling that the devil was tormenting him and having a righteous God who was a judge that could never be pleased, Martin Luther’s life must’ve felt like constant despair. God wasn’t the greatest good in Luther’s mind, but a lesser evil than the devil. Yikes! Nowadays, we celebrate that God is love, that we have peace with God through the cross of Christ. But, the cross was hidden in 1517 Germany. Instead, the pathway to please God was through devout prayer, pilgrimages to see holy relics, buying indulgences, monastic vows, and so on. All of which were actions to win over God’s heart, to sway God to be more favorable to you and grant less time in purgatory. All the while, there was the threat that you didn’t do what you needed to, and now you will have to suffer eternally in Hell. What a miserable life! I feel so fortunate to live with the understanding that none of this is necessary for God to love me and welcome me home. It is the cross that proves this.

When the cross is missing, the despair of this world rages on. Life seems like a Continue reading “Thesis 93 – 95 Reflections”

Thesis 92 – 95 Reflections

92. And thus, away with all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!

If you’ve ever flown a plane, you are probably aware of the flight safety orientation they present at the beginning of each flight. I feel kind of bad for the flight attendants because it seems like so many ignore them during the presentation. Whether you pay attention or not, however, they’re going to give that presentation! Here’s how the seatbelt works. Here are the exits. The aisle lights will help you find the exits when the plane’s on fire. Your seat is a floating device. Oxygen masks on the plane are a thing. Don’t smoke on the plane. DEFINITELY, don’t smoke in the bathroom. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the flight.

All of what is said is designed to prepare you for the worst, so that you can have the confidence that, should anything go wrong, you can have the comfort of knowing that folks have really thought these things through and that you’ll have something you can do in any given scenario. The only trouble is, Continue reading “Thesis 92 – 95 Reflections”

Thesis 91 – 95 Reflections

91. Therefore, if indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all of these [objections] would be easily resolved – indeed, they would not exist.

All Martin Luther wanted in this debate was for those who were proclaiming such magnificent things about indulgences to stop and simply proclaim them for what they are, documents which provide leniency for the penalties which the Church itself has administered according to its own rules. Anything beyond that is trying to speak for God, who has already spoken through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It tries to take away from the beauty of that amazing sacrifice and replace it with something cheap, though it looks more fashionable.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of shopping, especially when it involves speaking with a sales consultant in order to make a purchase. I just want to go in, find what I need, make my decision, and get out of there. But, not all purchases are that easy. Sometimes you Continue reading “Thesis 91 – 95 Reflections”

Thesis 90 – 95 Reflections

90. To suppress these very pointed arguments of the laity by force alone and not resolve them by providing reasons is to expose the church and the pope to ridicule by their enemies and to make Christians miserable.

Mahatma Gandhi is famously rumored to have said once, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Whether Gandhi actually said it or not, it has persisted over the decades since Gandhi’s life because it perpetuates a very sharp truth. We Christians, hard as we try (or don’t), are so unlike our Christ. Many have left the Church after experiencing other Christians to be hypocrites, merely pretending to live like “good Christians” within the walls of the church building. Some have left because of abuse within the Church either by clergy or others. What was a safe place becoming a threatening place, and the image of a loving God gets so harmfully obscured and marred that it becomes nearly impossible to accept the truth based on experiences with the leaders proclaiming it.

Of course, the experience of hypocrisy, corruption, and abuse of power is not unique to the Church. It is a common human experience. We as humans can’t help ourselves, it seems, when it comes to positions of power and esteem. The ones that can humbly give it up in this world are Continue reading “Thesis 90 – 95 Reflections”

Thesis 89 – 95 Reflections

89. “Since, rather than money, the pope seeks the salvation of souls through indulgences, why does he now suspend the documents and indulgences previously granted, although they have equal efficacy?”

There are two types of people in this world: those who love Star Wars, and those who pretend to hate it.[1] To be fair, if their first experience was episodes 1-3, produced in the early 2000’s, I can’t blame them. But, I grew up on episodes 4-6, the originals (and obviously the best). The new ones give me hope, and I am definitely looking forward to “The Last Jedi!” I can’t wait to see what happens between Luke and Rey, Rey and Kylo Ren, Luke and Leia! The possibilities are as endless as the speculation all over the internet.

One of the best moments in the original series came in episode 5, “The Empire Strikes Back.” In it, the mayor of Cloud City, Lando Calrissian, makes a deal with the evil, oppressive Emperor’s 1st-in-command, Darth Vader. Like many oppressive dictatorships, leaders are often forced into bad deals in order to save most at the expense of some. The Star Wars universe was no different. Lando agreed to betray his friend, Han Solo, in order for Darth Vader to lay a trap for the rebel hero, Luke Skywalker. Now, Lando thought part of the deal was for Han’s friends, Princess Leia and Chewbacca, to be left in Lando’s care and that the Empire would leave Cloud City. Instead, Darth Vader orders them to be taken prisoner and the Empire begins to occupy Cloud City! Lando protests to Darth Vader, “That wasn’t part of the deal!” to which Vader retorts, “I have altered the deal. Pray I do not alter it any further!” Yikes! Kind of sounds like Pope Leo X nullifying previous indulgences for the sake of the “new and improved” indulgence! Who’s to say this deal won’t be altered further?!?

Martin Luther says it best in his Explanations, and I’ll close this reflection with his words, as he outright calls for a reformation:

This disturbs and displeases me most of all and, I confess, to a great degree, for this suspending of earlier letters and indulgences is the only reason that indulgences have become worthless. I cannot deny that everything which the pope does must be endured, but it grieves me that I cannot prove that what he does is best. Although, if I were to discuss the intention of the pope without becoming involved with his mercenary hirelings, I would say, briefly and with confidence, that one must assume the best about him. The church needs a reformation which is not the work of one man, namely, the pope, or of many men, namely the cardinals, both of which the most recent council has demonstrated, but it is the work of the whole world, indeed it is the work of God alone. However, only God who has created time knows the time for this reformation. In the meantime we cannot deny such manifest wrongs. The power of the keys is abused and enslaved to greed and ambition. The raging abyss has received added impetus. We cannot stop it. “Our iniquities testify against us” [Jer. 14:7], and each man’s own word is a burden to him [Cf. Gal. 6:5].

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Bryan Simmons

[1] I am fairly certain this is the only way to look at it.

Thesis 88 – 95 Reflections

88. Again, “Could any greater good come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and participation to each of the faithful a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?”

There’s the old joke about the unhappy wife that gets her husband to join her for some marital counseling. The husband begins the session, “I’m not really sure why we’re here. I mean, I feel like things are going well enough. We both work hard, but we make time for each other. We raised our kids well. I’m just not sure why we’re here.” The wife looks at the marriage counselor and says, “It’s true, we do make time for each other, and we did raise good kids, but I wish he would say, ‘I love you,’ even just once. I don’t feel like that’s too much to ask.” The husband turns to his wife, “Honey, I told you I loved you 25 years ago at our wedding. If that ever changes, I’ll be sure to let you know!”

The humor, of course, is that we need to hear that we’re loved more than once and then it’s done, never needing to be heard again. We recognize the absurdity in the husband saying that he’s only told his wife that he’s loved her once in the 25 years they’ve been married. So, too, it is with the St. Peter’s indulgence in 1517 Germany. Once you have acquired the plenary indulgence which remits all penalties past, present, and future, you’re kind of done with the Church. What possible use could you have for the Church when you Continue reading “Thesis 88 – 95 Reflections”

Thesis 87 – 95 Reflections

87. Again, “What exactly does the pope ‘remit’ or ‘allow participation in’ when it comes to those who through perfect contrition have a right to full remission and share [in the church’s benefits]?”

Luther asks the question, who is really in control? Is it the Pope, who has granted this plenary indulgence for the remission of all penalties past, present, and future? Is it the Church’s canons, which govern Church doctrine and how it operates? What or who determines these things? Luther presents an ultimatum; either the Pope has the final say or he doesn’t. Another way to look at it is to ask, who is supposed to be in control?

We recently purchased a 2nd dog, an 8-month-old Yorkie/Shitzu mix. We had made a deal with our boys (who had been begging us for a 2nd dog) that if they could raise $250 within 3 days for the Network Against Human Trafficking, we would get this 2nd dog. We had thought they’d go around the neighborhood and try to raise the funds. Little did we know they would set up a Continue reading “Thesis 87 – 95 Reflections”