A few days ago on October 31, we marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. While it most certainly played out very differently than the legend contends, no one can deny that the post went viral and changed the world.
Luther’s 95 points to ponder dealt largely with indulgences and other abuses by the institutionalized and politicized Roman Catholic Church. The church and many of its clergy were running a big con-game offering everything from church approval for divorce, to shortening the stay of your loved-one in purgatory – Just about anything for the right price.
God’s Kingdom was for sell – or so they pretended – and a lot of folks were buying. In some of the earliest examples of church marketing, the English version of one of the slogans went something like this, “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
The scene is reminiscent of another story which dates back nearly 2000 years. Jesus was grieved when he saw buyers and sellers of sacrifices and exchangers of foreign currency set up in the temple taking advantages of worshippers for personal gain. With great wrath, Jesus took a whip and drove the offenders from the House of God.
Jesus said the greatest commandments are these, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love you neighbor as yourself.” He goes on to say that the entirety of the law and Prophets are summed up in these. So, it should not be a surprise that God would get upset when people use Him to manipulate others. This kind of behavior violates both of the greatest laws. It’s no wonder that one of Jesus’ earliest public decrees was about setting captives free.
Many forget that like His Lord Jesus, Luther did not set out to rebel against or destroy the Church. He wanted to help reform it by turning it back to the heart of God. The problem with his desire was that it wasn’t an institutional problem, it was a heart problem. Many powerful people were personally invested in the wealth and power they received more than they were in love with God.
As this problem is perpetually recurring, one of the greatest lessons of the reformation is that each of us should continually assess the motives of our own heart to make sure our worship is a sweet smelling fragrance offered from pure hearts of worship and self-sacrifice, and not a putrid stench born of self-serving and lust-driven false religion. Only then will we experience real reformation.