October 31, 2018 – Here We Stand- Romans 10:10-17

Martin-Luther-Here-I-Stand31

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Romans 10:10-17 (ESV)

The Reformation was a movement born in response to a number of errors within the Church. The Church had gotten away from the teachings of Scripture and was being corrupted by man-made superstitions as well as by good old fashioned profiteering.  The issue that lit the spark of the Reformation was the sale of indulgences, or documents given out by the Pope, that granted people forgiveness of sins and/or entry into heaven upon receiving a monetary gift.  The doctrine of indulgences was closely tied to the (non Scriptural) teaching on purgatory that was widely taught and accepted at that time, and in the Roman Catholic church even today.  People in Luther’s time believed that they could release their loved ones from purgatory and into heaven by the purchase of indulgences.

St Peter's Basilica

The sale of indulgences in Luther’s day largely financed the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  Bishops and priests who could send cash to the Vatican for this building were often rewarded with appointments, land and special favors.  One of the most notorious of the indulgence hawkers was a priest named Johann Tetzel, who was known for his sales pitch:

As soon as the gold in the coffer rings / The rescued soul to heaven springs!- Johann Tetzel

tetzel

Martin Luther was offended by such teachings as they are contrary to the Scriptural foundations of Christ Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone that are taught all through the Bible. Luther spoke out against the sale of indulgences in his 95 Theses:

  1. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  2. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone. – from Luther’s 95 Theses

When Luther and other Reformers discovered the saving truth of the Gospel as presented to us in the Bible, he and they could not help but to stand up for the truth. They could not keep this Good News under wraps any more.

It is God in Christ who does the saving, and redeeming. We cannot earn or deserve God’s favor.  We can’t buy our way to heaven, and we can’t pay the way for our friends and relatives. The proclamation of this truth wasn’t popular among the industry that had built itself around the sales of relics and indulgences.  Just as the apostle Paul found himself in a great deal of controversy and peril for interfering in the livelihood of the idol-makers (Acts 19:23-41) of Ephesus, Luther was controversial and despised.  At times he had a price on his head and had to go into hiding.  Luther was considered an enemy of the church for bringing the truth clearly written in Scripture to everyone, and encouraging people to have and to read Scripture in their native languages. He was accused of being a heretic for suggesting that salvation is a free gift of God rather than something bought or earned or controlled by the powers that be in the hierarchy of the Church.

It wasn’t popular for Luther and others to stand against the power and influence of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Many reformers ended up dead for making their stand.

Today we remember that standing up for Jesus and teaching the truth is not always easy. We thank God for the faithful witness of Martin Luther and the Reformation movement that continues even into today.  We pray that we will have courage to be the “beautiful feet”- bringing the Good News to the world, so that the Holy Spirit would bring others to faith as they hear God’s Word taught. (Romans 10:17)

We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ and the Holy Spirit are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness?  Why not accept His gifts with joy and thanksgiving? – Martin Luther from his Commentary on Galatians

October 17, 2017- Charlatans, Hucksters and Thieves- 2 Timothy 4:2-4

want to hear

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NRSV) 

Urban legend has it that P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Whether this quote can actually be credited to Barnum or not, sadly it is true that human beings can be gullible.  We like quick fixes and instant gratification. We like to look good and appear to be free of any problems or struggles.

In the early 1500s there was a Franciscan friar named Johann Tetzel who was exceedingly well known for selling indulgences, which were special “get out of purgatory free” notes, to anyone who had the cash to spring their dead relatives out of purgatory, or to purchase their own speed pass to heaven.

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”- Johann Tetzel

Tetzel worked for the archbishop of Mainz. The archbishop- Tetzel’s boss- had gotten to his position by culling expensive favors from friends in high places. He needed money to repay his debts, as well as money to send to the Pope in Rome for the expensive construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.  What better way to raise money than to appeal to the fears of the masses, who had never heard the real message of the Gospel?  The saddest thing about these shady deals- selling indulgences and saint’s bones and other supposed relics- is that the Pope was all for it.  The Pope was behind the charlatans and hucksters, and the money they brought in.  Keeping the average person ignorant and failing to teach the true Christian message ensured a ready-made clientele for the indulgence and relic trade.

Tetzel and those like him were instrumental in firing up the ire of those who wanted reformation and restoration in the Church- most notably Martin Luther, who detested the sale of indulgences and who was determined to stop the fleecing of the flock.

The sale of indulgences capitalized on the man-made myth of purgatory, which is a concept in which we have to contribute to good works and/or do penance to “clean us up” completely so we can get into heaven. The good news of Scripture is that our salvation and life are in found in the Three Solas- or three “Onlys:”- Christ alone, Faith alone, and Scripture alone- and we can’t earn or deserve our way into heaven. But human beings are stubborn and sometimes we don’t get- or don’t want to believe- the right messages. We have modern equivalents to Johann Tetzel and his fellow religious snake oil salesmen today in televangelists and charlatans who try to sell a prosperity Gospel.  Who hasn’t tuned in to early morning televangelism and heard phrases such as, “Just buy this prayer cloth and God will send you a miracle!” or “Send us ‘seed money’ for your financial breakthrough!”?

God isn’t a vending machine. He answers prayer in His own way and time, and buying prayer cloths or giving money to a fly by night televangelist isn’t going to influence God in the least. There is only one way to salvation, life and peace, which is the way of the Cross. The way that Jesus took for us, the way that only Jesus was qualified to take.

The real message of the Gospel is radical. It brings us to the Cross. It takes us to the heart of Jesus. It leaves no room for profiteering or personal graft.  We give to God and others in response to all that God has already freely given us, and we trust that He provides for our every need.