Five-hundred years ago, a Roman Catholic theology professor-monk nailed 95 questions for debate on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In doing so, he is attributed with starting what became the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther, the theology-professor monk, geared his list toward reforming what he considered doctrinal and ethical problems in the 1500s Roman Catholic Church. Luther’s list is now known as the Ninety-five Theses nailed to the Wittenberg Door.
Luther posted his complaints on All Saints Day, or Oct. 31, 1517. The date is celebrated by many Protestants as Reformation Day with an adjacent Sunday referred to as Reformation Sunday.
In Middle Georgia, Lutheran congregations are joining together and inviting the public to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of The Reformation at an Oktoberfest on Oct. 28 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Warner Robins, 336 Carl Vinson Parkway.
“We’re inviting the Middle Georgia community,” said the Rev. David Brighton of Mount Calvary Lutheran. “It’s being sponsored by Lutheran churches from Macon, Perry, Milledgeville and elsewhere — and of course Warner Robins right in the middle. There’s a German polka band coming, family activities and affordable food including German potato salad and brats and beer. Plus, there’ll be scheduled ‘Walk Through the Reformation’ presentations with appearances by Luther played by our vicar here, Brad Welik.”
At 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., Brighton said, Mount Calvary’s Reformation Sunday services will include another dramatization and brief sermon on the importance of the day.
“Certainly to me, The Reformation is about being called back to God’s word and to the importance of grace, faith and scripture,” Brighton said. “To one degree or another I think those three things tie together what Luther wanted to have the church refocus its practice on.”
Brighton said though Luther took issue with many doctrines and practices of the Roman church of his day, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was the practice of selling indulgencies to release sinners from punishment rather than acknowledging that forgiveness was God’s alone to grant.
Brighton quoted one famous seller of indulgencies, Johann Tetzel, and a saying that made Luther particularly angry: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Brighton said his congregation has been involved in Reformation 500 activities throughout the year, including use of a 95-day personal scripture reading plan related to Luther’s Ninety-five Theses.
At Macon’s 100-plus-year-old Lutheran Church of The Redeemer, 390 Pierce Avenue, a Reformation Sunday service will include the presentation of “A Mighty Fortress is our God” sung in German. The hymn was written by Luther. The service will also feature the ordination of Redeemer’s new pastor.
Though Lutherans have obvious appreciation for Luther’s work, other Protestants also acknowledge and celebrate Reformation Day. High among them are Presbyterians.
The Rev. Chip Miller of the First Presbyterian Church of Macon said his congregation and North Macon Presbyterian Church will share a Saturday picnic at First Presbyterian Day School. It will feature family activities and also have a portrayal of Luther.
Miller said that on Reformation Sunday attention will be brought to Reformation ideas at the 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. services.
“We do observe Reformation Sunday in one way or another each year,” he said. “I’ll be preaching on the certainty of faith and the assurance of going to heaven based on faith in Christ alone. But a key thought I had regarding The Reformation overall is that it’s an ongoing reformation. We continually have to return to scripture. We don’t view ourselves as having finished. Reformed churches are always reforming and must continually be sure we’re rooted in the Bible and be especially concerned with how we have a relation with Christ. Churches today may not sell indulgencies but we have to make sure we’re not trying to get to heaven by our own good works or merits or by earning God’s favor though some moral code. We always have to return and depend on God’ grace and what Christ did for us on the cross.”
Baptists tend to be less likely to be in tune with Reformation celebrations, but Redeemer Baptist Church of Macon is an exception. There, leaders said they’ve been looking forward to Reformation Sunday all October. They will celebrate Oct. 29 as they meet at 10:40 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Covenant Academy, 4652 Ayers Road.
“Each Sunday evening in October we’ve been teaching on one of the Five Solas and their importance as we approach Reformation Sunday,” said Jake Walls, an elder at Redeemer Baptist and teacher-coach at Perry’s Westfield Academy. He is also co-director of Veritas Classical Schools in Macon and Warner Robins.
At Westfield, Walls teaches European history.
“The Five Solas are Latin renditions of grace alone, scripture alone, faith alone, Christ alone and God’s glory alone,” he said. “Addressing doctrinal issues in his day that veered from those ideas, Luther hit them and hit them hard. He was a coal-miner’s son; was very headstrong and used very, I’ll say colorful, language.”
Though Luther’s Ninety-five Theses was crucial to The Reformation, Walls said there were other contributing factors that led to its rise. He said invention of the printing press was among them and let Luther’s ideas reach the masses.
He said Luther’s ideas brought rise to a new day both in the church and in government. Brighton, Miller and Walls each said Luther’s pointing out that all were on equal footing before God and that all required the grace and forgiveness of God led to ideas that brought about democratic thought and government with the idea that all men are created equal.
“It made a difference when peasants began realizing that before God they were just the same as kings,” Walls said.
However, Walls said Luther’s reasoning unfortunately wasn’t applied by him in one area: in later life he was given to harsh-tongued anti-Semitism.
“It’s tragic but true and can’t be ignored,” he said. “It proves none of us should be put on a pedestal, not even Luther. His attitude toward Jews was a wrong-headed and a wicked ethnic view. Luther was a sinner just like every one of us and needed God’s grace. We all need a savior.”
All three pastors agreed though flawed, Luther changed the world.
“Luther didn’t just nail his Ninety-five Theses to a door, he opened a door,” Brighton said, “He presented a challenge to look to scriptures and discover we all need God’s grace and must come by faith. It didn’t matter then and doesn’t matter now if someone is a maid or a bishop or a king. We each matter equally to God and each have the same standing before him. We each have the same invitation to freely receive eternal life.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.
500 Years of Reformation Celebration & Oktoberfest
Location: Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, 336 Carl Vinson Pkwy, Warner Robins, Ga.
When: Oct. 29, 2-6 p.m.
Information: 478-922-1418, www.mountcalvaryga.org/oktoberfest