The Reformation In the year 1517 AD, a revolution started that would not mean the taking up of arms, nor the deaths of thousands. The Reformation started a tidal wave of welcome changes in the Roman Catholic Church, most of which, were not expected but helpful to the initial cause. It happened with the nailing of a single man s ideas to a church door. Martin Luther, a man of intelligence and wisdom, had serious disagreements with the church s position on salvation. Until this time, the Roman Catholic Church controlled the people. The pope, was supposedly the man closest to God. No one questioned the church for fear of excommunication, or exile from the church. Mortality plays brought fear to the minds of the masses and gave false impressions of the true meaning of Christ s death on the cross. Luther had written the 95 theses, which were to become the basis of all attacks on the Roman Catholic Church from this moment. He wrote the 95 theses in an attempt to show people the truth. The changes in the Roman Catholic Church brought forth by this document were more than Luther expected.After the posting of the 95 theses, The Reformation took an unexpected turn. Luther was invited to defend his writings in front of the diet at Worms. The true purpose of the diet was to make Luther recant his works, not to prove himself in the right. Sensing this, Luther had prepared himself and written another document that is to become doctrine to most Protestant faiths. At this moment the Augsburg Confession was written. The Augsburg Confession is a doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ as the center of the Christian faith, and the importance of the Bible and Christian doctrines in Christian Religions. It also testifies against the abuses of the medieval church which Luther sought to correct (LCMS, 7). Luther became the focus of criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. The sacraments of the Catholic Church deviated little over time. During the time before the reformation the Church added sacraments for alternative purposes. The sale of indulgences was one of these new sacraments. The sales of these papers of guaranteed salvation were to raise money to build churches in Italy. Luther as a child saw the sale of these papers and the mortality plays used to persuade the public and saw through them. In Luther s 95 theses he states, On the way to eternal damnation are they are their teachers, who believe that they are sure of their salvation through indulgences. This means that indulgences do not grant salvation or absolution. Luther retorted,The revenues of all Christiandom are being sucked into this insatiable basilica. The Germans laugh at the calling this, the common treasure of Christiandom. Before long all the churches, palaces, walls, and bridges of Rome will be built out of our money. First of all, we should rear living temples, next local churches, and only last of all St. Peter s. Better than it should never be built than that our parochial churches should be despoiled. The pope would do better to appoint one good pastor to a church than to confer indulgences to them all. Why doesn t the pope build the basilica of St. Peter out of his own money? He is richer than Croesus. He would do better to sell St. Peter s and give the money to the poor folk who are being fleeced by the hawkers of indulgences. If the pope knew the exactions of these vendors, he would rather that St. Peters should lie in ashes than it should be built out of the blood and hide of it s sheep (Bainton, 80)Therefore the sale of indulgences is in vain and for the work of man. They (church officials) are no better than the tax collectors of biblical times. In turn makes the Roman Catholic Church a group of hypocrites (Spaeth, 55). Indulgences were a creation of man, not a commandment of God. They (indulgences) were not intended to be evil, but the repercussions of these papers were enormous. The question that Luther asked is, did the pope have the power to grant pardons and relieve ones soul from purgatory? Or is this an abuse of the pope s power? Luther had now been excommunicated from the church and been declared an outlaw. After the reformation had ended, all sales of indulgences had stopped and most fund-raising procedures had been halted. The Catholic Church was now to rely on tithes. This had ended a reign of the power of the church. After this though, the church started to fall apart, break into pieces. In other parts of Europe, indulgences were not the only new sacrament installed under the Roman Catholic Church. Certain items of religious value were placed in a church. These items could be a strand of hair from Jesus, pieces of Jesus cloak, a piece of wood from the cross, or even a scroll said to be one of the gospels. Seeing or touching one of these items were supposed to relieve you or a member of your family of the burden of purgatory. To see one of these items, a person was to pay money to the church. Many people could not afford the high prices set on these privileges. Such items at that time realistically could not have existed. Human hair and clothing break down over time. For these items to be genuine, they had to be over fifteen hundred years old. Luther used these items of worship in his attacks sparingly because he could not prove at that time whether or not the items were genuine. He (Luther) decided to focus his attention to other church policies instead, but his other efforts affected this practice. The attacks on other church policies by Luther made this tradition die out quickly.The Catholic Church promoted good works as a way of absolution also. To the Roman Catholic Church, good works were a way of working towards heaven. In Luther s treatise on good works he is quoted as writing, We ought to know that there are no good works except for which God has commanded. Also quoted in the same treatise Luther says, The first and highest, the most precious of all good works is faith in Christ. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance (Augsburg Confession Article XII). Good works show that Christ is in one s heart and spirit. True repentance s definition was disputed at this time though. Luther s idea was it came from meditation and came from the heart, and the Church s position is that it came from good works. Conflict arose and became a debate. It was almost a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? In Luther s case it would be, which came first, the good works or true repentance? In this never ending sequence of questions it came back to Luther s original perspective, man is saved by faith alone. This last statement goes back even further to another idea that was Christ a judge or a savior? Luther in the Augsburg Confession wrote that simple Bible verses could prove this. He quoted one with emphasis, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). In context it doesn t say Christ is a judge, it says if we believe in Him we will have eternal life (Grace for Today 2). Luther stated that, If in your heart, you believe that God loves you and you return this love, you are saved (Bainton 93). The good works tradition had been defeated and was no longer an argument by the Roman Catholic Church.
Communion, the taking of the body and blood of Christ, underwent little change over the course of its history. Since it s transformation by Jesus in Biblical times, the Eucharist has meant Christ entering into our lives to strengthen and preserve us. The ordained servant of the Word breaks the bread and blesses the wine and Jesus becomes present. It is not a feast as it was in the Old Testament. It is a time of self-examination and inward penance. Marriage, holy orders, anointing the sick, confirmation, and penance are still present as sacraments in the Catholic Church today. These, above all else, are regarded as holy. The act and the symbolism behind the act show Christ is in ones heart. The two sacraments, baptism and communion, are the only two to be transferred into the Protestant Church. Leaders of the churches had brought a new light into sacraments. Only recognizing two of the previous seven. In their minds the other sacraments of the Catholic Church: marriage, penance, anointing the sick, holy orders, and confirmation were integrated into the first two.The Catholic Church hierarchy went under reconstruction as a result of The Reformation. The position of the pope is not regarded as it once was. He is no longer viewed as the man closest to God. He is merely a ceremonial figurehead. His words are still hollowed and respected, but it is not regarded as the Word of God. His decrees only affect the Catholic Church and even now a panel of Bishops have a veto power. The lower offices of the church have remained the same, but they have different responsibilities. The bishops and the archbishops still over see the priests, but their power is limited. They no longer have the right to move congregations and excommunicate. The priests have remained unchanged since The Reformation. They celebrate mass, administer sacraments, and teach the Word of God.Divisions of the church in general, are a problem that was brought about by The Reformation. In St. Paul s first letter to the Corinthians, he stated, Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinth 1:13). Dividing the people and creating different ideas about how things should be done has created conflict inside the church. Methodists and Lutherans and many other Protestant faiths have developed because of The Reformation. Different ideas on the sacraments and methodology have distanced us from the true light of God. The purpose of the reformation was not to divide the church, the whole people of God, but bring it together. As a result the doctrine we use became diluted. It is better to have one true and holy doctrine, than many half-correct diluted doctrines. The sacraments became objects of argument over how they should be practiced. Infant baptism has become one of the most heated debates in the church as a whole today. (Wilber, 25).United we stand, divided we fall, it s a common phrase amongst the people of this world. Unfortunately we cannot see what it means. We tend not to practice what we preach. The church as it seems has become divided amongst itself due to the reformation. The unity of the church was not preserved. It may come as a surprise that there are no Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, or Baptists in heaven. There are only Christians. Why then do we become divided? Why should we not have a doctrine that is pure, God pleasing, and has the proper distinction between law and gospel? There can only be one of these. It is better to have one true and correct doctrine than to have many, divided we fall. There are many different reasons for having divided beliefs. The Word can be interpreted in many different ways, to make it more complicated it s not in English and not spelled out for us. Yet we must also see that divisions can be welcome too. Many different viewpoints can be discussed and meditated on so we could eventually come up with the correct answer to some of the problems facing Christians today. The issue of infant baptism is one that the Christian denominations do not agree upon but because of this, church leaders may be able to figure the correct answer to the problem. (Union, 65). It would be safe to assume that these changes were not all expected in the eyes of the revolutionaries of the time. Martin Luther probably never had the implications to assume what would become of his ideas and what it would bring about. These changes can be seen as for the better, even most problems in the church these days have their own little silver lining. Good can be seen in all the things that became of the reformation. Adolph Spaeth, L.D., and Henry Eyster, Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: A.J. Holtman Company, 1915. The Zondervan Corporation. 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