On this Sunday, Lutherans worldwide celebrate Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the door of his Wittenberg Church. The 95 Theses, which had been written in Latin, invited the religious scholars to debate the sale of indulgences for forgiveness. The 95 Theses, after being translated into German, were made available to the German people using the printing press invented by Johann Guttenburg in 1450. It was one of the first mass produced publications.
The event sparked a reform movement that eventually led to the formation of the Lutheran Church and separate denominations. Luther established the principle that the church is always in need of reform in light of the gospel. Luther’s primary principle that Christians are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ has also found widespread acceptance among denominations.
In October 1989, festivities were being held in East Berlin to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The first step toward economic unification came on July 1, 1990, when the Federal Republic's Deutsche Mark became the sole currency of the soon-to-disappear German Democratic Republic. The first week of July 1990, my wife and I were members of the first group of Americans to visit Wittenberg, East Germany and the Castle Church where the Reformation began. We talked to organizers and first participants in the candlelight vigils organized by Lutheran clergymen from Leipzig, beginning I believe Reformation Sunday 1988, that took place on the hillsides outside of the towns, with each successive vigil having larger attendance that the previous ones. By October 1989, everyone knew, Communism had collapsed. I mention the role of the Lutheran clergy in the collapse of East Germany because there is a debate going on about whether or not Rosa Park’s celebrated civil disobedience was contrary to Christian ethics, because she refused to submit to the governing authority.
The reading in Lutheran churches on this Sunday is always from Romans 3:19-28.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it,
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;
since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,
whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;
it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith.
For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.
And the featured hymn is:
1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevaling.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabbaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
3. And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
4. That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.