The Reformation: How it helps people find a church today

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther posted 95 theses (arguments or propositions against error) concerning unscriptural practices of the established Church on the church doors at Wittenburg, Germany. To understand this from today’s perspective, Reformation scholar Jan Strohl in “Luther’s Spirituality” wrote it best: “One could describe Luther’s career as the mounting of a life-long pastoral malpractice suit against the Church’s authority at every level of the hierarchy.”

Today, we all know the term “Malpractice” as it applies to doctors and surgeons who make life altering mistakes in judgment or treatment to patients. In his ‘malpractice suit’ against the Church, Luther called out those in the clergy who practiced errors in theology, or life altering mistakes against parishioners of the Church.

Perhaps Luther’s biggest argument against the faulty doctrinal practice of the Church was in the area of penance and the buying and selling of indulgences. An indulgence, in this context, is a meritorial credit, something earned through works to be applied against one’s sin to remit punishment. This changed the idea of penance to mean more than expression of sorrow over sin, but as a God-pleasing compensation to forgive sin.

The ‘malpractice’ occurred as clergy led church members to work for their forgiveness, leading them away from the doctrine of Justification, or how we are made right with God. Luther clarified from Scripture that we are justified to God by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross, as Jesus died in our place as the perfect, sin free sacrifice for the sins of the people. Jesus’ righteousness is given to us, received through faith, and by His wounds we are healed. We can never do enough on our own to offset our sin or make amends with God. Jesus Christ did it all. Our forgiveness and promise of eternal life are still free gifts to God’s faithful through Christ alone.

In finding a church today, families consider many things: church size, friendliness, style of worship, the pastor’s preaching style, programs, age demographic, Sunday School, etc. Yet the first and most important consideration is often overlooked: does the church profess the true doctrine according to God’s Holy Scriptures? Are the people led by faithful teaching and is the church professing true doctrine? How tragic it would be to find a church promoting malpractice.

Not all Christian churches are in total agreement over every doctrine. But certain doctrines are not subject to compromise or interpretation, for instance, all good Christian churches must agree on the doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that Jesus is the only way to the Father. From here we learn the doctrine of our justification before God, through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and not of our work, merit or purchase of indulgences.

Luther corrected the errors of the ancient Church, that we might be led in truth and righteousness today.

To learn more about the Reformation or finding a church, contact our churches: St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fredonia (672-6731), Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gowanda (532-4342), or Trinity Lutheran Church in Silver Creek (934-2002).