2017 is an important year. It is the 500th anniversary or quincentenary of the start of the Reformation. A young German monk and university lecturer called Martin Luther did something radical- he read the Bible. It’s incredible that a doctor of theology and a priest should have barely read the scriptures. When he did so, his eyes were opened. From having read it, he began to realise that:
- We approach God through Christ alone- not via dead saints, living popes or inanimate statues.
- God’s grace is freely given- it cannot be earned on pilgrimages or purchased from travelling salesmen.
- Christ paid the full price for our sin on the cross- we don’t need to supplement this payment through our good works or pious deeds.
- The Christian goes to heaven when he dies- not the fires of purgatory where he undergoes further purification.
- The Bible should be read and cherished by every Christian in his own language- it shouldn’t be restricted to clergy.
These beliefs we now take for granted; in the 1500s they could earn you a painful execution in a hot fire. Yet on 31st October, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 theses or ideas to the door of his local church. The ensuing scandal and controversy divided Europe for centuries. Yet Luther lit a great light, which, though spluttering and occasionally dimmed, continues to shine into this dark world.
Although we are Congregationalist rather than Lutheran, we are part of that reformed family of churches that owe much to that German monk. If the chapel’s founders of 1816 are our fathers, Luther is our grand-father.
Luther wrote many hymns, including Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott which in English reads:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
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.
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 Sabaoth, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
We currently have plans to show a film about Luther and to use the quincentenary as a platform to spread the great Reformation truth of salvation by grace alone.