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How can we be reformers in 2017? 5 Things We Learn from the Protestant Reformation

Though the Protestant Reformation took place 500 years ago in Germany, we can reflect on the Reformation for wisdom and inspiration during these tumultuous times.

1. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right

2017 is a time of great uncertainty and divide in our country. We are in the middle of a great debate (though most days it feels like a clash) of values and ideologies.

After publishing his thesis, Luther was called before the Diet of Worms for questioning. Think of this like testifying before a Congress regarding an investigation. Before the council, he made public witness against the unjust practices of the Church.

“Here I stand, I can do no other”- Martin Luther

Not only did Martin Luther make a claim against an institution that the time was seen as infallible, he came out against his employer and provider. Martin Luther was a common monk who received his entire livelihood from the Church.  By speaking out, he risked the comfort of his job and even his life.

So next time we are too scared to post that comment on Facebook, attend that rally, write that Congress person, or comfort that racist family-member, take a cue from Martin Luther. Be bold and stand up for injustice no matter how small or large!

2. If you need to sin, then Sin Boldly!

Martin Luther has this awesome quote…

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

Luther is saying that if you need to “sin” to do the right thing, then stand strong and “sin boldly”.

In Luther’s case, he sinned against the church by speaking out about its practices. He encourages us to stand up for the truth of the Gospel and to do it proudly.

Often when we think of how Christians should respond to conflict, we think that we can’t say something that might offend or rock the boat. Too often we make the mistake that keeping the status quo is more “Christian” than speaking out against injustice.

Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean that you can’t have an opinion and you can’t vocalize it—LOUDLY.

As long as Christ’s love is at your core, stand up, speak up and Sin Boldly!\

3. Be Critical of Our Historic Heroes

Luther is often lauded as a hero, though there is a darker side to Luther. He was not an advocate for the poor, as his legend often portrays. He also published vile, anti-semitic works including The Jews and Their Lies. Centuries later, his works were used in Nazi propaganda to justify the Holocaust to the German population who adored him greatly.

Inexcusably, this side of Luther is often omitted from the history books and Reformation Sunday celebrations in the Church.

By studying Luther with a critical lense, it challenges us to be use statues, like this one in front of Luther Place, as a learning tool to tell the complete story, rather than blindly celebrate the past. We also learn the importance of holding our leaders accountable for discriminatory and hateful language, as their words can live on longer than they do.

4. Movements Have Many Leaders: Will you be one?

We often tell the story of the Reformation from a very Luther-centric point of view. There were many other leaders in the Reformation. It was not just Martin Luther that caused the church to split, just like Martin Luther King is not the sole leader who advanced the Civil Rights movement.

The Reformation had a cast of characters across many countries whose ideas were very influential. We can still see the impact from these leaders in the family of Protestant religions today.

Check out the Christian Family Tree Here:

In 2017, it may feel like we are lacking unifying leadership in the many fights for social justice. There are an endless number of causes and even more voices to consider, that it can be overwhelming. Find peace in the fact that social movements are a collection of many voices and events which shape the future. Where will your voice be in the movement? What will you do to shape the future?

5. Dig Deep to Practice Grace

Most of Luther’s 95 theses focused on the Church’s practice of selling indulgences.Indulgences were certificates that common people paid the Church for in the hopes that their deceased loved ones would be released from purgatory and go to heaven. Luther emphatically believed that God’s love is freely given and that there is nothing we can do to buy it.

God’s Grace means that God loved us so dearly that nothing can separate us from him. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was an eternal promise that God will love us forever. He continues to love us even though we have sinned and done terrible things against our neighbors and loved ones.

This is a very radical concept, even today.

If God can forgive all of the human race for its transgressions, then we are called to forgive our neighbors for theirs as well.

Well, this is sometimes just downright hard. When you open up your phone to see the latest headline of injustice in the world, all you may want to do is punch someone in the face.

This is what makes God’s love for us so unique… so holy.  It is un-human to want to forgive each other, but we can certainly try.

The Reformation helped us, the Church, remember the that Christ’s love for us is stronger than we have for ourselves.

As Christians, we are called to be Reformers in 2017. We are inspired to make a bold stand against injustice and be a witness to the truth of God’s love in the world. By taking a critical look at the social movements of the past, we can be wiser as we lead the movements of today and shape the world of tomorrow

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