Last week Deb and I were vacationing in Germany. We had never vacationed in Europe before, so we thought we would try something different. Providentially, our vacation happened to be occurring on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, to the Wittenberg Chapel, which is officially recognized as the start of the Protestant Reformation. The 95 Theses are Martin Luther’s argument against the paying of indulgence practiced by the medieval Catholic Church. Luther, through his study of the book of Romans, had concluded that salvation was based on faith and faith alone. This very much flew in the face of the common Catholic teaching of the day. The verses that so impacted Luther are found in Romans 1 which reads – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, to the Jew 1st and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith”, (v. 16-17, NASB). Luther was used mightily to begin a great biblical awakening. Some of Luther’s later teachings were biblically unsound, as seen in his view of the Jewish people. He spoke in many harsh and derogatory terms concerning the Jewish people and his words were even used to inspire anti-Semitism by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. A very unfortunate occurrence indeed, but still recognition of the Protestant Reformation is something that should be acknowledged on a national level as a significant turning point in Christian world history.
What I found interesting, as I did several Google searches, was I couldn’t find any activities related to this important anniversary. Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right place, or maybe nothing was happening by where we’re staying, but I thought that I would have been able to find some recognition or celebration of this very significant date. As it turned out, October 31 was indeed a national holiday in Germany. It was the recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. November 1 was also a national holiday, but I never clearly understood what that holiday was pertaining to. Interestingly, when I spoke to people about national holiday on October 31 some didn’t even have a clue as to why they were having a holiday. When I asked the hostess at the resort we were staying she explained that as a Bavarian day. But there were a number of things that were going on including most of the churches being open and having services throughout the day. We didn’t attend any services as we wouldn’t of understood what was going on is everything would have been in German. The Protestant Reformation that began in Germany was certainly one of the highlights of church history and yet many people in Germany didn’t have a clue as to why they were actually having a holiday.
As I was reflecting on this fact I started to wonder about America and our departure in America from our biblical roots. America was founded on Judeo-Christian values and though I would not myself call America a Christian nation at birth, I believe there was a biblical worldview that was instilled into the earliest documents of our nation. The concept of the balance of power is derived from the fact that, “The heart is deceitfully wick above all things, who can know it”, (Jeremiah 17: 9). They had seen the corrupting power of absolute power and put into our Constitution this concept the balance of powers. They were certainly blinded to some of their own inconsistencies (ex.-slavery) but a biblical worldview was a dominating factor in the early documents that forged our nation.
In Germany, the departure of biblical authority really was the basis for the rise of Hitler. Back in the late 1800s, Germany became the hotbed of liberal theology that poured out into the world. This liberal theology attacked the very foundation of our faith, the Word of God. The higher criticisms that undermined scriptural authority left the nation desperately seeking a source of ultimate authority. That vacuum was filled by the Nazi party and by Hitler who claimed ultimate authority.
We would do well as a nation to learn from the moral collapse and failure of Germany in the1930’s. When they left their spiritual moorings, they had no place to turn but towards an authoritarian government. As individuals and churches, we stand on the authority of Scriptures, but as a nation, we have already departed from the basis of our true hope, a living relationship with the God of the universe through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us never forget the spiritual heritage that is ours as American citizens.
In fact, being part of the body of Christ and recognizing that our citizenship is in heaven should be even a greater incentive for keeping our biblical heritage alive. Remember what Paul wrote to the church in Philippi when he said, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”, (Phil. 3:20 NASB). Germany has a great religious tradition with many beautiful chapels and steeples spread throughout the whole nation. We visited some of the spectacular buildings but sadly I believe many of these are just relics of the past age when the gospel of Jesus Christ was influencing the culture.
Last week I took my heavenly citizenship to Germany in hopes of finding some brothers and sisters to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with. That didn’t really happen, but I did have one experience of Christian fellowship that I’d like to blog about in the future. I would like to include in this blog some pictures of some of the beautiful steeples and churches that were all over the landscape. Let us do everything that we can to make sure that our churches don’t become relics of a past religious belief.
All for Christ,
Pastor Rich Sivo