Why should a Christian in 2010 care about what some Roman Catholic monk nailed to a German church door 493 years ago? Sadly, the Martin Luther’s nailing of The 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Castle Church door on October 31, 1517 is no longer an important even within much of Protestant Christianity. It’s almost as if this event, which is considered by many historians, secular and Christian as the starting point of The Reformation, no longer has any importance today. In fact, I daresay that only a handful of churches even acknowledged this day as an important day in church history. In fact, I believe that the modern Protestant evangelical church has moved away from Luther and the other great reformers back towards Rome.
There are a number of reasons as to why Reformation Day has fallen out of disfavor with nearly all modern church pastors. One is the fact that we are nearly 500 years removed from the historical context of the act. How is that? First, today we go to bed with full stomachs, we go to bed worrying about what we will do tomorrow or what we will wear tomorrow. Western Christians simply do not have the same worries as those that lived in the early 16th century. They seldom if ever went to bed with a full stomach. They were worried not about what they would be wearing the next day or what they would wear, but about whether or not they would die in their sleep that night! It is said that for every one child that lived to maturity, their parents would go through at least ten pregnancies. The mortality rate was astronomical. The bubonic plague had just ravaged Europe. Imagine that one out of three persons you knew had died due to the plague! This is the grim reality that faced many Europeans, and as a result these people had a much deeper knowledge of eternity.
Because of these peoples’ focus, the Roman Catholic Church (whose Pope was building St. Peter’s Basilica) instituted the doctrine of purgatory (a spiritual place where people’s souls were purged of the sins they committed). There is no biblical justification for this doctrine. Nearly all the bibles, however, in existence at the time were in Latin (not the common languages of Europe), and even if they were in the vernacular the people were illiterate and could not read their own languages. These people had no way of knowing whether what they were being told by the Roman Catholic priests was biblical or not. However, purgatory was not the reason for Luther’s 95 Theses. It was the idea of Indulgences. Indulgences were sold to the people as a way of forcing God to remove their loved ones from purgatory altogether, or to cut the amount of time their loved spent in purgatory shorter. The money for received for these indulgences was funneled to Rome in order for St. Peter’s Basilica to be built in the most ornate manner possible.
Even worse than the freeing or shortening of a deceased loved one’s time in purgatory, the Indulgences were sold to people as fire insurance. In other words, people could purchase their own indulgences to counteract the time they were destined to spend in purgatory for the sins of a lifetime. It was these indulgences that caused Luther to write the 95 Theses.
Today in American evangelicalism we find pastors that are teaching that tithing and giving to a church or a ministry forces God to work or move on the behalf of the Christian that tithes or gives. The say that God is now “obligated” to prosper the individual Christian. In many ways these modern pastors are much like the Roman Catholic priests that were commissioned by the Pope to raise funds for the work going on at The Vatican.
No where in their preaching on this topic do they mention that if God is “obligated” then He ceases to be God. Obligation implies that a person is required to do something based on the proper actions of another. Obligation removes the divine attribute of omnipotence (all-power) from God since He is unable to do something unless the believer acts first. How anyone can teach that God is obliged by something His creation does is beyond me, and is totally foreign to scripture. This sort of teaching is nothing more than false religion to the idol of money. Why do I call it false religion? Simply this sort of teaching gets Christians to funnel all their giving to the church, and ignore the needs of widows and orphans. James stated that pure and undefiled religion is the caring of widows and orphans (James 1:27). This me first giving, as I call it is not about caring for people, but rather funding the agenda (good or bad) of the senior pastor of the church.
Pastors’ agendas aside, this sort of teaching on giving causes the believer to think that all he/she has to do is give a certain percentage of his/her income in order to obligate God to bless him/her. It leads the believer to segment his finances in which God gets His cut, and the believer can do whatever he/she wants with the difference. This is very much like the indulgences that were sold by Roman Catholic priests to the people. These people would get these indulgences from the Pope and then live like hell. Similarly, many Christians do very ungodly things with their money once they have paid their tithe. Also the ungodliness of their finances manifests itself in what they don’t do with their money.
Today we see many mercy ministries that struggle to stay open and provide both physical and spiritual comfort to people in bad situations. This focus on wealth and giving to the church has caused believers to ignore the plight of AIDS patients, the drug and/or alcohol addicted, the reduction of the plight of homelessness, the end of white slavery, just to name a few of society’s ills.
Because of this and other issues within the modern evangelical church, there is a dire need for a 21st century reformation of the church. I believe that this reformation is just beginning with the resurgence of Reformed theology within many American churches. I believe that this resurgence is just the beginning of a wave that will sweep this country in particular and the world in general. It’s time to be a part of this wave or get buried by it.