Convenor of the Luther 500 committee and Co Antrim Deputy Grand Chaplain, Robert Campbell, explains the context and significance of the Christian outreach project being promoted by the Loyal Institutions to mark this year’s Reformation anniversary
In 1517 an unintentionally pivotal moment in world history was sparked by an unknown lecturer from the insignificant and recently formed University of Wittenberg.
He nailed up an overly long academic paper on the castle church door hoping to start a debate amongst theologians.
Somehow Martin Luther’s document, the ‘95 Theses’, started a religious revolution instead of a debate!
What would become known as the Reformation centred on a simple question, how does a sinner become acceptable before a holy God?
Justification became centre stage. The events of 1517 and onwards became irresistible, with each attempt to shut Luther down making it worse; his excommunication was publicly burnt, while the Diet of Worms created a fearless hero.
It was the questions Luther asked and the answers he rediscovered that made these events unstoppable. The Reformation would have happened without Luther – under God he was the conduit!
As we continue to move through the ‘decade of centenaries’ it could have been easy to miss the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ‘95 Theses’.
However, in 2013 the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and Imperial Grand Black Chapter decided to wo rk in partnership to mark this event.
The central component of ‘Luther 500: Rediscovering the Gospel’, is a set of booklets in printed or digital format. Each booklet is very different in style and objective. We have history, devotional, explanation, theology and object lessons. These are intended to be used collectively or by individuals.
During the process of writing and designing the materials, there was always the idea of acting like a winger crossing the ball, creating opportunities for others to bury it in the back of the net, while hoping people wouldn’t passively watch as it passed them by and harmlessly out of play.
As Protestants we say we have no saints, but some of the Reformers come dangerously close to Protestant beatification; this would have horrified them.
We could celebrate the translations of the Bible and not read the book; we could highlight ‘justification by faith alone’ whilst believing our own works are good enough to save us; we create hideous caricatures of ‘our enemy’ while painting ‘our side’ as an angelic host; and most horrifically we tell the story of the Reformation in separation from the story of the gospel.
So, we must purposefully keep reminding ourselves and retelling others what the Reformation was actually about.
The Reformation is a story of rediscovery, with the gospel being central. It is easy to reframe this by dwelling on positive effects whether political, financial, educational or ecclesiological.
A story that centres on our personal sinfulness and the crucified and risen Christ may be much less palatable but is much more important.
The events of 1517 focused on a problem and an answer – our need of justification and the means of justification. This is the throbbing heart of the Reformation that still beats today.