Never the same again (October 2017 article)

Reverend Lydia Smith writes …
On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of a church in northern Germany, arguing against the practice of selling indulgences (a fundraising technique in which people paid to reduce punishment for sins in the afterlife). In doing so, he was not just providing notice of a topic for debate, but unknowingly beginning a chain of events that was to lead to religious, social and political upheaval in Europe.

Or did he? Most historians now think the bit with the hammer was invented, a story designed to locate the start of the Reformation in Europe in a specific moment. However, Luther certainly wrote a letter to his superiors on October 31, 1517 in which he denounced the sale of indulgences. Accompanying the letter was an account of his wider argument, set out in the famous 95 theses which were to be the basis for a discussion on the topic.

Whether Luther nailed the notice on the door or not, things would never be the same again. Swiftly, copies of his paper were printed and circulated across Europe and Luther went from being a little-known monk and teacher in an unimportant university town to a household name.

Not all the changes brought about by the Reformation were good – lots of damage was done and Luther himself was a difficult character and espoused and encouraged many views that we would be uncomfortable with today. But still, this one man’s discovery, his personal encounter with God’s grace in Christ and his theology transformed our understanding of the nature of faith. Considering St Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther writes:

Faith is a living, unshakable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain that someone would die a thousand times for it.

God’ work of creation – that we celebrate at harvest time – is characterised by this grace. It’s summed up in the view that God doesn’t treat the world like a clockwork toy – winding it up and walking away – but continually loves and cares for it. I’m writing on a day when that grace is not quite so apparent – as the news comes in about hurricane Irma’s impact in the Caribbean and the US.  And yet alongside the images of destruction – nature at its worst – are stories of bravery and kindness that show humans at their best. Our world is not a simple mirror to God – nature can be harsh and dangerous – but in it we can still see hints of God’s care and for that we give thanks.

Best wishes