This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In 1517 Martin Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg, posted the ninety five theses, or points, which he believed needed to be discussed. The act itself was not out of the ordinary, since making public concerns for discussion was a practice of the time. What was out of the ordinary was how this unfolded in a great struggle out of which came a whole new order, the Protestant Church.
Churches are looking at the heritage of these past 500 years and what it has to say to us today. The history is rich with books and materials, so numerous as to be overwhelming. The Reformation gave us such teachings as The Centrality of Scripture, the Priesthood of All Believers, and Justification by Faith, to mention just three of the major teachings.
Saved by Grace
Luther had been engaged in a great struggle to find a just and merciful God. He tried to do all the good works he could to win favor and secure his salvation. The problem was that even if he did enough today to merit salvation, how about tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow could undo all he had gained. In this great spiritual struggle he came upon the Book of Romans, Chapter 3:21-26, where he learned that he was saved not by his works, but by grace which is a gift. It was there that he realized that a person was justified by faith, apart from works that were prescribed by the law. The new understanding went through Luther like nothing he ever encountered before. He was now a changed and freed man.
Luther’s struggle was one that today could be classified as a problem of “Soteriology” or the issue of salvation. The word comes from the Greek word, soteria, meaning “to save.” In the Old Testament salvation meant “made wide,” “set in an open space,” or “freedom from oppression.” In the New Testament it means release from the captivity of sin and freedom in new life.
Salvation has been a concern of people down through the centuries. Various hymns coming from the 18th and 19th centuries show us the concern for personal salvation, a concern which is still with us today.
Self Well-Being as well as Well-Being in Relationship to our Neighbor and Creation
However today we are becoming more aware that well-being cannot stop with personal salvation. We are increasingly aware that our larger well-being also involves our relationship to our neighbor and the whole of creation, namely the earth on which all live.
Climate Change is the theological issue of our day.
Today the earth is manifesting warnings for us to heed. What we call Climate Change is the canary in the cage telling us that things are not right. We need to respond. People are responding in many and various ways and that is indeed good however there is a need for more people, and communities of faith, to respond with sustained efforts in education, conservation, and advocacy. Climate Change is the theological issue of our day. We need to understand that in today’s world “Soteriology” is bigger than just us and our souls. Today it involves the fullness of God’s creation.
Since scripture is central in Reformed thought and practice, we should honor our Reformation heritage by moving into deeper and fuller study of scripture as it speaks to us about our relationship with the Creator, with our neighbor and the whole of creation.
God is still our Savior. We cannot save ourselves nor can we without God save the earth. However by reading scripture anew we will find ethics and hope which can sustain us and lead us into mission for our time.