Reformation means change — thoughts for Reformation Day
It was on 31 October 1517 that Martin Luther is said to have nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. In them he called for a discussion concerning the failings and shortcomings of the church at the time. This act sparked the Reformation of the church in Germany, which soon found adherents in many other European countries.
The Lutheran churches in particular will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in the coming year. This is also an opportunity for the New Apostolic Church to commemorate Martin Luther as well as his significance for the Christian faith and the church as a whole.
“What do you think of when you are asked about Martin Luther?” This question deserves good answers in many respects. Perhaps the most influential act perpetrated by Luther is the translation of the Bible into the German language. There was more to this than merely the linguistic advantage associated with a current translation. After all, this new Bible translation was now comprehensible to many people, something that could not have been said of the Latin Bible. A Bible in an understandable language—for every household: this is an oft-expressed wish in many churches even today. The Bible translation brought with it an understanding of the gospel that corresponded to the testimony of the New Testament. The Catechism of the New Apostolic Church says the following concerning this: “Luther developed his theology based on his interpretation of the Bible. At its core is the doctrine of justification by faith, with its fundamental notion that God does not provide rewards on the basis of good works, but rather grants His grace to the sinner who believes in God” (11.2.4).
The Lutheran doctrine of justification
Paul’s epistle to the Romans in particular had a profound impact on the great Reformer. Again and again he contemplated Romans 1: 17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.” The righteousness of God is granted to mankind on the basis of their faith, not their good works. Only that comes into being which God, in His mercy, accords mankind. Man is sinful—God alone can justify us: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5: 18).
Lutheran Communion doctrine
Luther also had an influence on the New Apostolic Church. The German-speaking regions of the New Apostolic world make use of the 1984 version of his Bible translation in the divine services. The German-language Catechism quotes exclusively from it. Thus Luther’s Bible translation has had a formative impact on the language and worldview of many New Apostolic Christians in the German-speaking regions. There are also many commonalities in content with Luther’s doctrines, for example the doctrine of the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion, or the assessment of good works as a necessary expression of faith and not as a merit whereby one could attain salvation. Luther emphasized the importance of the sacraments to the other Reformers, and emphasized their gift character. Beyond that, Luther hoped for the return of Christ in his lifetime.
But there are also differences with Lutheran doctrine, for example, with regard to the doctrine of ministry: Luther advocated the notion that every baptized individual actually exercises a spiritual ministry. The priest or pastor only acts as a representative for the other believers, but does not have any greater authority than they do. At the same time, he emphasized that Scripture could be interpreted by any Christian at all, and that no teaching ministry was required for its proper understanding. The New Apostolic Church teaches something different in this respect: the Apostle ministry is the teaching ministry, and it is of central importance for the church. Nevertheless, we acknowledge Luther’s efforts for a church that corresponds to the record of the New Testament, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and a significant preparation for later developments which would ultimately lead to the renewed personal occupation of the Apostle ministry in the nineteenth century!
Martin Luther (1483–1546) will be the focus of the anniversary of the Reformation. Five hundred years ago, a renewal movement began in the churches, in which the learned theologian from Germany played a significant role. As a result, Western Christianity split up into the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches. It was in 1517 that he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. This triggered a difficult time of discovery and reflection on the essentials, which endured 150 years. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 is generally considered the conclusion of the Reformation.
Keyword: Martin Luther
Martin Luther (born 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, died 18 February 1546 in the same place) was the most influential figure of the Reformation. The Augustine monk and theology professor took the promise of grace in the New Testament very seriously and oriented himself by Jesus Christ as the “incarnate Word of God”. He put the focus on Jesus Christ. His sermons and writings, as well as his Bible translation, made pivotal changes to the church and society of the time, and these have endured to this day.
Photo: Andreas Vitting