The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
For Presbyterians and other Protestants who trace their faith heritage back to the Protestant Reformation, October is an important month. It is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, which is often said to have begun on October 31, 1517, in Wittenberg, Saxony, when Martin Luther sent his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the Archbishop of Mainz.
Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda! These ancient words became the rallying cry for Presbyterians and other Reformed Christians. It is a motto that reminds us of who we are and who we intend to be. It is often translated, “The Church Reformed, Always Reforming” which is actually a mistranslation. The Presbyterian Book of Order, in the chapter “The Church and Its Confessions,” states, “The church affirms Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei, that is, ‘The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God’ in the power of the Spirit. That last phrase is crucial in clarifying both the direction and the Director of the church’s reform.
On the day after this 500th Anniversary, we, the good folk of Rye Presbyterian Church, will mark another anniversary – it will be four years since we began this new relationship of co-pastors and congregation. In those four years we’ve experienced our own sort of reformation here at Rye Presbyterian. It is the prayer of your pastors that what has been happening among us here has been “according to the Word of God in the power of the Spirit.”
We must remember that the church, be it the larger Church, or our own congregation, cannot reform or change itself. God is the agent of reformation. The church is the object of God’s reforming work. God’s initiative has priority here. Theologian Harold Nebelsick put it well: “We are the recipients of the activity of the Holy Spirit which reforms the church in accordance with the Word of God.” The church is God’s church, a creature of God’s Word and Spirit. As we say in our Brief Statement of Faith, “we belong to God.”
Dr. Anna Case-Winters, Professor of Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary writes: “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda. This motto calls us to something more radical than we have imagined. It challenges both liberal and conservative impulses and the habits and agendas we have lately fallen into. It brings a prophetic critique to our cultural accommodation—either to the past or to the present—and calls us to communal and institutional repentance. It invites us, as people who worship and serve a living God, to be open to being “re-formed” according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit.”
As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, may we be open to God’s work of reformation among us here, at Rye Presbyterian Church, and now, in 2017!
I close with a prayer written by Reformer John Knox (c. 1514-1572), who founded the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. It is his prayer for Christ’s flock, us, the Church.
God of all power, Who hast called from death the great Pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, comfort and defend the flock which He hath redeemed by the blood of the eternal testament; increase the number of true preachers; mitigate and lighten the hearts of the ignorant; relieve the pains of such as be afflicted, but especially of those that suffer for the testimony of the Truth, by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.