Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Reformation Sunday


Background Information

The year 2017 marks 500 years since a monk in Germany, Martin Luther, published his 95 theses or complaints against the Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation, a momentous religious revolution whose consequences we still live with today. The Reformation divided the church into Catholic and Protestant and transformed millions of people’s understanding of their relationship with God.
It was Oct 31 this reformation began. Today, every year, is recognized as Reformation Sunday - the Sunday closest to Oct 31. But this year is a special celebration - this year is the 500th anniversary of that great occurrence which created for us the ability to worship as we do today; created for us the means to be able to understand God as a God of grace.
Our service today will honor God as we recall the events of this reformation centered about the three men who made the biggest difference for us. Because we recognize that it is only through God’s work, God’s guidance, God’s inspiration, could these reformer have done what they were able to accomplish.
Let us celebrate today, God’s great work, in reforming His church.

The History Behind the Reformation - Martin Luther

Before we begin this look at the Reformation, I want to remind you that the Catholic Church of the time leading up to the Reformation, is not the Catholic Church of today. After the Reformation, the Catholic Church itself, took a long hard look at itself and corrected many of the abuses that brought about the Reformation. The Catholic Church of today in many ways is the reformed Catholic Church.
But we have to talk about the Catholic Church in order to understand the Reformation and the work of Martin Luther. From the beginning of the church after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there was just one church. We are use to umpteen denominations and independent churches and big box churches. In the beginning there was only one. If you went to church, you went to a Catholic Church. That was your only option. The Pope was in control of the church and whatever the Pope said was done. Also we have to know that the Catholic Church controlled most of the governments in Europe.
So here you have a church that has so much power - it controls all of Christianity and it controls the political governments. Now what happens when you have that much power? Power corrupts - even if it is the Pope; even if it is a man of God; power corrupts.
The Pope decides to build the Vatican and of course to build something that elaborate you need money. So the church came up with all these clever ways to raise money. Being a part of the church and getting to heaven became about money. I won’t go into all the ways the church took money from people, but the biggest money maker was selling of what was called indulgences. An indulgence was a piece of paper that said you could go to heaven. The church convinced people, remember there were no Bibles then for people to read so they only knew what the priests told them, that in order to get to heaven they had to have this piece of paper. And if you didn’t have that piece of paper on you when you died, you went straight to hell. So not only would you buy your piece of paper, your family members would buy pieces of paper for you just in case; and they would buy pieces of paper for already deceased family members, just in case and the Catholic Church was rolling in dough while the general public was living in poverty because they were spending all their disposable income trying to buy their way to heaven.
That practice, along with a lot of other distortions of what the Bible taught, defined the Church the first of the church into the 1500s.
Then, a young monk named Martin Luther because a university professor at Whittenburg University in Germany. Because he was a professor, he was allowed to actually read the Bible. And it was eye opening to him and he realized that the teachings of the church, especially this idea of indulgences, was contrary to what the Bible teaches. He, in fact, found 95 things the Catholic Church was doing contrary to God’s word.

He wrote these down, nailed them to the door of Whittenburg Church.
And in a side note and in a wonder of how God works things together, this was the same time and the same place Gutenberg invented the printing press so he prints these 95 these and circulates them. Needless to say the Catholic Church is pretty upset and making a long story short, Luther is excommunicated and people began to leave the Catholic Church and follow the teachings of Luther - and the protestant church is begun.
Luther also translated the Bible into German, which Gutenberg printed, and now the normal person could read scripture for themselves. They began to understand the concept of Grace and their ability to pray to God which they never thought they could do. This was a radical change in people’s understanding of their relationship with God and why you can sit here today and know that you are showered with the Grace of God, able to pray whenever you want and knowing that your relationship with God has nothing to do with how much money you give the church.

More Reformation History - John Calvin

A few years after Luther had begun his great reforms, a young priest in France also gained access to scripture and began to read it for himself. He read the writings of Martin Luther and understand what Luther was teaching was a true representation of God’s teaching.
So John Calvin leaves the Catholic Church and writes what is known as Calvin’s Institutes where he takes what the Bible teaches and gleans from it what God teaches about himself and how we, as God’s people, are called to understand and how we are to live and work as God’s people and how we are to function together as the church. Calvin’s reforms had a sweeping influence on this new Protestant Church. It is because of Calvin that we worship the way we do, that we govern ourselves as we do.

The Story of the Reformation Continues: John Knox

A young Scottish priest of the Church of England through a set of circumstances which could only have been orchestrated by God, ended up in Geneva where he met and began to study under John Calvin. Knox took what he learned from Calvin back to Scotland where he fought not only the Catholic Church which had taken over Scotland from the Church of England through the leadership of Mary, Queen of Scots but Mary herself. iKnox was able to fight for and win the Reformation of the church in Scotland where the Presbyterian Church became the national church of Scotland and from there moved to the United States. We are here in this church today worshipping under the grace of God because Luther stood up for what he believed in, Calvin took Luther’s teachings and worked them into a theology and Knox took that information and began the church we know today.