Today is Reformation Day. 501 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses, or statements to the door of Wittenburg Chapel. While we might think that doing this on a church door would be an act of rebellion, it was more than that. Some suggest that Martin Luther nailed the thesis on October 31 because the next day was All Saints Day. (This is a day when we celebrate the saints that have gone on before – more on that tomorrow.) This means that many people would see the statements and see what was going on. You may remember that Martin Luther had several disagreements with the church. We often think that he was a rebel. Maybe he was, but maybe Luther was trying to affect change from the inside. When Luther nailed these statements to the door, there was really only one church, even though it was divided into two – the east and the west. That schism happened in 1054. So for a thousand years the church was one, and for 500 years the church was two, and then the Reformation happened and things went crazy.
As I said, I really believe that Luther was trying to affect change from the inside – not so much a radical, but a reformer. Over the last 500 years, we have seen this pattern – at least on our side of the church family tree. The man who founded what is now known as the Methodists – John Wesley was a reformer. Wesley had a life changing encounter with Jesus and God stirred his heart and a revival began in England. Some scholars tell us that was one of the reasons that the UK avoided a revolution like what happened in France. You may remember that Wesley was an Anglican priest, but because of his views and his attempt to affect change from the inside, Wesley too would be on the outside looking in.
This pattern would repeat itself in the mid-1800’s as Orange Scott and Luther Lee – again would now try to affect change from inside the Methodist Episcopal Church. These two “radicals” were trying to get the Methodist Episcopal Church to abolish slavery from among its members. However the bishops weren’t so keen on splitting the body over the issue. In 1843, Scott and Lee, tired of the issue, split ways with the Methodist Episcopal Church and formed the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion of America.
The Wesleyan Methodists were highly involved in the revivals of the late 19th Century. There were campmeetings and revival fires burned. What is interesting is that these Wesleyan Methodists were reformers. They spoke out against slavery. They championed women’s rights. The first women ordained in America was ordained by a Wesleyan Methodist even though she was not a Wesleyan. It wasn’t long before the Wesleyan Methodists did ordain their first women. For most of its history, the Wesleyan Church has ordained women. The first national convention on women’s rights was held in a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Seneca Falls, NY. Wesleyans were part of the Underground Railroad – even defying governmental orders to return escaped slaves. Wesleyans were also fighting against the evils of alcohol. The holiness movement and the temperance movement were closely intertwined. So the Wesleyans were reformers as were many of the holiness denominations.
Not only did the Wesleyans push for social reform, they pushed for heart transformation. As a denomination, they were one of the first to put in their Discipline – their rulebook – a statement on holiness. Look at this statement from our current discipline:
The Wesleyan Church has grown out of a revival movement which has historically given itself to one mission—the spreading of scriptural holiness throughout every land. The message which ignited the Wesleyan revival was the announcement that God through Christ can forgive men and women of their sins, transform them, free them from inbred sin, enable them to live a holy life, and bear witness to their hearts that they are indeed children of God. The message was based on the Scriptures, was verified in personal experience, and came not only in word but in the power of the Spirit. It was dynamic and contagious, and was communicated from heart to heart and from land to land.
I believe in all of this our Wesleyan founding fathers were about the business of reconciling people to God. As I think about it, that should be the whole purpose of reformation and revival – to bring people back to God. Listen to what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 beginning in verse 17:
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
It was Luther who re-emphasized salvation by faith alone. That was one of his grievances with the church. The church was saying that you could buy your way into heaven – that you could spring your dead relative from purgatory, simply by giving to the church. This is part of what Luther was arguing against.
So today we remember what Luther did 501 years today – to correct wrong teachings. We must always guard against unbiblical teaching. Sometimes we need to be reformers — Sometimes we need revival — sometimes we need to reconcile. At the moment I think we need all three in our country. My prayer since we moved to McCrae Brook is that God would bring revival (specifically) to McKean County, but also throughout our state and throughout our country and throughout the world. My prayer is this: “Lord start revival and let it begin with me!”