But, we believe that Luther and his theology played an important role in freeing the Gospel from church falsehoods that had grown worse over time. The gospel of Mark tells us that, at Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). The ancient Israelites believed that God dwelt with them in the ark of the covenant which was housed in the holiest of holies, the innermost room of the temple which was covered by a huge curtain. When Jesus died and the curtain was ripped open, we believe that God’s presence was unleashed on the world. Yet, in the centuries leading up to the Reformation, the church used its authority to try to hide the presence and grace of God from ordinary people once again. They taught that priests, bishops, cardinals and popes were closer to God than everyone else, and that they were the only ones who could interpret the will of God. In turn, these leaders used their authority to exploit the faith and fear of the masses. People were charged if they wanted to receive God’s forgiveness and grand cathedrals and elegant church mansions were built using the hard-earned wages of the faithful poor. The effect of these abuses was an attempt to hide God behind a proverbial temple curtain, making people believe that salvation was only for the rich and powerful – not the everyday believer.
In essence, when Luther taught people that the Roman Catholic Church was perverting the Good News of Jesus Christ, it was similar to the temple curtain being torn when Jesus died. Though the church tried to hide the fact that God is generous and freely forgives everyone who believes, Martin Luther made this simple truth known to the masses once again. In so doing, God’s gracious love was revealed to the people by tearing open the veil of church corruption and false teaching.
500 years later, this is a fact still worth celebrating because churches and pastors continue to put up curtains to hide the truth of God’s gracious forgiveness and love. I have friends who have been told that they are unworthy of God’s grace because they got pregnant before marriage. Others have been excluded from churches because they love the wrong type of person or because they have gotten divorced. Others have been told they are unworthy of God’s love because they haven’t attended worship for a couple of Sundays. And still others, just like Martin Luther, are told that they are not worthy of God’s grace because they question and doubt things that some churches and pastors teach. For all of these who have been hurt and kept from encountering God’s grace in the 21st century, we celebrate that for 500 years we have been faithfully living into the truth that God loves us no matter what. Even if some of our churches try to keep us from the grace of God, there is no hiding the truth that God cares for each and everyone of us, no matter what.
The power of the Gospel is Good News whose re-release 500 years has been worth celebrating for centuries. I can’t wait to see the Gospel moving in people’s lives for the next 500 years!