You may have noticed at some point walking into our lower commons that we are a Protestant denomination. Our rather large painting of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the wall betrays us in that entryway.
To be sure, we are some of the most ecumenical Protestants around – we are happy to welcome Protestants and Catholics alike into our fold without rebaptism by immersion. We have regular worshippers of all kinds of faith backgrounds. We are truly a “comma Baptist” group – something I wear proudly as a mark of the unity of Christ.
That being said, Protestantism is part of our culture and DNA as a congregation, and so I felt compelled to reflect a little on the good work of Protestantism as we approach Reformation Sunday this coming weekend. (Note: Reformation Day is actually October 31, this year the 498th anniversary of Luther nailing his theses to the door of the Church at Wittenberg in 1517, but since that day falls on a Saturday this year, we will celebrate Reformation Sunday the Sunday preceding).
While I cannot provide you a long history lesson about Luther’s life, monasticism, and eventual rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church (I recommend the following biography for that), Luther’s work as a theologian and reformer remains important for believers of all persuasions – even for those whose tradition came from later versions of Protestantism (we Baptists have roots in the radical reformation of the Anabaptists and the Puritans, nearly a century later than Luther’s reforms).
Now, I will not tell you Luther had a perfect life or that he got everything right about theology. But one thing on which he focused that I think we all should is that the “justice of God” is not simply the punishment of sinners, but that justice or righteousness of people is not our own, but God’s. We are given the righteousness of God because God freely bestows it on us by grace.
It seems commonplace to us today to believe that God’s grace is sufficient – we have hymns and sermons to point to all our lives reminding us of that truth. But for a 16th century monk and pastor, living among those whose penitential systems were punitive and costly, faith apart from works was apostasy.
Unlike Luther, I will not encourage us to depart from all works of faith. Works are an extension of our grace-given faith (I happen to love the book of James, which Luther would have happily torn from the pages of scripture). But like Luther, I find solace in the grace given to me by God – grace I did not have to earn or work for, but that God provides freely to me because I am special to God. What freedom we as believers have – we do not have to be perfect or earn God’s favor! God will provide the grace and all we need to do is accept it.
Reformation Sunday also happens to fall on our congregation’s Commitment Sunday. Stewardship seems at first glance antithetical to the freely bestowed grace of God – if grace is free, why pay the church anything? We don’t want to fall back into the work of paying for indulgences and trying to buy our way into heaven!
No, giving of ourselves – our money, time, and talent, is not a requirement of grace-given faith (thank goodness – or, thank Luther!). But giving is an extension of who we are, postured toward the Kingdom work of Jesus Christ in this world.
God freely gave us grace and faith; we gracefully give, with thanksgiving, to continue the good work of God in this world. And if there is a great place to invest in the Kingdom, I can tell you it is River Road Church (Comma) Baptist!
Join us this Sunday for Commitment Sunday or send in your commitment pledge card to the church office if you are unable to attend the service. Be sure to fill out both sides of your card – the amount and your name and contact data!