Tuesday marked the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the seminal act that sparked the Protestant Reformation, a movement that recovered the biblical Gospel; the good news that salvation is received by grace alone through faith alone.
Last Sunday, a group from New City gathered with other churches in our presbytery in Charleston to unite in praise for what God has done and in anticipation of what He is going to do. Rev. Howard Brown preached an unexpected sermon on Matthew 10. It was unexpected because it did not focus on rehearsing the glories of the past, but on Jesus’ urgent call for continual Reformation here in the South where the church is still largely divided along racial lines.
Sharing from personal grief and baring his own sinful soul and need for God’s grace, Rev. Brown urged the congregation to “engage in conversations about how and why our denomination is so white.” Why are we complacent about this? Why do we often ignore the pain of our black and brown neighbors whom Christ has called us to love? In Matthew 10, Jesus calls us to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as [we] go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:6–8).
The call to go to “the lost sheep of Israel” means embracing their suffering, being misunderstood and rejected by those closest to us. Jesus said, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Anyone who brings up the sin of racism in polite, Southern churches will meet a similar fate that the disciples did. But in the face of this, we were urged to lay down our anger and pride. Rev. Brown proclaimed, “Jesus gave [us] HIS power to go and be reformational. It is out of his power and his righteousness and not ours.” That is the central message of the Protestant Reformation (i.e., It’s not about you.) and this is the grace we need to carry the movement forward, addressing the entrenched sins of the modern church.
It won’t be clean or easy. The Protestant Reformation certainly wasn’t. So let us begin the next 500 years by deepening our faith in the finished work of Christ and walking in his love toward all our neighbors.