Monday, October 23, 2017

Reformation Hymn

In the month of October SPPC has been paying special attention to the Protestant Reformation, sparked by Martin Luther, when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517.  This act of defiance set off one of the most dramatic and far-reaching upheavals in history, touching on every aspect of life in Western Europe, and hence, North America.  The monolith that was the church in Rome, was shaken and splintered.  Luther's "sola" theology,
  • by faith alone.
  • by Scripture alone.
  • through Christ alone.
  • by grace alone.
  • glory to God alone,
stood against many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  By challenging the pope, Luther opened the floodgates to political, social and theological revolution.

There were other Reformers, Erasmus, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Melnachthon to name a few.  Although they had theological differences on the Eucharist, the doctrine of predestination, and the sacraments among other things, all stood firm on Luther's basic tenet, of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Luther was wise enough to know that music was a powerful tool for teaching scripture and theology.  Thus he penned many a hymn.  One of the best known is A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  Here is what Dr. C.J. Kirk had to say on this great statement of faith.

Of all Martin Luther's hymns this is by far the best known.  It was written in 1529 during a climax in Luther's struggle against the Roman church.  That year the Reichstag met at Speier and the Roman Catholic majority ordered that their worship should be permitted in all the German principalities from which it had been excluded by Princes sympathetic to Lutheran teaching, and that prelates and religious orders should be restored to their former properties and revenues.  The Lutheran princes entered a formal "protest" because of which the Lutheran movement became known as "Protest-ant".  In this dark hour Luther wrote his call to battle in this hymn which Heine called "the Marseillaise of the Reformation."
In his struggle Luther felt that he had one helper, God, against all the "mortal ills" prevailing against the reform of the Church.  What were those ills?  They were social as well as spiritual: the hopeless poverty of the peasant, the ignorance of the people, the oppressive powers of barbarous laws, the abuses of the priests and the wealth of the hierarchy.  These are attributed to "our ancient foe", the devil: but he is seen as incarnate in the worldly Pope Clement VII and the intriguing Emperor, Charles V.  All these constitute a triangle of hate and power the like of which the world has not seen the equal.
Such odds might daunt even the boldest but for one thing.  Our trust is in a spiritual leader, Jesus Christ.  He is given the title which the ancient Israelites delighted to give to Jehovah.  He is the "Lord Sabaoth," the "Lord of hosts," the commander of the hosts of heaven.  Here we have a truly Protestant theology.  Our confidence of salvation is not placed in an infallible Church with its sacraments, its relics and its traditions, but in an unconquerable Man who is clothed with the power and authority of God himself.  He remains the same "from age to age" and we know that "He must win the battle."
In that battle Luther saw himself in conflict with the devil, "the prince of darkness grim." with all his supernatural power and cunning.  Against such a foe, human weapons simply could not prevail.  If we confide in our own strength, then all "our striving would be losing" and well we know it.  "And though this world, with devils filled should threaten to undo us" remind us of Luther's defiant comment on his way to the Diet of Worms:  "though there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the roofs, I will go nevertheless."  "One little word shall fell him" and that little word is "the Name that is above every name." (Phil. 2: 9-10).
The final verse is the very essence of Luther's religious belief.  There is personal contact with God, the source of all spiritual power, through the divine Saviour and the indwelling spirit.  The Spirit imparts his beautiful gifts to us (Gal.5:22).  Of what value are earthly things when compared with such priceless treasures?  These things are the symbols and seals of a kingdom that abides forever.  The promise of these gifts comes to us through the inspired word of God, the holy Scriptures, and that was Luther's most trusted weapon.
These words are a witness to the uplifting and sustaining power of the faith of the man who wrote them and these same words continue to be an inspiration to God's people in every crisis of life. 

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