Prior to becoming a pastor, a seminary student must complete a year of “student teaching” or in-the-field training if you were. This is called vicarage. Before completing my fourth year of my Master of Divinity degree, I myself was a vicar in a small church in Missouri from 2011-2012.
The word vicar itself, in its broadest sense actually means “a representative, or substitute.” Linguistically, “vicar” is the root of the English prefix, “vice,” meaning deputy. Many today even say, they live vicariously through something or one another. That is, serving instead of someone. In the Roman Catholic Church, The Pope uses the title Vicarius Christi, meaning, the vicar of Christ. In other words, the pope acts as the physical representative of Christ on Earth. That’s a pretty big claim!
During this month of October, we, as Lutherans, have means to commemorate Martin Luther’s challenge to the Roman Catholic Church.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (an Augustinian monk of the Roman Catholic Church and theology professor) wrote 95 concerns (or theses) about purgatory, indulgences, and other teachings of the Church—topics on which he wanted to debate. He then nailed them to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. (In that day, it was common for professors of the University of Wittenberg, whom Luther was theological chair, to post complaints for debate on the Castle Church door.) Although it is speculated that Luther’s 95 theses were not actually nailed on October 31, they were in fact mailed in letterform by Luther. So either way you have it, Luther’s 95 theses were “posted.” It was an act that began the Reformation, led to many other “protest”-ant churches, and changed the Church forever.
The practice of selling forgiveness in the form of indulgences (paper certificates), enticed common people, most of whom were poor and uneducated, to dish out money that would, according to the Pope, buy their deceased relatives out of purgatory and into heaven. In accordance with Catholic teaching, purgatory (Latin, "purgare", to make clean, to purify) is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions). The proceeds from these sales lined the pockets of various princes and bishops while continuing the myth that forgiveness could be bought. The priests who wanted to reform the Catholic Church, believed this tradition and belief to be contrary to Scripture. In Martin Luther’s mind, the church had deceived the people. An illiterate populace depended on their educated church leaders to guide them in their faith.
As a young monk, Luther struggled with feeling good enough for God. He didn’t understand how God could or ever would accept him. Fasting, prayer, confession, even physical beatings, didn’t seem enough to please God. Luther spent years trying. During these years of struggle, he began a study of Romans.
In the first chapter, he found freedom to his conscience. Verse 17 reads, “...as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.”
Luther came to understand that he could never earn forgiveness, never earn God’s love and grace, and never do enough to make himself right with God. Consider the truth he found in further reading of Romans: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).
And again in chapter five:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5: 1-2).
Justification through faith. Faith alone. AKA Sola fide. Christ paid the penalty for my sin because he loved me and knew that I could never pay that price outside of hell. All my good works emerge out of a heart of gratitude, not from obligation and certainly not as a means to evening the score between me and God. As if that were possible!
October is also month in which we celebrate the feast/festival days of St. Luke on Oct. 18, St. James of Jerusalem on Oct 23, and St. Simon and St. Jude on Oct 28. Most notably, we celebrate Reformation Day on Oct 31, when most in our secular community celebrate Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day, Nov. 1.
While it is certainly more important that we remain Christians first and foremost, we especially value being members of the Lutheran Church (and members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) this month. We celebrate October 31 as Reformation Day, recalling the event that gave the Bible back to the people and giving us a rich tradition of basing our lives on Scriptural truth. However, if you choose to observe Halloween, (which actually is forgotten celebration of honoring loved ones who past, All Hallows, or All Saints) remember that Christ has freed you from the darkness of sin that these fall months exemplify, and brought you into his kingdom of light. He bought you back to be his own, not by gold or silver, but by the holy precious blood of Jesus and his innocent suffering and death. Believe in God’s Grace and Word alone through faith alone. Sola fide! Sola gratia! Sola Scriptura! Faith Alone! Grace Alone! Word Alone!
Recall Luther’s famous words as he testified before the Roman Catholic Church at the Diet of Worms, 1521:
“Unless I am convicted by the testimony of Sacred Scripture or by evident reason... my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
“My conscience is captive to the word of God.”
Luther's words should inspire all Christians to hold fast to this truth and the truth of Scripture. To study and know Scripture, to pray on and memorize it. And most importantly, to live and act in accordance with Scripture by acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our Lord.
~ Pastor Aaron Boerst