Sometimes it takes 500 years, but we all can learn and change!

The Reformation began 500 years ago as a simple and faithful call for the Church to return to her solid foundation: faith (our only salvation) and the gift of God (grace). This undeserved gift of faith was given to Abraham and Sarah, and it was the gift God extended to all nations in Jesus Christ. But, there are always those, in every age, who want to add conditions to God’s grace.

In the days after the resurrection of Jesus to today, there are those who claimed that God’s gift of faith was not quite free or that it was not for all. In the first years of the Church, St. Paul had a struggle with those who claimed that Gentiles needed to follow all of the rules of Mosaic law to be included in the family of faith. Martin Luther rejected the idea that we could purchase an “indulgence” to receive God’s grace. Søren Kierkegaard challenged Danish Lutherans who thought membership in the state church was their salvation, as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany. In our day we challenge those who trust in their own wealth, power, intellect, or decisions to earn God’s grace.

In my younger days, I didn’t believe that there would ever be a resolution to the struggle between the grace/faith alone Lutherans and the grace/works Roman Catholics. In the 1980s I remember being surprised that an old conservative professor of mine was an official Lutheran observer at the 2nd Vatican Council and that he became friends there with a Roman Catholic cardinal. I was surprised that the Roman Catholic cathedral in St. Paul, MN invited the Lutheran St. Olaf Choir to sing the dedicatory concert for the renovation of the building. Then in 1999, I was really surprised that Lutherans and Roman Catholics came to an agreement on Justification by Grace through Faith. Through shared prayer, dialog, and service Lutherans and Roman Catholics have come to understand that faith is God’s free and undeserved gift, which will necessarily result in Christian service (works).

In my years in Pittsburgh I was surprised to become friends with the neighboring Irish Catholic priest. His counsel and comfort extended after my father died will always be cherished. In Maryland I have also been blessed by the shared faith, hope and love that I have enjoyed with the neighboring Roman Catholic and Protestant parishes, priests/pastors, and the leaders of our area Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Fran Kleinhenz and Joe Weiss. Last year, I was again amazed that Pope Francis accepted the invitation to share in the leadership of a Prayer Service with the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation. And, guess who called me to ask if they could come to Trinity to watch it together on TV – Fran and Joe!

So, when anger, fear, hatred lead to condemnations and even war – do not despair, even if it goes on for 500 years! God has been working in and through us to learn and change. Sometimes it takes 500 years for us to catch on, but we are now walking together in faith that is full and free, and well as in Christian service that is the result of God’s grace.

Soli Deo Gloria! To God be the Glory!

— Roger Berner, Pastor