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By Rev. Michael Fry
October 31, 2021

On October 31st, a little over 500 years ago, (1) an obscure German monk by the name of Martin Luther mailed a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz outlining a number of objections to the medieval practice of selling indulgences.

Within 12 years, Germany was divided in two between Protestant and Catholic. A few years after that, England finalized its split from Rome. Protestant churches developed in Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, the Netherlands and elsewhere in the years that followed.

All Hallows Eve, is also celebrated in many churches as Reformation Day--marking the date, according to tradition, that Luther nailed a copy of that letter to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg and elsewhere throughout the northern German city.

To be fair, I could easily spend a month or two of Sunday schools on this sermon topic, but I'm going to condense that and to do that I want to briefly focus on four points:

The Background to what brought this about

The Reformation--Key ideas (esp. Sola Scriptura), Parallels to Today, and Call to Action

The last two points are really where I'm going with this as I hope I'm able to illustrate why we are living in a reformation age right now and what we all should be doing about it.


The call for reforming the church had been around for a century or more. There was, in fact, widespread agreement that it needed to be done (even if people did not necessarily agree on exactly what the should look like).

A number of things produced an environment ripe for change--first there was a new intellectual movement that pushed a love of antiquity (a fondness for the practices and belief of ancient days); and that spawned a desire to reform church and society along ancient patterns.

That was combined with a re-discovery of the works of Augustine; as well as the widespread availability of the New Testament printed in its original Greek for the first time--for about 1,000 years it had only be read in Latin and the translation led to some wrong understandings. So, scholars were able to re-evaluate current religious customs in light of the original text as well as the Christian authors of the first few centuries after Jesus' life known as the early church Fathers.

Also, as the internet has impacted our own society today, the introduction of the printing press-2- had an earth-shaking effect on the world of the 15th and 16th-centuries. Books were no longer confined to monasteries and universities, but were now widely available to the upper classes who could afford to buy them. Add to that the fact that the number of European universities more than doubled in the two centuries before the Reformation.-3-

The end result of these things was a significantly more educated and more widely read populace. At first, the reformers were seeking mainly administrative, legal and moral reforms. The clergy were notoriously absent from their parishes: For example, only 1 in 14 German parishes had their pastor in residence; The archbishop of Sens, Antione du Prat made his first and only appearance in his cathedral at his own funeral--he never set foot in there during all the days of his Archbishopric!-4- Along with absent clergy, many others were unqualified (could barely read) or were lacking in good moral character.

The upper classes, for their part, reserved their ire for the Pope. They resented his meddling in local politics and especially the loss of tax revenues sent to Rome that they would rightly prefer stay within their own dominions. But as time went on, the question of doctrine arose--for to question anything the established church did was to impugn the authority of the Pope. And that, in the end, became the crux of the matter for the established church.

Luther had a personal and theological breakthrough in his study of the Book of Romans. He was particularly struck by what St. Paul wrote in Romans 1.17: "The righteous shall live by faith." You see, Luther was, a very devout monk, but he was plagued with a great sense of unworthiness, and no matter how well he performed his prayers, penances and the work of a friar, he simply could not feel he deserved salvation.

But St. Augustine helped him read Paul in a new light and Luther came to understand that our salvation is a free gift of God which we receive through faith--not through anything we do. This was not a new teaching, just a rediscovering of a Biblical truth. Hence one of the great cries of the Reformation was Sola Fide--faith alone. That deep understanding made such a difference to Luther that he strongly defended the truth against anything that might impinge upon it--like the sale of indulgences.

Archbishop Albert of Mainz, in order to raise funds to pay off the debt he owed a banking house for purchasing his second archbishopric, let that sink in... The Archbishop paid a large sum to the church in order to secure the right to hold two Archbishoprics at the same time and, thus, was in deep debt. He employed a Dominican by the name of Johann Tetzel in 1516 to preach the indulgence in Germany for gifts for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Of the funds raised, the Archbishop would take a cut and then send the remainder to Rome (If you've ever visited St. Peter's, you may not have realized the significant role its building played in the start of the Protestant Reformation).

Tetzel is famous for the proverb, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from purgatory springs!" To give you an idea how ludicrous this idea could become, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg managed to secure for himself what is calculated to have been just over 39 million years remission of purgatorial punishment--that's right, 39 million years.-5- Makes you wonder, doesn't it: if his conscience was that guilty, what was he doing being a Cardinal? And, let's do the math here, if you're consigned to an eternity of punishment, take away 39 million years, what does that leave you? Oh, yeah, still an eternity. Hmmmm.

Well, Luther was appalled by the use of the indulgence, for he felt that the common folk believed that they could buy their way into heaven, and thus have no need for true repentance or amendment of life. This led Luther to post his famous "Ninety-five Theses upon Indulgences." That's how things began.


The Archbishop of Mainz complained to the Pope, not about Luther's theology specifically, but about the loss of his (and the Pope's) indulgence revenue due to the posting of the theses. The Pope instructed Luther's superior to quiet him. The Dominicans (who were the Pope's theological shock troops), were unable to find fault with his theses, so they attacked Luther on the grounds that to oppose indulgences was, to oppose the authority of the Pope--that, as I said earlier, became the crux of the matter for the established church.

Luther appealed for a General Council of the church, but (making a long story short) came to determine that Scripture and Scripture alone was to be the authority in settling church disputes. Called to appear before the Emperor Charles V in 1521 at Worms he answered those who challenged him to defend his beliefs by saying: ,"Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures and by clear reason (for I do not trust in the pope or councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."

Now I've got to take a brief interlude here before getting back to the topic of scripture, to point out why Luther could say such things and live. Almost every other would-be reformer before him was executed. But another development in the late medieval period was the rise of the nation-state. Luther lived because the Elector Frederick of Saxony, fearing for his friend Luther's life staged a mock kidnapping and had him brought to the castle of the Wartburg, where he remained hidden for nearly a year (protected by the castle walls and the Duke's army). The northern German states (with their armies) sided with Luther. The southern states remained Catholic but were more concerned with the Muslim Turks on their eastern border than the Lutherans to the north. By the 16th-century, the power of Emperors and Popes had receded. The time of the nation-states had come.

Now back to Scripture. As I said earlier, one of the great cries of the Reformation was Sola Fide--we are saved through faith alone. A second, equally significant, was Sola Scriptura--Scripture alone was the guide of what a Christian was to believe and do.

All the reformers wished to have the Bible translated into the language of the people so that they could better understand the word of God. William Tyndale, who was one of the pioneers of our English Bible, arguing with a leading churchman said: "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more scripture than thou doest."-6-

The primacy of Scripture is well-attested within our own Anglican tradition. Article VI of The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion published in 1571 states: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."-7-

Thomas Cranmer in his Homily on Scripture published in 1547 writes: "To a Christian man there can bee nothing either more necessarie or profitable, then the knowledge of holy Scripture.... there is nothing that so much strengtheneth our faith and trust in GOD, that so much keepeth vp innocency and purenesse of the heart, and also of outward godly life and conuersation, as continuall reading and recording of GODS word. [With that in mind he tells us we are to] Read it humbly with a meeke and lowly heart, to the intent you may glorifie GOD, and not your selfe, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without dayly praying to GOD, that he would direct your reading to good effect: and take vpon you to expound it no further, then you can plainely vnderstand it..... Let vs heare, reade, and know these holy rules, iniunctions, and statutes of our Christian religion.... Let vs with feare and reuerence lay vp (in the chest of our hearts) these necessary and fruitful lessons. Let vs night and day muse, and haue meditation and contemplation in them."-8-

The Bible is the book that changed the world because its author is the creator of the world. For love of it and the Lord who authored it, our reformation fathers sought to better understand it and to shape the church, their own lives, and society at large according to its precepts. The sad side to that story, though, is that the church and society is very resistant to being reformed--it was then, and it is now. It's well known that when you apply pressure to an object, it can either bend or break. The western church in the 16th and 17th-centuries refused to bend, so it broke. The good news today is that God is in the process of putting it back together. However, as I must move on in this sermon, if you're interested in learning more of the Reformation story, I encourage you to attend our confirmation class during the Sunday school hour beginning in mid-January (we'll spend several weeks on church history).


I have been saying for some years that the internet in our generation is having every bit as revolutionary an impact on the church and society as the invention of the printing press in the 15th-century. Just as the printing press increased the flow of information and overwhelmed the establishment's ability to dominate the narrative and control the populace, so the internet has done today.

The printing press was invented in 1454. By 1500, less than 50 years later, there were 200 presses running in Europe. If you owned a printing press, you wanted a good return on your investment right? You published what people wanted to read. About half the books printed were religious in nature--Bibles in the vernacular language, religious tracts and the like.When religious disputes began, the printers profited from them. As one scholar describes it, a new genre of what he calls "ecclesiastical grievance literature"-9- was created (That means books about what's wrong with the church). Doesn't that sound like today?--Websites spiking traffic by publishing inflammatory news and videos.

Luther wrote a series of wildly popular books read all over Europe highlighting the abuses of the church. Today we have Instagram influencers, Tik Tok celebrities, producers of viral videos and the like. Luther was that on steroids. One author writes, that by 1520, "He was...a famous or notorious man. The market was eager to buy what he published. Luther discovered to the world that...he was a polemical writer of genius...direct, hard-hitting, Biblical, untwisted."-10- The papal legate wrote, "All Germany is in revolution...Nine tenths shout 'Luther!' as their war-cry; and the other tenth cares nothing about Luther, and cries: 'Death to the court of Rome!'"-12- And as Luther's writings touched hearts that others were not reaching, so the internet today has a power the leaders of church and society cannot tame. Let me ask you all a question? Where do you get your news? Do you receive the majority of your news from sources other than the main networks?

I haven't watched ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC or FOX for years. Why? They're all reporting what their corporate owners tell them to report. And much of what is happening around you is not reported.It is because of the internet and only because of the internet that you see parents rising up at school board meetings and taking back control of their children's education. It is because of the internet conservative Anglicans were able to share information, organize and form the Global Anglican Future Conference--GAFCON--of which we are a part, and which gave birth to the Anglican Church in North America.

The old power structures, (and yes, that includes the Archbishop of Canterbury), are no longer in charge.Churches today are reforming along theological lines. Issues such as human sexuality, the sanctity of life and the authority of Scripture are bringing together Christians from different denominations that did not use to worship or do mission and ministry together. And the internet is how they tell each other what's going on and organize their activitiesIt's critical to note that Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th-centuries not only changed the church, but it fundamentally changed the political landscape as well--it was a reformation, not just of religion, but of society.

We are in the midst of transformational change--right now--in both the church and in society. Neither will ever be the same again. Taken a day at a time, the change might seem slow, maybe not even very noticeable, but I am certain, looking back from a couple of decades down the road, we will be astonished at the difference.


What should we do? The world is not transformed without the involvement of its people. Remember, Martin Luther lived only because he had the people behind him. I have often said that Christianity is not a passive religion, and I am calling all of us to stand tall for the faith, for truth, for justice and to give no ground--not even a little.

I was thinking of my high school typing class this weekend when I was putting together this sermon because I can remember, as a typing exercise, hammering out this phrase over and over: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country"

I think some typing specialist in the 19th-century figured that included most of the movements you needed to do to learn how to type.-12- "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country"

I believe that statement is truer today than it's been at any time since the Civil War--160 years ago.

People often quote the statement that there is supposed to be a "separation of church and state" in our country. Though, most don't understand that that notion only means that the Federal Government cannot mandate that we all belong to a particular denomination or support a specific creed. It's opposed to federally mandated religion--that's all. It never meant that our faith was not to impact our business or our political life.

A Christian has, at the same time, one foot in the kingdom and one foot in this world. His or her primary allegiance is to the kingdom of God, and they live as kingdom citizens in this world. I'm asking each of us here to be bold, be unapologetic, be proactive.

As the founders of All Saints Church re-formed this parish and left an existing building and existing denomination in order to be faithful to our Lord and Scripture--and gave themselves a lot of work, and it cost them a lot of money in order to do it (but it was worth it)--let us all reform our own lives, the lives of our families, our workplaces, our cities, this state and our country to be as the Lord always intended it to be. There will be a cost, but, (as in the founding of this church), the effort will be well worth it.

Reform is already happening all over. Look, for example, at the law passed in Texas recently protecting the unborn once a heartbeat is detected. If you're not following the right news sources, all you heard was that it was controversial--that's all you heard. You did not hear that that law saved 2,000 lives or more just in its first month (2,000 lives a month, 24,000 lives a year) and that was just one state!-13- Why would the news not report it? If the answer to that question does not disturb you, you're not paying attention; since the logical conclusion is that they're not reporting it because they want to kill babies! And if you're listening to a news service that's not reporting to you the good news of lives saved, find another source.

We can make a difference. We are making a difference. It may be as simple as boycotting Twix. Do you know why I'm boycotting Twix? If you don't understand, it's because you're not getting your news from the right sources. Twix has been running a commercial celebrating witchcraft and promoting grade-school-aged boys wearing dresses. You didn't see that on the news sources you're watching because they do not want to upset the corporate interests. I love Twix--it's probably my favorite candy bar-- but I'm not going to buy them or eat them any more.

We cancelled Disney+ at our house for similar reasons. We also cancelled Netflix. We've got to make sacrifices. There's a lot of good stuff on Netflix; there's a lot of good stuff on Disney+. But in wartime you make sacrifices, and we are at war! You need to stand up for what you believe in in every sphere of your life and cut out everything that promotes a godless agenda. The days of being passive are over.

And I will tell you the good news that there is not only a Reformation going on, but also a Revival going on. (If I might switch from news sites to religious sites) If you're looking at the right religious sites, they are telling you and showing evidence of it going on all over the country and throughout the world. And it's not about to happen, it's already happing--we're in the midst of it. I can see it, and I can feel it. The sense of God's presence in our worship services is stronger to me, than I have ever felt it in 27 years of parish ministry.

And it's not just at All Saints, it's happening throughout our Diocese, it's happening across denominations. Ministers are reporting that remarkable things are happening--everything is easier. It's like there are more angels fighting for us; the Holy Spirit is more present; stuff you've been working on for years, all of a sudden, it's all working easier because God is coming in great power among us.

So, stand your ground. Fight for what you believe in. Be an example to your family, your co-workers and your community. And above all, draw near to the Lord who is our life and our strength. Be rooted in God through scripture, prayer and worship and nothing can stop you.

Change is uncomfortable, and it can be scary, but it's important to realize that God is the author of history. He's seen the beginning and the end, and he's got this. Let us, not reluctantly, but with great joy and enthusiasm join with him in his work in this present day.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, we repent of the times we've gone along with society because it was an easy thing to do--that we let things slide because it would be difficult to take a stand. We pray that you would give us strength now to no longer compromise with the world, the flesh, and the devil. But by the power of your Holy Spirit and the conviction of Scripture that you place in our hearts, help us to be your eyes and ears, your hands and feet, your mouths in this present generation. We offer ourselves, Lord, as instruments of your work. We pray you would use us to good effect, in Jesus name. Amen.


1) 1517

2) Johann Gutenberg, 1454

3) From 30 in 1300 to 70 in 1500

4) Own Chadwick, The Reformation, The Penguin History of the Church (Penguin: Middlesex, 1990), p.15

5) Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought, an Introduction (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 79

6) Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 1994 (New York: The Church Hymnal Corp, 1995), p. 385

7) The Book of Common Prayer (2019), Anglican Church in North America, (Anglican Liturgy Press), p. 773

8) http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/homilies/bk1hom01.htm

9) Bernard Reardon, Religious Thought in the Reformation (London: Longman, 1989), p. 20

10) Chadwick, op. cit., p. 51

11) Chadwick, op. cit., p. 55

12) https://www.answers.com/Q/Who_said_Now_is_the_time_for_all_good_men_to_come_to_the_aid_of_their_country

13) https://www.westernjournal.com/new-numbers-show-texas-pro-life-law-works-thousands-lives-saved-first-month/?utm_source=telegram&utm_medium=westernjournalism&utm_campaign=telegramfeed&utm_content=2021-10-29

The Rev. Michael Fry is Founding Rector, All Saints Anglican Church, Peachtree City, Georgia

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