Luther’s Reformation. Wesley’s Methods. Today’s Revival?

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  This is the sermon given on Sunday, October 29, 2017.  

This week, on Halloween, October 31, 2017, there is a Christian milestone to celebrate—the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of 95 theses challenging the problems of the Catholic Church. This is historically identified as the beginning of the Protestant movement.

Trying to summarize the 95 statements is challenging, but primarily Luther had become so incensed to the practices of the Catholic Church, especially paying for one’s penance, that he wrote out the concerns and nailed them to the church door. This one act developed the Protestant church movement that continues today, alongside the Catholic Church.

In Germany, where Martin Luther served as a priest and led the reformation, a unified group of churches under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) published a booklet that outlines the reason and the rational behind the Reformation. The purpose of remembering this event is clearly stated:

Christianity, and indeed human society, always lives from the memories of its history. An honest engagement with the Reformation is always informed and enlightened by historical critique. A genuine understanding of history will presuppose an educational process distinguishing between historical events in the 16th century and what this history means for us today. Such an understanding will avoid any non-historical glorification or naive instrumentalization of those events. (Page 6).


The EKD goes on to state the earliest Christians who are now referred to as “Reformers” continued what Luther began:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).


The explanation includes the consequence of the Reformation movement that continues even today, 500 years later:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).


The Reformation as a movement continues yet today. It led to John Wesley and his work, along with so many theologians who are recognized as leaders of various Protestant denominations. The EKD publication states:

This Reformational approach is one in which the search and longing for God, for the holy, for spirituality and inwardness, goes hand in hand with responsibility for our neighbour, the world and the future. (Page 16).


As part of the Protestant arm of Christianity, these goals echo the basic premises of the Methodist movement that began with Wesley, who was born in 1706 and began his style of ministry about 30 years later.

Wesley’s movement focused on personal spiritual practices and on social responsibility. He established the small group method that demanded that each person be included in a class that met regularly and required Bible study and accountability. Bishop Rueben Job has simplified Wesley’s expectations to three rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

The often-repeated quote attributed to Wesley really says it all:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”


The question today, though, takes the Reformation movement and turns it to a personal level: Do you need a revival?

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-46, NLT)

Again, Do you need a revival? Considering the anniversary of the Reformation and Wesley’s movement about 200 hundred years later, we are reflecting on major shifts in how Christianity is a personal lifestyle, not one dictated by a government or even a particular priest or minister.

Returning to the booklet published by the EKD concerning the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a series of key points are included under the heading “Reassurance.”

The following seven basic dimensions describe this approach. Although each person will develop it in his or her own way, it reflects the one spirit that God has given us, not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control«. 2 Tim 1:7 (RSV) (Page 16).


The seven dimensions are

  1. Trust in God.
    • A Reformational approach to life knows that faith is a gift. Faith does not live from holding to church doctrines, or observing ritual acts, or following moral precepts.
    • From a Protestant standpoint, faith does not fear rationality.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities. (Page 17).
  2. Being humble.
  • The root of every demeanour and all hopes is the cross. (Page 18).
  • The Cross cuts across established certainties. It makes the soul ready for God’s mercy and, at the same time, humble and willing to defend all those suffering humiliation. (Page 18).
  1. Living our freedom.
  • Reformation piety is not withdrawal from the world, but turning towards it and attending to the needs of our neighbour. . . . – from music to literature, the fine arts, education and research, not to mention the culture of debate in politics and civil society. (Page 19).
  1. Being resistant.
  • a Reformational approach to life stands for a culture of resistance to the abuse of power, fundamentalism and attacks on social minorities. Protestantism participates constructively in societal debates and champions the freedom of individuals to make decisions about their own lives. (Page 21).
  1. Remaining sensitive.
  • Faith lives from our relation to God and becomes practical in love of our neighbour both near and far.
  • . . . basic Reformation insight that education fosters value orientation and personal development. It broadens our horizons, sheds light on other approaches to and ways of life, and makes us sensitive to the cares and sufferings of others. (Page 22).
  1. Finding a home.
  • Faith presses towards community in which there is mutual stimulus and empowerment. (Page 23).
  1. Taking a break.
  • A Reformational approach to life is certain that creation and world history, the present and the future, do not depend alone on what we do, or what we leave undone.
  • . . . puts trust in God and not in the illusion that happiness can be created by human hands.
  • It takes each day as it comes, with its own joys and sorrows. (Page 25).


One is free to find a Christian denomination that fits them personally, but the foundation remains in the lessons that Jesus taught as recorded in the New Testament. Reading the lectionary each week does not always provide insight into one’s life for that particular week, but there are gems of messages that can help each one of us live a Christian lifestyle that makes sense in our personal world.

What the EKD does may not be the celebration we plan this week, but the message of how the Reformation transformed The Church 500 years ago, can serve as a self-evaluation for our church today, but more importantly as a self-check for each one of us individually.

Do you need a revival?

Last week’s commentary on the lectionary certainly forced me to consider this question. Reading through the seven points of reassurance, considering Wesley’s methods for Christian living, and then remembering Job’s three simple rules, the need for a revival seems evident.

Today’s Methodist church is facing the need for a revival and that means each one of us needs to consider the need for a personal revival. Attending the New Wineskins conference a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to learn that many growing congregations that have either been a restart or a new plant are not using any reference to the denomination in its formal name. One speaker noted that it seemed to help not using the term ‘Methodist’ and yet another one said that using the identifying term did not seem to have a negative effect.

Today, our denomination is being challenged to live its very fundamental life style as visibly as any organization. The use of social media, advertising, high-quality graphics and signage all place our Christian values in full public display. If we as Methodists, as a Methodist congregation, do not reflect the image of Christ, then we are in need of a revival.

Paul was clearly supporting the new congregations struggling to live a Christian lifestyle while living in communities that were filled with pagan practices. Christianity was a reformation movement from the beginning and has always adapted to cultural changes one way or another. The Protestant movement that spun out of Martin Luther’s actions as he hung up the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in defiance of the Pope has carried God’s message throughout the world and forward through the centuries.

We must honestly address the question of whether or not we need a revival, and then we must move forward to make sure that we are living out Jesus’ message of loving God and loving one another. Imagine how maintaining those two commandments can transform our world, but most importantly how it can transform our own lives.

The final page of the EKD’s booklet simply states:

A Reformational approach to life – nurtured by historical commemoration, trusting in God, rooted in Scripture, bearing responsibility in the present – is a wellspring of humanity for every society.


After all, a wisdom refined by spirituality teaches us to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. Tit 2:12 (RSV) (Page 36).


The verse from Titus 2 is part of Paul’s words of instruction to Titus as he is left to serve the church in Crete. The context includes more advice that we need to consider when wondering if we are in need of a revival:

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God ,13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14, NLT)

As a closing prayer for this anniversary, I used the following from

Here we stand, Lord,
The people you have redeemed.
Here we stand, Lord,
giving thanks to you for you are good.
We give thanks that your love lasts forever.
We thank you that you free those who are oppressed.

Here we stand knowing that it is you
We all can cry out to for help in times of trouble.
We know that you will not only deliver us but
That you will lead our way to where we need to go.

Here we stand by the living water
That you set flowing for all.
We drink freely from your waters
That gratifies everyone who is thirsty.
And we thank you that you also
Give plenty to eat for those who are hungry.

Here we stand with those who reformed the church so long ago
And with those who still are reforming the church today.
Here we stand witnesses to your good news for all.
Here we stand your servants, your followers, your children.

–by Abigail Carlisle-Wilke

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