|Ten Commandments, illustrative wood relief,|
from a Catholic Church in southern Poland,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
If Christianity were a table or a chair, something that needed "legs" to stand on, the words that were spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-40 could be one of them. As the religious leaders attempted to piece together a case for Jesus' arrest, Jesus was tested several times. He was questioned about paying taxes to the emperor, about his future resurrection, and then about the law. "Which commandment is the greatest?" a lawyer asks Jesus (lawyers were experts in religious law and also teachers of it). He answers confidently and succinctly: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment." But he wasn't done yet: "And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” These are the legs in which the entire law (stemming from the Ten Commandments) stands on.
This year marks the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation. The movement of reform began around this time in 1517, when Martin Luther hung a list of 95 theses (originally called the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences) on the door of the Wittenburg Castle church in Germany. Martin Luther was an aspiring lawyer. After enrolling in law school, he was changed by a dramatic encounter with God during a storm. This is an interesting story for another time, but suffice it to say that this proved to be a moment in his life where he was changed. He left law school, sold all of his books, and entered a monastery and began his studies of theology and philosophy.
Back to these theses: they contained a template for discussion and debate, written in a rather tame and academic form. The foundations of the theses centered around 2 propositions standing in opposition to the Catholic Church, which sparked the reform of it: "that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds" (Martin Luther, 95 theses). The Catholic Church gave much authority to their leadership and did not believe in salvation by faith alone.
The book of James (2:14-16) makes the claim that "faith without works is dead," a motif that John Wesley (the "father of Methodism) would adapt as well. In his sermon "On Faith," Wesley asks the question: "But what is the faith which is properly saving; which brings eternal salvation to all those that keep it to the end?" He answers, saying: "It is such a divine conviction of God, and the things of God, as, even in its infant state, enables every one that possesses it to "fear God and work righteousness."
It is faith that saves us, and the response to such a faith is how we work towards holiness and righteousness. It is not our work that saves us, but our faith, but how we live in the world and treat one another is evidence of that faith in God.
Love God, Love Neighbor.
When we love God, we will inevitably love our neighbor, for our faith is not quiet, but shows up in the way we behave, in our character, and how we love our neighbor.
In this 500th year of challenging the church to elevate the authority of Scripture as well as the role of our faith in our salvation, let us continue to love God by loving neighbor.
Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong
*"O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee," verse 3, United Methodist Hymnal, 430