Fake News…in the Church

Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89, ESV)

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the famous 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, Historians have marked this event as the beginning of a revival known as the Reformation. It is the most important event outside the pages of Scripture. Sadly, most people know very little about it or why it happened.

Social media today is filled with what Donald Trump calls “fake news.” It is usually disinformation that is intended to promote or destroy a political position. Since I have people among my Facebook “friends” on both sides of the current political fence, I often chortle at what people will believe, but it begs the question, “How do we know what is true?”

Fake news was Martin Luther’s struggle with the Roman Catholic Church in his day. Like so many political groups today who solicit funds from their political base, the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century was selling “indulgences” to their base. Buying these indulgences would supposedly shorten a deceased loved one’s time in purgatory according to the highest office of the church. But doing good works had never rid Luther of the nagging sense of guilt that afflicted his soul. It wasn’t until he recognized that real forgiveness was to be found in God’s grace, applied to him by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. Luther recognized the sale of indulgences (among other things) for what it was — an elaborate fund raising scheme that was duping innocent people into a false sense of security. So he objected by nailing his 95 Theses (grievances) on the door of the church.

This event was not well received by those in the church hierarchy, so Luther had to defend his objections, leading ultimately to the question of “How do we know what is true?” Interestingly, it is the same question raised by Trump’s term, “fake news.” Those who followed Luther’s lead recognized that truth is not a political position. It is not the “spin” determined by a body of human beings, even if they are church officials or people in power. Truth, for the Reformers, was objective and revealed by God in Scripture.

The Reformers were not monolithic. They had different approaches to a number of issues, but what they did agree on was the source of truth. In some relatively minor areas, they did disagree on what Scripture taught (hence, we have many Protestant denominations). But the final authority was Scripture, not the Church’s interpretation of Scripture.

In our day Protestants and Catholics still disagree on the source of truth, but now the disagreement is compounded because there is a large portion of the society that doubts the existence of truth. Postmodern relativism has created a world in which every statement is fake news to someone. Every statement is someone’s spin.

But the legacy of the Reformation — the reason that it is the most significant event outside the pages of Scripture — is that it identifies that truth is objective and then it defines its source — God Himself. In the words of King David, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89, ESV). Thank you for your courageous stand, Dr. Martin Luther. Thank you to the many other Reformers who were martyred for firmly standing for the truth. May many in this generation say with you, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

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