Galatians 1:8-9 (ESV)
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Happy Reformation Day.
On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. It is considered to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The interwebs are chocked full of information about it and Luther and almost everything else one could possibly imagine. You can read one brief explanation of things here and also connect to some sermons and lectures.
Luther, of course did not set out to start the movement that resulted from his actions. He simply wanted to stop things in his church that were contrary to Scripture and a hindrance to the true Gospel being believed and received. It did not, to say the least, go well with the powers that were. Change always brings resistance for various reasons. The changes sought by Luther and others were Gospel related. The reformation was necessary because the Gospel itself was at at stake.
Too much time and ink has probably already been spilled regarding changes needed in the 21st century church. Change is always necessary to some degree or another. The Christian or church that denies the need for change is dead in some form, physically, mentally, or spiritually. The danger comes when we start to forget that. We should, of course, not change the great cardinal Gospel truths found in the Bible. They remain the same. The Gospel has not, and will not change. And therein lies part of the problem. Many arms of the church have not always known the difference between what must never change and what should always be changing. We often confuse form and substance. Forms must be altered. The substance should not.
Confusing form and substance means that sometimes we think our dearly held beliefs and practises are about the Gospel when they are only about our favourite way of doing things. Martin Luther was willing to let many things alone simply because they were not as important as the Gospel. He paid attention to people and the Gospel. Many churches have fought long and hard battles over issues that never should have begun at all. As my father used to say, “More church splits occur over the colour of the carpet than the doctrines of the faith.”
Quite often the inability to tell the difference between form and substance results in accusations of worldliness that are simply not justified. People get labelled as heretics or immature or worldly simply because they disagree on matters that are very disagreeable. Far too much disunity has resulted from issues that are little more than a matter of taste.
The other side of that coin of course, is that some Christians, churches, and denominations, won’t fight over anything and the Gospel itself gets shuffled to a less than prominent place, if it is believed at all. The Gospel is the crux of the matter and any changes to it must be resisted with all the resistant that God grants us. But we need to know the difference between form and substance.
Martin Luther and many others did know that difference. Others throughout history have followed in their wake and we should be grateful for the stands they took. It is a valuable lesson to learn. Let us stand for the Gospel and the essential truths that are worth dying for . Let us know what is just a matter of difference in taste or emphasis or different understanding of things from real believers. And let us learn how to love our fellow believers who hold to different interpretations on “disputable matters”.
Romans 14:1-23 (ESV)As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  for it is written,“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.  The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.  But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.