Shazza, Nicko, Macka and Billy. Know any of these? Australians are so adept at giving nicknames. Do you have one? Do you remember when it began or who gave it to you? Perhaps your nickname was from your school days and has carried on, or been gifted to you by work colleagues in later years. Hair colour, name variations, habits or talents often shape a nickname as an expression of endearment. Whatever the origin, nicknames are a peculiar thing because we don’t choose them for ourselves, yet they can become a significant part of our identity.
As Luther walked to the Castle Church on 31 October, 1517, hammer in hand, he knew that the town church would be bustling the very next day as crowds gathered to view the sacred relics on display during All Saints day. In accordance with public debate rules, nailing his 95 Theses on the church doors that doubled as a public notice board, was carefully timed to maximise readership. The news of the day was translated into German, went viral and became a major catalyst for societal change, now known as the reformation.
Among others, the Apostle Paul says we are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by our own efforts to please God. And so Luther began protesting against church practices of that time which gave people the impression they must contribute to their salvation. Good works do not earn us salvation, Luther taught, rather, faith active in love is fruitful in a good life and good works.
The nickname ‘Luther’an originated not as a term of endearment but as a derogatory term used against Luther by German theologian Dr Johann Maier von Eck during a debate in July 1519. Eck and other Roman Catholics followed the traditional practice of naming a ‘heresy’ after its leader, which resulted in labelling all who identified with the theology of Martin Luther as ‘Lutherans’. Luther disliked the term Lutheran, preferring the term Evangelical, which was derived from a Greek word meaning “good news”, or “Gospel”. As time passed, the word Evangelical was dropped and Lutherans themselves began to use the term Lutheran in the middle of the 16th century.
Luther wrestled mightily with the law based human focus on justification and salvation. He didn’t seek a movement named after him. Instead, Luther stood resolute about his strong desire to share the gospel. The reformation reminds us that the focus is always on God’s work. Luther realised that good works can never earn God’s favour but through the free gift of grace, forgiveness brings salvation as God comes to each of us, personally, daily.
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
Whether your nickname is Shazza or not, Immanuel, God is with us and invites us to a daily personal reformation.
Blessings as we serve, lead and learn together.