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500 YEARS ON AND STILL REFORMING

Although it is not noted, nor even celebrated by many churches, , the Reformation was a crucial event in Church history. Every 31st October the Reformation is commemorated by many Protestant churches. But this year especially marks the 500th anniversary when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany.  By doing so Luther challenged the existing beliefs and practices of the existing Catholic church and called her back to a more faithful Biblical witness. Not only should we salute Luther’s courage for enduring fierce opposition for his beliefs, but also thank God for this movement which brought about renewal.

Prior to the Reformation, the church was in bad shape. Although her cathedrals and ceremonies were impressive, there were many serious weaknesses. It was increasingly dependent on its priests who were not properly qualified as many knew little of the Bible nor Christian doctrine.  The Bible was only available in Latin which only some of the priests were familiar with. The common people mostly did not understand Latin which the services were conducted in, only their indigenous languages ie, German, English, French, etc.  They sat through services without real understanding let alone hearfelt worship. Wealthy families could buy a church position with money, a practice called simony.  Moreover, priests were often absent enjoying luxury rather than looking after their parishioners. They were also tempted to be immoral because they were expected to remain unmarried, but some had illicit relations which disillusioned the common folk. 

In 1456 the recently-invented printing press produced the first complete book in the Western world: the Bible! This significant achievement meant that books and pamphlets could be written, printed and distributed rapidly which theologians like Luther, Calvin and other Reformers took advantage of.  More importantly, many Bibles could be printed and placed in the hands of the common man so they could read, understand and examine God’s Word for themselves.

In summary, the key doctrines of the Reformation were (in Latin phrases):

1          Sola Scriptura: meaning the Bible alone was the Church’s highest authority in matters of faith, above long-held traditions, church leaders or the church.

2          Sola Christus: Jesus Christ alone was humanity’s Saviour and Mediator, not Christ plus ceremonies, or Christ plus works.

3          Sola Gratia: Grace alone saves us, not merit earned by good works.

4          Sola Fide: Personal faith was necessary for salvation, not just attending the mass and unthinking participation.

5          Soli Deo Gloria: God must have glory above all.

In particular the crucial doctrine “justification by faith” (not by works) was emphasized by Luther. As a monk he personally did not have any peace or assurance because he knew that he was never going to be good enough to achieve God’s level of righteousness, so how could he be saved?  Then providentially, he read Romans 1:17 “For in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”.

“Luther found peace and experienced reconciliation with God, not through his own acts of obedience (not that they could ever measure up) but through the obedience of Christ. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19)  We are saved not by performing righteous works, but only through Christ. This happens when we believe in Jesus through faith. All this comes to us only by the grace of God, who offers us salvation in Christ, even though we are undeserving of this salvation.  Luther had discovered the biblical truth of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

(R Solomon: The Reformation. Genesis 2017 page 188.)

Even from this short article I hope you can grasp how significant the Reformation was and continues to be for all churches. God used Luther, and other Reformers to reform or renew His church which was in spiritual decline. It had become indistinct from the world because it had lost the Bible.  There is a real danger modern churches can fall into such a dire state again if the Bible is ignored and the church relies on works without faith, without grace or even without Jesus Christ.  Didn’t the apostle John rebuke the church at Ephesus which had “forsaken your first love” and fallen? And if she did not repent, her lampstand would be removed, meaning the church would be shut down, her salvation-light extinguished by Jesus himself. (Rev 2:4f)

 

Praise God for bringing about the Reformation! May each anniversary be a timely reminder to treasure and own again, the key beliefs of our faith, in particular the centrality of God’s Word, the Bible. The Reformation placed the Bible in the hands of every believer. Let’s make sure our Bibles are opened daily, read, treasured and obeyed.

Pastor Graham

BCC Vision

“Like a tree planted by
streams of water,
which yields its fruit in 
season” 

(Psalm 1:3)

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