Reflecting On The Protestant Reformation
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”" - Romans 1:16-17 (MEV)
The just shall live by faith. Justification is by faith alone through the grace of God. This is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. Every believer of Christ understands this perfectly well. How else can we be saved except by faith in Christ who became a sacrifice for our sins?
But ironically, the truth that is enshrined in these two verses was lost for the longest time, about one thousand years to be precise, stretching from the fifth to fifteenth century. That is a long time. It was not until the Protestant reformer Martin Luther came into the picture that this fundamental truth of justification by faith alone was restored and the Holy Scripture was once again taken seriously again.
Come 31 October this year, we will be commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It is a day worth celebrating. As I reflect on the significance of this Great Reformation, two thoughts came to mind.
Firstly, God uses those who earnestly seek Him, sometimes in the most profound manner. Luther was a seeker of God. He spent long hours daily studying the Scripture, praying and sometimes fasting. He struggled often as he could not come to terms with what he read in the Scripture and the questionable beliefs and practices of the church.
When Martin Luther posted the now famous Ninety-Five Theses on the great wooden doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church on 31 October 1517, he was not thinking about reforming the catholic church, much less starting a movement. He had absolutely no idea what he did would have such profound ramifications on not just the church but also Europe and beyond.
The Ninety-Five Theses were a list of statements questioning the sale of indulgences. People purchased indulgences to obtain the forgiveness of sins for their deceased loved ones and shorten their time in purgatory. Luther had a major issue with this church practice that was clearly contrary to the teaching in the Scripture. But he had no intention of upsetting the apple cart. He loved the church too much to do that. He was merely inviting scholars to debate on the matter.
But as God would have it, someone translated the Nine-Five Theses, which was written in Latin, into plain German and without Luther’s permission printed and distributed it. It went viral. Within a matter of weeks, it spread like wildfire throughout much of Germany catching the imagination of ordinary Germans. A fire had been lit and it proved unstoppable. The pope and the upper echelons of the church were incensed.
Secondly, it is necessary for Christians to uphold the truth of God. Frequently, it requires courage to stand for the truth and to speak the truth. It is never easy to stand against the cultural tide of decay both inside and outside the church.
Luther’s actions take a lot of courage. People who challenged the authority of the church had been summarily condemned as heretics and sentenced to death.
in 1521, Luther was put on trial in an assembly of the Holy Roman Empire held in the city of Worms, commonly known as the Imperial Diet of Worms. He testified before a powerful crowd of elites comprising of Emperor Charles V, Thomas Cajeta who was the pope’s representative and an array of German nobles. Most people would have capitulated under such immense pressure but not this German monk. Like David defying Goliath, Luther stood his ground. When asked to recant what he had written, Luther replied that he feared God’s judgement more than the judgement of the Diet. He said these now famous words: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” That is courage!
In the last few years, many serious Christian thinkers have wondered whether another reformation might be necessary. The reason being the church has once again drifted from its biblical moorings. In an article in Charisma magazine, R.T Kendall made this remark: “Martin Luther would have some tough questions for a modern church that seems to preach everything but the gospel.” He went on to give a few examples like the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, hyper-grace teaching and feel-good gospel.
Will you resist the temptation to embrace other gospels? Will you be willing to make a stand for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and for truth?
Pastors Les & Adeline Chua