The Great Reformation
The date was Oct. 31, 1517; the location was Wittenberg, Germany. This day would be pivotal in the great Reformation. On this day, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and university lecturer, nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church. Great theological changes—necessary changes—ensued as the Reformation grew. Five hundred years later, we need to stop and remember the great Reformation.
Catholicism Controlled The Masses
The Roman Catholic Church controlled the masses of people. It was a far cry from the New Testament church that we read about in the book of Acts. Tradition and ecclesiastical structure replaced the vibrant Spirit-led church of the 1st century.
Three Medallions Tell The Story
In the library at Prague, in the Czech Republic, there are displayed three medallions dated 1572. The first is engraved with a figure representing John Wycliffe. He is depicted as striking sparks from a stone. The second medallion shows John Hus kindling a fire from the sparks Wycliffe had supplied. The last medallion shows Martin Luther holding high a flaming torch ignited by the previous reformers.
These three: an Englishman, a Bohemian, and a German were used of God to bring about the great Reformation. There were others, of course, like Peter Waldo who preached a simple faith in God’s Word. Waldo and his followers (the Waldensians) rejected unbiblical practices they saw in the Roman Catholic Church such as prayers for the dead, and the Catholic teachings on the sacraments, purgatory, and transubstantiation. These issues also troubled Martin Luther.
While Luther was reading the great book of Romans—a book he had read, translated, and taught many times before—he could not leave Romans 1:17, which says, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Questions popped into Luther’s head: What does it mean that the just shall live by faith? Is there a righteousness found in faith?
Grace, Not Of Works
He started to see that Paul’s teaching—that our righteousness came through grace and faith—was not tied to works, as Luther had been previously taught. A man, woman, or child could be declared righteous before God simply on the basis of grace and not on the basis of religious performance. The righteousness of God is revealed, Paul said, “from faith to faith.”
Abuse Within The Church
Luther continued his studies. As he did, he saw abuse and contrast to biblical teachings within the Roman Catholic Church. His goal was to bring to light that which the Holy Spirit had revealed to him. He chose his writings, and, in particular, the now famous Ninety-Five Theses to express his newfound revelation.
A Parting Of Ways
His goal was that the Roman Catholic Church would see they had wandered from the sacred Scriptures and would return again to a Bible-based theology. Instead, there was a parting of ways. Luther was summoned to the Diet [Dee-et] of Worms to explain and then recant his teachings. He was glad to openly defend his beliefs. In so doing, he hoped to convert them to the revelation of justification by faith. Instead, he was declared a heretic and an enemy of the church.
The subsequent separation from the Roman Catholic Church and the addition of more reformers brought forth the label “Protestants,” for they protested the doctrines and the ecclesiastical abuse found within the formal church. The Counter Reformation by the Roman Catholic Church and subsequent persecution of the Protestants guaranteed 500 years of separation. Thank you, Lord, for the Reformation cry, “Sola fide,” the Latin term for “by faith alone” and “justification by faith.”