The Reformation at 500
In the Beginning?
In the Beginning?
October 31st 1517 is a day that will forever live in infamy in history. It is the day that Martin Luther unwittingly set the world ablaze, not because he was the first reformer, but rather because his 95 theses were the spark hitting the mountain of kindling that was Christian reform. Martin Luther by challenging the traditions of the Roman Catholic church ignited a firestorm. All throughout the known world scholars and teachers, priests and preachers, popes and peasants began to study scripture more frequently. More Christians began to question the established traditions and practices of the church, investigating the abuses of power and finance that many claiming to be the very vicar of Christ were guilty of. John Calvin, Theodore Beza, William Tyndale, John Knox, Timotheus Kirchner, and George Wishart were just a few of the hundreds of reformers who began to assert more and more publicly that the church needed reforming. Traditions had become laws, Christianity had been replaced with an abomination that used the right words but did not teach biblical doctrine. A religious aristocracy of sorts had made it’s home in Rome and built its mansions and fortresses throughout the world using the money of the poor supplicants. Change was needed.
But reformation began long before Martin Luther. William Tyndale, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wycliffe, John Hus, Jerome of Prague, and Peter Waldo were just a few of the countless people of faith who challenged established tradition in favor of Christian scripture. You and I stand today as Christians on the shoulders of giants of the faith who lived and died in very different times and places where speaking of such things was not merely controversial, but potentially deadly. It is no exaggeration to say that I cannot imagine a world in which God did not ordain the reformation and all the good that came from it. The reformation irrefutably changed the world scientifically, educationally, socially, politically, economically, and of course spiritually. Would that I had 100 more lifetimes to express to you the importance of God’s work in history through these men. This movement to reform was a protest against the unbiblical and heretical teaching embraced by Roman Catholicism. The reformation was return to the word of God, a return to a Christ centered Gospel of grace rather than a church centered Gospel of merit. The reformation was the breaking forth of great light after almost a thousand years of darkness shrouding the church. Post Tenebras Lux thus became the motto of the Reformation, which in Latin means After Darkness, Light.
We are the continuation of this long line of reformers, the living breathing act of protest against any and all attempt to add to or subtract from God’s word. We are Protestant, we Protest man’s attempt to usurp God’s glory in any and every way. We repudiate every attempt of man which puts forth the heresy of merited grace and forgiveness. We reject every attempt of man to say that any man, no matter how public his pretensions of piety is the vicar of Christ. We refuse to participate in any and every form of supplication, veneration, adoration, or worship directed to any created being or object. We protest the pomposity of popes and priests who believe themselves to be the intercessors and mediators between God and man, which only Christ, by the very decree of scripture can Himself be on our behalf. We admonish and condemn every prayer to saints and explicitly expostulate the Marion idolatries so central to Roman Catholicism today. We are protestant, we protest - not merely for the sake of our souls, but for the good of the very Gospel itself.
But what does it mean to be Protestant, practically? What is it that the Reformation stands upon? How do we differ from Roman Catholicism and why does it matter? These are important questions that unfortunately the church today in America is almost entirely ignorant of - but not so for you. Not while I still draw breath. Starting this morning you are going to hear what it means to be a Protestant.
Let’s go to the Lord in Prayer
Just as every house has a foundation so too does every movement. Protestantism is no different. To be Protestant is to be embrace certain fundamental or basic teachings and convictions as true and we want to look at just what is it that we believe. Summarizing the most basic teachings of Protestantism is what has come to be known as The Five Solas. The word Sola or Solus is Latin and means only or alone. You’ve heard the word solo undoubtedly when it come to music? It comes from that same word. The Five Solas are the five pillars that form the foundation of Protestantism, they are five statements that distinguish us from Roman Catholics and all others who claim the title of “Christian.” They are:
Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone
Sola Fide - Faith Alone
Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
Solo Christo - Christ Alone
Soli Deo Gloria - To the Glory of God Alone
Over the next few weeks we will be looking at each of them individually and today we begin with one you have undoubtedly heard me talk about if you have attended one of our evening sessions - Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone.
Scripture Alone is the Protestant belief that the Bible alone is the sole, infallible, rule of faith for the Church. We believe that the Bible, is God’s word, that it is as Paul says in - Theopneustos, that is God-breathed. We believe the Bible because it is a collection of documents that God not only inspires but breathes out, that it carries not just revelation from God, bu also the very authority of God. As Protestants we believe that the Bible is thus binding upon us not just individually, not just locally, but corporately as the church throughout the world. We believe that we are to be in submission, under the rule of scripture. Now to you as modern Protestant nothing about that statement sounds strange or controversial, but if you had been alive 500 - 600 years ago and made such a claim you would have put your very life in danger as it would have been very likely for the Roman Catholic Church to brand you not only a heretic, but anathema - meaning eternally damned. During the days of the early reformers it was life-threatening to make any declaration about the authority of the scripture being above the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and most especially the Pope. Roman Catholics believed that the Pope, Mother Church, and Sacred tradition were more important and superior in authority to, the very Sacred Scriptures from which we know the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Ponder that for just a moment.... The Roman Catholic Church believed and still believes though they will rarely state it as such, that only the Roman Catholic Church’s Magisterium can tell the church what scripture is and is not and interpret what it means. They would even go so far as to say that they alone have the authority to declare which documents are scripture and which are not. But our forebears during the beginning days of the Reformation recognized that it was not the place of the church to dictate what was and was not scripture - that was God’s prerogative which He had exercised in history and through very specific means in order that His revelation which He intended for the church be transmitted from generation to generation. The early reformers also recognized that it was not the Roman Catholic Magisterium’s job to interpret the Bible on behalf of ignorant laymen, but that every believer should have access to the word of God, learn the word of God, and how to interpret the word of God themselves. Just as the early church spread the gospels and letters of the Apostles as far and wide as possible that all believers capable of reading could do so for themselves, so to did the Reformers believe that the Bible should be accessible to the common man and in the common tongue, not only in Latin and chained to a pulpit.
The Reformers believed the words of
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
They believed that the word of God is powerful, that because it carries God’s authority and was designed by God for a purpose that it should be read, spoken, memorized, studied, and possessed by every person, not just the few rich religious elites. My friends today you and I have unprecedented, unmitigated, unfettered access to the Word of God. We have multiple Bibles in our homes, access to the Greek manuscripts themselves on the internet, and even free access to practically every translation of scripture in existence on our mobile devices. We are the epitome of privilege when it comes to the Bible. But privilege never comes without pain or persecution. Many great men and women of faith lived under threat of torture and death for many years during the early period of the Reformation. Many of our brethren worshipped in hiding and even had to flee there homes and businesses and families for the sake the true Gospel and the spreading of the Word. And we are so thankful for their sacrifice.
But lest we forget, lest you grow too comfortable in the great freedom that you currently possess we must remember their acts of courage and sacrifice, but more importantly we must remember why they did what they did. The reformers believed that the Bible was more than a book, more than words transmitted over time through prophets and apostles. They believed that it is sacred, that it is Holy, that is perfect and pure and powerful.
They believed as I believe the words of
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
They believed God’s laws are prefect, His testimony sure, His precepts right, His commandment pure, His rules true, and His every word sweeter than honey and more valuable than all the treasures that this world contains. By faith, we believe as our forebears did - that God in His wisdom and mercy has given unto mankind His revelation of Himself. He has given us what we need to know in order that we may know Him, follow Him, obey Him, and even that we may love and live with one another in peace. May we never take His word lightly.