The Importance of the Reformation
On October 31, 2017 a large part of the world’s population will take time to reflect on that fateful day, 500 years ago, when an obscure Augustinian monk had a date with destiny. Little did Dr. Martin Luther know that the hammer he raised to nail a document to the church door of Wittenberg Castle, would fall again to smash European society. Luther’s document simply contained ninety five points of concern he had with the Catholic Church. As a Christian pastor and scholar, Luther wanted to discuss his ideas with other scholars. Luther did not realize he had created a spark of controversy that would set the world on fire.
From the vantage points of time and distance, it is easier to comprehend the importance of what was intended to be a reformation of the unmitigated corruptions within the Catholic Church. That the Church needed reformation was clearly known. Even faithful priests, such as Erasmus, mocked the abuses of the clergy. In contrast, Luther was not laughing when he denounced the terrible practice of simony. Luther roared against the abuse of indulgences whereby a person could purchases forgiveness of sin, and lose their fear of God. “Thesis 49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.”
What Luther desired was the purification of the Church’s faith and practice which found partial success in the Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation, beginning with the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and ending at the close of the Thirty Years’ War (1648). Unfortunately, in the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church was only willing to go so far. In the end, it would cling to its traditions and power. Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther and his followers firmly believing that Luther, and all other Protestants, would be eternally damned as heretics.
What God desired, and so decreed, was not simply moral refinement, but a recovery of the truth, that the just shall live by faith. (Rom. 1:17) The just, meaning those who are justified by God, live by grace alone, having faith in Christ alone. It was this fundamental truth that the Catholic Church would not concede in Luther’s day, nor does it embrace that truth today, which is why the principles of the Reformation are still applicable. The Reformation is relevant today because truth does not change. There are eternal principles which must always be contended for, without being contentious. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 3)
The legacy of the reformation is that the true Church of Jesus Christ is still reforming. The Church is always reforming, while contending for, and defending the faith once delivered to the saints so long ago. The spiritual heirs of Luther embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, because He has redeemed us with His own precious blood. No work of self-righteousness can add to His glorious work of redemption (Eph. 2:-9).
The spiritual heirs of Luther, and the other Reformers, must reaffirm, in order to apply the five Reformation tenets of faith: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), the Bible alone is the highest authority in the Church; Sola Fide (faith alone), we are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ; Sola Gratia (grace alone), we are saved by the grace of God alone apart from good works, or human merit; Solus Christus (Christ alone), Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Saviour, and King; Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone), we live before the face of God for His glory, alone.
The primary importance of the Reformation is that it recovered, and restored, Biblical truth regarding the ruin of man by sin, the redemption that can be found in Christ and the restoration to fellowship of every soul to God the Father who repents and believes in His Son. Because truth does not change, the principles of the Reformation apply today, to guide the faith and practice of every Christian. Soli Deo Glori